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Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, Volume 50, Numbers 1 & 2, Spring & Fall 2009, pp. 46-60 (Article) Published by Wayne State University Press DOI: 10.1353/frm.0.0030
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in the space of a week or so. The eureka moment for me came when I found myself. pp. called pedinamento. where two quite different (but not unrelated) kinds of oppression and neglect had made daily life a struggle. The impetus for those panels was a critical hunch that reenactment was making a comeback. Michigan 48201-1309. which Ivone Margulies translates in an important essay on cinematic reenactment as the “shadowing of everyday facts at close range. Spring & Fall 2009. A half-century apart. whom the filmmakers had asked to play themselves in small quotidian dramas.” so as to give themselves and others a “second chance. Detroit. 46–60. video. VIDEO. . one of the pioneering theorists and practitioners of Italian neorealism. a feeling that throughout the landscape of contemporary moving-image culture—in mainstream film and television. George Stoney and Liza Johnson. at festivals of documentary and avant-garde cinema.”1 Margulies uses the documentary work of Zavattini and his fellow neorealists as the model for a social pedagogy of reenactment in cinema. AND PERFORMANCE What Now? Introduction: What Now? Presenting Reenactment Jonathan Kahana This dossier of articles on the uses of reenactment in documentary-based film.” when Framework 50. Nos. Stoney and Johnson had created American versions of what Cesare Zavattini. 1 & 2. The resulting films had been crafted with local residents. Copyright © 2009 Wayne State University Press. Both had been invited to discuss projects that had taken them to impoverished areas of the American South. in which ordinary people are given the task of “interpret[ing] their human roles in society. and performance art of the past quarter-century originated in panels that I organized and participated in at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies and Visible Evidence conferences in 2007 and 2008.DOSSIER: REENACTMENT IN CONTEMPORARY DOCUMENTARY FILM. listening to presentations at my university by two quite different American filmmakers. and in galleries and museums—one was seeing the return of techniques of historical restaging that had once been quite common in documentary and social realist film.
by the coincidence of these two film presentations. the neorealist sense of reenactment. or the relation of this work to one important but largely overlooked branch of the documentary tradition. when applied to realist and documentary cinema. according to Margulies. after Stoney made his classic works of documentary reenactment for the Georgia State Department of Health. 1949). been fodder for commercial feature cinema for decades.3 It has been convenient to distinguish the era of Stoney’s earliest films from a later period of filmmaking and viewing—arriving some time in the 1980s or 1990s—by the term “postmodernity. as well as some of the methods of addressing them and the racial discrimination that was the unspoken subject of both films. Equally significant. in the critical jargon. the spectrum of reenactment-based screen art and entertainment has stretched quite wide. foundation of a documentary effect. his first film as a director.”4 My interest in convening public conversations on reenactment was spurred. in the broadest sense of the term.2 We tend to think that documentary filmmaking became aware of itself (or. of course. and in galleries today. the innovation of Palmour Street and All My Babies was to put black people in speaking roles in which they could act out the challenges for impoverished communities of maintaining good health (mental health. In this respect. the end of credulity in methods of narrative construction and historical explanation. The life stories of famous men have. South of Ten (US. in Palmour Street. in part. wherein the nonprofessional actors’ “theatricality calls into question the authenticity of [their] gestures. say. acting serves as the critical. however. and the 47 . in theaters. 2006). the film I had heard him speak about at NYU. it seemed that filmmakers and artists had been out ahead of the critical field in showing renewed interest in the powers of reenactment.Introduction psychological or social circumstances have initially prevented them from acting as they would have liked. was my discovery that there were relatively few critical resources on which one could draw to explain the critical and aesthetic powers of reenactment in both filmmakers’ work. And in both films. and of Stoney’s interracial production methods. Both films could be said to serve the exemplary or redemptive function that characterized. But it was clear to me that the film I heard Johnson discussing. This impression is confirmed when one considers the ubiquity and variety of reenactment. an experimental documentary made with residents of the devastated Gulf Coast of Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. and All My Babies: A Midwife’s Own Story (US. In recent years. in moving-image work made and shown on television. was no less a work of pedinamento than Stoney’s. natal and maternal health in All My Babies). self-reflexive) quite recently: at some point. and the déjà vu experience of seeing methods of performance and storytelling in documentary film of the 1950s apparently revived for a film of the recent past. 1953). if not contradictory.” which has been taken to mean. including Palmour Street: A Study of Family Life (US. Made in a semi-narrative style that had been conventional for decades.
