MONTECASSINO IN THE CIRCLE OF FIRE
(Italy, 1946). Directed by Arturo Gemmiti.
Films such as Saving Private Ryan have become part of the social record of history. They are creating a new memory, a new history too. In terms of raising social awareness they do an excellent job, bringing the "reality" of war to the general public. But no matter how thorough the research, there is no "reality" in any production.
I return regularly to this quotation from New Zealand artist Michael Shepherd, referenced here.
…every time an action passes there is a memory and thereafter the memory is about the memory of the action. And slowly we have this fine silt, the stuff we call history.We have many kinds of memory, gap filling memory, compensatory memory, episodic memory to name just a few. It is well known that six people witnessing the same event will give six different accounts of it. And so it is with "official and unofficial" history, with articles, books and films.
Now, as the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Cassino approaches (May 2014), we see many documentary makers and film makers scurrying to interview veterans and civilians, to record the memories before they are "lost". I suggest that the memories are more like fine silt, difficult to capture and elusive in nature. One veteran said "I can no longer tell what is my own memory and what parts of it are from things I have read or seen on telelvison". In such instances the memory is the product of somone else's (possibly erroneous) writings or recordings.
A quick "google" shows up many documentaries, including (chosen at random) this one from 1943. Images in many of these documentaries include staged footage, reconstructions, and of course the editorial bias of the film makers.
Researcher Perry Rowe has dedicated countless time to locating the sites of photographs published as "Cassino" or "near Cassino", differentiating between reconstructions and real footage in "Faking Monte Cassino" (issue 142, After the Battle). His work is fascinating. Many of the reconstructions were for propaganda films "to support the war effort".
The film [MONTECASSINO IN THE CIRCLE OF FIRE Italy, 1946. Directed by Arturo Gemmiti] uses a heavy hand toward the Germans, and the velvet glove for the Allies. For the scene of the bombing of the monastery used a model, perhaps the original footage of the destruction was not yet available in Italy.That it is not based on unbiased fact is clear, but does "unbiased fact" really exist? And, in light of all the divergent "memories" that emerge, is it not better to understand why we feel the need to alter facts rather than be too critical of those individuals who change things in memory to suit their own psychological and emotional needs?