Metz, Walter: At the movies: ‘Canaries’, a review of Denial

Walter Metz

At the movies: “Canaries”, a review of Denial‘, Origins (Ohio State University), 23 November 2016

Metz teaches cinema history at Southern Illinois University. This post riffs off the election of Trump and the vogue for ‘post-truth’. Metz notes

the dwindling importance of facts and learning in anti-intellectual American culture is reaching a critical mass from which we might not be able to return. As I write in mid-November 2016, slightly less than half of Americans who voted in the national election selected Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, a deliberate choice eschewing policy proposals based on data in lieu of a populist social media demagogue who speaks in simplistic, abusive platitudes.

Metz goes on to discuss the book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, by historian Deborah Lipstadt, and the new movie based on it, Denial. Metz looks for ‘the middle-ground solution between rightfully critiquing an anti-intellectual culture that devalues facts, but at the same time acknowledging that our access to such facts is woefully crippled by ideological filters far beyond our ability to identify and control against’.

Metz reckons the middle ground can be found in historical realism or materialism where ‘our access to truth is forever shrouded by ideological filters, such that the best we can do is build rhetorical arguments that overlap with one another to give us a reliable sense of what is and is not close to the truth’.

Filmmakers [like the makers of Denial] can put before us the most engaging artistic manifestations of the frailties of human behavior, knowing they cannot carry the burden of the “Truth,” but nonetheless contribute to an overall flux of understanding that leads us toward the truth.

Metz looks at the movie in detail and concludes that

we must marshal our full aesthetic capabilities to keep interrogating the past for its relevance on the present, again and again without cessation … In a world in which Donald Trump will soon lead the most powerful nation on Earth, whose critiques of political correctness directly echo the bile spewed by [Holocaust denier] David Irving, the need for such sophisticated cinema has never been greater.

Metz implicitly echoes EH Carr (‘history is interpretation’) who, in turn, is a touchstone for the Honest History enterprise. Similar themes are explored in the forthcoming Honest History book. Guardian journalists Katharine Viner and Katharine Murphy discuss related themes.

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