Download American Cinema of the 2000s: Themes and Variations PDF

TitleAmerican Cinema of the 2000s: Themes and Variations
PublisherRutgers University Press
ISBN 139780813552811
CategoryArts - Film
File Size3.3 MB
Total Pages289
Table of Contents
Document Text Contents
Page 2

American Cinema of the 2000s

Page 144

Baron’s films clearly resonate with the rise in post-9/11 governmental uses

of surveillance technologies—including CCTV cameras, eavesdropping

devices, and the Bush administration’s military and cultural imperialism in

Central Asia and the Middle East—both directors displaced their engage-

ment with these issues by focusing on historical and geographic elsewheres.

Both directors also used experimental formal devices that caused viewers to

reflect not only on the information being delivered, but also on the truth

claims of documentary per se. While films like Why We Fight and Occupation:

Dreamland may have attempted, as Jonathan Kahana argues, “to suggest,

explicitly or implicitly, that traditional news sources had not provided truth

about political events” (329), Goss and Baron’s formally complex works

made no explicit comment on the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq,

yet both use innovative documentary practices to offer viewers subtle and

intelligent frames through which to consider the role that media practices

have played historically as people have tried to understand, control, and

“fix” the world.

At first glance, How to Fix the World could not be more remote from the

concerns of the United States. This short video (26.5 minutes) is based on a

series of interviews conducted by Alexander Romanovich Luria, a pioneer-

ing Soviet psychologist who traveled to Uzbekistan in 1931 to investigate

the results of a Soviet literacy program that sent instructors from Moscow

to Muslim regions of Central Asia. Yet in spite of the seeming obscurity of

a North American artist-filmmaker focusing on Soviet literacy programs

from 1931, How to Fix the World is ultimately very much a product of its own

time and place. To understand the significance of an American artist mak-

ing a film about cultural imperialism in Uzbekistan in the early twenty-first

century, however, one needs first to look closely at the recent history of this

region. The rich resources of the Ferghana valley, a site of cotton and silk

production, as well, more recently, of oil and coal production, were divided

among three republics under Soviet rule. After the collapse of the Soviet

Union, the Soviet-era leader Islam Karimov, who had ruled from 1990,

embarked on a failed economic restructuring plan, in part guided by the

International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, creating situations of

desperate poverty among the farming community of the Andijan region.

This crisis peaked on 13 May when Karimov directed Uzbek security forces

to open fire on crowds protesting both their dire poverty and the incarcer-

ation of twenty-three local businessmen who had been accused of Islamic

extremism. Hundreds were killed. This local eruption of violence directly

impacted the military operations of the United States in Afghanistan and

Iraq. From 2001, the United States had been operating out of an air base in


Page 145

southeastern Uzbekistan, but from autumn of this year, in response to U.S.

investigations of the May events, the Uzbek government halted this

arrangement. As a former Uzbek intelligence officer explained in 2009,

“Uzbekistan was, is, and will continue to be the key country in the region.

It has borders with all other Central Asian states and with Afghanistan, and

it makes for a good partner in security terms because it has the most power -

ful army in Central Asia” (“Afghan Conflict”). By making a work about the

history of the Uzbek people, who rarely make headline news in the United

States, Goss has given a face and a history to people who are pawns in

American wars.

Unlike other documentary films made about Central Asia and the

Middle East since 9/11, How to Fix the World focuses less on the specifics of

the War on Terror than on a series of implied questions about an over-

looked but significant region: How does cultural imperialism operate? What

can we learn from earlier, failed models of attempts at cross-cultural under-

standing, education, and translation? Can we imagine better models? And

finally, what role might films and filmmaking play in this imaginative


Goss reads aloud Luria’s questions while other American voices read

the various replies. Speaking as Luria, Goss asks her uneducated subjects to

repeat or evaluate various questions, premises, and conclusions. When Goss

asks, “There are no camels in Germany. The city of B is in Germany. Are

there camels in B or not?” the voice of an elderly man replies reflectively,

“Probably. Since there are large cities, there should be camels.” In response

to another question that requires logical deduction, another man answers

firmly, “We only talk about what we have seen.We don’t talk about what

we have not seen.”

Just as the answers taken from Luria’s text challenge the interviewer’s

assumptions about the relation among vision, speech, and knowledge, so

Goss’s images require audiences to evaluate their own sense of the relation

between sound and vision on the one hand and knowledge and the audio-

visual text on the other. Throughout this work, Goss combines live-action

footage shot in Andijan with still photographs of cotton workers in Uzbek-

istan taken by Max Penson between 1925 and 1945 and with Flash anima-

tion techniques. In this way, she disrupts the presumed authenticity of these

images as well as the epistemological assumptions of Luria and Person.

She first troubles the truth-claims of photography, as well as our cer-

tainty that these originally black-and-white images reference only the past,

by coloring the photographs’ figures with garish computer-generated colors

that underscore the constructed nature of the characters being presented to


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