Civilisations episode 1 – The Second Moment of Creation: the first film by Simon Schama looks at the formative role art and the creative imagination have played in the forging of humanity itself.
The Second Moment of Creation
The film opens with Simon’s passionate endorsement of the creative spirit in humanity and the way in which art can help to forge the civilised life. Civilisation may be impossible to define, but its opposite – evidenced throughout history in the human urge to destroy – is all too evident whenever and wherever it erupts.
Simon Schama explores the remote origins of human creativity with the first known marks made some 80,000 years ago in South African caves – marks which were not dictated merely by humanity’s physical needs. He marvels at the later cave works – shapes of hands, in red stencils on the walls of caves, and at the paintings of bison and bulls, and Stone Age carvings.
As time passes, the elements of civilisation are assembled – written language, codes of law, and expressions of warrior power forged in metals. And humanity begins to produce art not just for ritual, as Simon discovers in Minoan civilisation. But how do such cultures arise and how do they fall?
Simon travels to the civilisations of Petra in the Middle East and the Maya in Central America to explore those questions. He finds that ultimately civilisations depend on humanity’s relationship with the environment for their survival, and while all believe in their own continuity, all are doomed to fall.