UNIT FOUR: THE OBSERVATIONAL MODE
PART 1: Please answer all of the following questions and include specific examples from the online screening(s) assigned each week. If more than one screening is assigned for a particular week, you should address both films and compare and contrast the key differences. Each answer should be approximately one paragraph (5-7 sentences typed). To receive full credit, you should also incorporate and cite at least one passage from Bill Nichols’ Introduction to Documentary and/or another assigned reading.
Cinematography can greatly affect how a subject(s) is represented. For example:
In a low angle shot, the camera is below the subject, looking up, which in effect, makes the characters appear larger, more imposing, threatening.
In a high angle shot, the camera looks down on the subject, which in effect, makes character appear vulnerable, insignificant or small
Long Take: an uninterrupted shot usually lasting several minutes that has the double potential of preserving both real space and real time. A “realist” aesthetic.
Please explain the effect/significance of the key choices in composition and camera movement in one key scene from at least one required screening or clip assigned this week.
Although Battle of Midway (1942) is one of the first examples of the shaky “hand-held camera” aesthetic that later became a major characteristic of documentaries, sound at the time was not portable and had to be recreated in the studio during post production (along with the voice over narration). However, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Direct Cinema became one of the first major film movements to use the hand-held camera to even greater effect, largely because sound was also portable and synchronous. Given these technological shifts and different approaches in representing real life subjects, what are the key differences between the hand-held aesthetic in Battle of Midway (1942) and some of the Direct Cinema films/clips assigned this week?
In Direct Cinema documentaries sound is synchronous and taken on location. In other words sound and/or music is usually not incorporated later into the film in post-production. Although there are many screenings and clips assigned for this week, please focus on one in particular to analyze the use of sound and/or music. Does the filmmaker record synchronous sound at the time of shooting or does he/she add additional sound, such as voice-over, dubbed dialogue, music, sound effects, or commentary, at a later point? Please focus on one example from this particular documentary and explain the effect/significance of these choices.
Can the Observational Mode be used a form of propaganda to persuade viewers? This may be achieved through emotional music, low or high camera angles that make the subject appear empowered or disempowered, “voice of god” narration used to “educate” viewers as well as through editing such as when two or more shots are juxtaposed together to create specific a meaning. Does the filmmaker present a balanced representation of the subject(s)? What forms of propaganda (if any) are used, in TRIUMPH OF THE WILL? How are they represented stylistically and what is the effect/significance? Please contextualize your response with passages/idea from Frank P. Tomasulo’s “The Mass Psychology of Fascist Cinema.”
In 1964, approximately 30 years after Triumph of the Will was first released, Riefenstahl stated:
“If you see this film again today you ascertain that it doesn’t contain a single reconstructed scene. Everything in it is true. And it contains no tendentious commentary at all. It is history. A pure historical film… it is film-vérité. It reflects the truth that was then in 1934, history. It is therefore a documentary. Not a propaganda film. Oh! I know very well what propaganda is. That consists of recreating events in order to illustrate a thesis, or, in the face of certain events, to let one thing go in order to accentuate another. I found myself, me, at the heart of an event which was the reality of a certain time and a certain place. My film is composed of what stemmed from that.” (Thomson, David (2010). The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, Fifth Edition. New York: Knopf. p. 822. ISBN 978-0-307-27174-7)
Do you agree or disagree with her belief that Triumph of the Will is a “pure historical film” and “not a propaganda film”? Explain and include at least one example from the documentary.
Although Primary (1960) is often cited as the first instance of “Direct Cinema” and Triumph of the Will (1936) is regarded as a propaganda film, both could be perceived as “observational” depictions of politicians (Hitler and JFK). Please choose a clip from Triumph of the Will and compare it to the clip from Primary to briefly analyze some of the key differences and similarities in terms of how these subjects are represented?
Please briefly contextualize and explain the significance of the clips from Don’t Look Back (1967) with the key ideas and concepts discussed in Jeanne Hall’s essay, “Don’t You Ever Just Watch? American Cinema Verite and Don’t Look Back.”
In Introduction to Documentary, Bill Nichols underscores key ethical issues of representation, and emphasizes following points:
An image cannot tell everything we want to know about what happened.
Images can altered both during and after the fact by both conventional and digital techniques.
A verifiable, authentic image does not necessarily guarantee the validity of larger claims made about what the image represents or means.
Although we may never know whether or not a documentary image is “verifiable” or “authentic,” are there any moments in this documentary where an image doesn’t tell us everything that may have happened? Are there key images that might be missing or may have been altered or taken out of context? If so, which instances? Why do you think they were the altered? What is the significance/effect?
PART 2: Please choose 2 of the following clips and briefly analyze the key stylistic characteristics and discuss their greater significance. Each clip analysis should be approximately one paragraph (5-7 sentences typed). You may focus on cinematography, sound (including narration) and editing.
CLIP #1: Lumiere Shorts (Lumiere Brothers, late 1890s)
CLIP #2: Primary (Drew Associates, USA, 1960, 60 min)
CLIP #3: Don’t Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967, 96 min)
CLIP #4: High School (Frederick Wiseman, 1968, 75 min)
CLIP #5: Salesman (Maysles Brothers, 1968, 85 min)