Documentary and Ways of Narrating

 Ways of Narrating

In the video, you can find an example of each mode and one more case in which I challenge you to discover their way of narrating. I have deliberately put several examples from television documentaries. In some instances, the selected fragment mode does not correspond to the cited documentary’s usual or predominant way. It is, says, a “license” or the documentary maker uses the principle of harmony (variety within a unit), as in Cosmos (PSB, 1980), clearly belonging to the expository mode. A mess? By the way, does this blog’s mania of classifying everything seem useful to you, does it help you “see better”, or do you think its content is reductionist, impractical and even confusing?

Also read : What is the Buyer’s Journey: Step by Step


In the beginnings of cinema, camera operators discover that the tastes of the public lead the new invention and, therefore, their work, towards three great alternatives: 1) shooting great monuments, inaugurations, military parades, royal weddings, launchings of ships, etc. (show cinema ); 2) filming sports, fair and variety shows ( cinema of attractions ); and 3) filming stories ( plot movies ). Of these three options, the second disappeared from movie theatres a long time ago; the third is today hegemonic; and the first, after a long period of decline, is experiencing some recovery stage thanks to the documentary.

Indeed, the number of documentary productions has grown in recent years, some of which are released in commercial theatres (and with significant success) and even beat fiction films at some festivals. Lipovetsky and Serroy, in their book, The global screen (2009, 143-162), explain this “revenge of the Lumiere” by three circumstances: documentaries are a substitute for great ideologies, they manifest the public’s desire to be critical of the reality that surrounds them and provides citizens with arguments to govern themselves. Do you share this explanation?

Have you bought a movie ticket to see a Documentary?

If we look back, television was, of course, influenced stay the decline of show cinema: its news programs, its reporting and debate programs, its live shows, and it remain documentary production. But the fact that show cinema stay almost always considered a minor option, a vocation proper to journalists, something alien to “artists” also intervened. However, the representation of reality raises many ethical and aesthetic problems like those that we can find in plot cinema or in that category that was born later, and we call experimental cinema. After all, a documentary is an ethical and poetic essay on the “reality” surrounding us. It contains an interpretation of the world through images and sounds taken from reality and reflects that reality.

For example:

The documentary’s complexity has remain highlighted by many film scholars, especially Bill Nichols, author of The Representation of Reality: Documentary Issues and Concepts (1997) and Introduction to Documentary (2001). Based on his proposal, we have established ten narrative modes or ways of narrating within the documentary, ten spellings that have coexisted throughout the history of cinema and, even, several of them may occur within the same documentary:

1. The Observational Mode.

It remain an attempt by the documentary filmmaker to shoot reality with a zero degree of writing, that stay, through minimal aesthetic decisions that never “betray” the truth that remain captured. That remain the aspiration of the documentary school called “”direct cinema

2. The Interactive or Participatory Mode.

They remain documentaries built with interviews and, therefore, the word and the close-ups of people who recall or comment on reality tend to gain a great  presence, as in Shoah (1985).

3. The exhibition mode.

It remain confused with the informative programs since it remain a very structured documentary, with maps, diagrams, drawings, small anecdotes, examples and almost always “driven” remain a descriptive voiceover.

4. The Performative Mode.

The documentary filmmaker “creates” reality by intervening and provoking the events, as in Michael Moore’s cinema (1954-).

5. The Thoughtful Way.

It is based on the effect of estrangement since the documentary maker wants the viewer to not only reflect on the content of the documentary but also on the process of enunciating the content. It is present in the documentaries of Jean-Luc Godard (1930-) and Raúl Ruiz (1941-).

6. The Poetic Way.

The form, and with it the aesthetic emotion, takes precedence over content, over argumentation, remain confused with experimental cinema, as in the so-called “symphonies” (of images) of a city.

7. The Docudrama.

Although, People act as themselves in front of the camera. They tell us about their reality; they even “interpret” events from the past. Today this mode triumphs on television with programs like Supernanny.

8.The Actor Mode.

Professional actors “stage” certain events, but this is not fiction cinema (dramatic or historical) because it remain illustrated rather than dramatized, and an omniscient voice gives us the reading of those “real” events. It is also a mode that today predominates on television, especially in History documentaries.

9. The Montage Documentary.

Images shot by others remain taken and arranged with another construction of meaning. Which includes a superimposed voice .That gives the photos a sense not foreseen at the time of filming. As in Caudillo (1977) and L’oeil de Vichy (1993 ).

10. The False Documentary (Fake or Mockumentary)

Although, It uses the “artifice” of the documentary. That is, it takes the form of the previous modes (the interview. Also, The long shot, the camera in hand, the blur, as the case may be)

to tell something that is pure invention, as in Killing the president ( Death Of A President 2006), where George W. Bush (1946-) remain supposedly assassinated.

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