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Documenting Cityscapes

Documenting Cityscapes: Urban Change in Contemporary Non-Fiction Film

Series: Nonfictions
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Documenting Cityscapes
    Book Description:

    While film studies has traditionally treated the presence of the city in film as an urban text operating inside of a cinematic one, this approach has recently evolved into the study of cinema as a technology of place. From this perspective,Documenting Cityscapesexplores the way the city has been depicted by nonfiction filmmakers since the late 1970s, paying particular attention to three aesthetic tendencies: documentary landscaping, urban self-portraits, and metafilmic strategies.

    Through the formal analysis of fifteen works from six different countries, this volume investigates how the rise of subjectivity has helped to develop a kind of gaze that is closer to citizens than to the institutions and corporations responsible for recent major transformations.Documenting Cityscapestherefore reveals the extent to which cinema has become an agent of urban change, in which certain films not only challenge the most controversial policies of late capitalism but also are able to produce spatiality themselves.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-85078-0
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Places, Images and Meanings
    (pp. 1-10)

    As a child, I used to spend a few weeks every summer at my grandparents’ home in Ferrol, in northern Galicia. Most times, I travelled there by car with my whole family; my father drove through the meandering roads, my mother talked for most of the trip, and my sister and I simply got bored or, at worst, felt sick. An important part of this family ritual took place when we entered the town, after crossing As Pías Bridge. In that particular spot, my mother almost always made the same comment: ‘this area was full of fields before’. Then, I...

  5. CHAPTER ONE On City and Cinema
    (pp. 11-27)

    The concept of post-industrialism refers to the transition of Western societies from an economy based on production and manufactured goods to another based on consumption and signs (see Touraine 1969; Bell 1973). The most profitable activities in this new paradigm no longer belong to the manufacturing sector but to the service one, and more specifically to the finance, insurance and real estate sectors. From the 1980s, revolutions in transport and communications have made it possible to relocate both labour and production away from urban centres, which have been abandoned or renewed according to the economic success of their respective cities:...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Documentary Film at the Turn of the Century
    (pp. 28-38)

    One of the most surprising and unexpected film tendencies at the beginning of the twenty-first century was the return of documentaries to movie theatres after a couple of decades dominated by hyperbolic fiction. A quick look at the list of the hundred highest-grossing documentaries in the US between 1982 and 2013 reveals that more than half belong to the twenty-first century, including the first blockbuster documentary in history,Fahrenheit9/11 (Michael Moore, 2004), whose box-office profits surpassed the symbolic barrier of $100 million.¹ The other titles on the list grossed between one and ten million dollars, which is not too much...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 39-42)

      The term ‘landscaping’ usually refers to any activity that modifies the visible features of the territory, but also identifies a genre of painting, photography or film devoted to the representation of landscape. In fact, landscape film is an aesthetic tradition that depicts the natural or built environment through attentive observation. Itsmise-en-scènedepends on three basic choices: finding the most appropriate camera position to show a given landscape; deciding the mobility of the camera, which can remain still, pan to left or right, or move in a tracking shot; and establishing the exact length of each shot.

      Landscape film prefers...

    • CHAPTER THREE Observational Landscaping
      (pp. 43-62)

      The zero degree ofmise-en-scèneconsists merely in establishing camera position and shot length, a simple matter of framing and duration. As early film pioneers were the first filmmakers to deal with these issues, all those works whosemise-en-scènechoices are limited to these variables are usually described as ‘primitivist’. The origins of this aesthetic have been theorised by Noël Burch, who has developed the concept of the ‘Primitive Mode of Representation’ in order to group a set of early film styles characterised by ‘the autarchy of the tableau … horizontal and frontal camera placement, maintenance of long shot and...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Psychogeographical Landscaping
      (pp. 63-86)

      Psychogeography has always been a broad and ambiguous concept, indistinctly used in order to refer to ‘a literary movement, a political strategy, a series of new age ideas or a set of avant-garde practices’, as Merlin Coverley has pointed out (2010: 9-10). Its official definition, established by Guy Debord in the 1950s, identifies the sense of this term and its derivates as follows:

      Psychogeography sets for itself the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, whether consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals. The charmingly vague adjectivepsychogeographicalcan be applied...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Autobiographical Landscaping
      (pp. 87-102)

      One of the main differences between observational and psychogeographical landscaping is the filmmaker’s degree of intervention: James Benning’s careful choice of framings is much less explicit than Patrick Keiller’s fictional narratives, but both reveal a gradual involvement of filmmakers in urban space. Autobiographical landscaping develops further this link between subject and object - or sender and message, in the usual terms of information theory - by combining the distancing effect of structural films with the subjective dimension of first-person accounts. In these documentaries, the autobiographical content becomes a key element to decode the meaning of the urban surface, despite the...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 103-108)