Recently. and his post-9/11 pair World Trade Center (US. whose The Thin Blue Line (US. 2008). United 93 [US. 2002]. Steve McQueen (Hunger [UK. and expository narration. Todd Haynes (I’m Not There [US. featuring performances by actors who play themselves in minor or central roles. 2005] borrows directly from Morris) and tabloid television producers alike. is Errol Morris. J. 2008]). 1988–). Simpson). 2002]. Reenactments in the loosest sense. while remaining within the feature narrative structure. Standard Operating Procedure (US. 2004). like Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly [FR/US. where reenactment has a particularly rich life on both sides of the Atlantic: the made-for-television “true story” is a mode well known to American television audiences from earlier true-crime reality shows like Fox Television’s America’s Most Wanted (US. Morris took this hybrid method to new heights (or.5 Prominent examples from the last several years include Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel. 2004) and My Winnipeg (CA.Jonathan Kahana portrait of the man of historical influence continues to operate as a prestige genre in Hollywood and for international art cinema. 2007]). 2008). The Road to Guantanamo [UK. at least at the level of cinematography. 2008). and Guy Maddin. DE. 48 . 2006]). Milk (Gus Van Sant. according to some critics. US. Reenactment has also been a staple of the commercial documentary work of filmmakers tired or suspicious of the claims of veracity made by proponents of the various forms of cinéma vérité. whose Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room [US. Among the most visible and rigorous opponents of vérité style. a vein of historical film has taken the authenticity of cinematic biography a step further. who has made a sideline of the genre with such films as JFK (US. techniques revived for the infamous ABC television account of the causes of the September 11 attacks. In the recent films of directors like Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday [UK. The Path to 9/11 (US. 2006) and W. as is the sensationalist appropriation of such techniques for gutter journalism (as with the E! channel’s use of nightly reenactments during its reporting of the 1996 murder trial of O. In This World [UK. In The Thin Blue Line and the documentary films that emulate it. 1991). these films adhere more or less to the details of their subjects’ lives while indulging in cinematic liberties of scenic and characterological reconstruction. Anton Corbin (Control [UK. 2006). a film that features the restaging of some important moments in the Maddins’ family life. 1988) might be seen as the film that revived interest in reenactment among serious documentarians (like Alex Gibney. In the same period. and the films of Oliver Stone. including the daily adjustment of a hall carpet. Nixon (US. (US. new lows)6 in his own film about the Iraq War. reenactments are used to supplement historical methods that viewers have grown to see as more authentically documentary: interviews. 1995). 2003]. archival or observational footage. 2007]). the genre has also been of interest to filmmakers working in the spirit of experimental film. 2007]). one sees the influence of television docudrama. who uses his own biography as the inspiration for films like Cowards Bend the Knee (CA. 2006]) and Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People [UK.
2007).” a 2008 show at the Power Plant gallery in Toronto.8 At about the same time. a film that drew fierce criticism for its luridly stylized dramatizations of torture and beatings of detainees by American military personnel and military contractors at the Abu Ghraib facility. Notable examples included the British conceptual artists Jeremy Deller. In the related but culturally distinct domain of contemporary art. 1997).” Many of the same artists could be found in these shows: a number of them combine performance art with film and video installation to restage a variety of historically significant events. and “Realisms. 1985).C. and Rithy Panh’s films about Cambodia in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge. and Rod Dickinson. who has organized reenactments of the so-called “Milgram Experiment. or Werner Herzog’s film about an American pilot’s experience as a Vietnam War POW. Berlin. to the topic of reenactment. (Around the release of Standard Operating Procedure. in films like Claude Lanzmann’s epic oral history of the Holocaust. What Farocki Taught (US. Zoom.” the FBI siege of the Branch 49 .” a 2007–2008 curatorial collaboration between the Hartware MedienKunstVerein in Dortmund and the KW Institute for Contemporary Art. and likely played some role in generating interest among American experimental film and video artists in remounting the work of earlier experimental filmmakers. Morris himself devoted a number of columns of his New York Times weblog. called “The Cinema Effect. whose “Battle of Orgreave” reconstructs a 1984 confrontation between striking British coal miners and the police. received considerable attention from critics and curators when they were released in the same year.)7 At some aesthetic and conceptual distance from these practices of docudramatic narrative.” the second part of a yearlong show at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington.. Jill Godmilow’s remake of a 1969 film by German filmmaker Harun Farocki. the remake of a 1967 student film produced by Chicago acquaintances of radical feminist Shulamith Firestone. Their work employed an unsettling combination of Freudian technique and method acting to unearth traumatic histories through harrowing on-location interviews. “Not Quite How I Remember It. a small wave of filmmakers better known in art world and academic circles were engaged in an entirely different sort of reenaction. D. a parallel track was established by a number of documentary filmmakers in different parts of the world.Introduction 2008). remaking earlier works of documentary and avant-garde film. writings that are among the most thorough reflections on the meanings and uses of reenactment by any current practitioner or critic. 2003) and Paper Cannot Wrap Up Embers (FR. one could find ample evidence of a similar preoccupation with quasi-documentary techniques of historical fiction and historical performance among the makers and critics of experimental film and video. like “History Will Repeat Itself. 1997) and Elisabeth Subrin’s Shulie (US. Little Dieter Needs to Fly (US. including those displayed and discussed in various kinds of large group shows. Shoah (FR. 1997). including S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (FR/KH.
