Flaherty on the Road
Program 3: Perpetrators
Flaherty on the Road is a traveling film series featuring innovative, provocative, and hard-to-see works from the most recent Flaherty Seminar, “History is What’s Happening”. Programmed by Pablo de Ocampo, it examined both the frame and subject of history in cinema to understand how the social and political conditions of the past are inextricably linked to the present.
dir. Eyal Sivan, France, 1999, digital, b&w, 128 min.
The trial of Adolf Eichmann, Nazi SS lieutenant colonel, in 1961 was significant for being the first time a trial was filmed and broadcast on international television. Filmed on four different cameras onto two-inch open-reel videotape, the recordings were directed by Leo Hurwitz, an American documentary filmmaker who had been blacklisted for the twelve years preceding this trial as a result of the McCarthy-era witch hunts. This footage has created a set of iconic images which have widely circulated as recognizable representations of this trial: the quiet, obedient Eichmann seated in a bulletproof glass booth in front of a microphone with headphones over his ears. Though documented extensively, use of this material had always been drawn from the same few hours of footage, out of a total of 350 hours of film. For his film, Sivan negotiated access to the entirety of the archive. Using Hannah Arendt’s book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, as his source and inspiration, Sivan sets out to make a portrait of “an appallingly ordinary man” who insists on his role as being nothing more than an agent, an administrator. Never denying the fierce accusations of the prosecution, Eichmann’s argument in his defense is that he was only following orders, that certainly others would have done the work had he refused his instructions from his superiors. Mining this vast archive Sivan has constructed a detailed study of one of the most infamous perpetrators of violence in the 20th century. Composed entirely of this footage with no outside commentary or interviews, The Specialist is a study in how archives of images are used, how we understand history through documentary recordings, and how, in the words of Arendt, we comprehend “the banality of evil.”