Historical Representation: An Undervalued Paradox

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Historical media, most specifically film, has existed since history began. The recounting of prior events to a new audience to portray the feelings and the emotions of the time typically is transferred through conversation, but modern technology allows for the mass-production of not only the recounting of historical events on large screens, but also the possible re-creation of those events. When something is re-created, the new product simply, by definition, could not put into perspective the overall effects of historical events properly. To captivate and to understand the death of one man for another on a movie screen hurts my head to even contemplate. One of the first American films, The Birth of A Nation, by D.W. Griffith, pioneers groundbreaking techniques in filming and in narrative, but also pioneers historical representation; horrifically portraying Black Americans while positively looking up to the Ku Klux Klan. Griffith attempted to reshape the collective memory of America, and more directly, the history itself, by portraying 19th century America in that fashion. Slavery and the Civil War are stains on the proverbial American flag, just as the Holocaust is to German identity. Alain Resnais, Claude Lanzmann, and Wim Wenders, through the use of film, delineate what it truly means to represent, both historically and personally, while also reframing their respective portrayals towards fully understanding the scope of an event in regards to those who were active participants.

Night and Fog, directed by Alain Resnais, is a historical documentary on the Holocaust that provides a distinct underlying message, questioning representation. The film begins as would a typical investigation with the narrator attempting to come...

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...mes human, he begins to experience life from the participatory perspective. Wenders use of black and white sepia tone contrasted with the living angel’s perspective that occurs in color signifies a literal and figurative awakening from bystander, to participant.

History is possessive. It is impossible to truly represent prior experiences to a new audience both out of the context in which it was first experienced, and under different circumstances. The three films mentioned, Night and Fog, Shoah, and Wings of Desire, all demonstrate how hard and complex historical representation can be. In the case of Night and Fog, Alain Resnais raises the question of how to bring about representation while in Shoah and Wings of Desire, by Claude Lanzmann and Wim Wenders respectively, show that the represented have alternate viewpoints and perspectives that have yet to be seen.

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