Watching the documentaries of Adam Curtis one gets a sense of the scope in time and across space of movements and the acts of the powerful that lead to certain events like 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq (setting aside if 9/11 or the invasion of Iraq are genuinely an events in the philosophical sense). His most recent film [the film, It Felt Like a Kiss, has now been taken down– APS] drops the didactic element of his previous documentaries, but does not completely emulate Chris Marker’s approach, and so there is some vestige of his previous didacticism in the text that punctuates the endless barrage of images, voices, music, and sounds that flow into vision of the viewer. Yet, the loss of this didactic element means that this film one no longer gives a sense of that scope mentioned above that lead to certain events. We are no longer inscribing these images within some wider meaning through which we may escape these images and the endless boredom and violence they invoke. We no longer see a chain of events, but a single catastrophe. We have the sense of seeing, without any hope of escape, from the viewpoint of the angel of history.
A Klee painting named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would liked to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. – Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”
This single disasters, presented with all the paranoia of a conspiracy theorist, is the only image available to us, the only movement we are in, the only power that is in this film. A melange of images captured by news cameras, ad cameras, home cameras, and the like, all of which are only allowed to film, to bear witness to the single catastrophe.
The genre of World War II films, predominately American in style, have always served as a kind of obscuring of this single catastrophe of history. They refuse to bear the same kind of witness to it that the angel of history does, and instead attempt to inscribe it into a circle of meaning. They attempt to make this war, a kind of transcendental form of war, mean something other than what it is as a moment of this single catastrophe. They not only redeem the violence of war and genocide, but they make that violence consumable (to borrow yet again Haneke’s saying).
Inglourious Basterds is a very different kind of World War II film. Brad Pitt, in a moment of typical bravado, has said of it in relation to this genre,
“The Second World War could still deliver more stories and films, but I believe that Quentin put a cover on that pot. With ‘Basterds,’ everything that can be said to this genre has been said. The film destroys every symbol. The work is done, end of story.”
I think he’s right, and the reason why is because Tarantino’s film, autonomous from anything Tarantino might say of it, refuses both the fixed viewpoint of the angel of history and the circle of meaning that obscures the single catastrophe. Read the rest of this entry »