Symposium 2002

Topic: "Finds, films, false friends:
Archaeological films working for profit and propaganda"

Lectures within the framework of CINARCHEA 2002
By Dr. Kurt Denzer

Reflection on the history of one’s own field of study should be an integral part of the way one understands scientific pursuit – a demand as trivial as it is unfulfilled. An initial step in this direction that achieved an impact beyond academic circles was undertaken in 1966 during the Germanistentag in Munich, a conference where representatives of the younger generation of German scholars attempted to come to terms with past ties in the field of German studies with National-Socialist ideology (cf. Edition Suhrkamp, Vol. 204). For some time, this was the only such attempt, and even to this day not all the disciplines have critically confronted their own past. Meanwhile, an examination of the period of Nazi rule has given some fields easy access to the topic, insofar as the publication of the findings was not obstructed, or in some cases prevented, by survivors of that era or their advocates. Some disciplines – such as the study of classical antiquity – imagined themselves to be immune to any form of ideology, past or future, and thus refused to believe that they could have been fatally involved. A recent exhibition on the history of archeology in Germany under the title "Propaganda. Power. History. Archeology at the Rhine and Mosel in the Service of National Socialism" was on display at the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Trier until January 6, 2003. Achim Leube and Morten Hegewisch published the volume "Prähistorie und Nationalsozialismus: Die mittel- und osteuropäische Ur- und Frühgeschichtsforschung in den Jahren 1933-1945" (Prehistory and National Socialism: Earliest and Prehistoric Research in Central and Eastern Europe in the Years 1933-1945), published by Synchron Wissenschaftsverlag, Heidelberg 2002, 674 pp. However, even if it is one of the younger disciplines, the history of archeology does not begin in 1933, and the critical analysis of extradisciplinary influences should not be considered finished with the year 1945. The pressures, concessions and intrigues are different today, and they are not always as obvious to us as they are for the period of the NS regime.

It becomes more complicated – because more complex – when we turn to the subjects that were treated in the form of films, because we also have to consider such additional aspects as the structures, interests and distribution forms of the audiovisual media. When viewing a great number of films on archeology, we notice certain peculiarities in these works which cannot be explained either by their attempt to produce pure documentation or to communicate knowledge or by their apparent compulsion to be popular. The interests of archeologists, producers, TV department heads and directors can all be different, and there is almost no such thing as the professional auteur film in this genre, so that it is often difficult to pinpoint the causes or the persons responsible for departures from the straight path of communicating knowledge. It is also not always possible to identify the respective interests, and it is often only a feeling of uneasiness that comes over the viewer.

This experience is the point of departure for Carole Lazio in her contribution Same Footage. Different Stories, in which she analyzes such differences on the basis of the different treatment of the findings of John Rinehardt’s expedition from 1966 in the series Ice Mummies. – The phenomenon of product placement, which up until a few years ago was felt to be very disturbing, has mutated to a barely noticed "stylistic device." It is almost only in works from totalitarian states that instructions from the producers are clearly recognizable, insofar as these films were commissioned by the state. In this vein, productions from the twelve-year Reich were presented and discussed with the spectators at the first CINARCHEA in 1994. Examples such as Germanen gegen Pharaonen (Pharaohs vs. the German Tribes) or Wir wandern mit den Ostgermanen (Wandering with the Eastern German Tribes) impose their intention so blatantly on the viewers that it was no longer necessary to dress it up. And yet there seemed to be a need to explain to the audience, which was made up of more than just professional participants, where exactly the falsification began and which parts of these productions were nevertheless correct.

We wanted very much to get hold of analogous works from the territories of the USSR, the Warsaw Pact countries or even from the GDR, but unfortunately did not succeed. However, it was precisely the lack of such obvious examples that led us to take a closer look at barely perceivable tendencies in the films we were showing and to become sensitive to attitudes which otherwise – if, for example, they were only to be found in a single example – would hardly be noticed. It is only when we can see such tendencies beginning to accumulate, such as when we see many films at a festival, that suspicions can become certainty. Some television productions belong in this context, such as those dealing with the infighting of the big excavation tycoons, the way Tilman Scholl treats the topic in his report for Spiegel-TV about the staking off of claims in Abyssinia. We were in the fortunate position to be able to integrate the symposium lectures into the program and show films there which were appropriate to the topic, such as Hitler’s Search for the Holy Grail, which deals, among other things, with Jankuhn’s role as high-ranking functionary in the NS cultural organization "Ahnenerbe" (Ancestral Heritage), or Beccatini’s Un secolo di cinema e archeologia, which treats the mutual influence of film and archeology (above all) in Italian cinema. – I had the unfortunate experience of discovering that it is still possible for state officials in our country to intervene in this way when I was completing a film commissioned by them in 1985: Die Welt der Wikinger (The World of the Vikings). At the insistence of the state chancellery then in office, I was supposed to insert two historical falsifications to the supposed glory of the Land Schleswig-Holstein. I did not put them in the film, and the planned premiere was therefore cancelled.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, it seemed that it had become obsolete to analyze current productions with regard to their ideological implications – in reality, however, it has only become more interesting, because the analysis has to be more subtle and precise. In this respect, the lectures in this volume held during the festival demonstrate that the ways of approaching a topic and the interest in the subject matter are by no means uniform, but rather testify to a variety of motivations.

