Knowledge of the past has always been of a dual nature: on the one hand, the knowledge of professionals, relying on authentic sources, documentary evidence, on the other hand, the knowledge of the masses, using rumors, speculation, and myths. Television has developed its technologies for reproducing the past, unique forms of handling a historical source, evidence, or event. Often in reenactments, the viewer sees such shots from the life of a real hero that could not have been filmed at the moment in time that is important for the story on the screen. These can be events related to the hero’s past, the lives of famous personalities from another era, military events, and much more. Here the reenactment of events comes to the rescue, making the viewer plunge into particular past tense and a bygone event.
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When creating a documentary film, authors often have to resort to a reenactment of events, and today, this technique is often used. The emergence of the documentary is directly related to the emergence of cinematography. The first filming (1895) of the Lumiere brothers, the inventors of cinema, was made from nature, striking the viewer not only with the effects of “come to life” but also with the “effect of presence” (Caminaty & Cramer, 2020). This immediately marked the beginning of the creation of newsreels and predetermined for many decades the most essential function of a documentary film, which is to be a means of mass visual information.
Event shooting emphasizes the non-fiction nature of documentary filmmaking, enhances the perception of unrehearsed reality, which requires non-standard solutions, quick orientation in the essence of events, and is notable for unpredictability. Siegfried Kracauer, in his book The Nature of Film. The Redemption of Physical Reality states that natural disasters, the horrors of war, acts of violence and terror, sex scenes, and death can shake our minds (Gazi, 2016). In any case, such scenes excite and outrage the viewers, not allowing them to remain in an outside observer’s position. Therefore, none of the eyewitnesses of such events, not to mention the active participants, can be expected to tell the exact story of what they saw (Nichols, 2008). Today, documentary filmmakers are more critical in choosing an event that can become a key one in revealing a particular topic.
The director does not interfere with the ongoing event but only observes and fixes it from the side at the moment of accomplishment. The author needs to catch human feelings’ living manifestation in a rapidly changing reality because each event is unique and often fleeting. They work with a film not only in practice but instead take it apart to pieces in theory. Thanks to the event, we get some informative value that is important for the development of history. The actions of the characters prepare the event and generate conflict. Their interests come into tension, and thanks to this, an event occurs that changes history, gives it a different direction of action. It is worth remembering that any dramatic twists and turns consist of a chain of events. Moving from event to event, deepening the story’s conflict, the creators can thereby create maximum dramatic tension.
The task of a reenactment is to make the viewer a participant in the events. The television version of history is oriented towards the ‘eternal present,’ considering events and faces of the past, it seeks to evoke a sense of belonging ‘here and now’ (Nichols, 2008). The viewer’s confidence in a screen document is based not only on the actual authenticity of the material but also on the ability to recreate a convincing and integral picture of reality through cinema. One could say that for documentary cinematography, authenticity is an immanent property; however, various methods that authors use in working with material give results of different degrees of artistic power, which allows us to speak about the aesthetic properties of the author’s cinematic method in general.
Analysis of 77sqm_9:26min
The film 77sqm_9: 26min (Forensic Architecture, 2017) tells the story of the high-profile murder of Turkish emigrant Halit Yozgat in Germany. On April 6, 2006, just two days after the assassination of Kubashik, Halit Yozgat became the penultimate victim in a series of murders and the last victim of an ethnic Turk. Yozgat, an internet cafe owner in Kassel, Hesse, was also shot in the head with a silenced pistol. An agent of the Hesse Office for the Protection of the Constitution was present on the occasion of this murder. The agent initially claimed to have left the premises shortly before the murder but later changed his statement when he presented evidence from witnesses who saw him present when the murder took place. His involvement, in this case, raised suspicions that the state authorities may be associated with the organization responsible for the murders.
With an authentic reconstruction of the events of the murder, the film goes beyond an isolated incident. According to the authors themselves, “The Society of Friends of Halit situated the shots that killed Yozgat within a long history of racist violence that is deeply rooted in German society. We used the term “NSU Complex” to describe this combination of neo-Nazi terror and institutional and structural racism “(Weizman et al., 2017). The primary tool of right-wing radicals to achieve their political goals has always been racial prejudice, which they created or reinforced in society to discredit citizens of foreign origin and all migrants. This policy of hostility as a political resource has its own long history, which has not lost its relevance to this day.
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This film involves active intervention in reality with the aim of its creative interpretation. At the same time, a relatively holistic structure undergoes fragmentation into some semantic units, personnel, or plans, which are material for creating a new construct, a new “reality” (Nichols, 2018). The elements of such a new phenomenon produced in an artistic way, a new artistic event, retain their original reference, but, nevertheless, the viewer is dealing with a fundamentally different structure. This structure is not just a new image of reality; it is called upon to express connections in a hidden, implicit form in reality and is still only subject to identification. These are not superficial connections that unite circumstances, situations, and events, but deeper connections, usually invisible to a person in ordinary everyday life.
