FILM (DOCUMENTARY).EARLY DOCUMENTARIES
THE LATE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Early European documentary film relied on preexisting forms of popular culture as sources of inspiration. During this period, documentary films carried news stories, exhibited celebrity tours and sporting occasions, and showed exotic locales. However, the ability of documentary to render everyday realities was also a factor, as is evident in the fascination that the brothers Auguste-Marie-Louis-Nicolas and Louis-Jean Lumière provoked with La sortie des usines Lumiére (1895; Workers leaving the Lumière factory) and Arrivée d'un train à la Ciotat (1895; Arrival of a train at Ciotat). Early documentaries also played a public relations role for corporate enterprise, as in Life on the Oxo Cattle Ranch (1911). However, after the advent of World War I, films of greater substance such as The Battle of the Somme (United Kingdom, 1916) and On the Firing Line with the Germans (Germany, 1915) appeared, and during this period documentary also became increasingly employed as a form of state propaganda.
The first important movement of documentary film was the British documentary film movement. John Grierson (1898–1972), the movement's founder, hoped that the documentary film might provide an effective channel of communication between government and people and thus play a role in defending European democracy against the inroads of fascism, communism, and unregulated capitalism. However, although the films of the documentary film movement had a social purpose they were also characterized by a modernist aesthetic inclination, apparent in Grierson's Drifters (1929), a film that combines modernist technique with the more expository imperatives of the information film. Other important films produced by this movement include Industrial Britain (dir. Robert Joseph Flaherty and others, 1933), The Song of Ceylon (dir. Basil Wright, Alberto Cavalcanti, 1934) and Night Mail (dir. Harry Watt, Wright, 1936). Grierson himself was a producer rather than a director, as was (at this time) the other major figure within the documentary film movement, Cavalcanti. However, one important director who did emerge from the movement was Humphrey Jennings, who directed exceptional films such as Spare Time (1939), Listen to Britain (1942), and Fires Were Started (1943).
Around 1925 a modernist tradition of documentary filmmaking emerged in France, influenced by the nineteenth-century naturalist tradition and the pictorialist, naturalist, and cinematic impressionist schools of cinema of the 1910–1929 period. Films such as Voyage au Congo: Retour des souverains (1928; Voyage to the Congo, dir. Marc Allégret), Rien que les heures (1926; Nothing but the hours, dir. Cavalcanti), Études sur Paris (1928; Studies of Paris, dir. André Sauvage), La Zone (1928; The Slum Belt, dir. Georges Lacombe), Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche (1929; Nogent, Sunday's Eldorado, dir. Marcel Carné), and À propos de Nice (1930; On the subject of Nice, dir. Jean Vigo) emphasized film's capacity for rendering subjective vision through evocative suggestion, and employed impressionistic delineations of the urban environment to create poetic, expressive effects.
This school of French, poetic, modernist documentary can also be associated with the "city symphony" cycle of documentary films, which emerged in the late 1920s and includes German director Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (1927; Berlin: Symphony of a Great City), Soviet director Dziga Vertov's Chelovek s kino-apparatom (1929; Man with a movie camera), the Belgian Henri Storck's Images d'Ostende (1929; Images of Ostend), and, from the Netherlands, Joris Ivens's Regen (1929; Rain). The narrative structure in these films is composed of sequences that display activities taking place within the city during the course of a single day, and the films employ modernist techniques to convey an impression of the interconnected character of the modern city.
The works of Grierson, Storck, Vertov, Ruttmann, Ivens, Cavalcanti, Allégret, Sauvage, Lacombe, Carné, and Vigo, together with films such as the Soviet documentaries Turksib (1929; dir. Victor Turin) and Mekhanikha golovnogo mozga (1929; Mechanics of the brain, dir. Vsevolod Pudovkin), make up a body of modernist documentary filmmaking that appeared across Europe during the silent period. As with other forms of experimental filmmaking, this modernist paradigm went into decline after 1930, as the sound film became increasingly prominent, and as countries such as the Soviet Union, Germany, Spain, and Italy placed censorial diktat over what was perceived to be a reactionary form of modernist cinema.
The early documentaries considered here were also influenced by a dual imperative to constitute the documentary as an art form and to distinguish documentary from the superficiality of the commercial cinema. In many cases both these imperatives were influenced by political motives, as documentary filmmakers sought a more active political role for the medium. During the 1930s European documentary film became increasingly involved in the political sphere. In Germany, Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia 1. Teil—Fest der Völker and Olympia 2. Teil—Fest der Schönheit (1938; Olympia, Part one: festival of the nations, and Part two: festival of beauty) and Triumph des Willens (1935; Triumph of the Will) were appropriated as propaganda vehicles by the Nazi regime, although these ground-breaking films were more than mere propaganda pieces. In Britain, filmmakers such as Ivor Montagu and Ralph Bond made films such as Spanish ABC (1936) in support of the Republican cause during the Spanish civil war while the directors Norman MacLaren and Helen Biggar made the antiappeasement film Hell Unlimited (1936). Elsewhere in Europe, filmmakers such as Joris Ivens and Henri Storck made films with a political dimension, as in Storck's Histoire du soldat inconnu (1932; The History of an Unknown Soldier), and Ivens's Borinage (1933; Misery in Borinage) while political organizations such as the Workers' Film Association in Britain made films such as Advance Democracy (1938) as a means of promoting socialism.
