“Persistence” – 1997, 86 minutes, color, sound, 16mm, USA
Director: Daniel Eisenberg
Production: Daniel Eisenberg Films.
Camera, Edit: Daniel Eisenberg
Second Camera: Ingo Kratisch
Sound: Ellen Rothenberg, Ingo Kratisch
Sound Editing: Bonnie Daley
Music: Ferrucio Busoni ('Dr. Faustus'), Franco Donatoni ('Argot'), Luigi Nono ('La Iontananza nostalgica utopica futura'), Giacinto Scelsi ('L'âme ailée', 'L'âme ouverte')
Assistant Editors: Erin Sax, Jennifer Stefanisko
Text: Stig Dagerman, Daniel Eisenberg, Janet Flanner, Max Frisch
Voice: John DiStefano.
Premiere: February 21, 1997, Internationales Forum des Jungen Films, Berlin Film Festival
With support from: the D.A.A.D. Berliner Künstlerprogramm, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Massachusetts Cultural Council, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Thanks to Alexandra Anthony, , Tag Gallagher, Ernie Gehr, Erika Gregor, Ulrich Gregor, Ingo Kratisch, Carsten Krüger, Katherine Rabinowitz, Barbara Richter, Ellen Rothenberg, Joachim Sartorius, Jutta Sartory, Mark Simon, Irwin Young, A.S.T.A.K., Nationalgalerie SMPK, Neue Synagoge Berlin, Dr. Hermann Simon, U.S. Dept. of Defense Motion Media Records Center, Norton Air Force Base, CA.
for Alf Bold
”Persistence” was shot in 1991-1992 in Berlin and edited along with films shot by U.S. Signal Corps cameramen in 1945-1946 that were obtained from Department of Defense archives. Interspersed through these materials are filmic quotations from Rossellini's "Germany: Year Zero," also shot in 1946.
"Persistence" is a meditation on the time just after a great historical event, about what is common to moments such as these, about the continuous and discontinuous threads of history. The film is also about various kinds of cinematic observation: personal, documentary, fictional; and our attachment to these traditional modes of observation that necessarily shape our view of events.
The texts are drawn from the notebooks of Max Frisch, Stig Dagerman, and Janet Flanner from the time just after World War II, and my own journals from my stay in Berlin in 1991-92. Most often, their journal entries appear over contemporary footage, often my own entries are over the archival materials. Sometimes a date clues the viewer to the displacement, sometimes not.
"A journalist I have not yet become, and it doesn't look as if I'll ever be one. I have no wish to acquire all the deplorable attributes that go to make up a perfect journalist. I find it hard to understand the people I meet at the Allied Press hotel - they think that a small hunger strike is more interesting than the hunger of multitudes. While hunger-riots are sensational, hunger itself is not sensational, and what poverty-stricken and bitter people here think becomes interesting only when poverty and bitterness break out in catastrophe. Journalism is the art of coming too late as early as possible... I'll never master that."
The Moment After
Listening to the words of Stig Dagerman one begins to believe that there is in fact something deeper, something perhaps more important and essential that one should be looking for during that "moment after." In 1991, the moment after was obvious, the something deeper, not quite as much. As the Berlin Wall is dismantled, simultaneously, a generation of participants and bystanders of the last World War become strangely obsessed by their own place in history, by their own mortality. This uncanny superimposition (or is it collapse?) of past, present, future is what "Persistence" attempts to reconstruct.
What does that particular moment in 1991 allow? Official national unity allows many to consider history whole once again, retrieved from its condition of "post-histoire," although this too, this linearity and continuity, is a comfortable illusion. Perhaps one can instead view it as a rupture or fissure, a seismic rearrangement of social, historic, and political forces that allowed subconsciously repressed memories both historical and personal to rise to the surface... Is it merely coincidental that in 1991 there is in the Federal Republic of Germany an overwhelming concern with things Jewish? Anyway, History has always been more of a sport in Germany than anywhere else, perhaps because more has been up for grabs, more at stake.
The Archive and the Document
Cleaning house, reestablishing the historical basis for a future requires redefining the archive, redefining the landscape... An image is taken at a given moment in time. If that image is concerned with documents and documentation, it necessarily becomes a document itself, documenting not only what is seen, but a way of seeing. The images in "Persistence" were shot with full consciousness that an upheaval to the visible landscape was imminent, predictable. The reasons have more to do with economics than history, but history also shows us, by example, that at these times of change the landscape becomes a site for social and historical inscription.
