Miri Talmon, a famous Israeli Film Scholar sent me a paper she recently presented in a film conference about my film.
She had also written about my film in the past, even in one of her books.
Miri is currently teaching in several universities in Florida. Her info in Florida, is :
Miri Talmon-Bohm, Ph.D
ke to know more info about her paper, or just get more info about any other Israeli film- she's a published leading expert.
Here's her last paper, I assume from May 2006 :
Cameras in Contested Territories: War and Peace as Gendered Alternatives in Israeli Documentary Films
This article studies two Israeli documentary films as discourses about Israeli masculinity in the context of the national agenda of war and peace. These personal documentary films, both made in the 1990s, present a powerful commentary on Israeli existence and identity. Why study personal documentary films, or “video diaries”? What kind of cultural commentary do such films produce? How do personal documentaries and subjective home video productions function as cultural documents and how do they encode the contradictions that underlie the collective, national existence?
In personal documentary Israeli films since the 1990s, some of which fit the description of what Catherine Russell (1999) terms: “video diaries,” the documenting subject becomes an integral part of the cinematic spectacle and of the documented reality. This is the case in both Michal Aviad’s 1996 Ever Shot Anyone and her 2003 For My Children. Dan Katzir’s Out for Love, Be Back Shortly (1997) is a personal documentary with elements of a home video as well. These films turn “journeys of the self,” as Russell describes them, the personal quest for a new understanding of the self, into allegories about Israeli contested collective identity. In Dan Katzir’s film he is on a quest for a girlfriend and romantic love; in Michal Aviad’s film, she is on a quest to come to terms with Israeli masculinist and militarist culture, and the socialization of her son into it; She explore the masculine territory that is typically out of limit for women in an attempt to experience what it is like to be an Israeli male on military reserve duty. In both cases the personal experience becomes an allegory for Israeli existence and the culture’s fundamental paradoxes. Both films challenge not only the boundaries between subjective and objective reality, but also the very fragile line, to begin with--in Israeli context--between personal and collective experiences.
My discussion of both films focuses on this liminal threshold where collective national and gender identity are contested and negotiated, the transitional and hybrid territory where the taken-for-granted national agenda is being opened to re-consideration. Simultaneously, these films are located in the contested territory between the fictional construction of reality on the screen and its material authenticity in real life. They re-open and expose the seams that “suture” the individual subjects of Israeli reality into the collective texture of constraints, the network of constraints that socialize them into the Israeli “tribe” and its symbols, values and rituals. Both films lay bare the transitional collective consciousness, the coming of age of a culture that has to grow out of its mission-oriented, militaristic masculine phase into a more feminine alternative of collective identity: the one located in the domestic, feminine space of interpersonal relations and the intimacy of emotions. Condensed to the 1960s “make love not war” slogan, the transitional space depicted in Aviad’s journey in the military zone and in Katzir’s quest for love contains the military vs. post war phases of Israeli existence as gendered alternatives.
Femininity revisited- Israeli culture and the peace process
The last decade of the twentieth century witnessed dramatic changes in Israeli consciousness and culture. In the mid 1990s it seemed as if peace could actually materialize and transform Israelis’ daily existence and collective agenda. The disposition towards peace brought about a turning point long due in the culture: it legitimized what I suggest to characterize as a feminization of the culture: the private sphere, personal priorities, the family and relationships became less marginal with regard to the national agenda and collective concerns. The home replaced communal spaces and collective forms of entertainment. The media which dominated the domestic space turned the home and the family into Israelis’ most significant space for socialization and socializing. Television, the video cassette recorder and player, the personal computer and the internet, the DVD player and the home theater filled the domestic space with forms of entertainment and contents they used to consume in more collective forms. Even the national holidays were more passively and intimately experienced opposite the television screen, with family and close friends, rather than in the public spaces that used to contain and celebrate such national, collective events. The traditional military marches of independence day, the last of which was symbolically transmitted on the first experimental broadcast of Israeli national television (Caspi and Limor: 117) were an example of the way Israeli independence day was experienced as a collective event that articulated Israelis’ pride in their army and their confidence in its power to defend their very existence. Since the late 1980s collective festivities of independence eve have become secondary to family and close friends’ picnics and backyard barbecues on Independence Day. The Home Depot has become one of Israelis’ favorite shopping spaces, as their home has become their favorite castle. Homemaking as well as parenting is at the top of many Israelis’ agenda. The family became the central site of identification and resource of identity rather than the nation and other social institutions such as school or informal education frameworks like the youth movement.
In a society as collective-oriented as Israeli society, this trend is no less than a revolution. The supremacy of peers and the cohesive Israeli collective on the national as well as personal agenda was relinquished in favor of family trips abroad, romantic relationships and individual success and happiness as the ultimate Utopia.
1990s Israel, like the 1950s American culture, experienced a creative momentum in its television culture. This momentum went in tandem with the proliferation of suburbs, malls, consumerism and domesticity that Israeli commercial and cable television addresses and caters to. Indeed, the 1990s and the postmodern sensibility that accompanied the end of the millennium brought a reversal of gender roles to Western and global popular culture at large: the aesthetics and themes of “women on top,” unruly and strong women “doing men’s work” permeate advertisements, video clips, popular television series and films. The hybridization of genres, typical of the postmodern aesthetics, locates females such as Thelma and Louise on the road, bonding as only male buddies were allowed to in masculine film genres. The assertive dominant female of the 1990s does not necessarily reflect a real change in the positioning and status of females in the social reality. Representation of females as active and even aggressive, their location in open spaces rather than in the confinement of home-making and the private sphere, and the reversal of power relations between males and females in the narrative and visuals of various media texts, articulate more often threatened masculinity rather than empowered femininity. Yet, in a Western and global context the empowered and inflated female in media texts and the threat she poses to menaced masculine dominance is part of larger and recurring cycles of a very delicate power balance between the sexes: in their popular media representations, that is.
