Early Documentaries:-

I have decided in this category to have a look at two documentary s which where dated pretty close to each other. I wanted to see how much things have developed over a small space of time.

The two I decided to have a look at are:-

  • Nanook of the North (A story of Life and Love in the Arctic)  1922
  • Man with a move camera (Living Russia) 1929

 

Nanook of the North:-

This is classed as the first feature piece documentary. This is a love story about how two people who worked together thought life and love in the Canadian arctic.

When I heard the name and the year it was published I thought I would see a black and white picture with no sound at all and that’s what I got. It started slow with emotional and dramatic music over the Q cards to explain the story and the starting. After a while we get our first shot of the couple in the arctic. There was no dialogue at all but there was music to set the feeling and emotion to the clips shown as well as Q cards to explain what is going on in each clip.

There were no interviews which I was surprised at, for me a documentary normal has interviews but because of the day and age it was nearly impossible to do any interviews with no sound.  The camera angles where very simple and straight forward very still sets with hardly any movement but this was down to the day and age and there camera equipment still in the early development stages.

For me this was a fly on a wall documentary as we seen the family go though there every day lives without intruding in their lifestyle. For me this was a hard one to watch because of the Q cards and there being no dialogue.

Nanook of the North (1992) – Classic Documentary – YouTube (9Mins watched)

 

Man with a Movie Camera:-

Man with a movie camera was filmed on real life event and time. It is about a man and his adventure with his camera.

When I started it up the clip the first time it seemed like there wasn’t going to be any music or sound at all but once we got into the 3 and a half minuet mark we started seeing images of a theatre and instruments ready to start to be played. Once we were made clear we were in a theatre the music started to play and went with the clips we were seeing on screen.

This one like the Nanook of the north was also black and white. The music played a key role in both of these documentary it created a feel and the emotion for the film.

I didn’t really get into this one as much as I did Nanook of the North, I personality got lost in what was happing to me I felt like there was no story or no actors, it felt like it was an experimental piece more than a documentary. Although I watched more of this one than I did Nanook of the North.

Man with a Movie Camera (1929) – Classic Documentary – YouTube (10Mins 31Secs Watched)

 

Over in the early documentaries I though there would have been a big change in a short space of time but it turns out there wasn’t any change in equipment at all. They were both filmed in the same way using the music to create mode, without interviews.

 

Development Documentaries:-

In this section I wanted to choose two that had a bit of distance between them. I wanted to see a massive change from a to b. And two that were complete different from each other. In this section I am trying to work out what style and type of documentary I want to do in later tasks.

The two I decided to do are:-

  • A hard day’s night 1964
  • The thin blue line 1988

 

A Hard Day’s Night:-

This is a comedy film not really a documentary, it’s about the beetles and how they got on in their life style when they became big.

This is also a black and white film its very old style filming, it opens with the beetles song ‘a hard day’s night’ I found this very cheesy and i didn’t really like that idea. This film reflects on the fame and lifestyle of the beetles.

I didn’t really get into this one; I found it very fake and not really a documentary. Although this one had dialogue while the two I watched before this didn’t so i did like this one because it had dialogue and it showed me how much technology changed over the short space from the other two to this one.

 A Hard Day’s Night(1964) – Part One – YouTube (7Mins Watched)

 

The Thin Blue Line:-

This is a dramatic documentary; it is about a guy who was giving a life sentence in jail for something he didn’t convict. This documentary is the only one so far that is about an issue that happened.

This is the first one in colour; this shows how much production and equipment has changed over the jump in the years. There is a lot of archived footage that had things to do with the issue raised in the documentary, for example there was an image of the gun used, news paper clipings and sheets showing where the injuries where on the police officer.

There where interviews in this one, unlike the last three where they had no interviews they were more movie based. The interviews are all of the interviewee with a backdrop of which something related to the crime, for example a map behind a police officer interviewed. There was a lot of B-footage and reconstruction, it went with what was spoken about in the interviews.

This one was easy to watch I thought as you knew what it was about but they did the documentary back words and didn’t give too much away. I liked this aspect i would like to try inculpate this into my own documentary not giving to much away but still keeping the viewer interested.

The Thin Blue Line (1988) – Errol Morris – YouTube (Rabbit InRed) (Watched it all)

 

Recent Variations:-

In this section i will be watching things more recent, seeing how they went about doing it. The older ones where very straight forward and didn’t have much to them. But in this section i expect a lot more like camera movement, lighting and setting.

  • The Race That Shocked the World

 

The race that Shocked the World:-

 

  • Archive footage of the races… news story from years ago… still photos of family…. School subject went to…. Carls music videos … girls races.. Archive subjects mother
  • Cutaways of the track and numbers on track… cut away of the subjects and there every days i.e. walking dog….. Scrapbooks with Carls life from letters to pics to news clippings…. Close up waves face emotions show…. Training… Olympic marks relent to subject… stills of the doctor…. Cutaway of lab growth hormone…. Guy standing beside a speed sign…
  • Interview with subject about his drug use b4 race…. About his younger life… with coach his thought wa he went through…. Drug tester who worked in lab… interview with a historian

 

Lets look at some documentaries!

It seems to me documentaries aren’t given enough credit in modern filmmaking, often being overlooked for whatever Michael Bay seems to have managed to attach his name and some explosions to, and unless they seem to involve some kind of pressing issue or cover a recent event they mostly pass over us remaining unheard of.  Just go log onto Netflix and scan down the documentary section and you’d probably struggle to recognise more than 15 different titles unless you are some sort of documentary connoisseur.  I can safely say I don’t fall into that category, before this assignment the last time I watched a documentary that I can remember was some point after 2 am on a Sunday night.  It was about a man who decided to travel to the amazon to find out about tree frogs that happened to give a hallucinogenic effect should you decide to cut yourself and spread the venom inside the wound.  You can watch that one here if you’re interested. 

Nanook of the North

I was told this is thought of as the first documentary to ever have been created but I think I may have exaggerated that somewhere in my mind.  I can at least say with a reasonable degree of certainty that this is one of the earliest documentaries to have been made, being released back in 1922.  I’m pretty certain I don’t know anyone who saw this back in 1922 but I bet they thought eskimos were pretty rad.  I’ll be the first to say it, the quality of camera work left something to be desired but perhaps I’m being too harsh, it must have been pretty cold and I suppose the camera was held quite steady.  Still the picture quality wasn’t great though maybe that wasn’t aided by the fact I started watching this on a projected screen from the back of a classroom, so again perhaps too harsh.  For what it’s worth I’m sure this blew people’s minds back in 1922, just like how I was impressed by the depth of Nanook’s boat as the entire family left it.   I bet eskimos can do magic.

On a serious note however I was impressed by this documentary, especially for pioneering the format.  It was really cool to see a civilisation unknown to many just going about their everyday life.  I think this documentary has convinced me I’d like to meet an eskimo, maybe take a ride in their deep boat and then they can teach me magic.  

Triumph of the Will

This documentary was the one that interested me most from the list, probably because I struggle to comprehend just how awful Nazi Germany was and it brings me back to my GCSE history days.  I can still remember the pain in my hand from all the essays.  

I was genuinely a little shocked by the content but to almost the same extent how far documentary production had come along in such a short amount of time.  The difference in camera work between this and Nanook of the North was astounding, featuring tracking shots and focus pulls.  It’s a shame the content is a bit ‘ehh…’ but all the same I’m glad someone captured all this on film so I can try my best to understand what went on.  From a 2013 perspective watching mass crowds of people greet Hitler with a wave and a smile was a little unsettling.  

The Thin Blue Line 

This documentary had everything I’d ever expect to find in a documentary that I accidentally end up watching after falling asleep in front of the TV and waking up at 1 am confused and hungry.  I’d probably order a pizza and end up watching the entire thing and walk around for the next week or two telling everyone Randall was innocent and I knew it all along.  

This documentary went into an insane amount of detail about the trial and conviction of Randall Dale Adams and the documentary even captured the confession of the person who really killed that Dallas police officer.  Apparently the director Errol Morris didn’t even mean for it to turn into an investigatory documentary but I suppose if you prove someone’s innocence after such a long time you can’t be feeling too bad about yourself can you?

The documentary was tedious in parts and almost captivating in others.  At times I found it hard to keep up with even though it was ridiculously slow paced but towards the end I guess it picked up, you know?  I though there were a few too many interviews split up into a strange order to follow the story at times also, I feel as though it could have been put across in a much simpler way.

Baraka

At first when I began watching this I was very confused, and later on I was confused.  Towards the end I was still confused but by that point it was a kind of confusion that I felt everyone could relate to and I think that’s what this documentary was trying to do, find a relation between humans. Thats at least got to be part of it.  I’m probably too used to being told things through plain narration.  Thankfully this documentary left me so dazzled by it’s pretty visuals and confused but starting to take a grasp on something vague that I decided would like to see more documentaries like this one in the future.  I want to reach this higher level of understanding and if the titles are all going to sound as fun as the word ‘Baraka’ then sign me the heck up.    

Baraka takes a mesmerising look at 152 locations from all around the world and ties them all together into this stunning visual journey.  There’s no narration or context ever given, and weirdly when I think back on it I’m glad I didn’t have to listen to someone tainting my mind with their words as I watched this.  Not even Attenborough or Freeman could convince me to listen to them talking over any part of Baraka.  In a similar way I don’t even want to say too much about Baraka so I don’t influence anyone who happens to read this.  You should definitely watch it, maybe try meditating or something afterwards.  If you need convinced, it was recently decided to be the first film to be restored to 8K format.  It’s that gosh darn pretty.

The director Ron Fricke developed his own cameras especially for this film and his subsequent works.  And he is really good at time lapses. 

