Memory loss, erasure and representation in flashback



Flashback a narrative device

The critical analysis of a selection of films that have memory loss or memory erasure as a core theme with the use, by the directors of flashbacks to reconnect the character/narrative and therefore the audience to these memories created in a previous timeline. Films use flashbacks to reconnect to the past, for lost or forgotten memories it is a common technique used by directors to add more information, background and detail to a character and to the narrative, usually there is some visual clue associated with these flashback scenes, which Susan Hayward defines as “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 sequences may become misty or blurred to indicate this is a memory flashback, some use a rewind visual, by which I mean the film appears to rewind like a tape machine/DVD player to an earlier time and memory, then when the time in the past is reached plays back in real time. There are many other ways of revealing past or forgotten memories and in some circumstances, it may just be an object that represents and triggers a past memory for example a photograph. Flashbacks in film are not a new idea as Pramaggiore, Wallis and Kilbourn state “The most common example of [re-ordered chronology in a film’s plot] is the flashback, when events taking place in the present are ‘interrupted’ by images or scenes that have taken place in the past. Typically, filmmakers give audiences a visual cue, such as a dissolve or fade, to clarify that the narrative is making a sudden shift in chronology. [ . . . ] Usually the flashback is motivated by the plot, as when a character any of the narrators in Citizen Kane, for example—recalls a memory. Flashbacks typically emphasize important causal factors in a film’s fabula [story]. [ . . . ] Editing also allows filmmakers to reveal a character’s dreams or fantasies. Like a flashback, a dream is usually signalled by a shot transition that indicates the boundary between reality and fantasy.” (Pramaggiore and Wallis, 2008) (Kilbourn, 2013)

Films and the conceptualisation of memory in flashback

  • Alita: Battle Angel (Robert Rodriguez. 2019)
  • Bourne Identity: (Doug Liman. 2002)
  • Ghost in the Shell (Rupert Sanders. 2017)

Alita is a confusing film, the narrative is familiar and initially the audience may be thinking, is this a film for children? In what appears to be another representation of a dystopian future, a broken world recovering from war, this time an interplanetary war with Mars, The Fall, the broken remains of the cyborg battle angel, Alita is salvaged from the detritus discarded and piled high below a futuristic city called Zalem hovering above the ruins of the Iron city. A film for children it is not, or at least 12+ and followers of Anime, but it is also a film for adults, it has some of the elements of the Transformers films, themselves based on children’s toys and television programs of the same name. The character designs are familiar, a melange of many styles from films of the Science Fiction genre. The narrative shares some elements of several films not only from the science fiction genre, for example there are many similarities with the Bourne Trilogy, by this I mean an agent, in this case Alita, a cyborg with no memory of her past or previous identity, as in Bourne Identity (2002), Bourne also designed to be a weapon an asset, albeit in Alita’s case from a distant past, with a long forgotten mission. The loss of memory in itself also creates a loss of identity, Alita does not know who she is and what her purpose in life is. This becomes a key element in the development of the narrative as Alita embarks on a new mission and seeks to recover her memories and therefore a new identity. There are visual references to the film Avatar in the production design, you can see and feel David Cameron’s hand in this production, the oversize eyes of Alita sharing a similarity to the ‘Na Vi’ in Avatar. But this is a story as much as anything about memory loss and initially it appears after reconstruction that Alita’s memory loss is complete until we see in a memory flashback, memories of a military past (combat on the moon scene), the memory appeared to be triggered by violent action, when attacked and there is risk to life, Alita instinctively assumes a fighting stance and defeats her father’s attackers, that is Dr Dyson Ido.

Alita is determined to learn more of her past and forms a plan of action to enter the ultra-violent cyborg games, Motorball, which appears to be a virtual copy of Rollerball (1975) but for cyborgs. Actually, the film appears to borrow ideas and narratives from several other films, for example, the street scenes in the Iron city reminds me of the films Fifth Element (1997) and the more recent film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) both by the director Luc Besson. Perhaps David Cameron is a fan of Luc Besson’s films? The film Alita: Battle Angel (2019) had mixed reviews but is the first film to come out of Lightstorm Entertainment, the studio set up by David Cameron and the first film to capitalise on the visual technology and expertise of the special effects created for the production of Avatar (2014) and while there can be no doubting the excellence of these visual effects, the narrative is relatively weak, seemingly borrowed from several films. This is not a new issue as that was also identified in the Avatar (2009) narrative, directed by James Cameron, which performed exceptionally well at the box office but failed to impress critics due in part to the screenplay, which many considered a rewrite of the story of Pocahontas, personally I felt this was an oversimplification, as in any narrative that has at its core the idea of an advanced civilisation making contact with a less advanced civilisation would come into this category.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) This film, a live action version of the anime film also called Ghost in the Shell (1995) shares much with Alita: Battle Angel (2019) for example the main protagonist, Major Mira Killian is also a cyborg with no memory of her previous life, she only has memories from the time that she was first awakened as a cyborg, her life as a human is blank with the exception of the false memories created by the  Hanka scientists who inserted a cover memory for a past she never had, the memory of losing her parents in a terrorist attack and leaving her body badly injured and only her brain surviving the attack. The brain living on in a mechanical body, which is called a shell, hence the title of the film Ghost in the Shell. Major experiences random memories as flashbacks In what appears, and are described by the Hanka scientists as glitches in her program, Major sees images of locations and objects flash into and out of existence, but rather than glitches in her program these are true memories from her past that are leaking through the chemically induced memory blocks created by the Hanka scientists, these are real memory flashbacks to her life before becoming a cyborg. The flashbacks appear randomly throughout the film, unlike other films using flashbacks there appears to be no obvious triggers, the only clue being the visuals, the glitching images, pixilation and colours to indicate these are flashback memories. Killian (Major) is captured by Kuze who connects her to his network but then releases her, at this point she sees the image of the shrine the one from her flashbacks on his chest linking Kuze to Killian. Kuze reveals he was also a product of the project 2571, a failure, one of 98 and now seeking revenge for what they did to him. Killian returns to confront Dr Oulet who is under orders from Cutter to terminate Killian, but instead Dr Oulet disobeys and instead gives Killian an address to go to and rekindle her lost memories. Dr Oulet pays for this disloyalty and is killed by Cutter. Killian steals a motorcycle and goes to the address where she finds the shrine that appears in all her flashbacks, she flashes back to the start of it all, images of Cutter and his men attacking and dragging away the children, runaways for use in their experiment’s to create the perfect cyborg. This is Killian’s beginning, not a survivor of a cyber terrorist attack but abducted by Cutter for his experiments at Hanka. Kuze joins her at the shrine and he reveals her real name as Motoko Kusanagi, that they were friends and abducted together. (Opam, 2017)

