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A Short History of Documentary A Short Lesson in Documentary
Documentary began when the first films were
invented by the Lumiere
brothers in 1895. The
Lumieres created a camera
that could only hold 50 feet
of film stock and their films
were short unedited clips
capturing the life around
them. These were called
Un Train Arrivee (1895)
Their most famous film
simply shows a train
pulling into a station,
however audiences were
fascinated by these first
moving photographs as
they were able to see the
detail of movement
captured by a film camera
for the first time.
Documentary, as we know it today,
began with Nanook of The North, made by Robert Flaherty in 1922. In fact the word documentary was invented by John Grierson to describe this film. Nanook was the first feature length factual film and the first to use what Grierson described as the creative interpretation of reality. This meant that Flaherty had staged most of the scenes for the camera in order to make the film more dramatic and exciting for the audience.
Direct Cinema, - a movement that began in the United States, aimed to present social and political issues in a direct, unmediated way giving the impression that events are recorded exactly as they happened without the involvement of the film-maker.
The modern social issue documentary such as Supersize Me has its origins in Direct Cinema. The filmmaker usually has a political and/or social agenda and seeks to present the events as real even though they are in full control of the editing process.
At the same time as Direct Cinema was being developed in America, a similar movement was happening in France called Cinema Verite (cinema truth). Cinema Verite is a minimalist style of film making that conveys the sense that the viewer is given a direct view of what was actually happening in front of the camera. Cinema Verite favours hand-held camera, natural lighting, location filming, and direct sound.
The use of cinema verite techniques can make a film seems more real and truthful to an audience and in recent time film-makers have used the codes and conventions of the documentary to fool audiences into thinking a programme or film is factual when it isnt. This form of film-making is
Because mockumentaries demonstrate how
easily the codes and conventions of
documentary can be faked, they can often
cause us as viewers to consider why we place
so much faith in documentary itself.
CODES AND CONVENTIONS
The voiceover will usually be authoritative in
some way, encouraging the audience to
think that they either have some kind of
specialist knowledge or, as in the case of
people like Michael Moore and Nick
Broomfield: the right opinions that people
should pay attention to.
Real footage of events
Documentary is essentially seen as non-fiction although there are debates around this.
However, a convention of documentary is that all events presented to us are to be seen as real by the audience.
Documentarians often go to great lengths to convince us that the footage is real and unaltered in anyway, although editing and voiceover can affect the reality we, as viewers, see.
Technicality of realism
Including natural sound and lighting
To aid authenticity and to add further
information which the film maker may be
unable to obtain themselves.
Interviews with experts
Used to authenticate the views expressed in
the documentary. Sometimes, they will
disagree with the message of the
documentary, although the film maker will
usually disprove them in some way.
Use of text/titles
watch out for the use of words on screen to
anchor images in time and space. Labels,
dates etc tend to be believed
unquestioningly and are a quick and cheap
way of conveying information.
Visual Coding Things like mise en scene and props. Is that doctor any less a doctor if she's not in a white coat and wearing a stethoscope? Has someone been ambushed in the street to make them look shifty?
Expository Voiceover, addresses the audience directly:
The voiceover may be a voice of God commentator (heard but not seen) or voice of authority (seen and heard- usually an expert in the relevant field).
Images are used to illustrate (or sometimes counterpoint) the voiceover;
Editing is used for continuity, to link together images which support the argument put forward in the voiceover;
Assembles a variety of footage, interviews, stills, archive material to support the argument;
Attempts to persuade the audience of a particular point of view, often by appealing to logic and the idea of a common sense response.
Explores an idea
Location shooting- handheld cameras.
Long takes dominate
Synchronous (direct) sound recording
No voiceover (in its purest form)
Documentary makers presence is hidden
Subjects pretend they are not being filmed.
Participatory (also referred to as
interactive) Documentary maker (and crew) interact with subject;
Interviews dominate but tend to be formal- literally on the run questioning;
Use of archive material- stills, news; footage, newspaper headlines, letters etc;
Location shooting- handheld camera;
Long takes dominate;
Synchronous (direct) sound recording;
Voiceover- usually by the documentary maker;
Documentary maker is visible to the audience- Intervenes and participates in the action.
POST MODERN in some ways
Borrows techniques from fiction film for an emotional, subjective response;
Emphasises the expressive nature of film, anti realist techniques e.g, re enactments, expressive lighting, dramatic music;
Voiceover (When present) is likely to be questioning and uncertain rather than authoritative;
Reliance on suggestion rather than fact;
More POST MODERN
Performative mode Documentary maker (and crew) interacts with
Documentary maker comments on the process of making the documentary.
The documentary is often shaped in to the narrative of an investigation or search- which their may be no satisfactory conclusion to.
Addresses the audience in an emotional and direct way.
Subject matter often to do with identity (gender, sexuality)- rather than factual subjects.
Very POST MODERN
Similarities and Differences