Super Size Me

Everyone’s heard of this one.  It’s about that guy that decided to eat McDonald’s lots and lots for a month to see what’d happen. He probably made a lot of money from this and as far as selling yourself for research goes I guess this is a pretty good one to get roped into, even if he had to sacrifice a few years of his life.  At first I found myself hungry while watching this, and was shortly swayed from wanting McDonald’s again for a long time.  There’s something sad about watching a man struggle to eat his 3rd cheese burger of the day.

This film was independently made which is pretty impressive, it’s no Baraka but as far as engaging topics go I think its clear to see this film was pretty successful in gaining people’s attention.  It probably even scared a few people into eating less McDonald’s which is pretty okay if you ask me.  I remember having to watch this in a biology class a few years ago, and if a documentary is making its way into education systems to make an example you’re doing something right.  

The only problem I’d have to say here is that the documentary seems a little unnecessary to me, it’s still interesting to watch but it just appears to be a tad obvious what’ll happen to the human body if it consumes greasy mystery meat constantly.  I suppose as far as research goes though this was carried out pretty well, and Spurlock did well to eat that much McDonald’s.

The Race That Shocked The World

I would compare this documentary to The Thin Blue Line for its purpose into exposing a truth.  The main issue I had with this documentary is the excessive amount of interviews it had.  It was awfully difficult to keep up with who was telling what part of the story, it felt like it really needed to be refined further in order to easily convey information to the viewer.  I feel as though to maintain an interest in what was being discussed in this documentary you’d need some sort of prior relation or interest in the sport, to me this isn’t one of those documentaries that compels you to watch on.

I suppose being the most recent documentary on the list it didn’t have the help of any new great new technology that separates it from the others currently being made, and it really needs a strong subject matter in order to get past this.  It does have a very current and pressing matter, I just feel like it was told in a very unimpressive way.

Introduction

We have been given 12 documentaries of which have ben made over the last 90 years. We have been tasked to choose 6 of these documentaries and review them, we do have the option to choose 1 documentary of our liking; leaving us 5 to choose from and review. In the 6 reviews I will talk about the following things:

 

  • Historical significance
  • Technical developments
  • Production techniques
  • Predominant style
  • Their purpose
  • Ethical issues which are raised

 I must present my findings in a written format including a bibliography. We should also prepare and submit a blog entry on each of the documentaries that I review throughout this written essay. The blogs must be suitable for an online documentary appreciation blog.

 

 

Ross Kemp in Afghanistan – Matt Bennett & Ross Kemp (2008)

 Ross Kemp in Afghanistan is the first series documentary that follows known British soap actor Ross Kemp into the war-torn province of Helmand, Afghanistan. The documentary takes part during the ongoing “Operation Herrick” which is the codename for the British operation in Afghanistan. Ross Kemp is attached to the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment, also known as “The Vikings”.

 The historical significance is very obvious in this documentary. It’s a War documentary which will go down in history as the first of its kind due to its closeness and realism of the battle footage. The documentary really holds a historical significance for our current generation because technology has evolved so much that people don’t need to read newspapers/books to find out later on what really went on during the War in Afghanistan. Another historical factor is it shows the first hand at Britain’s modern military in action. In later generations people will look back at this documentary to watch how soldiers coped during this period of time, just like historians did after World War 1 & 2, simply due to the fact that this is the first ‘modern war’ of the current century.

 Throughout the documentary the techniques used are very obvious.  The crew consisted of the director, a camera and sound man. The director also acted as the second cameraman when out on patrols. The lighting cameraman who films all Ross Kemp’s documentaries never once used a tripod; he seems to prefer the use of handheld camera techniques. Interviews are rarely setup and just seem to be done straight after something has happened; this seems to be due to the fact that the soldiers are in the middle of enemy territory and need to be up and ready in a matter of seconds. The conversations Ross Kemp has with the soldiers seem to be casual and gathered around a small area, the camera man seems to just ‘float around’ and film important moments throughout the conversations. It mainly feels like the camera man is one step ahead of the conversations between Ross Kemp and the interviewee(s). At some points it does feel like Ross is actually just filming a video diary, which does happen at some points in the series’.

Another technique they use is the use of helmet cameras that the soldiers all have attached to their helmets (MOD issued not film crew issued).

Ross Kemp has been quoted in many interviews to have said that he wanted to create a documentary unlike any other traditional war documentary. He wanted it to show the soldier’s story behind the war in Afghanistan and focus on the experiences of the soldiers at home and in Afghanistan, and also views of families who have lost family members during the war. At some points of the film you see Ross Kemp add his own views to how the soldiers cope in Afghanistan, he really does talk about how under equipped the frontline soldiers were during his time there and continues to add that even with the lack of equipment the soldiers pull through time and time again. The soldier’s story was soon listened to by the MOD after them watching how their personnel coped in such harsh conditions. After filming more helicopters were introduced, equipment was modernized and made safer.

 The main ethical issue which was raised during the series was for not finding out the rights or wrongs of British policy in Afghanistan. Although later on Ross Kemp did reply to that criticism and said: “We did not go to make a so-called traditional documentary, we tried to show what ordinary soldiers are facing” and he also said “My documentary is about what it is like to be a British soldier in Afghanistan and was not focused around the political reasons behind the war” Although in Series 3 Ross Kemp did go back and investigate the political differences between the Taliban and Afghanistan.

 

 

Triumph – Leni Riefenstahl (1935)

 Triumph des Willens also known in English as Triumph of the Will is a propaganda documentary filmed by Leni Riefenstahal. It records the Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, which is believed to have had at least 700,000 Nazi supporters at it. Lei’s usage of moving cameras, long focus lenses to create distorted images, aerial footage and the use of music earned Triumph of the Will recognition as one of the greatest documentaries ever created. The film has is now been banned in Germany due to it showing support for Nazism.

 The historical significance in this film shows how the Nazi Party Congress influenced the German people into believing that Germany will return to being a great power, with Hitler leading the nation to glory. The documentary shows how Hitler influenced the German people with his motivational speeches and used the documentary to his advantage in showing the military strength of Germany. Our current generation can look back at this historical moment and really see how Hitler poisoned a country into thinking that by going to war will bring glory back to it once powerful nation and the power of the will, will make them great again.

 The production techniques used throughout the documentary are fairly simple techniques; well today they would be. Lei Riefenstahal seems to use a lot of aerial footage and relied heavily on keeping the camera static and capturing close up’s of the crowd as they cheer Hitler and his party on as they drive past. There are some tracking shots so that her crew could get tracking shots of the crowd and the car that Hitler is being transported in. I believed she used these techniques to make feel as it she was giving Hitler’s point of views of the crowds and also to make it look like crowds were chasing after Hitler’s car which in truth never happened as they were being held back by Hitler’s SS units. The crew consisted of 172 people which had 10 technical staff, 36 camera men and assistants, nine aerial photographers, 17 newsreel men, 12 newsreel crew, 17 lighting men, two photographers’, 26 drivers, 37 security personnel, four labour service workers and two office assistant crews. It really is unbelievable to think that she had 172 people working for her; if you compare this to Ross Kemp’s three man crew you can really just see how much technology has evolved since then. Although the rally was planned for the propaganda film you can really see how much work Lei and her crew put into creating such a high standard propaganda film for Hitler.

 The purpose of the documentary was to show the German people the power of their nation. Germany had not seen such images of military power and strength since the end of World War 1. The huge formations of men reminded the German people that Germany was once again becoming a great power. They used the Eagles and Swastikas to show the German people that they’re like the Roman Legions, I.E indestructible and professional. It also was a way to warn opposing parties that opposing the regime wouldn’t go down nicely with the Nazi Party Congress. The footage of Hitler’s arrival in an aircraft showed the German people the luxury their great leader could give to them, it doesn’t seem much today because we travel in aircraft everyday but during the 1930s it was something only the wealthy countries could do.

 I could not find any ethical issues raised during this documentary, simply because ethical issues was never a thing during the 1930s and you can also argue the case that being a propaganda film it is an ethical issue in itself, because it’s propaganda and only shows things that the Hitler wanted the viewer to see.

 

 

The Thin Blue Line – Errol Morris (1988)

The Thin Blue Line is a documentary which was created in 1988 by Errol Morris. The documentary tells the story of Randall Dale Adams, an incident man convicted and sentence to life in prison for the murder of a Dallas Police officer, which took place on the Thanksgiving weekend in 1976.

 The historical significance reveals how a documentary unveiled the corruption inside Dallas, Texas’ criminal justice system. Another historical significance shows how a documentary has the power to prove an incident man’s incidents, which was the very first time something like this had been done to prove such corrupt case.

 The production techniques used throughout the film are rather simple and seem to be relaying both interviews and re-enactments to tell the story. The ‘talking head’ technique can be seen throughout the film as the interviewer interviews the interviewees. As mentioned before the documentary uses a lot of re-enactment scenes that are carefully built around witnesses statements, so that the viewer gets a sense of how the events may have unfolded on the day of the murder. Another technique that I noticed throughout the film was how Errol Morris had his subjects/interviewees looking directly into the camera; I personally believe he chose this method so that it felt like the story was being told directly to you and show that you felt a part of the story as it was being read out to you. The visuals used are highly stylised so that the viewer is fully aware that the reconstructions are fictional. It really makes itself stand out from the interviews and newspaper articles that are included in the documentary. The interviews and newspaper articles seem to be shown in a less stylised fashion which is typically associated with the documentary genre. It is clear from the start of the film that it is a reflective documentary which allows the viewer to question some parts of the documentary. This is most notably used at the end of the documentary when we (the viewer) hear the director question David Ray Harris, the real convicted murder; He probes the interviewee into a confession.

