Category: Documentary

Spectatorship & Documentary

What is spectatorship?

The concept springs from the idea of the ‘active audience’.

The ‘active audience’ suggests that the audience are not passive recipients of a film, but rather they actively spectate and seek meaning, which is built up from their previous experience of films, other stories and ‘cultural competences’. This is what is meant when we say we are ‘reading a film’ text as this suggests an active engagement with the text.

Another useful concept for you to consider is ‘the willing suspension of disbelief.’ This idea proposes that we engage with film as if it were real and become emotionally engaged with the characters and narrative. This pretending to ourselves that the film is ‘real’ is despite the fact we know they are actors, it’s all pretend and real life is never wrapped up so perfectly; happy endings are for fairy tales (or do we???).

What features of the film, promote spectatorship?

Watch this short film from Pixar and consider reflect upon how you are encouraged to respond to it.

The Alienation Effect

Look at this example of the ‘alienation effect’, a concept in which the director does not allow us to emotionally engage with the subject matter and prompts us to engage our intellect, such as in this advert:

Look at this diagram which attempts to explain how the relationship between a film and the spectator is constructed.

A question and a task

  1. Consider what factors might change or influence our understanding and emotional responses to a film.
  2. Find a trailer for a film that had a big impact on you and describe how you engaged emotionally and/or intellectually with the film.

Spectatorship Revision

THE PROBLEMS WITH SPECTATORSHIP?

  • How far is the spectator challenged by issues of manipulation in documentary film? Refer to the films you have studied for this topic.
  • ‘The complexity of spectator response suggests that documentary offers much more than just a window on some aspect of our world.’ Discuss this statement with reference to the films you have studied for this topic.

My definition:

Spectatorship refers to the dynamic relationship between the active audience, who have expectations that include: generic features, narrative & character development, themes and emotional catharsis, and the film (maker) which can exploit, develop or subvert those expectations through use of macro and micro feature. Thus the meaning of a film is fluid, complex, dynamic and formed in the active reading of the text by the spectator.

CONVENTIONS OF DOCUMENTARY FILMS?

Essays from past papers:

  • Discuss the significance of cinematography and sound in shaping the response of the spectator to the documentary films you have studied for this topic.
  • With reference to the films you have studied for this topic, how far can it be said that different kinds of documentaries offer different kinds of spectator experiences?

Resources

NARRATIVE

  • How far can it be said that narrative is key to the documentary spectator’s engagement with a  film’s themes and ideas?
  • How far is it preferable as a spectator to be presented with a documentary that offers a very definite point of view towards its subject? Refer to the films you have studied for this topic.

Worksheet for Narrative Analysis

CINEMATIC DEVICES (FROM FICTION FILMS)

  • ‘Documentaries make different requirements of the spectator compared with fiction films.’ With reference to the films you have studied for this topic, how far do you agree with this statement?
  • ‘The best documentaries are those which are aware of the need to engage spectators cinematically.’ How far do you agree with this statement?

Worksheet for Textual Analysis

REPRESENTATION

  • ‘For the spectator, identification with certain characters is crucial to the viewing experience of documentary films.’ With reference to the films you have studied for this topic, how far do you agree with this view?
  • How far are documentaries more challenging to the spectator because they appear to represent real life characters and situations?

Our textual analysis notes on characters at key moments in The Imposter.

Wider Reading / Research:

On documentary conventions and truth.

On documentary conventions

On Modes of Documentary

Our summary of the key points from key article / videos

Video Essays

Here are our video essays.

We are going to watch and respond in the following ways:

  • Does the essay directly address the question?
    • How many arguments or points are made?
    • Are the arguments well made and coherent?
  • Does the video explore specific (correctly identified) micro features from the film to support the argument being presented?
    • Are their alternative examples, which would work as well or even better?
  • Does the video explore the impact of the micro features on the audience?
    • Is there analysis vocabulary to link the example to the audience response?
  • Does the video consider the wider issues surrounding spectatorship:
    • Context, expectations, representations, documentary conventions, present / distant effect, alienation, emotional / intellectual responses…

How do the mode(s) of documentary in Amy & The Imposter seek to impact on the spectator?