These themes include the place of memory. the American conceptual artists Sharon Hayes and Mark Tribe. Pierre Huyghe. and performance and installation art. rituals. Texas. multi-screen videos that mix documentary conventions like the interview with non-narrative montage and tableaux on the topic of military action and reenaction. a Polish artist who has made a number of works revisiting traumatic acts of institutional violence through different forms of historical performance. and curators to insist that a zeitgeist can be identified. re-creating the bank robbery in Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet. the Israeli-American video artist Omer Fast. the tensions between political. or merely latent. 1975). and narrative construction in historical knowledge. a properly historical analysis of the cultural production of “now” would remain skeptical of such a one-dimensional view of the present. both of whom use performance and video to revisit signature moments in the recent history of American radical politics. especially one that maintains the importance of what curators like to call “site-specific” art. whether these are explicitly articulated in the works as problems. Ranging across this landscape of styles and settings. and theatrical senses of acting. video. the ritual and unconscious dimensions of action. and radical structures of cinema. But testing and straining belief in the “now” and in the habits. the function of film and other recording media for the production or preservation of cultural and collective memory. and geographically diverse cultural phenomenon. ethnographic film. the interview and articles that follow provide some sense of the continuities between projects conceived for very different purposes and audiences. experimental. while relying on the internationally non-specific flows of financial and cultural capital represented by the usual-suspects list in the previous paragraph. from the conventional devices of the biopic and the sanctified space of the museum to collaborative. 1999). the therapeutic value of reenactment. Although it is the job of publicists. and that doing so is of some intellectual value. the imaginary and fantasmatic aspects of character and performance in documentary film and media. is one of the most widely shown works in this style. journalists. institutionally. predictive and 50 . It would seem to strain credibility to use the same name—reenactment—for such a methodologically. and Artur Zmijewski. the uses of embodiment in various kinds of learning and pedagogy. and laws that keep it in place is precisely the aim of the works considered by the contributors to the dossier that follows. coming to light only through interpretation. and who was represented in the Hirshhorn show with a piece re-creating Philip Zimbardo’s so-called Stanford Prison Experiment. and other events. By bringing together work on documentary and narrative cinema. social. the following articles take up issues common to this wide variety of rehearsals. testimony. maker of a series of long. US. and the role of documentary in the construction of social fantasy. and performance. forms of film and video essay. the French video artist whose double-screen film The Third Memory (FR.Jonathan Kahana Davidian compound in Waco.
to four in his 1991 book Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary (via Julianne Burton’s reworking of the first list in “Toward a History of Social Documentary in Latin America”). and the locations. or minimal acts of staging. sedimented in the oldest English-language appearances of the term. and ironic forms we are likely to find in activist and experimental film and video practice. realist forms. in his 1981 book Ideology and the Image: Social Representation in the Cinema and Other Media. the degrees of construction and intervention by the filmmakers steadily increase. and simulation have limited our capacity for originality. to the more stylized. Brian Winston places their work on a spectrum of reconstruction that stretches all the way from the lowest level of filmmaker intervention—the “pure” recording of natural disasters and other events uncontrolled by the filmmaker—to historically or physically impossible situations that are entirely fabricated by the filmmakers.Introduction future-oriented applications of reenactment. where the staging of history is meant to have evidentiary value. This spectrum of types ranges from less reflexive forms like docudramatic realism. and the nagging feeling that a culture of nostalgia. to the dramatization of events that may or may not actually have taken place. like asking documentary subjects to repeat an action the cameraperson missed. Brian Winston. As is true also of his well-known enumerations of the “modes” of documentary—a list which has grown from two. but with a tentative teleology—toward self-reflexivity—that is absent from Winston’s account. it will be useful to briefly mention the multifarious identity of reenactment in the history of documentary—which cannot be recounted at any length here—and to compare two different treatments of this problem to the convolutions of the very concept of enactment. in which “detail. with or without the participation of the actual people whom the depicted events concern. Drawing on 51 .9 Anticipating the revival of critical interest in reenactment. and plot simplicity” are just as viable as the usual indexes of documentary ontology: “authenticity of the documentary actor. and agency in our media and our actions. proposing a helpful taxonomy of varieties of reenactment that echoes Winston’s. goes so far as to propose a definition of documentary based on reenactment. selfconscious. repetition. To prepare the reader to follow some of these threads through the analyses that follow. Between these two extremes. his or her actions. publicsphere interaction of subjects. authenticity. of the sort we find in historical dramas and true-crime television. from simple requests for permission to film people as they go about their lives. One of the few contemporary historians of documentary to pay significant attention to reenactment. to six in Introduction to Documentary (2001)10 —types of reenactment can be found at different periods. Bill Nichols has recently followed Winston’s lead. although it is clear that more recent forms are privileged for their reflexive relation to older.” Commenting on the use of reenactment by filmmakers like Joris Ivens and Humphrey Jennings in the 1930s and 1940s. and to see them as the continuation of enduring concerns.