 As I mentioned at the start the documentaries purpose was to tell the story of Randall Dale Adams, an incident man convicted of a murder that he did not commit. He was then sentenced to life in prison, which he was later released and David Ray Harris was instead convicted for the murder of the Dallas Police Officer. The documentary was later used to prove the incidents of Randall Dale Adams, which at the start was not meant to have happened but due to Errol’s detective background he went further into the story behind the murder. One of the main ethical issues raised after the documentary was released was the fact that Errol Morris was asked to stick to the court case witness statements, which don’t get me wrong he did do but at some points during the documentary he broke the ethical issues and pushed to get stories out of the witnesses.

 

 

Baraka – Ron Fricke (1992)

Baraka is a non-narrative documentary film which was created by Ron Fricke in 1992. The documentary was filmed in 25 different countries on six continents. Barak captures stunning moving image of which director Ron Fricke calls “a guided mediation on humanity”. The filming itself took 14 months on location and took a total of 30 months to complete. The film itself has no plot or any actors; it purely relies on the images to tell its story. Mark Magidson says that the goal of the “was to reach past language, nationality, religion and politics and speak to the inner viewer”.

 Baraka historical significance is on a massive scale as it shows the historical factors of the 25 different countries presented in this film. It really shows how cultures haven’t changed at all and continued to live like their ancestors. I really enjoyed watching this documentary because I got to explore many different cultures that I thought were forgotten about. Watching this film in the 21st century really does open up your eyes to how commercial development has native’s homes that continue to live in forests throughout the world. Future generations can look back and watch how devastating things are around the world, by just watching it, it allows you to draw the same conclusion that a narrator or anyone else would assume. It shows you historical cultures as they carry out their daily routines.

 The documentary was shot on a custom-built computerised 65mm camera, but people argue the case that it may have been shot on a 70mm camera. The styles included throughout the documentary include slow motion and time-lapse. Once again Ron Fricke had a custom built camera so that he could combine time-lapse photography with perfectly controlled movements. During the film it has a number of tracking shots throughout various settings, some of which include Auschwitz and Tuol Sleng.

 The main purpose of the documentary was to enable the viewer to see different cultures around the world by exploring different countries. It explored many cultures that our ancestors would have used 1,000s of years ago and cultures today continue to us them in their daily routine. As I said in the introduction the film enables us to watch how commercial development destroys the homes of native people who live in forests, it also captures the commercial world cutting down trees and the people that are trying to develop these places do not understand that they are not just taking away wild life they are also destroying families homes who have lived there for generations. Baraka also captures daily life in a number of major cities and you can see how people in the commercial world live differently to those in other commercial developed worlds. Ron was also quoted to have said that his purposes was to show those in the developed world how their life is very different to those who continue to live in isolation from the modern world.

 The ethical issues that would be raised in this film would be the culture differences in the world. He would have to make sure that he does not offend a certain culture.

 

 

The Race that Shocked the World – Daniel Gordon (2012)

 The Race that Shocked the World is a documentary which looks at the legacy of the men who ran in the 100-metre final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics; when gold medallist Ben Johnson tested positive for anabolic steroids. For the first time ever Daniel Gordon gathers eight athletes who ran in the infamous race and allows them to tell their story of the events which unfolded on the day of the 1988 final. The Race that shocked the world will hold a historical significance for a very long time because it tells the story of an event which caused huge controversy throughout the world. The 100 metre sprint final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics was the fastest and the dirtiest race in Olympic history. Six of the eight runners who took part were tested positive for banned substances. Daniel Gordon investigates why they went to such lengths to win a race.

 The technical developments and production techniques used throughout the filming of the documentary is fairly simple. A lot of his interviews were done using the popular ‘talking head’ technique. The film also uses a lot of archived footage from championships leading up to the 1988 Olympics so that the viewer could get an understanding on how each athlete operated in the 100-metre races leading up to the final. He also uses a lot of close ups before he actually comes to the talking head shots, not sure why he done this but it seems he likes capturing the facial features of his interviewee before he actually switches to the talking head shot; It could possibly to show the damage the drugs have done to the athletes who had taken the banned substances. One little detail I noticed was the way Daniel Gordon chooses to interview each of the athletes. He started by their lane numbers and worked his way up to the final lane number. It is just one of the little details which really make the documentary a beautiful piece of film. Another thing I noticed when he interviewed Ben Johnston was the interview being shot in his basement, the cold and rain pens the runner in and all this adds as if he is a disgrace to his country, I’m not sure if that was initial but it really feels like it was.

 The purpose of the documentary was to show the world why these athletes went to such lengths to win a race. Throughout the documentary Daniel Gordon have to make sure that he was getting the truth out of the athletes, he needed to make sure that his stories made sense to their statements so that an ethical issue is not raised when the documentary is published to the public. Another ethical issue which he had to look out for was the use of advertising because throughout the documentary you notice a lot of the advertising billboards are blurred out.

 

 

Super Size Me – Morgan Spurlock (2004)

 Super Size me is a documentary which is directed by and starring Morgan Spurlock. Morgan Spurlock is an American independent filmmaker who filmed himself on a 30-day period which he ate only McDonald’s fast food. The film attempts to document the lifestyle of Morgan’s physical and psychological well-being, and explores the fast food industry. He also investigates why fast food restaurants encourage poor nutrition for its own profit.

 The significance this will hold in the near future will show how we in the 21st Century allowed ourselves to eat so much fast food without worrying about the health risks in the near future. Morgan Spurlock said he wanted to investigate why American’s are allowing them self to get to a certain weight were they are dicing with death. He said that he hoped that this documentary will encourage people to stop eating so much fast food and consider what it is really doing to you.

 The production techniques and technical developments through the documentary film are fairly simple. It seems as if there are only two crew members; which are 1 camera operator and Morgan Spurlock. I could not find what they used to film the documentary but a lot of it is using a hand held camera which seems to be attached to a shoulder mount. The overall layout of the documentary seems like a video dairy and the only time the camera man is needed is when an interview is being filmed.

 The purpose of the documentary is to show the viewer what fast food can do to your health within a 30-day period of eating just pure fast food meals; which a lot of Americans seem to do a lot of. Another reason for Morgan Spurlock’s investigation was the increasing spread of obesity throughout the United States of America; a Surgeon he interviewed stated the issue has become an “epidemic”. He also investigates why two overweight girls who blame McDonald’s for making them become obese. Morgan Spurlock compares the addiction to the criticism tobacco companies received.

 As I watched the film I couldn’t find any or see any ethic issues which may be raised throughout the film. I believe this because Morgan Spurlock looks at both sides of the stories and argues both the cases. He questions those who actually put their bodies through it on a daily basis and why they haven’t sought help on their weight problems. At one point he argues with a interviewee that the help is out there for them, you just have to have the get up and go attitude and stop blaming the companies for your weight problem. He also argues the case on why McDonalds and other fast food restaurants do not have a nutrition menu showing risks of eating their fast food products.

 

Bibliography

 Ross Kemp in Afghanistan

Ross Kemp in Afghanistan – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2013. Ross Kemp in Afghanistan – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ross_Kemp_in_Afghanistan. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

 

Triumph of the Will

Triumph of the Will – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2013. Triumph of the Will – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumph_of_the_Will. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

 

Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video – Google Books. 2013. Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video – Google Books. [ONLINE] Available at:http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=YFhiHHHJbUgC&pg=PA104&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

 

The Thin Blue Line

The Thin Blue Line (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2013. The Thin Blue Line (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thin_Blue_Line_(film). [Accessed 05 November 2013].

 

Dr. Death. 2013. Dr. Death. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.ccadp.org/DrDeath.htm. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

 

Baraka

Baraka (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2013. Baraka (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baraka_(film). [Accessed 05 November 2013].

 

About Baraka | The official site for the films SAMSARA and BARAKA. 2013.About Baraka | The official site for the films SAMSARA and BARAKA. [ONLINE] Available at: http://barakasamsara.com/baraka/about. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

The Race that Shocked the World

SBS: Documentary – The Race That Shocked The World. 2013. SBS: Documentary – The Race That Shocked The World. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.sbs.com.au/documentary/program/952/. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

 

Super Size Me

Super size me – Morgan Spurlock | UO Multimedia Journalism cohort #1. 2013. Super size me – Morgan Spurlock | UO Multimedia Journalism cohort #1. [ONLINE] Available at: http://blogs.uoregon.edu/mmj1/2012/10/15/super-size-me-morgan-spurlock/. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

 Super Size Me – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2013. Super Size Me – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Size_Me. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

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NANOOK OF THE NORTH:

http://astro.temple.edu/~ruby/wava/Flaherty/filmed.htmlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanook_of_the_North

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-nanook-of-the-north-1922

 

THE THIN BLUE LINE

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-thin-blue-line-1988

http://www.studentpulse.com/articles/640/the-thin-blue-line-and-the-ambiguous-truth

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thin_Blue_Line_(film)

 

MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_with_a_Movie_Camerahttp://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-man-with-a-movie-camera-1929

 

 

 

http://movies.msn.com/movies/movie-critic-reviews/the-man-with-a-movie-camera/

http://documentary.net/review-man-with-a-movie-camera-1929/

 

THE RACE THAT SHOOK THE WORLD:

None

 

TOUCHING THE VOID:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Touching_the_Void

http://www.talktalk.co.uk/entertainment/film/review/films/touching-the-void/671

http://www.theguardian.com/film/movie/96944/touching.the.void

http://www.comingsoon.net/news/reviewsnews.php?id=3547

 

Grey Gardens

Albert Maysles on Gray Gardens 2006 ,  on  Grey Gardens DVD

Nanook of the North     Robert J Flaherty 1922

Considered to be the first feature length documentary  this shows us  the way of life of the Inuit tribe in northern Quebec through the life of one man Nanook and his family. Flaherty originally was hired as an explorer and prospector for the Canadian  Pacific Railroad  and brought a camera. It was only on his return from the trip that he took a serious interest in photography and did a three week course before going back to film again . Unfortunately or as he says himself, perhaps fortunately, he set fire to the film by accident. He then decided to focus on one particular character Nanook and returned for a further year to follow the life of him and his family.

