The Terror of the Guillotine

If you are interested in seeing the images from the slide-show for the guillotine lecture go HERE.

As we discussed in class, the deaths of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette have fascinated artists and film-makers for a long while. How are these deaths portrayed and what does that tell us about HOW, WHY and WHAT we choose to remember about the past? How much of our knowledge of history is actually based on these artistic interpretations? I would argue that for most people cinema IS a primary way of learning "history".
The death of Marie from The Affair of the Necklace (2001, USA).

Danton (1983, Poland, dir: Andrzej Wajda) is a powerful historical film that uses the conflict between Robespierre and Danton to comment on the government of Communist Poland. Robespierre is portrayed as a fanatical leader whose devotion to the pure principles of the Revolution blinds him to the fact that real people (and not just "The People") actually matter. Danton is portrayed as a passionate, lusty human being who understands that Revolutions are made by and for actual people. The rift between the two men grows and grows until they become mortal enemies. Below is a clip from the last half of the film. Watch out for the scene in which Robespierre poses in a toga and with a palm frond (classical symbols of a wise leader) in the studio of Jacques Louis David. If you're interested in learning more about WHY this film was so controversial at the time read this fascinating essay by historian Robert Darnton.

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