DOCUMENTARY Section B – Spectatorship topic Introduction to Documentary Film!
Spectatorship and Documentary Your answer should be based on a minimum of two films.
Either 11. Compare different documentary techniques employed to present the 'real', discussing their impact on the spectator. Refer to at least two documentaries you have studied.
12. Do you agree that as spectators we are more likely to accept at face value what we see and hear in documentary films?
Understand the relationship between documentary and spectator
Identify different types of documentary
UNDERSTAND THAT DOCUMENTARY manipulates us just as fiction film does!
To what extent are ‘real’ events presented
How might this influence the spectator’s view of these events
Is there a relationship in the way that events are presented that ties in with a fiction film.
What do we already know about documentary? What is a documentary? How can we tell it is a documentary? Documentary vs fiction film
Warren Buckland – Film lecturer
Noted what the main conventions of documentary film are:
Events were to be unstaged;
They were non-fiction films;
The filmmaker observes and constructs a record of real events.
Documentary Form and Style (conventions) Documentary is a way of speaking about the world. It cannot be tied down to specifics of character or storylines/plots in the same way a genre can.
It can, however, be recognised by typical forms and conventions: ‘ The conventions of documentary are just that conventions . Many of these ‘natural’ lighting, indistinct sound, and jerky camera movements- may be motivated by the conditions of recording, but they remain conventions. The ‘documentary look’ needs to be carefully examined so that it’s constructed nature is established’ Goodwin 1986.
What we need to explore in relation to documentary film is what Goodwin is arguing in that quote:
We have to pay attention to the selection and construction in documentary film representation.
For example when we perceive a low level lighting in a film or TV program it is read as ‘natural or bad’ lighting. When it is in a documentary it gives the impression of being more real.
This natural lighting is read in this way, not because it relates to the real world, in any way, but because it differs from the higher lighting levels we have learned from TV drama or Hollywood film.
Summary of the traditional forms and conventions of the Straight ‘Factual’ Documentary… These forms and conventions change- just as those of that classical fiction narrative change.
What are the codes and conventions of a documentary film?
How many types of documentary films can you think of?
Fly On The Wall Filming
Documentary is not scripted as in fiction films. In documentaries the camera records people going about their real lives
In some documentaries the camera is placed with people or in places for a long period of time. The final product is edited to a shorter piece of film. We can see there are TWO aspects of the SELECTION PROCESS.
In the production phase-When to film?
In the postproduction phase-What to edit in or not?
Cont.. ‘ Fly on the wall could be seen as a genre of documentary. However it is broadened to a documentary technique. New techniques allow cameras to be concealed so people are totally unaware they are being filmed. Fly on the Wall documentaries have been described as ‘designed to invade privacy’. Denton 1983.
Use of film originally shot for other purposes
In documentary, film images are selected for their use in illustrating and providing evidence for an argument. These images (usually kept in archives) are known as ‘library films’.
Traditionally the voice of an actor, who plays an invisible controlling role in telling the story rather than participating in it. It usually has the role of uncovering or solving a mystery.
Usually highly edited.
The presentation of interviewees in documentary has it’s own convention such as shelves on a books behind them conveying ‘expert’ knowledge/status.
Use of the ‘talking head’
The shot of someone talking directly into camera is often called ‘talking heads’ in film jargon.
It is associated with authority and the presenting of facts it is used across a variety of factual media texts such as news.
Vox Pop A consultation with a real person in the street.
The term documentary implies that what is presented has a link to the written documents. This use implies that the film is portraying real facts. Documentaries use the written word in many different forms such as subtitles, references to time and place and documents such as newpaper headlines, magazines, and quotations from books etc…
Documentaries now use graphics alongside written text. Computer generated graphics are now common and are used alongside maps, drawings, Still photographs etc.
Visual recordings and disruption
In documentaries the camera is simply there. It does not control and almost seems ‘surprised’ by the action.
Many documentaries emphasise these ideas by using footage, which in a fiction film, could be seen to be accidents, mistakes and poor quality filming.
I.e. if the camera shook and wobbled in a fiction film this would be seen as poor camera work in documentary films it can be seen as a guarantee of the reality of the recording.
The Use of Music
Music is traditionally used to open and close the documentary the type of music chosen is to reflect the content.
Music is also used within documentaries to signal mood and to encourage the audience to take up a particular attitude. It is used as a ‘commentary’ to accompany events.
Sometimes the music is part of the social reality being presented such as the use of popular songs from different times and places are used in historical documentaries.
Is the performance of constructed action and events for the benefit of the camera, to represent ‘real’ events that have happened.
The use of reconstruction is now involved in debate and controversy; it is an old ingredient of documentary.
From the 1930’s to the 1960’s documentary films looked very similar.
Film was an expensive commodity and equipment was bulky so it was a common practice for documentary filmmakers to watch events then get people to repeat them in front of a cameras.
‘ People were rehearsed in their everyday activities so they could perform them convincingly in front of a crowd of technicians with their forbidding mass of equipment, cables and lights’ Vaughan 1974
Simulation has continued as a documentary tradition although it has come under increased criticism, as the possibilities for more direct and naturalistic observations have become increasingly possible.
The term is used to describe recording of actual events as they happen. In true actuality footage, the camera is present at events that would have taken place whether the camera was there or not. Home videos are a form of actuality.
In early cinema any factual film was described as actuality. For example the Lumiere brother’s 1895 short film ‘ Workers leaving the Lumiere Factory’ is often called the first documentary.
In the 1920’s the term ‘Documentary’ took over from ‘Actuality’, which is now used to refer to one ingredient of documentary.
In small groups think of an example of where you have seen one of the following (it can be from TV or film):