Defining the Documentary

Documentary Video -Week 1MH900438755

Defining the Documentary: Indexicality & Realism


-Documentary & fiction

-Documentary Discourse




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)




-Shooting techniques

-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)


Audience Interpretation

“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

Present techniques:

-Aimed at creating intimacy, emotional reaction, close engagement with the subject

Distant techniques:

-Aimed at creating a detachment from the subject necessary to remain objective and mace a judgement

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