A Word from the Editor
Venita Datta presents Susan Daitch’s Paper Conspiracies, a multi-layered mediation on state violence and mystifications. The narrator of the first (and longest) segment, set in 1990s New York, is restoring a Méliès film, and for her the Dreyfus Affair is tied to the Holocaust and letter-bombs targeting Jews. She is contacted by a mysterious stranger for whom the French military’s lunatic cover-up of Esterhazy’s guilt and its fabrication of evidence evokes Vietnam, war crimes, and the “amnesty” of war-dodgers who had “done nothing wrong” and of the president who had. He tells her that clues to a murder appear in the last frames of Méliès’s film on Dreyfus, those very frames that her boss wants her to delete. We are led back to the 1890s through episodes featuring a number of female characters. There is the 1968 Paris concierge who recalls meeting the illiterate charwoman who rifled through the German Embassy’s wastebaskets and found the bordereau; back in 1934 (again the date is no coincidence) Esterhazy’s “mistress” discusses the forging of evidence with the Jewish lodger (she discovers) who hopes she has squirreled away more damning correspondence exposing the army’s duplicity. Back in the 1890s, Maryse manufactured old paper for her husband’s fake first editions; when that business dried up, he turned to forging documents. Meanwhile, Méliès’s fictions worry the paranoid French secret services who, busy concocting a parallel reality themselves, see sedition brewing everywhere. While a mystery offers one of the many narrative strands, Susan Daitch reminds us that smear campaigns and faked documents have polluted French politics since the days of Marie Antoinette.
Chris Millington and Jeff Ravel share their teaching experiences. In our Maybe Missed section, Millington describes how he uses Robert Guédiguian’s exploration of the Manouchian group in Army of Crime to discuss the French Resistance with his students. Jeff Ravel does something quite different with Rappeneau’s 1990 Cyrano de Bergerac. Rather than showing the whole film, he uses its opening sequences to discuss French theatre and its audiences in the seventeenth century. Through a series of prints, he leads students to visualize contemporary staging, and then calls on them to assess the performance that opens Rappeneau’s film. Each in his own way affirms the usefulness of fiction in the history classroom.
University at Buffalo, SUNY