Friday, August 26, 2005

Shredding Documentaries.

If you take a look at the definition of a documentary, you'll find the following:

1. Consisting of, concerning, or based on documents.
2. Presenting facts objectively without editorializing or inserting fictional matter, as in a book or film.

As a young pup in college, I took a fantastic history course from a Pulitzer Prize winning historian. I went to his office hours once to tell him about a great documentary I viewed. His response, "Vavoom, a good documentary leaves out the opinion of the creator. It allows a balanced view of a situation through the perspective of many that witnessed or played an active role in the event or phenomena in question. I'm afraid the documentary you watched does not meet those high standards."

Last night I watched "Supersize Me." It was interesting, it was funny, it was an editorial masterpiece. Yes, I agree with the premise of the movie -- we're fat and have poor nutritional habits and influences. Yet I didn't feel like the movie was really a documentary by definition, certainly not by the standards my old history professor set.

The same thing goes for Fahrenheit 911. Again, I agree that W is not the sharpest tool in the shed, we went to war in Iraq for the wrong reasons, etc. Still I can't help but cringe when I watch Michael Moore editorialize. His perversions of the truth are tantamount to fascist propaganda. Yes, I said that -- fascist propaganda. That's not to say that the Bush Administration isn't guilty of twisting the truth as well. Just as much as George W. Bush may be failing as a President, Michael Moore is a failure as a documentary maker.

Have we lost touch with what a true documentary should be? Have we learned to use editorials to validate our own opinions and feelings, thereby dooming the potential success of balanced studies of worldly events? What do you think, is the documentary a lost art?

24 Comments:

Anonymous little john said...

I agree about Supersize Me and 9/11. There are plenty of true docs out there, but they aren't exactly money machines (or so it is thought) so the big studios, distributors and theatre chains could care less. Have you seen March of the Penguins? Is that a doc? My kids are dying to go, so I guess I'll know soon.

2:46 PM  
Blogger thc said...

Michael Moore is not a failure as a documentary maker because it was never his intent to be one. What he is though, is a huge success as a capitalist!

3:59 PM  
Blogger Meow said...

v.
I couldn't have said it better myself.

6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting point. I agree, both docs goes over the top with their opinions and both peaces are very one-sided. It is the film industry that puts a label on these products...are you surprised they have swayed from the true meaning of documentary? I'm not.

8:38 PM  
Blogger LoraLoo said...

I agree with your points on both docs. Supersize me failed on many points because it wasn't objective - but I still haven't eaten McDonald's since I watched it. The propaganda worked on me there. Regarding 9/11, I think Michael Moore lost all credibility. I don't care for GW, but Moore didn't need to dramatize, take quotes out of context or skew facts to make a point. The facts are out there, they just weren't exciting enough to make any money.

11:09 PM  
Blogger An80sNut said...

From the reviews of some friends that went to see March Of The Penguins, yes it is a documentary and a good one. I feel there are a lot of good documentaries out there but I think that editorialists have crept into the film and journalism fields. I think that the History Channel has some great documentaries. Discovery Times/Link TV seem to lean towards an agenda. I do fall for good stories (just like practical jokes) even if it goes against my normal views. I'm sure there are some good docs out there like Dig (about the bands The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre) but most people going into a project already know what they want it to show.

11:34 PM  
Blogger A Fashionista said...

Never had desire to watch 911 or Supersize Me or Bowling for Columbine for that matter. Give me funny. 40 Year Old Virgin and Shallow Hal kind of stuff:)

2:55 AM  
Blogger Raine said...

Aloha from Hawaii, V.

Can't sleep--time is way off--so I'm glad to check in on your blog. :-)

I loved Supersize Me with the full knowledge that I was being manipulated as a viewer.

THC makes a good point about MM's Fahrenheit movie. Problem is that there are many non-discriminating viewers out there who take it all as truth.

It could probably be said that it is not possible to totally remove ones bias from a documentary, or perhaps if you do it comes off as insipid. Hmm, although, Ken Burns's Civil War documentary seemed unbiased to me. So, I'm not sure. Perhaps if it's a controversial issue it's much more interesting to see an "editorial documentary."

5:18 AM  
Anonymous tomw said...

"March Of the Penguins" is great. Of course, we saw it on a 100 degree day, which made it even better. My 4year old lost interest after awhile, but the others loved it. It's clearly a doc by most standards, but the producers most definitely want you to feel a certain way toward penguins. Just a warning...it's French. I've heard for over a year that MM skewed facts, perverts the truth etc. But I've never heard anyone cite specific examples. Sorry Vavoom, but Moore's film is not even remotely similar to fascist propaganda. Propaganda, yes, fascist,no. You started by using a dictionary, I propose you go back and look at it again.

9:12 AM  
Blogger RT said...

Well shoot. Raine took the words right out of my mouth, "THC makes a good point about MM's Fahrenheit movie. Problem is that there are many non-discriminating viewers out there who take it all as truth."

I think that happens with a lot of 'mockumentaries'. People either don't realize what they are watching, or they just don't care. They've already formed an opinion and the material just gives them more bullets for the gun, so to speak. ;o)

Personally, I couldn't get through the first half hour of F9/11 (even though I tried hard for friend who really wanted me to) because it insulted my intelligence so much that I simply couldn't stand for it any longer than that. I don't like MM and I have absolutely no respect for him as a film maker or a person, but I have to admit that he has every right to make those types of movies.
As for true documentaries (unbiased and based on fact), that's a hard call. I think there are some really good ones out there for our time. Unfortunately, with our knowledge constantly growing, it's hard to peg down what 'true' is. Maybe just using the proper perspective would help when viewing some of them?

