Rewriting “Valkyrie”. From G. W. Pabst to Bryan Singer: The Aesthetics of Historicity in Cinematic Images of the July 20th Plot against Hitler
From the literalized “enlightenment” in G. W. Pabst’s post-war West-German cinematic drama, via the sensualism of “public history” in contemporary German TV, and via a dozen minor international film versions, on to Bryan Singer’s queer, genuinely political thriller “Valkyrie” (2008): For six decades, images in cinema and television reflect on – and retroact on – Colonel Count Stauffenberg, on his failed attempt to assassinate Hitler and on the conspiracy around him to overthrow the Nazi regime (and replace it with a military “power state”) on July 20th, 1944.
With Bryan Singer’s “Valkyrie” starring Tom Cruise (and returning to previous versions of the “plot” in both senses, notably the 1990 television costume drama starring Brad Davis), the attempt to overthrow National Socialism (and social nationalism) is seen as a “political act”: Stauffenberg’s “coup” is a gesture of “queering” that is universal and egalitarian, and that has no other (let alone, “ethical” or cultural) presuppositions than one’s own death and being one’s own ghost.
With the changes in the aesthetics of these images, there is more at stake than just divergent versions of a “historical event”. Rather, these images render sensible what might count as historical and what might count as an event. Under the headline of “aesthetics of historicity”, this talk discusses how the lasting, never passing National Socialist past is made to bear upon the present in images – the latter being understood with Deleuze as modulations of space, time, action, affect, thus subjectivity (and, potentially, thought).
Historian, film theorist, researcher at the Ludwig Boltzmann-Institut for History and Society, Vienna; teaches at the University of Vienna, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt/M, Masaryk University, Brno. Occasional film critic, disc-jockey und edutainer. “Lives” in Vienna-Erdberg.
Drehli Robnik has recently published a German language monograph on the topic of his presentation: Geschichtsaesthetik und Affektpolitik. Stauffenberg und der 20. Juli im Film 1948-2008 (translation of the title by the author: The Aesthetics of Historicity and the Politics of Affect. Stauffenberg and the July 20th Plot against Hitler in Film 1948-2008), publisher: Turia + Kant, Vienna (www.turia.at).
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