und sahen, was zu machen war...
Images of history
Dr Eva Hohenberger
Excerpt of an article in Filmdienst magazine 12.1994
translation Steven Reeder
Watching a film opening with observations of workmen cutting some object out of expanded polystyrene, and given only the information that the action took place in April, 1991, you would not automatically expect the subject to be history. In his film,
And saw what should be done..., Stephan Sachs shows the re-erecting of the Emperor William Monument at the 'Deutsches Eck', the 'German Corner' at Koblenz; but from there, he sets out to investigate at the same time the historical manifestations and representations of what the monument stands for- an imperialistic claim to power, and German megalomania. Sachs's questioning of German history is about modes of perception;
- How are views channelled?
- What are the self-projections for which war is waged?
- What image does power adopt?
His own response comes through ironic re-creations of German self-portrayal: a workman clambers up the monument like a mountaineer in an Arnold Fanck film; a commentary on the bronze cast explains all down to the finest detail, it is pure educational film. The foundry resounds to the tones of Ernst Busch in song. The bathos of heroism, the work ethic, the conveying of knowledge as an authoritarian and specifically channelled operation - Sachs exposes the ideological layers incorporated in the monument.
In so doing, he concentrates on the craftsmanship, in painstaking detail; he observes how the equestrian statue gradually emerges out of the moulds and individual components. But at the same time, Sachs departs on numerous explorations into the original monument's history to criticise what is implicit in its re-erection, the restoration of German nationalistic self-awareness. Montage, the assembly principle of both monument and film, thus becomes in Sachs's hands a démontage of the pictures we see. Every quotation and insinuation is the vehicle for its own contradiction.
When the monument is finally shipped across the Rhine in procession, it would seem, then to be raised upon its pedestal; when art patron Peter Ludwig, in a speech, invokes the memory of his mother, who lost her life in the War, in Koblenz, and in the same speech, calls the American soldier responsible for blasting the monument off its pedestal in 1945 'mean and uncultured' - the same soldier who now sends his best wishes for the reconstruction and hopes that everyone will enjoy the party - then we arrive at the point where the irony of Sachs's cinematic procedure comes home to reality. One would be compelled to tears of laughter, were those involved in this wholly unfictitious satire 'not such wholeheartedly serious participants.