In terms of gender representations and the power relations between the sexes, American film and television constantly negotiate masculinity and femininity and allow for different genres to construct different power relations. Thus gender stereotypes and the binary oppositions in the constructions of Men from Mars and Women from Venus allow for a constant discourse within popular culture concerning masculinity and femininity. This, however, was not the case in Israeli cinema and television until the 1990s. The masculine subject position and images of masculinity were and are dominant in Israeli films of both popular and art cinema. Israeli cinema--very much as a symptom of the culture at large--marginalized females and femininity, symbolically excluding them and even annihilating them. The following chapter will discuss this symptom in terms of the national project of the Israeli renaissance.
Masculinity as a Nation-building Project: Israeli Cinema and Culture
Classic Hollywood Westerns and War Films construct masculinity as a spectacular physical endeavor and communal project geared at taming the wilderness, achieving law and order in contested spaces, striving and working for the accomplishment of impossible missions. These film genres construct the male as either a potent individual aloof from society, in outdoor open natural spaces (in the Western), or a special, potent team of males, bonding in solidarity to achieve victory and save the nation (in war films).
The constitution and evolution of Israeli society coupled with constant conflict and recurring wars, have turned masculinity into its inevitable stamp and shield. The plough, the hoe, and the rifle, the phallic extensions of the Israeli male collective body, were recruited to tame the wilderness and build the nation. Females, as well as feminine agendas, were marginalized and suppressed in that process. (Talmon, 2001) The collective, public sphere, ridden with the traumas of immigration, war and cultural suppression of the Diaspora heritage, diminished the private sphere and the individuals within it. The emerging collectivist society, constituted upon Marxist and Socialist ideologies, has since the 1920s marginalized the family, regarded motherhood and family life as trivial bourgeois constraints. Although females did share “masculine” duties such as road paving and agricultural labor, they were expected to take care of traditional feminine tasks such as cooking and washing. Although mythological fighters, warriors such as Manya Shochat and Hanna Senesh, did cross the visible cultural borders between dominant masculinity and subordinate femininity, they were the exception to the masculinist norm. As years went by, as Israeli existence became inseparable from constant war and militarism, the collective agenda was subject to growing masculinization. The whole culture has prioritized the collective sphere and agenda over the individual and private, the national over the personal, the outside world and “big”politics over a more traditionally feminine agenda: relationships and intimacy, the family and well-being of the individual, politics of identity and everyday life.
The masculinization of Israeli culture at large and the prioritization of politics of the public sphere have been articulated by Israeli media as well. Israeli cinema of the 1930s to the 1960s expressed mostly national experiences and collective issues, often following the social-realist aesthetic tradition and pathos of the early twentieth century Soviet cinema and Literature. The teleological narratives of 1930s documentaries such as “This is the Land” (Agadati, 1934) and the feature “Sabra” (Alexander Ford, 1933) led groups of mostly competent, hard-working males from the wasteland and desert to blossoming gardens of production and prosperity. The aesthetics of documentary in these films that were shot in black and white in real locations rather than in studios and incorporated documentary footage of real events into the narrative, turned labor and the conquest of the frontier into authentic endeavors, and such films into testimonies of the nation-building project. Such documentary films, like newsreels of the time, served not only as propaganda, but also as news produced in Palestine and communicated to the Jewish Diaspora outside of Palestine. The documentary quality of the reportages was coupled with the Futurist and Soviet film aesthetics of the montage; it “gloried in the clamor and rhythm of machines, and the dynamism of a world in change” (Barnouw: 52). Such films constructed a male dominant world of manual labor and machines, the masculine space of the frontier and the masculine dynamic, phallocentric, linear, mission-oriented movement in open, natural, wild, contested spaces. It was this kind of world that Israeli war films of the 1950s and 60s reproduced and elaborated on, inflating male bonding and solidarity to mythical dimensions, and relegating the territory of production, collective meaning and significance to females and femininity. The collective symbolic masculine arena was closed to Israeli females; assigned to them were the roles of bearing children and sending them to war, waiting passively for husband, friend, son or brother to come back from the battle, and carrying as living torch and stone the sacred memory of dead men, sacrificed on the national alter.
This prioritization of the male principle in Israeli culture has victimized males as well as females not only by demanding of them the sacrifice of their very bodies and lives to the nation and its wars, but also by establishing rigid, hetero-normative masculinist gender norms that do not allow either males or females feminine attributes such as sensitivity, verbosity, tenderness, weakness, passivity, prioritization of relationships, or “feminine” activities and skills that were completely acceptable as masculine in other, mostly European, cultures, skills such as cooking and baking, cleaning and sewing, educating the children in the household, and working at indoor jobs of merchants and sales persons. Such work and special environments (indoors, at home, in business) were considered both unmanly and “exilic”: males who were not doing outdoor chores such as driving and farming, serving in the military, building and working in agriculture, those who lived in urban rather than rural environments, were associated with the pre-national exilic existence of the feminized Diaspora Jew.
Personal Documentary Films as Cultural Texts
Ethnography studies culture as mediated by ritual and textual representations. In studying documentary films produced and created in Israel, I am undertaking an ethnographic project, but am in no way detached from my object of observation. I am studying the culture that contextualizes my identity as mediated by textual, filmic representations. A social and cultural critique is an integral part of the project, as in studying these films I am adopting the approach and the fundamental assumptions of cinematic ethnography. Cinematic ethnography engages the interpreter of diverse forms of cultural representations in an analysis that is fundamentally critical, and challenges power structures such as sexism or racism, that are inscribed explicitly or implicitly into these forms .
The personal documentary film and “video diary” (as Russell calls them) encode collective and communal cultural contradictions within subjective documents. The close reading of these documents enables us to lay bare the cultural criticism embedded in them. Such cultural criticism is inherent in both practices: the making of the films and their reading. Both practices, the making of such films and their critical reading, are inherently oppositional. They aim at exposing from within the fabricated and constructed nature of ideology as embedded in everyday life. The interpretation of such films that record the innocent, the casual, the quotidian, as it is authentically experienced by individuals, enables the interpreter to detect the strange and uncanny within the familiar, to denaturalize the taken-for-granted, to de-familiarize the obvious in everybody’s everyday life, and to do so from the position of the individual who is subordinate to the same power relations and ideological constraints that dominate this very mundane existence.
