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Scott_History and Memory in Life Is Beautiful

Scott_History and Memory in Life Is Beautiful - NSW FILM AS...

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139 ISSUE 30 AUSTRALIAN SCREEN EDUCATION NSW FILM AS TEXT RYAN SCOTT HISTORY AND MEMORY IN LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL D espite Theodore Adorno’s famous re- mark that, ‘writing poetry after Ausch- witz is barbaric,’ the Jewish Holocaust has remained a subject for not only poets, but novelists, painters and film-makers to this decade. There has been an ongoing fascina- tion with this particular example of extreme, sustained and organized cruelty and the stories of survival in conditions of mass psy- chological and physical torture. Life is Beau- tiful (Roberto Benigni, 1998) does not simply denounce Nazism and Fascism, but shows how the conditions inside the concentration camps revealed and reinforced the tenacity of certain human qualities and the strength of familial bonds. The film is set during one of the most horrific chapters of our recent history, the Jewish holocaust. However, Benigini approaches his subject from the unique perspective of child- hood memories. History and memory have a deeply entwined but antagonistic relation- ship. Grassroots history, oral history, feminist and postcolonial history, are all examples of alternative or counter-histories that have giv- en marginal groups the opportunity to record their own histories as an antidote to domi- nant history with its exclusive and singular claim to truth. There is no one objective truth, and official histories once accepted have later been exposed to be the mediated accounts of largely white heterosexual men and thus vulnerable to reappraisal as narrow, blinkered and ideologically infested. It is now accepted that dominant history is generally
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140 ISSUE 30 AUSTRALIAN SCREEN EDUCATION written by the holders of economic or social power with privileged access to the means of cultural production. Another problem that is endemic to dominant history is its use of narrative which purports history to be the sim- ple and straightforward sequencing of factual events, rather than the present day construct of the past through mediated and invested discourses. Alternatively, oral accounts and let- ters, diaries and memoirs, whether immediately retold to friends or written in private, all require the belief and verification of other people. Memories are privately formed, but require public acceptance. They are at once personal and collective, with both aspects acting on each other. Just as the study of history is impacted by present day historical conditions, the public acceptance of memories is as also determined by ideological and political conditions. 1 Clearly any consideration of the theme of history and memory invites many complex issues. Nevertheless, memories and the past hold great attraction for poets, novel- ists and film-makers. L.P. Hartley once said, ‘The past is a foreign country’, and just like travel writers and docu- mentarians, historical writers and film- makers look to this ‘unknown land’ for inspiration as well as a setting for what are considered timeless themes.
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