Walter Mencken 10:01 a.m., May 29
Sandra Schulberg, Producer of Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today
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 twenty-five hours of the eleven month trial to be filmed.
The job of assembling the footage was assigned to Stuart Schulberg and Joe Zigman. The duo worked for Pare Lorentz and the Field Photographic Branch of the War Department headed up by John Ford. No one ever expected that the English-language version would never be 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Producer Sandra Schulberg recognized the importance of her father’s work and the potential impact this historical document could have on contemporary audiences. Schulberg and her partner Josh Waletzky have produced one of the finest and most painstaking restorations ever attempted. In light of the recent political assassination of Osama Bin Laden, the messages contained in Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today - The Schulberg/Waletzky Restoration are as vital today as they were in 1948.
Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today - The Schulberg/Waletzky Restoration is currently playing exclusively at landmark's Ken Cinema.
Read David Elliott's review.
Scott Marks: You are a descendant of show business royalty.
Sandra Schulberg: (Laughing) Oh, I don’t know about that.
SM: Your grandfather B.P. Schulberg started out doing publicity for Famous Players Lasky and went on to become a production executive for Paramount, your uncle Budd was a screenwriter (On the Waterfront, A Face in the Crowd) and author of one of my favorite books, What Makes Sammy Run, and your father Stuart was a producer and documentarian. That’s royal enough for me!
SS: In my case the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.
SM: Any memories of visiting gramps on the Paramount backlot?
SS: We lived in Europe so he had to come to us. I do remember his coming and his personality. That was in the late 50s. There’s a building named after him on the (Paramount) lot still today. I visited that when I moved to Los Angeles at the beginning of my career. I’ve been back a few times to see the building and also the B.P. Schulberg star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
SM: In our initial correspondence I referred to Nuremberg as “your film” implying authorship on the part of you and (co-producer) Josh Waletzky. 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 underscore what we did. For audiences, the main point to get across is that in the original German version, and the “temporary” English version that was made, you didn’t hear the actual voices in the courtroom. That was fundamentally because the trial was conducted in so many different languages they could not have had a one language version. In an article my father wrote, he stressed how important it was for audiences to hear the actual voices. I really believe they were trying to avoid the use of subtitles. You never hear the English speakers speaking English in the film. That flies in the face of logic and is very troubling to watch. You’re looking at (lead U.S. prosecutor and Supreme Court Justice) Robert H. Jackson, this famous orator, and you’re not hearing his voice. You’re hearing (the narrator) tell you what he says. I came to the conclusion that if the government had not decided to suppress the film, the amount they would have had to spend for a proper English language mix would not have amounted to much.
SM: So this was due to budgetary restrictions as opposed to the fact that back then people were unaccustomed to reading subtitles? I always credit The Bicycle Thieves as the film that introduced American audiences to subtitles and that was released two years after this.
SS: They wouldn’t have used subtitles. The narrator would have told you what the non-English people were saying - as it is in the original version - they would have allowed you to hear the actual voices of the English speakers. I think that’s what my father would have done had they decided to release the film.
SM: During the war your father’s involvement with the OSS was what eventually brought him to Nuremberg. He worked for the Field Photographic Branch which was headed up by John Ford. Ford was originally assigned the task of filming the trial, but his office was so busy assembling footage for the Trial that he had to decline.
Stuart and Budd Schulberg
SS: Ford never went over. He was directing all of this from his headquarters in Washington. Budd and Ray Kellogg were the two senior officers with Stuart, who was quite low on the totem pole. They were supposed to film the courtroom scenes themselves. We found a memo from Budd to the Office of Criminal Council saying they were not going to be able to take responsibility for filming the courtroom scenes because they were so busy putting together (the 1945 documentary) The Nazi Plan. At that point it was turned over to the U.S. Army Signal Corps camera teams.
SM: You dad took no part in the actual filming of the trial.
SS: That’s right. What I am still trying to track down is whether he directed the sequences you see at the beginning and the end of the film.
SM: This is not the type of filmmaking one normally associates with Government Issue films. I was surprised to see how well put together this is. That task of filming the trial was assigned to Army Signal Corps cameramen. It was Pare Lorentz who eventually brought the assignment to your father.
SS: We found all these documents about the making of Nuremberg, that my parents had kept throughout the years in my mother’s loft after she died. I first began to look at them in 2004 and realized the incredibly important role Pare Lorentz played. Stuart’s contract with the war department is dated December 1946, just a month after the end of the trial. Not only did he hire Stuart, he really fought for his particular vision and that is evident in the very first treatment that Stuart wrote. The film ought to follow the structure of the trial. The film ought to be about the trial. Believe it or not, that was not an obvious decision. The Film Officers were not filmmakers. They were in charge of film in Berlin and were reporting to Gen. Clay, our military governor. They had their own idea about how to make this film. They were so determined to make the film themselves that they came up with two different scripts, both of which Pare and Stuart disapproved of.
SM: How did the other versions differ?
SS: Fundamentally, they did not use the four counts of the indictment as the narrative structure for the film. This battle raged throughout the spring of 1947 with the scripts going back and forth, with Pare getting angrier and angrier with the people from Berlin. His memos became more and more specific about what was unacceptable about their approach. Pare didn’t have enough rank to settle this once and for all, so he turned to Robert Jackson who was now back on the Supreme Court. He gave Jackson a copy of all three versions of the script and he wrote back that the only version of the script he approves of is the Schulberg script. At that point, and with Jackson’s backing, Pare had enough clout to convince the War Department to essentially overrule Gen. Clay and his staff in Berlin. They finally just said we’re sending Schulberg and Zigman over and we insist that you give them full cooperation.