9:38 AM  
Blogger Teri said...

I think the defenition of documentary has changed.. I bet if you ask, most people do not know the correct defenition of the word. I think it kinda goes on the same line as taking the bias out of the news.. It just doesn't happen very often because people have their own agendas.

10:01 AM  
Blogger RT said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:10 AM  
Blogger RT said...

Actually Tom, I think fascist does pretty much sum up Moore's political views. But seeing how there can be some debate there (Note: hyperbolic political epithet) how about we just call him an asshole, and leave it at that?

As for your request, this was just the first in a long list of Yahoo Links... Fifty-six Deceits in Fahrenheit 911

10:14 AM  
Blogger Fred said...

I don't think the documentary is a lost art. I do think it's on the endangered species list, however.

I did see a good one concerning 9/11 on National Geographic Channel last week.

So - they're out there; you just need to look hard.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Hoagie1 said...

We have not lost touch what a good documentary should be? We just always knew what it was and have never created it when it comes to a bypartisan issue.
Thats why Supersize Me and Fahrenheit 9/11 is so great because they get closer to what the definition od documentary should be.

4:19 PM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

tomw: RT's got it right --twas hyperbole. Take it easy -- we're practically family!

7:31 PM  
Blogger RT said...

Huh?

I might have gotten something right?

I never get anything right!

Stop confusing me!

It's all Tom's fault, he shouldn't have told us to look it up! LoL.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Moose said...

Atomic Cafe.

7:01 AM  
Blogger Lucy Stern said...

I have seen some documentaries that fit the critia that your history professor set, but Michael Moore was pushing an agenda and didn't care whether or not he was telling the truth. He twisted facts all over the place. He's a left wing liberalist. Good post.

5:27 PM  
Blogger dahvid said...

hey vavoom, the thing is... linguists who study social texts (e.g. history books, speeches, interactive events and other forms of documentaries) often state that no matter how objective these texts may appear to be, biases would always exist. neutrality is seldom evident because the producers of the text often have prior agendas (and/or ideologies) before producing them. we can't avoid them..but we can always try to open our minds to understand why people behave the way they do.

8:17 AM  
Anonymous tomw said...

Vavoom, what gives? Do I have to be smarter than blog security? I made a lengthy, yet thoughtful and pertinent, response and it vanished. Oh well, I won't repeat myself, but I can't keep quiet. RT really emphazised my point. I'ved heard numerous people claim that F9-11 was inaccurate, yet they never cite examples. Are their claims just based on hearsay? RT pulls up the first thing he sees on the web. Was the list read for accuracy? I can refute any of the major "deceits" on the list without any research. RT admits seeing virtually none of the film. How can one take issue with a work that you havn't seen or read? Which brings to mind a question. RT:Do you read or listen to Coulter, Malkin, Limbaugh, Hannity or Goldberg? They all employ, to one extent or another, similar tactics to MM. And you're right...he is an asshole. That's his shtick.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

tomw: A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do... spammers were killing me so I implemented the word verification tool. Sorry if that tripped up your comment. Here's an example of a misrepresentation -- what was up with Moore claiming a connection between al Qaeda, W and the Carlyle group? The facts were hardly irrefutable. In fact, all of it was presented as fact, not possibility. Also, he claimed that W met with the Taliban in Texas. That's simply not true. Yes, members of the Taliban independently visited Texas, but Bush did not meet with them. Like I said, I can't stand this administration, but I also can't stand misrepresentation passed off as crack reporting/documentary material.

1:16 PM  
Blogger RT said...

Excuse me... Excuse Me! RT is not a he! Let's get the facts straight, buddy. :o)

Nah, in all honesty, the website I found was the only thing I could offer because I did see so little of the film. But, you only asked for an opinion of the skewered facts, and I thought they did a pretty good job of detailing them...

(Just from what I saw of it, mind you. If you look deep enough, you probably will find that the details are correct, or at least close on most accounts, but then, you also prove my point that people will believe what they want to believe. If you really wanted to know the truth, you would have already checked it out. Or are you just challenging... Like I would do. Tricky little devil, I'll keep an eye on you.)

If you want to know my personal opinion, just ask. He pissed me off enough in the first ten minutes that I could rant for a month. And oddly enough, none of my rants have anything to do with what was mentioned on the list I provided.

If you guys are still reading... What about that SuperSize Me! I swear, the gag reflex alone has kept me coming back to it, lol. Glutton for punishment? Yeah, that's me. I didn't take it as a documentary, just as one person's experiment, but it was a pretty good job he did of it!

The difference between SuperSize Me and F9/11, however, was that the film maker didn't capitalize on hatred. That's my big thing with MM. He reminds me of that psychic dude, using every trick of the trade to evoke emotions in favor of his cause.

9:55 PM  
Blogger RT said...

Oh! BTW. I only recognize two names from that list, Tom. Limbaugh and Goldberg. I've never actually listened to them though, I only know the names because they were/are in the news so much... Should I be listening to them? I thought they were just hacks?

10:06 PM  

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