” 2. or establish a fundamental principle for a group without passing through a stage of mediation beside the medium of the declared idea itself. to appoint. to implant. but rather some uncanny combination of the two. also originating in the early modern period. reenactment raises the possibility of histories of the form that predate film. and although Winston and Nichols are concerned only with cinematic reenactment. One genealogy would start with the term reenactment itself. thus making it appear as if the documentary “tradition” had a progressive history. in the first three senses provided by the OED. But a second set of definitions.Jonathan Kahana both anthropology and Freudian psychoanalysis.” 52 . their taxonomies open onto much longer genealogies.” As a threat to the supposed indexical base of documentary cinema. to activate.”)11 Both authors return to reenactment (or regard its return) as a hidden foundation within the history of documentary. do not denote what would be denoted by those actions which these actions denote. Also.” These definitions. to enter in a record or chronicle. might be employed in the remaking or deconstruction of the contemporary concept of documentary. To enact is. which date from the fifteenth century. Nichols argues for fantasmatic styles of reenactment. also. rehearsals that stand in for a historical event while indicating that they are. as a language out of which different rhetorics or paradigms of “true story” are shaped and contrasted to each other. “To make into an act. Nichols views reenactment as a kind of repressed instinct in the unconscious of the form. (This ingenious formulation draws from Gregory Bateson’s gloss on how animals explain to themselves the rules and the meaning of their play-fighting: “These actions. even before the belated addition of the prefix re-. at the same time.) into a person. “To enter among the acta or public records. excavated by historians or filmmakers. to ordain. “To work in or upon. neither an indexical record of that event nor merely a later act of representation. places more emphasis on the staging of the announcement of the new condition and on its presentation to and effect upon an audience: 4. influence. “To declare officially or with authority. “worked through. to effect a permanent change in a social or institutional body with a singular utterance: 1. make a decision. inspire (a feeling. decree. etc.” 3. To enact in these senses of the term is to render a judgment. hence. are speech acts. in Freudian terms. one that. enactment is itself already a concept in which the problems of staging and mediation figure quite significantly. in which we now engage. But where Winston’s typology sees reenactment in semiotic terms. in the linguistic sense of the term: they are their own audience and have immediate significance. According to the Oxford English Dictionary. one that can be.
”13 The enmeshment of the two actions of enactment—to do. Under the conditions of these public displays of social recording. “the distinction between the real and the imaginary. Various kinds of historical re-creations helped establish the public face of the American left in the early twentieth century. of course. a rhetorical or mimetic effect dependent upon another’s belief in or reaction to the act-ing in question. and one that covers a social distance: between one person and another. or that there were no institutional. the ontological ambiguity in the concept of enactment is practically unavoidable. to personate (a character) dramatically. Enactment in these senses is both a temporal and spatial process. a material and human transformation of some sort must take place before it can be said that enactment has occurred. And for centuries prior. these last two definitions suggest an impermanent and intersubjective process. “2. disappearing. etc. for instance. or outlawed indigenous cultural and ritual practices were central to the commercial-public exploitations of American salvage anthropology. public. Everything is presented as if it were of the same ontological order. “To represent (a dramatic work. To perform (a ceremony). Filmed reenactments are thus of a piece with the problems apparently posed in a new way by those more recent forms of docudrama or metafictions which place “in abeyance.) again.Introduction 5. and in the same period. to see that the OED has relatively little to say about reenactment. To act or perform again. To enact (a law. Filmed reenactments—which date more or less to the origin of cinema—reopen the gap between the two original senses of enactment. But with cinema. it can be very difficult to distinguish “actual” actions from performances—which hasn’t stopped critics of moving images from trying. or between one or more and more than one. a ‘scene’) on or as on the stage. to reproduce. the staging of lost. of a past that lives again before us. one that installs itself in and as an authoritative record of the past simply because of the technical conditions of its production and its exhibition. to perform —is a centuries-old problem. which it defines merely as a rehearsal or repetition of the two broad categories of enactment: “1. It is something of a letdown. captured in its etymology and revived over a century ago in the birth of the moving image. the medium already seems to have the effect of public history. play (a part). reenactments of the Passion were a staple of Christian communities. both real and imaginary—realistically imaginary 53 . Because the moving image comes to us with an effect of immediacy built in. after all the intriguing play of contradiction between these various definitions. this happened. decreeing to audiences of any filmed event that it was this way. In contradistinction to enactment as an official declaration or inscription. one that can not only figuratively but also literally take place. It would.”12 In these latter definitions.” according to Hayden White. for over a hundred years. be a mistake to claim that film singlehandedly revived this problem. or collective practices of reenactment prior to or beside cinema.”.