In her contribution On the Role of Archaeology and Historical Research in the Film Planet of the Apes Regina Heilmann addresses the topic of the banning of impartial science by official government decree and the conflict that can arise through confrontation with research findings, using the example of the science fiction film Planet of the Apes. Here it is in fact an archeologist who recognizes the hypocrisy of the state-sanctioned doctrine by using excavation findings. Heilmann places the genesis of this production in the context of the socio-political climate at the time of the race between the USA and the USSR for supremacy in space and the atmosphere in society at the time, in which strong anti-enlightenment tendencies were noted, as could be seen, for example, in the dismissal of the theory of evolution. An ironic postscript to the film is that the lead was played by Charlton Heston, whose role as president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) was recently examined most critically by Michael Moore in his documentary Bowling for Columbine.

In What does the Movie Screen Show or Conceal?, Lauri Kärk reflects on the naïve belief in the ability of the medium of film to represent, or even grasp, reality and takes reference to the elementary property of film material, which is not unequivocally in a position to do this. If Godard’s dictum is correct that film is truth, 24 times a second, then there must also be an inverse conclusion: in every second there are 24 different truths or falsehoods. For Lauri Kärk, cinematography has had the inherent possibility, ever since its conception, of making propaganda, which he demonstrates by means of examples from the beginning of cinema history. – Since there were hardly any films made about archeology when the USSR existed as a confederation, Lauri Kärk cited an example from the Stalinist era in which the skillfully applied knowledge of metamorphic montage from the Russian school of the 1920s is used to glorify rural life in the USSR. In his lecture he also presented an early animated film by the famous Estonian director Prit Pärn in which in the original version a black (!) shark mutates into a submarine out of whose sharp-toothed jaws a rocket is propelled, while in the official version we see only two harmless little periscopes popping up out of the shark’s head.

We have included in this volume the lecture "Teutons vs. Pharaohs" by Tom Stern about the above-mentioned NS film Germanen gegen Pharaonen, a short version of which he held during a symposium in Munich and which he has expanded here into an impressive analysis of the topic. The film was screened during CINARCHEA in 1994 and provoked considerable debate and stimulated further study of the topic. In January 1998 the film was shown in the Berlin cinema "Eiszeit Kino" together with other cultural films from the Nazi period in connection with the concurrent documentation "Schwarze Sonne" (Black Sun) by Rüdiger Sünner; Kolja Mensing, writing in the Berlin newspaper BZ from 31 January 1998, called these films "the outer celluloid shell of the murderous political machine."

Ruth Lindner’s contribution "Films of Antiquity and Propaganda – Rome and Romanitas in the Romania of the Ceausescu Era" is among the lectures dealing with history films which exhibit a stance motivated explicitly by political ideology. She examines the films Columna (1968) and Burebista (1980) against the backdrop of the political dictatorship of Ceausescu, who makes use of the glorified early history of Romania as an identity-generating projection of ethnogenesis. "Generally," says Lindner, "we associate this phenomenon […] with the 19th century. Here the historical or pseudo-historical argument served primarily as a means of differentiation." In the second half of the 20th century, she continues, national identification by means of prehistoric events appears to have become obsolete. This makes the case of Romania all the more remarkable, because in that country "Dacian autochthony on the one hand and Romanitas on the other were raised to official state doctrine as roots of Romanian identity."

The archeologist Tom Stern, working in cooperation with documentary filmmaker and film historian Thomas Thode (the grandson of the archeologist of the same name), took up an apparently typical German topic: the motif of the Battle of Varus at Teutoburg Forest in film history. Under the title "The Shadow of Varus still haunts us and takes terrible revenge on the heirs of Arminius: The depiction of the defeat of Varus in film, Stern and Thode examine feature films not only with respect to their historical fidelity, but analyze above all the narrative perspective, the depiction of the protagonists and their relationship to the victims. They work out the respective concept of history that is being conveyed in the documentary films and TV reports. Surprisingly, it turns out that these historical epics are not always the villains in the piece when it comes to accurate portrayal, and the fact that this study takes all genres – including satire – into account gives it such a broad range and stimulates us to pay critical attention to present-day TV programs.

