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Recording Reality, Desiring the Real

Recording Reality, Desiring the Real

Elizabeth Cowie
Volume: 24
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Recording Reality, Desiring the Real
    Book Description:

    Recording Reality, Desiring the Real shows how documentary has been simultaneously understood as factual, as story, as art, and as political. Elizabeth Cowie stakes documentary’s central place in cinema as both an art form and a form of social engagement, addressing the seeming paradox between the pleasures of spectacle in the documentary and its project of informing and educating.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7652-1
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: The Spectacle of Actuality and the Desire for Reality
    (pp. 1-18)

    Documentary, in presenting the sights and sounds of reality, enables reality to “speak” at the same time as it “speaks about” reality. It thus realizes the desire that cinematography inaugurated: of knowing reality through its images and sounds, that is—figuratively—of allowing reality to “speak for itself.” This book examines the documentary film as a cinematic project that seeks to enable the citizen-spectator to know and experience reality through recorded images and sounds of reality. Closely linked to the development of both modernity and modernism, documentary arises as a film genre characterized by a dual assertion of the objective...

  5. 1 Narrating the Real: The Fiction and the Nonfiction of Documentary Storytelling
    (pp. 19-45)

    “How can we be sure that what we are seeing is true and not fiction?” is the question that haunts documentary. If documentary, as Grierson defined it, is “the creative treatment of actuality,”¹ Brian Winston asks what is “the nature of the ‘actuality,’ or reality left?”² And what is the nature of the fiction that Comolli argues arises from the “slightly falsifying” process of the re-presentation of recorded reality?³ The factual cinema that emerged in the 1920s and that, following John Grierson, came to be called documentary was characterized by two central concerns: firstly, an opposition to the dominant mass...

  6. 2 Working Images: Representing Work and Voicing the Ordinary
    (pp. 46-85)

    This chapter introduces two questions that are central to this book: First is the question of the representability of everyday life and the project of “voicing” the ordinary as not only subjective testimony but also art—that is, as a sensory experience that is emotional and aesthetic. Second is the question of how the sounds and images of work, workers, ordinary people, and their activities signify as facts and as historical information. How has documentary film produced such discursive definitions and thus such defining discoursing? The focus here will be images of work in 1930s documentaries for these raise the...

  7. 3 Documentary Desire: Seeing for Ourselves and Identifying in Reality
    (pp. 86-117)

    The identifications that, in the fiction film, are dismissed as vicarious, illusory, and ideologically dangerous are, in documentary, both permitted and proper to its project. Explored here are the ways in which the documentary film, no less than the fiction feature film, offers mise-enscènes of desire and of imagining that enable identification even while, or rather because, it asserts itself as real. As spectators of documentary, we bring with us not only an understanding of the conventions of the novelistic, as well as of the “factual,” but also a desire for reality represented and a desire to find that moment...

  8. 4 Documenting the Real
    (pp. 118-134)

    Trauma is outside memory, and outside history. It is the unrepresentable, and thus, writes Max Hernandez, it is “the unrememberable and the unforgettable.”¹ The excess of signifying that arises in what is shown and what is said that is uncontained and uncontrolled by the speaker—or filmmaker—is designated by Lacan as the real and as an “unrepresentable.” Psychoanalysis and cinema were contemporaneous developments at the end of the nineteenth century, but while the developments of Etienne-Jules Marey and the Lumières were directed toward established modernist goals of science and knowledge in relation to observable phenomenon, Sigmund Freud was developing...

  9. 5 Ways of Seeing and the Surreal of Reality
    (pp. 135-152)

    A certain loss is always entailed in representation. Indeed André Bazin, for whom realism was central to valuing cinema as an art, nevertheless observed: “Some measure of reality must always be sacrificed in the effort of achieving it,” for the more real it appears, the less it signifies the contingent reality it is the record of.¹ Similarly, Lacan notes that something must be lost—broken away—in the making of what he termed thel’homellette, the little man-child, in a punning mix of omelette andhomme. For each is made in the breaking of eggs, that is, for the child,...

  10. 6 Specters of the Real: Documentary Time and Art
    (pp. 153-186)

    What is central to the aesthetics of documentary is the temporal disjuncture introduced between the real time of the event and its presence again in the filmed record that can be understood as spectral in the sense proposed by both Žižek and Derrida.¹ If to Walter Benjamin’s question (albeit rhetorical) whether “the very invention of photography had not transformed the entire nature of art”² we answer yes, it is not only because of its mechanical reproduction of the world—which is the focus of his concerns—but also, and as significantly, because of the specific figuring of time that the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 187-212)
  12. Index
    (pp. 213-218)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 219-220)