and the Modern Event (where White’s essay appears). US. with the result that the referential function of the images of events is etiolated.16 In them. 1994]. the crisis marked in different but overlapping publics by Stone’s film and by the volume of scholarly essays which includes White’s reflections seems.Jonathan Kahana or imaginarily real. not a postmodernist one.”)15 Like the essays in The Persistence of History. the Disney controversy. Schindler’s List [Steven Spielberg. the History Channel”—seems in itself to prove her point that the public significance of the mass media had come to depend upon the constant announcement of crises which—like the Simpson “trial of the century”—were “on the one hand ‘special’ and ‘historic’ and on the other diurnal and temporally repetitive.”14 Writing a decade and a half ago. the authors in this dossier do not necessarily seek an escape from this vertiginous spiral. and its emergence can be dated to any number of historical and cultural events of the previous century or so. as it is practiced in the wide range of moving image forms represented.) Indeed. US. techniques of reenactment appear as a return of sorts to primordial questions—present from the start in the very definition of enactment as a public and historic act of representation—about the capacity of any historical medium to keep separate the signifiers and signifieds of history. in fact. 1993]. so world-historically significant about the mass media examples Sobchack uses to signify this development—“Forrest Gump. J. As Vivian Sobchack says in her introduction to The Persistence of History: Cinema. the reader of this collection of essays will find a remarkable diversity of opinion on the effects and meanings of reenactment. this is itself just a reflection of the intertwining of representational media and history in everyday life. to recur in a regular way. the O. (For that reason. many of the works of documentary and avant-garde film and video discussed in the following pages are likely to be much less familiar to many readers than Forrest Gump [Robert Zemeckis. the following articles assume that a question about the ability of moving image media to make history “hurt” is once again being posed. the scandal of Oliver Stone’s paranoid retelling of the Kennedy assassination in JFK—White’s comments are meant to remind his audience this “crisis” is a modernist problematic. Television. But an etymological perspective suggests that there’s no reason to stop there in looking for a source of the confusion that moving images of history produce. But unlike that earlier volume. a decade and a half ago. The Thin Blue Line. even within the same article. JFK. and the other works of mainstream American commercial cinema used to make the argument for or against a postmodern historical sensibility in contemporary cinema. in the wake of yet another postmodern crisis of the historical referent—in this instance. trial. (That it is nearly impossible to remember what could have seemed. If there is some agreement among the contributors to this 54 . Nor do they see it necessarily as yet another form of mass deception channeled through the commercial media. If the recent resurgence of interest in historical reenactment among makers of moving images is any indication.
becomes a way for Peck to tease out the layers of political history. serves as something of a historical reference point for the articles that follow. about their important but rarely seen film Two Laws (AU. Pavsek calls it “a film about failure itself . Pavsek finds a similar forgetting taking place in Peck’s restaging of histories—Lumumba’s. and Peck’s own—in the narrative consolations of the biopic genre. Made between 1979 and 1981. Lumumba: la mort du prophète/Lumumba: Death of a Prophet (CH/DE/FR. insofar as it demonstrates the political and artistic difficulty of returning to the literal and figurative scenes of imperialist and neocolonial crimes—is one of that film’s strengths. in part. the place and time of the contemporary has been established in the broadest possible terms in this collection of articles. Strachan and Cavadini were establishing some lasting questions about the agency and action of filmic representation. . and making clear that such questions must be posed in transnational political terms. . Drawing out the Freudian themes articulated explicitly in Death of a Prophet. Where the first film is a reflexive essay. marked by the great historical failure of Lumumba’s project for Congolese independence and national unity. And to that end. the second is made in a style familiar to viewers of the classical Hollywood biographical narrative. artists. 1992) and Lumumba (BE/DE/FR/HT. concerned as much with the present struggle to make a film about the past as it is with its ostensible subject. immemorial—and non-Western cultures of reenactment into Western documentary film practice and documentary consciousness. Looking into the gap of years and styles between the first and second films. 55 . reenactment troubles the “now” in which any definite statement of its coordinates or its meanings could be made. in other words. through what Freud called the screen memories of everyday forgetting. Patrice Lumumba. three of which consider forms of reenactment in cinema and three of which discuss more recent appearances of reenactment in the world of contemporary art and art criticism.” Pavsek notes that the incorporation of this failure into the structure of the first film—which fails in various ways to function as a documentary.Introduction dossier (and the filmmakers about which they speak) that “this” is a moment in which reenactment again raises questions of some urgency for filmmakers.” Peck’s inability to enact a proper documentary statement. 1981). But it was also an attempt to incorporate older—in some important senses.” Christopher Pavsek considers the authorship of reenactment in Raoul Peck’s two films about the life and short political career of the Congo’s first democratically elected leader. and critical thinkers. 2000). for each of these authors and filmmakers. creating “black holes of history” that mark the sites of “another possible future. Two Laws was. In “The Black Holes of History: Raoul Peck’s Two Lumumbas. it is just as true that. The first article. a response (as Cavadini and Strachan make clear in the interview) to the prevailing ethics and aesthetics of documentary and of ethnographic filmmaking in the West. my interview with Alessandro Cavadini and Carolyn Strachan. By doing so.
