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BLIND SPOT

West Germany, 1980 (MIFF 1981, New Directors)

Director: Claudia von Alemann

In Blind Spot, a woman historian fascinated by the diary kept by the nineteenth-century utopian socialist feminist, Flora Tristan, during the last few months of her life, refuses the traditional way of ‘looking' at history and gets caught up in a complex multi- layered pattern of reverberations. History and ‘her' story become a network of resonances. One life/voice imprints in another. A visually fascinating film, but nevertheless one of the few real sound films ever made.

“l have been interested in nineteenth-century women - especially feminists - for many years. ln this film, however, I was concerned with more than just the reconstruction of a historical personage; also with questions of how one can possibly track down a person from another age, how memory relates to history, and how women remember. These various questions emerged from my work on the film and caused me to modify my original conception considerably. The original script already deviated from tradition by making use of the sort of collage technique found in the novels of Anna Seghers and John Dos Passos, for example. its underlying structure was nonetheless architectonically traditional: it had a beginning, a dramatic climax and an end; the twelve-year period in Flora Tristan's life was presented chronologically; the costumes and decor were historically accurate, and so on. At a certain point, however, I began to question this , conception. The form reinforced the notion that a film attempting an authentic historical reconstruction must necessarily represent the historical truth. Yet it was precisely this notion that I wanted to call into question. I decided that this position had to determine the very form of the film itself, rather than exist outside of and behind it.

I therefore replaced the original chronological conception with a kaleidoscope of short, sell-enclosed sequences. More importantly, I shifted the focus from the historical personage to a contemporary woman, and the relationship of her life to her almost obsessive attempt to reconstruct Tristan's...

Because the relationship to the reconstruction of the past remains central, the film remains a historical one. The woman who undertakes the search for the lost Flora Tristan is a former historian who has very consciously broken with her academic past. Her experience has made her mistrustful of traditional modes of transmitting historical knowledge. She has found the diary of the nineteenth- century woman and would like to uncover traces of her but isn't sure how. And that is precisely what concerns me: how does remembering, forgetting, re-remembering function? However, I didn't want to construct a simple antithesis between intellectual and naive modes of appropriating history. That would be too simple, and would fit too well into a male- determined scheme. That is why I had the woman, Elisabeth, reject the intellectual mode that she herself had mastered. The question then becomes the possibility of other forms of perception and reconstruction - forms which still have to be developed ...

Apart from the diaries of Flora and Elisabeth, the most important medium in my film for reconstructing the past is sound. Using a cassette recorder, the woman tries to discover sounds that people in 1844 could have heard. She does go to Lyon, where Flora Tristan worked towards the end of her life. But then she follows paths that she imagines the historical person could have taken. She expends a great deal of energy in the form of ‘phantasy work' which is demanded from the spectator. The film frequently collides with the pubIic's audio-visual expectations. The searcher frequently goes up dead- ends - what I would call positive dead- ends - which lead away from Flora Tristan's life but lead to her own life, and the lives of others she encounters. A decisive role in this search is played by the trail of sounds she follows. Remembering is largely effected acoustically. I have tried to make a sound film in which sound is neither a mere background nor the means by which an illusion of authenticity is induced. I use many sound elements in order to transmit differentiations in hearing. Just as one can speak of ‘subjective camera‘, I would like to speak ofthe ‘subjective microphone‘."

Claudia von Alemann

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