Journal Entry 1: Steel, Austrians and Wollongong the Brave

I’m relatively new to Wollongong and I’m still adjusting to this surprisingly dense metropolitan. That said, I can’t help but feel a little superior to the first years I’ve met who are complete freshies to the wonders of Crown Street, hung-over bacon & egg rolls at the harbour or that little fountain near the art gallery that hooligans occasionally put bubble bath in. I initially used the word relatively because I have, as one of my neighbours, a man named Eric who emigrated directly from Austria to Wollongong in the 70’s and hasn’t moved since.

The man is a walking history. Though I haven’t had as many conversations with him as I would like, every time we meet I walk away with a story about the city, its people and its history. A great deal of my idea for a film comes from those conversations with Eric. I want to tell a story not just of how Wollongong has changed, but of how people from all over the world have wound up on its shores. I want to look at industry, the industries around Port Kembla and the university, and their international pull, I want to look at the city’s growth and I want to show how the city has, at least in my opinion surged toward becoming a diverse and cosmopolitan city.

I will rely extensively on the first hand accounts of people, old or new to the city, and historical data to provide slices of the city from different points in time all the way up to the present; in the process hopefully demonstrating why I appreciate this city so much.

Failing that I could just get 7 minutes of Flagstaff Hill, The Illawarra Hotel on a Thursday and Chefs Choice. That’d probably some it up pretty well too, I guess.

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Week 5: Reflection

New Documentary sure started out pretty interesting. Bondage, a 1920s silent film about modernity in the USSR, lighting issues in an igloo, horse slaughter, impoverished Spanish villages and a 5 minute surrealist train trip through 1955 New York made up the first 3 weeks alone. I’ve never really thought much about art and film, and I definitely wouldn’t have been too excited about writing on the relationship between the two at the start of the semester. Since then, I think I might have changed my mind.

If word counts are anything to go on, I enjoyed discussing the subjectivity of documentary and the presentation of reality. Vertovs Man with A Movie Camera, my first item of serious discussion, proved an excellent introduction to the manipulation of presentation and how a filmmaker can make a bold statement with something as simple as a silent movie camera. These concepts, echoed again with our study of Wonder Ring, make up the majority of what I’ve learnt so far in New Documentary. Some documentary filmmakers see film not just as a chance to tell a story, document or inform, but to express a certain perception. With careful manipulation, a documentary can become an evolved, artistic piece presenting not just an idea, but an artistic lens to view the world.

Second to the artistic, New documentary has exposed me to questions about how to define documentaries and what sets them apart from a work of fiction. Discussing and arguing in class and reading a whole bunch of classmates blogs have shown me that, though varying opinions on the distinctions abound, the two turned out to be closer than most of us had thought previously. The distinction between the two, highlighted in our viewing of Close Up, turned out to be another mini fascination of mine. Especially so, the principles that separate capturing a perfect recreation of reality from capturing reality itself and the dictatorship this has over the documentary mindset.

These two concepts, as well as countless technical tricks and filmography facts, have shaped everything I have gathered from the 5 or so weeks of New Documentary. I can only hope that the remaining weeks are as interesting and enlightening.

Week 4: Docufiction

Let’s start with docufiction. I’m totally going to stick to my word limit, see how I didn’t even write an introduction? Straight savage. I digress.

Do I believe that Kiarostamis Close Up is documentary? Nope, but it’s not entirely fiction either. This week is apart of our syllabus to make us think about what separates fiction and non-fiction in film. Close Up mixes the two with scripted, rehearsed and acted scenes sitting between scenes of pure documentary and thus presents a perfect opportunity to analyse why we consider one ‘real’ and one ‘fake’. Moreover, the fiction portions of the film star those that were actually involved in the subject of the documentary reenacting, apparently to a T, the situations the filmmaker wasn’t around to record. Now, if we are to assume that every shot features the same people interacting in the same way, produced as an impossibly exact recreation of something, why do we not consider it a documentary? Is an infallible facsimile of reality a document of it?

I do not consider it a documentary. In the end, the difference between the perfect copy and the recording of reality comes down not to what is presented to an audience but what can be controlled by a director. Though directors of fiction and directors of documentaries can both control how something is presented (angles, lighting, effects, etc.), a producer of fiction also has control over the subject of the film. A documentarian, though free in their presentation of a subject, cannot change the action, nature or intention of the subject itself. Promts and questions, of course, are frequently a vital part of producing a documentary, but the reactions or answers they produce should remain far from the control of a documentary director to produce what is, at least in my eyes, a legitimate documentary.