There has been much documented criticism of the fact that many of the scenes and set ups were staged eg the walrus hunt, the use of harpoons rather than guns that they usually used ,demonstrating the gramophone as if he had never seen one when he actually had previously. The two women who were portrayed as his wives which were in fact according to Charles Nayoum Taluh in an interview recorded in’’ Nanook Revisited’’ (1988) that they were in fact common law wives of Flaherty nor were the children Nanook’s . The end of the documentary tells us that Nanook died of starvation two years later while hunting where in fact he died at home probably of  T.B. This was against the ideals of cinema verite purists who felt that staging action and attempting to steer documentary action was unethical as such reenactments deceive the audience who believes it.  Flaherty said that rather than depicting the Inuit way of life now it depicted it in the past . He defended his staging of some events saying a filmmaker must distort a thing to catch its true spirit and as Roger Ebert said just because you stage the walrus hunt , you still hunt the walrus and the walrus probably didn’t get the script.

Production techniques would have been heavily influenced by the remoteness of the location and climatic conditions . Flaherty took two Akeley cameras, a Haulberg electric light plant and a projector, portable development and printing equipment .In addition the long days and nights in the arctic would have presented problems with light .They  used a deep focus lens , depth of field photography and long takes. Lack of lighting facilities also meant that the interiors e.g of the igloo had to be manipulated in order to allow room for the large immobile camera and equipment.    

Ethically, the Montaqe blog website states that if documentaries are the subject of film and and films are subjective them we can consider that Flahertys film Nanook of the North represents Inuit people from the viewpoint of not only its director but its financial backers the French fur company Reuillon Freres and that this is ethically acceptable. An article on ethnography by Fatimah Rony leads us to the conclusion that Perry and Jacobson the explorers he accompanied on the initial trip were kidnappers and slave owners of the Inuit people and some of their actions would not be socially acceptable or moral in the present day . The same article said they felt that it did not appear the Flaherty was in any way cruel to the Inuits as they took the humorous demeanour of Nanook as suggesting that it was unlikely that Flaherty had  illtreated him or his people .

 Also this review raises the issue of how ethical news broadcast should represent an objective point of view allowing for the viewer to decide their own judgment on the reality.

 

The predominant style of this silent documentary is in a tradition of what would later be called salvage ethnography .Its purpose was to relay the lives of this distant people and a way of life that was fast disappearing .It was considered ground bereaking , was a huge box office success and hailed unanimously by critics. It is still shown frequently in cinemas today and was one of the first 25  films to be selected for preservationin the United States National Film Registry as being ‘’culturally, historically or aesthetically significant’’.

Nanook was said by Roger Ebert to be one of the most vital and unforgettable human beings ever recorded on film. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE THIN BLUE LINE    Errol  Morriss 1988

 

Morriss initially set out to do a documentary on a Dallas Psychiatrist Dr James Grigson who had given evidence that so many defendants were sociopaths and deserved the death penalty that he was known as Dr Death . During his research he became more interested in a particular trial of two young men involved in the shooting of a police officer in 1972, one of whom Adams was convicted and the other Harriss wasn’t.

In the  Bennett, L. Gershman article ‘’The thin blue line :art or trial in the fact finding process?’’  the author argues that at the conclusion of the movie the film has convinced (the audience) that we know the better ‘truth’ about the case and Adams’ innocence (316).This ‘’truth ‘’revealed at the end of the film is simply Moriss’ interpretation and presentation of the events and yet he succesffully convinces audience members to believe him. By doing so it shows audiences are as willing to accept his construction of Adams’ innocence as jurors were  willing to accept the prosecutions construction of Adams’ guilt.In the documentary he assembles an almost unassailable case for Adams and against Harriss

Morriss was a former private detective and he jokingly describes himself as not a producer director but as a detective director . Ebert  says this is not a conventional documentary . (it throughtout morriss voices his unyiending belief that the prosecution  concoted evidence by editing testimony, supressing signig=ficant documents really manufacturing a case that didn’t exist .Ebert says Morriss is more interested in the spaces between facts that facts themselves. He uses distorted and murky reenactments that support the account of Officer Woods murder .Ebert says such thematic devices are rarely used in documentary. He employs unrealistic highly stylised and visually captivating film noir like scenes (Curry 154) e.g the slow motion of the milkshake falling as we hear the shot that kills the Officer, close ups of flashing police lights, he includes excerpts of the films the boy said they had seen that night . The music score by Philip Glass is atmospheric, dramatic and poignant

In the documentary He demonstrates how the schema and scripts of peoples thinking can distort things in the direction of the familiar and can lead to incorrect understandings of the actual truth.He makes the audience the jurors.He has approached his subject as a detective.

Production . He has a particular way of shooting his interviews  straight on , and framing subjects so that we look at them very carefully , leading us  as much by what we see as what we hear using reenactments etc . He also had a particular method whereby he sat behind a curtain. The interviewee would be staring onto the camera which fed into a teleprompter that the interviewee could interact with .His wife jokingly named this an interrotron.

He splices together interviews and edits in a montage of newspaper clippings. It is only after that we learn thaat Adams was arrested for the murder 6six minutes into the film to avoid the stigma of the audience

At the end of the film his camera had broken and he only had a voice recording of the interviews . He provides visuals of shots of a tape recorder from various angles.

Ethically there is little, if any objectivity. He has also been asked why he left out an interview that he recorded with District Attorney Doug Mulder whyo was highly influential in the convicting of Adams. When asked why he said it was because it was ‘’boring’’

The film was successfully received and highly regarded today .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Man With A Movie Camera      Dziga Vertov

This film is to show the life in a Russian city over 24 hrs although it was filmed in three cities over a period of 4 years. It was not the first ’City documentary ’.It followed Berlin:Symphony of a great City (1927)

It is considered a groundbreaking film then and now, not least because of its average shot length(ASL) which was 2.3 secs compared with the average at the time of 11.2 secs.Audiences weren’t used to it and   The New York Times critic  said at the time ‘’Vertog does not take into consideration the fact that the human eye fixes for a certain space of time that holds  the attention ’’.

Vertov was part of the Kinoki filmmakers which advocated a new style of filmmaking. He said in Man with a Moving Camera that he wanted to get away from film being looked at in the tradition of stage plays. He announces by way of title cards that it is a film without dialogue, story , intertitles,and actors. The film opens on shots of the city public buildings, people at work but also a woman lying in bed then getting dressed and another giving birth.There is also a shot of a woman putting on stockings and underwear which was probably quite risqué at the time It also shows him using the camera to photograph shots in the movie and shows the audience how it is done.

Production: there were 1775 shots. Thirty years later Godard was credited with the jump cut in ‘Breathless’ but Man with a Moving Camera is almost entirely jump cuts . Some feel of the two films, Vertov’s film is the fresher.

He also used freeze frames , tracking shots ,slow motion , split screens , fast motion and double exposure e.g he shows miniaturised people on top of the camera.

The style is predominantly informative and was also termed a’ City documentary’ but given the time and  regime in Russia it is probable that there is also a propaganda element to it as Tom Weiner  has said   ‘’Vertov’s claim it was an unmediated presentation of daily life is undercut by the films optical tricks and more importantly by its stinting of any portrayal of poverty, crime and other social ills, not surprising given the heavy hand of the party censors’’ .

It obviously broke the mould in many ways and it was controversial for use of style at the time of its release but it is now considered one of the best and most influential films of all time.Also it is felt that the editing anticipated the visual language of music videos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Race That Shook The World

very public investigation of the Canadian This documentary covers the doping scandals of the Olympic x race in x and the athletes invloved.

It is informative, investigative  and to some extent expository but mainly it is exposing facts already known following the trial. It has the benefit of being able to use a lot of archival footage since it was such a major media event as was the trial that subsequently followed.Most of the documentary is formed from interviews witht the athletes involved, coaches , lab scientists etc

The makers can rely on good archive footage as it the race was such a major media evn=ent and the subsequent trial also. The main body of the interview is made  up of interviews . They use set ups that have indicated the fall of the athlete eg going fromshots oh=f him on a podium with amedal to sitting in their basemend=st with packed up belongings and medals/trophies in boxes. Slo contrasting the buzz of the stadium on the day with the empty stadium . They also show a lot of cut aways to the sky day and night shots  which seems to be a themesky shots , day night and also when they go to jamaica

 I think the strength of this documentary is that the athletes inteviewed are notably frank and candid in their retelling largely because they have so little left to loose in terms of public opinion (they were stripped of their medals and banned from many races) which gives it a ‘no holes barred’ feel . It is refreshing to hear them talk so openly about a subject that is usually shrouded in secrecy. The documentart=y also makes implications without stating this explicitly e.g it links one of the athletes talking about how at the time he says they knew that anyone who wa swearing dental braces  was using Growth Hormone ,  shrtly \after this the documentary makers sshow footage of this same athelete wearing braces!footage is shwonof this particular athlete wearing braces himself!While no comment is made the implication is there.  

As the documentary notes despite these practices still being widespread as seen in the Lance Armstrong case, no Country has ever followed suit and held such a public enquiry as the shame of the athletes became the shame of the Nation  .

 

 

 

 TOUCHING THE VOID

 

This documentarty uses interviews with three central players as narrative over a reenactment of events as they happened . They filmed it in the Alps and also the Andes where the incident happened twenty years previously. There are some sweeping shots of the Andes and the director appears to give a nod to fellow documentary maker Errol Morriss re this esp Fog of War. The re-enactment uses actors which doesn’t take away from it as they are mostly snow covered , bearded and barely recognisable . Nor does it particularly stretch the audience to see that there is a camera below in the crevice waiting for Simpson to fall in.

