C’est aujourd’hui, il y avait 39 ans, l’acteur Cillian Murphy etait né.
Happy Birthday, Cillian Murphy. Today, 39 years ago he was born.
I watched Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015) on Friday and liked it so much that I had thought about watching it again today. But, as many intentions, thoughts, tentative plans go (even the ones made with and by oneself), things did not go as anticipated today. See, over the weekend, I came across this ArtsAtl article on an exhibition at the Atlanta History Center: Filming The Camps – John Ford, Samuel Fuller, George Stevens: From Hollywood to Nuremberg.
I made an impromptu visit there today because I wanted to see this exhibit. As a high-schooler during the Clinton administration, my memories of learning about World War II were filled to the brim with why Pearl Harbor was a turning point for the Americans’ participation, how the Russian winter was important in the Germans’ defeat, and that it was beyond comprehension that so much inhumanity was systematically implemented at the behest of a man whose fatherland encompassed the Black Forest and parts of the Danube, Rhine, and Elbe Rivers. Summaries and discussions of the war’s end and the liberating of the concentration camps necessarily included the mentioning of newsreel footage and photography of what the Allied troops had seen.
Were there names? More information on exactly who was taking the photographs, filming the state of things? Nope. I suppose understandably, high school — even at an AP US history level — curriculum was more concerned in getting us from the Thirteen Original colonies to the falling of the Berlin Wall. I never wondered who were these men either; I had visualized them in my mind more as the machinery of recording rather than the operators of that machinery. There were brief comments about the use of propaganda, but frankly, I do not recall anything much else. It wasn’t until undergraduate studies when I took a class called History & Texts, which focused on how films of both Allied and Axis countries shaped the public’s perceptions of the war. And ahhh, I learned about the Office of War Information.
Thus, when I read about this exhibit at the Atlanta History Center (which will be on display through early November), I decided that I absolutely had to see it. Hollywood filmmakers John Ford, George Stevens, and Samuel Fuller* were among those whose responsibility it was to bring home images of what was left of thousands and thousands of people forcibly removed from their homes. Filming the Camps is on the lower level of the history center. There are photographs, video installations, memos, and charts. I had expected to feel a residue-like numbness or melancholy as I passed each display case. But, I didn’t..at least not until I reached the very end where there were two questions pasted on the wall and a spattering of post-it notes affixed there. The first question was why atrocities should be documented, the second asked for one word to describe one’s experience wandering through the exhibit. Among the comments on the first question, two stood out to me. One was so that we’d never forget and the other was so that there would be proof that they happened.
I scribbled down: So that you’ll always remember where you’ve been and that you never want to be there again. So you’ll know what you’re capable of and that you’ll vow to your soul never to unleash it again.
I then took a walk around the grounds and went to the Smith Family Farm. Moments after I stepped into one of rooms in the Tullie Smith House, a weight of sadness pressed against my chest. Even though the house was literally moved to the backyard of the history center, I felt as if much heartbreak and heartache had gone on in that room. Like…two people bid each other adieu and never saw one another again. Or one person uttered some hateful words to another and that was the last words they’d ever exchange. C’etait etrange.
There were goats.
And then I did some more walking.
I also touched a tree with a large trunk, and as I did, I’m certain it passed to me some kind of knowing. Of other people’s pain, moroseness, mindfulness, and impermanence.
* Samuel Fuller actually hadn’t started making films when he was at Dachau. His first would be no doubt the most sobering he’d ever imagined.
Pic creds: google image search and yours truly