The moment after also becomes the time when documents and sites are in a state of flux, of redefinition: documents are replaced in the historical record and sites change in their use: the casual photo or slip of paper becomes a document, the catalogue of documents becomes the archive, the former archive becomes the current museum, the former museum becomes a site for historical editing and revision, some documents are discarded... some sites are as well.
Many of the archival documents from the Department of Defense that appear in "Persistence" were scheduled for the trash heap: they had not been used within a prescribed period of time, and the archive itself was about to be moved to smaller facilities. Usage of images assures them some measure of a continued existence in the historical record. These seemingly "uneventful" shots taken by Signal Corps Cameramen using color film for perhaps the first time in their lives are deemed useless to some narrative of history that they find themselves outside of. Nevertheless they are coded with the esthetics of Western Painting and Renaissance perspective and tell us much about what the cameramen thought of the images they were producing. My use of these materials gives them two additional lives… one in the archive itself, as the rules of the DOD archive require that an image requested be maintained for a period of years afterwards. Secondly, in “Persistence” these documents travel to new sites and new eyes, outside the closed system of the archive.
Many of the sites documented in 1991 and 1992 in "Persistence" were clearly sites of historical construction, soon to be changed, renovated, or removed. Part of the working process of the film was to anticipate which sites would be imminently affected; those that ,in the longer arc of historical time, would transform. New documents would then be produced… or perhaps not. There was no way to know with any certainty.
The Rules of Observation
Every observation has its rules, every artifact and document the context and conditions of its creation. The romance of Ruin which the Emperor creates at Sans Souci is echoed in the models of a ruined Berlin (rebuilt as Germania) that Hitler instructs his architects to create: A thousand years’ view into the future brings us back around, full-circle, to the view of the past that Frederick the Great creates for his personal inspiration.
Presence, Absence, Prospect
The construction of historical time into convenient linear relationships such as past, present, future, is outmoded, cumbersome. These words have become insufficient to understand or represent the continuous and discontinuous in history. They no longer serve our conception of what "lived time" really consists. What is present may also have been present before. What is absent may be back tomorrow.
If we are doomed to repeat history, not because we don't know it, but because we do - because it provides the model for all future histories - then we are looking into a hall of mirrors which makes it impossible to know what precisely is past, what is present, what is persistent, what is absent, what is imminent...what aspects of the moment are unique and which are in fact recurrent.
Reconciliation, or The German Question
From a more personal perspective, the question for me is not so much "moving past" or "getting over" historical trauma, but of how to properly integrate it. That the generations born after the war are guiltless is not the issue. These sons and daughters, like the sons and daughters of victims, have no choice about their responsibility to history. It may be true that Germany stands alone as a nation that commemorates the victims of its own wars, but living as an "outsider" within Germany today may pose the same dilemmas for those "outside" as it has for the last two hundred years. The issue is not legal but psychological, and whether the national conception of "German," of citizenship and of nationhood, can move away from Jus Sanguinis, blood rights, to rights alone. In the end, this is a European question which Germany, by historical necessity, should lead the way.
“Pulling in anchors of ephemerality, reconstruction, and salvage, and treating the present as the past and vice versa in a redemptive fashion, this hefty parcel from Daniel Eisenberg interrogates the soul of history. “PERSISTENCE” completes a trilogy of films that started with “DISPLACED PERSON,” and “COOPERATION OF PARTS,” though its counter-linear imperative seemingly aims at making such structures arbitrary. Footage of various sites around Germany being rearranged after the fall of the Berlin Wall enables Eisenberg to de- then recontextualize the flotsam and jetsam of a collective memorial record that is ever up for grabs. Eisenberg literally reaches into the dust-bin of neglected film (glowing, gorgeous color tracking shots of post-war German rubble taken by Army Signal Corps camera crews), architecture (museums, statues, the fractured, impermanent itself), and diaries (texts coded only by time), then strains what he has retrieved into this personalized artifact. Canny quotes from Roberto Rossellini’s "GERMANY: YEAR ZERO," in which an emaciated German boy wanders through the ruins of 1945 Berlin, bolsters the film’s stance against linear time. “PERSISTENCE” reminds the viewer of the human element -- erring memory -- in the pose and posture of history.
Edward E. Crouse, San Fransisco Guardian