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Documentaries: Genre Theory John Grierson (1898-1972) 'The Father of Documentary Movement'
John Grierson came up with the term 'documentary' in 1926; he believed that the purpose of documentaries is to document an event that has actually happened using literal footage or reconstruction. Documentaries contain actual footage or reconstructions of events to provide evidence/contrast with the interviewee's account. They also include narration to anchor meaning, sometimes relying on the unseen narrator.
Grierson's principles of documentary were that cinema's potential for observing life could be exploited in a new art form; that the "original" actor and "original" scene are better guides than their fiction counterparts to interpreting the modern world; and that materials "thus taken from the raw" can be more real than the acted article. He created documentaries such as Coal Face and Housing Problems.
'What distinguishes a documentary is the portrayal of sound and images of actuality' - John Corner 1995. According to John Corner (from the University of Liverpool) there are five central elements of documentary; Observation, Interview, Dramatisation, Mise-en-scene and Exposition.
Observation: Most documentaries will include observations. Usually they pretend that the camera is unseen which places the audience as an eye witness. Observations are also used as evidence for interviews. However, they have been criticised for portraying participants as objects instead of subjects. Interview: Documentaries rely on interviews and these are used to support or contrast with the observation. The interviewer can be seen or unseen and pictures are often played to anchor meaning and make the interviews more interesting. Documentary makers have the choice to intercut fragments of interviews with other material or to just let the interview run.
Dramatisation: This is done through the observational element. It is used to create a sense of conflict and build up the arguments. The audience is placed as an eye witness and they portray people in the events based on fact Mise En Scene: This is used in documentaries to construct reality. Mise en scene is extremely significant and must be relevant to the documentary issues. It includes things such as; set, props, costume, make-up, lighting and colour to portray particular elements of representation.
Exposition: This element of the documentary reveals what argument is being explored. This is done through description and commentary. Exposition can be obvious, direct or indirect, or it can be hidden. Documentaries also tend to leave it up to the audience to interpret the issues in their own way.
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