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

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’.