Against the universalizing tenets of this work. and Recovery in Pierre Huyghe’s The Third Memory. one not altogether different from the modernist critique of historiography outlined by Hayden White: contemporary art. Taken together with Cavadini and Strachan’s commentary on the making of Two Laws and Pavsek’s discussion of Peck’s films. where Boyle finds alternatives to the Freudian concept of repression. The next three essays in the dossier move from the aesthetic and social structures of cinema to works of reenactment designed for the diverse spaces and screens of contemporary video art. both a way to “engage public conscience about the evil done in the name of the state”—as is true of many works of political documentary—and a way to realize the limits and barriers to cinematic transmission of such horrors. The resulting film is. Wojtowicz is seen in Huyghe’s reconstruction of a few scenes from the film directing himself and others in what he calls “the real movie. in this sense. and other high-priced Hollywood talent made Dog Day Afternoon. Boyle argues. Boyle’s reading of S-21 demonstrates the importance of a local theory of reenactment. the theoretical apparatus includes a genealogical investigation of the history of psychology. that Panh’s practice of reenactment is designed specifically to deal with Cambodians’ dissociated memories of the Khmer Rouge period.” Deirdre Boyle’s reflection on the use of reenactment in Panh’s powerful interviewbased documentary S-21. The Freudian model has been central to critical work on many varieties of the literature and culture of genocide work which is sometimes organized under the heading of trauma studies. argues Erickson. even when the institutional and political sources of the collective trauma in question are roughly comparable. Noting the increasing interest in reenactment among contemporary artists and curators alike in the decade since Huyghe’s project was first exhibited. which stages the return of survivors and perpetrators of the Cambodian genocide to the site of their conjoint traumatization. screenwriter Frank Pierson. however. director Sidney Lumet.” But by reading Huyghe’s simulation through the Situationist concept of spectacle. In the case of Boyle’s analysis of Panh’s filmmaking. In “The Real Movie: Reenactment. Spectacle. one calibrated to the methods of reenactment employed by filmmakers to address particular problems of history and memory. Erickson observes a tacit understanding of its critical function in this period.” a more authentic version of the events from which Pacino. Erickson suggests 56 . Huyghe’s ten-minute restaging of the events chronicled in Dog Day Afternoon.Jonathan Kahana Collective histories of state violence and the cinematic forms appropriate to them are also the subject of “Shattering Silence: Traumatic Memory and Reenactment in Rithy Panh’s S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine. as is true of these films’ subjects. the man on whom Al Pacino’s gay bank-robber character was based. employs reenactment to champion “viewpoints traditionally kept outside the ‘grand narratives’ and to deconstruct the images and accounts that have comprised these narratives. featuring John Wojtowicz.” Ruth Erickson takes up one of the best-known examples of reenactment in the art world.