Films are always documents of their time. The ideological and historical context of their production, including the power relations that underlie the social reality they depict, turn such films into fascinating sources for the study of their time of production and release. Moreover, films as cultural documents, be they personal and documentary or fictional and commercially produced by teams and industries, encode the ideologies and contradictions of their times (Scatz, Sklar, Monaco). The power relations are encoded on the level of representation, since such films, as cultural texts, interpret the culture within which they emerge, and do not merely or “transparently” record it. Clifford Geertz has theorized ethnography as a methodology that interprets the interpretation of cultures by their own “producers” and “speakers.” Ethnography never studies “transparent” representations, devoid of interpretation. Yet, when describing traditional ethnography, we assume that ethnographic documents or films, although they represent or study an actual social/cultural reality, are themselves distinct from that reality, or are produced from “outside” it. Indeed, Geertz suggests that the interpreters of cultures try to understand them “from the natives’ point of view.” Yet, we do assume a distinction between the authors of ethnographic documentary films, the spectators of such films, and the subjects within the films, on the screen.
This, however, is not the case in the films I am discussing here and in my positioning vis-à-vis those films. The distinctions among documented reality, the documenting subject, and the viewing subject are all blurred in this case. First of all, the documenting subjects, directors Michal Aviad and Dan Katzir, are both an integral part, and even the subjects/main protagonists, of the films and of the social reality they record. Secondly, the viewers, both males and females, provided they live in the cultural Israeli context depicted in those films, can assume the subject position offered in these film, as can the author of this article herself. This is possible, because, as I shall show later in this article, the subject position these films offer is transitional and liminal, located in the border zone between masculine and feminine territories and identifications. Moreover, on a pragmatic level, these films deal with a reality that is completely integral to their authors’ and their spectators’ everyday lives. What characterizes this new breed of documentary, that Nichols defined as “self reflexive” documentary films (Nichols: 265) and Russell defines as “autoethnography” (Russell: 275), is that the distinctions between the following are all blurred and subject to negotiation: the distinction between constructed fictional reality and actual authentic reality, between the creator of the cultural documents and the subjects/collectives documented within them, between the personal-subjective realm and the collective-objective-public sphere. In personal documentary Israeli films since the 1990s, some of which fit the description of what Russell terms: “video diaries,” the documenting subject becomes an integral part of the cinematic spectacle and of the documented reality. This is the case in both Michal Aviad’s 1996 Ever Shot Anyone and Dan Katzir’s Out for Love, Be Back Shortly (1997) These films turn “journeys of the self,” as Russell describes them, the personal quest for a new understanding of the self, into allegories about Israeli contested collective identity, torn between the fatigue from its militarist and masculinist orientations and persisting violent context of conflict and terror, and the yearning to replace it with “normalization” of life and a new feminine agenda that prioritizes the private sphere and pursuit of personal accomplishment and happiness.
Michal Aviad’s film Ever Shot Anyone? takes us on a voyeuristic journey into the mysterious and powerful territory and ritual of Israeli male bonding through the military experience. It is this experience that substantially informed the national identity as a male identity, struggling for survival in a contested territory, struggling for integration of minorities in society through the military melting pot. Females have for generations been excluded from this arena of male-bonding, body/nation-building and integrative cohesion. In the social reality, this is beginning to change: more females are doing more masculine jobs in the military, and fewer females are constantly objectified and exploited by males in the army hierarchical microcosm, since laws concerning sexual harassment are enforced within the army as in Israeli society at large. The discussion of Aviad’s film, however, will not be a starting point for a discussion of the legal and sociological aspects of the marginalization and exclusion of females in Israeli society at large, as well as in the army in particular. Rather, I am going to follow Michal Aviad’s footsteps in her “attempt to infiltrate the world of army reservists during their annual tour of duty on the Golan Heights” (quoted from the Women Make Movies Catalog of 2004) during one month in the winter of 1994. Interestingly enough, it is the same winter when the Oslo Accords were signed. By following her footsteps I am actually articulating with the subject position the film enhances, the point of view offered to the film spectators: it is an intruder’s point of view, a voyeur’s point of view, if you will, an ethnographer’s point of view. We, the viewers, use the lens of Aviad’s camera as an extension, exploring, observing, scrutinizing and documenting a tribal reality usually hidden from an
(female) intruder’s eye. No cameras are allowed in Military Zones, no women are allowed in Masculine territories- every female knows that from her own experience. Yet, the “exotic” tribal culture Aviad explores is far from being geographically or mentally remote from her, from myself, from other Israelis whether masculine or feminine by identification. The Israeli everyday and its ritual moments become the objects of Aviad’s voyeuristic gaze and of my own exploration of her film, and both offer a critical reading and exposure of the cultural apparatus that underlies the day-to-day lives of Israelis.
Feminist theoretical discussions of film as well as its characteristic apparatus of females’ objectification and fetishization focus on the Male gaze, on how it turns females into objects of sadistic voyeurism (Mulvey, Kuhn). In auto-ethnographic films such as Ever Shot Anyone? and Out for Love the ethnographic exploring gaze and the voyeurism of the cinematic gaze converge. Yet, it is not the female body/object that is subject to investigation and objectification. Rather, the male collective and its rituals, the masculine aspects of collective existence and ideology are the objects of exploration, interpretation and negotiation. The economy of gazes is not at all simple, and the male objects of the ethnographic and the cinematic gaze are not at all passive and unconscious of the attempted reversal of power relations. As Zanger (2005: p.350) puts it, “the men try to reclaim their imaginary dominance over the feminine body that has been lost with Aviad’s gaze”, and revert to their control of the gaze by making their own oppositional film, in which Aviad and her intruding camera become objects of parody. Yet, the objects of both filmmakers’ gaze in both films are their own reflections. What is scrutinized is not an object external to the voyeur and his/her experience. Both Aviad and Katzir stare at the cultural conditions of their own existence; they document and criticize a social reality that constitutes them both as gendered and ethnic subjects.
