Dir: Daniel Eisenberg
86 min., 16mm, Color, WP
Produktion: Daniel Eisenberg Films. Kamera, Schnitt: Daniel Eisenberg. Zweite Kamera: Ingo Kratisch. Ton: Ellen Rothenberg, Ingo Kratisch. Tonschnitt: Bonnie Daley. Musik: Ferrucio Busoni ('Dr. Faustus'), Franco Donatoni ('Argot'), Luigi Nono ('La Iontananza nostalgica utopica futura'), Giacinto Scelsi ('L'âme ailée', 'L'âme ouverte'). Schnitt-Assistenz: Erin Sax, Jennifer Stefanisko. Text: Stig Dagerman, Daniel Eisenberg, Janet Flanner, Max Frisch. Erzähler: John DiStefano.
Uraufführung: 21.2.1997, Internationales Forum des Jungen Films.
Weltvertrieb: Daniel Eisenberg, 1411 West Edgewater Ave., Chicago, IL 60660, USA. Tel.: (1-773) 506 0065. Fax: (1-312) 541 8063.
Mit finanzieller Unterstützung von: D.A.A.D. (Berliner Künstlerprogramm), The National Endowment for the Arts, The Massachusetts Culturel Council, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Dank an Alexandra Anthony, Ute Braukmeier, Tag Gallagher, Ernie Gehr, Erika Gregor, Ulrich Gregor, Ingo Kratisch, Carsten Krüger, Katherine Rabinowitz, Barbara Richter, Ellen Rothenberg, Joachim Sartorius, Jutta Sartory, Mark Simon, Irwin Young, A.S.T.A.K., Nationalgalerie SMPK, Neue Synagoge Berlin, U.S. Dept. of Defense Motion Media Records Center, Norton Air Force Base, CA.
Fri 21.02. 14:00 Delphi Fri 21.02. 18:45 Kino 7 im Zoo Palast Sat 22.02. 10:00 Arsenal Sun 23.02. 22:15 Akademie der Künste
PERSISTENCE was shot in 1991-92 in Berlin and edited along with films shot by U.S. Signal Corps cameramen in 1945-46 that were obtained from Department of Defense archives. Interspersed through the material are filmic quotations from Rossellini's Germany: Year Zero, also shot in 1946. PERSISTENCE is a meditation on the time just after a great historical event, about what is common to moments such as these, about the continuous and discontinuous threads of history.
The film is about various kinds of cinematic observation: personal, documentary, fictional, and our attachment to these traditional modes of observation which, by necessity, shape our view of events.
The texts are drawn from the notebooks of Max Frisch, Stig Dagerman, and Janet Flanner from the time just after World War II, and my own journals from my stay in Berlin in 1991-92. Most often, their journal entries appear over contemporary footage, often my own entries are over the archive materials. Sometimes a date clues the viewer to the displacement, sometimes not.
It was Stig Dagerman, who said: "A journalist I have not yet become, and it doesn't look as if I'll ever be one. I have no wish to acquire all the deplorable attributes that go to make up a perfect journalist. I find it hard to understand the people I meet at the Allied Press hotel - they think that a smaller hunger strike is more interesting than the hunger of multitudes. While hunger-riots are sensational, hunger itself is not sensational, and what poverty-stricken and bitter people here think becomes interesting only when poverty and bitterness break out in catastrophe. Journalism is the art of coming too late as early as possible... I'll never master that."
"The moment after..." Listening to the words of Stig Dagerman one begins to believe that there is in fact something deeper, something perhaps more important and essential that one should be looking for at the "moment after..."
In 1991, the moment after was obvious, the something deeper, not quite as much. As the Berlin wall is dismantled, simultaneously, a generation of participants and bystanders of the last World War become strangely obsessed by their own place in history, by their own mortality. This uncanny superimposition (or is it collapse?) of past, present, future is what PERSISTENCE attempts to reconstruct.
What does that particular moment in 1991 allow? Official national unity allows many to consider history whole once again, retrieved from its condition of 'post-histoire', although this too, the linearity and continuity, is a comfortable illusion. Perhaps one can instead view it as a rupture or fissure, a seismic rearrangement of social, historic, and political forces that allowed subconsciously repressed memories (historical and personal) to rise to the surface... Is it merely coincidence that in 1991 there is in the Federal Republic of Germany an overwhelming concern with things Jewish? Anyway, history has always been more of a sport in Germany than anywhere else, perhaps because more has been up for grabs, more at stake.