Week 2: The Past Hopes for the Future

Man with a movie camera.jpgI went into the viewing of Vertovs Man With a Movie Camera (MWMC) a little apprehensive. As you have probably gathered from my previous posts, I’m not exactly attuned with the high arts. An hour-long experimental silent film depicting life in the metropolises of 1929 USSR, though certainly an intriguing concept, was no where near my regular cinematic fare. I’m grateful for my exposure to it in class though; were it not for that I probably never would have encountered what was one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen.

The sharp cuts and short shots quickly establish that the viewer is going to have to try to keep up with the rapid pace of the film. The constant movement of the subjects, film makers and the camera itself reinforce the notion that there is a lot going on in the film and within the metropolitan setting. Modern machines, cars and telephones also appear to associate the frantic pace with modernity; something else that the audience will have to keep up with within and outside the cinema. Though I wouldn’t mind if the film were quite shorter (the marvelous quickly becomes the mundane), I can safely say that I appreciated Man With a Movie Camera.

Now, why were we shown that film and what relevance does it hold to our studies? MWMC serves, again, to fracture our understandings of what a documentary should be whilst also presenting a challenge to define which of Henrik Juels modes the film falls under.

The other films of the week I watched entirely, Blood of the Beasts (1939) and The River (1939), proved not as difficult to classify. Though one film rarely falls into one mode alone, the two films presented factors that easily defined different sections of the films into modes. The narration style of The River, the dialogue and the music proved for an easy Expository definition, with a dash of propaganda and Poetic; while The Blood of The Beasts was the inverse, Poetic and Expository.

While viewing these films, we were prompted to define their different aspects, but they were easy to distinguish compared to the many-faceted Man With a Movie Camera. The most obvious assertion, that the film is observational (supported by the simple recordings of people going about their day to day) is countered by the interactions of some people with the camera man and the camera itself. People are excited by the presence of the camera; smiling and laughing as they inspect it and it in-turn documents them. A wave even at one point, as the car of the film makers and a family in a horse drawn carriage drive parallel to each other. In turn, the participatory is superseded by the reflexive as the crew film themselves and a man rushing about with a camera and a tripod resting over his shoulder. Indeed, there is argument that the film itself was a message from Vertov to the wider film community; his use of (contemporarily) outrageous pace, groud-breaking angles, effects and a modern theme a plea to film to move away from the restrictions of a stage mindset (Ebert, 2009).

Though arguments are easily formed for other modes, my final definition is that of the poetic. The film, more than a document or a message, is an expression. In my humble opinion Vertov was enraptured with the possibilities of the future of film. MWMC is an ode to that excitement, and so deep at the heart of his piece is a message and a coda the expression of which trumped any need to produce a film that would satisfy the general public. Vertov didn’t believe his film would receive the warmest reception from the public, which was why he included a warning at the beginning of his film regarding the experimental and challenging nature of his piece. His expression overrode the need for public approval, ultimately ensuring its definition as art and, subsequently, its poetic mode.

Again, I cannot say that I loved MWMC but t I can understand why it is now held in such high regard as well as why Vertov is so respected for producing it.

WHO WANTS REFERENCES?

I don’t have many.

Ebert, R 2009, “Man with a Movie Camera”, Roger Ebert, viewed 12/8/2015

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-man-with-a-movie-camera-1929

Nichols, B 1991, Representing reality : issues and concepts in documentary, Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c 1991.

Week 3: First Person Perception

Theory and practical collided this week. A reading regarding the object, an early art-house documentary about a five minute train ride in 1950s New York and UOW students filming reeds all came together to demonstrate a central theme in the New Documentary course; the concept of a personal lens.

Let’s begin with The Wonder Ring, a short 1955 art piece documenting a train ride on a soon to be dispatched New York line. The actual setting and subject of the piece, though of course important in regard tot he artistic merits of the film, are irrelevant to this blog post (I already have a pretty bad relationship with word counts so I had better not push). Most pertinent to the discussion, rather, is the obscure manner in which the filmmaker, Stan Brakhage has documented the trip. In summary, it’s quite strange. Brakhage uses crazy angles, reflections, superimposition and a juxtaposition between the stationary interior of a train carriage and a speeding outside world to create a surreal dream of light. Again, I can’t say I liked it (you’re seeing the pattern?) but I can appreciate the effort that Brakhage has gone to and I can understand why.