Therefore, it is appropriate to use the term “metastructure” here and with its help to designate here this generalized expression of the interconnections of being realized in a documentary film through the formation of a new event that concentrates these connections. In the creation of the metastructure, great importance is attached to montage, which, accordingly, plays the role of not just an auxiliary instrument for representing reality, but precisely a means of revealing the underground keys of being. This operation principle has traditionally been associated with the needs of the on-screen model of life to explore its own linguistic possibilities. However, this connection is very conditional, as is the very concept of the language of cinema, which, as a rule, correlates either with an established set of means and techniques, or each time refers to the peculiarities of the “dictionary of images” of the individual author’s system.
The multicultural community crisis in Europe has created unique conditions for the emergence of new forms of an ideology of discrimination, among which “cultural racism” occupies a prominent place. Racism is an ideology based on the assertion of biological inequality between people of different origins, proclaiming the superiority of one race or group of people over others, discriminating against other human communities’ representatives. “Cultural racism” or “culturalism” marks a new milestone in the conceptual apparatus (Chua, 2017). If earlier racism was based on the inequality of human races according to bodily characteristics (color of skin, eyes, hair, and other features), these differences are now relegated to the background.
This form of racism supposedly renounces physical differences between people, replacing them with cultural ones that find their expression in religion, clothing, and other characteristics. At the same time, with the help of culture, it is established who belongs to “friends” and who belongs to “aliens.” Thus, culture is directly linked to the origin of a person (Chua, 2017). At the same time, there are such concepts as the “dominant culture” of the indigenous population and the “parallel culture” of migrants. Hence the idea that these two types of cultures are incompatible, and therefore they cannot form a single society.
Hürtgen forest and the end of World War II
In reenactments, an author creates each screen non-fiction work with a certain super-task, comprehending each action, that is, for something, they introduce a specific moment into the film. In many tapes, the narrative strategy develops in chronological order, especially in films that tell about military conflicts, battles, and combat stories. On the one hand, this maintains a strict framework of historical fact, that is, it is necessary to tell everything thoroughly about the events on the battlefield, precisely to the last soldier who took part in the battle. On the other hand, the sequence helps the authors themselves and, accordingly, viewers not to get confused with large amounts of information. A similar example is the documentary film Hürtgen forest and the end of World War II (DW Documentary, 2020). The film recreates the battle in the Hurtgen Forest during World War II, in which the loss of life was so significant that the event was called the “Death Factory.”
It was the most prolonged battle on German soil during World War II and the most extended solo battle in US Army history. Even though the Rangers captured Hill 400 on December 7 and were able to hold it, after nine days, the Germans recaptured Castle Hill. The battle for the Hürtgen Forest ended in mid-December with a tactical victory for the Wehrmacht – the Americans were unable to capture the forest and cross the Ruhr River. The Battle of Hürtgen ended with a German victory on the defensive, and the entire offensive turned out to be a sad failure for the Allies. The Americans lost 33,000 in the battle, which amounted to 55,000, including 9,000 non-combat casualties and 25 percent casualties. The Germans also suffered heavy casualties – 28,000 people, many non-combatants, and prisoners of war. The historical debate revolves around whether the American battle plan had any operational or tactical sense. According to one analysis, the Allies underestimated the strength and determination left in the German soldier’s spirit, believing that his morale collapsed under the pressure of the breakthrough in Normandy and the reduction of the Falaise pocket.
The reconstruction source was the testimony of eyewitnesses, including the famous photographer Tony Vaccaro, the US Army veteran James K. Cullen, and the former German soldier Paul Verbeek. Residents of the area were interviewed as an additional source. The work with the film material’s temporal structures in this piece is carried out within the framework of an approach based on the image of the “myth of total cinema” formulated by André Bazin as the idealistic basis of cinematography in general (Hassan, 2017). This is the myth of integral realism, which recreates the world and gives an image of it that is not subject to either the artist’s free interpretation of the irreversible passage of time. The cinematic method’s basis is the re-creation of an unbroken, “total” picture of reality, which excludes the interpretation principle as much as possible.
The use of the natural structure of what is happening dominates; montage becomes a means of storytelling and description. A characteristic feature here is uninterrupted continuity, the ability to think only in episodes, and the presence of an absolute subject of vision. Discrete montage, used in a precise way, cannot disperse events but reconstruct them, placing them in a tense stream that recreates life in its spontaneous and incomprehensible integrity.
DW Documentary (2020). Hürtgen forest and the end of World War II | Free Full DW Documentary. Web.
Caminati, L., & Cramer, M. (2020). Alberto Cavalcanti:‘Propaganda documentaries’. Journal of Italian Cinema & Media Studies, 8(3), 399-403.
Chua, P. (2017). Cultural Racism. The Wiley‐Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Theory, 1-3. Web.
Forensic Architecture (2017). 77sqm_9:26. Web.
Gazi, J. (2016). Redeeming Kracauer’s Theory of Film: An Examination of the Importance of Material Aesthetics. SubStance, 45(1), 66-80.
Hassan, F. (2017). Total war, total history, total cinema: André Bazin on the political perils of cinematic realism. Screen, 58(1), 38-58.
Nichols, B. (2008). Documentary reenactment and the fantasmatic subject. Critical Inquiry 35(1), 72–89. Web.
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Weizman, E., Varvia, C., Rowat, S., & Levidis, S. (2017). 77sqm_9:26min. Web.