The preferential use of only a very few narrators (almost always men; women’s voices are seldom heard in these programs) was noted even in the first discussion at CINARCHEA 1994. The ideological implication behind this practice was pinpointed at the time: it transports an (unreflected?) understanding of science which is hardly ever detected. By using one and the same narrator, all different epochs, all geographical places, all genres are leveled down into a historical mishmash that implies that all eras, all cultures, all scientific approaches are to be judged equally from our present-day standpoint. Moreover, if it is a voice that is familiar to viewers from official pronouncements or news broadcasts, etc., it has the same status of a statement ex cathedra, as it were. The receptivity of the viewers is not even taken into consideration and they are not given the pleasure of a variety of voices – and if so, then the voices are seldom employed according to principles of content, but rather divided into portions of time, at best. – A further problem is the representation of events in the form of staged scenes, a popular, albeit overused and highly problematical means of combining descriptiveness with lively presentation. "The fact that this kind of representation is so effective lowers the barriers encountered by television broadcasters in their brief to provide information and documentation. The suggestive power of scenic representation, which is necessarily transferred to viewers, allows their appropriately skeptical attitude of ‘It might have been that way’ to be turned all too easily into a strong conviction: ‘That’s how it was!’" (cf. Manfred Delling, Bonanza & Co., Fernsehen als Unterhaltung und Politik, Reinbek 1976, p. 81.)

From the viewpoint of a film editor, Thomas Balkenhol takes a look at the practices of television stations when it comes to dealing with documentary film stock. In his article "A village you see doesn’t need a tourist guide", he explains that the TV producers’ tendency to overload everything with text, trusting only the spoken word and using images primarily as illustration and often as a mere foil for the commentary, attests to their denial of the power of filmic representation. While the visual, acoustic and rhythmic aspects come to the fore in film, television prefers the verbal and didactic aspects. This tendency appears even more pronounced with archeological films. Balkenhol describes what he sees as the best possible cooperation between responsible producer, cameraman and film editor and gives examples from his own experience of when he inserted certain cuts himself when such transitions were not provided by the film material itself. He does not, however, point out the possibility of making such a film as an auteur film, in the final analysis. Balkenhol loves documentary films and says that this kind of film takes its strength from unadulterated, genuine material, whereas the marshmallow transitions offered nowadays are artificial operations performed from without which are detrimental to credibility. Instead of letting indigenous people speak for themselves, words are spoken in their name (with a voice, I might add, which makes it appear like a quasi-objective statement). During his lecture he cited an attractive and convincing alternative possibility from the film Les Derniers Jours de Zeugma by Thierry Ragobert (a perennial winner at CINARCHEA), in which the dismay of the local people at the sight of their ancient mosaics being flooded is so moving precisely because no commentary gets in the way of this impression.

In his lecture "Archeological Magazine’s Film Series: Substance or Style?", Peter Allen deals with the short series of 25-minute films on archeological topics which were produced by Archeological Magazine in order to popularize archeology. In contrast to other TV productions that make exaggerated use of sensationalism, he attests to their reliability and solid, if perhaps unimaginative, style. Nevertheless, under the direction of a teacher they are a useful tool for instruction in school. He sees a slight tendency to the spectacular in the formulation of the titles, which stress mystery, sensation and the uniqueness of an event. For him, the episode about the Battle of Little Big Horn is clearly propagandistic, but otherwise he sees no such direct tendency.

Sultana S. Zorpidou draws attention to the aspect of the colonialist standpoint of archeologists in feature films in her article on "The Visualization of the Relationship between Archeology and Imperialistic Politics in Popular Feature Films. Three Models of Masculinity for the Archeologist". She recalls the early period of the major excavations at the end of the 19th century, the entanglement with the colonial period and the close collaboration of archeologists with power politics and economic interests, when big museums decked themselves out with the most important and valuable finds of foreign cultures – and profit even today from their aura. She recognizes a straightforward illustration of this attitude in the roles played by archeologists in such box-office hits as March or Die, Stargate or the Indiana-Jones-trilogy.

In her article "Fascinatingly Foreign", Patricia Rahemipour examines aspects of foreignness in archeological films. She takes a look at the representations of clichés in archeological films, e.g. the depiction of Stone Age people or Druids, which illustrate how stubbornly images of prehistoric times for which there is no scientific evidence have apparently become embedded through the medium of film. Often our present-day notions of role clichés seem to be carried over uncritically to living conditions in past eras. Her study offers numerous other possible points of departure for further analysis, e.g. in regard to myths in archeological films.

This time CINARCHEA has given younger scientists in particular the opportunity to present their findings. Their studied examination of the means of filmic representation and its functionalization have astonished and delighted us. I hope that the ideas in this volume can offer stimulation for an ongoing critical surveillance of filmic involvement in archeological topics.

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