Having seen the film ‘Brave Heart‘ by Mel Gibson. l was greatly inspired to discuss the Issues brought up by Anthony Smith In his essay entitled ‘Cinema, art, and national identity. In light of this film. Smith’s argument is that in paintings, historical views of a nation convey a variety of meanings and emotions when put Within a frame. Film too performs this task however allowing the expansion of boundaries Within which these meanings and emotions could be conveyed. Smith also wides the qualities of national identity Within an artistic production, in this case film.
As I discussed these divisions l cited examples from the film by Mel Gibson to clarify my argument. In the section ‘Historicism and Nationalism’, Anthony Smith begins with a quote by Robert Rosenblum in which he explains how in today’s movies, a restricted selection of narrative themes are shown through a wide variety of environments, like for example the Renaissance period, Ancient Greece and Rome, the Empire age and many more.
Such films Rosenblum argues, directly or indirectly reflect the 18th-century ‘combination of an easily communicable emotion and a search for the appurtenances of historical truth.‘ Anthony Smith continues by saying that this approach allowed for the retrospection of a ‘dead past‘ in a new historical epoch of the citizen nation occurring. With the emergence of nationalism and capitalism. Modernists such as Ernest Gelher Eric Hobsbawm, Benedict Anderson and Elie Kedourie all believed that the idea of a nation is both recent and novel.
and besides this it is also the product of modernity and of modern thinking which ‘creates and disseminates the historical myths of nationhood.‘ However, Smith argues that what modernists fail to recognize is the analysis of the content and the tone of the nationalist message, besides being addressed to the elite, these messages also address moral Will, strong emotions and collective memories of the masses.
The artist‘s task, he continues, is to rediscover pre-existing collective myths, symbols values, memories and traditions of the people in order to tap into the strong emotions, morals and shared memories of the masses. Therefore historical films aim at precisely this, In his next section ‘Public moralities of national heroism.‘, Smith discusses how Visual representations not only portray moral and symbolic themes, but are also very expressive and aesthetic. Citing examples from the classical paintings ‘Exempla Virtutis‘ Which through their didactic value preach Virtues of courage and chastity, he states that ‘the artist has chosen a crucral moment of psychological tension in which a very public moral chorce is realized through a life like portrayal of the protagonist’s drama.‘ Other themes which frequently featured in the paintings of the late 18th century were oath taking, moral resolve and heroic self—sacrifice.
All these emotions resurfaced over a century later in a Wide range of cinematic images. Smith argues that these images are firmly planted in the tradition initiated by the history painters of this period, In his most important section of his essay entitled ‘Cultivating ethnic atmosphere’, Anthony Smith explains how film captures certain aspects of national identity which painting and sculpture could not. Such aspects prowde the Viewer With a greater depth of emotions by portraying all the environmental grandeur and power and also by the means of musrc. Therefore films create what he calls an ‘ethnic atmosphere.‘ He then continues by breaking down this concept into a number of dimensions, which include, character development. historical reconstruction, pictorial tableaux, accessories, ethnoscape and the ‘people‘. Smith discusses each one in turn givmg examples mostly of Eisenstien‘s films.
For the purpose of this assignmentl shall explain each one of these aspects in the light of the film ‘Brave Hean’ directed by Mel Gibson. Character Development: The protagonist of the film William Wallace is introduced as a young boy living in a hut in the highlands with his father and brother. He witnesses a terrible sight when walking through the lands, of Scottish men, women and children all hanged in one of the huts by the British, during a time when supposedly peace agreements were being made between England and Scotland. Wallace is gravely horrified by this and the sight of all the dead people remained imprinted in his memory, After this he learns about the death of his father and brother, who were killed in a battle against the English. He is then taken under the Wing of his uncle and escorted away from his homeland to tour Europe Where he received an education. Many years after this, he returns to Scotland and marries.
His Wife is then taken away and killed by the English and from then on he engaged in a brutal battle against England. encouraging all Scotsmen to fight for their freedom. At the end of the film he is captured by his enemy and tortured. William Wallace is offered to die a faster death but he decides to suffer and die for his country. Through his torment one witnesses the rise of national identity triggered off by collective suffering. Historical Reconstruction This involves a reconstruction of the key events which follow a sequence of episodes. in ‘Brave Heart‘ the events began when England was at war With France, In order to reach a settlement between them, the daughter of the French king was married to the son of the king of England. Following this, the king of England Visited France to settle the peace agreements, but in the meantime, Scotland invaded England and the Island was at war With itself which obviously gave a bad Impression with the French.
As England tried to settle the war with Scotland by oﬂering the Scottish nobles their own lands, the common man of Scotland rebelled and fought the British army. These episodes helped to create a convincing picture of the Scottish nation moving forward. Pictorial Tahieaux: Within this dimension the ‘longer sequence of events is abstracted to epitomize the whole sequence! There were two very important battles which occurred in ‘Brave Heart’ where both armies were depicted on either side of the battlefield: each determined to fight for their country, All historical events, all beliefs, values and rights were brought to the battlefield and reflected into the eyes of the warriors who stood ready for battle.
Period Accessories: By this Smith means the extent of which the film uses an accurate rendering of the clothing, furnishings, amour and corffure of the time. Mel Gibson however had the Scotsmen dressed up in kilts at a time when they were not yet invented. The amour however stood fairly correct; the British having strong artillery, and the Scots having weaker ones. Homeland and Ethnoscape: This refers to the landscape and its relation to its occupiers. ‘Brave Heart’ had extensive and very accurate shots of the highlands in all its beauty and grandeur. The people looked free and joyful and singed and danced among the hills, This shows the relationship between the land and the people. After the wars began this relationship was threatened, The English landscapes were only shots inside the king‘s castle which reflects the coldness of the British, The People: Smith argues that ‘the people are taken as the prime subject matter in the cinema.
This also applies in Mel Gibson’s film. The Scottish are portrayed as peasants with scrubby faces and few belongings which allude to their suffering. The British are presented in laVish, clean clothing. With stern and proud faces, surrounded in riches which reflect their dominant nature. Having said all this, one might ask how important is cinema’s role in depicting national identity? And how accurate is it? Cinema only shows the glorification of a nation and disregards the shames. Therefore can one conclude that nations are based on false and concocted facts? If so, can we then truly call a nation a nation?