Double Exposure: Accredited and Fragile Images of Contested Space in Amateur Films


Do, 12/04/2012 – 14:00 bis 16:00


University Glasgow, Scotland, UK, Main Building: Gilbert Scott Conference Rooms 250

Presentation by Karin Fest and Marie-Noëlle Yazdanpanah at the conference panel “The Visual Archive and the City” at ESSHC 2012 in Glasgow.

The iconic images of the National Socialist era function as Images of Power, which are interpreted as propagandistic per se: news reel material depicting Austria’s annexation by Germany in March of 1938 (The Austrian Newsreel), for instance, Kulturfilme, or films by Leni Riefenstahl. These accredited images suggest both, total control over the cinematic space and control over the contested urban and political space as well. We, however, suggest that there are other types of films that show diverse images.
This paper discusses the ways in which amateur film footage, as ‘fragile‘ images, challenges the established notion of the accredited images of the National Socialist era. Amateur filmmakers exhibit vivid interest in the outside world and record significant events, political and otherwise. We will focus first on a concrete stock of amateur films: the Apfelthaler film estate, a massive collection shot by a Viennese family between 1927 and the late 1970s. The core material under consideration consists of two documents shot by Friedrich Apfelthaler. The first reel shows impressions of the International Youth Day held in Vienna, 1941. The second one attempts to depict the “Führer’s” arrival in Vienna, in spring 1938. Although these films show affinity to the aesthetic style of professionally produced images (e.g. The Austrian Newsreel), the continuity of style is broken—these films are at their most evocative when interspersed with uncontrolled side-actions and convergences.
Secondly, we will analyze professionally produced films that use Apfelthaler footage as representational material of the past. Michael Kuball’s “Our War: European Amateur Films from the Second World War” (1994/95), a TV production in four volumes, compiles amateur film material from all over Europe, claiming to show World War II as it “really was.“
Our analysis of the Apfelthaler stock demonstrates a different kind of representational scheme. In amateur films there is no total control over the filmic space, but rather (technical) malfunctions, convergences and ephemeral glimpses of everyday life. At the same time, the analyzed footage offers a different perspective on the urban space: the streets are crowded, unregulated and lack the impression of total controll. Moreover, the amateur takes, due to his position and equipment, another view than professional filmmakers do.
From a scholarly point of view, amateur film has thus far led a mainly shadowy existence. For contemporary historical research, these ‘fragile‘ documents are invaluable, as they depict a far more contradictory image of how these political events were embedded in the expectations and practices of everyday life than official representations do. By organizing the filmic material in this way, controversial modes of representation become ambivalent. We argue for a consideration of the long-neglected genre of amateur film as a historical narrative, which deviates from official history and towards multiple practices of popular memory.

Organizer (Conference): International Institute of Social History (IIHS)
Organizer (Panel): Vrääth Öhner
Sponsor (Project): FWF The Austrian Science Fund