Following up -- suggested readings following Assignment 1

  • Cinéma Vérité Documentary -- This article, from the perspective of a filmmaker is helpful in pointing out some of the strengths and pitfalls of the cinéma vérité ("truth cinema") approach. The pitfalls include the one I alluded to in my assignment, namely that the presence of a camera often influences the behaviour of all participants and renders the film that much less "true" or "real." One strength of cinéma vérité that excites the author is the potential of the film to find its own path during the editing process, claiming that "the story wants to tell itself." This would indeed be exciting but it seems a bit naive, given the author's understanding that the filmmaker is not an objective observer, but a participant in the process. The end of the article nevertheless shows that he is fully aware of this: "But if you want to 'shoot the truth', don't forget that you - the director - will ultimately make that 'truth' what you think it should be. Cinéma vérité in reality is 'Film Truth' as you - the filmmaker - saw it." Fair enough, I suppose, but this kind of "truth" -- subjective and limited -- is likely not the vérité that the French documentarians had in mind in the 1960s.

  • Marshall McLuhan lecture, The Medium is the Message - 1977 -- This is an interesting and wide-ranging Q&A session following McLuhan's 1977 lecture in Australia. Although the phrase "the medium is the message" has been in circulation since McLuhan published Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man in in Canada in 1964, it seems to have been misunderstood frequently. From the video of the Q&A, the primary point appears to be that the impact of a medium on the structures and experience of society vastly outweigh the impact of any one example or instance of the medium. For example, the effect that the coming of TV had on society was much more important than any episode of any particular program. The significance of this is that we tend to focus our attention on a program (was it good, bad, banal or immoral?) but neglect the effect that the medium is having on the ways that we conduct our relationships, education, public discourse or politics. In the particular case of broadcast media we forget that they affect us like the air we breathe and the water we drink, whether we choose it or not. This does indeed diminish content in favour of form, but I'm sympathetic to the idea: it reminds me very much of Jacques Ellul's argument (in The Technological Society (English, 1967) and The Technological Bluff (English, 1990) that technology is not neutral: we may think that we can employ technology for good or for harm, but we generally miss the point that the mere existence of a new technology reshapes society -- it changes the boundaries of what is or is not possible, what is or is not thinkable. I'm sure I'll be returning to McLuhan and Ellul.

  • Terry Barrett, "Teaching about Photography: Photographs and Contexts", Art Education, Vol. 39, No. 4. (Jul., 1986), pp. 33-36. -- This discussion of context as a path to interpretation and understanding in photography offers a useful scheme of internal (the "givenness" of the image), original ("that which was physically and psychologically present to the photographer when the image was made") and external (the new contexts created by how and where the photograph is presented) contexts. A change to one or more of these contexts will necessarily have an impact on how a work is understood. It seems to me, however, that there is at least one other context to be considered: that which the viewer brings to the act of viewing and interpretation. Barrett may deal with this in his other writings, so I will want to return to his site to benefit from his thinking.

  • Katie Duffy "Realism Final -- Middle Space: Bertold Brecht and Antonin Artuad’s [sic] influence on Jeremy Deller and Zoe Beloff" -- Duffy discusses an important distance between artist and spectator: "Jeremeny [sic] Deller and Zoe Beloff have placed a particular emphasis on not only the middle space that is the “artists cinema” but also the middle space between actor and spectator." This is the broad point I was making in Assignment 1 ("[Deller] turns audiences into actors"), but Duffy's article provides some historical and theoretical underpinning for my intuition. The distance created between audience and art by the artifice of historical re-enactment, for example, is designed to prevent the audience from adopting an easy interpretation from the work itself. Instead, viewers are provoked to consider a range of meanings that could be suggested by the work and to construct sense for themselves: there is no single narrative or viewpoint. This postmodern approach to art and narrative was not an accident for Brecht but part of a deliberate rejection of the theory of drama and narrative laid out in Aristotle's Poetics.

  • Natasha Hoare, The White Review, "The Past is a Foreign Country" -- "Distant, intangible, unreliable, lost, our histories, at the levels of personal and national, are at best half-remembered and at worst actively misrepresented." Hoare reviews a number of works, including Deller's Battle of Orgreave, and discusses how historical reenactment allows the audience to relive and reinterpret an even. In some cases, reenactment allows participants to do so as well (such as in Orgreave and Gillian Wearing's Bully [2010]).