Boys Alone Essay
A documentary focuses on and questions actual people and events, often in a social context, thus placing the audience in a position to form an opinion about whom or what we are seeing. They are entertaining, persuading and provoking us and mainly focus on one topic. There are many types of documentaries, they include reportage: ‘The girl who’s skin fell off. ‘ Reality: ‘Big brother. ‘ Institutional: ‘Jamie’s school dinners’ Docudramas: ‘Supernanny’ Docusoaps: ‘simple life’ and Nature: ‘Big cat week’
Every documentary has the same codes and conventions, they are all factual, real life, informative, prove a point, include contextual information and they all have a narrator or a presenter. Documentaries have changed over time, they date back to the early newsreels and early films as many of the first films were short factual pieces about every day life. With the outbreak of the 1st world war documentaries took a different turn by being used as propaganda. Creative documentaries began to develop after the war, dramatic content was pulled from facts and information.
These types of documentaries are similar to the documentaries that we know and watch today. Boys alone is a docudrama documentary, it combines elements of documentary and drama, to some extent showing real events. It is a documentary of an English social experiment in which 10 eleven-year old boys are invited to be “home alone” without adult supervision for a week in a suburban house. The film tests the common belief that a pack of boys left together in a house for a long period of time, will self-destruct, similar to Lord of the Flies.
The documentary opens with the camera showing the house where the boys will be staying, it used techniques that show the calmness and tidiness of the house before the boys arrive, such as a low angle show to make the house look big, and a slow panning shot to sow the calmness. The narrator introduces us to the program and what it is about, he sets up the story. For example, he says ‘The camera men will only step in cases of health and safety’ and that the boys have all had an intense first aid and cooking course and that they can ring a councillor that they have met prior to the show at anytime. This is contextual information.
The narrator also begins to introduce us to some of the characters so we can begin to follow them on their journey. This makes us want to watch on, the narrator says that George was first to take a picture and that Daniel got the biggest water pistol. This makes us want to see why they did, and what there characters are like. The camera angles are very effective in the opening scene, when the boys enter the house there is a long shot and looking down. The boys are framed by the door, this in a way shows that they are small but it shows there importance. This makes us want to watch and see all of there personalities.
The camera is hand held and begins to follow some of the boys’ paths of destruction around the house. There is a very effective camera angle/shot that is used when sim is at the table eating dinner alone. The camera is at the end of the long table making it look longer and emphasising the fact that sim is on his own. The camera also does 3 straight cuts of Sim on his own, each time there is a time at the bottom of scene, this makes us feel like sim is always on his own. This makes us feel sorry for him and want to watch on. Damilola is a reportage documentary; it shows us what happens in society. We talk to those involved and the witnesses.
They show the story, instead of us telling the story like in the news. The documentary tells us the story and shows us what happened to Damilola Taylor, the 10 year old Nigerian born boy, who was brutally murdered in cold blood not long before he came to England. This documentary is aimed at everyone who has heard of the murder or people who want to find out what happened, and why no one had been charged. The documentary opens with Damilola’s parents, teachers and friends talking about him and giving there opinions. You are given an introduction to his personality, you see home video clips of him looking happy and having fun.
They say that he is a ‘Jumpy, jumpy boy’ and that ‘he wanted to learn at school’ The use of handheld cameras are effective, they are home videos of him, dancing and playing with friends to reinforce the fact that he is a young, happy and innocent boy. The opening scene draws us to it and makes us feel sorry for him, we want to find out why he died, and why there was no justice. The camera angles such as a mid shot and panning shot of the stairwell where Damilola was killed and his parents were included to make us feel empathy and attract audience attention.
The narrator, a Caucasian male in his 30s, gives the audience a human figure to relate to. He gives us lots of information about Damilola being a lovely boy and then bluntly tells us that he was killed and there was no justice. This attracts us to the documentary and makes us want to watch on. The documentary maker paints a picture of Damilola’s life, by always commenting on how he was such a nice boy ‘quick to make friends’, his dad was said to be a respected middleclass man who works for the government in Nigeria.
Damilola’s farther said that Damilola dreamed of coming to England and university, and that his farther didn’t want him to go. This makes us attracted and want to watch on as it makes us want to learn about what his life might have been like or why he was killed. The music is haunting and eerie, and the editing includes cuts between Damilola happy in Nigeria and the murder scene in Peckham, these are two codes and conventions of a documentary that attract the audience attention. The opening scenes of the two documentaries are different, but alike in a few ways.
They both have some kind of a narrator. Damilola has a narrator, but boys alone has narration, where you do not see the person narration, you do not have a human figure to relate to. Boys alone opens with the narrator telling the audience about the program and informing them, where as Damilola has a much stronger opening, it goes straight into talking to his parent and friends, and the narrator introduces us to Damilola gradually after that. The Damilola opening does not need to use framing of handheld cameras to create interest.