In the experimental cinematic genre of “ Autoethnographies” or “Video diaries” both autobiography and the personal journey the filmmakers undertake are allegories of self-exploration and the negotiation of subjective identity (hence she terms such film allegories “journeys of the self”). This quest or investigation is managed throughout a constant observation of the self in its immediate social and cultural environment, embedded in everyday life. It is this constant presence of everyday life and the signifying practices embedded in it that turn the making of video diaries into an ethnographic project. In addition, the films carry layers of interpretation that are contained in these very everyday signifying practices and rituals that they document, since according to Geertz such strata of collective symbolic meanings are encoded in every community’s routine practices and rituals. In other words, the direct, unmediated ethnographic observation offered in these films is in itself a product of interpretation, and this interpretation endows the mundane with deep ideological communal meanings. Beneath the surfaces that the camera observes, the surfaces subject to the eye and ear of a subjective human observer vibrate deep fundamental symbolic, cultural meanings.
This article focuses upon the critical resources that such personal documentary films offer, as ethnographic practices and cultural documents. They articulate (both in the sense of expressing and of joining together) personal film with cultural representations, thus politicizing the personal. The micro-politics of the mundane, of everyday life, becomes a site where subjectivity performs, embedded in collective and communal rituals and webs, trying to find its way in the symbolic maps of reality provided by the culture and its hegemony.
The New Discourse of Authenticity
The postmodern media environment of the 1990s is saturated with quoted and recycled images and simulations of reality. It is this hyper-real excess of fabricated realities that brings about the backlash of reality television (see: Humm). Reality television addresses viewers’ hunger for real life dramas and real life protagonists. One of the most successful Israeli Television shows, “Fisfoosim”(litrally: missed shots) is a disciple of a very successful Israeli film genre of the 1980s. Like “candid camera” and “America’s funniest home videos” shows, it combines pranks and the voyeuristic pleasure of viewing both celebrities and ordinary Israelis coping with degrading, unexpected situations, under the supervision and control of the collective eye. Like American reality programming, some of these shows are serial, and like soaps, they provide a serial, open drama that cultivates para-social relations of viewers with real people put in unfamiliar extreme contexts such as the ones in “Survivor,” “Big Brother” or “Temptation Island.” Like the fictional Ed in the film “Ed TV,” (Ron Howard, 1999) the actual real life protagonists of MTV’s “Real World” and “Laguna Beach” are objects of the constant voyeurism of their TV viewers, who become permanent participants in the texture of other peoples’ private, everyday life. While voyeurism is certainly part of the pleasure associated with such viewing, the para-social relations vis-à-vis such real people and the identification with their world is accompanied by the “pedagogical” experience that such continuous observation yields. We, the viewers, learn about the lives of young people in the real world they inhabit; we learn about their feelings and relationships and hopes. The drama that real, authentic reality yields, as if it were not edited and manipulated (which it certainly was), is more fascinating than any fabricated soap or fiction, of which some of us had grown suspicious.
The other side of that “coin,” another aspect of the hunger for reality television and of this new discourse of authenticity we have been excessively experiencing since the 1990s, is the depiction of that reality by “real” persons rather than by institutional professionals such as producers, photographers, directors. It is as if an “amateur” has created the program or film, a real person like you and me, making his own home movie, documenting a pulsating reality in real time with his own personal camcorder, as he or she himself had experienced it. Television’s traditional function as our eye’s extension, our window to the world (Ellis) and its “live broadcast” quality (Gripsrud) are the standards of both reality televisions and new experimental, independent and some commercial cinema. This trend is conspicuous in Israeli cinema and television of the 1990s and 2000s as well. “Docusoaps” document the everyday lives of protagonists who are real people, especially in the social margins, as in the docusoap “Hadimonaim” (Hebrew, meaning literally those who live in the southern Israeli town called Dimona.) In spite of the biases inherent to a television production that is subject to institutional constraints and ideologies that dictate stereotypical representations of the social margins (see: Avraham, in Caspi and Limor), such biases are masked by the show’s apparent authenticity. The authentic dimension in such shows is very much anchored in the impression that they are made not by media institutions that are subject to their political economy bias of reality and subordinate the image of reality to dominant ideology, but rather reality is documented as is actually experienced by real people in real time and real places.
In Israeli cinema, as in 1988 Soderberg’s Sex, Lies and Videotapes, this aesthetic of authenticity appears as early as 1987 in Renen Shore’s film Late Summer’s Blues (Hebrew: Blues La’Chofesh Ha’Gadol”). Home movie excerpts, as if shot by one of the protagonists, Margo, with his Super 8 camera, are integrated into the film’s narrative. They create a visual refrain, closing each of the film’s four chapters with a documentary-like reference of the fictional reality constructed in the film to actual Israeli reality. The story of four the Israeli high school graduates that is depicted in the film thus becomes a powerful allegory for the Israeli existence and the ritual sacrifice of young lives under the conditions of war. The home movie aesthetics powerfully addresses the Israeli viewer, creating an intimacy in the viewing experience, as if the spectator were “part of the family” in the “home movie,” subject to continuous commitment and sacrifice. The fictional protagonists address us directly, facing and addressing the Super 8 camera on the screen. While on a film screen such a direct address is a blunt violation of filmic conventions, according to which the characters on the screen are never aware of the camera’s and the spectators’ voyeuristic existence, in television this is actually the norm. If the anchorman does not address us directly, if s/he does not appear to be looking into our eyes, we feel awkward.
The documentary films discussed here embody both aspects of the new discourse of authenticity. They turn real life experiences and everyday life of their own creators into the subjects of the films and objects of constant voyeurism; they use the discourse of home-movie aesthetics to create the authenticity of personal “amateur” movie-making, although they are both made by highly qualified professionals and demonstrate excellent movie-making.
