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Intelligence Work

Intelligence Work: The Politics of American Documentary

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Intelligence Work
    Book Description:

    Intelligence Work establishes a new genealogy of American social documentary, proposing a fresh critical approach to the aesthetic and political issues of nonfiction cinema and media. Jonathan Kahana argues that the use of documentary film by intellectuals, activists, government agencies, and community groups constitutes a national-public form of culture, one that challenges traditional oppositions between official and vernacular speech, between high art and popular culture, and between academic knowledge and common sense. Placing iconic images and the work of celebrated filmmakers next to overlooked and rediscovered productions, Kahana demonstrates how documentary collects and delivers the evidence of the American experience to the public sphere, where it lends force to political movements and gives substance to the social imaginary.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51212-1
    Subjects: Film Studies, Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-40)

    Since the late 1920s and early 1930s, when filmmakers and critics in the United States, England, and other Western industrial nations began regularly to use the term “documentary” to refer to a discrete practice of filmmaking, it has been understood as a form of democratic and social pedagogy. Retooling producer and critic John Grierson’s 1929 definition of documentary as the “creative treatment of actuality,” Paul Rotha insists that the essence of the documentary method is its “intellectual ability” to draw out the “meaning behind the thing and the significance underlying the person.” Indeed, Rotha writes in 1935, because social contradiction...

  6. Part I. The Sentiment of Trust:: The Documentary Front and the New Deal

    • 1 NATIONAL FABRIC: Authorship, Textuality, and the Documentary Front
      (pp. 43-88)

      Established in 1935 by George Gallup, the American Institute of Public Opinion (later the Gallup Organization) was one of the means created in the 1930s for giving form to what, according to historian Warren Susman, was until then a vague abstraction to most Americans: an American culture. In fact, Susman suggests, the concept of “most Americans” would have been relatively meaningless to most Americans before the 1930s, when new intellectual, technological, and cultural forms allowed the consolidation of a felt sense of national identity.¹ Polling was one of a number of cultural technologies refined in the period to give the...

      (pp. 89-140)

      The totalizing state projects of social welfare, land management, and economic regulation carried out by Western industrial nations in the 1930s have often been described in terms of an all-powerful vision that mapped both space and social relations. Documentary photography and cinematography were perfectly suited to the optic of social, scientific, and economic rationality that James Scott identifies as a hallmark of the high modernist state.¹ These modes of visual representation gained prominence in the period as means to document and promote state efforts to transform natural and social space. Fusing the symbolic registers of art and science, the new...

  7. Part II. Lyrical Tirades:: New Documentary and the New Left

    • 3 REVOLUTIONARY SOUNDS: Listening to Radical Documentary
      (pp. 143-204)

      The dynamics of sound in various forms were no less important to radical documentary in the 1960s and 1970s than they were to the development of the New Deal and Popular Front versions of social documentary, with their oracular voices and dramatic modern scores. The methods and concerns of European and North American cinéma vérité documentary promised a cinema of social commentary that would be freed from the imperious voice-over exposition of classical documentary. The political goals of radical filmmakers aligned with the civil rights, antiwar, feminist, and gay liberation movements—above all, of giving voice to those whose struggle...

      (pp. 205-266)

      In the previous chapter, I maintained that different versions of the new documentary of the 1960s and 1970s consistently made use of the formal tension between sound and image to express New Left political and social initiatives. By 1971, the movement that such films had helped to establish was losing momentum, handicapped by the murder or exile of many important radical figures and further burdened by squabbles internal to radical filmmaking organizations and within the left in general. While progressives deliberated on the next form of their work, a new horizon of struggle was emerging: the prison. In this chapter,...

  8. Part III. The Public Sphere of Suspicion:: Documentary in the New Obscurity

    • 5 THE VISION THING: Documentary, Television, and the Accidental Power of the President
      (pp. 269-318)

      The use of techniques of publicity borrowed from advertising and commercial entertainment is widely regarded as a primary cause of two complementary problems in American society: the disengagement of the general population from political issues and the democratic process and voters’ apparent fascination with political candidates whose charisma, celebrity, or good looks stand in for their qualifications for office.¹ The special recall election to replace Governor Gray Davis of California in 2003 illustrated the populist variant of this thesis. The election allowed a number of publicity seekers to nominate themselves as gubernatorial candidates, some of whom owed their relative fame...

    • 6 TENSE TIMES: Documentary Aporias; Or, the Public Sphere of Suspicion
      (pp. 319-360)

      Throughout this book, I have maintained that documentary is not just an apparatus for the delivery of facts and information that are merely registered in it automatically, nor simply a vehicle of ideas formed elsewhere and prior to the cinematic process, but a practice of knowledge unto itself. In this sense, I have been arguing that documentary represents the kind of social imaginary that Raymond Williams calls a structure of feeling. What Williams means by this paradoxical construction is nearly impossible to think, since we usually oppose feelings to structures. And this difficulty is precisely his point. Over and against...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 361-414)
    (pp. 415-420)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 421-436)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 437-440)