Brakhage set out not to merely document the train for the sake of history, but to demonstrate the artists eye. He wanted to capture the immense possibility for the poetic and the surreal that he saw in what most could only see as mundane. Reflection from the glass windows of the carriage reflect onto darkened figures of other passengers, their faces obscured only to hide what we can only assume to be a blank face, a resignment to banality and a blindness to the wonder that we, Brakhages viewers, are being exposed to. The first person shooting with its extreme closeups of windows, showing scratches and grimes on the glass, is not doing so just to record fine details, but to simulate an enraptured face pressed hard against the glass. Brakhage uses the camera to show best not just what he sees, but also to try and convey the excitement and wanderlust he feels when he sees the beauty of the world around him. This, of course, is all obvious when you read the opeing quote of our reading:Capture

Well, at least I hope that’s what’s up, otherwise I’m just talking rubbish and I’ll probably lose some marks here.

Moving on, how does this relate to me clumsily filming reeds? We were all assigned the same task, to film “nature on campus”. This common prerogative produced a myriad of vastly different films within the class group. Why? Because we were left to our own devices and naturally fell to trying to capture the world around us in the best light that we saw it. We all endeavored not just to present our perspective, but to use film to give our perspective to others.

This in turn relates to this weeks reading regarding the subjective and how presenting an object to an audience can be manipulated. Though not exactly the case when it came to the class productions, Brakhage managed to use his subjectivity to turn a mundane object, the New York 3rd avenue train line, into a surreal beauty, The Wonder Ring.

Refer

Renov, M 2007, “Away from Copying: The Art of Documentary Practice”, Truth or Dare: Art and Documentary,  GBR: Intellect Ltd, Bristol, pp. 13 – 17

Week 1: New Documentaries, Old Documentaries and Japanese Bondage Porn.

I’m always worried when a reading starts with a question.

Henrik Juel begins his piece, “Defining Documentary Film” with the simple question to his film students; what are documentaries? Juel then goes on to reject his students definition of a “a type of film that is based on the real world and real people, depicting things as they are or telling about historical events in a supposedly truthful or objective manner”, pointing out that by that definition any average CCTV recording would be a documentary.

It was with this that my delve into documentary began. Previously, I had always considered documentary to simply be the portrayal of fact in a film medium; “representation of reality” (Nichols, 1991), albeit presented in an engaging manner, I had assumed that documentary existed solely to inform or persuade. As Juel goes on to explain, it is so much more. Lucky for me, the exact definition is left open, so I don’t have to try and create my own. Documentary can include everything from the bland presentation of reality to twisted art films and propaganda. Unlucky for me something that I had always considered to be a genre of objective productions does not even have an objective definition.

With that, I’m going to move on to Japanese bondage porn. I’m renowned for my smooth segues. The film, Lovely Andrea by Hito Steyerl, is easily classed as a documentary. Even, at times, it appears objective and simple. The more of the film one watches, though, and the closer one looks at it, the less straightforward it becomes. Though I did not exactly enjoy it personally, the film becomes the perfect example of how a documentary becomes art. The relatively straightforward plot, the hunt for relics from the filmmakers brief career in pornography, quickly becomes a metaphorical vessel for an artistic examination of power and power relationships all over the world. Whilst maintaining the depiction of fact and reality, the film inspires its audience to turn the story into a power relationship think piece with the simple question; “What is your film about?”Lovely Andrea

I believe that we were shown this film in the first week for a number of reasons. Not only was the direct subject matter of the film supposed to challenge us, but the initially simplicity and then surprising complexity of the film is supposed to leave us questioning what can be done when we expand our definition of documentary and begin to see the depiction of reality as another form of artistic expression.

Or something.

References?

Juel, H 2006, ‘Defining Documentary Film’, P.O.V, no. 22, p. 5.

Nichols, B 1991, Representing reality : issues and concepts in documentary, Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c1991.

I stole the image from the class blog. Sneaky.