Alain Resnais and Chris Marker Join Forces Against Colonialism
Statues Also Die is an anti-colonialist documentary co-directed by Alain Resnais and Chris Marker.
We wander through museums, amid artistic forms pertaining to exotic cultures, without realizing the intimate need that some men, foreign to us in space and time, had to produce their art. We appreciate the beauty of their works, but that same beauty is what separates us from them. We are blind spectators of an art that ignores us.
This is the starting point that two monsters of French cinematography, Chris Marker and Alain Resnais, chose to film their peculiar anti-colonialist documentary entitled Statues Also Die (1953). As a defense against the French and international colonial interference in African territory, Resnais and Marker sustain their document on a clairvoyant premise:
When men die, they become history. Once statues die, they become art. This botany of death is what we call culture.
They open their film with this unappealable sentence. Inside a European museum, curious visitors observe African sculptures. Tools with the most diverse uses, masks and heads covered in everyday objects, represent the intimate union between an African and his world. Set apart from their environment, and reduced to mere objects of aesthetic contemplation, they are therefore deprived of their magical emanation ––like mere fetishes incapable of transcending their own material nature.
This is the same auratic power that Walter Benjamin attributed to the original work of art ––that which is lost in the confinement and isolation of its original field. A form derived from colonialism that ends up revealing the ignorance of the colonizing nation. Useless objects that have lost the sole purpose they once had: to serve society as a handle to the world.
From the showcased work, the documentary then transports us to African land, making us witnesses to the degradations that people are subjected to in their colonial dependence. The imperialist, like an otherworldly being, penetrates the unknown world he hopes to dominate. Africa’s dark forces, mysteries, religion and art are degraded to the form of mere merchandise. What the African produced as a result of being in the world begins to be reproduced to satisfy the white man’s yearning for acquisition.
Subtly, in an almost imperceptible succession of logical chain-links, the film takes us from an African mask to the white man’s benevolent mask; from the mysterious forms of African idols to the death of its religion; from the museum’s display, where everything is silence and contemplation, to the ecstatic agitation of the ritual and the horror of genocide. The hieratical sculptures that we contemplated with indifference or sheer curiosity now reflect the hidden history of their banishment. Statues die, but it is precisely their death which tells us about their other life.
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