Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Collage of History—Israel: a Home Movie
has been a blessing to historians, resulting in an explosion of primary
sources. This is particularly so in a
country as small as Israel, where great historical events often intrude on
personal day-to-day life. Assembling a
collage of amateur video, director Eliav Lilti and project creator-producer
Arik Bernstein create a fragmentary portrait of the Middle East’s only
democracy in Israel: a Home Movie (clip here), which opens this
Wednesday in New York at Film Forum.
team is blessed with a wealth of source material, dating back to the 1930’s
well before the formal establishment of the State of Israel. There are weddings, celebrations, and people
just fooling around with their cameras.
Yet, the resulting footage serves as a time capsule of each era. In some
cases, the informal videographers documented undeniable history as it
happened. Easily the most dramatic
example is the footage shot by beach partiers of Egyptian MiGs shot of the sky
by pursuing Israeli fighter pilots after executing the sneak attack that
launched the Yom Kippur War.
film like Home Movies arguably says
more about the editorial hand shaping it than those who originally shot the
constituent videos. In this case,
Bernstein and Lilti’s team clearly reflects the inclination of liberal humanism
(broadly defined) to hold one’s self or one’s country to a higher standard than
those who inveigh against us. It is a
noble, forgiving instinct, but it is often misplaced. Time and again, the disembodied narrators bemoan
Israel’s inability to make peace with the Arab populations, asking what they
could have done differently.
contrast, little attention is paid to the terrorism Israel has faced since her
inception—just the occasional ghostly picture of a relative cut down before she
reached thirty. Still, the rockstar
treatment afforded to journalist Dan Shilon at a swinging 1970’s wedding after his
uncompromising reporting on the murder of the Israeli Olympians is certainly a
telling moment. Yet, the resilient hope
peace might finally follow each successive war is a refrain heard from Israelis
throughout Home Movies, speaking
volumes about the inherent difference in values held by Israel and its haters.
Home Movies is a deliberate and
knowing exercise in subjectivity, in which truth seeps in through the
conspicuous margins. It should therefore
neither be the first nor the last word on the Israeli experience. (Viewers looking for a quick primer should
check out the lucid and comprehensive The Case for Israel featuring Prof. Alan Dershowitz.)
There are many striking (though grainy) images
and several intriguing anecdotes in Home
Movies. Where else will you see such
candid footage of Moshe Dayan (courtesy of his son)? Nonetheless, it is important to understand it
is a product of an Israeli film establishment not so very different from our
own. Recommended for history buffs, but
with reservations, Israel: a Home Movie opens
this Wednesday (7/10) at New York’s Film Forum.
Labels: Documentary, Israeli Cinema