Collective Memory & Film Theory.
Ian is currently engaged in research for a Film PhD by practice at Lancaster University. Ian’s PhD is practice based and a significant part of his PhD involves the creation of a Documentary and Experimental film. Ian specialises in film theory in particular in the conceptualisation of memory, memory representation and flashbacks in films.
Research Title: Collective Memory: Exploring the phenomenology of Dementia patients through documentary film and reconnecting them to past memories of cinema going.
Research Question: An investigation into the conceptualisation of the relationship between memory and Cinema by film theorists and filmmakers. Through the production of documentary and experimental films.
What is collective memory?
Collective memory is the term for the memories of a group of people who have collected them through shared social experiences.
The term “Collective Memory” was first advanced by Hugo Van Hofmannstal in 1902. (Olick and Robbins, 1998: 106)
French philosopher and sociologist Maurice Halbwachs analysed and advanced the concept of the collective memory in the seminal book La mémoire collective (1950)
Durkheim discussed how each new generation is connected to the past; as they are taught about history, memories carry forward. Durkheim focused more on social memory. He also asserted that as a people we needed to have a connection to prior generations, and that we seek to repeat previous actions in order to relate to the past.
Russell Kilbourn in his book Cinema, memory, modernity: The representation of memory from the art film to transnational cinema said, since its inception, cinema has evolved into not merely a ‘reflection’ but an indispensable index of human experience – especially our experience of time’s passage, of the present moment, and, most importantly perhaps, of the past, in both collective and individual terms.
Cinema can become embedded into the collective memory of people and society, across boundaries and cultures. Individuals collectively remember, forget, and recall events, people, places, has been a prominent topic of research on collective memory. However, the notion of collective memory as a socially generated common perception of an event itself has been introduced and studied only recently. (R. García-Gavilanes) The relationship between film and collective memory is under-researched, unlike films that have memory central to its narrative for example amnesia, collective memory and Cinema has been largely ignored as a research subject.
Mediated memories: the personal and collective dimensions
Remembering is vital to our well being, because without our autobiographical memories we would have no sense of past or future, and we would lack any sense of continuity. Our image of who we are (…) is never stable but it is subject to constant remodelling because our perceptions of who we are change along with our projections and desires of who we want to be (Van Dijck 2007: 3)
Collective memory is a socio-political construct: As such, collective memory cannot be considered as evidence of the authenticity of a shared past; rather, collective memory is a version of the past, selected to be remembered by a given community (or more precisely by particular agents in it) in order to advance its goals and serve its self-perception. Such memory is defined and negotiated through changing socio-political power circumstances and agendas. (Motti Neiger, 2011)
Research Interest in Film Flashbacks
The Flashback: A narrative device used in Film (as in literature) to go back in time to an earlier moment in a character’s life and/or history, and to narrate that moment. Flashbacks, then, are most clearly marked as subjective moments within that narrative. Flashbacks are a cinematic representation of memory and of history and, ultimately, of subjective truth. (Hayward, 1996)
The flashback is a privileged moment in unfolding that juxtaposes different moments of temporal reference. A juncture is wrought between present and past and two concepts are implied in this juncture: memory and history. (Turim, 2013)
- Hayward, S. (1996) Key concepts in cinema studies. London ; New York: Routledge.
- Turim, M. (2013) Flashbacks in film: Memory & history, Flashbacks in Film: Memory & History. Taylor and Francis. doi: 10.4324/9781315851761.