The director’s approach to the use of flashbacks differs from other films that employ them by having or seemingly not having specific triggers to initiate the flashback scenes. However, the audience is aware that they are watching a flashback as cinematographically the images are glitchy like a corrupted data file with some of the data missing creating an imperfect image that breaks up as it progresses. In addition, there is specific reference to identity not being linked to memories Killian (Mokoto) narrates in the final scene “My mind is human. My body is manufactured. I am the first of my kind, but I won’t be the last. We cling to memories as if they define us, but what we do defines us. My ghost survived to remind the next of us that humanity is our virtue. I know who I am, and what I’m here to do.” (Anon, 2017) There are other similar references to identity throughout the movie and how memories do not define us.

Comparing memory erasure and memory loss in flashback.

  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004).
  • Still Alice (Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. 2014).

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2014) this can be a confusing film in many ways but it the case of flashbacks the audience does not always get an obvious indication or what the trigger is or of where they are in the films timeline, whether they are watching in real time or a memory in a Flashback sequence and in many cases the only way of identifying whether this is a memory or real time is by working out where this sequence fits into the he narrative of the film. However, the scenes where Joel (played by Jim Carrey) appears seemingly to be in real time on valentine’s day in the bookshop where Joel confronts Clementine (played by Kate Winslet) is confusing is this real time or a flashback? Clementine in this scene appears to have no memory of their relationship and also appears to be involved in a new relationship with a character hidden from sight (who we later learn is Patrick played by Elijah Wood). However the Director then uses the lighting in the bookshop to represent and indicate this scene is actually a flashback by turning the lights off in sequence and as they follow Joel as he appears to leave the bookshop but actually appears to go directly into another memory this time he is talking to his friends in their home, and this is where he learns Clementine has had her memory erased of him by seeing the card from Lacuna. I concur, the sequence of Joel in the bookshop was also a flashback but there was no indication beforehand, but this explanation seems to fit into the timeline. It is at this point where Joel learns of Clementine’s decision to erase him from her memory and so Joel decides to do the same.

Joel having now decided to also get his memory erased of all memories of Clementine, he also goes to Lacuna Inc (The memory erasure clinic on the card and whose name means ‘space’ or ‘gap’) where he meets Howard the doctor (played by Tom Wilkinson) who tells Joel to collect and return with everything associated with Clementine so that they can track his memories of her, it is here where we see Joel rip pages from his journal, which appeared to be missing in the opening scene but where he has no memory of who ripped out those pages and seems to think this is the first entry in his journal in 2 months. Also in this scene we learn that their first meeting was actually at a beach party organised by their soon to be mutual friends the Eakin’s, rather than in the opening scene of the chance meeting in a diner close to the Montauk railway station that Joel seemingly decided to travel to randomly skipping work that day after an angry discovery of apparently seeing his damaged car for the first time that morning. The car was in fact damaged by Clementine, driving into a fire hydrant while drunk, which Joel, because of his memory erasure has no memory of and he just decided it was caused by the driver of the car parked next to his that morning, he left a note on the windshield to that effect.

We have two scenes each seemingly showing Joel’s and Clementine’s first meeting, firstly at the beach party and secondly over coffee at the diner. So we could assume that the memory erasure was not totally successful as they began to rekindle their relationship at the diner, so again we could infer that rather than what could have been love at first sight, they actually had some memory of their past relationship on a subconscious level. At Clementine’s instigation, during a conversation on the train, where she says she knows him from somewhere, from this they started the relationship again. In the scene while waiting for Clementine to retrieve her toothbrush Joel appears to have an identity crisis probably caused by the memory erasures, which is interrupted by a knock on his car window by Patrick, who Joel has no memory of, and so the conversation appears to make no sense to Joel and to the audience but of course we learn later that Patrick through his work at the memory erasure clinic has obtained Joel’s information on Clementine, which he uses to assume some elements of Joel’s identity in his pursuit of Clementine affections and so Patrick was concerned to see Joel parked outside her home.

