Presentation on theme: "“Documentary, after all, can tell lies; and it can tell lies because it lays claim to a form of veracity which fiction doesn’t.” Dai Vaughn."— Presentation transcript:
“Documentary, after all, can tell lies; and it can tell lies because it lays claim to a form of veracity which fiction doesn’t.” Dai Vaughn
Documentary films are meant to be seen as factual and not fictional. Most documentaries purport to present scientific investigations. Even if not scientific, they are expositional and often use logic to persuade viewers to see the subject in the same way as the filmmaker. Exposition (types of): Cumulative—develops a catalogue of images Contrastive—images organized as a series of contrasts or oppositions meant to indicate varying viewpoints Developmental—uses a specific nonnarrative pattern of logic
Critical viewing of documentaries requires moving beyond thinking of the genre as merely educational or a form of entertainment. It also means moving beyond ideas of “truth” and “bias.” A common response to this genre is that a documentary must tell the “truth” and if it doesn’t then it is “biased.” It must be “objective” and not be slanted in a particular way. This is a difficult line of thinking to undo. It must be challenged, though, as it shuts down any opportunities for critical viewing and response. But how? Truth The first step is to recognize that multiple truths exist in documentary. Truths are constructs built of carefully arranged information. What truths are presented in the documentary? How are these truths presented? What information does it put forward? What information is left out?
Point of View The second step is to recognize that all documentaries are biased. The word “bias” is equated with prejudice and information that is slanted in a particular direction. The connotation here is that the information is tainted in a negative way, much the same way the word “propaganda” has taken on connotations of having evil intentions behind it. Another term that might be more useful here is “point of view.” From what point of view is the documentary speaking? What perspective is it offering on events and arguments? Can you relate to this viewpoint or at least understand where it’s coming from? Are there multiple viewpoints? Do they agree or contradict each other? Does one come across as more “right” while the other seem more “wrong?” Can you think of some other perspectives that might be out there but not addressed in the documentary? What is the tone of or emotion behind the(se) viewpoint(s)?
Conventions What conventions does the documentary incorporate? Does it use voiceover, reenactments, archival footage, interviews? Does it rely on one convention more than another? Why does it use the conventions it does? Voices Who are the dominant voices in the documentary? Are they official sources such as government representatives, or are they experts of another kind? Or are they people from the street? Are most of the voices men or women? Are they of a particular ethnic group? What is their connection to the documentary's subject? What kinds of truths are they putting forward? Do the voices agree with or contradict each other?
Arguments, Meaning and Message What is the director’s chief aims? What political and/or social statements are embedded in the film? What does the filmmaker want us to take away from this work? What “argument” is embedded in the film about why this documentary would appeal to its audience? (In other words, what is its consumer appeal?) What ideas does the work explore? What dreams, ideals, values—both cultural and individual—does the work explore? Subject What is the subject of the documentary? In other words, what is it about? How is the subject of historical, political or social relevance? What is the director’s tone or attitude toward his subject? (Keep in mind that the answer to this question is not always clear-cut. Biographers are often critical of their subjects, even as they convey admiration and approval at times for certain attributes or characteristics of their subjects.) What ideas does the DVD cover convey about the subject matter, tropes, ideas, mythologies to be explored?
What “arguments” are implicitly offered up in the documentary’s images? What ideas and themes are being explored? What “arguments” are posited as a result of the accompanying sound? Does the sound set a mood or tone? Does it contribute to the “argument” in anyway? How?
Maker Is the documentary maker present within the piece either in person or in voice? Or is the maker absent? If present, does the maker call attention to him or herself? Or, does the maker’s presence seem incidental? What purpose does the maker’s presence serve? Does the maker drive events, serve as another observer, or fulfill another function? What is the maker’s reputation outside this documentary? How does that reputation affect your viewing of it? Michael Moore, director
Structure How is the documentary structured? Does it follow chronological order? Does it use a different order? What impact does the structure have on the unraveling of its truth(s)? Frameworks How does the documentary fit within Paul Rotha’s traditions or Michael Renov’s Four Fundamental Tendencies?Paul Rotha’s traditionsMichael Renov’s Four Fundamental Tendencies