Pranjal Borah
Research Scholar (Ph.D), Department of History, Dibrugarh University,
Dibrugarh and Associate Professor, Department of English,
Dikhowmukh College, Sivasagar, Assam, India
Probing into films as a potential source of history is as old as the medium itself. It, however, emerged as a prominent academic discourse only in 1970s. Seminal works that have not only made an outstanding contribution to the domain but also paved the way for further intensive research include those of John E. O’Connor(1990), Marc Ferro(1988), Pierre Sorlin(1980), Robert Rosenstone(2006),  Robert Brent Toplin(1996), Hayden White, Marcia Landy(1996), Frank Sanello(2003), Phillip Rosen(2001), and Marnie Hughes-Warrington(2007). Addressing researchers and students alike, O’Connor (1990) argued for the recognition of film as a ‘representation of history’ and ‘evidence for social and cultural history’, ‘actuality footage as evidence for history’ and ‘the history of the moving image as industry and art form’. Imparting a solid foundation to these arguments was recognition of the complex relationship between films and the times of both their production and diegeses. A similar view was postulated in Marc Ferro’s ‘’Cinema et Histoire’’ (1977, translated as ‘’Cinema and History’’, 1988) and Pierre Sorlin’s ‘’The Film in History’’ (1980). In Rosenstone’s view, the major issue was the routine comparison of filmic histories with written histories, as if the latter were an unquestioned and unproblematic standard for history making. To him, film offered new ways of thinking about the past and could be studied and appreciated on its own terms. In their responses to such view, O’Connor and Robert Brent Toplin endorsed the distinction between ‘history in images’ and ‘history in words’. Responding to this argument and assertion, Hayden White (1988) went a step further and coined a term to distinguish the study of visual histories from written history. It was high time, he argued, that historiography was joined by ‘historiophoty’. It is against such a vibrant academic backdrop that the study of history in films is fast gaining momentum on the grounds that they provide an accessible route to key historiographical questions and because they highlight that history does not belong only to academics. No wonder historians are increasingly looking into films as evidence of the past and polemics of the present, where ‘’evidence’’ and ‘polemics’ probably do not imply mere diegeses. All that discourse definitely goes a long way in justifying Hayden White’s call for ‘historiophoty’ and giving an unprecedented impetus to the argument that films are not just a form of history but are history in their own right and, hence films may make a reliable historiographical tool to fall back on in order to study the myriad dynamics of the society, past and present. It is precisely from this perspective this study aims at bringing under microscope three recent award winning films in Assamese.

Key words: Historiophoty, Diegeses, Inessentialistic, Archetypal

1.   Introduction

What coaxes one to look into cinema, supposedly a mode of mere light hearted entertainment, as evidence of the past and polemics of the present, more precisely as history? The answer to this question seems an ubiquitous one at first sight: for many people, ‘history’ is what they see in films and television programmes. Quite a few extensive studies in the recent past drove home to the researchers the propriety and validity of such an answer. But yet the most popular belief is that films do not qualify to be dealt with as a serious academic discourse, let alone a modicum of social reality , as viewers— including film scholars—are often  engrossed in a form of ‘escape’ and consequently fascinated only by mere entertainment. Such propositions, however, do not go unscathed as people are obviously not endowed with any kind of natural ability to interpret films and filmic conventions, too, have always been undergoing spectacular and substantial changes since its inception. Moreover, as the scholars like Marnie Hughes-Warrington convinced us, far from being transparent and universal clusters of conventions, films are often characterized by multilayered and nuanced meanings and failure to recognize these may be more a reflection of a lack of willingness or training on the part of critics to understand them than anything else. Drawing on Gramsci and Nietzsche, for example, Marcia Landy connected cinematic uses of the past with the desire to either escape or engage with the present. The argument is that despite the ‘refuse-to-die’ contentions about films as a medium of history, films, as contemporary historians like Rosenstone , Hayden White, John E O’Connor, Marnie Hughes-Warrington and many more rightly assert, films increasingly epitomize our relationship to the past and impinge on our understanding of history. It is from this perspective that this humble study aims at bringing under microscope three of the contemporary seminal award winning Assamese feature films as a substantial socio-historical document.

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