Both authors, Michal Aviad and Dan Katzir, document a fragment of real reality in real time and their cameras are part of that documented reality. Dan Katzir actually faces us and looks into our eyes at the beginning of his film, telling us what his film is about. He tells us of the first two rites of passage or initiation rites in his life: His Bar Mitzvah at the age of 13 and the Intifada, his confrontation with Palestinian resistance as a young soldier of 18 during his army experience in the West Bank. Katzir’s personal journey to find a girlfriend, to find love, is documented by him using his Tel Aviv University film school cameras. He interviews his grandmother in her own kitchen about her first love. He shoots her baking a cheesecake, his voyeuristic camera peeping into her fridge while she takes out the cheese and the eggs. He relentlessly interviews her, his presence always there, on screen, when we hear his voice asking her questions as voice-over. She tries to evade his snoopy questions, she becomes the interviewer, but he won’t let go. It is a charming inter-generational dialogue, in the intimacy of a real Tel Aviv kitchen; you can almost smell the baking cheesecake. A phone call disturbs the dialogue. This is happening in real time. The camera keeps going. Katzir’s grandma takes the call. It is Katzir’s mother, her daughter-in-law. It turns out that a suicide bomber exploded the Number 5 bus on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street. Passengers were killed and wounded. The warm, amused intimacy turns into horror, in real time. Katzir’s grandmother is trying to call Katzir’s sister on her mobile phone. She might be on the exploded bus. Katzir is trying to recruit his focus, and help her remember the phone number. The camera videotapes grandma turning the television on. Here is the Israeli paradox in all its amplitude. Real people find themselves in a nightmare from one moment to the next. They do, however, depend on television to report from the actual scene. Television’s reports are highly stylized and narrativized. Far from being authentic, and very much exemplifying Fiske’s claims about the way postmodern television reports events and turns them into simulacra (Fiske, 1991), and Dayan and Katz’s arguments about media events. Albeit television still becomes an extension for Israelis’ worried eyes and hearts, while their family members or acquaintances are out there on the road, when things happen “out of the blue.” Katzir’s camera captures the event as experienced by him and his grandmother in real time. This is a powerful depiction of the fragility of Israeli life, constantly threatened everyday. The camera captures the whole dialectic, which Katzir’s first person narration in the voiceover interprets further. It captures the over-baked, burnt cheesecake; grandma looking for her glasses, grandma going out into the sunshine, the indifferent sun shining as if nothing had happened, grandma watering the plants on her veranda as if clinging to her sane, everyday domestic (i.e., interior) routine will protect everyone from the horrifying insane outdoors (a well known feminine ritual that sometimes becomes a ritualistic obsession with keeping the house neat and tidy).
The aesthetics of authenticity is further amplified when later in the afternoon grandma takes the young Katzir, her grandson, into her study. There, she opens a file with old newspaper clippings and a passport stained with blood. She tells the story of her own traumatic experience twenty-three years before. She takes Katzir and us, the viewers, to that day in 1972 when Dan’s grandfather, Aharon Katzir, was killed by a Japanese terrorist at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport. The documented personal event now resonates with inter-generational, diachronic layers of historicity. The immediate, direct images of the concrete individuals, Dan Katzir and his grandmother, experiencing the collective traumas in real time, are juxtaposed with the images of the collective trauma as captured on the television screen, that is, the formal, constructed images for consumption in the public sphere.
Katzir’s film is edited so as to systematically juxtapose the personal quest for love with the collective traumas following the Oslo accords and accompanying the peace process: three suicide bombs on Dizengoff Street, in the Bet Lid junction, and culminating in Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination. His personal story is inseparably intertwined with the collective story. “The crazed reality surrounding me,” he tells us in the first person in the voiceover, “always interferes with my sight and blocks the things I really wish to see.” Thus, Katzir articulates both the aesthetics and discourse of authenticity, and the sensibility of his generation: his quest to constitute “a state for two,” his dream to dwell with his beloved girlfriend in an exterritorial space where the romantic utopia replaces the terror-ridden Israeli dystopia, and where the personal realm of life replaces the haunted politics of aggression and militarism. His personal film becomes an allegory for the collective yearning for peace. Documenting real portions of reality, in real time, by his own “home” “amateur’s” camera, renders the logic of his narrative, torn between the mythic contradictions of Israeli existence-- individual and collective, personal and national, love and war--as powerful as any concrete testimony might be.
It is in this way that such personal documentary films express in its purest form the new discourse of authenticity. They document reality in the process of its “happening” and form the personal perspective of a participant in this historic social reality, its witness. As morbid as it may seem, the dramas in Israeli reality are often more captivating than any dramatic fiction, certainly not less violent. Yet, these real life dramas, as exposed by documentary films, especially personal ones, narrate this reality from a fresh rather than cliché point of view, de-familiarize it through the filters of individual’s experiencing it, and lay bare the contradictions that underlie it. Dan Katzir’s personal quest, the journey of a young man yearning for love and romance in a culture that socializes man to extreme masculinity and the performance of military duties rather than functional romantic relationships, becomes an allegory for the contradictions tearing the whole culture apart, focusing on the tensions between self-realization and national sacrifices, love and terror and war, the domestic, feminine spheres of life, and the traditionally masculine public sphere of nation and politics.
Territories, or: Where the Boys Are
While Dan Katzir tries to break out of the confining boundaries of the Israeli military/masculine zone into the intimate romantic domestic feminine space, Michal Aviad takes the opposite path. She is asking to break out of the quarantine of the feminine-domestic sphere, excluded from the collective masculine Israeli discourse, and to penetrate the ultimate all-male territory of the army and the ultimate Israeli male bonding experience, military reserve duty.
