Blog post 1. Question 1
by mawan on October 6, 2017 - 6:18pm
Memories are generally constructed by one’s experiences of certain events, such as wars, natural disasters etc. Having firsthand experience is one of the best ways of understanding history, as we will know the graphic details of certain events, such as the Sabra and Shatila massacre through the eyes of Ari Folman and his former comrades. In “Waltz with Bashir”, he makes it clear that memories and testimonies from people who witness or experience such events (in this case his former comrades), are essential to knowing how truly graphic and bloody the massacre was, as he has forgotten the events. And also what alternative motives were behind the massacre other than the assassination of Bachir Gemayel, such as general sectarian and cultural divisions. There is also Jean Genet’s article which supplements the imagery of graphic horror that Folman creates with regard to the massacre. He describes a dead Palestinian woman’s: “black and swollen face, turned towards the sky, black with flies”. I literally could not read this much further without feeling heartbroken at the horrors of war. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that some people’s memories can be both exaggerated, or deliberately or unwillingly forgotten, especially if the person either has mental problems like Leonard from Memento (who keeps forgetting everything, hence he tattoos clues on his body and writes notes on photographs due to this short term amnesia) or their experience was simply degrading and humiliating. Furthermore, it’s likely that people, when asked about events or altercations they were either witness or victim to could exaggerate or outright lie about what truly happened. This basically means that fear, emotions or allegiances can alter the oral transmission of history, as a person might not be willing to tell the whole truth, because they do not want to besmirch the name and reputation of whom their allegiance lies with or step up and atone for they’ve done, which is one of the downsides of relying solely on memory in order to understand history, and as Lowenthal says: “Heritage should not be confused with history”. This is because heritage is what is passed down from generation to generation, mostly in the form of memories, and as said earlier memories can possibly be fabricated. Moving swiftly on, the imagery that I imagine from Genet’s article and Folman’s movie has taught me that memory and understanding of the event that one wishes to portray through film is an essential component of attaining good reviews on the subject of historical accuracy. Adichie also similarly relies on the memories of other as she said in an Q&A in order to maintain accuracy, but she also looked at various records, writings and photographs and literally writes the book ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ in the form of a memoir, and even based some of the characters on people she actually knew. This shows how explaining history in the form of a memoir is one of the best ways of firstly gaining a reader’s interest and also give an impression that the book does have factual input from the memories of people who actually experienced the reality of the Biafran war, so it balances entertainment with actual facts in a way. But all in all, films are predominantly just there to entertain, same with books like ‘Half of a Yellow Sun”, not really to educate anyone wholly, as Adichie has the decency to admit. She admitted that she: “invented a train station in Nsukka, invented a beach in Port Harcourt, changed the distance between towns, changed the chronology of conquered cities”. Nonetheless, she does retain the accuracy of the actual historical events, so it can be inferred that nobody wants to let the pure reality get in the way of a good story. In summary, regarding the relationship between memory and history with historical films and writing, it is important to remember that these movies all attempt to balance entertainment with actual facts, which include the unbreakable bond of memory and history. That’s the reason why they are not considered documentaries which usually portray the purely factual side of history, rather than try and fit in a good story. However, the fact that the director attempts to entertain, could arguably be the tool that arouses interest in the topic that he/she is attempting to depict in their film, but nevertheless historical films should never be considered as a truly reliable form of educating people about history.