I think the problem may be that, if we zoom out far enough, every statement ever made becomes a lie of omission.
Yes, you’ve filmed the Empire State Building for 485 straight minutes. That is… that is what that building looks like. But only from that exact angle. On that night. From that distance and with the camera at that height. Yes, this is nitpicking, but in the end of the day what we have here is not ‘The Empire State Building’ so much as ‘A Representation of Said Building.’ It’s two dimensional, and you can’t look at the other walls or walk around inside it.
Now, I’m not saying that as some kind of critique. I’m not saying Warhol screwed up in not inventing some kind of magic hologram that you can view from every angle in the mid sixties. What I’m saying is… can we ever show something from every angle in film?
Can we show something from a non-subjective angle… ever?
Even if I try to tell you a story about how I wrote a blog post last night, it’s still going to be limited to my perspective. Which sounds fine, seeing as no one else was there, but everything from a disagreement over whether Seinfeld’s Kramer is a likeable character to the existence of the KKK seem to prove that ‘subjective experience’ does not equal ‘truth.’
So what I guess I’m saying is that maybe we should lower our standards a little bit. Truth is a little shaky, so what if ‘documentary’ is just a film that… aims for the truth? Or better yet, aims to represent something from the real world in a recognisable way?
Actually I tell you what, I haven’t seen enough documentaries to confidently stride around defining what they should or should not be. Highschool philosophy does not give me that power…
Let’s talk instead about the responsibilities of a documentary film maker. How important is impartiality? I’m aware that giving all opinions about this or that issue equal screen-time is insane, because if we give the guy who thinks the Sun is out to kidnap his (fictional) children as much weight as Al Gore, our global warming debate isn’t going to get much done.
I like the idea of trying to include informed opinions that are different to those of the creator of the documentary… but is that part integral? If I create a documentary that doesn’t explore a discourse in opposition to my own, does that make it a propaganda movie? Furthermore, if, in some alternate universe, the Holocaust deniers were right, and Hitler was just a legitimately nice dude: would Triumph of the Will be considered a documentary?
I’m aware that the chiarascuro lighting and dramatic zeppelin shots seem to be more-than-averagely distorting the audience’s perception of old Hitler, but hey, they did the same thing in ‘The Killer Inside Me.’ I’m not really sure where the separation lies. It just feels to me like the word ‘propaganda’ only ever comes up in discussions of works whose views are different from my own. Is that not odd?
I’m tempted to throw my hands in the air and say ‘Everything is subjective, so just communicate your perspective how you like and let others evaluate that view’ – but movies do have power, and that would open some unsafe doors…
Which is why I quite like the concept of Reflexive Documentary! As I was sitting there in class pondering how to make a documentary that wasn’t lying to anyone, I thought to myself, ‘Why not just constantly say: ‘This is just my opinion and I’m probably wrong about all of it.’
And it turns out someone had already beaten me to the punch! This type of documentary gets me. It’s a little self-defeating, maybe, but it seems like a good way to talk about something without forcing your views onto anyone; and instead, inviting some debate and critical discussion. Hells to the yeah!
So there’s my incredibly non-structured spiel on documentary. I’m still not entirely sure what documentary is, but I’m becoming more and more inclined towards the position that it’s a helpful umbrella term, to a degree. A construct, the definition of which differs a little from person to person, and yet all those definitions are more or less valid as long as they work. Like ‘art’, or… ‘narrative.’
Thank you for reading.
Isaac Mitchell-Frey (9985182)