How are the subjects of the documentary represented at key moments in the ‘narrative’?

What kind of experience do Amy & The Imposter try to construct for the spectator?

How do micro features seek to influence the spectator in one key scene or sequence from each documentary?

Here is our feedback on those essays, in which we feedback on what went well and even better if.

Your Video Essay

In pairs, you are going to be making a video essay on  the documentaries we have studied.

The video essay titles are:

  1. How do the mode(s) of documentary in Amy & The Imposter seek to impact on the spectator?
  2. How are the subjects of the documentary represented at 3 key moments in the ‘narrative’?
  3. What kind of experience do Amy & The Imposter try to construct for the spectator?
  4. How do micro features seek to influence the spectator in one key scene or sequence from each documentary?
    1. Sound
    2. Editing
    3. Cinematography

The video should be approx 3-5 minutes and should include a voice over. You must also use examples from the films, which can be repeated, frozen or slowed down. You should also use titles at key moments in your essay to emphasis your points / observations.

Plan your video essays carefully:

  • What are the points you are going to make?
  • What examples from the films are you going to use?
  • In which ways are the film comparable?
    • Please discuss this with your teacher.
  • Once you have selected key scenes, you should consider what you’re going to say about the micro features in that scene.

You can find complete versions of the films in the D Drive of each computer in room 79.

Create a project file for your video essay and start a new Adobe Premiere Project in that folder.

Import the two films into the project and find the sequence(s) you would like to explore in your video essay.

We will show you how to do enough editing in order to make a basic video essay.

The Imposter Essay

‘Documentaries work on the spectator in ways that are very close to fiction films, using narrative and character to create drama and suspense.’ With reference to The Imposter (2012) Layton, discuss how far you agree with this statement.

This essay is going to require you to consider the spectator in relation to narrative and character.

  • How are we invited (guided) to respond to the characters (especially Bourdain) through micro features that have been appropriated (borrowed) from fiction films?
  • How do we engage with the different characters through the documentary convention of the interview?
  • How does Layton use fiction film techniques in the specific reconstruction sequences to ‘work on’ the audience and create drama and suspense?
  • How is the narrative established and structured for us? How are we positioned in the ‘narrative’ and how does Layton restrict or reveal key narrative information?
  • What is the central theme in the narrative and  how is it revealed to us in the denouement?

Resources on Amy

Here is some contextual research we did on the representation of Amy Winehouse during the last few years of her life. It show how she was demonised by the press who focused on her troubled private life far more than on her music achievements:

Please listen to the Film Programme interview with James Gay-Rees (producer) and Chris King (editor) of Amy. Here is a link to the podcast, the interview starts at 03.20 and runs until 13.30.

  • What comments do they make about the documentary and about the creative process?

Reviews on Amy (the film)

This is an excellent review on the documentary by Guardian Films and a great one from Roger Ebert.

  • Please read both and find a quote which references the reviewers spectatorship of the film.

The Essential Read

An excellent interview with Kapadia, in which he discusses his role and also presents one very good reading of the film, which you would do well to consider.

Our responses to Amy

Here is a link to some good responses to the short answer questions that were set on this film.

  • Mr Gregson
  • Miss Hales

Amy (2015) Kapadia

Our second documentary.

We are going to complete some contextual research to enhance our our understanding of Amy Winehouse as a person from her projection into the limelight to her untimely death (and the aftermath of this).

This film might be described as a revisionist text, so we need to have an understand of the representation and public image of Winehouse during her life.

In pairs (of your choosing) you are going to complete a collage/montage of the representation of Amy Winehouse from the popular (tabloid) press. Please find a mixture of headlines, quotes or  articles, news, reviews of her music and concerts, images of her throughout her life.

Create an A3 poster (or a single slide of a slideshow) of these images and think of 10 – 15 different adjectives/quotes used to describe her. You may find that some of these adjectives represent quite conflicted ideals. Please print (share) this and be ready to present it during Wednesdays lesson.

Additionally you should answer the following questions about the film:

  • What year was the film produced? How long after Amy’s death?
  • Who is the director? What relationship does he have to the material?
  • Who produced the film? (production company)
  • What other films are the director known for?
  • What other films is the production company known for?
  • Has the film won or been nominated for any awards? Which?

