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Cinema has long played a crucial role in the way that societies represent themselves. Hedges discusses the role of cinema in creating cultural memory within a global perspective that spans five continents. The book's innovative approach and approachable style should transform the way that we think of film and its social effects.




In 2001 the French historian Pierre Nora remarked that the last quarter of the 20th century was marked all over the world by a profound transformation of how we relate to the past—a tidal wave of memory that manifested itself in the critique of received historical “truths,” a turn to the search for roots and genealogy, the creation of new museums, a new emphasis placed on the archival, and the cultivation of heritage (patrimoine). Turning to his native France, Nora, and with him Michel Foucault, located the origin of this new obsession with memory in the rekindling of public discussion of Germany’s wartime occupation of France (1940–1944).1 In place of “resistencialism” (the popularly held belief that most French citizens had played a part in the Resistance), the French State after 1980 began to acknowledge the role of the French police in the deportation of nearly 76,000 Jews to Auschwitz and other camps between 1942 and 1944.2
Inez Hedges

1. Living Memory: Representations of Drancy

The enthusiastic reception granted to Suite française, Irène Némirovksy’s recently discovered novellas of the French experience of defeat and German Occupation, and Jonathan Littell’s novel Les Bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones), recounting World War Two through the eyes of an SS officer, a work for which this American writer won France’s highest literary prize (the Prix Goncourt), is evidence of continued interest—in France, and even worldwide—in imaginative engagement with a historical period that now lies more than half a century in the past. Yet in French literary fiction and fiction film, there is, for the most part, silence on one topic, despite numerous official commemorations and days of remembrance: the arrest and deportation during the Occupation of nearly 76,000 Jews, including 11,400 children—most of whom passed through the concentration camp at Drancy, just outside Paris. Suite française does not mention Jews at all,1 and Les Bienveillantes focuses on the protagonist’s participation in Hitler’s eastern campaign. France appears mainly as a backdrop to his personal life.2
Inez Hedges

2. Amnesiac Memory: Hiroshima in Japanese Film

Nowhere does historical memory have more relevance to the present than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Writers as diverse as French philosopher Jean Baudrillard and Japanese Nobel laureate Kenzaburō Ōe have commented that the dates of August 6 and 9, 1945, forever altered our understanding of what it means to be human. Humanity can now envisage its own, permanent obliteration along with that of most life forms on the planet. Even if all nuclear weapons were to be abolished, they cannot be un-invented—the contemporary, and perhaps last, phase of humanity is a nuclear one.1
Inez Hedges

3. Convulsive Memory: The Spanish Civil War and Post-Franco Spain

In 1937 Pablo Picasso painted his large black and white canvas, “Guernica,” after the bombing of this Basque village by Italian and German warplanes on April 26 of that year. Commissioned by the as-yet undefeated Spanish republican government for the Spanish pavilion at the 1937 Paris International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life (“Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne”), this painting has gained worldwide renown as a representation of the suffering inflicted upon civilian populations in modern warfare.
Inez Hedges

4. Performative Memory: The Nakba and the Construction of Identity in Palestinian Film

The year 2014 was the 66th anniversary of the war between Arab nations and the newly established State of Israel. Israel commemorates this conflict as its war of independence, while Palestinian Arabs, both Christian and Muslim, know it as Al Nakba, the catastrophe. Over 700,000 people became refugees, fleeing or being driven out into the desert, many with only the clothes on their backs. Before the Nakba, Palestinian Arab society was organized along feudal and tribal lines; its coherence had been successively challenged by the post-World War One British Mandate for Palestine, Zionist colonization, and the beginnings of modernization. This society shared the Arabic language with many other countries. The violence and trauma of the Nakba, and subsequent military victories won by Israel against Arab attacks in 1967 and 1973 have all been instrumental in forging what did not exist so strongly before: an Arab-Palestinian identity. The second- or third-generation descendants of those original refugees—whether in the Palestinian diaspora or languishing in refugee camps, in Israeli prisons, in the West Bank, in Gaza, or in Israel itself—identify themselves as Palestinians.1 The idea of Palestinian nationhood is now increasingly associated with cultural manifestations—in film, in literature, in art, in music—that serve to bind together the sense of a community with common goals.
Inez Hedges