The film “Ever Shot Anyone?” is composed of chapters that construct the journey and the narrative of a woman trying to penetrate the masculine, military zone kept for males only. Each of the first chapters of the film opens with the image of the gate, a gate that serves as a barrier between the mundane routine of home, in the rear, and the ritual routine of the military reserve base, in the front, on the border. Two contradictory images define the masculine, military border zone: the maze of dark, winding, narrow corridors under the ground, serving as a bunker, for the protection of the soldiers. And on the other hand, the open, natural spaces of the Golan Heights, where the men patrol under the shining sun and blue skies, where, as one of them says, you get the chance as a civilian to walk 10 kilometers in the sunshine, breathe fresh air, without having to rush to work. It is a prerogative reserved for Israeli men, says another, to be able to cut off from your daily routines of work and family duties; women are not entitled to it. Outdoors, patrolling on the border, the men are in the cultural territory known in American cigarette commercials as: “Marlboro Country.” It is a Male Macho land. As the two officers on the night patrol admit, the military reserve duty experience is a power trip, an ego trip. Bonding with fellow males (“It is a social thing,” “it is all about friendship”) and feeding on the adrenalin of the military: tanks, suspense, confronting the enemy that transgresses the border, “doing the job,” accomplishing the mission, protecting the family back home, serving the country. All the clichés of heroic masculinity, as performed in mythic cinematic genres such as the Western and the War Film, are connotations that permeate this cultural space. It encodes traditional mythic masculinity as constructed in the imagery and cultural texts of Western culture: men conquering open, contested spaces with their exerted, performative bodies, and using the phallic extensions: the jeep, the rifle; men bonding together and accomplishing missions under pressure. In this microcosm of the imaginary cohesive “Israeliness,” the tensions between orthodox religious Jewish Israelis and non-practicing secular ones, between originally Sephardic and Ashkenazi Israelis, between Jewish and Bedouin and Druze Israelis, all melt in this intense masculine zone, in this symbolic melting pot where male bonding and cooperative accomplishment of missions magically makes all barriers and inter-social gaps disappear, in the natural, wild landscape of the Golan Heights that seem like a quotation from an American Western. It is a melting pot, as the soldier Kinrsaich says, except the female element, which doesn’t exist in these circumstances.
Indeed. The female intruder and her crew have to face the shut gate time and again. The attempt to infiltrate this masculine territory is what this whole experience is all about. Aviad takes this trip to the Golan Heights, to spend a whole month of reserve duty among men, intrigued by the enigma of Israeli male identity . She is a female shut out from her son’s world of knights, toy soldiers and guns. She embarks on a journey to explore the components of Israeli male identity. What can she learn about masculinity in a world closed off to women? What can she understand in an environment that is sealed off to females? Amidst the smoke, noise and smell of gunpowder, Aviad feels as if she is in another country, witnessing some mysterious ritual of an exotic tribe. A stranger, she is told by them, cannot understand it. The soldiers spend more time with each other, when on reserve duty, in those intensive hours together, than they do with their wives back home. Who are you more loyal to, she wonders, your buddies or your wife? The images of intimacy among the men are instructive: shot in warm filters of orange and red, the bonding males are shot through windows panes, from outside. Aviad’s camera assumes the point of view of the Western’s outsider and lonely rider protagonist--Shane, watching from outside with yearning eyes the warm and cohesive family inside, in the warm, domestic, protected and rooted space of the homesteaders (Shane, Stevens, 1956).
The film concludes with the same final image of the barrier between inside and outside, reversing the traditional gender division: the woman and her camera and crew outside, gazing at the males bonding inside, cooking and eating and singing together, their voices symbolically integrating all diversity into a unified utopia. The director summarizes this experience at the closure of the film in her own voice, in the first person voiceover: “I’m keeping distance [from] the impossible mixture of clinging together, the perfect troop […] and the bonding fraternity of warriors […] and from the threat and force of being among this mass of men. Women outside. Now, as always. It only works great without us.”
But this clear cut polarity of masculine territory and excluded outsider female, the simple reversal of men inside and a lone stranger woman outside, is further complicated in this fascinating negotiation of territories that the film offers. The male territory of outdoor patrolling, male bonding in open spaces of natural landscapes washed with sunlight, is contrasted with the claustrophobic experience of males positioned in feminine confined spaces. Femininity finds its expression in the domestic, indoor confined spaces of the bunker, shot in medium shots to close-ups, characteristic of soap operas, melodramas and domestic television genres (Fiske, 1987). Contested masculinity is expressed, lost and haunted in the maze-like dark urban labyrinth of the gangster films and film noir (Krutnik, Sobchack). Aviads’s camera captures the vulnerable femininity of the masculine space confined to the bunker and protecting itself against intruders. When they first enter the bunker in which they are to spend their reserve duty, one of the men says: “It’s really scary here. What a maze! I am afraid of places like this.” The recurring images of the gate and the barbed wire fence, of the maze-like dark, narrow spaces of the bunker shot in medium and close shots, build up a sense of confinement that contradicts the openness of the border patrols. It would not be farfetched to interpret it as constructing the opposition between the victimized Diaspora Jew and the proud, liberated native Israeli “Sabra.” The male soldiers here convey both images, and embody what I characterize as the “Post Sabra” new Israelis. The claustrophobic limited spaces in which the males bond after fulfilling their masculine duties outdoors are filled with domestic, soft intimacy as well. Here they bring each other coffee in bed, create “islands of intimacy,” as they describe it, bake and cook. They are seen more baking and cooking, among pots and ladles, than with rifles and tanks.
The male territory of soccer games watched together on television, patrolling the border and Marlboro cigarettes is a men’s club, experienced as “a month without women,” away from everyday duties, from bourgeois constraints of family and career. It is a prerogative reserved for males, while the female territory is utterly interwoven with mundane, daily trivia. Rather than a teleological, linear communal effort geared toward the accomplishment of missions, the feminine experience is a cyclical flow, preserving and maintaining the livelihood of everyday routine. Indeed, the soldiers’ everyday routine at home is recorded by the male protagonists of the film, using the technology most suited for the recording of the mundane in its daily flow: the video camcorder. It is a relatively cheap, accessible technology that does not necessitate many years of learning and experience. The video economy is characterized by accessibility, flexibility, and an immediate coverage of the present as it is happening. It is this feminine, accessible technology (unlike the exclusive masculine technology of industrial filmmaking that shuts females out of the territory of documenting history and filmmaking) that is used by these males to record their domestic sphere. In that sphere, at home, power relations are very different than in the military. Here, wives and children dominate, here the male feels “this small, including the hat,” as Kinraich says, exemplifying with his fingers his tiny existence in the homefront. Here the male is confined to the measures of husband and father, but still wants to be inscribed in his children’s consciousness as a soldier, as a man of the military. In the unified military collective of male bonding, shot in the domestic, claustrophobic spaces of the bunker, the ultimate masculinity and bonding are hence challenged. There are individuals who don’t fit, yearning to go home, missing their mom. There is a sense of vulnerability, of confinement. The unified utopian masculinity is threatened, struggling to survive in a time of transition and change.
