In the courtyard of the École Militaire in Paris on January 5, 1895, a ceremony of degradation was unfolding. First a drum roll, and then General Darras, on a horse in the center of the courtyard, drew his sword. A soldier walked out, escorted by a brigadier and four gunners. The escort brought the man before the general and withdrew, leaving only the soldier and the general, who glared down at him as a government official read aloud, for all to hear, the court-martial verdict. Then, his sword held high, Darras pronounced the words: “Alfred Dreyfus, you are no longer worthy of bearing arms. In the name of the people of France, we dishonor you.” Instantly, Dreyfus shouted back: “Soldiers, an innocent man is being degraded; soldiers, an innocent man is being dishonored. Long live France! Long live the Army!”
Next, another soldier approached Dreyfus and began ripping the decorations off his cap and sleeves, the red stripes off his trousers, and the epaulets off his shoulders. Taunting Dreyfus, he grabbed Dreyfus’ sword and broke it over a knee.
Recently I saw J’accuse by Polanski. The opening scene depicts the re-enactment that must have been truthfully modelled after original sources. Motion pictures did not yet exist unfortunately, which brings to mind ‘False Future’ (2007) – the 16mm loop installation of Matthew Buckingham that takes up the story of Louis Le Prince, the little-known inventor who developed a working motion picture system at least 5 years before the Lumière Brothers. Had Le Prince not mysteriously disappeared aboard a train between Dijon and Paris in 1890 he would most likely be known today as the originator of cinema. False Future speculates on this false-start in the history of filmmaking, focusing on the drives and desires that lie behind the invention and reception of moving images. What might be different if filmmaking had begun 5 years earlier? Would we be able to see the real motion pictures of the court-martial? Now I can only imagine that the blurry soldier on the left in the picture is captured in the motion of breaking his sword.
Source: libertymagazine.org, buckingham.net