The interviees are very candid and frank in interview particularly when the climber  has to admit that he cut the rope and was subsequently blackballed from the climbing clubfor this . His friend Simpson says that he would have done the same thing . Not only are they still friends but also still climb together. One

One criticism would be that they are not shown with their names at the beginning ad it was hard to follow who was who as they looked quite similar in build, hair colour etc.

 

It is a drama documentary . Production wise one website describes it as being like a Discovery Channel documentary with higher production values  .It was very well received  . Most people who saw it had no knowledge of mountaineering like the Guardian critic /Philip French and were riveted . It was rightly the winner of several awards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GREY GARDENS     MAYSLES BROTHERS 1976

 

The Maysles brothers spent six weeks filming Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie American aristocrats fallen on hard times in a rambling mansion Grey Gardens. As Edie declares herself ‘’staunch’’woman and both are . They aere intelligent opinionated if a little eccentric and are great documentary subjects as they say what they want and don’t care much what anyone thinks as they have done throughtout their life.It soes however make you a little uncomfortable the the women are bing exploited . One critic said the film ‘’is an aimless act of ruptured privacy and an exploitation’’Walter Goodman of the New York Times said ‘’The sagging flesh , the ludicrous poses , the prized and private collections strewn about the anong thetimns of catfood – everything is grist for that merciless camera.The sadness for the mother and daughter turns into disgust at the brothers ‘’

The brothers denied this as did Edie who wrote back to the New York Times  an excerpt of which:

‘’You talk about my sagging thighs. Let me see yours at 60. Im  a marvellous specimen and so is my mother. And we live on practically nothing. We love each other and is that love so hard to take? So we don’t live conventionally ; so what? Everybody sends mothers away. Not me Mr Goodman.’’…The Maysles are film pioneers and because of that they will be criticised . But to my mother and I, ‘’Grey Gardens’’is a breakthrough into the very beautiful and precious thing called life. Were proud of it and couldn’yt be more pleased. It’s us ! And , Mr Goodman we’re hardly (as you wrote) ‘’a circus sideshow’’

It is an example of direct cinema which is similar to cinema verite but approaching from a different angle  but both with a goal that is nothing less than reality itself. These days we are used to being assailed by reality T. V but in those days it was not often seen and met with a mixed reception as you can see from the reviews.

The brothers take part as active participants in the film interacting with their subjects during filming. They use juxtaposition a lot , which in direct cinema the camera operator is not supposed to manufacture meaning or generate pathos but the brothers have used manipulated juxtaposition such as when the unflappable positivity of Norman Vincent Peale issues from the radio as the two ladies listen in squalor or a portrait of Edith as a beautiful young woman on the floor beside the cat litter.

 

Ethically Arthur Maysles was asked in the interview on the DVD said he could not remember if the ladies had signed the release forms before or after seeing the film but one would suspect before. They did get behind it they do not appear to be two who would loose too much sleep over what people thought .

 

 

The film was successful .A play followed and a Holywood film was madein 1996 with Drew Barrymore playing Edie .

As one critic said: this film achieves what cinema verite aims for but seldom achieves : a sense that the material is telling itself.

 

References;

Interview with Arthur Maysles 2006 on Grey gardens DVD  and accompanying booklet

For one of my assignments I have had to watch 6 different documentaries and review each of them taking in key features and noting documentary techniques that I have seen in each. For this Blog I am going to review the Documentary overall and give my general opinion on each of them.

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The first documentary I am reviewing is Triumph of the will, this documentary is about a Nazi Party Rally in Germany in 1934, Once I first heard the synopsis of this documentary I thought it would be very enjoyable, although as I began to watch through it, the less interested I was. Do not get me wrong I find German history extremely interesting but this documentary did not interest me as much as I thought it would. When I was researching this documentary it seems to be that a lot of camera techniques have originated from this documentary, this is one of the first documentaries that had camera movement. So in film terms this documentary is interesting to watch as this was were some camera techniques began so it is interesting to watch a documentary which has effected such a large part of film. On the other hand in terms of story and interest, I find this rather boring and would not recommend it unless you would like to see one of the first times that camera movement was used.

The second documentary I reviewed was The Thin Blue Line, this documentary is about the corruption of the justice system in Dallas Texas, and this documentary follows a man who had been wrongly accused of murder by a corrupt jury in the 1980’s. This documentary I did not think would be interesting and after I watched it what I thought would be a slow boring documentary turned out exactly what I had expected. The documentaries narrative flow is through the interviews which seem to be the only thing that happens which barely keeps the documentary flowing if I am honest. The one thing that I did think helped the documentary better was the reconstruction, but apart from that I wouldn’t recommend this slow moving, boring documentary. 

 

The third documentary which I chose randomly out of the selection of documentaries was Baraka. Baraka is a non-narrative documentary about a compilation of natural events that happens over 14 months in 24 different countries.  Now this does not even seem like a documentary to begin with and as it has no narrative it is quite a slow moving documentary although I think what this documentary lacks in narrative it makes up for in visuals. Throughout this documentary, you see over 100 scenic shots of 24 different countries throughout a year. These shots are visually stunning and very well framed. But sadly this is not enough to keep the entertainment level up, as after an hour through an hour and a half of strange sounds and music score, the documentary finally comes to an end which could not come soon enough. As what began entertaining slowly became rather dull and repetitive, I am glad that I had experienced watching this documentary although I would probably not watch this again or recommend it to anyone, unless I disliked them. 

 

For My fourth documentary I had chosen something a bit more current and entertaining, I chose Bowling for Columbine. Bowling for Columbine is about the rise in weapon violence in America, Why it’s so easy to purchase a gun in the U.S and why two teenagers shot out their school in Columbine High School. This would be one of my favourite documentaries of all time. I do not find the subject matter particular interesting but I feel that Michael Moore’s approach in this documentary is absolute genius. I don’t know what makes this so enjoyable, it might be the comedic cartoons that he shows throughout the documentary or his straight to the point approach in his interviews but I feel that, whatever his particular approach maybe I feel that he gets his point across. This documentary I would happily recommend to anyone it is really enjoyable to any documentary watchers. My only down point about this documentary is sometimes it may seem lengthy because you may lose interest at particular parts although Michael Moore seems to continuously  entertain the audience and keep them entertained and aware what he is trying to say. 

 

My fifth documentary is another one of my personal favourites, Super-Size Me. Super-Size Me is a documentary created by Morgan Spurlock showing what would happen to him physically and psychologically if he ate a McDonald’s meal three times a day for thirty days straight. When I first heard about this documentary I was so excited to watch it due to the fact it not only sounded interesting but the reviews I had read on it were rather positive. I just find that it’s interesting that he was able to film his whole experience over the thirty days and show such significant results but McDonalds is still one of the largest fast food chains in the world. I think this was a good idea for a documentary and was surprised that no one had thought of a documentary like this until 2004. So in terms of visual techniques I wouldn’t say that there was anything particular stunning but I feel that the story behind the documentary just seems to make it that bit better. I would honestly recommend this to anyone as it’s a good indie documentary to show people that you don’t need a large budget to make a multimillion pound documentary. 

 

My last and final documentary was another personal favourite Fahrenheit 911. This documentary looks at George W. Bush, The War on Terror and its coverage in the news. As I have previously mentioned I am a huge Michael Moore fan so once I heard about this documentary I was immediately excited to see it.  To begin with once I seen the released cover art for this documentary I knew it was going to be similar to his other documentaries. Michael Moore seems to just entertain the audience a lot through this documentaries. Although when he mentions a touching subject, he will tread lightly on what he says and does but He usually will then pick up the mood after he has got his point across. In my opinion, I did prefer Bowling for Columbine to this although I find them both genius in terms of story and the way he approaches people involved in his documentaries. The negatives may be again that you may lose track of what is going on throughout the documentary although, I would recommend this film also to anyone and I would also recommend any other Michael Moore documentaries such as Sicko because I find his work utterly genius and when it comes to creating my own documentary and I definitely look back on his work for tips. 

 

touching-the-voidDocumentary making has gone through many changes throughout the years in regards to how the story is told. Many aspects have influenced these changes, including advances in the development of technology and the expectations of the public. I will be looking at six documentaries, ranging over 90 years, from 1922 – 2012, which show how documentary making has developed.

Nanook of the North (1922)

In 1922, director Robert Flaherty released “Nanook of the North”. With the first film camera only being made available just 20 odd years prior, documentary making was still in its early stages. “Nanook of the North” is one of the first documentaries of its kind and gave Flaherty the title of “the father of documentary”.

Having looked at the first 10 minutes of this documentary, there is a clear comparison between Flaherty’s 1922 film and documentaries that we would be used to seeing in present day, i.e. Daniel Gordon’s 2012 production “The Race that Shocked the World”. In the 1920’s, Flaherty had no option but to produce a silent film. Audio syncing to video had not yet been introduced; therefore Flaherty relied heavily on title cards to tell the story. Unlike “The Race that Shocked the World”, Flaherty was restricted and unable to overlay the footage he had taken with the story being told (title cards). Therefore, the introduction of audio syncing in 1927 meant documentary makers were able to change how they shot and edited their films, subsequently changing the style of documentaries.

Another factor Flaherty had to deal with technologically was the size of the camera. As he was filming in the arctic, he had a very small crew. This meant that the camera shots were quite simple, static shots. As the camera would have been quite large and potentially heavy, this would have proven to be challenging for Flaherty carry around for a year. Flaherty would most likely have shot on 35mm film, as 16mm was not yet available. Unlike today, Flaherty would not have been able to back up any footage, so if it was destroyed, his time was wasted. He found this out the hard way as he had gone to the arctic filming before in 1914. His footage “accidentally” caught fire when he was struggling to edit it together. In a way, this was a good thing for Flaherty as it gave him a way to go back to film, but this time with the experience on how to shoot and edit it. He raised the money himself to return to the arctic, but this time came back with a documentary like no-one had seen before.

