“Notes for Displaced Person,” Daniel Eisenberg

“Displaced Person” – 1981, 11 minutes, black and white, sound, 16MM, USA

original 16mm materials from: 

The Sorrow and The Pity,” directed by Marcel Ophuls, 1969
American Newsreels from the 1930’s 
“Die Deutsche Wochenshau,” June, 1940


Spoken text: 

Claude Levi-Strauss, radio interview , CBC, The Massey Lectures, “Myth and Meaning,” 1978

This film uses the ‘old fashioned’ conventions of documentary film practice to stand history on its head.  There is a narration taken from a radio lecture by Claude Lévi-Strauss entitled, “The Meeting of Myth and Science,” images from the Deutsche Wochenshau of June 25, 1940 that recorded Hitler’s dawn visit to Paris, images from American newsreels, a movement from one of Beethoven’s Rasumovsky Quartets.  The film could only succeed, in my mind, if the imprint of prior usage of all elements was clear.  The film resides as a third-hand statement in a second-hand world, a world of received knowledge, encoded consciously and unconsciously by the spoken word, the framed image, and the interpreted musical phrase.  History is received through others; this film was a method of unraveling the sources of that impossible condition, and of drawing attention to our passive complicity.  Its precautionary warning: keep thinking, even when you can’t understand.

text ©1987, Daniel Eisenberg

“Eisenberg combines softly glowing re-photographed footage of occupied France during World War II - women in kerchiefs, Hitler at the Eiffel Tower - with a sound collage from a radio lecture by Claude Levi-Strauss (in English) played against the Beethoven Opus 59 string quartet.  Levi-Strauss is talking about his obsessive need to understand the relations between Nature and Culture, how meaning is passed from one system of signs to another, the mystery of form and repetition is intrinsic to it, and this incredible Beethoven is playing, and we remember how Beethoven soothed the breasts of so many of the S.S. at bedtime; and these images, seductive and horrifying, combining and recombining, repeated in varying contexts; frozen gestures, cut off midway.  Two boys on a bicycle - one moves his arm in what could be the beginning of a simple wave of the hand, or a secret sign for the "eternal return".  The desire to make meaning takes a slider into the unthinkable and the unspeakable.”

                                         Amy Taubin, The Soho Weekly News, January 12, 1982


Reviews, Essays, Publications on Displaced Person:

Abigail Child, This Is Called Moving: A Critical Poetics of Film, University Alabama Press, 2005, “Antiserum (On Luis Buñuel/Dan Eisenberg),” pp. 140-152


Schwartz, David, Program Notes, “Independent America,” American Museum of the Moving Image, NY, 1988 p.52