By Scott Marks | SDUN Film Critic
The Nuremberg Trials were the first to be extensively documented and the first to make major use of film as evidence. The entire proceedings were recorded, but the Office of Criminal Counsel allowed only 25 hours of the 11-month trial to be filmed.
The job of assembling the footage was assigned to Stuart Schulberg who then worked for the Field Photographic Branch headed up by John Ford. Although originally intended to be shown to the public, the English-language version was never properly completed and never released to theaters in the United States.
Producer Sandra Schulberg recognized the importance of her father’s work and the potential impact this historical document could have on contemporary audiences. In 2009, Schulberg and her partner Josh Waletzky completed the restoration. The end result in one of the finest and most painstaking restorations ever attempted, and in the wake of the recent political assassination of Osama Bin Laden, the messages contained in “Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today” are as vital as they were in 1948.
Scott Marks: What are your thoughts on the manner in which most narrative films depict the Holocaust.?
Sandra Schulberg: I don’t want to put down other films. My own feeling about this is that it is so hard to do it without falling into traps like trivializing, glamorizing…
SS: Exactly. Because there are so many traps, I personally made the choice to avoid attempting films that deal with that period. I leave that to people who are perhaps more skilled or more brave or more foolhardy.
SM: Having none of the original elements of “Nuremberg” to work from, you and Josh Waletzky pretty much had to start from scratch.
SS: The original elements were either lost or destroyed. That’s what made our job so challenging. I had to create a brand new negative. Thanks to the Berlin National Archives, I was given access to the best German print. There was very little shrinkage, and the main thing is that it was a low contrast print and a lot of the detail was still visible. We struck a new negative from that.
SM: In our initial correspondence I referred to “Nuremberg” as “your film,” implying authorship on the part of you and Josh. You wrote back, “Please don’t think of it as ‘my’ film. Josh and I simply restored the film made by Stuart Schulberg and Joe Zigman (under the aegis of director Pare Lorentz). We didn’t change a frame of the original film.” You may not have altered the image, but technically this is not the same version that was released in 1948.
SS: I don’t mean to under[mine] what we did. It was technically challenging and artfully achieved. Technically, it is a new film, and it has a new legal title which includes the restoration credit for that reason. We also wanted to distinguish it in the market and the historical records so that people know exactly what this version is.
SM: I am fascinated by the painstaking work you and Josh put into restoring the soundtrack.
SS: The sound side was really a lot more complicated. Fortunately the entire trial was recorded for sound, so we were able to go back and make high quality duplications at our National Archives in Washington. The original soundtrack elements have all been lost or destroyed, so we went to reconstruct the whole soundtrack from scratch. That’s why we engaged Liev Schreiber to re-record the original narration, which we couldn’t use. The only versions of the original narration are married to existing prints. The musical score on the restored film is a combination of bits and pieces of the original music that we could salvage from the optical mix track.
SM: Why didn’t you add a brief introductory passage explaining this to viewers?
SS: (Laughing) We considered umpteen versions of opening explanatory credits. I had input from the Holocaust Museum and Josh and people at DuArt Labs, and we tested it on some other people close to the production. There was no simple way to do it. What I didn’t want to do was oversimplify it. We ultimately decided it was impossible. We did think of bringing in a well-known actor or television
commentator. It might have seemed like the right thing to do, but I had to look at this as a historical
document that would exist in perpetuity. Any choice one would make of a spokesperson to fill that role today might seem irrelevant or peculiar 40 or 50 years down the line. Ultimately, we thought it best to let the film stand alone as its own document.
“Nuremberg Its Lesson For Today” opens June 10, exclusively at landmark’s Ken Cinema.