March 24, 2012

Pi-Ramesses

A BBC documentary on Pi-Ramesses sparked me to write this post. Pi-Ramesses was a city that I had never heard of- located in the Eastern Nile Delta, it was built by the Pharoah Ramesses the Great, three thousand years ago. It stood somewhere underneath what is now Quantir- however after Ramesses's death the Nile's course changed and the buildings were moved to Tanis, along the new course of the river. The documentary chronicles this movement and how it was discovered but epitomised for me some of my frustrations with the way that modern documentaries are made. I have no particular knowledge of Ancient Egypt: but I think the subject itself is fascinating, how could it not be? However that's not what the BBC documentary conveyed.

Instead it preferred sweeping music to actually showing anything about the city. Furthermore it concentrated on the archaeologists in a facile way, purportedly telling the story of how the puzzle of Pi-Ramesses was solved but without getting into what I'm sure is a much more interesting and deeper story. The documentary told the story as though the Archaeologist's train of reasoning was absurdly simple, as though the discovery was not complicated. Perhaps it wasn't: but I suspect the documentary makers presented a deeply simplified view. Furthermore they never really attacked what life was like for people in Pi-Ramesses: only one past inhabiant, Ramesses the Great, was mentioned and no indication was given of why the Pharoah was great. No description was given of where trade came from to maek the city so prosperous- of what was bought and sold there. We heard of an army stationed there: but its only through looking at Wikipedia that I understood a little of why that army was placed there- to look northward towards Asia.

I wonder sometimes with documentaries- particularly history documentaries- whether they are rightly named. This appeared to be more of a tourist brochure- with atmospheric pictures and video reconstructions than something that told one anything about the past. The development of Pi-Ramesses is a fascinating subject that I would like to learn more about and I watched to the end of this documentary precisely to learn more about it- and I got fragments- but the combination of sound and image and narration could be used in a much more powerful way to really get at interesting and important questions about Egypt and to teach.

6 comments:

James H said...

Oh, dear: I suffered through this too, and its equally troubled successor. So slow and tedious and patronizing.

Gracchi said...

Agreed it was desperate to be honest- one of the worst I've seen but I think it exemplifies where they go wrong.

goodbanker said...

I didn't suffer this. Arguably if you "watched to the end of this documentary...and...got fragments" then perhaps it gave you a truer picture of the archaeologist's lot than you give it credit for?! Seriously, though, it sounds like the latest bit of BBC-on-the-cheap: if they'd got Toby Wilkinson to present it, there's no way it would ever have been a confused for a tourism ad.

Gracchi said...

Nice point on the Archaeologist's fate!

I'm always astonished though by the graphics budgets of these things- I mean if it was BBC on the cheap I'd have a lot more sympathy. Its the expensive bits I don't like- I'd much rather have some eminent prof awaken the images in my mind and say something interesting than have some guy tell me banalities across perfectly sculped CGI!

goodbanker said...

I can see where you're coming from. I was assuming that whizz-bang graphics are becoming ever cheaper (in the way that everything the IT industry develops does); whereas it's the human capital that always costs - if it's genuinely high quality, that is. (But I didn't even see the documentary, so maybe this is just a nice theoretical point far from reality!)

Gracchi said...

That's what I assumed until I worked on a documentary- but actually the human capital often comes free. Academics see it as part of their social purpose to get involved- so actually a good lecture or interview is the cheapest type of television (unless you want David Starkey- and who would?)