As we are returned to the clinic in flashback where Joel is undertaking the erasure procedure, each memory tracked and erased as each object is presented, which then flashes red on screen as they are erased along with the memory associated with them, we experience a fast sequence of events in a serious of scenes of the locations and memory associations, one of which includes the memory of Clementine returning home drunk one evening having crashed the car, which initiates the breakup. This in turn becomes a memory loop to which Joel has no escape until his memory is erased, as Joel chases Clementine in the damaged car, then follows on foot, he sees his car stopped at both ends of the same street and whatever direction he walks he is confronted by the damaged car. This is a confusing film in many respects the timeline follows no order and so having returned to the scene during the erasure procedure, Joel hears Stan (played by Mark Ruffolo) and Patrick talking about Patricks new girlfriend, which we know or suspect is Clementine and so the face Joel could not see in the book shop flashback is Patrick’s. As Joel’s memory is eventually erased, having tried to force himself with Clementine’s assistance to wake up using Joel’s memories including a scene where Joel’s uses his childhood memories to try and save his memory of her, Clementine says they should meet back at Montauk where they first met and this is how they both knew to meet there subconsciously in the future, both after having their memories erased. Well I’m not sure how they both subconsciously knew to meet there, as we are only witnesses to Joel’s memory erasure, so how did Clementine know, or have reason to go to Montauk that day? Mary the clinics secretary, who we learn later has also had her memory erased because of a previous relationship with Howard, quotes Friedrich Nietzsch “Blessed are the forgetful for they got the better even of their blunder” and again this time Alexander Pope “How happy is the blameless vessels lot! The world forgot. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” The first quote appears to indicate that the erasure of their memories solves all their problems but of course it does not do that at all, in fact they both appear to have major identity issues, having lost part of themselves by having the memories of each other erased. Each looking for what they have lost, Clementine almost at the edge of madness as she searches her home for what? In the article by Gemma King “I don’t know. I’m lost. I’m scared. I feel like I’m disappearing . . . nothing makes sense to me.” It is clear that Clementine feels the rupture in the continuity of her experience caused by the erasure, verbalising this as an inexplicable feeling of emptiness and disorientation.” (King, 2013), perhaps she is searching for something to centre her identity, clues about her identity, lost following the erasure. The second quote referring to a happiness that neither feels as they seek their lost identities and attempt to rebuild them by regaining the erased memories, while also giving context and title to the film. It is at the flat that Clementine receives a letter from Mary with details and audio tape of her memory erasure which Clementine plays in Joel’s car stereo, which reveals all to Joel and causes another breakup. However, Clementine follows Joel to his home where he is listening to his audio recording of his memory erasure, which also reveals his reasons for having his memory wiped. Clementine appears to regret her decision for erasing Joel from her memory as does Joel and the film ends but is the final sequence of them together in the snow a future memory or is this another flashback and they are still listening to Joel’s audio tape in his home?

Still Alice (2014). Alice (played by Julianne Moore) a Professor at Columbia University is having minor memory problems starting with a mind blank during a lecture, she is lost for a word. As the film progresses the memory lapses become more prevalent at one point during a run, she becomes disorientated and doesn’t appear to know where she is or which direction to go. This is a very different approach in direction to that of the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) the conceptualisation of memory loss is more random in Still Alice and includes memory loss of words, places and people rather than the selective amnesia of Joel’s memories of Clementine. Alice having been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and at a relatively young age, the doctor says the disease will progress rapidly, which we see in the film’s timeline, as the memory losses appear to become more frequent. Alice worries that as the memory loss increases, she will lose more and more of her identity, which sets in motion the plan to end her life before all of her identity is gone, as in the title Still Alice, will this remain true after all the memories have been ripped away? The film draws the audience’s attention to what memories are lost, concentrating on the loss of short-term memory as Alice forgets almost immediately conversations with family members when compared with the sequences of long-term memory by using flashbacks to memories of when she was a child, with her mother, father and sister enjoying the beach. These flashbacks are triggered by a photo album with photos of herself with her mother and sister but also when she is struggling to remember how to tie her shoelaces we return via flashback to her memories of family on the beach.

Generally this is bleak film chronicling Alice’s loss of memory along with her identity as a highly educated mother and wife is gradually ripped away, leaving her to struggle with less and less of her memories, but there are lighter moments, when she jokes about not remembering what she and her daughter were arguing about the next day.

Alice uses her mobile phone as a prosthetic memory, scheduling appointments and family get togethers, while also setting herself questions that she must answer every day, a test of memory that should she fail directs her to a video with directions on how she has planned her suicide. Later in the film Alice finds this video by mistake and literally follows the video directions, not seemingly understanding what she is doing and only a moment of clumsiness prevents her from going through with the suicide instructions, as she drops the sleeping pills on the floor and immediately forgets what she was doing or why she was there. As the disease progresses the memory loss is extensive even to the point where she has difficulty speaking to her daughter about the screenplay, she had just read to her, but Alice says just one word ‘Love’. The memory loss in Still Alice is progressive and the use of flashbacks is limited to just those few already mentioned and restricted to revisiting long term memories of Alice’s childhood, the short term memories are gone and the use of flashback would not have had the same impact as they had in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as Joel was reclaiming memories erased while Alice’s short-term memories are gone forever.