When the film was being shown in the cinema, it is possible that music was played alongside the picture to create an atmosphere and to put emphasis on the mood of the film.

As for the style of “Nanook of the North”, Flaherty made the documentary mainly observational, but also with a mixture of interactive and performative style too. He followed the life of Nanook and his family for a year, filming their way of life. This shows a “fly on the wall” observational style used, although some critics may argue against that it is a “docudrama” as some shots were set up for the camera.

In terms of documentary making, this could ask the question of what is a documentary. Is it unethical to set up shots for a “documentary”? In my opinion, it is okay for “Nanook of the North”. Flaherty had spent a year with these Inuits; therefore, I believe any depiction he set up of them was an accurate representation of their way of life. Flaherty was just making sure he had captured this on camera so he would be able to show American audiences what he say when he came home.

One of the biggest ethical issues raised with “Nanook of the North”, other than the set ups, was the fact that the Inuit known as Nanook was actually called Allakariallak. He also cast Inuits to play the family.

“ “Nanook” was in fact named Allakariallak, while the “wife” shown in the film was not really his wife. According to Charles Nayoumealuk, who was interviewed in Nanook Revisited (1988), “the two women in Nanook – Nyla (Alice [?] Nuvalinga) and Cunayoo (whose real name we do not know) were not Allakariallak’s wives, but were in fact common-law wives of Flaherty.” ”

(http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Nanook_of_the_North.html)

While he may still be showing an accurate representation of an Inuits way of life, to me, Flaherty is trying to persuade his audience that these Inuits are a real family. By using “actors” so to speak, Flaherty is breaking the trust and truth between his audience and what they expect a documentary to be.

Historically, “Nanook of the North” was able to show American audiences how the Inuits lived. This was a great cultural difference from what the American audience were used to seeing, and as travelling to foreign countries was not often done by the everyday citizen in the 1920’s, the documentary gave them an insight into a whole different culture and is a rare example of the way of life of a 1920’s Inuit.

Triumph of the Will (1935)

“Triumph of the Will” was directed by Leni Riefenstahl is 1935. Riefenstahl was commissioned by Hitler to create a film showing the rally of the Reich Party Congress. Unlike “Nanook of the North”, Riefenstahl covered the week long rally using a massive crew of 120 technicians and 30 cameras being used. As the documentary was commissioned by Hitler, she had the budget and opportunity to get complete coverage of the event and good quality footage. With the introduction of audio syncing on film, she was able to record speeches, crowds cheering, etc, which was relatively new to documentary making, but make a huge impact in the overall documentary. As it was still quite new, the recording of audio was not utilized to its full capabilities. For example, “Hearts and Minds” made great use of audio recording to tell the story of the Vietnam war, but Riefenstahl decided not to do this and kept with a more observational style in “Triumph of the Will”. This style lets the viewer decide their opinion of the rally for themselves.

Riefenstahl decided to use title cards at the start of the film to emphasise what a great man Hitler was said to be getting Germany out of its recession. An example of a title card at the start says, “sixteen years after the start of the German suffering”. In my opinion, Hitler wanted this made to convince the public to trust and follow him. In fact, in the 1930’s, the film industry in Germany boomed and many films were made to distract people from the war.

“Triumph of the Will” was thought of as being Nazi propaganda when the war finished and Riefenstahl was put in prison for making this documentary. She was later released as the documentary was seen as being too artistic for propaganda.

“Riefenstahl was imprisoned by the Allies after the war, and then released, partly because no one could figure out if a film could be an instrument of war.”

(http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst/webpages4/filmnotes/fns07n6.html)

This makes me ask the ethical question of what would happen if a documentary like this was made today. Has documentary making changed with freedom of speech or could a filmmaker still end up in jail for a documentary on the on goings of a modern day terrorist group, for example?

Indeed, legal cases have been made regarding defamation of a person in a documentary. A good example of this is the Peter Davis documentary “Hearts and Minds”. One of the interviewee’s, Walt Rostow, was able to stop distribution for a while as during the interview he answers quite angrily. He tells says “you can throw away the tape”, but the director keeps it in the documentary. Although Rostow did not have a case against Davis as he was not misrepresented, this raises the ethical issue showing the interviewee in a light he did not wish to be seen in.

Personally, I think Riefenstahl did not set out to make a propaganda film and therefore it was unfair to imprison her for her work. She took an accurate and journalistic approach to the film and created a documentary true to how the crowds were feeling at that time.

Hearts and Minds (1974)

In 1974, director Peter Davis made a documentary about the Vietnamese war called “Hearts and Minds”. To me, the purpose of the documentary was to ask the question, why did the war go on for so long? What started the war and why did the Americans intervene? The documentary touches on the theme of racism. A review on IMDB said the documentary:

“evolves into a historical document about the violent social rupture that happened between the fifties and the sixties.”

(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071604/reviews?ref_=tt_urv)

“Hearts and Minds” relies on archive footage and interviews to tell the story. He uses titles and music together to give the viewer a feel of the location.

Unlike “The Thin Blue Line”, Davis’ documentary never overlays footage over an interview. The archive footage is used to tell the story as much as the interviews and Davis was going against the grain of documentaries being produced in the 1970’s. In that time, documentaries were expected to have a narrator tell the story. In a YouTube clip, Davis says that if he tried to make “Hearts and Minds” through a television production, his documentary would not have been made the way he wanted:

“commercial television always demands a correspondent, a reporter on air, telling you what to think”

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeuR5Mmdkhs)

Davis obviously wanted to leave it up to the viewer to decide what to think. By doing this, his documentary is a mixture between expository and reflective. He doesn’t hold back on his questions and leaves in the footage of Walt Rostow reacting badly to his question.

By leaving that in, Davis faced issues with distribution, as mentioned earlier. This could also raise ethical issues for the director.

During the time the documentary was made, technology advancements made interviews a lot easier to conduct. Radio microphones had only been made available a few years earlier and this gave Davis the freedom to film his interviews anywhere. As he was trying to focus on the story and what the interviewee was saying, Davis shots his interviews in a room with no background to suggest the Vietnamese war.

I think, historically, “Hearts and Minds” gives the viewer an accurate representation of the war, especially with the archive footage use. It shows the viewer the real footage and leaves it to them to decide their opinion. It was one of the few documentaries made in the 70’s to steer away from the conventional narrative type documentaries. It uprooted beliefs the American government fed its people during the war, many of which turned out to be false or misleading. In my opinion, Davis made a documentary based solely on actuality, which let the viewer decide what they thought.

The Thin Blue Line (1988)

The production of Errol Morris’ “The Thin Blue Line” had an extraordinary outcome. The documentary started when Morris decided to conduct interviews with some prison inmates. One story fascinated him and he decided to start his own investigation into it, interviewing the people involved. He investigated for 2 years and through his own investigations and interviews, he was able to get enough evidence together to prove the innocence of Randall Adams, who had been convicted of murder. In “The Making of The Thin Blue Line”, Morris says,

“truth, to the extent that we can ever grad a hold of it, is a product of a lot of hard work and investigation”

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xa2CiiPJt8)

The making of the documentary got his investigation into the public eye and made sure it was not overlooked, but this was not the main purpose of his documentary. “The Thin Blue Line” was a documentary Morris had not set out the produce initially. He was able to use his interviews conducted during his investigation with re-enactment footage to create a visual masterpiece which accurately represented the story. While shooting “The Thin Blue Line”, Morris made it his job to find out who shot the police officer.

The documentary is a combination of performative, interactive and expository styles of documentary making, by focusing mainly on what the interviewees have to say and backing this up with recreation footage.

Morris produced a documentary with great production value, similar to that of a film. Because of this, “The Thin Blue Line” became quite popular and was interesting to watch. In the 1980’s, the public associated documentaries with visual style. For example, documentaries were expected to be shot in black and white or to use handheld camera shots. This definitely meant no re-enactments or slow motion shots. By changing the visual style, Morris was;

“provoking debate on the reliability of documentary”

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=topEFBr3HFY)

With the cinematic re-enactments, Morris was able to creatively imply the faults in the investigation by the police. An example of this was that the license plate on the car changed throughout the documentary.

Some of Morris’ interviews were shot in a cell and had no titles to describe who the interviewee was. This forced the viewer to pay attention to the story to know who it is.

In my opinion “Hearts and Minds” was edited more like a film than a documentary, which gave a completely new look on how to produce documentaries in the future. This inspired a new way of documentary making using re-enactments. An example of this is the 2003 documentary “Touching the Void”.

Touching the Void (2003)

In 2003, director Kevin Macdonald decided to recreate the story of two climbers in “Touching the Void”. The story is told by the interviewees (the 3 main people involved) and told through re-enactment footage. He also uses titles and music to explain and emphasise the story.

In this case, the style of the documentary is performative, interactive and reflective.

Like “The Thin Blue Line”, Macdonalds’ documentary was shot very cinematically and he used editing to show the effects of how the person was feeling. For example, overlaying the same shot to give a crazy feel to the shot.

In 1994, small DV cameras were introduced into the market and took over from celluloid film cameras. These cameras were small and the introduction to digital video made editing a lot easier. With Final Cut Pro coming out in 1999, documentary making became easier and cheaper to do.

Macdonald most likely used these digital video cameras to film “Touching the Void”. As he shot on location in Peru with a very small amount of crew, he most likely used a small and lightweight camera. Due to location and crew size, Macdonald may have filmed in similar conditions to those Flaherty had to put up with while filming “Nanook of the North” in 1922.

