Walter Benjamin

May 18, 2018

While working on a new edit of the film and carefully reviewing how the interviews, footage, pictures, work together I’m becoming aware of the fact that the outcome is only one possible way of putting all different parts together. Someone else might do something completely different with the same elements.

The way each element of the film is placed and followed by another element, the pace or rhythm of the changes, directs the view of the audience and in some ways the associations and thinking.

The German philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was already much aware of the way film interrupts the process of associations the audience has by quick changes of scenes. Benjamin wrote about this in 1935, in an essay called The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

In this essay is a short overview of history of art; how art was at first related to religion and how the aura of an object of art, contemplated by a single viewer, was of most importance. This is in contrast to the modern era where an art form like film can be used for political means and viewed by masses.

Walter Benjamin wrote the essay in the same year when the film Triumph de Willens, a Nazi propaganda film, was made by Leni Riefenstahl. What it meant to film masses of people for the same masses - using perspectives, in a quick succession, which the human eye would not be able to see in reality, but only in film,  thereby appealing more to the emotions rather than the ratio, was not to be underestimated.

Benjamins essay has a pessimistic tendency as he writes about the worrying aspects of filmmaking. I’m inclined to say that this is evident knowing it was written in 1935, though I doubt whether he would have written an optimistic story had he lived now and seen what was produced for propaganda.

But there is also another more obvious side of making films: showing the possibilities to discover and reveal worlds unknown, peoples, cultures, nature, to hear stories otherwise not shared, but also tragedies otherwise not noticed. Film can be used for indoctrination, but also for awareness, for  critical views and empathy.

Still, despite the fact that the essay was written over 80 years ago, much of what Benjamin wrote in this is still relevant. Therefore it is valuable to read it while editing, to have in mind that it is important to give the audience room for thoughts and ideas while watching the film.