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Totalitarianism without Pain: Teaching Communism and Fascism with Film

Totalitarianism without Pain: Teaching Communism and Fascism with Film

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Society for History Education
Totalitarianism without Pain: Teaching Communism and Fascism with FilmAuthor(s): Martha J. FeldmannReviewed work(s):Source:
The History Teacher,
Vol. 29, No. 1 (Nov., 1995), pp. 51-61Published by:
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Accessed: 14/12/2012 05:15
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TotalitarianismwithoutPain:TeachingCommunismand Fascismwith Film
MarthaJ.FeldmannUniversity f MemphisIN SECTIONSOF AFRESHMAN-LEVELCOURSE,WorldCiviliza-tions Since1500,Iteachtwentieth-centuryoliticalideologyandhistorywithBattleshipPotemkinandTriumph ftheWill.Each isapre-eminentexampleofthemotionpictureart form ofthe twentiethcentury,and,becauseofobjectives,subjectmatter,and attendantcontroversies,asignificantdocumentof the real-life dramaofitstime.Usingthesefilms,inaddition to lectureandassignedreadings, heightensthe contrastbe-tweenformsof totalitarianism ndmakestheconceptsmoreinterestingand memorable to students.Bothfilms are toolongformyfifty-five-minuteclassperiod,butportionsofeach can illustrateartisticandpoliti-cal trendsof the 1920sand1930s andprovidefurthervisualimagestostimulatestudenthinking.Bothfilms are availableonvideocassette;heycan be foundinuniver-sityandpubliclibrariesand areavailable forpurchase.Studentslike towatch videosandrespondpositivelyto the materialnthis format.TheFilmsSeeingSergeiEisenstein'sBattleshipPotemkin can beconsideredessentialto a well-roundeduniversityeducationeven at atimewhen few
TheHistoryTeacherVolume29Number1November 1995?SocietyforHistoryEducation
This content downloaded on Fri, 14 Dec 2012 05:15:30 AMAll use subject toJSTOR Terms and Conditions
 
52 MarthaJ.Feldmann
canagreeonanything'sbeingessential.Aslate as1958,aninternationalpaneloffilmhistoriansvotedthe1925 workthegreatestilmevermade,andcertainlyfew films thatcouldchallengeits brillianceand innovationincinematictechniquehaveappearedsince. Because theoriginal nega-tivewasmutilated and none of thesurvivingprintsare certain to beidenticaltoEisenstein'sconception,the work is to adegreetainted asbothdocumentandart.Althoughmy university'slibraryhas the silentversion,Iprefertouse the 1950 Soviet"sound"versionwithwhat onewritercallsits"absurdlynappropriatemusic."'Manystudents havedifficulty payingattentionwhenafilmiscompletelysilent,buttheemotionally overwroughtmusic intensifiesresponseandis,therefore,helpfulintheclassroomcontext. This versionis also availablethroughlocal videorentals,makingitaccessibleto those who areinterestednseeingitagainandinfull. A1976Sovietrestoration,edited somewhatdifferently,andusingvariouspiecesofthe music of DmitriShostakovich,iscertainlyclearerand easier to watch forthatreason,but islesswidelyavailable.WhytheBattleshipPotemkin?As apieceof filmart,t isrenownedoritsconcreteelementsofship,sea,town,stepsfrom towntodock,aswellasthesailors,people,andsoldiers,andfor its balancedstructurewith,asEisensteinwrote,"theage-honoredstructureoftragedy"nfivedistinctsectionsor acts:I.Men andMaggotsII.DramaontheQuarterdeckIII.TheDead Cries Out
IV.TheOdessaSteps
V.MeetingtheSquadron.2Itsinnovativetechniquesncludefilminginmist toheightenemotioninthemourning equenceanaccidentaldiscoverydue tounexpectedweatherconditions)andediting togetherstill shots of stonelions toachievetheappearanceof onerising.Itsremarkablemagesinclude the use ofeyeglassestounifyandsymbolizevision,thedeeplyhumaneandrivetingclose-upshotsofthefaces of the individualswho makeupthemasses,and,aboveall,thebrilliantdramaof thebrutalityon thestepsand theexuberanceofthetriumphof the sailorsand thepeople.Eisenstein'sstudyofaspectsof non-Westerncultureinfluencedhisfilmtechnique.TheabstractnessofJapanese,inwhichtwo characterstogetherproduceaseparatedea,whichhe learnedwhilememorizingJapanesenorderoobtainamilitarystaffobinMoscowatthe end of thecivilwar,he valued forgivinghimanewwayofthinkingandhelpinghimtomasterpictographichinkingandmastering"thenatureof mon-tage"andcomprehending"themost reconditein the methods ofart."3
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