CMSA Research Seminar: Dr Hamish Ford on Screening Revolutionary History

When:18 Nov 2015, 5pm - 6:30pm
Venue:Room 327, Robert Webster Building, UNSW Kensington
Who:Centre for Modernism Studies in Australia (CMSA)

Screening Revolutionary History: La Commune (Paris 1871)

Since the 1920s, cinema has staged revolution as a consistently energising force within the medium’s own aesthetic and conceptual development in response to both ‘real’ and film history. Revolution on screen can be seen as inherently dialectical: concurrently real and fantastical, perennially seductive while always destined to slip away, as genuine impulses and causes driving the desire or need for radical change are partnered with a frequent lack of confidence or belief in the possibility (or even desirability) of such fundamental transformation.

My talk will primarily focus on Peter Watkins’ collaborative nearly six-hour 2000 project about the Paris Commune, La Commune (Paris 1871), to explore how cinematic renderings of often ‘failed’ revolutionary history can become exponentially intertextual, trans-historical and palimpsestic in force and meaning. This important but little-seen film, I suggest, evokes a viable sense of revolutionary possibility in the form of an appropriated, reflexive and ideally interactive, mass-media event. As handed down by cinema’s perennially doubt-inducing modernist form, this is a real-yet-virtual dream we can both never fully believe in and yet which refuses to die. Rendered in such a way, in all its forever-protean potential, here history becomes a radical, collaborative, epoch-traversing event on both sides of the screen.

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