When filming “Touching the Void”, Macdonald first interviewed the 3 main climbers involved. When filming on location in Peru, Macdonald brought the two main people the documentary was about (Simon and Joe) to Peru and used them to film the wide shots of the re-enactment. By doing this, Macdonald was faced with the ethical issue of making the climbers re-live their time in Peru after the trauma that occurred last time. By getting them to tell the story on camera, the interviewees had to re-live the memories from their experience in the 1980’s.

Tensions arose during filming in regards to the safety of the crew. One of the climbers, Simon Yates, thought Macdonald was so focused on his film that he did not care about the welfare of the crew.

“The parallel seemed more acute when Yates acused me of letting our Peruvian cook almost freeeze to death one night on the glacier. I told him it wasn’t my fault. He insisted. He felt that, taken together with my allowing the climbers on to the face of Siula Grande, I was practically a homicidal maniac, willing to endanger anyone in order to get the film I wanted.

The atmosphere became so poisonous and paranoid and mixed up that towards the end neither Simpson nor Yates was really talking to me. They were caught up with their own private demons – which it seemed I was responsible for unleashing.”

(http://www.theguardian.com/film/2003/nov/21/sportandleisure)

“Touching the Void” told a brilliant story of fighting against the odds, but through making this, Macdonald burnt his bridges with Yates, who has not spoken to him since filming.

The Race that Shocked the World (2012)

In 2012, Daniel Gordon directed “The Race that Shocked the World”. This expository and interactive documentary uses interviews and archive material to tell the story about the Ben Johnson illegal substance abuse in the 1988 Olympic Games.

Like so many of the modern day documentaries, including “Touching the Void”, Gordon’s documentary is very visual and cinematic. While a lot of the content is archive footage, the interviews and opening shots have a very high production value, typical of a BBC production. The use of archive footage is similar to that of “Hearts and Minds”, but I think Gordon’s production was shot a more cinematically. This may have been a repercussion from Morris’ documentary “The Thin Blue Line”, which had a massive influence on the visual style used in documentary making.

With modern technology, cameras are now very cheap to buy or rent. They are also lightweight and easy to move around. Therefore interviews have multiple camera angles and are visually appealing, although Gordon had to be careful not to cut too much between angles as to not distract the viewer. The background of the interviewees is generally quite plain to focus the attention on what is being said.

Like most other documentaries, Gordon uses titles to introduce the interviewee or to tell the viewer the location.

I think Gordon made this documentary to show the truth about what went on in these Olympic Games, to let the runners tell their side of the story and asking the question, is it only wrong if you get caught?

“As Gordon points out, Canada instigated an official inquiry in a spirit of national soul-searching that established Johnson’s guilt and stigmatised many others. No other country has dared open their own can of worms with any similar tribunal; was it always just a question of Thou Shalt Not Get Caught?”

(http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/sep/19/979-review)

Ethically, Gordon had to make sure he did not misrepresent an interviewee. He would have had to make sure his edit was an accurate representation of events.

Touching on a subject of outing the Olympic drug users, Gordon had to be careful the interviewees knew that the documentary would show the world exactly what they did.

Conclusion

Even throughout the past 100 years of documentary making, the style and ways of filming and editing a documentary have changed, but one thing remains the same; to make a documentary, you must capture reality. While some documentaries push on the ethical border of documentary making, they are all about telling the story truthfully, by whichever means possible.

Having looked at many different styles used in these documentaries, I think my own personal documentary production will follow a similar style to “Triumph of the Will”, with an observational “fly on the wall” approach, but with also a mixture of interviews and possibly archive footage, an interactive style, a bit like “The Race that Shocked the World”.

Bibliography

Nanook of the North

Uden Media. 2013. Uden Media. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.uden-media.com/mobile/free_advice_documentary_timeline.html. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

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Nanook of the North (1922) | ShotOnWhat? Technical Specifications . 2013. Nanook of the North (1922) | ShotOnWhat? Technical Specifications . [ONLINE] Available at: http://shotonwhat.com/nanook-of-the-north-1922.html. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

Looked at on 04/11/13

Nanook of the North. 2013. Nanook of the North. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/296740%7C0/Nanook-of-the-North.html. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

Looked at on 04/11/13

Nanook of the North. 2013. Nanook of the North. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Nanook_of_the_North.html. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

Looked at on 04/11/13

Triumph of the Will

The History Place – Triumph of Hitler: Triumph of the Will. 2013. The History Place – Triumph of Hitler: Triumph of the Will. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/triumph/tr-will.htm. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

Looked at on 23/10/13

Film Notes -Triumph of the Will. 2013. Film Notes -Triumph of the Will. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst/webpages4/filmnotes/fns07n6.html. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

Looked at on 23/10/13

Hearts and Minds

Hearts and Minds: Information from Answers.com. 2013. Hearts and Minds: Information from Answers.com. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.answers.com/topic/hearts-and-minds. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

Looked at on 23/10/13

Peter Davis on Hearts and Minds – YouTube. 2013. Peter Davis on Hearts and Minds – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeuR5Mmdkhs. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

Looked at on 03/11/13

Hearts and Minds Reviews & Ratings – IMDb. 2013. Hearts and Minds Reviews & Ratings – IMDb. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071604/reviews?ref_=tt_urv. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

Looked at on 04/11/13

The Thin Blue Line

Making of The Thin Blue Line 1/2 – YouTube. 2013. Making of The Thin Blue Line 1/2 – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xa2CiiPJt8. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

Looked at on 04/11/13

Making of The Thin Blue Line 2/2 – YouTube. 2013. Making of The Thin Blue Line 2/2 – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=topEFBr3HFY. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

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Touching the Void

Kevin Macdonald on filming Touching the Void | Film | The Guardian . 2013. Kevin Macdonald on filming Touching the Void | Film | The Guardian . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2003/nov/21/sportandleisure. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

Looked at on 03/11/13

Touching the Void: Interview With Kevin MacDonald | Movie Mail UK. 2013. Touching the Void: Interview With Kevin MacDonald | Movie Mail UK. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.moviemail.com/scripts/article.pl?articleID=88. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

Looked at on 23/10/13

Touching the Void (2003) – IMDb. 2013. Touching the Void (2003) – IMDb. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0379557/. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

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The Race that Shocked the World

9.79* – review | Film | The Guardian . 2013. 9.79* – review | Film | The Guardian . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/sep/19/979-review. [Accessed 05 November 2013].

Looked at on 04/11/13

“The pleasure and appeal of documentary film lies in its ability to make us see timely issues in need of attention, literally. We see views of the world, and what they put before us are social issues and cultural values, current problems and possible solutions, actual situations and specific ways of representing them. The linkage between documentary and the historical world is the most distinctive feature of this tradition.”

Preface (Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary By Bill Nichols 1991)

Nanook“Nanook of the North” regarded as the first feature length documentary was released in 1922 by Robert J Flaherty. The idea for this film came from his experiences while exploring the Arctic region of NE Canada for a mining company. During these expeditions he befriended the native Inuit population and was encouraged by his boss Sir William Mackenzie to capture life in the Ungava province with a motion picture camera. Having no previous understanding of the film process Flaherty, through trial and error, realised that his film would be more effectual when based around a central character. With co-operation from his native friend, “Nanook-The Bear”, enough footage was finally gathered to portray how he, his family and tribe survived in the harsh Arctic conditions.

The elements of humour, suspense and danger in the events depicted in this educational documentary help carry the viewer’s interest through from start to finish. Watching this silent film in 1922 must have been an amazing experience not only on a technical level but also as the subject matter and this natural environment would never have been seen by most people.

As a novice Flaherty pieces this story together successfully. The film begins with a preface presented on title cards and is followed with establishing shots introducing the viewer to the story’s location. We are then presented, with humour, to the main character and his family. With a variety of static camera shots we are able to follow the action in an observational “fly on the wall” style.

Music in the silent film era played a more prominent role in supporting the storyline and footage and is skilfully employed in Flaherty’s production. In one scene Nanook and two others, in need of sustenance, sneak up on a beached walrus. Suspenseful music accompanies their actions and bursts into a dramatic climax as our hunters pounce and struggle to keep a hold of their catch. In other humourous scenes a light, jaunty score complements the action.

Throughout the film some descriptive narrative appears on title cards adding information to this visual story telling. Scenes are obviously choreographed and staged to accommodate the restricted camera movement for example panning sequences and a section of the igloo is also cut away to achieve internal shots. Under the difficult Arctic conditions the seemingly, effortless manner of our subjects help Robert J. Flaherty represent their customs and actions in a natural and truthful way.

Dziga Vertov“Man with a Movie Camera” directed by Dziga Vertov and released in 1929 is considered to be one of the most innovative and influential films of the silent era. Born Denis Arkadievitch Kaufman he changed his name to Dziga Vertov which in Ukrainian loosely translates as “spinning top”. As an established Russian film director and theorist he sought to promote the art of documentary film making, motivated by the belief of capturing “film truth”. He also encouraged the use of innovative techniques as an efficient means of visual story telling. The film’s introductory titles inform the viewer that it is an experiment in cinematic communication of real events. His aim is to create a truly international language of cinema based on its absolute separation from the language of theatre and literature.

Filmed in Ukraine this depiction of urban life begins with musically unaccompanied footage of an empty theatre as it prepares to show Vertov’s film. The projectionist lines up the film reel, the audience takes their seats, the lights dim and the silent suspense builds as a long sequence of shots relay the anticipation of the theatre orchestra. Poised and ready their signal arrives as the projector springs to life and so the accompaniment begins.

The film subject portrays a day in the life of citizens in their urban environment. A succession of images lasting over five minutes illustrates the slow awakening of a city and its characters. The film’s pace ebbs and flows as we are shown, in an amusing manner, the people’s interaction with technology in the workplace and recreational environments. The visual demonstration of their cultural and physical activities have been interspersed with footage of how technically some difficult shots were achieved by him and his brother, Mikhail Kaufman, the chief camera operator. His wife Yelizaveta Svilova had also a major part to play as editor. At stages throughout the film we see her pioneering work as she interacts with the images in the cutting room.

