· Reviews

Doc Style: Vérité, Cinematic & Gonzo

Cinema Verite and Cinematic are three distinct styles of documentary filmmaking explified by these 3 movies.

Chronicle Of A Summer

An anthropologist and a sociologist explore the possibilities if documentary film. Their experiments try to discover whether or not human emotions can be as real on film as in real life.

The question of whether one can act naturally before a camera had never before been explored in such depth than Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin set out to do in the 1960s in Paris and Saint-Tropez. The sociologist and the anthropologist endeavor to find out and set out to make the first movie in cinema verite.

Rouch helped to create African cinema. Among the first to use handheld synced sound.  Thought the presence of a camera inspired people to express themselves more fully. America: Direct Cinema is the American version of cinema verite.

‘I mostly work through the day.’ What do people to all day? They go through the streets asking whether people are happy. Everybody says they spend their life working.

Then we see people doing small jobs at the workplace. ‘The jobs have become so divided and deconstructed that you cannot take ownership.’ You become a small ant in the colony. You lose yourself. Everybody feels the same way.  Search for fulfillment and purpose.

Woman: Leaving behind fantasy worlds. Everything becomes ordinary. Most people are bored. French existentialist ideas.

An African man brings another viewpoint and teaches them the joy of life. When asking questions from people in Saint-Tropez they don’t understand their negativistic viewpoints.

After the film the sociologist and the anthropologist invite the ‘actors’ to see the films and comment. Controversy – people disagree on whether someone is real or acting.

Original Title: Chronique d'un été, Released: 1961, France, Length:  85 min, Directors: Jean Rouch, Edgar Morin. Reviewed on Deceber 22, 2007.

The Thin Blue Line

Morris creates a dramatic re-enactment of a crime scene investigation of the murder of a police officer on road patrol. There were two people who were near the scene but they tell different stories and it is difficult to find out what really happened. The evidence gathered is circumstantial, and some of the police officers on the job are incapable of even remembering the number plate of a fleeing car.

Morris was the man who broke the Cinema Direct style and started to make documentaries that looked cinematic. He seems to be saying there is no reason why the truth should look shaky and badly composed.

While this is perhaps not his most popular film (the later works like this year’s Standard Operating Procedure seem to have chosen themes which gather a larger audience) it should still be noted that with this film Morris in essence established a new kind of nonfiction film making.

This film is really something else. It is innovative in almost every aspect and when seen at first it might not even seem to be a documentary. Yet it is in the sense that it tries to document reality.

Released: 1988, USA. Length:  103 min. Director: Errol Morris. Reviewed on December 1, 2007.

Roger & Me

When General Motors, the automotive industry giant decides to move out of Flint, Michigan to pursue cheaper labor abroad in Mexico, the city goes into an economic decline.

Michael Moore, still a relatively unknown documentary filmmaker investigates and tries to contact the company bosses, and documents his journey in a down to earth personal style.

Michael Moore almost always has a similar style.  He takes on a big problem and tries to follow it trough talking to the greedy big companies, the useless incompetent government, and the poor helpless people affected.

Moore seems simple and approachable, which makes him easy to talk to. Yet he is rebuffed on his every try to reach that ominous man on top of the corporate pyramid.

What is most likeable about this film is that same simple realization that not all are equal, and that the big corporations can ignore you if you are not coming from the ‘big media’, as it exactly happens with Moore.

Moreover, some of the people who used to be and still are part of that simple community have now become officers who escort people out of their houses, inspectors who must tell people that they need to leave their home.

And the only response they can give to these desperate people is – I’m sorry, this is not personal… I can’t do anything.

Right from the beginning of his career Moore started to include autobiographical information about himself in his films. Roger and Me was Moore’s first film to achieve any sort of a success with this approach, and he has continued to use that style even in his later movies such as Sicko.

This approach has the effect of making his viewers accustomed to his style, and this is one of the reasons why his viewpoints have become more understandable to the viewer. Moore becomes the everyday man on the streets – after all, he’s just one of us – which gives his films a fair deal of credibility among the people.

Moore has strong liberal views which he publicly propagates. Before he became a filmmaker he had some background in newspaper publishing both in his home state Michigan and California which gives an insight into how much he cared about ‘the truth’ from an early age.

By taking a creative approach to advocating his ideas and revealing ‘the truth’, he has been able to make the public aware of issues such as the violence of the American culture; he has made these issues more clearly visible and discussed in the public sphere.

Moreover his films have contributed to the widespread ridicule of the ideas of ‘The Axis of Evil’ and ‘The War on Terror’. In a CNN interview he calls the US media the ‘cheerleaders’ of the US government. [1]Moore has also been very critical of the lack of democracy in America.

Because Moore fits in well with ‘regular people’ he’s able to get their trust and have them open up before him. He’s easygoing directing style focuses more on the people and the storyline than on the cinematic aspects of moviemaking.

By using humor as tool to talk about serious issues he can get away with highly controversial statements about the state and the government, while maintaining extensive public support.

In his film Moore has decried the Bush administration, the American health system, the American love of weapons and war and other societal or public policy issues.

In addition to being like by the people, Michael Moore has made big box office success (according to Hollywood.com[2], three of his films are among the top five highest grossing documentaries of all time) as well as received high critical praise for his movies.

His most prestigious awards include an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature (Bowling for Columbine), the César and Emmy awards as well as many other lesser known honorary titles.

Other Michael Moore documentaries include Canadian BaconThe Big One, Bowling for Columbine, and Fahrenheit 9/11.

Released: 1989, USA, Length:  91 min, Director: Michael Moore. Reviewed on December 19, 2007.

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