5. Radical Memory: Négritude, Anti-colonial Struggles, and Cabral’s Return to the Source

At the end of Ousmane Sembene’s La noire de… (Black Girl, 1965), a French colonizer is pursued by an African mask. He has returned to Dakar to bring back the effects of the household maid, Douala, whom he and his wife had brought to Antibes as a nanny for the children, but who was treated essentially as a slave in their home. Although Douala, who eventually kills herself, never confronts her employers openly, she expresses her growing awareness of her hopeless situation in voice-over on the soundtrack. When she arrives, the children are away and she is ordered to cook and clean. Sembene portrays how Douala is treated like an animal, or an object, both in the way she is spoken of and the way she is peremptorily ordered about. She becomes effectively effaced—one shot shows her cleaning a mirror in which she declines to look at her own reflection. The France she can see from her window at night begins to appear to her like a black hole. Faced with the incomprehension of her employers, she takes to her bed and falls into depression. Eventually even her employers notice that she is “declining,” but make no move to talk to her as a human being; for them she is merely the instrument of their comfort.
Inez Hedges

6. Obstinate Memory: Chris Marker’s and Patricio Guzmán’s Pictures for a Revolution

“There is no asphalt of oblivion.” This was the comment of political journalist and author Daniel Singer on the French government’s policy of paving over the cobblestones of the Parisian Latin Quarter after the social upheavals of May 1968. When Chris Marker made Le fond de l’air est rouge (known in English as A grin without a cat) in 1977, the memory of May 1968 was still fresh. In the film we revisit scenes of worldwide popular struggle, from the Vietnam war of independence through the overthrow in 1973 of the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile. Marker’s film seeks to preserve the memory of those struggles; indeed much of his cinematic oeuvre unfolds as a memory project, from his early short classic La Jetée (1962) and the feature film Sans Soleil (Sunless, 1983) to his personal museum of images in the CD-ROM Immemory, as well as the computer game dramatization, Level Five (1997) and his 1984 video of the future of trade unions in 2084. How things—even future events—will be remembered has been a constant and central preoccupation of Marker’s.
Inez Hedges

7. Productive Memory: “Forward Dreaming” in Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Cuban Films

Not since Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov in the USSR in the 1920s had an innovative national cinema unfolded in the context of revolution until the films of post-revolutionary Cuba did so with directors such as Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (1928–1996), Julio García Espinosa (1926-), and Humberto Solas (1941–2008). Alea’s oeuvre in particular engages views to reflect on the challenges facing Cuban society after 1959, and to think about the way that the reality on the ground conforms or contrasts with revolutionary ideals. Even after his death in 1996, Alea’s close associate, Juan Carlos Tabío, has carried those ideas forward into the evolving political, social, and cultural landscapes. Looking back at Alea’s oeuvre reveals it to be a perceptive and even prescient commentary on issues that are still confronting Cuba today, including democratic reforms, gender relations, and the role of religion.1
Inez Hedges

8. Reclaimed Memory: Worker Culture in the Former GDR and Peter Weiss’s The Aesthetics of Resistance

In his three-part novel, Die Ästhetik des Widerstands (The Aesthetics of Resistance), published successively in 1975, 1978, and 1981,1 Peter Weiss accomplished for the working class what Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar did for feminist theory in 1979 and what Edward Saïd did for postcolonial studies in 1994.2 Weiss provided a sweeping reinterpretation of major elements of the Western cultural canon from the point of view of a hitherto marginalized perspective. To read this novel is to experience a re-education; to be receptive to it is to undergo an intellectual transformation. The novel has long enjoyed a prominent place in the German intellectual left.
Inez Hedges


On the morning of September 11, 2001, the world was startled by the televised images of planes hitting New York City’s World Trade Center. As those images, and the images and sounds of the subsequent collapse of the two towers, played over and over again that day, shock and disbelief were replaced by the sense on the part of many that the world had changed irrevocably.
Inez Hedges


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