Inhouse classes started with the course Modes of representation, which gave us an overview of the modes (genres) that have been used to represent reality on film since the start of anthropology and documentary cinema, which coincided around 1830.
The modes have followed the general trends in anthropological theory, which are:
The first approach to anthropology was linguistic or text-based, that is, very concrete and fact-centred.
Represented by Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913).
1940s-50s. Symbols, signs and structures were analysed as society’s metaphysical base.
Represented by Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009). (However, Lévi-Strauss was later criticised for his subjective categories of male-female, raw-cooked, etc.)
1960s-70s. Has no problem with the subjectivity mentioned above, but emphasises that it is the interpretation of the anthropologist.
Represented by Clifford Geertz (1926-2006) and his idea of thin and thick descriptions, where the latter demand deeper engagement (more time, speaking the language, etc).
1960s-80s. Represented by Michel Foucault (1926-1984), who said that everything is culturally specific and historically situated.
Geneology taken from Hegel: What we know now is only based on our cultural specifics (the way we interpret old texts is rooted in who we are now).
There is no Grand Narrative – postmodernism destroys the boastful claims of the Enlightenment.
This lead to the “crisis of representation”. Example: Reassemblage, a poststructural film which was a critique of text, linguistics and science – deconstructing it. (See below.)
1986: “Writing Culture” by James Clifford and George Marcus. Subtitled The poetics (“how”) and politics (“who”) of ethnography, the book took Foucault seriously and asked that we situate ourselves. The “how” lead to “audiovisual anthropology” (anthropology being the theory behind ethnography).
Since the 1990s there are three trends:
- Performative. (Johannes Fabian, 1937-)
- Reflexive or self-reflexive. (Trinh T. Minh-ha, 1952-)
- Auto-ethnography. (Catherine Russell.)
Pierre Bourdieu’s (1930-2002) pragmatism is linked to the Performative. But there are no big names since the 1990s. We just add affixes to “anthropology”: “of food”, “of gender”, “visual”, etc. But there is no change in approach.
Bill Nichols’ 5 categories, where one comes after the other (historical emergence):
- Expository (came with the objectivism of the scientific/text/linguistic based early anthropology)
- (Poetic – but he took away this category in later texts)
All of these modes co-exist and can be mixed – but one of them is always dominating, or is the intention of the author. We should reflect on which category we want to be when we do our film projects.
Performative is such a large genre that it needs further division (since no one has described these new trends since Nichols 2004):
- Haptic cinema
- Sensory ethnography
Performative is the trend right now, and especially sensory and auto-ethnography, whereas haptic is fading a bit.
Relational (intersubjective) triangle
The relational processes go in all directions and create a “WE” – ideally! But not all filmmakers make sure that this is the case, as we will see in many examples.
The triangle is a methodological tool for us when analysing films and when making our own (or when interacting with our camera person in the field).
Visual & audio: Only one visual track but many, many audial possibilities, which is why we must be observant of that when analysing film.
In a project proposal, you don’t only present which type of film you want to make (participatory, etc), but also your audiovisual approach.
Watch: Pete Watkins: “The War Game” (1960s). Changes your perception of documentaries.
The modes of representation
From “exposé”. Example: Jorge Furtado’s (1959–) Ilha Das Flores (1989), a parody of the expository mode.
Voice of god. Text-based; text comes before images. Example: Newsreel with different narrations depending on the country where it’s broadcast. Seems to be objective, which was ridiculed in Furtado’s film.
Laurent: Some media activists are also using the expository model, thereby using the same system that the system they are criticising. They need to rethink their strategy.
Experts (“talking heads”) and vox populi (“man on the street”) are also expository techniques.
In the triangle, the voice of God positions itself outside the triangle. (There is of course an ”I”, but it is hidden – ”outside the relationship”.)
Comment (Alon): The expository (explaining) genre is coming back because of Youtube.
“Direct cinema”. Claims to be real, non-judging. Example: Frederick Wiseman (1930–), the “pope of direct cinema” (despite he was the sound guy): Titicut Follies (1967). Also Jean Rouch (1917-2004), Raymond Depardon (1942–), and the Maysles brothers = Albert (1926-2015) and David (1931-1987).
Came in the 1960s after expository because of smaller portable cameras. Characterized by long shots, but also by “dances”; you (especially Wiseman) “dance” with reality, zooming in, moving, using “on the camera editing”, creating dynamism within the frame while shooting, “without leaving the floor”. But you keep sound continuity.
Many films today are observational, probably half of the graduating students’ films.
Wang Bing (1967–), who is very big now, is pure observational cinema. Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL) at Harvard?
In the triangle, the “I” is there in the way he frames and edits the reality, but we (“you”) don’t know anything about him, nor do “they”. So it’s a relation between They and You but via I. => Interpretative (or almost structuralist) = before postmodernism.
The Expository and Observational modes are still ABOUT something. It’s a scientific endeavor. Presented as reality, but mediated via the I. That’s why they are pre-postmodern.