Video messages from the past, another form of flashback in time, rolling the clock back to a forgotten memory. In Still Alice the suicide video created in the past while Alice still has her memories and identity, a message to a future Alice who she expects to no longer have a memory of recording the video and the reasons behind it. A form of prosthetic memory for Alice who has lost so much of her memories and identity in such a short time. Total Recall used a similar technique for Hauser who is also Quaid to inform a future Quaid who has no memory of his alternative past of what his mission is.


Flashbacks and triggers

In Alita, the flashback sequence is preceded by an act of violence where her life is in imminent danger, in this life or death struggle the flashback is triggered. In cinematic terms this is achieved by the camera zooming into one of Alita’s eyes and then the image fades to white, the fade then dissolving to the start of the memory sequence. Alita’s like Bourne’s flashbacks are triggered by violence but in the Bourne films not all flashbacks are triggered by violence, objects and visual clues also initialised flashbacks. As Bourne holds a gun to a woman’s head, he suddenly flashbacks to another mission, a woman in another time and place speaking Russian as he points his gun at her. In the films throughout the trilogy he flashbacks in his dreams and he adds these memories to a notebook, which has effectively become a prosthetic memory, listing the locations and times, details of missions that he no longer has memory of. Some films do not employ triggers for instance Ghost in the Shell (2017), the flashbacks appear randomly which is also true of some of the flashbacks employed in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) creating this confusion of are we watching a live scene or a memory in flashback.

This leads to a wider consideration of what triggers film directors use to indicate and initiate flashbacks, it appears that almost anything could be a trigger, which allows a director the complete freedom to add more detail to a character or the storyline at any time. As Maureen Turim states in her work on the use of flashbacks in film, “The flashback is particularly interesting to theoretical conceptualization of film. 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. Studying the flashback is not only a way of studying the development of filmic form, it is a way of seeing how filmic forms engage concepts and represent ideas.” (Turim, 2013)



Anon (2017) Ghost in the Shell (2017) – Quotes – IMDb. Available at: (Accessed: 21 January 2020).

Hayward, S. (1996) Key concepts in cinema studies. London ; New York: Routledge.

Kilbourn, R. J. A. (2013) Cinema, memory, modernity: The representation of memory from the art film to transnational cinema, Cinema, Memory, Modernity: The Representation of Memory from the Art Film to Transnational Cinema. doi: 10.4324/9781315888606.

King, G. (2013) What Else Is Lost with Memory Loss? Memory and Identity in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Bright Lights Film Journal. Available at: (Accessed: 16 January 2020).

Opam, K. (2017) Ghost in the Shell review: a solid film built on a broken foundation – The Verge. Available at: (Accessed: 21 January 2020).

Pramaggiore, M. and Wallis, T. (2008) Film : a critical introduction. 2nd ed. Edited by T. Wallis. London: Laurence King.

Turim, M. (2013) Flashbacks in film: Memory & history, Flashbacks in Film: Memory & History. Taylor and Francis. doi: 10.4324/9781315851761.

Research and Reflection

research and reflection

It’s been 7 weeks since I started my PhD at Lancaster University so I thought it was time to write something other than the weekly diary and transcripts from meetings and the odd few thousand words on film theory.

Research and Reflection (7 weeks in)

Those weeks have passed quickly and lots of things have happened. I have brought forward the research for the documentary (see here) and have spoken to a  number of groups and people that I think would be ideal participants in the film. The other good news is that I have had a lot of interest and now have a green light to go to the next stage, that is filming, with a number of caveats. Time is always an issue on one hand I am wishing time away so that I can get on with the filming while trying to slow things down so that I can concentrate on the literary review and getting up to speed with some of the software I will be using.

Endnote: This is my first time using this particular program to create a bibliography, up to now I’ve always done this manually from my notes, but I felt now was the time to embrace this technology as the thesis will be a much more substantial document to anything that I have written before. I’ve just spent a few minutes watching some online tutorials and importing my first pdf documents. On reflection I should have used this software before, as this also helps with searching and locating relevant literary sources for my research, which is something I really wasn’t aware of before.

Atlas.ti I’ve also looked at and had a one to one tutorial on the Qualitative Analysis application Atlas.ti, it is a very powerful software tool but I do have a few reservations about committing to using this. I’m worried about how much time this will eat up when adding the data to it and I am uncertain of how useful the data analysis would be over just doing it myself manually. I think I am more confused about this software now than I was before doing the training, it seemed like a no brainer until I realised how much time this could take up.

Research Question: If you’ve followed my weekly diary you’ll know that after a few meeting now with my supervisors there has been a change in direction/focus for my research. Just this week I have dropped the original research question and formed another that seems to be a better fit with the new direction of my research, but I suspect this to remain fluid for some time.

Literary Review: My goto book ‘An Everyday Magic, Cinema and Cultural Memory by Annette Kuhn is central to my research. I’ve read chapters 1 – Cinema Memory as Cultural Memory, Chapter 2 –  The Scenes of Memory and Chapter 5 – Growing up with Cinema. I can see how my film could be made to become an updated version of this book and it has certainly influenced my change in focus for my research and my plans for the film.

