Defining the Documentary: Indexicality & Realism
-Documentary & fiction
What is Documentary?
Documentary raises issues of realism and ideology related to its claim to:
Documentary & Fiction
“When it comes to technique, fiction and non-fiction filmmakers can and imitate each other”.(N Carroll, 1996:286)
-Use of lighting
The ways in which what is shown on screen supplies or retains information from the story
Narrative in fiction: PLOT/STORY & CHARACTERS
-Consists of the plot’s ways (form) of distributing story information in order to achieve specific effects
-We see on screen only the portion of life of the characters that is functional to the plot
Narration in Non-Fiction:Argument
-Representing a case about the historical world
-Problem- solution paradigmatic structure (rhetorical, analytical and logical skills)
-Sound and images as evidence (often presented in story-form-fictional narrative structures)
-Persepctive (point of view/frame)
Narrative in Non-Fiction: Subjects & Performance
-Not fully revealed personalites (limited access to their public/personal histories)
-Real people acting themselves
Documentary Discourse (Discourse of Sobriety)
-Rhetorical form aimed at persuading the viewer that the connection with the real world is immediate
-Intertextual nature of these conventions (essays, scientific reports, journalistic texts, etc.) (Nicholas, 1991)
“Documentary is a perpetual negotiation between the real event and its representation the two remain distinctive but interactive” (S.Bruzzie, 2000:9)
-Negotiation between the filmmakers, the spectators, the films and the social and viewing contexts
-Recognition of indexically by the viewers who respond to material: recognising its direct relationship to actuality
“The difference between an account and a narrative lies, for us-as-recipient, in the relationship we post it between the linguistic elements and the total discourse. In a fiction, the elements and the discourse are exhausted in the production of the overall meaning of the text and everything that cannot be read as contributing to this meaning is consigned o a limbo of insignificaion….in documentary, by contrast, the elements are seen as always exceeding their contribution to any given meaning: and they remain always open to scrutiny (….). In documentary that excess is present in the images in their potential always to reveal (….) aspects of the ‘pro-filmic’ hitherto unremarked”. (D. Vaughan, 1992:113)
Indexicality (non-fiction & fiction)
-Textual strategies invite us to refer the cinematic sign to the real world but to a fictional one e.g character, subject
-meaning is deferred until the text is completed
-meaning is inferred by immediate reference to the real world
Non-fiction ——Signifier (images of a robbery) ——- Indexical
-During the Nineteenth century, the arts developed a need for observation and an accurate representation of the contemporary world (v.c romanticism & neociassicism)
-Term realism refers to a style constructed with a set of particular formal conventions of representation.
-This set of conventions changes throughout time.
-A style aimed at giving the illusion of immediacy.
-A style aimed at persuading what has been recorded is true
Different forms of realism:
-Innovatory representations (breaking with established formal conventions, as in the case of the New Wave, Italian Neorealism etc.)
Verisimilitude (believable stories, coherent characterism, representation that gives a sense real time and space as in Classic Hollywood Cinema.)
-Formalism (set of conventions that a given time crystallise a strong feeling of authenticity, as in 1920′s Soviet (cinema) etc.
Realism-Verisimilitude in Cinema
-Long takes; deep-focus photography; eye-level camera shot; continuity editing; etc.
Formalism in cinema
-Series of fast shots; slowing and speeding up film stock; high and low camera angles; dialectical montage; etc.
Realism in Documentary
The following documentary filmic signals produce a sense of realism:
-the physical difficulties of filming
-the predominance of location shooting
-the graininess of the film image due to an absence of studio lights
-the use of non-actors
-the breaking down of material into short units
-the unsteadiness of the film image resulting from hand-held photography
-temporary lapses of focus or framing
-imperfect continuity in the editing process
-Aimed at creating intimacy, emotional reaction, close engagement with the subject
-Aimed at creating a detachment from the subject necessary to remain objective and mace a judgement
Graduate Multimedia Journalist, Online Editor at CIO UK and contributing writer at Culturefly and Contact Music.