I originally drafted my independent study proposal because I was interested in films that deal directly with the nature of memory such as Memento and Last Year in Marienbad. But in the last couple of days I’ve been contemplating how memory and history are part of cinema’s DNA regardless of the film story:
Think about how much of our history education, especially the last century, is derived from film footage – both fictional and newsreel. For example, most of us are familiar with the Holocaust because of films like Schindler’s List or Night and Fog – films have become our primary source of information, history and culture – they’ve become the foundation of our memories of our culture, collectively and individually.
Think about how one is able to pay tribute to another filmmaker by shooting a scene reminescent of an earlier well known director. Iranian director Ramin Bahrani refers to a concept of Persian poetry called tazmin which is a ‘a longstanding tradition of poets taking one line or one beat or one idea from an earlier poem, picking it up and putting it in their own poem and going on from there.” This form of referencing earlier work, which directors like Spielberg and Scorsese have openly acknowledged they do, is not only a form of flattery but a way of conjuring up the original stories/sequences they’re ‘borrowed’ from and piggybacking off the associated, earlier memories we already have of them.
A narrative works because our minds are capable of forming memories. If we were memory-handicapped like the main character in Memento, films would be ineffective, simply a stream of events with no relation to one another. A filmmaker depends on our brain as if it were an archivist, or a small theater that can project back on the wall of our mind’s eye earlier events in a film’s narrative so that the story-present makes sense.
Stay tuned – In the coming days I’ll try to tie these thoughts to my earlier post on ‘biomimicry’ and how maybe cinema is not only a form of storytelling but an attempt to model human consciousness and memory.