During the war, a number of films produced by government agencies also achieved levels of accomplishment, including Germany's Feuertaufe(1940; Baptism of fire, dir. Hans Bertram), Feldzug in Polen (1940; Campaign in Poland, dir. Fritz Hippler), Sieg im Westen (1941; Victory in the West, dir. Svend Noldan), Vichy France's La Tragedie de Mers-el-Kébir (1940; The Tragedy of Mers-el-Kébir), the United Kingdom's Fires Were Started (1943, dir. Jennings), Desert Victory (1943, dir. Roy Boulting and James Lansdale Hodson), the Soviet Union's Stalingrad (1943; dir. Leonid Varlamov), and Pobeda na Pravoberezhnoi Ukraine i izgnaniye nemetsikh zakhvatchikov za predeli Ukrainskikh sovietskikh zemel (1945; Victory in Ukraine and the expulsion of the Germans from the boundaries of the Ukrainian Soviet earth, dir. Alexander Dovshenko and Yuliya Solntseva). Mention should also be made of Germany's highly anti-Semitic Der ewige Jude (1940; The eternal Jew, dir. Fritz Hippler), although many other anti-Semitic documentaries were made in France and Germany during the war years.
After the war, films such as the World of Plenty (1943; dir. Paul Rotha [U.K.]), Berlin im Aufbau (1946; Building up Berlin, dir. Kurt Maetzig [GDR]), Le retour (1946; The return, dir. Henri-Cartier Bresson [France]), and Diary for Timothy (1945; dir. Jennings [U.K.]) portrayed the problems of postwar reconstruction.
During the 1950s and 1960s the European art cinema became increasingly influential, and its corollary can also be found within the documentary films of the period. Feature filmmakers such as Michelangelo Antonioni and Alain Resnais turned to the documentary, while auteurist documentary filmmakers such as Georges Franju, Bert Haanstra, Chris Marker, Arne Sücksdorff, Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, Michel Brault, Frederic Rossif, and others came to prominence. Resnais's Nuit et brouillard (1955; Night and fog; 1955), with its striking portrayal of the Nazi death camps, and his Toute la mémoire du monde (1956; All the world's memory), were two of the finest documentaries of the period. Other important contributions included Rossif's Mourir à Madrid (1963; To die in Madrid), Chris Marker's Le joli mai (1963; The happy May), Jacques-Yves Cousteau's series of underwater films such as Le Monde du silence (1956; The Silent World, with Louis Malle), Arne Sücksdorff's Det stora äventyret (1953; The great adventure), and Franju's Hôtel des Invalides (1952; Hotel of the invalids), with its contemplation of the tragic consequences of war. Pier Paolo Pasolini's Comizi d'amore (1965; Love meetings) and Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin's Chronique d'un été (1961; Chronicle of a summer) also broke new ground in exploring tensions between the subjective and "objective" dimensions of documentary filmmaking. In Eastern Europe, documentary film was often used as a form of state propaganda and suffered as a consequence; perhaps the most significant film of note to emerge during this period is the East German Die Windrose (1956; The windrose), directed by Ivens and Cavalcanti as well as Yannick Bellon, Sergei Gerasimov, and Alex Viany.
One of the most important films to appear during the 1970s, Marcel Ophüls's Le chagrin et la pitié (1969; The sorrow and the pity), provided moving testimony to French complicity in the appeasement of Adolf Hitler. Werner Herzog also made documentary films during this period, including Fata Morgana (1971), and Land des Schweigens und der Dunkelheit (1971; Land of silence and darkness), the latter a powerful study of deaf and blind people. Also in West Germany, filmmakers such as Alexander Kluge and Hans-Jürgen Syberberg developed a modernist documentary style, while in Poland, Krzysztof Kieslowski made, among others, Bylem zolnierzem (1970; I was a soldier) and Pierwsza milosc (1974; First love), the latter a portrayal of the contradiction between romantic love and the harsh realities of life in communist Poland. From the 1940s to the late 1970s, distinctions between the documentary and the feature film also became blurred, as schools of documentary-based feature filmmaking, the most important of which was Italian neorealism, emerged in France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, and elsewhere.
During the 1980s and 1990s European documentary filmmaking become absorbed into new, more commercial subgenres such as reality TV. At the same time, the weakening of public service television broadcasting and the impact of globalization led to a decline in critical documentary filmmaking. However, although these factors dulled the potential of the genre, the more critical traditions of the European documentary were carried on by filmmakers such as Nick Broomfield, Molly Dineen, Nicholas Barker, and others. Bertrand Tavernier's La guerre sans nom (1992; The Undeclared War), which explores the Franco-Algerian War, deserves mention here, as do René Allio's L'heure exquise (1981; The delightful hour), Agnès Varda's Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (2000; The gleaners and I) and Claude Lanzmann's highly influential Shoah (1985).
In the USSR, following the implementation of Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, critical documentaries such as Vlast Solovetskaya. Svidetelstva i dokumenty (1988; Solovki regime, dir. Marina Goldovskaya) and Vai viegli but jaunam? (1987; Is it easy to be young?, dir. Juris Podnieks) also appeared. The documentary drama has also built on the foundations provided by such works as Cathy Come Home (1966; dir. Ken Loach), The War Game (1965; dir. Peter Watkins), and Death of a Princess (1980; dir. Antony Thomas) to produce influential films such as The Investigation: Inside a Terrorist Bombing (1990; dir. Mike Beckham for Granada Television). Important television documentary series have also appeared, such as The World at War (1974–1975; Thames Television), The Nazis: A Warning from History (1997; dir. Laurence Rees and Tilman Remme for the BBC) and The Death of Yugoslavia (1995; BBC).
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