Pushing the boundaries of the historical documentary: Su Friedrich’s 1984 The Ties That Bind

Louise Spence, Esin Paca Cengiz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article argues that Su Friedrich’s 1984 film The Ties That Bind
employs what were at the time atypical forms and techniques to push the
limits of the traditional historical documentary. Its aesthetic experimentation
helps to redefine the idea of historical representation in film,
and does so mainly by treating evidence as both partial (in both senses of
the word) and contingent, offering a radical challenge to normative
history and destabilizing the notion of history as authority. Unlike
conventional documentaries, the film marks its own limitations: its
inability to provide stable answers or eternal certainties. Questioning her
mother’s spoken memories, and commenting on them, Friedrich forces a
rupture in the ‘evidence’ of history and establishes a place in which to
‘speak’ herself. By including the past that her mother is talking about on
the sound track, as well as the present on the image track (such as
images of her mother’s life in the early 1980s, images of intertitles etched
into the film emulsion revealing the questions Friedrich asked her
mother and her reactions to the things her mother said, as well as images
of the filmmaker’s visits to historical sites), Friedrich brings the present
into the past, and demonstrates how history is, to quote Walter
Benjamin, ‘time filled with the presence of the now’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-392
JournalRethinking History
Issue number3
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Sept 2012


  • history; historiography; memory; evidence; historical documentary; documentary experimentation

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