Memory in Film: I’ve watched a number of films recently. The BBC Documentary ‘The Lost Worlds of Mitchell and Kenyon’ by Dan Cruickshank, amazing footage of Edwardian life in the local area. American Graffiti (1973) by George Lucas, supposedly influenced by his own childhood, the end titles seemingly reinforcing that by saying what the film characters are doing now (1970s) but this is a well known filmmakers trick, as used in the film Fargo (This is a real story). BTW I noticed the yellow car had the licence plate TH138 a reference to THX1138 (1971) perhaps? a film also by George Lucas. So what did I gain from this? it’s a 70s film influenced by George Lucas’s memories of the 1950s.

I have also put into practice some of what I learn’t on the writing a thesis course (see diary entry) and switched to reading online journals and articles to research what is the most current thinking in my subject. It’s interesting to note that the bibliographies of these articles reference the same books that I have identified along with some of the journals that I wasn’t aware of. What this means is that I have a growing literary resource to research and most importantly I’m not reinventing the wheel, which also came up in this weeks Qualitative Research seminar. I’m mindful that I should be wary and confirm the quality of the data/information that I plan to research.

Pre-production for a Documentary

Pre-production for a Documentary

Pre-production for a Documentary

You have this idea for a documentary film, the subject is interesting, and you are willing to spend your time, money and resources to make it. But before you can start filming you must research your idea and create an outline for your project. An outline is like a wish list of things that you want to include in your film; subjects, people and places. Before you can start let’s decide who your audience is? who is possibly going to see and also be interested in watching your film? Sometimes a film is targeted at a certain age group, demographic, be it a local audience or national audience or are you looking for a world-wide audience?

Film Festivals have a selection criterion based on the running time of a film so if your world-wide audience is going to be reached through film festival screenings, you’ll need to consider the length of the film in order to be selected.

Now that your audience is sorted, you’ll need to research interesting people who can be contacted for interview in your film. Not everyone likes to be filmed so you’ll need backups. Also, not every interview goes well and they may end up not being included in the final edit, so again you need backups.

Change of direction? Your research can lead you to a more interesting direction, don’t be afraid to explore but be aware that this new direction may not fit well with the rest of your project and cannot be included in the final film.

Make this your mantra, Research and Research again. Continuously research your subject and the subjects in your film and the direction that your filming takes you. You may uncover some little-known facts and through this expand knowledge in your subject.

My Documentary Film Idea

TITLE – Cinema Memories (Working title)

Outline film ONE.

Investigation into the Dementia friendly screenings at the Dukes. What I would like to do is to film the audience at a live screening or series of screenings, as scheduled by the Dukes, with follow up interviews with selected dementia sufferers and their carers. Looking to add to these with interviews away from the Dukes, following up on the cinema experience and to see what their memories are of going to the cinema, in their youth or their earliest memory.

I’m seeking interviews with health professionals and academics, researchers and get an idea from them on camera of what dementia is in layman terms and from this try and determine what could be happening at these screenings.

Apart from memory loss what are the other health conditions that Dementia sufferers experience? What do they experience when going to Cinema, is it a reconnection to earlier memories and experiences of their cinema going or is something else happening? Are Dementia sufferers living in a past time? do they believe that the screening of an old film is a current release, do they know what year the film was released? Does it make them happy or ultimately does it make them sad that they have lost so much? What part does the venue play in the cinema going experience? Is it that the Dukes is an older independent cinema that could by definition belongs to an earlier age that makes or rather adds to the overall experience so that the audience feel more involved, would a modern Cinema Multiplex work just as well?

During the follow-up interviews I plan to look for b-roll opportunities. Street scenes of Lancaster City particularly on market days and possibly around Christmas may present an opportunity to explore and bring to life the location around the Dukes. I also plan to film in the surrounding  countryside maybe the lakes although I will have to find a credible link to do so as I do not want just any B-roll, by that I mean random landscapes shots, so maybe look for a link from a dementia sufferers past history, maybe they lived there and have fond memories of the location – also make sure you ask them about happy memories of local locations or indeed bad memories, each have their own place in a documentary film.

This is going to be an emotional roller coaster of a film so I plan to be careful not to concentrate on one of the other, and seek balance where possible.

I’m really looking for a small group of individuals that appear in the first film that I can form an ongoing relationship with, a core group of people that I can contact and feature in any follow-up films.

Include a small amount of travelling footage especially to the lakes, I do this to emphasise we are on a journey of discovery. (But I may drop this if I do not want to be seen on camera – alternatively I can show the scenery and just have a voiceover) – which leads to:-

Think about using a narrator to voice over some of the sequences in the documentary but where possible use professional, authoritative voices to explain screen visuals.

Decide again who is your prime audience before editing, is it for the academic panel and supervisors only, the public, medical professionals, or a mix of these – do I need several edits? Will I be targeting the film festival circuit? I think the answer to that is YES, let’s get this film out there to a world-wide audience. A film on Dementia I watched recently was funded by the Canadian Film Council and is currently available to view on Netflix – is this a possibility for my film, is there funding? Should I approach the Alzheimer’s Society for assistance either financially or for the follow-up films? What other sources of funding are there?

