Note: Next week we have two films, so be there before 9.30 if possible
Note about extra references necessary for final research essay: They can be from the 'external links' section on blackboard. Also keep in mind the AFI research collection
This week's lecture taken by Liam Ward
Touching the Void relies very heavily on reenactments, however these are approached very differently than other films we have seen in the course. For example, in Forbidden Lie$, reenactments are done to be reflexive, but in this movie they are used to claim 'a higher degree of truthfulness'.
When looking at animated documentaries, the point was made that these types of films challenged the notion of what documentary really is. This was related to the question of indexicality - that documentary is concerned with the things that happen in front of the camera.
There is a notion that documentary cannot contain scenes that were scripted, constructed, planned out by the filmmakers. In this movie, artifice is used to make it more real, and more truthful.
These constructed shots were used to film things that happened without a camera present (ie. on the expedition). It also is used to show things that COULD NOT have been filmed with a camera anyway, even if one was present (for example, his state of mind shown in the 'Boney M' sequence) - images, snippets from inside joe's head (such as animal bones/carcass)
Also, the music fades in and out, among all the other noise, but then becomes dominating.
This helps to recreate an experiential type of truth, rather than just the 'bare facts'.
These types of films are often referred to as docu-drama and have become more popular in the past few decades.
Like their animated counterparts, these films reveal something right from the heart of documentary - that 'representing the truth' shouldn't come from any formal or stylistic qualities. In doing this, they suggest a deeper dynamic - documentaries gain their status as 'truthful' through a relationship they create and maintain with the viewer.
Nichols' modes reduces documentary to formal characteristics. This prompted Errol Morris to make his remark that truth should not be defined by style, and the stylistic element can be 'divorced' from the truth to create completely fictional works (for example Spinal Tap, Angry Boys, etc). There are many films that are mockumentaries, however, that aren't 'funny', such as 'Man Bites Dog'. This film has all the elements of the Interactive Mode, but audiences would easily define it as fiction as soon as they see it.
In 'Death of a President', the audience would clearly know that George Bush hasn't been assassinated, however everything else about it smacks of authenticity.
A history textbook is taken as the 'gospel truth' when it is actually often a closed, biased view of history.
So what is true and what isn't?
Another problem is the critique of realism - some people believe that there is no singular 'real world' and that it cannot be captured, recorded or expressed by documentaries.
The main concern is that documentaries don't need to have an inherent sort of truthfulness or a privileged view of reality, but just need to ASK to be viewed as a representation of the REAL world as opposed to the FICTIONAL world - it is an argument about the real world.
If you take the position that documentaries are about argument, then the logical next step is that they need to present some sort of evidence for their argument. This is why what the camera records is so important. However, you can also have an indexical soundtrack, a voiceover, as seen in Waltz with Bashir where the interviews are played along with an animated film.
In Touching the Void, the talking heads and interviews give the film its authenticity, which is HEIGHTENED AND NOT UNDERMINED by the reenactments. The classic techniques used by fictional films in order to draw an audience in are used in this documentary, with the intent to be 'truthful'.
"Documentaries often invite us to take as true what subjects recount to us" in voiceover or testimony.
This doesn't help us understand why the audience would accept the testimony of these people, but not the serial killer in 'Man Bites Dog'.
There is something more.
To understand a film like 'Man Bites Dog', we have to see it as more than a collection of formal elements- we have to take it as a whole and evaluate WHAT the film is asking of the viewer.
There is something beyond formal characteristics that position documentaries as truthful.
"Visible Evidence" is a conference about documentary which takes place annually.
Certain questions come up, which include the concept of creating historical documentaries.
Is pre-history profilmic?
If documentary is about recording what is in front of the camera and reporting life, how can documentary deal with the concept of death?
The void in 'Touching the Void' is not what Joe falls into - it is the consequences, situation and emotion that SImon and Joe face. The concept of death, isolation, despair. You can't just point a camera and film guilt - it has to be recreated and displayed through some kind of artifice.
When you see a photo of a fish, you don't say "it's a photo of a fish", but say "it's a fish." It has an indexical quality, that seems to captivate the heart and soul of the fish. Documentary is often seen in the same way, with an unspoken contract between the film and the audience that the audience will attempt to see the film as truthful.
Social context is also very important, as a young Nazi in the 1930's would see Triumph of the Will in a very different manner than we would in Melbourne today. This is because documentaries create a relationship between the film and the audience.
Documentaries not only present arguments, but ask the viewers if they can believe the argument. "Can you dig it?"
The way a film tries to construct meaning will directly affect how the film is received.
How does an audience come to the conclusion that one film is a documentary and another is not?
The labelling argument is that something can be a documentary if you put that label on it, and if you tell the audience that it is so.
This may have an effect on the viewer, but it underestimates the judgement of the viewer.
The two extreme views are either that 'anything is a documentary if you put the label on it' to 'it's only a documentary if it's what was recorded in front of the camera, without a script, true to life'. These are starting points for our understanding about documentary but we need to think more about these concepts.
Schlinder's List, which is a fiction film only 'based' on a true story, arguably tells us more truth than Triumph of the Will which labels itself as a documentary.
Ask yourself why viewers would be willing to consent to the concepts the film purports to present as truthful.
Human beings are by and large active thinkers.
The issue of veracity is not seen in absolutes, and too much emphasis on the importance of the indexical image and unscripted scenes underestimates the judgement of the viewers.
Kevin Macdonald, who directed this movie, comes from an Oscar-winning documentary background, and had written a book about documentary, so clearly knew what he was doing.
"There's much more to truth than what you see happening in front of you at the moment...there are many many ways to commit the truth because there are many many ways of defining what's true."