      Self-portrait, both written and filmed, is an autobiographical subgenre that places the author at the centre of the discourse without necessarily following a narrative logic. One of the first critics interested in its film translation was Raymond Bellour, who explained its specific features as follows:

      The self-portrait clings to the analogical, the metaphorical, the poetic, far more than to the narrative. Its coherence lies in a system of remembrances, afterthoughts, superimpositions, correspondences. It thus takes on the appearance of discontinuity, of anachronistic juxtaposition, of montage. Where autobiography closes in on the life it recounts, the self-portrait opens itself up to...

    • CHAPTER SIX Self-Portrait as Socio-Political Documentary
      (pp. 109-127)

      After the 1973 crisis, the transition from an industrial economy to a service one caused a deep change in the socio-economic structures of Western countries: many factories closed and were relocated to other regions, dispensing with hundreds of thousands of skilled industrial workers who had to look for a new place for themselves in the service economy. Class-consciousness and intra-class solidarity were undermined by Ronald Reagan’s and Margaret Thatcher’s governments, whose neoliberal policies aimed to dismantle the welfare state in the United States and the United Kingdom respectively. Their aggressive opposition to free public services was interpreted by Gilles Lipovetsky...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Self-Portrait as Essay Film
      (pp. 128-152)

      The development of urban self-portraits in Europe has been highly influenced by the essayistic tradition, to the extent that among critics it is often regarded as a specific form of the essay film. This, however, is not exactly a closed genre but an open domain that includes a wide variety of practices: Laura Rascaroli has devoted several chapters of her bookThe Personal Camerato the diary, the travelogue, the notebook and the self-portrait film (2009: 106-89), while Timothy Corrigan has done the same inThe Essay Film: From Montaigne, After Marker, in which he discusses the travelogue, the editorial...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Self-Portrait as Self-Fiction
      (pp. 153-178)

      The border between fiction and non-fiction has evolved for decades by means of the continuous emergence of new techniques and technologies, each one considered more appropriate than its predecessors to represent reality. This vertiginous succession has followed the dynamics of a paradigm shift, replacing old styles with new ones in an apparently endless process: Grierson’s reenactments, for example, ceased to be truthful when direct cinema developed its observationalmise-en-scène, while this was in turn challenged and replaced by the participatory approach ofcinéma vérité.

      Throughout the last century, documentary film was filled with all kinds of codes of authenticity to...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 179-184)

      Film history can be regarded as a field of study open to researchers of different disciplines, but it is also an account, a historical narrative usually divided into four periods: silent (1890s-1920s), classical (1930s-1950s), modern (1960s-1970s) and postmodern (1980s-2010s). French sociologists Gilles Lipovetsky and Jean Serroy have renamed these stages as ‘primitive modernity’, ‘classical modernity’, ‘emancipatory modernity’ and ‘hypermodernity’ because they consider that cinema has always been a modern art, an expression of modernity (2009: 16-21). Furthermore, Lipovetsky has been fighting against the term ‘postmodernity’ for more than thirty years, repeating in book after book that it would be more...

    • CHAPTER NINE Inside Hollywood Film
      (pp. 185-212)

      Academic prose sometimes gives unexpected surprises to the reader, especially when its refined wording offers a glimpse of the writer’s humanity. In this regard, the most remarkable feature ofAmerica, Jean Baudrillard’s travelogue across the United States, is its shameless arrogance:

      Where the others spend their time in libraries, I spend mine in the deserts and on the roads. Where they draw their material from the history of ideas, I draw mine from what is happening now, from the life of the streets, the beauty of nature. This country is naive, so you have to be naive. Everything here still...

  10. CONCLUSION: Cinema as Agent of Urban Change
    (pp. 213-216)

    The set of formal strategies analysed here have been highly influenced by contemporary discourses on urban change, from Edward Soja’s real-and-imaginary geographies to Francesc Muñoz’s urbanalisation, but they also influence our perception of urban space, inasmuch as they establish a certain kind of gaze at the city that can be adopted by their usual residents and occasional visitors. Moreover, all these strategies share a similar subjective gaze that aims to be closer to citizens than to the institutions or corporations responsible for recent major transformations. This means that contemporary non-fiction production, especially when approaching the essayistic and experimental domain, tends...

  11. APPENDIX Maps and Locations of Los
    (pp. 217-218)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-236)
  13. Index
    (pp. 237-248)