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Reflecting reality in film documentaries Essay

The paradox of reality stems from the fact that it is a combination of abstract and concrete concepts. Abstract since different kinds of reality can be subjectively formed and understood. It cannot be quantified from a single perspective alone. In the meantime, reality is concrete since it is something that each and every individual must readily confront. Reality is part of mankind’s constant struggle. The puzzling complexity that embodies the notion of reality is even more felt on how it is depicted, presented or articulated in other forms.

Literature exploits the power of words to explain reality, singers capitalize on music. But the task becomes even harder as for the case of film makers who are expected to utilize both visual and musical elements to represent reality. In film-making, it cannot be denied that the use of different technologies somehow affect how reality is shown. For every filmmaker, there is the challenge to make their works of art convincing—convincing, in the sense that a film seems to devoid of any technological mediation and corporeal interest—and at the same time retaining the subject matter in its pure and organic form.

With this pursuit, the emergence of film documentaries came into life. Kibborn once noted that film documentaries aim to offer a “window of the world (p. 53). ” This would not come as a surprise since films, whether they are created for commercial purposes are indeed reflections of a much wider world view. Some filmmakers have fared well, while some, unfortunately, failed. On the other hand, there are others, who have seen film documentaries as a tool to immortalize not only their works but also their names. The film industry owes it all to the Lumiere Brothers.

This generation would not experience the beauty and artistry of films if not for these two. Since early film tools and equipments are not that sophisticated during that time, silent films tend to dominate the (big screen). However, what is even more amazing in this context is the manner in which the Lumiere Brothers have managed to present reality with pure visual images alone. Films do communicate and try to reach to their respective audiences. But then again, the absence of sounds seems to make the presentation a bit complicated and difficult.

However, if one would stick to the principle in which reality is comprised of events that are experienced in everyday lives, situations that are commonly confronted by ordinary people, it can be fairly said that the Lumiere Brothers stand out. If one has to take a closer look at Arrival of a Train (Nichols 83), such event is commonly encountered. The camera focuses on the train and the people that arrive in the station. A close shot is chosen as if trying to tell every intricate sequence and details of the said event.

Unaware and unscripted, the actors are seen in their most natural ways and manners. Such technique is also used in Nanook of the North by Robert Flaherty. However, Flaherty incorporated some texts. Perhaps it can be argued that the Flaherty wants to make the a more vivid and descriptive storytelling approach. There is the intention to relate to the audience what is actually happening rather than to interpret the stories on their own. There is a scene in the film wherein the boat is being covered with a piece of cloth before going down the river.

In this case, a close shot was again used, in order to show how intricate the processes are. Yet, during the part wherein the actual trek is going on, a long shot was utilized, thus readily evoking a feeling that the group is on their journey. The characters looked small during that shot and the notion of space and distance were further highlighted. From documenting everyday routines to inserting texts in the film, documentaries are also flavored with the directors’ political perspective as for the case of Dziga Vertov.

Hicks even described Vertov as the so-called “genie” of propaganda films primarily because of its strong Marxist beliefs and visions (8). Taylor described that Vertov depicted reality through the montage technique (74). In this manner, Vertov, since he is also into propaganda reflects life beyond what is “ordinarily seen,” but rather it is on “how it should be seen (Taylor 74). ” In the film, Three Songs of Lenin, different scenes are patched together. There is the part wherein a group of marching men were shown and followed by a scene that focuses on three statues.

Another group of marching people is presented but this time, women, with holding high powered guns are also shown, then it goes back to the three statues. Vertov, as a propagandist who wanted to tell the people what life should be seem to purport that equality between men and women must be readily observed. At the same time, the three statues that are constantly shown is reflective of an ideology or school of thought that must be readily followed and practiced. In the meantime, John Grierson is a film critic who is one of those who laid down the foundations of realism theories in films (Aitken 162).

Elis and Mclane noted that Grierson readily influenced many film makers (73). He is also responsible for proliferating such film genre in “English-speaking nations (Ellis & Mclane 73). Grierson firmly believes that in order to depict reality properly, reality should be free from all forms of manipulation—that it should be captured in its raw form rather than mastered in artificial environments (Aitken 167). Works Cited Aitken, Ian. European Film Theory and Cinema: A Critical Introduction. Scotland: Edinburgh Press, 2001

Ellis, Jack and Betsy McLane. A New History of Film Documentary. London: Continuum International Publishing, 2005 Hicks, Jeremy. Dziga Vertov: Defining Documentary Film. London: I. B Tauris Publishers, 2007 Kibborn, Richard. Staging the Real: Factual TV Programming in the Age of Big Brother. Oxford, UK: Manchester University Press, 2003 Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington:Indiana University Press, 2001 Taylor, Richard. Film Propaganda: Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. London: I. B Tauris Publishers, 1998


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