Sunday, July 31, 2005

A New Form Of Documentary?

I have noticed an emergence of late of a new type of documentary, which can be seen in the documentaries “Capturing the Friedmans” and “Tarnation” These documentaries are different from past ones in that they are composed largely through home movies and tape recordings of phone conversations. This would not have been possible a few years ago before the advent of the video camera and offers a number of possibilities to documentaries of the future, allowing unprecedented access into peoples lives.

Capturing The Friedmans is about the Friedman family and how a normal family disintegrates into chaos after the revelation that the father and one of the sons has been (allegedly) molesting little boys in their basement. The most amazing aspect of the film is the chance to see this disintegration on camera. For some reason one of the brothers constantly had a video camera on and we see them discussing legal options, arguing over dinner about whether their father and son are innocent etc, it really is an interesting watch.

As for Tarnation, Jonathon Caouette, the subject of the film, had shot hours upon hours of footage as he grew up and it offers a startling insight into his psyche, one scene that I found particularly disturbing was from when he was eleven and shot himself playing a white trash prostitute. His mother had been given electrical shock treatment by her parents and this had a huge effect on Jonathon growing up so it seems he used the video camera as a method of depersonalization, in order to make some sense out of his life.

The film was written, directed and edited by him on apples new “imovie” software for a measly $218dollars. Gus van Sant saw it and decided to pick it up for distribution. The fact that this one guy could go out there and get a movie made for such a measly sum offers amazing possibilities for documentary making in the future. I’m not sure if the ease at which people can make movies now is entirely a good thing because for every Tarnation there’s going to be a hundred excruciatingly bad self important ones. With every man and his dog being able to make a movie could that possibly harm the studio system and see a huge rise in independent production? Well I’m not entirely sure about that because the studio system has become too entrenched but it is a possibility.

Some Links:

IMDB page for Tarnation

IMDB page for Capturing The Friedmans

"Tarnation" offical site


At 6:13 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

Ooh, I'd heard about Capturing the Friedmans. That just sounds creepy, but interesting.

The growing ubiquity of cameras means there are several angles of analysis for this form of documentary. If cameras are ever-present, are people going to act up to them as much as they would have done ten years ago?

I was struck by this while watching the hideous reality TV show "Brat Camp" a few months back. There was no awkwardness in the way the kids dealt with the presence of cameras, and it really revealed they already thought they were the star of their own little shows. I've run the theory past a few social worker comrades, and they think that possibility might ring true in terms of contributing to behaviour.

I also think your point that for every "Capturing the Friedmans" there'll be legion pretentious ones is probably true. On the other hand, the growing presence of such videocamera footage will reduce the necessity for the phrase "Re-enactment: May Not Have Happened," and made-for-television dramatisations of events which invariably star Alyssa Milano for some reason.

A film I'd recommend if you're interested in documentaries is called "The Last Broadcast." It's a fictional film that plays a lot with documentary techniques, and it inspired the "Blair Witch Project." Note: Is actually a good film. One word of warning: If you find it on VHS, the goons put the 'making-of' before the actual film, and it gives away the ending.

At 10:54 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

Capturing the Friedmans is an amazing movie, I saw it at the worlds film festival last year. It's an interesting concept to watch film that was never intended to be a backdrop to such a story, a stark contrast to the kids in 'brat camp' who are aware of the nature of the shows broadcast.

Oh and as for the ideas of doing things for the camera and been the star of their own little shows I'd highly recommend a film called 'Pretty Persuasion' which was recently at Sundance it looks at media and the obession of fame, I know I'm eagerly waiting for it to arrive here.

I think documentary's are always facinating, one of the most interesting films I saw last year was a documentary about the execution of Aileen Wuornos having also recently seen the Hollywood film 'Monster'

Actually I saw three distinctly differnt documentarys at the one festival last year, each interesting and captivating in their own ways (the third been 'Fog of War') but Friedmans was perhaps one of the most innovative, the narrative somewhat more compelling than the others.

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Childfree! It could have been so simple! said...

"Capturing the Friedmans" is a fantastic documentary and the DVD comes with a special DVD full of extras incl discussions between member of the public and the film maker.

However, I still cannot believe how popular and critically aclaimed "Tarnation" is. I bought the DVD before it came out at the Filmfestival, believing the critics who said that its nearly as good as "Capturing the Friedmans". This movie is "flismy". Its 90 minutes of narcissistic pain and (IMHO) a complete waste of film. I hope that this is not an example for future things to come.

On the other hand I find it slightly fascinating that he edited his own movie on imovie. Probably a real editor could have made a half decent movie out of it.

At 8:52 AM, Blogger Childfree! It could have been so simple! said...

I just wanted to say that my rant is purely on the movie and not on your post!! Not that you think that I'm shooting down your post or taste in any way. I was just so disappointed about this movie as I am a huge documentary film fan and was looking forward to seeing 'Tarnation' for ages.

Someone mentioned Errol Morris. His DVD to his 1980 documentary "Gates to Heaven" was finally released last month. Werner Herzog once said about this movie that if it will ever get finished he will eat his own shoe. This then resulted in another documentary "Werner Herzog eats his shoe".

Some of my favourite documentaries include "Dark Days", "Capturing the Friedmans", "American Movie" and "Animal Love".


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