Sunday, January 30, 2005

Journal Entry: What is a Documentary?

The other day I was digging through an old box and found a small journal that I had kept for a college film theory class. We were required to jot down our thoughts on films or topics covered in class. This entry was my musings on the nature of documentaries. At the time, I was relatively new to watching and thinking about films critically. I also did not have a lot of experience with documentaries. Reading the entry now, it seems really quaint--naive, even--to question the "truthfulness" of documentaries. Perhaps this is a reflection of me at the time, exposed to new concepts. But I also beleive that we, as a society, have grown much more media savy, and perhaps this musing was also a product of its time. Here is what I wrote in 1994:

What is a documentary? Like most, I used to think that it was a truthful, fairly objective look at a certai event or personality. However, after "deconstructing" documentary photos and films in various courses, I'm wondering if anything put on film or tape could ever be purely objective. I dont think so--there will always be some sort of slant.

I looked up "documentary" in my Webster's dictionary. It states: recording news events or showing social conditions dramatically but without fictionalization. I liked the use of the word "drama" because it acknowledges the injection of emotion, from the artist, in the work. The word "fiction" proved interesting as well. Definition number four of fiction states: in law, something accepted as fact for convenience, although no necessarily true. Perhaps this would be a better definition of documentary.


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