Beckman comes to the bracing conclusion that “re-enactments constitute central and paradoxical components of our oppositional discourse. or. both of which are present “where we re-enact elements of the structure of power that makes torture possible. Placing herself in the frame of this multimedia group of performance works. in doing so. its auteurist aspirations. and Pedagogy in Coco Fusco’s Bare Life Study #1 (2005). Power. at first glance. Fusco attempts to learn by reenactment the methods and effects of military discipline and punishment—on the military’s own operatives and on “enemy combatants”—and.” The final essay in the dossier.” With its highly personal content.” Karen Beckman explores the work of another contemporary artist whose use of reenactment brings together aesthetic experimentation and corrective social analysis. Beckman’s essay establishes a contrast between Fusco’s work and some other uses of reenactment described in the dossier. for that matter.” while calling attention as well to its rampant textual and contextual contradictions.” a multimedia initiative 57 . and how to prevent it from happening.” including the spaces of liberal education. the Italian neorealists’ work with peasants and the urban working class in postwar Italy.” returns us to another immemorial problem for documentary—that of the document—via a critical examination of Tribe’s “Port Huron Project. and its rarified conditions of exhibition and reception. In “Gender. Beckman’s reading helps us understand reenactment as a discipline. to learn something about how learning and torture are connected. the dramatic differences between the art world and the public spheres of social documentary film.Introduction that “The Third Memory” resists such a “neat narrative of liberation.” Tracing this troubling theme through a set of related stagings by Fusco of pedagogical theory and practice. and from a certain perspective. But it could also be argued that Huyghe and many contemporary artists have turned to documentary methods and to the matter of the everyday precisely to break down such sociological and formal boundaries. wherein the goal for both Huyghe and his subject is to claim “an image and economic gain closely associated with stardom. with both punitive and critical valences. and are the basis for a claim—by artists and by critics—that reenactment is a redemptive or progressive technique. A Room of One’s Own (2005). Cavadini and Strachan’s collaboration with Aboriginal groups in northern Australia. Huyghe’s multi-screen and multimedia installation marks. At the same time. in which experience and “the personal” rise above ideology. however. Huyghe’s work with Wojtowicz derives from the same ameliorative principles as Pahn’s work with the victims of the Khmer Rouge. Opening on journalist Christopher Hitchens’s bathetic performance of his own torture for a Vanity Fair article. and Operation Atropos (2006). Paige Sarlin’s “New Left-Wing Melancholy: Mark Tribe’s ‘The Port Huron Project’ and the Politics of Reenactment. Beckman contrasts the ethical “clarity” Hitchens reaches by reenacting the waterboarding of prisoners and detainees held by American military forces with Fusco’s discovery of “how difficult it is to determine what torture is.
Sarlin returns readers to questions central to the problem of thinking about documentary as a form of social or political enactment. Jonathan Kahana is Associate Professor of Cinema Studies at New York University. or of torture and documentary itself. one who measures the distance the documentary travels from its source in the document. and for whom this travel is made to matter. Sarlin diagnoses a modern variant of what Walter Benjamin called “left-wing melancholy” in the performances staged. on the contrary. the journal of aesthetic and cultural theory. By raising the question of how the activities and technologies of recording and collecting conduce to collectivity. But while they animate this movement. Sarlin raises valuable questions about the use and abuse of history—and of the concept of the archive. in all the forms this activity can take. the following discussions help us narrow the apparent distance between the past and present forms of documentary. He is the author of Intelligence Work: The Politics of American Documentary (Columbia University Press. documentary foregrounds this problem in terms of movement. and mass culture. from viewing to affect or action—the use of reenactment in documentary reinforces it. This problem subtends every documentary work worthy of the name. Applied to situations of reenactment. and to “archive” and distribute the performances in digital form. a term stretched so thin at present that it is practically meaningless—in contemporary cultural criticism. and circulated by Tribe. 2008) and of articles on documentary and avant-garde film. If social documentary is always at some level a problem of movement—from artifact to explanation. and projects the presence of a reader or observer. as well as appreciations of Tribe’s work in venues like October. a Brown University professor of modern culture and media. where he co-directs the graduate program in Culture and Media. recorded. between the “Vietnam” era and the period of “Iraq”. assuming a form of resonance and significance that the project then re-produces and amplifies. between Brussels and Kinshasa. between the methods of torture and of pedagogy.Jonathan Kahana to restage a number of landmark political speeches by American radicals in the 1960s. cultural 58 . as a model of how to return art to political relevance at a time of war. in a context of nostalgia for an authentic left politics. “what now?”—a question whose meaning changes depending on how it is performed. Sarlin maintains that. In this way. between crime. since that name—documentary—contains the problem of how a document can become a likeness of itself.” but which allow it and its champions to avoid important questions about the historical models they adopt. Placing the work of Tribe. art. “Tribe’s project gives a blank form to the differences and the similarities between then and now. moving the documentary viewer between Europe in 1968 and Aboriginal Australia. but as a way of posing the question. and one that it might now and again be more important for documentary to ask than to answer. documentary reenactment can be seen not as a turning away from the present.