Observational brought up the concept of “point of view”. It’s a political stance, also in a physical sense – where do I position the camera? You say something by the way you film something. Wiseman criticised about 30 American institution by positioning himself by the side of the little man (for example the prisoner in Titicut Follies). The German word for a shot, “Einstellung”, highlights this.
Advice: Don’t zoom: Body-zoom! That way, when you go close you’re negotiating with the subject. Or you want to provoke something. (Some directors use it as a choice.)
Participatory in the sense that the filmmaker participates, collaborative in the sense that They collaborate with the filmmaker.
Example: Johan van der Keuken (1938–2006): Herman Slobbe / Blind Kind II, 1966. Handheld camera. Also Pedro Costa (1958–).
“Everything in a film is a form. Herman is a form. See you later, sweet form.” (“Form” in Dutch also means “silhouette”.)
Starts as a film ABOUT, but becomes WITH = participatory (collaborative). Generally participatory is WITH whereas the observational ones are ABOUT.
Technical development: You could give out your handheld cameras to your subjects.
Clear link to Foucault and postmodernism in the relation to the present: The context is not only situating the film (I’m a filmmaker, etc), but there is also a relation to outside things that are happening in the world, which affects the filmmaker’s microcosm.
Structured improvisation: In Blind Kind II, the car race and the ferris wheel scenes were not planned, but the filmmaker went along. Features of performative. Relation between form and content. When he films the kid from the back, then from his front – you have to plan this on the set. Uses free jazz, in which the filmmaker’s and the subject’s worlds meet.
Laurent on Blind Kind II: “Why is the sound so intense? Because it’s his feelings! That is what the filmmaker has captured.”
They become The I.
Funny ending: “Now I’m gonna do my next film, bye bye.” So there was a relation, but now it’s over, and that’s not bad, just honest.
Hermann Slobbe is full of contradictions; first he says something “good” about racism, but after that he is shown saying something negative about Spaniards. Hermann is not perfect. People are contradictory and should be depicted as such.
The triangle is full in van Keuken => a sense of WE! Shared cinema, shared knowledge; the filmmaker doesn’t hold the truth.
A collaborative film depends on whether They want to collaborate. You can only wish for such a film.
Example: Trinh T. Minh-ha (1952–): Reassemblage, 1982. Questions the whole idea of filmmaking and deconstructs the film language. A bomb in visual anthropology, the “crisis of representation”. Peter Kubelka’s (1934–) “Unsere Afrikareise” from 1966 uses some of the same techniques as Minh-ha. Minh-ha even did “split-screen” in her writing.
Her film and reflexive mode in general has been criticised for being too centered on the I and the YOU, not the THEY. We know almost nothing about They (which is her point), but They are even used as a way for I to relate (oneway) to YOU, which has been criticised (“you’re still using them!”).
Reflexive came out of Critical theory of the 1980s (Bill Nichols). And lead to self-reflexive.
You can’t build a career on reflexive films. You can do them to criticise, but in the end: “So what do you propose?” (Solomon: “What now?”) To me it seems like negative positioning, which is not constructive.
Not subtitled, because the talk in the film makes sense as a sound and not as a meaning. Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s (1966–) Leviathan (2012), a sensory film, is also not subtitled.
Comment (Maia) and discussion: It’s unethical not to subtitle the people who speak on camera. No, why would we assign so much importance to the meaning of the talk as opposed to the sound? Annabel: It’s ethnocentric to always want the talk in our own language, thereby interpreting it according to our own culture. Laurent: In Vietnam French films were subtitled live, but not only the talk but also explanations like “we’re now in a bourgeois home”, etc.
1980s. The advent of small cameras.
Johannes Fabian’s (1937–) way of speaking of performative anthropology in “Power and performance” goes back to interpretative and Foucault.
How do you create knowledge? “If the plane had not passed, it would not have instigated this discussion.” Earlier, this knowledge was put into TEXT: “I KNOW this.” But they don’t reveal what kind of chance circumstance lead to this knowledge! Therefore, Fabian uses transcripts a lot.
There is nowadays room to improvise and change the film once you have gone to the scene.
In the Performative mode, films become more thematic (food, racism, gender, etc) and not so much about.
John Smith’s (1952–) films from the 1960s on. Hotel Diaries. Subtheme is Israeli-Palestine conflict, but never directly. Made “Museum Piece” in Berlin 2004. (4 takes, he chose the 2nd one.) Inner dialogue, stream of consciousness. (The more you do it, the less improvisation, and at one point you just repeat yourself.)
Make a 3 minute film with a clear start and end point, and an in between that should be decided by what you see. No cuts. In between we will see how the reality speaks to you, and what it makes you think of. Silence is allowed too. Talk while you film (no voiceover). The tutors want to feel the auto-ethnographic movement in the film: Something connected to me. One shot but on camera editing. Body-zoom, etc. (Normal zooming forbidden.) Camera, phone, whatever. Bring it on a stick. Don’t use timeline except for exporting. Or Vimeo. Not Youtube. 😉
Autoethnography: Personal story => universal story.