Thanks to Martha Day for posting the list of articles on Ken Burns. I've
just read Jane Censer's article in American Quarterly (June 1992), and
disagreed with her conclusion that ""The Civil War", as an inadequate
teaching aid, is representative of visual presentations which are
invaluable for conveying the sense and "feel" of the past, but "cannot
give insights into some topics (such as ideas and ideologies)."
To refute this generalization I'd cite Peter Cohen's "Architekture des
Untergangs = The Architecture of Doom" (1989, distributed by Icarus Films),
a complex and thought-provoking film that argues that Nazism cannot be
understood simply as a political phenomenon: it considers Nazi atrocities
a logical extension of an attempt to create a more beautiful world.
According to the Nazi aesthetic, art was to serve as the basis of a new
civilization, providing the means, through extreme violence, of bringing
beauty back to the world, to counteract the miscegenation and degeneration
that had defiled it. Hitler's eccentric cultural ambitions, his
associations with artists and architects, with opera (particularly Wagner)
and antiquity are thus seen as the source of an absurd ideology that was
transferred into a hellish reality, where anti-semitism became a form of
pest control (quite literally, in a Nazi documentary from the time), art
was linked to hygiene, and Nazi medicine provided the aesthetic means to
purify the corpus of the German "Volk", culminating in the gas chambers of
Cohen presents a complex historical thesis, to my mind quite successfully.
His re-interpretation of the essence of Nazism uses extensive documentary
materials (photographs, newsreels, etc.), in a way that makes an
interesting comparision to Burns' "Civil War." Perhaps Cohen is more of a
historian, while Burns is a mythmaker, his seamless narrative presenting
itself as the "truth", a documentary record of the Civil War as it really
was, rather than a complex and contradictory phenomenon that has to be
theorized for it to make some kind of sense.
Philip Jackson
[log in to unmask]
National Library of Australia