Sunday, May 2, 2010

Imagining Reality (extracts from essays on documentary filmmaking)

I recommend Imagining Reality, a magnificent collection of essays constructing a history of documentary filmmaking, to those interested in documentary films as well as the history of mankind of the 20th century. As far as I can perceive it, the book unveils some extraordinary details of human brutality and the filmmaking that has tried to cope with it. The essays open for discussion on the ambiguity of documentary as a form.
(Imagining Reality edited by Mark Cousins & Kevin Macdonald)

I'll print in here some extracts from various essays that I've found important.

Editing as a Four-Way Conversation
Frederick Wiseman

Now that the shooting of Zoo is over and I stare at the rushes - 100 hours of ilm hanging on the editing room wall, a different series of choices emerges. This great glop of material which represents the externally recorded memory of my experience of making the film of necessity incomplete. The memories no preserved on film float somewhat in my mind as fragments available for recall, unavailable for inclusion but of great importance in the mining and shifting process known as editing. This editorial process which is sometimes deductive, sometimes associational, sometimes non-logical and sometimes a failure, is occasionally boring and often exciting. The crucial element for me is to try to think through my own relationship to the material by whatever combination of means is compatible. This involves a need to conduct a four-way conversation between myself, the sequence being worked on, my memory, and general values and experience.

History is the Theme of All my Films
An interview with Emile de Antonio
Q: How do you perceive your audience? Who are you making film for, and what sort of political impact can your films have?
A: A great American, Walt Whitman, said that to have great poetry, you must have great audience. Since I'm interested in history, I'm obviously interested in what happens to my films over the long haul. Anyone who makes film want them to be seen, and I would do anything except change my films to reach a larger audience. But in America and most western capitalist countries, films - from its earliest, nickelodeon days up to the most sophisticated mind control today through television - has been seen as an opiate, as entertainment. As the old Hollywood saw has it, 'If you have a message, use Western Union.' Well, all my films have messages, but I don't want to send them by Western Union.

Roger & Me
Roger Ebert
(the essay is about Roger and Me, a film by Michael Moor. This extract and therefore part from the film very much reminds me of modern Georgia)
Denied access to Smith (chairman of General Motors), Roger and Me pokes around elsewhere in Flint (birthplace of General Motors). It follows a deputy sheriff on his rounds as he evicts unemployed auto workers. It covers a 'Flint Pride' parade that marches depressingly past the boarded-up store windows of downtown. It listens to enthusiastic spokesmen for Auto World, as indoor amusement part where Flint citizens can visit a replica of their downtown as it used to look before the boards were up. It listens as a civic booster boasts that Flint's new Hyatt Hotel has escalator and 'bit plants' in the lobby - just like the Hyatts in Atlanta and Chicago. The hotel and amusement park are supposed to create a tourism industry for Flint, but the biggest convention booked into the hotel is the state Scrabble tournament, and when Auto World goes out of business, the rueful Chamber od Commerce0type speculates that asking people to come to Flint for Auto World 'is sort of like asking them to come to Alaska for Exxon World'. Many celebrities wander through the film, brought to Flint by big fees to cheer people up. Anita Bryant sings, Pat Boone suggests that the unemployed workers might become Amway distributors, and Ronald Reagan has pizza with the jobless, but forgets to pick up the check.

Jean Rouch
Interviewed by G. Roy-Leven
Q: Let me ask you what you think about Grierson's definition of documentary: 'the creative treatment of actuality'

JR: I think that to make a film is to tell a story. An ethnographic book tells a story; bad ethnographic books, bad theses are accumulations of documents. Good ethnology is a theory and a brilliant exposition of this theory - and that's what a film is. That is, you have something to say. I go in the subway, I look at it and I note that the subway is dirty and that the people are bored - that's not a film. I go on the subway and I say to myself, 'These people are bored, why? What's happening, what are they doing here? Why do they accept it? Why don't they smash the subway? Why do they sit here going ove the same route every day? At that moment you can make a film.

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