As Seen Through These Eyes

It's an angle many Hitler historians can't leave alone: As a young, aspiring painter, the Führer was rejected by the Vienna Art Institute; as a murderous dictator, he remained an art lover, looting Europe of its greatest treasures. The facts are there, and yet their melodramatic invocation does more harm than good to As Seen Through These Eyes, a documentary about the creative impulse that sustained many young prisoners of World War II concentration camps. Distractingly tortured metaphors are given a distractingly affected narration by Maya Angelou: the embittered Hitler "refocused his passion for painting into a new art form" and soon, "no one was safe from his sweeping paintbrush of death and destruction." Inside this hackneyed frame are the actual subjects of the documentary, many of whom are Auschwitz survivors, who discuss their experiences and display their powerful wartime drawings and paintings. It must be tough being the world's 7,000th Holocaust documentary; there aren't a lot of fresh angles left, and recorded Holocaust images—occasionally used here without identifying context, as if they were interchangeable—have become so codified that one wonders if that interchangeability is the ultimate sacrilege. But the artwork—the product of individual experience and expression rather than an anonymous camera—returns the horror of the camps to its proper, piercing register.

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