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Zygosis (1991)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Barbara Cartlidge, a friend of artist John Heartfield, speaks of photomontage as a new artistic language. She describes the continuing influence of Heartfield's work on the contemporary art world. The narrator explains the genealogy of the biological term 'zygosis' and clarifies its use in relation to photomontage and this documentary.

A famous montage sequence from Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin is followed by an animated image of Hitler working on a painting. A 1980s advertising campaign for animal rights shows a model wearing a white fur, walking on a catwalk. As her fur is gradually covered in blood, the narrator explains how Heartfield's photomontage technique is nowadays freely employed in photography and advertising.

Magazines illustrated with Heartfield's photomontages appear while the narrator discusses aspects of the artist's work. Archive scenes from the Weimar Republic portray people wandering aimlessly on the streets of Berlin; soldiers march the streets of the Third Reich. Images of dead civilians are inter-cut with Hitler introducing the 1936 Summer Olympics.

Manipulated footage shows Hitler brushing his teeth and playing frisbee with Mussolini. The narrator discusses Hertfield's life and his escape from the Nazis to Prague and then London.

Barbara Cartlidge talks about Heartfield's courage and commitment to the production of the anti-Nazi propaganda, as his most acclaimed photomontages made for the AIZ workers' journal appear, including War and Corpses: The Last Hope of the Rich and Millions Stand Behind Me (both 1932). Scenes of Berlin in the 1990s are dominated by advertising posters in the spirit of Heartfield's work.

Images of East Berlin, where the artist returned in the 1950s to work for the Communist state: Brecht's theatre - the Berliner Ensemble - and the East Berlin Academy of Arts, where Heartfield worked until his death in 1968. The collapse of Communism is illustrated by footage of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Over an image of Heartfield's grave, the narrator reads the artist's words about the power of the businessman over artist in the contemporary art world.