The audience have chosen to watch the documentary to find out more so they are already interested. This is a contrast to the Boys alone documentary, the title is not as self explanatory as Damilola Taylor so it is in the opening of the documentary a lot of information about what they are about to view is needed, but not too much to give it all away and make the viewer not want to watch on. In a documentary it is one thing to attract an audience’s attention, but to sustain it is a lot harder. A mixture of editing, music, narration, story line and contextual information is needed to keep an audience watching.
In Boys alone the audience attention was sustained by using the reactions of the characters, the flow of the story line, the narration and the good camera angles. From the beginning of the documentary a story line began to form, the boys quickly introduced themselves and we begun to see the stronger and weaker boys, emotionally and mentally, become separated. In any group of boys, fierce hierarchies will quickly form. The strongest and most assertive will survive; the most sensitive and vulnerable will suffer. The boys elect George as a leader and the camera begins to follow the weaker boys on an emotional battle against there peers.
Using clever camera angles and editing Sim is portrayed as the quiet and less assertive one. For example the boy’s gang up on him and say that he isn’t doing any house work, so he does the washing up, but he does it two nights in a row. The editing is effective at this point as it shows us sim doing the washing and then straight cuts to the other boys having fun and then back to him an hour later still doing the washing up. The narrator informs us of the time that he is standing at the sink. The narrator is again after portraying sim as the outcast, very effective.
He makes us feel like there is war raging between the two groups of boys in the house that have been formed. The quiet boys and the loud boys who seem to rule the house. He makes us want to watch on a there is a war developing, he portrays the boys as out of control, he says ‘the boys decide to play a game of hunt the hedgehog, the camera men decide to intervene. ‘ And also ‘this is a war zone’ and ‘war has been declared between the two bedrooms’ this is very effective as it makes us want to watch on and see how the fighting and arguments develop, and whether the boys resolve it or not.
Cliff hangers are used very effectively in this documentary. When the narrator says ‘war has been declared between the two bedrooms’ it then cuts to the break. This draws us in and makes us want to watch on, then there is a break and it makes us carry on watching and stops us from turning over. This is sustaining our attention. After a week together, when the experiment is finished, they return to their parents who are incredulous at what happened. The house has been trashed and the boys are physically and emotionally exhausted.
The boys seem to be proud of what they have done the house, but the parents are shocked. The camera has many close ups of parents reaction to what their child got up to, this sustains our information right to the end. In the Damilola documentary there is a lot of recurrent themes, the narrator emphasises on how innocent and kind he was, and a picture of damilola in his school uniform comes up on the camera regularly, also another one if him is shown a few times, the picture is taken at a high angle shot and this emphasises the fact that he is small and innocent.
After each of those pictures is show, the screen is faded to black to show that he is not there anymore. This is very effective editing as it reinforces to us that he is gone, and his innocent life has been taken. The documentary has several distinct sections which follow the stages of his life. The sections make us keep on watching because we keep learning lots more things. For example the untouchable’s scene is put before damilola’s last day and his death; this is because the documentary maker wants us to have hatred for the untouchables.
A girl is interviewed about a run in she had with the gang and editing is used to cover her face. This makes us feel that she is so scared of them. She says ‘we all knew who done it’ after we here about the untouchables we then hear about him dying and we feel anger towards them. This sustains our attention as we want to see what happens to them. The memorial section is put before the justice section so we see how upset the family are and them we hear that there is no justice and we are shocked.
We have become emotionally attached to his family and want justice for them. The Nigeria section is out before the untouchables section to contrast the two ways of life. The narrator meets a nice family who talk about Damilola and his friendship with the children, afterwards the camera cuts outside, it is raining and there is a view of the city, it is dark and looks peaceful. There is a panning shot upwards of the clear sky; calm music is playing as we feel that damilola is safe now. This still makes us want to watch on as we want to see to the end.
The two documentaries are both different in how they sustain our attention. Boys alone have a story which we follow but Damilola can show us the story in any order, but linking the sections together to make it interesting and to sustain our attention. The editing is similar, boys alone makes us feel like all the mess is Michael, by having lots of straight cuts of him and in Damilola it gives us lots of facts and shows us all the bad things about the untouchables and then shows us how damilola died.
In both situations we feel like the person we see is the culprit. The two documentaries are both very effective, it lots of different ways. Camera angles and editing enphasize things that we already no and that the narrator is telling us. The music brings the pictures to life and we feel the mood that is being portrayed at the time. I feel that the Damilola Taylor essay is more effective because of the sections that the documentary is split into. They could have been put in any order but the film maker has chosen one that sustains the audience the most.
They make the audience see things and then see the result and this makes them angry and upset, this draws them into the documentary because they want to see what’s going the happen and be the result. Boys alone is a docudrama so thins have to run the way the story is running, but the film maker tries to get round this by cutting out bits and making others look like they happened in quick succession, for example making Michael look like he has done all the mess and made a mess for a long time and all day, by using straight cuts.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 7 July 2017
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