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Parent categories: documentary - film
Related: cinéma vérité - mockumentary - "mondo" movies - problem of definition - non-fiction - reality - sex education films - shockumentary
Films: The Blood of the Beasts / Le sang des betes (1949) - Georges Franju
L’Arrivée d'un train à la Ciotat (1895) - Louis Lumière
image sourced here.
In the early days of cinema, most films were documentary in nature.
DefinitionAn incredibly broad category of cinematic expression, traditionally, the only common characteristic to all documentary films is that they are meant to be non-fiction films. The French used the term to refer to any non-fiction film, including travelogues and instructional videos. The earliest "moving pictures" were by definition documentary. They were single shots, moments captured on film, whether of a train entering a station, a boat docking, or a factory of people getting off work.
Early film (pre-1900) was dominated by the novelty of showing an event. These short films were called "actualities." Very little storytelling took place before the turn of the century, due mostly to technological limitations: cameras could hold only very small amounts of film; many of the first films are a minute or less in length. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_film, Apr 2004
The actuality film is a non-fiction film genre that like the documentary film uses footage of real events, places, and things, yet unlike the documentary is not structured into a larger argument, picture of the phenomenon or coherent whole. In practice, actuality films preceded the emergence of the documentary. During the era of early cinema, travelogues, newsreels, reenactments, and other short films depicting current events were just as popular and prominent as their fictional counterparts. In fact, the line between "fact" and "fiction" was not so sharply drawn as would become after the documentary came to serve as the predominant non-fiction filmmaking form.
Despite the demise of the actuality as a film genre, one still refers to "actuality footage" as a building block of documentary filmmaking. In such usage, actuality refers to the raw footage that the documentarist edits and manipulates to create the film. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actuality_film [Nov 2005]
A docudrama or docu-drama is a type of work (usually a film or television show) that combines elements of documentary and drama, to some extent showing real events and to some extent using actors performing set pieces to take dramatic liberty with events. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Docudrama [Nov 2005]
A pseudodocumentary is a film genre which uses documentary style, location shooting and actuality film footage in the context of fictional narrative filmmaking. Most notably, it was associated with a briefly popular cycle of films that Hollywood put out in the late 1940s, especially those produced by Louis de Rochemont and directed by Henry Hathaway. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudodocumentary [Nov 2005]
SemidocumentarySemidocumentary is book, movie, or television program presenting a fictional story that incorporates many factual details or actual events. The first film of it's kind was The House on 92nd Street. The producer of the film previously worked on newsreels which inspired the film making style. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semidocumentary [Nov 2005]
Les Marines (1957) - Francois ReichenbachA Marine sergeant towers over an anonymous recruit, an appropriate image from a terrifying documentary about the training of American Marines, made by a French director with inexplicable Department of Defense permission. Brutalization, systematic destruction of willpower, sadism: incipient fascism. --Film As a Subversive Art (1974) - Amos Vogel
L'Amerique Insolite (1958) - Francois ReichenbachThis documentary is a general, unquestioning travelog of the United States through the eyes of French director and co-cameraman Francois Reichenbach, a director often fascinated with life in the home of the French-made Statue of Liberty. From the attractions of the West Coast including Disneyland to the skyscrapers of New York, Reichenbach is curious about everything. A prison rodeo (later to come under closer and more critical scrutiny in the '90s), culturally and ethnically mixed neighborhoods, religions outside the mainstream, ghost towns, and the unique world of the American teen are all given a peek. These views of the U.S. are informative though absent of critical analysis. ~ Eleanor Mannikka, All Movie Guide
Man With the Movie Camera (1929) - Dziga Vertov
Man With the Movie Camera (1929) - Dziga Vertov [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
Dziga Vertov (January 2, 1896–February 12, 1954) was a Russian documentary film and newsreel director. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dziga_Vertov [Oct 2004]
Man with the Movie Camera (Chelovek s Kinoapparatom) is an experimental 1929 silent documentary film by Russian director Dziga Vertov. The film follows a cameraman around various cities, intercutting his footage with footage of him filming and footage of a woman editing, and includes a number of cinematic techniques such as double exposure, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, Dutch angles, extreme closeups, tracking shots, footage played backwards, and a self-reflexive storyline (at one point it features a split screen tracking shot; the sides have opposite Dutch angles). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_with_the_Movie_Camera [Oct 2004]
Cinema of Nonfiction (1990) - William Guynn
Cinema of Nonfiction (1990) - William Guynn [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
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