Introduction To Documentary

This week you will be required to watch a documentary film and make a brief presentation (about 5 minutes) on some key features of that documentary. These features  mirror the concepts and approaches to documentary that we will be using as we study our two exam texts:

Session 1

The first problem you have to face, and will continue to face, is one of definition.

Task 1:

Define documentary, as a (for want of a better word) genre.

  • This definition should be followed by a list of conventional features that you would expect in a documentary.

Task 2:

Watch the opening 10-15 minutes of one of the following documentaries:

  1. Supersize Me (2004) Spurlock or Bowling for Columbine (2002) Moore)
  2. Wisconsin Death Trip (1999) Marsh
  3. Grizzly Man (2005) Herzog
  4. March of the Penguins (2005) Jacquet
  5. Man on Wire (2008) Marsh
  6. Etre et Avoir (2002) Philibert
  7. Touching the Void (2003) MacDonald

You must watch the rest of the documentary, however, you may not take the documentary home – you must watch it in school.

Task 3:

Does your definition continue to work?

  • Modify as necessary to fit your example documentary.

Task 4:

Read this:

Session 2

How are the audience positioned in relation to the ‘characters’/subject matter?

Present (subjective positioning) or Distant (objective positioning) or a combination of both? Explore this worksheet to consider the audience positioning in your documentary?

Relationship with the film-maker

To what degree is the documentary maker a presence within the documentary?

  • What is the impact of this on this spectator?

Session 3

Reflect on the following issues in relation to your documentary:

  1. To what degree is the spectator guided (you might even say manipulated) by narrator or filmic technique (micro) to adopt a particular intellectual or emotional response to the subject matter?
  2. What is the agenda of the documentary film maker?
    1. Do we trust them?
    2. Are we presented with the unvarnished truth?
    3. How is the representation of the subject(s) structured for the spectator?
    4. What values or messages (ideology) does the filmmaker seem to have?

Session 4

Summarize the key issues raised in the article you read in the last session.

Read this: modes of documentary.

Into which mode does your documentary fit best?

  • What evidence from the text  illustrate that particular mode?

Session 5

Present your findings

Discuss the following definition of a documentary as, ‘The creative treatment of actuality.’ (Flaherty)

Spectatorship Presentations:

Discuss the significance of cinematography and sound in shaping the response of the spectator to the documentary films you have studied for this topic.

Essay Plan 01 – George

Essay Plan 02 – Nicole

Essay Plan 03 – Katherine

‘Documentaries should never be trusted.’ How important to the spectator is the sense that they should trust the documentary filmmaker? Refer to the films you have studied for this topic.

Essay Plan – Megan

With reference to the films you have studied for this topic, how far can it be said that different kinds of documentaries offer different kinds of spectator experiences?

Essay Plan on modes of documentary – Maggie

How far is the spectator challenged by issues of manipulation in documentary film? Refer to the films you have studied for this topic.

Essay Plan – Jess

Grierson defined documentary as the ‘creative treatment of actuality’. What are some of the key issues raised by this definition for spectators of documentary?

Essay Plan – Tom

What are some of the pleasures that viewing a documentary film offer the spectator? Refer to the films you have studied for this topic.

Essay Plan – Amba

Spectatorship – Final Essay

Please complete one of these essays as your final submission on spectatorship & documentary.

You should write approximately 1,000 – 1,200 words and should refer to at least two of the documentaries we have studied for this unit in depth.

  1. What are some of the pleasures that viewing a documentary film offer the spectator?
  2. ‘For the spectator, identification with certain characters is crucial to the viewing experience of documentary films.’ With reference to the films you have studied for this topic, how far do you agree with this view?
  3. ‘The best documentaries are those which are aware of the need to engage spectators cinematically.’ How far do you agree with this statement?
  4. ‘Documentaries should never be trusted.’ How important to the spectator is the sense that they should trust the documentary filmmaker? Refer to the films you have studied for this topic.
  5. Compare two or more approaches to documentary film-making and discuss which you feel has the greater impact on the spectator.
  6. Discuss the significance of cinematography and sound in shaping the response of the spectator to the documentary films you have studied for this topic.