Diary – Week 2, October 14th to 18th

Diary – Week 3, October 21st to 25th Literary Review

Book reading – making a start

An Everyday Magic – Cinema and Cultural Memory

Abstract: Exploring cinemagoing and cinema culture, this book considers the 1930s, when “going to the pictures” was everybody’s favourite spare-time activity. From the familiar and magical surroundings of the picture houses themselves to the action and romance on the screen, Annette Kuhn draws on extensive interviews with picturegoers, research in cultural history and readings of popular films of the day to discover how cinema brought a special magic to the daily lives of a generation of young men and women growing up in an austere climate of making-do.

Kuhn, A. (2002). An everyday magic : Cinema and cultural memory (Cinema and society). London: I.B. Tauris.

The Collective memory Reader

There are few terms or concepts that have, in the last twenty or so years, rivaled “collective memory” for attention in the humanities and social sciences. Indeed, use of the term has extended far beyond scholarship to the realm of politics and journalism, where it has appeared in speeches at the centers of power and on the front pages of the world’s leading newspapers. The current efflorescence of interest in memory, however, is no mere passing fad: it is a hallmark characteristic of our age and a crucial site for understanding our present social, political, and cultural conditions. Scholars and others in numerous fields have thus employed the concept of collective memory, sociological in origin, to guide their inquiries into diverse, though allegedly connected, phenomena. Nevertheless, there remains a great deal of confusion about the meaning, origin, and implication of the term and the field of inquiry it underwrites.

Olick, J., Vinitzky-Seroussi, Vered, & Levy, Daniel. (2011). The Collective memory reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Qualitative Research Methods – collecting evidence, crafting analysis, communicating impact.

Qualitative Research Methods is a comprehensive, all-inclusive resource for the theory and practice of qualitative/ethnographic research methodology.

Serves as a “how-to” guide for qualitative/ethnographic research, detailing how to design a project, conduct interviews and focus groups, interpret and analyze data, and represent it in a compelling manner
Demonstrates how qualitative data can be systematically utilized to address pressing personal, organizational, and social problems
Written in an engaging style, with in-depth examples from the author’s own practice.

Tracy, S. (2013). Qualitative research methods : Collecting evidence, crafting analysis, communicating impact. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Documentary pre-production – Location Scouting

location scouting

Location Scouting the Dukes

I am jumping ahead here by checking possible locations for the documentary film. There is a  methodology for a films pre-production and this would normally be a consideration for the later stages of the  project. What prompted this was an interesting online article I came across during my research that could prove to be vitally important in the production of my documentary film. My research identified that a local venue has been running Cinema and Entertainment events specifically for Dementia sufferers and their carers, which is key to the subject of my research and narrative of my documentary.

Location Scouting - the Dukes
the Dukes

To research this article further I decided to conduct a recce of the venue and surrounding locations before contacting the venue. The reason for this may seem obvious, but my aim was to scout the venue to see if it met with my requirements as a filmmaker, which I have listed a few requirements below. It is also a good idea to try and get a feel for a location and see how it fits into your films visualisation. One of the key things I like to achieve whenever possible is to raise my films production value. What do I mean by this? for example, if you need to film in a church and the local church and the  Cathedral are potential options, always go for the Cathedral. This is to immediately step up the production value of your film. Of course this isn’t a hard rule and sometimes the local church is the better option and for a variety of reasons for example aesthetics, practical considerations (lighting a large space is expensive).

Location Scouting – My location requirements

  • Venue open to filming.
  • Natural light or practical lighting.
  • What access will they allow.
  • Dates available.
  • Cost considerations – if any.
  • Additional permissions required – if any.
  • Is the location noisy so poor sound.
  • Restricted Public access.

Location Scouting – Additional requirements

  • Easy to get to
  • Parking
  • Services near to hand (food, drink, toilets, medical for the crew)

The B-Roll

What is the B-roll? whenever you are filming a documentary or indeed any filming you will always need to make cuts in your footage. an examples of this would be a long interview, which after a short while becomes boring visually, there’s only so much time that you can watch what I call a bobbing head, you can acceptably watch for 15 seconds but any longer and you need to break away to a different visual just to keep your audience engaged. When you cut you need to cut away to a different visual usually related to the what the subject is discussing, but may just relate to the location, but whatever it is make it interesting.

Academic and Practice Research

Academic and Practice Research

Research challenges. Studying for a PhD by practice can be a greater challenge than you anticipated, unlike the usual pathway of the thesis based PhD you have to both research the subject academically (for the written thesis part) and at the same time research for the practice element, which in my case is a film production.

What are the differences? they may seem obvious, the academic research is primarily for the written thesis and any research for the practice element/artefact and in my case the making of a film, is for the pre-production of the film, that is the films outline, B-roll, subjects and locations I want to include in the film, basically everything that needs to be done before you can start filming. However there is considerable overlap, as the academic research also produces ideas and leads for the films production. For example, my initial academic research when applied to the location Lancaster City and its surrounding area has identified potential subjects and locations that I would want to include into the film. Indeed this initial academic research into my subject of collective memory has identified another thread to consider for further research, which if the research is successful would bring the benefit of my film having multiple storylines.

Will my practice research add to my academic research? yes is the answer, even at this early stage of the films pre-production the locations and potential film subjects have influenced some of my further reading choices I have made and I suspect this may in turn lead to further threads to the film. However I need to be careful of over expanding my subjects range, as it is impossible to have all the answers to such an over expanded subject and almost certain to lead to a research challenge impossible to achieve in the 3 years of a PhD and in the context of the film, it would also be impossible to include all of the research driven results and expanded questions in a film of acceptable duration..