Israeli cinematic territory is masculine. It has a century of history of articulating processes of formation in Israeli national collective identity that defined itself through the agency of masculine taming of the wilderness, building and fighting against enemies and military threats, all the while excluding and marginalizing feminine agendas and the domestic, private sphere of life (Talmon, 2001). Aviad’s film infiltrates Israeli masculine cinematic territory on both grounds, by the very making of the film as well as the territory it maps from a feminine point of view.
Dan Katzir, who embarks on a quest for love, oscillates between the intimate territory of family and romantic love, and the military masculine territory of uniforms and violence, of the suppression of feelings and marginalization of intimate personal life in the private sphere. His constant traveling between both spheres constructs the dialectics of the transition in the collective consciousness between the masculine sphere of war and terror and the feminine domestic sphere: grandma, baking a cheese cake, eating a watermelon with Iris, his girlfriend, in the pastoral setting of the rural environment of her home, looking for love and romance in the careless hedonistic arena of Dizengoff Square: sunshine, white pigeons shooting optimistically to an ultimately blue sky decorated with white clouds, Edith Piaf singing romantic songs on the soundtrack, bringing the romantic Paris into the symbolic level of cultural connotations. In a fascinating reversal of cultural connotations attached to symbolic territories it is the feminine, domestic, private sphere that liberates Katzir from the confinement of public, collective spaces, contaminated with hyper-masculinity, and militarism, and terror. It is the alternative of peace that opens the option of a more feminized, private, romantic mode of existence for him. It is the continuation of war and terror that confines him to the clichéd, limited masculine roles and identification of the Israeli masses that assault his private utopia for two and threaten it. The domestic sphere at home, with Iris and her family, is a refuge and shelter from a social reality in which children have to sleep in shelters and play near them and where boys don’t cry. Katzir yearns to break away from the determinism of Israeli militarist masculinity (the song that accompanies the opening sequence of the film expresses this yearning to escape). The metaphoric spatial alternatives, constructed along the film as a dialectic of binary oppositions, is summarized in the song that accompanies on the soundtrack the resolution of the film: it is a state for two, where intimacy and partnership between lovers replaces public spaces that turn in no time into military zones and sites of violence and hatred, terror and trauma: the sites of terror acts of suicide bombers, the military, and the Prime Minister Rabin assassination. In an episode in which he tries to enjoy a lazy sunny morning near a Tel Aviv Concert Hall, or in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff and Sheinkin Street cafes, he discovers it is almost impossible to evade the impact of terror, war and militarism; he realizes it is almost impossible to find privacy and intimacy within the Israeli conformist masses, and that the crude, violent military reality infiltrates the allegedly protected spheres of art and leisure.
The Camera, the Voyeuristic Gaze, and the Economy of Gender.
In Ever Shot Anyone? the dialectics of private and public sphere as well as war vs. peace as gendered alternatives evolve as a dialectics of the personal video camcorder vs. the authoritative film camera. The film’s title is very informing in this context. One should be aware of the very interesting linguistic fact that Israeli film scholar and author Judd Ne’eman has pointed out (see: Ne’eman, 1996) that the verb “shoot” contains both meanings in English as well as in Hebrew: using a rifle or gun to hurt and kill another, or using a film camera to nail them and freeze them to eternity on the celluloid. It is this dual meaning that the film’s title activates, thus informing the constant dialectics in the film of males in the masculine military zone vs. female transgressing their territory with her camera. The director’s (professional) film camera is further juxtaposed with personal camcorders held by the males in their own territory, both the domestic and the military. The film thus constructs the economy of the gaze as a power struggle between feminine (Authorial film Camcorder) and masculine (hand-held Video camera). Aviad’s camera and crew find themselves more than once facing a shut gate or door, a hand raised at the camera’s lens to obstruct its penetrating voyeuristic look: “Guys, it is not convenient for me right now,” says one of the men to the crew following him into the bunker. Using the camera Aviad wishes to observe and explore the male military zone that is closed off for her and for her Israeli sisters. She tries to penetrate the impregnable shield that Israeli masculinity has had to build around the vulnerable Israeli existence over the years. It is in the liminal area where the mundane, feminine of the everyday is suspended and taken over by the ritual male bonding and masculine power rites that the battle of gazes takes place. “What do you think of us,” the men wonder, worried, using the Israeli phrasing saying literally, “How do we seem,” or: “how are we seen,” or what do we look like?” The female manages to reverse, or at least challenge, power relations when she turns the males under her persistent (anthropological) observation into objects of her point of view and camera lens, a positioning that contains a pan-optic element of control and authority. (Foucault, 1972; and see Zanger, 2005b) Chechik, the only man in the pack that Aviad can identify and communicate with, is also the only one who is less defensive about his territory and allows the camera into his private space in the shower. Chechik is also the more “feminized” outsider who cannot be integrated into the cohesive masculine clique. The others, males on the defense of their territory and dominance, come to terms and even “settle the account” with the female intruder who turns them into objects of her investigating gaze by reversing the look: they use their own video camcorders to make their own film about the reserve duty period, a parody of the film that the female director Aviad and her crew are making. It is this consciousness of both parties- the male group and the female intruder, of the power and meaning of the cinematic gaze that yields fascinating and pedagogical reflexive moments in the film. In those moments the very apparatus of voyeuristic observation is de-familiarized and exposed, in all its cultural symbolic meaning. It illuminates the use of the camera as a medium to infiltrate the off-limits masculine zone and as an extension of masculine control and domination that is being challenged and subverted. In the theoretical context of feminist film theory, this is of seminal significance. Laura Mulvey’s article titled “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” postulated back in 1974 that the male third person singular stands in for the film spectator, thus “masculinizing” the spectator’s position, regardless of the actual sex of the real-live movie-goer (see: Mulvey, in Kaplan A.E., ed: 34-47). The argument was that deep, in-built patterns of pleasure and identification impose masculinity as a point of view. While theorizing narrative, fictional film spectators, their pleasures and identifications, I think this argument signifies and represents the way patriarchal cultures at large organize our world views, practices, pleasures and identifications.