the People Behind the Abuse. April 3. “Play It Again.” Zoom. Jr. 8. Paul Arthur. “Exemplary Bodies.com/2008/04/03/playit-again-sam-re-enactments-part-one/.” Wide Angle 21.1734936. Part One). whose editorial acumen I relied on to shape the final form of this introduction and the articles that follow it. For an excellent account of the historical biography film and its importance to the early sound era in Hollywood. April 22. Sam (Re-enactments. Shadows on the Past: Studies in the Historical Fiction Film (Philadelphia: Temple University Press. New York Times. December 10.00.com/2008/11/12/cartesian-blogging-part-3/. “Standard Operating Procedure. and Close Up. 221. June 9. 59 . 4. Manohla Dargis. which reviews the historical and historiographic terrain covered. Sam (Re-enactments. 5. See.com/time/arts/article/0. New York Times. and American politics in Camera Obscura. http://morris. 6. Part Two. 1994). 1999). He is the editor of The Documentary Film Reader (Oxford University Press.8599.blogs. 3. Sons. Millennium Film Journal. quite literally. no. “We.movies. Part Two).villagevoice.com/inprint/id=19738. 2007. Leuchter. nytimes. New York Times. and Jackson’s “The Production of George Stoney’s Film All My Babies: A Midwife’s Own Story.time. This influence of these films can be sensed. 2008. www. Part Three. see Lynne Jackson. Ivone Margulies. NC: Duke University Press. Margulies. “Errol Morris Lets Torturers Off Easy. 2011). http://morris.” Film History 1 (1987): 367–92. for example. New York Times.Introduction theory. Film Quarterly. 2008. com/2008/04/10/play-it-again-sam-re-enactments-part-two/. On Stoney’s production methods for both films. “Cartesian Blogging. 7.blogs. Hoberman. 2008.com/2007/12/10/primae-objectiones-et-responsio-auctoris-ad-primasobjectiones-part-one/.html. 2008.com/2008/04/25/movies/25stan. www. 2008. April 25. ed. “Exemplary Bodies: Reenactment in Love in the City. who provided materials from the “Realisms” show for me to consult (as well as arranging for me to discuss her curation of the show with Ellegood). “Cartesian Blogging. see Leger Grindon.” Artforum (April 2008). in turn. “The Horror. (US. Too Much Style?.” Zoom. New York Times. Ibid.” Zoom. and to Paul Fileri. April 24.” 227. 2002). Part One. 2008.nytimes.” Zoom. http://morris.nytimes. in Errol Morris’s own Mr.com/2008/06/09/cartesian-bloggingpart-two/.” New York Times. April 10. 2. http://morris.nytimes.artforum. http://morris. “Cartesian Blogging. Morris’s use of his by-then conventional style of reenactments to dramatize certain details of his subjects’ speech raises implicitly 1.blogs.nytimes. Notes Thanks are due Erin Baysden and Anne Ellegood of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.” in Rites of Realism: Essays on Corporeal Cinema. Ivone Margulies (Durham. 2008. “Play It Again. 2 (March 1999): 33–37. November 12.blogs. and Social Text.” Time.blogs.” Zoom.com/2008-04-22/film/get-out-of-jail-free/. while giving equal time to the unconvincing arguments of the Holocaust deniers against (or for) whom Shoah was made. “A Commitment to Social Values and Racial Justice. html. www. J. Richard Schickel. Errol Morris.” Village Voice.nytimes. www. by Shoah. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A.
” in Joris Ivens and the Documentary Context. Straightforward Re-enactment’: The Staging of Reality. 2001). 3–6. 1 (Autumn 2008): 72–89. 32–75. “Toward a History of Social Documentary in Latin America. Television. Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Vivian Sobchack.” in The Persistence of History: Cinema. at least in part.. 169. 182–85. why did such a film need to be made? The answer is discovered.” in The Persistence of History. 1990).” in Steps to an Ecology of Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 10. where he is caught on an assistant’s amateur video chipping away at the ruins of the gas chambers. 1981).. which has recently been published as “Documentary Reenactment and the Fantasmatic Subject.” in The Social Documentary in Latin America. 11. “The Modernist Event. Vivian Sobchack (London: Routledge. 4. and the Modern Event. 99–138. 13. 19. Oxford English Dictionary. when the film follows Leuchter to Auschwitz. Gregory Bateson’s formulation appears in “A Theory of Play and Fantasy. a reenactment—of the professional historian. 2nd ed. “History is what hurts” is Fredric Jameson’s coinage. ed. 16. 180. in a horrifying imitation—one could say.” in Critical Inquiry 35. 2nd ed. See Bill Nichols. I am here paraphrasing Bill Nichols’s argument in “Documentary Reenactment and the Fantasmatic Subject” from the form in which he presented it on the reenactment panel I organized for the SCMS conference in 2007. 12. no. See The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca. 2000 ). Introduction to Documentary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 60 . NY: Cornell University Press. a grotesque performance that is also meant to enter the as-if of the most pernicious kind of historical fiction: What if the Nazis were telling the truth and these really were just the walls of ordinary showers? Brian Winston. 102. 9. Bill Nichols. “Re-enactment. 14. 15. 1991). Kees Bakker (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. ed. 1996). Nichols generously allowed me to review the manuscript of the full-length version of his essay. Ideology and the Image: Social Representation in the Cinema and Other Media (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). “Introduction: History Happens.” Oxford English Dictionary.” Hayden White. ed. “‘Honest.v. 1999).v. s. Julianne Burton. Julianne Burton (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. s.Jonathan Kahana the question demanded by the whole project: After Shoah. “Enactment.