German History Essay

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If a historical (and thus: proto-digital) perspective is taken into account, it either conjures up canonical essayistic masters like Jean-Luc Godard or Chris Marker, or aspires to ennoble the genre as the legitimate successors of the found footage tradition in experimental cinema.

However, there are less glamorous sites where an investigation of cinema by its own means was pursued with enthusiasm and inventiveness.

In a letter to Harun Farocki written in January 1976, German producer and commissioning editor Joachim von Mengershausen (co-producer of Wenders, Fassbinder, and the like), claims: One should put a substantial effort into making the TV archives as public as public libraries, with all that this requires: adequate preservation, recording of origins and dates, etc.

Hence, at least partially an expropriation of television, which should not be difficult to find political arguments for.[3]***A few words on background context.

Back then, in the 1970s, these programs were dubbed ‘filmkundliche Sendungen’ (roughly translated: film educational programs).

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Together with other cultural and educational content, they assured that public television fulfilled its educational mission (Bildungsauftrag) which was – and nominally still is – an integral part of their rationale as publically-funded agencies.[4]Werner Dütsch, one of the key figures of the WDR Filmredaktion, recalls that this work was of particular importance for audiences remote from the major cities and their cinema repertoire.

In those days, since there were no VHS recorders, people asked for transcripts of the programs.

So our office was always filled up with piles of manuscripts to send via mail.

The media history of videographic film studies remains to be written; it would have to include the Steenbeck editing table, VHS tapes, television studios, DVD extras etc.(3) The absence of television history from the debates around the video essay does not necessarily indicate a lack of interest.

It rather results from the invisibility and difficulties of access to the treasures in the television archives.


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