“When The Legend Becomes Fact, Print The Legend”
Westerns are origin stories. Myths about taming the frontier, they narrate the first encounters between colonists and indigenous peoples, the lawless feudal era of the cowboy and the cattle baron, and the arrival of law, order, and the state. A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that Shane shows how order is built on a mythic violence which sits uncomfortably between the feudal age and the age of the nation; it uses feudal means to undo the feudal order. This violence, however, is kept at arm’s length from the peaceful community that benefits from it. John Ford’s 1962 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance takes up a lot of the same questions but ends on a significantly more cynical note. Continue reading
Richard Gott Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt. New York: Verso, 2011, 568 pages.
In “Shooting an Elephant,” an autobiographical essay published in 1936, George Orwell speaks of time spent as a police officer in a Burmese town. At close quarters with the dirty work of imperialism the young Orwell had grown deeply disillusioned with the British Empire. At the same time he was possessed of a “rage against the evil-spirited beasts who tried to make my job impossible.” Torn between hatred of Empire and resentment of the local population Orwell is a solitary and conflicted figure who, in the end, acts not out of a sense of duty but a fear of looking ridiculous. As Orwell reflects on the existential quandaries of his younger days he is able to retroactively reconcile the incoherence of this earlier experience to a lack of education and an isolation that left him unable to gain perspective. “I did not even know,” he writes, “that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it.” Continue reading
Jan Zabeil’s Film River Use to be a Man in Review
River Use to be a Man stands at the crux of an unfinished conversation (and perhaps unfinishable) on the nature of representation. Which stories are we permitted to tell and in what kinds of places are we entitled to tell them? These are the sorts of questions that are inevitably asked when a film is depicted in the fragmented site of colonialism – more so when one who does not find that place his home authors that representation. This is both the narrative and the metanarrative of German film maker Jan Zabeil’s feature, where functioning as both author, director, and actor (and one might be tempted to add, character), he plays a listless German youth wandering Botswana, who is forced by circumstances beyond his control to journey on a boat down a river in search of his own life. This is a tale of existential and spiritual survival, a Heart of Darkness for a postmodern generation. Continue reading