SM: Where was the footage at this time?
SS: The material was still in Germany because this was relatively soon after the trial. They went to Berlin to make the film. Shortly after they arrived in Berlin, Pare resigned from the War Department because he was so frustrated. He won this major battle concerning the way in which the film was going to be made. I think he felt he had accomplished his mission in terms of getting Nuremberg on the right track. He had many other frustrations with the war department. He told my father that he was going to help from the sidelines and hoped that the project would carry on. There had been a rumor, hardly substantiated by Pare himself in later interviews, that he was upset with the red-baiting that was starting to happen. Pare may have been vulnerable. Not because he was a communist or a communist sympathizer. He wasn’t. He was a true blue American patriot who was mainly a fervent Roosevelt supporter. It turns out that some of the cameramen he had worked with on his earlier films had been communist sympathizers and possible Party members, so he was vulnerable. I think this effected his decision whether to stay on at the War Department. Pare should be viewed as a champion of this film. As head of film for the War Department, He was certainly its original producer. In 1949, when he realized that the U.S. Government was not going to release the film, we found letters from Pare’s lawyer to the War Department essentially begging that they give him the film so that he could release it himself. He ever offered to fully reimburse the government for the cost of making the film. He was refused and became very bitter in the ensuing years because the film had not been shown in the United States.
SM: How did your father react to the film not being shown in the United States?
SS: My father was not living in the U.S. He had seen the film have a very positive effect on German audiences. Just as he was concluding Nuremberg, he had been asked to take over as the head of the new documentary film unit and given the job of making de-Nazification, reeducation, reorientation films for German audiences. I think he felt he was…he was a very secular Jew, so he wouldn’t had described it as doing God’s work, but he got the satisfaction of seeing Nuremberg released widely in Germany. He was much less aware and concerned what was happening with the film in the United States than Pare was. They remained friends, but he left that battle in Pare’s hands.
SM: The Nazi’s own propaganda machine and their mania for documenting their work ultimately led to their downfall when their films were used as testimony. This was the first time in history when film was used in a trial.
SS: It certainly was the first time it was extensively used and formally submitted with affidavits identified as evidence. Jackson found the German people’s proclivity to document their own actions extraordinary. Jackson was very skeptical of using live witnesses because he felt the defense attorneys could too easily impugn their veracity, their memories, and their motives. In the very beginning of the film he says, “We will not convict them based on the testimony of their foes. Every count of the indictment can be proved with books and records. We will show you their own films.” So he decided to use very few witnesses, instead to rely on documentary evidence. Jackson took this approach because he thought it would be much more effective in gaining convictions and because he felt it would be the only that there would be an enduring record of the Nazi crimes. Had it not been for his documentary approach, the record might not have been so complete. The same argument was at the heart of this battle that raged between the War Department in the U.S. and Gen. Clay’s staff in Berlin when it came time to make Nuremberg. The people in Berlin on Clay’s staff argued if you really told the story of the trial, the film would be unbelievably boring and people wouldn’t watch it. They were proposing that they shoot lots of live interviews with Germans on the street as well as interviewing victims. They wanted to make a film that was in a way their own story of what hat happened as opposed to a documentary about the trial. This was anathema for Pare and Stuart. That was a source of much of the argumentation on both sides when it came to how to approach the film. There was a concern if you don’t use live witnesses at the trial, and if you make a film that uses real people telling the story, both the trial and the film would be boring.
SM: Was your father restricted to the use of twenty-five hours of footage from the trial or was the Army Signal Corps camera team only allowed to shoot for twenty-five hours?
SS: Only twenty-five hours of footage was filmed. We don’t yet really know the reason for this. It’s one of the areas that require more research. One of the theories is there was a shortage of raw stock which very well could have been the case. It is true that when they were filming, there were extensive lights installed and it made it very hot and uncomfortable. You can see some of the defendants wearing sunglasses. Finally, I think that Jackson thought it was more megillah, more commotion and interference. It’s undocumented, but apparently they were not allowed to film the faces of the defendants as the verdicts were being read. There was some concern about what should and should not be filmed. It would be so great if we could find memos and call sheets.
SM: Let’s talk about the last shot in the film. Aesthetically it’s a perfect bookend: We begin with a shot of a young woman emerging from the rubble and end with Christ emerging from the rubble. Why do you think they decided to end the film on this religious note?
SS: I have given this quite a lot of thought. Germany was, and remains today, a very Christian country. (Hjalmar) Schacht says in the courtroom that Hitler had promised to respect the institution of the Church and the ethical principles of Christianity and he completely betrayed the Church. They ended the film like that because in part they knew it was going to be shown in Germany. Whether you’re religious or not the Christ figure is seen as a figure of redemption. That combined with the fact that the German people betrayed their own Christian principles and these principles have to be salvaged from the rubble and once again people need to practice Christian love and tolerance. I knew my father and Joe Zigman very well and I also believe - I know in my heart of hearts - that they were saying to themselves “and Christ was a Jew.” For them the image works in a multitude of ways.
More like this:
- Fifteen stellar minutes with Stellan Skarsgård — March 18, 2014
- Penning Teller: An interview with the spectacular Miles Teller — Aug. 19, 2013
- For a good time, read this interview with Ari Graynor, Lauren Miller, and Katie Anne Naylon — Aug. 31, 2012
- The Tree of Life: Malick Wraps Big Images — June 8, 2011
- Q&A with Hesher director Spencer Susser — May 9, 2011