Media and cultural memory – day two

And here we are on day two of the Iamhist conference, on the theme of Media and cultural memory. First up is a parallel session on Memory and World War I, right up my street and I’m chairing it. Best to put down the Blackberry – it won’t look so good.

10.55 – Three interesting papers on memory and World War I, each in its way looking at how the visual archive has served as commemorative evidence. Sheena Scott on fleeting images of disabled soldiers in French cinema of 1920s/30s. Are there so few because the French repressed it or because it didn’t appeal to a filmgoing public? There is nothing like Lucky Star in the US.

Roel vande Winkel on With Our Troops on the Yser (1928/29), war footage repurposed by Flemish nationalists for propagandist ends, with emphasis of gruesome death that you wouldn’t get in commercial cinema.

Leen Engelen on the interesting theme of picture postcards of Edith Cavell and Belgian-born heroine, also executed by the Germans, Gabrielle Page. Statues as one form of visual commemoration turned into another, postcards.

11.20 – Another session, another war – now it’s WW2. Brian Petersen on Danish resistance movies – made after the war, fairly obviously. Particularly Three Years After (1948) on a disillusioned former resistance fighter. A commercial flop for telling audiences what they did not wish to hear.

Wendy Burke on heroes and villains in Dutch war-themed films 1962-1986. Refreshing to have someone from one country speaking about another. It would be interesting to have a rule for film conferences saying that no one can give a paper about their home nation. What new things we might learn.

Here film moves from ideas of goed (good, noble) and fout (bad, collaborationist) to the grey area where many actually lived. Yet there were no Dutch films about the war 1951-61 and only two in the 1960s. The Silent Raid (1962) has all Dutch working collaboratively for the resistance. Long wait til Soldier of Orange (1977) which shows a more complex picture of resistance and collaboration. Some have to collaborate to avoid worse for themselves or loved ones. It took over 30 years for Dutch film to face up to such truths. We can accept more the further we are away from it, in place and time. Inevitably.

Ilse Raaijmakers on commemoration of the war in Dutch newspapers. Dutch had no recent experience of war so had to learn for new the art of commemoration. They established a national liberation day which no one much followed, so they stopped it being a public holiday in 1954, at which point everyone (insofar as newspapers can mean everyone) protested. So newspapers drove it to become a national holiday again in 1955.

13.05 – Things going well so far. So many pitfalls with the theme of memory, let alone the yawning vagueness of cultural memory, but Iamhist types know how to steer through such territory.

13.20 – Now for keynote from Christine Becker, winner of Iamhist book prize for It’s the Pictures that Got Small, a really excellent work on film stars keeping their careers going on US 1950s TV. Yours truly was one of the judges so I know. Do read it. Wise, revelatory, comprehensively researched and a pleasure to read.

Gee, she talks even more quickly than I do when giving papers. And she’s speeding up …

Entertaining account of the research process focussing on the perils and pleasures of using interview material. Eternal watchfulness needed, but sometimes people do actually speak the verifiable truth. Also the challenges of dealing with those who didn’t want to remember.

A good talk. Sort of a masterclass on conducting research and turning it into publication. I think it will have inspired an audience member or two.

14.30 – Now three papers on new media history. First up, Berber Hagedoorn on Dutch multi-platform TV and history. Focus on rescreening of archival TV – catch-up, online archives, open media platforms (YouTube) etc.

Example of In Europe – TV series, website, virtual atlas, blog, radio broadcasts, user contributions. TV keeps the memories alive, archives on their own don’t. Discuss.

Nice, optimistic paper.

14.50 – Krisitan Handberg offers us the phrase “digital yesterland”. Who will thank him?

Agh, Yesterland exists – it’s a virtual theme park.

The retro boom of today. An obsession with the past beyond the domain of history. Is there more to the past than history? I must ponder this.

Retro is always a gesture, never total recall. It’s us playing with the past.

Perhaps we look so much to the past because we no longer look to the future.

15.15 – Sian Barber on EU Screen, the TV equivalent to European Film Gateway reported on last week. Aims to offer 35,000 open access items from European TV. That’s what 5M euros buys you. I’m greatly impressed by these ambitious, idealistic, rigorous projects, but I don’t know who they are for. Has anyone asked for a selective portal to European archival TV? Is this creating a shared heritage that doesn’t exist, or does it exist only we haven’t thought about it much, or will it now have to exist because we have created a platform for it?

16.20 – How politely the Danes are addressing us all in English. At the end of paper sessions they ask questions of one another in a foreign tongue when in their own land.

16.25 – Danish filmmaker Neils Vest introduces his documentary about Copenhagen’s squatters’ ‘free city’ Christiania.

To live outside the law you must be honest, as the great man sang.

18.55 – Hmm, the free life looks like it has about as much hassle as the unfree one, and they sing such terrible songs. Now by a canal listening to Danish trad jazz band play ‘It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing’. And now it’s time for supper and society.