Although originally released with orchestral instructions written by Vertov, It has been re-scored many times over the years. In this version, released in 2003,”The Cinematic Orchestra” (an electronic/jazz outfit) created a well received complimentary soundtrack. In the 2012 “Sight and Sound” poll the film itself was voted by critics as the 8th best film ever made.

Their innovative use of a wide variety of camera techniques and ground breaking editing styles still influence cinematographers over 80 years later. These methods some of which included split screens, multiple exposures, Dutch angles, freeze frame, time lapse, fast and slow motion, stop motion, montage collision editing and many others along with choice of real life scenarios and subjects help make this observational documentary an entertaining and educational piece of work.

Hearts and minds“Hearts and Minds” directed by Peter Davis and released 1974. This political, interview based documentary takes its name from a term used by the U.S. during the Vietnam war, which refers to their idea of winning the support of the Vietnamese population. The film through its interviews, newsreel footage and Davis’s newly filmed material reveals opinions and attitudes from both sides of the conflict. It documents the tragic human cost that the ignorance of propaganda generates.

Released one year before the end of the war, at a time when American support for this futile anti-communist conflict had waned, it received major critical interest both positive and negative which reflected the division of opinion in the U.S. over their foreign strategy. The film premiered in the 1974 Cannes Film Festival and in 1975 won the Academy Award for best documentary.

The opening scenes depict the tranquillity of life in a village North West of Saigon. This is quickly replaced with an interview from a post WWII presidential aide in which he reflects on the change of America’s view on the rest of the world. They not only felt a sense of responsibility but also a sense of power that they could control the future of the world. This is followed with a newsreel footage collection of presidential speeches from post WWII up until the Vietnam war in which they disclose their concerns about the growing communist influence in this region.

Throughout the rest of the film the viewer is subjected to varying accounts and views from participants and casualties of the conflict. Horrific incidents are recounted by Vietnamese victims together with relative archival footage. We see ex U.S. combatants in close ups or medium shot camera angles relating their experiences but towards the end of the documentary, as their opinions seem to alter, the director introduces a reveal as we now see them in a wider shot, wheelchair bound or sporting prosthetic limbs. In a close up a former pilot contemplates the repercussions of his actions. During this encounter the camera holds on a long dramatic pause as he struggles to control his emotions. In another scene Daniel Ellsberg (a former aide to the Defence Department) discusses the U.S. involvement in the war and comes to this conclusion that, “We weren’t on the wrong side. We were the wrong side”.

Without narration the viewer is left to absorb the director’s compilation of interviews and sometimes graphic footage. This style of documentary could be all the more influential as the viewer may feel they have formed their own opinion. The delivery of this collection of experiences and attitudes appear structureless but the intensity and the human interest of this subject make this documentary a compelling experience.

Baraka“Baraka” (Arabic and Hebrew for blessing) released in 1992, directed, photographed and edited by Ron Fricke, produced by Mark Magidson. This observational style documentary is an engaging piece of visual story telling. Without narrative the viewer is carried along in what feels like the current of a river as it runs its natural course, in some places fast and turbulent in others gradual and calm.

The director and producer with a crew of three took 14 months to shoot the film on location. They traversed six continents, visiting 24 countries. Fricke was quoted as saying that, “Baraka did not have a scripted kind of approach. You simply looked for the essence of things”.

The film opens with some epic establishing shots of a mountain range in Japan. From these scenes depicting the scale of the natural world we observe a snow monkey reflectively enjoying a soak in the hot springs of his natural habitat. We then criss-cross the planet as we witness various ceremonies being held in temples and worshipping places of the major world religions. The film reverts back to images of the wonders of the natural world interspersed with footage of the varied indigenous populations that inhabit it, displaying their customs and dance rituals. Through this sequence the director shows us how rhythmically in tune these people are to the planet.

The pace of the documentary then changes as we witness the effects of how man supplements their existence at the expense of the natural world and the loss of native instinct. We see the destruction of rain forests and images of overpopulated cities that show us how detached we have become from our more natural being. Amongst this a poignant image of a Shinto priest taking slow measured steps along a busy Tokyo street while meditating to the light, intermittent chime of a small bell he rings. This passage of the film ends with footage of war and genocide which we are left to reflect on before heading into the final section which tells us through our meditative religious rituals we can reconnect to our natural environment on a spiritual level.

The atmospheric music by Michael Stearns throughout this documentary effectively enhances the strategically edited images. As the mood and tempo of the visual story varies his thoughtful arrangement is there to strengthen and compliment the ambience.

Considered to be a master of time lapse photography, Ron Fricke uses this method to great effect throughout this production along with other camera techniques such as wide shots, pans and tilts, jib shots, steadicam and tracking shots. He also chose to film in expensive 70mm Todd-AO format, a method that hadn’t been used in twenty years.

Touching the Void“Touching the Void” directed by Kevin McDonald and released in 2003. This interactive documentary is a fact based misadventure with dramatized re-enactments (docudrama). The narrated story is told by the two survivors of this ordeal and a third party whose involvement was minimal. The film is based on a book by the same name by Joe Simpson released in 1988 and is an account of his and his friend Simon Yates’ near fatal attempt to climb the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985.

The film opens with creative close up camera shots of climbing techniques used in icy conditions. This cuts to another close up of our main narrator Joe Simpson with a concise, emotive introduction. The establishing shots that follow consist of some beautiful aerial and ground footage of the mountain range. This helps create a good idea of the scale of this undertaking. The reconstructed scenes are point of view orientated and are also very effective when supporting the narrative descriptions that detail the terrible and dangerous conditions involved. The viewer really gets the feeling of being in the climber’s boots.

The sequences of events that are recounted by our three characters are delivered in a strong suspenseful manner that arrest the attention and help drive the documentary along. Extreme close ups of the interviewees are employed when dealing with the more tense sections of the story.

Alex Heffes composed the dramatic musical accompaniment and is responsible for adding suitable ambience to reflect the changing fortunes of our resolute adventurers, for example when Joe finally reaches the base camp we hear serene, calming music that expresses the feeling of safety and relief.

Some camera effects included focus pulling which helped put the viewer in the character’s point of view, for example poor visibility conditions or a disoriented feeling. For the delirium scenes the snorricam was very useful, extreme close ups and over lapping images also helped manage this surreal sequence. Time lapse footage greatly added to the effect as well.

After the film’s release a debate ensued as to how much re-enactment footage a documentary could have before it lost its authenticity. In this film the sincerity and intensity of the interviews help resolve this question and the reconstructed scenes which are beautifully and skilfully shot are secondary to the actuality of the events.

Exit“Exit through the Gift Shop” A film from Banksy (Bristol, graffiti artist) released in 2010. Produced by Jaimie D’Cruz and edited by Chris King and Tom Fulford. The blurred origins of this interactive/performative documentary seems to stem from a potential project by a then unknown French, LA based shop keeper and amateur film maker Thierry Guetta. He had already stockpiled lots of footage on noted street artists and felt it was essential this collection included Banksy. They finally met and Guetta and his camera were allowed to accompany him on some of his street art ventures. Banksy realised the importance of documenting this art form and they decided a more considered approach to the project would be achieved if he would take over. With a production team assembled, editors then sifted through the mountains of tape, painstakingly piecing the film together. It was nominated for best documentary feature at the Academy Awards 2011.

The Welsh actor Rhys Ifans provides some sparse narration but on the whole this film is guided and driven along with interviews and supporting footage. Stills and archive material are also added to assist the narrative. Thierry Guetta’s hand held camera work adds realism to the look of the documentary particularly when the covert street art operations are being carried out. This modern style compliments the underground, alternative subject matter. Banksy’s disguised voice and darkened hooded interview that appears throughout also adds a touch of mystery and intrigue.

Geoff Barrow is responsible for the music that plays an unassuming supporting role during the film with additional compositions from Roni Size to bolster select scenes. The song “Tonight the Streets Are Ours” by Richard Hawley is used for the opening and closing sequences. This aptly titled tune not only creates an upbeat ambience to whisk the viewer into the world of street art but also leaves them and the subject matter on a high note.

The quirky characters and slight humorous style of the film may lend a little credence to the notion suggested by some critics that aspects of the production are fictional and that Banksy’s motivation for the documentary may be to highlight the contradiction of commercialising street art.

 Summary

Reviewing and researching these documentaries helped achieve a greater understanding of the various styles and formats a particular subject may be represented in like the exciting energy that springs from the pioneering work of Robert J Flaherty and Dziga Vertov. Their work was produced at a time when the film industry was in its infancy and the limits of achievement seemed boundless. It is no wonder that these early documentaries have gone on to inspire later generations of film makers.

In “Hearts and Minds” (the historical/political documentary) released by Peter Davis, almost 50 years later, we see the development of visual story telling with the inclusion of skilfully edited interviews and archive material to support the serious nature of the film. This strong humanist theme continues with Ron Fricke’s “Baraka” released in1992. Comparisons can be drawn with the silent era format represented here by Flaherty and Vertov as no narrative guides the viewer, only pure emotive, visual story telling with the accompaniment of a strong musical score.

The recent documentaries reviewed (“Touching the Void” and “Exit through the Gift Shop”) have been produced in a more competitive and more critical environment. The struggle for originality is something that the pioneers would not have had great issue with in the early years and although the technical advancements that have been made throughout the years have greatly enhanced the process of film making the fundamental essence of the documentary remains the same and that is truth.

“Utilizing the capacities of sound recording and cinematography to reproduce the physical appearance of things, documentary film contributes to the formation of popular memory. It proposes perspectives on the interpretations of historic issues, processes and events.”

Preface (Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary By Bill Nichols 1991)

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Exit through the Gift Shop”

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Summary

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