Why did the notoriously antimontage film theorist André Bazin champion Nicole Védrès’s Paris 1900 (1947), a kaleidoscopic film de montage compiled from scraps of archival film, including footage of a death recorded live? How did archival films and death on film together mediate for Bazin the fatal coupling of “total war” and “total History,” and why were archival films seen by others to raise urgent questions of historical philosophy? This essay explores the intensified historical consciousness that developed around archival films and the representability of death after the Second World War. Reinserting documentary as the missing key to Bazin’s so-called realist film theory, I argue that Bazin found in Paris 1900 a new archive-inflected and essayistic model of film’s historicity whose full potential continues to be realized in the explosion of archival filmmaking today.
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