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The Image of Power  Doreen Drobnick-Martinez

“Whatever image you create it never conforms to reality”  _ Deepak ChoprA

History throughout the past 2000 years consists of stories passed down from generation to generation that continue to translate mythological proportions of human nature.  The development of the written word as a communicative tool began as pictographs used symbols to create the first known written language of cuneiform that retold the stories of heroes and battles.  These stories reinforced the imaginations and skills of the aesthetic mind that used the tools of the written word as well as visual literacy to invoke images that remain as significant records of the human experience. 

In the book How to Read a Film  James Monaco explains determinants that give shape to the experience evident in the arts that include economics, political, psychological, and technical factors.  The political determinate being primarily the social use of the art that “defines the relationship between the work of art and the society that nurtures it”* while the psychological determinate “focuses our attention not on the relationship between the work and the world, but the connections between the work and the artist and the work and the observer”.  The technical  determinant governs the language, form and structure of the art, while economically art becomes an financial product from the point of view of production as well as consumption.**Considering these factors, the popular art of filmmaking helps to shape our own perceptions of the image, memory, and historical accounts of identity.

In the essay Memory and Identity the History of a Relationship John R. Gillis argues that “the notion of identity depends on the idea of memory”.***He defines commemorative activity as social and political involving the coordination of individual and group memories.****With the help of technological advancements, these memories continue to develop as a cultural identity as well as an economical resource.

As early as 1839, the invention of the photographic image – the daguerreotype allowed thousands of ordinary people to achieve a kind of immortality that surpassed painting and drawing by recording the images of the world directly, using landscapes and portraits that created a mystical experience of reality.***** By 1861, the photograph became a tool to record one of the bloodiest wars in history.  Mathew Brady’s’ images of death contrasted with the idea of the nineteenth –century concept of  the Good Death, and the art of dying that provided rules of conduct for the moribund- dying with kin at the bedside.  One of the most distressing aspects of death for Civil War Americans was seeing the photographic images of thousands of young men dying away from home.******Those realistic images seared through the memories of the war keeping it alive in the American perception of the virtuous gallantry of the civil war soldiers, and the glorification of the battlefronts.

As technology continued to develop, it helped to end the war as well as to remember.  The origins of the cinema lie in the development of mass communication technology.  Thomas Edison invented the motion picture camera –the Kinetoscope in 1893, during the Gilded Age of invention, industrialization, and reconstruction that shaped the Civil War memory.

By 1915, the movie industry advanced as film director D.W. Griffith (“the Father of Cinema) began to use the skills and technologies of the motion picture camera to produce the emergence a believable narration that recorded and actually reproduced the flow of time.  Through innovative devices such as parallel editing, framing and different uses of camera shots, Griffithillustrated the power of the motion picture medium to communicate ideological arguments that held audiences spellbound by the technological “magic”.*******The image in motion pictures became so true to life that audiences ignored the racial content and historical inaccuracies of the film.  This was the first film unveiled at White House during Woodrow Wilson’s reign.  Wilson was so impressed with the film he called it “history writ with lightning.”*********

In the book The Reel Civil War, Bruce Chadwick compares the context and impact of Birth the popular Lost Cause and similar connotations that confronts the audience in the movie Gone With The Wind.*********The ability to freeze time through imagery, metaphor, and symbol creates the invisibility of classicalHollywood cinema that results in a great artifice that influences the memory and identity of the American culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


*James Monaco, How to Read a Film (New York:OxfordUniversity Press, 2000)32

**Ibid. 35

***John R. Gillis, Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity.  (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994)3  

****Ibid. 5

*****James Monaco, How to Read a Film (New York:OxfordUniversity Press, 2000)39

******Drew Gilpin Faust,  This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, (New York: Vintage Civil War Library, 2008) 9

*******John Belton ,American cinema American Culture: (Boston: McGraw-Hill. 2009)7

********Ibid, 457

*********Bruce Chadwick ,The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking In American Film, (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2001)190