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It shies away from spectacularly portraying human suffering ‘and turning it into kitsch’, as Farocki will remark in a very different context in his 1988 Bilder der Welt und die Inschrift des Krieges (Images of the World and the Inscription of War, 1988).Instead, the film focuses on the production process of napalm in the United States by restaging this process with the barest of Brechtian cinematic means.In 1966, after several years of writing film criticism and other cultural journalism for local papers and hanging out in cinemas and film clubs, Farocki was accepted at the DFFB, West Germany's first film school.
The film is exemplary in its attempt to combine radical form with a radical message: to simultaneously challenge dominant forms of culture and combat the war in Vietnam at home, in the First World. This biographical summary draws on Tilman Baumgärtel's account in his extraordinarily useful and now standard reference work on Farocki's career, Vom Guerillakino zum Essayfilm: Harun Farocki – Werkmonographie eines Autorenfilmers (Berlin, 1998), pp. 3 3Farocki's own early biography has traversed First and Third Worlds, something which contributed to his early political awakening.
He was born Harun Faroqhi (he later changed the spelling) in 1944 in what was then Neutitschein (now Novy Jicín in the Czech Republic), to parents who had emigrated from India to Germany in 1921.
In the wake of numerous conflicts with his parents, he left home repeatedly, dropped out of school and in 1962 landed in West Berlin, which he adopted as his new home.
He completed his Abitur in night school and enrolled at the new Free University to study theatre and sociology.
The process is broken down into its component parts; the division of labour that subtends the whole process is revealed to have significant ideological effects.
The technicians, scientists and workers who make napalm remain unaware of its final use until it is too late to intervene in its production.
Two examples from his student films illustrate this well.
One, with a title typical for the period, Über einige Probleme des antiautoritären und antiimperialistischen Kampfes in den Metropolen am Beispiel Westberlins, oder: Ihre Zeitungen (On Several Problems of the Anti-Authoritarian and Anti-Imperialist Struggle in the Metropolises Using the Example of West Berlin, or: Your Newspapers, 1968), presents images of bombs falling over Vietnam followed by shots of newspapers falling onto the streets of West Berlin.
As such, this work seems fully a part of that dominant trend in recent visual arts designated most handily by Nicolas Bourriaud as ‘postproduction’, a trend characterised by the persistent reuse, quotation and refunctioning of pre-existing works of art and prerecorded materials.
(2) Though Farocki's recent works have an implicit leftist air about them – be it the product of their emphasis on particular content or the after-effect of Farocki's own reputation as a long-time political filmmaker – one wonders nonetheless about the significance of this move to the museum and whether or not it heralds a retreat from the principles of engagement that influenced Farocki's films and videos well into the ‘90s.