Where am I now? my research on the subject of collective memory and film has opened up a new area of research on Cinema, and by this I actually mean the collective memories of people going to the cinema to watch a film (a shared experience, event) . The social experience of going to the cinema, the people, the buying of a ticket, something to eat, drink and the taking of your seat in the auditorium. The film that you watched and the time period are all factors and potential areas of interest to research and explore in my documentary. This again leads to another question of how It would be useful to compare cinema going from the previous century to going to the cinema now.

Practice research adds to my reading list Collective Memory Film a Reading List

The personal statement

Personal Statement Canon C300

the personal statement

Personal Statement

Remember these? when you began your journey into academia you had to produce a statement to supplement your application for undergraduate study and possibly for your post graduate study.

Personal Statement On SetThis is about you, your personal skills and academic experience/abilities and why you have applied to study at this institution. This is important, basically you are selling yourself to the institution and it’s about how you can uniquely achieve your PhD research  through your skillset and record of achievement thus far. For me this was my experience of documentary filmmaking and appropriate academic study in a film related subject.

It may certainly include some details of your research proposal but remember this isn’t the research proposal this is a personal statement. Instead think of writing about your motivation for studying for a PhD and why you have chosen this institution and potential supervisor. It may not only be your supervisor who reads this statement, admissions and possibly the interview panel may read this statement in conjunction with the research proposal.

Don’t forget to discuss a little about yourself but avoid over stating your abilities and experience, for example you cannot be an expert in anything if you have only a years experience.


Collective Memory a Film Viewing List

Collective memory film viewing list

Collective Memory a Film viewing list

Experimental Film – The production of Experimental Film as a representation of memory

There are many examples of films that have human memory central to the narrative, the examples below have some credibility in Psychological fact according to the neuroscientist Steve Ramirez. (BU Today 2018)


  1. Memento is one of the most realistic accounts of amnesia — the inability to form or recall our personally experienced events
  2. Inside Out is a Pixar classic that zooms into a child’s brain and lets us see her memories form, change, and evaporate over time as she matures
  3. The Bourne Trilogy (which starts with The Bourne Identity) is a fast-spaced action series about Jason Bourne, an agent with amnesia who knows how to win any fight, but doesn’t remember who he is or where he came from.
  4. Inception is a mind-bending film on implanting and extracting memories in the brain, done with high-octane drama and a twisting, dream-like storyline.
  5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is perhaps the most famous memory erasure movie ever. Would you erase the memory of a loved one after a breakup if it eased the pain?
  6. Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 — a classic and instant-classic — tackle the concepts of implanting memories in human-like robots.
  7. The Matrix is another classic. “I know Kung Fu,” says Neo, after having martial arts skills uploaded into his brain. The movie tackles the philosophical questions of brains, free will, uploading information onto the brain, and how this changes us forever.
  8. Total Recall has the main character going into a machine where he can live out any reality or fantasy that he sees fit. Things get blurry, however, when reality and fantasy start to blend and force viewers to ask themselves: if our subjective reality feels real, then does it matter if it’s real or not?

The digital revolution in archival media opens up access to previously unknown images and provides the possibility that these images could broaden and transform collective memory. (B. Fabos)


  1. BU Today. (2018). 8 Brainy Movies That (Almost) Get Neuroscientist Stamp of Approval | BU Today | Boston University. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Mar. 2019].
  2. Bettina Fabos (2014) The Trouble with Iconic Images: Historical Timelines and Public Memory, Visual Communication Quarterly, 21:4, 223-235

Avant-garde Films that lived through time. film viewing list

  1. Manhattan – Charles Sheeler – 1921
  2. Ballet Mecanique – Fernand Léger, Dudley Murphy – 1924
  3. Ghosts Before Breakfast – Hans Richter – 1928
  4. Un Chien Andalou – Luis Bunuel – 1929
  5. Meshes of the Afternoon – Alexandr Hackenschmied, Maya Deren – 1943
  6. Dog Star Man – Stan Brakhage – 1961-1964
  7. Scorpio Rising – Kenneth Anger – 1963
  8. Julien Donkey Boy – Harmony Korine – 1999
  9. The Heart of the World – Guy Maddin – 2000
  10. Inland Empire – David Lynch – 2006

Documentary film viewing list

  1. Land of Promise – British Documentary Film Movement 1930 – 1950 (BFI. 4 Disk DVD Boxset) 40 films by Directors; Paul Rotha, Humphrey Jennings, Ruby Grierson, Basil Wright and Paul Dickson.

