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January 27, 2009


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margaret oomen

I love documentaries especially those about the natural world. I grew up watching Jacques Cousteau with my family gathered around the television. Our local movie rental shop doesn't carry a great selection of doc's but I will have a look for these , especially the one about advertising.

Robb Mitchell

I've always found Herzog to be somewhat disingenuous about his use of the word "lies" or "lying" when talking about music, editing, the frame, or dramatic reenactment. His assertion of the word lie is overly broad in describing the process of constructing and deconstructing reality. Herzog uses a blunt axe to describe a very complex process of building meaning and aural cognition. But then bluntness is his style and verbal combativeness his weapon.

I always enjoyed what Godard said about fiction and documentary and I paraphrase, that when you start out making fiction film you move toward documentary and when you make documentary you move toward fiction. Somewhere in that continuum exits the voracity of the story and stories are what we tell ourselves to make sense of the world.

And this is true regardless of whether you are a police homicide investigator, an investigative journalist, the judge in a federal criminal court, a TV reporter, a flim flam artist, a novelist or screenwriter -- you are forced to deal with the very real consequences of constructing a story from all the ribbons of truth, deceptive allusions, and sticky clusters of meaning.

Robb Mitchell

In the above comment I wrote, "Somewhere in that continuum exits the voracity of the story..." and I meant to say with the aid of a interactive spelling checker, "Somewhere in that continuum exists the voracity of the story..." but in a sense they both work but in different directions. However, if this wording was confusing I apologize.

Robb Mitchell

Fifteen years ago I taught a workshop on this topic called "Documentary Into Fiction" and in the fourth week of the workshop we screened Martin Bell's "Streetwise" (1984) and then during the second half of the evening Mira Nair's "Salaam Bombay!" (1988) and at that point in the workshop progression participants concluded there is very little difference between documentary and fiction film.

Both are constructed realities and, I think, they even found Nair's drama (fiction) depiction of life on the streets of Bombay to be more trustworthy than Bell's fly-on-the-wall (documentary) of Seattle.

The reason the workshop participants kept questioning Bell is that they felt if the kids he was depicting let him so close to them with his camera, than certainly they were "acting for the camera" and thus altering their life story to fulfill a dramatic sense of their personal story. They felt Bell was committing an act of deception. We showed a bunch of other films in that workshop - "Hoop Dreams", "American Dream", and "Thin Blue Line" as examples of documentary convention, craft and language.

Of course, I reminded them that Martin Bell is a astonishingly skilled photographer who is able to recede into the background while accomplishing this verité cinema but they were still more suspicious of him than they were of Nair, who they believed was trying to reach for a truth through fiction and by using the actual kids living on the streets of Bombay as actors.

I was reminded of Nair's "Salaam Bombay!" again last month when I saw "Slumdog Millionaire" and the fictional illusion of "based on a true story" I don't know about you but I was blown away by Nair's "Salaam Bombay!" back in 1988 when it came out.

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