As an Israeli female, I feel this is definitely the case for females, who raise children to see them grow into warriors and sometimes sacrifice on the alter of war, who passively anticipate the phone call or coming home of sons and husbands and boyfriends, who are socialized into a national agenda that is mostly about sheer survival and recruiting resources and values for the war effort, while marginalizing traditionally feminine and definitely life-embracing priorities: relationships, the family, the domestic sphere, the personal well being of self and others, creation and regeneration rather than competition and battle.
Zanger (2005b) discusses Aviad’s film as embodying the myth of Pandora’s box, and describes the exploration of the male forbidden space by the intruding, curious female who challenges and questions its premises, authority and fixed meanings. Judith Mayne has argued, that one of the most basic connections between women’s experience in this culture and women’s experience in film is precisely the relationship of spectator and spectacle. Since women are spectacles in their everyday lives, there’s something about coming to terms with film from the perspective of what it means to be an object of spectacle and what it means to be a spectator that is really a coming to terms with how that relationship exists both on the screen and in everyday lives. Women are taught to be objects of spectacle” (See: Mayne et al. in Thornham, ed.: 115). It is the turning of the males on military reserve duty into spectacle and the use of the camera and the female gaze to transgress the boundaries of the masculine military zone that renders the documenting subject’s gaze and camera so meaningful in the collective gender context. Exerting control by means of the look, having control and domination of the look, means both control over knowledge and authority, even ownership, of the object under scrutiny. This is how, as Annette Kuhn has theorized, pornography works. In pornography, the photograph or film articulates the desire to both control female sexuality and dominate it by turning it visible (but not aware of being visible, or else the voyeuristic pleasure is destroyed). Aviad’s camera turns the military masculine principle and sphere that underlies Israeli existence into something that is visible and controlled. She tries to deconstruct its enigmatic meaning, penetrate the symbolic barbed wires that surround it and block it from any female participation and feminine presence. She challenges the dominance of that world and the ideology it represents.
Epilogue: Cameras in Contested Territories
In her “Afterthoughts on Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema Inspired by King Vidor’s Duel in the Sun” (originally published in the journal “Framework” in 1981,) Laura Mulvey arrives at the conclusion that the female spectator of cinema “temporarily accepts masculinization in memory of her ‘active’ phase, yet […] the female spectator’s fantasy of masculinization, is at cross-purpose with itself, restless in its transvestite clothes” (quoted from Thornham, ed.: 129).
Both Aviad and Katzir magnificently assume a cross-gendered perspective, and experience the paradoxes of Israeli existence in all their intensity in this hybrid, borderline liminal zone. Aviad, the feminine “other” in a masculine world, is for a meaningful, pregnant moment a cross dresser, a female in male uniform, the collective Israeli masculine “us”, in the first person plural. She is yearning to belong, and experiences the masculine universe of Israeli military reserve duty both from within, as part of the experience, and from outside, excluded from the warm, cohesive masculine collective mass, observing it through the window and the camera lens.
The men, trapped in the confined, labyrinthine spaces of the bunker, objects of her voyeuristic camera, cooking and baking, become a collective feminized alter ego and merge with “othered” femininity.
Both authors, Aviad and Katzir, position themselves in the liminal zone of both being ethnographers and the subjects of their ethnographic observation and scrutiny. Their testimony, anchored in experience, is thus rendered authentic and real. The video technology, which reinforces the aesthetics of authenticity, blurs the gap between experience and its representation on the screen. It creates immediacy, spontaneity and simultaneity between events and their representation, as the subject(s) experiencing them summarize them in the first person voice over, or directly address the camera and the viewer. However, the immediate experience, in both cases, is carefully elaborated on and organized into a narrative, a narrative whose meanings and implications are explicitly summarized by both authors in the voiceover first-person narration. Paradoxically, while de-familiarizing the consciousness of others, both films document the evolving consciousness of the documenting subjects. Again, the boundaries between self and others, telling and showing, are blurred. Hence, in both films the camera is not only a metaphor of the exploration and the evolving consciousness/knowledge. It turns the documenting subjects themselves, and their quest for understanding their cultural environment, into something visible. They become a spectacle of their own identity exploration, or journey of the self, as Russell terms it. Yet, it is the very space in which this journey takes space, and which their camera explores, that is public and has collective significance. Aviad and Katzir both dramatize themselves not only as subjects of the Israeli experience, but also as products of the Israeli discourse. Their films integrate both the ethnographer and his/her informant, subject and object of the voyeuristic gaze, simultaneously being inside and commenting from the outside.
It is as if Michal Aviad says to us: “This is how it was,” in a paraphrase of Roland Barthes’ famous description of the authentic quality of photographs. It is as if both filmmakers claim: “I was there- this is how I myself experienced it.” This is how Dan Katzir addresses us, the viewers directly, sharing emotions and feelings with us, turning us, the spectators into participants, sharing the same allegedly subjective space of experience. Theoretical discussions of the cinematic ideological apparatus assume a passive, hypnotized, so to speak, spectator that regresses to a paralyzing dreamy position while viewing images and fictional narratives on the screen (see: Baudry, in Rosen, ed.). The active participation of viewers in documentary personal films, the direct address to them, the blurring of the boundaries between what is seen on the screen and the social reality outside the frame, the turning of the filming apparatus and subject into part of the spectacle on the screen- all of these deconstruct the hypnotizing ideological effect. The spectators who join the documenting subjects actively gaze at their own life experiences, actively interpret their own cultural context from their native’s point of view. It is in this border zone, the liminal territory between constructed fictional world and reality live, object and subject of the cinematic gaze, femininity and masculinity, that both films open to negotiation the symbolic space in which Israeli identity dramatizes itself. It is in this transitional threshold that the fundamental contradictions in Israeli existence are exposed: torn between masculine codes of militarism and group cohesiveness, and the private, domestic feminine space of everyday life. We, the spectators, are invited to identify with both documenters and documented reality on the screen, both those who patrol the border and carry rifles and those who cook dinner for them and iron their uniforms; both the “us” who are at war and in terror, and “us” who yearn for love and peace.
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