Film & Memory (Top 25 film viewing list)

  1. Rashôman (1950), Akira Kurosawa
  2. Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959), Alain Resnais
  3. Vertigo (1958), Alfred Hitchcock
  4. Wild Strawberries (1958), Ingmar Bergman
  5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Michel Gondry
  6. Three Colors: Blue (1993), Krzysztof Kieślowski
  7. The Mirror (1975), Andrei Tarkovsky
  8. Blade Runner (1982), Ridley Scott
  9. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), John Ford
  10. Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles
  11. How Green Was My Valley (1941), John Ford
  12. Memento (2000), Christopher Nolan
  13. The Tree of Life (2011), Terrence Malick
  14. 2046 (2004), Wong Kar-wai
  15. Solaris (1972), Andrei Tarkovsky
  16. Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Alain Resnais
  17. The Sweet Hereafter (1997), Atom Egoyan
  18. The Thin Blue Line (1988), Errol Morris
  19. Certified Copy (2010), Abbas Kiarostami
  20. 8 1/2 (1963), Federico Fellini
  21. The Manchurian Candidate (1962), John Frankenheime
  22. The Act of Killing (2012), Joshua Oppenheimer
  23. La Jetée (1962), Chris Marker
  24. The Remains of the Day (1993), James Ivory
  25. Mulholland Drive (2001), David Lynch


  1. Admin, 2015. Avant-Garde. Film Theory. Available at: [Accessed April 10, 2019].
  2. Anon, British documentary. BFI Film Forever. Available at: [Accessed April 10, 2019].
  3. Holt, R., 2015. Top 25 Films on Memory. Image Journal. Available at: [Accessed April 28, 2019] Continue reading “Collective Memory a Film Viewing List”

Reading List

Collective Memory Halbwachs

Reading list (Year 1)

Initial reading list for collective memory, film and dementia. This list will be added to over the year.

Ashuri T (2007) Television tension: national versus cosmopolitan memory in a co-produced television documentary. In: Media, Culture, Society 29 (1): pp. 31-51.

Assmann J (1995) Collective memory and cultural identity. In: New German Critique 65: pp.125-133.

García-Gavilanes, R. et al., 2017. The memory remains: Understanding collective memory in the digital age. Science Advances. Available at: [Accessed March 22, 2019

Halbwachs M. (1992) On Collective Memory. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

John W. Berry, Ype H. Poortinga, Marshall H. Segall, Pierre R. Dasen (2008) Cross-Cultural Psychology, 2nd edn., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Olick, Jeffrey and Robbins, Joyce. (2003). Social Memory Studies: From “Collective Memory” to the Historical Sociology of Mnemonic Practices. Annual Review of Sociology. 24. 105-140. 10.1146/annurev.soc.24.1.105.

Olick, Jeffrey K.; Vinitzky-Seroussi, Vered; Levy, Daniel (2011). The Collective Memory Reader. Oxford University Press.

Kilbourn, Russell J. A. Cinema, Memory, Modernity: The Representation of Memory from the Art Film to Transnational Cinema. Routledge, 2013.

Neiger M, Meyers O and Zandbert E (2011) On Media Memory: Collective Memory in a New Media Age. UK, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan Publishers.

Whitford, Steve. “From Practice to Praxis: Reflections on Filmmaking Pedagogy in the Age of Creative Industries.” Cinema Journal – Teaching Dossier (2018): n. pag. Print.

Film viewing list

Research Proposal

Firstly, writing a research proposal is not easy, or I should say formulating the research question is a difficult proposition. I started this process several  months ago with just a very basic outline of what I was most passionate about in Film production (Documentary) and then  the hard work began. I had this idea about a question that only the production of a documentary film could answer and be accessible to both academics and the general public. Getting started, have a plan, which again takes thought and is definitely worth doing before starting to research your chosen subject. For example, my plan and initial research centred on identifying the institutions that supported a PhD by practice and in my chosen field, that is Documentary Film.  After identifying the surprisingly small number of institutions that could possibly support my studies and supervise my PhD project, the next step was to find a supervisor.

Supervisors. Finding a supervisor for your project can also a great way of talking to specialists in your chosen subject, gaining knowledge and assistance in producing your research proposal. I was fortunate to find a number of potential supervisors through their University staff pages. I think it is important to follow up any exchange of emails with a telephone conversation and possibly a meeting to discuss your project, I certainly did both of these.

What is the contact sequence? I contacted my potential advisors by email, just by expressing my subject interest and seeing if there is a mutual interest. I then followed up positive responses with my outline research proposal. Now I only had positive responses, which I assume was due to my initial research into my subject and the interests of my potential supervisors. After all contacting an academic who specialises in History for example, when your chosen subject is about the Environment isn’t really going to be of interest. Next arrange a telephone conversation or just jump into a Skype call, but ask permission OK, my contacts in the main made this suggestion anyway. For some I actual missed out on the telephone conversation and arranged to meet. Meetings. Be prepared, for some I just had an enjoyable chat on a subject of mutual interest but for some it felt more like a final exam, so be prepared.

Research Proposal Pitfalls

Note. Beware of writing your proposal to fit others, I do not mean the format or general guidelines as such, but I mean the subject itself. It is too easy to divert away from your chosen subject and the essence of what makes studying for a PhD passionate to you by making the proposal fit another project, or for an institutions requirements. Fortunately the institutions and supervisors I contacted in the main, were totally onboard with my proposal and I was grateful for all the assistance I received in focussing my proposal before submission.

Check your institutions research proposal guidelines. One size does not fit all for example some asked me to complete a online template with character count limitations for each section, others just has an overall character limit for example 8,000 and for some it was left up to the applicant  as to how much to write.

Write for each institution, what I mean by that is taking note of the template sections, for example some ask for a specific response to a question like your approach to Ethics, diversity and another asked specifically how you would approach funding your research.

There are any number of guides available online with templates for writing your research proposal and in fact many of the institutions have application forms for you to download. examples can be found here:-

Find a PhD – Writing a Research Proposal

Collective Memory a Film Viewing List