Breaking Down Walls

Truth, Fiction, and GDR Memory in This Ain’t California

  • James Cleverley University of Melbourne


This article examines the issues of authenticity that accompany Marten Persiel’s award winning ‘hybrid’ documentary This Ain’t California (2012). Taking on the appearance of a traditional documentary, Persiel’s film tells the little-known story of a skating subculture in 1980s East Germany. Occupying a contentious space between documentary and fiction, This Ain’t California’s form and content raise questions of authenticity. When it comes to cultural memory and storytelling, this paper posits that plural, material, and emotional authenticities can be usefully revealed by breaking down the perceived wall the separates the broad ontologies of ‘truth’ and ‘fiction’. Nuance in this regard is as vital as ever: memories of the German Democratic Republic remain contested, despite three decades having passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

An analysis of technologies and techniques of filmmaking is tied together with central focus on the embodied spectator’s perception within the film-experience; this study touches on the “memory work” (Kuhn) of This Ain’t California through an investigative framework that considers the relations between two bodies – those belonging to both viewer and film. Of particular interest is how the filmmakers (re)create the everyday by shooting ‘amateur’ skate clips with Super 8 cameras. Presenting these ‘falsified’ sequences as archival footage, in accordance with generic documentary conventions, the film arouses salient points for examining how the spectator is affected by mediated cultural memories.

How to Cite
Cleverley, James. 2019. “Breaking Down Walls”. FORUM: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture & The Arts, no. 28 (June).