The ‘mythic’ image in two documentary films

Humphrey Jennings
Humphrey Jennings

Myths and mythologies often inform public discourses: political, social and cultural. They become even more seductive when they operate as universal signs, easily traveling across borders and without linguistic barriers. Nevertheless, the more universal and recognisable the visual rendering of mythology is, the easier it is to overlook the specificities of its historical and geographical appropriations. This paper addresses this aporia: how can the ‘universalism’ of visual mythologies be researched on a micro-level? This is evidently a problem that preoccupied two internationally renowned documentarians after the Second World War: Humphrey Jennings with his Marshall Plan film The Good Life (1951) and Basil Wright with his documentary film Greece: The Immortal Land (1958). The paper explores the historical conjuncture of the ‘search for classical Greece’ at a moment when its associated myths were being reinvented as symbols of transnational humanism, manifested by the UNESCO’s adoption of a minimalist rendering of the Parthenon as its visual logo. Moreover, it draws upon ‘public sociology’ literature to critically discuss the strategies and meanings of re-appropriation of a foreign past into global reality.

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