Five Modes of Documentary Representation Reflexive and Performative Modes of Documentary Films
Table of Contents 1) Reflexive Mode of Documentary Representation 2) Dziga Vertov and Man with a Movie Camera 3) Performative Mode of Documentary Representation 4) Chris Maker’s Sans soleil
Reflexive Mode Reflexive documentary arose from a desire to make the conventions of representations themselves more apparent and to challenge the impression of reality which the other three modes normally conveyed unproblematically. Bill Nichols, Representing Reality, p. 33
Reflexive Mode To problematize the ways in which documentaries reveal the truth Reflexive documentaries are about documentaries, documentary representation and documentary film making. Meta-documentary - a documentary about documentary SELF-REFLEXIVE
Dziga Vertov Dziga Vertov (1896- 1954) psycho- neurologist, film editor, director and theorist Formation of the group of film makers called ‘Kinok’ (or ‘Kino-oki’) = camera eye
Dziga Vertov Vertov and ‘Kino-oki’ abandons fiction film for documentary. Films about film, and how film functions and filmmaking operates. The camera’s versatility and special ability to capture life-as- it-is which is missed by human eye. The film drama is the opium of the people… down with Bourgeois fairy-tale scenarios… long live life as it is!
Dziga Vertov Vertov’s idea of film realism Belief in the primacy of movie camera over human eye - To be able to see at long distances, to film in slow or fast motion, etc. - Through editing, scenes from different times and places could be put together, the same scene viewed from several different angles, impressions of speed and energy enhanced by fast cutting Materialist truth rather than idealist truth
Dziga Vertov Kinok (Kino-oki) presents a reality which only a movies can presents. The reality different from the reality the audience knows. Thus, Vertov’s film poses a question: ‘Is the reality captured in his documentary a reality?’ His reality does not agree with our idea of it - lack of truth effects.
Dziga Vertov Our eyes see very little and very badly – so people dreamed up the microscope to let them see invisible phenomena; they invented the telescope… now they have perfected the cinecamera to penetrate more deeply into the visible world, to explore and record visual phenomena so that what is happening now, which will have to be taken account of in the future, is not forgotten.—Provisional Instructions to Kino- Eye Groups, Dziga Vertov, 1926
Dziga Vertov Man with a Movie Camera (1929) - presents urban lives in Soviet cities. From dusk to dawn Soviet citizens are shown at work and at play. Also, it is about film making
Dziga Vertov Showing the viewer how a film is made by way of: - Double exposure - Quick motion - Slow motion - Stop motion - Tracking shot - Extreme high and low angles - Unusual camera movement
Errol Morris The Thin Blue Line (1988) - a documentary about Randall Adams who was convicted and sentenced to a life imprisonment for the murder of a police officer. The film relies on the conventions of interactive documentary - interviews and confessions.
Errol Morris Tension arises when statements contradict each other and this draws our attention to the legitimacy of testimonies and confessions recorded in the documentary. Randall Adams swears he did not kill the policeman but competing statements are presented. Despite the quest for evidence, the film underlies the uncertainty of what evidence there is.
Errol Morris Morris use reconstructions, which are taboo in observational and interactive, or any documentary. Reconstructions to present controversial version of the events, exposing inconsistencies in the evidence against Adams and also provoking a debate on the reliability of the documentary. Uncertainty whether we can trust or believe documentary.
Performative Mode [Performative documentaries] stress subjective aspects of a classically objective discourse [documentaries] - possible limitations: loss of referential emphasis may relegate such films to [the] avant-garde [fiction films]; ‘excessive’ use of style. Bill Nichols, Blurred Boundaries, p. 95
Performative Mode The priority - to evoke the MOOD or ATMOSPHERE The filmmaker constructs subjective ‘truths’ that are significant to him or herself. Presentation of reality in a subjective, expressive, stylized, evocative and visceral manner. Deeply personal, it tells filmmaker him or herself’s stories, experiences, concerns, preoccupations, and thought.
Performative Mode Alain Resnais’s Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog, 1955) One of the first documentaries on the horror of the Holocaust.
Performative Mode Contrast between the huge stillness of the abandoned camps and horrific wartime footage. Texts by Jean Cayrol and spoken by Michel Bouquet with music by Bertolt Brecht’s music composer, Hanns Eisler. nuit et bruillard nuit et bruillard
Performative Mode Chris Maker, Sans soleil (1983) Meditations on travel, memory (or forgetting), and time in words and images.
Performative Mode An essay, collage of images literary comments and philosophical reflection, and creating an atmosphere of dream.