(...) The images in PERSISTENCE were shot with full consciousness that an upheaval to the visible landscape is imminent, predictable. The reasons have more to do with economics than history, but history always shows us, by example, that at these times of change the landscape becomes a site for social and historical inscription.
The moment after also becomes the time when documents and sites are in a state of flux, of redefinition: documents are replaced in the historical record and sites change in their use: the casual photo or piece of paper becomes a document, the catalogue of documents becomes the archive, the former archive becomes the current museum, the former museum becomes a site for historical editing and revision, some documents are discarded... some sites are as well...
Many of the archival documents from the Department of Defense that appear in PERSISTENCE were scheduled for the trash heap: they had not been used within a prescribed period of time, and the archive itself was about to be moved to smaller facilities. Usage of images assures them some measure of a conditional existence in the historical record. These seemingly 'uneventful' shots taken by Signal Corps Cameramen using color film for perhaps the first time in their lives are deemed useless to narrative of history which they find themselves outside of. Nevertheless, they are coded with the esthetics of Western Painting and Renaissance perspective and tell us much about what the cameramen thought of the images they were producing.
Many of the sites documented in 1991 and 1992 in PERSISTENCE were clearly sites of historical construction, soon to be changed, renovated, or removed. Part of the working process of the film was to anticipate which sites would be imminently affected, which, in the longer arc of historical time, transformed.
Every observation has its rules, every artifact and document the context and conditions of its creation. The romance of ruin which the emporer creates at Sans Souci is a parallel to the models of ruined Berlin that Hitler instructs his architects to create: A thousand year's view into the future brings us back around, full-circle, to the view of the past that Frederick the Great creates for his personal inspiration.
In Germany: Year Zero Rossellini expands the idea of non-fiction to its logical end - the fiction created in the film is more real than many of its realistic gestures, which come off more as metaphors for the real than reality itself.
Rossellini gives to Hollywood, through the use of relatively portable equipment and limited means, the standard practice of location-shooting for fictional cinema that we now take for granted. At the same time, the film gives to Documentary Cinema some of the essential conventions of 'cinema vérité': work fast, work lean, don't look back.
Rossellini's neo-realist fiction films are to history what his later historical films are to fiction: they extend and expand our definition of the nature of events and of documentation.
The construction of historical time into convenient linear relationships such as past, present, future, is cumbersome and outmoded. These words have become insufficient for understanding or representing the continuous and discontinuous in history and no longer serve our conception of what 'lived time' really is. What is present may also have been present before. What is absent may be present tomorrow.
If, to stand Santayana's dictum on its head, we are doomed to repeat history, not because we don't know it, but because we do, because it provides the model for all future histories, then we are looking into a hall of mirrors which makes it impossible to know what precisely is past, what is present, what is persistent, what is absent, what is imminent... what aspects of the moment are unique and which are in fact recurrent.
From a more personal perspective, the question for me is not so much 'moving past' or 'getting over' historical trauma, but of how to properly integrate it. That the generations born after the war remain guiltless is not the issue - but these sons and daughters, as the generations of sons and daughters of victims, must remain responsible to the history which they were born into.
It may be true that Germany stands alone as a nation that commemorates the victims of its own wars, but living as an 'outsider' within Germany today may pose the same dilemmas for those 'outside' as it has for the last two hundred years. The issue is not legal but psychological, and whether the national conception of 'German', of citizenship, of nationhood, can move into some new place... Perhaps in the end, this is a European question in which Germany, by historical necessity, must lead the way.
Dan Eisenberg was born in Israel in 1954 and emigrated to the United States with his family in the late 1950s. He studied film at the State University of New York at Binghamton with Ernie Gehr, Larry Gottheim, Klaus Wyborny, Saul Levine and Ken Jacobs. Dan Eisenberg has been making films since 1975. In 1991/92 he stayed in Berlin as guest of the DAAD (Berliner Künstlerprogramm). At present Dan Eisenberg teaches at the The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is also working as a cutter.
1975/79: Matrice. 1979: Design and Brebis. 1980/81: Displaced Persons. 1984: To A Brother in Asia. 1980: Mexican Sketches. 1981: Two Motion Studies. 1984: Native Shore. 1987: Cooperation of Parts. 1980-91: A Short Note about Representation. 1997: PERSISTENCE.
© 1997 by International Forum of New Cinema. All rights reserved.