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The Right to Play Oneself

The Right to Play Oneself: Looking Back on Documentary Film

Thomas Waugh
Volume: 23
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Right to Play Oneself
    Book Description:

    The Right to Play Oneself collects for the first time Thomas Waugh’s essays on the politics, history, and aesthetics of documentary film, written between 1974 and 2008. Together with the introduction by the author, Waugh’s essays advance a defiantly and persuasively personal point of view on the history and significance of documentary film.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7481-7
    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. Preface: Of Pulses, Panaceas, and Parallel Universes
    (pp. ix-xx)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  5. 1 Why Documentary Filmmakers Keep Trying to Change the World, or Why People Changing the World Keep Making Documentaries (1984)
    (pp. 1-18)

    Sixty-three years of film history have passed since Vertov’s polemic in the third year of the Soviet Revolution, yet his distinction between “Petrushka” and “life” still rings true. Kisses, sighs, and killings still lure us into movie palaces, but in order to be shown “life” we go elsewhere, to the austere environments of classrooms, libraries, and union halls—and occasionally to art cinemas or to a public television network—to watch 16mm documentaries frailly unwind. Vertov would find today’s mass audiences incurably contaminated (though one thinks he would recognize the very contemporary but equally ingenuous French or Japanese peasants referred...

  6. 2 Dziga Vertov, 1930s Populism, and Three Songs of Lenin (1975)
    (pp. 19-56)

    The rediscovery of Dziga Vertov has hardly been characterized by unanimity regarding the exact nature of that artist’s historical role and artistic stature. The scarcity of historical documentation, which usually hampers our estimation of early Soviet cultural figures, is much more severe in this case; and Vertov, bestriding the ambiguous border areas of art and politics, is more susceptible than most to sharply contradictory interpretations of his work. Vertov’s admirers have grouped into a number of seemingly incompatible camps, each one defensively claiming sole legitimacy and determinedly confining Vertov’s scant artistic legacy and personal records to its own predetermined procrustean...

  7. 3 Bread, Water, Blood, Rifles, Planes: Documentary Imagery of the Spanish Civil War from the North American Popular Front (1990)
    (pp. 57-70)

    The fifty-year anniversary of the art of the Spanish Civil War must be more than an occasion for a neutral historical retrospective of an epochal cultural moment. We should also celebrate that moment and the valor of a people who struggled to take charge of their history and who saw culture as an integral weapon in that struggle. The commitment of our own ancestors as North Americans to the Spanish cause is also to be celebrated; their integration of their art and their politics was also a stirring example to their generation and our own.

    As part of this tribute,...

  8. 4 Acting to Play Oneself: Performance in Documentary (1990)
    (pp. 71-92)

    In 1940, Joris Ivens, in the midst of finishingPower and the Landfor Pare Lorentz’s U.S. Film Service, wrote an essay on “Collaboration in Documentary” (which would later be modified for inclusion in his 1969 autobiography). It was time to summarize much of what he had learned in the first fifteen years of his career. Much of the resulting manual of the classical documentary concerns the challenge of working with nonprofessional subjects in “reenactment,” one of documentary’s “wide variety of styles.” As a lead-in to my reflection on the presence of performance within the documentary film tradition it is...

  9. 5 Beyond Vérité: Emile de Antonio (1977; 2008
    (pp. 93-154)

    The appearance of a whole series of impressive new documentaries over the last few years—Painters Painting,I. F. Stone’ Weekly,Attica,Antonia, andHearts and Mindsare the best known—is a reminder that, with mid-decade suddenly upon us, the U.S. documentary not only is showing remarkable signs of vitality but also is moving purposefully forward through the seventies in its own unique direction. And it is a direction that, for all its diversity, is markedly distinct from the cinéma vérité impulse that dominated the sixties. Despite the continuing voices of Wiseman, the Maysles, and others still using the...

  10. 6 Sufficient Virtue, Necessary Artistry: The Shifting Challenges of Revolutionary Documentary History (2006–2008)
    (pp. 155-192)

    It is a commonplace that the DVD revolution that got under way in the mid-nineties radically altered the way we teach, study, understand, and remember film history. This is all the more true for those of us toiling in the rockier, more marginal vineyards of the cinematic heritage. Somehow I seem to have ended up working in several of them, from Canadian cinema to queer cinema to Indian art film to documentary. Certain key films on my syllabi I show on the precarious and fragile VHS’s once coaxed from friendly but diffident executors, now turning into dust, from the American...

  11. 7 Lesbian and Gay Documentary: Minority Self-Imaging, Oppositional Film Practice, and the Question of Image Ethics (1984)
    (pp. 193-218)

    Ever since Stonewall, the Greenwich Village uprising of street gay people against the police that symbolically inaugurated the era of gay liberation, documentary film has been a primary means by which lesbians and gay men have carried out their liberation struggle. Most of the Western industrial democracies have seen a lively proliferation of documentaries by lesbians and gay men, gaining momentum in particular in the late seventies. This proliferation has occurred both within the mainstream media and within the alternative circuits and has aimed at both general and specialized audiences, gay and nongay.

    Lesbian and gay documentaries have addressed both...

  12. 8 Walking on Tippy Toes: Lesbian and Gay Liberation Documentary of the Post-Stonewall Period (1997)
    (pp. 219-238)

    “The famine is over.” Uttering these portentous words in 1980 from my podium as a gay movement film critic, I declared the start of a new era of visibility and productivity in lesbian and gay film (Waugh 1980, 32). I recently sifted through my once-urgent dissections of the state of gay cinema (ca. 1976–1985), denunciations of various capitalist-homophobe conspiracies and celebrations of each new “breakthrough,” and was reminded of how desperate it felt in those days before queer film and video festivals and twenty-year-old video queers in every city. “Famine,” “drought,” “silence,” and “invisibility” were indeed the words that...

  13. 9 ʺWords of Commandʺ: Cultural and Political Inflections of Direct Cinema in Indian Independent Documentary (1990)
    (pp. 239-266)

    The discussion around “Third (World) Cinema(s)”¹ as it has been proliferating in the film studies milieu gives short shrift to documentary work despite the fact that many of the prototypes of this cinema, fromHour of the FurnacestoThe Battle of Chile, are within the documentary tradition. At the same time, we still pay considerable attention to nonfiction images by Euro-American image makers of Third World societies. All but swamped under the media flood of earthquakes, violence, deprivation, and indebtedness, “Northern” independents making images of the “South” tend to fall into three main camps: (1) the left solidarity advocates,...

  14. 10 Joris Ivens and the Legacy of Committed Documentary (1999)
    (pp. 267-282)

    As a teacher of film history, I believe in always starting with the moving image. I did so in Nijmegen, and here I shall try to replicate this cinematic departure point with the following brief descriptions of the film and excerpts I showed (in chronological order):

    Misère au Borinage(Joris Ivens and Henri Storck, Belgium, 1933). Striking Borin miners dramatize for the camera an earlier solidarity procession, complete with a portrait of Marx at the head. Supporters line the route fists upraised. But the fictional march turns into a real one, and police are shown cycling to the scene to...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 283-288)
  16. Filmography
    (pp. 289-294)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 295-300)
  18. Publication History
    (pp. 301-302)
  19. Index
    (pp. 303-312)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 313-314)