Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Inside the Historical Film

Inside the Historical Film

Copyright Date: 2014
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Inside the Historical Film
    Book Description:

    From cinema's beginnings filmmakers have turned to the past for their stories, so much so that in many ways our historical culture is shaped more in the movie theatre than in the classroom. Inside the Historical Film argues how and why film can enrich our understanding of the past. Bruno Ramirez discusses a wide range of films, from various historical and national contexts, pointing to the role that film-crafts play in translating historical events into cinematic language. He takes the reader through the process of conception, research, design, and production of several films that he researched and co-wrote, explaining the decisions that were made to best convey historical knowledge. The practice-based quality at the core of Ramirez's analysis is further enhanced by conversations with world-renowned film directors, including Denys Arcand, Constantin Costa-Gavras, Deepa Mehta, Renzo Rossellini, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, and Margarethe von Trotta. Grounded in an appreciation for the interpretative value of making films and cinema's ability to reach large public audiences at personal and emotional levels, Inside the Historical Film seeks to understand historical films as both creative works and multi-layered representations of the past.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9647-4
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)

    • CHAPTER 1 Introduction: From the Archive to the Screen
      (pp. 3-17)

      It is not easy to fully convey the sense of personal fulfillment I felt the first time I saw on the big screen historical characters that I had created – to watch them act and express emotions in words and actions that I had meticulously written or co-written. That sense of fulfillment was compounded by my awareness that tens of thousands of viewers were going to watch those images and sequences in the following weeks and months, whether at movie theatres or on television, and would draw from that story whatever understanding they could about the past.

      Yet I was...

    • CHAPTER 2 Narrating the Past in Words and in Motion
      (pp. 18-41)

      Since the advent of film as a new medium, filmmakers have frequently turned to the past for their stories. In most of the European film-producing countries, such as Italy, Germany, and Soviet Russia, some of the earliest and most influential films narrated stories set in ancient or more recently passed times. Giovanni Pastrone’s 1914 filmCabiriawas one of Europe’s very first long-feature movies, and it portrayed a critical episode during the wars between Rome and Carthage. In addition to its imposing set and the unprecedented number of extras, the film became influential for its original camera movements. The following...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Filmmaker as Occasional Historian
      (pp. 42-84)

      In reviewing a film for a scholarly journal, historian John Tibbetts came up with a very appropriate formulation when he referred to the “time-honoured taboo in Western historiography against mixing fact with fiction.”¹ As a well-entrenched component of the mindset of most historians, this taboo is probably the main factor that leads them to discredit or dismiss filmic renditions of the past. Yet, considering the enormous time span of human recording of the past, Tibbett’s formulation fails to convey that this taboo is a relatively recent occurrence and largely a legacy of scientific history as a discipline.

      Throughout the entire...

    • CHAPTER 4 History, Cinema, and Immigration: The Case of Montreal’s Italians
      (pp. 85-134)

      In the history of Canadian cinema,Caffé Italia, Montréal(1985) was the first feature film entirely devoted to the history of an immigrant minority and my first collaboration as researcher and co-screenwriter. Directed by Paul Tana, the film portrays the history of Italian immigrants who settled in Montreal throughout much of the twentieth century. Though a documentary, the film resorts often to fiction to portray some central aspects of the story, and this use of fiction has contributed significantly to its narrative qualities and to its success.

      Caffé Italia, Montréalwas first telecast on the Canadian national television primetime show...


    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 135-136)

      Despite the important contributions film historians have made since the 1980s, debates on the place and significance of filmic narrations of history have largely occurred within academic circles. The need to draw filmmakers into dialogue with academic historians is, therefore, another factor that prompted this work and shapes its content. At the same time, I wanted this volume to offer readers concrete examples of how filmmakers have used their medium and its language.

      In this part of this book, in fact, I invite them to converse on how they went about treating the historical periods within which their stories are...

    • In Conversation with Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
      (pp. 137-147)
      BRUNO RAMIREZ and Paolo Taviani

      As with many Italian artists of their generation, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s childhood and youth were marked by the Second World War and the resistance against the Nazi’s occupation of Italy. It was in that context of widespread physical and spiritual loss that they found in the masters of Italian neorealism the inspiration that drew them to cinema. And they found right in their own village the subject of their first film, a documentary on a massacre perpetrated by occupying Nazi troops (San Miniato luglio ’44). After directing several other documentaries, their debut feature film occurred in 1962 withUn...

    • Denys Arcand
      (pp. 148-164)

      Oscar-winning director-screenwriter Denys Arcand started his filmmaking career in the early 1960s when, as a recent history graduate, he was hired by the National Film Board of Canada to make a series of short documentaries on the history of New France. Other documentaries followed, dealing with Quebec contemporary social and political issues, until in 1970 he was offered the opportunity to direct a long feature film (La maudite galette). The film signalled his switch from documentary to fiction – the genre he has pursued ever since – and resulted in a number of internationally acclaimed works, includingJésus de Montréal,...

    • Deepa Mehta
      (pp. 165-171)

      The Toronto-based director/writer Deepa Mehta was born and raised in India, and it is in that country that she was first attracted to cinema as a medium and art form. Her father was a film distributor and the owner of several movie theatres. She migrated to Canada in 1973 and pursued her career in film and television, gaining international attention with her first feature filmSam and Me(1990), a story set in Canada in which she explores the friendship developing between an elderly Jewish man and an Indian immigrant.

      Mehta’s approach to the past differs significantly from that of...

    • Constantin Costa-Gavras
      (pp. 172-181)

      Constantin Costa-Gavras was born in Greece, and after completing high school he emigrated to France. As a university student in Paris he developed a passion for cinema and was admitted to the French national film school (IDHEC). He began his filmmaking career as an assistant to various French directors, including the well-known René Clair. His debut as a director occurred in 1965 with the long feature filmCompartiment tueurs, a work that received critical acclaim, particularly in the United States.

      Born into a family that paid a heavy price for their resistance to the pro-Nazi Greek regime during the Second...

    • Renzo Rossellini
      (pp. 182-189)

      As a young filmmaker, Renzo Rossellini could not have dreamed of a better teacher – his own father Roberto Rossellini. Thanks to that unique relationship, he was immersed in the total process of filmmaking, acting as researcher, screenwriter, and director in many of his father’s post-1960 productions. Still in his early twenties, he directed the TV historical seriesThe Age of Iron– the first production of their ambitious and monumental filmic history of humankind of which the internationally acclaimedThe Taking of Power by Louis XIVconstitutes one episode.

      Perhaps inevitably, Renzo’s filmmaking career unfolded in the shadow of...

    • Margarethe von Trotta
      (pp. 190-201)

      In the international landscape of feature film production, Margarethe von Trotta stands as the most prolific woman director and the one who has most consistently portrayed the emotional, psychic, and political universe of women.

      Born in Berlin, she was drawn to cinema as a vocation while she was a young woman working and studying in Paris. She first entered the male-dominated world of filmmaking as an actress, starring in a dozen German films mostly in the 1970s, and as a screenwriter and assistant director in several other films. Her marriage to film director Volker Schlöndorff (whom she later divorced) gave...

    (pp. 202-206)

    As its title suggests, this book has sought to take the reader inside the making of historical films by analyzing a wide spectrum of successful films that belong to that genre and stem from a variety of national and cultural contexts. More importantly, it has done so by adopting a practice-based approach meant to show as concretely as possible some of the major aspects involved in the creative process that resulted in those kinds of works, as well as the role of some of the main film crafts. Further, this analytical journey has been enriched by the participation of six...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 207-218)
    (pp. 219-224)
    (pp. 225-230)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 231-238)