I want to see you as you really are
“I really look forward to going to that place of darkness. It’s objectless, dimensionless, limitless, it is endless.”
“I would not describe you personally as darkness. Yet, a metaphor for the slow walk we have embarked on, edging closer. Seeing more of each other. I liked it when I got home, somehow you were already inside, reading the paper with a cup of tea. That is edging closer; you find a way into my house without a key. And then glimpses of you and your head or hand (I can’t remember which one) stuck inside a letter box. All the glimpses and longer looks are rich ones. Something in you draws me to you. As your glasses did when we first met (so romantic), although actually initially it was our conversation. Then the gin. Maybe after that it was the spectacles.”
I have been thinking about narrative structure. How to tell a story, how to represent someone else’s story, how to elongate it, preserve it; make it good for a re-visit; occasionally, when needed. And I find myself thinking, what is the power of a sharing an retelling of human experience is. How to do it, how to make it rooted in an accurate description of reality, yet also poetic, transporting and disjointed. For, I think that a description of reality is essentially disjointed. Enter ethnofiction, cinema verite, and Jean Rouch.
Ethnofiction is a neologism, that refers to a fusing of documentary and fiction, otherwise known as docufiction. The main stylistic feature of this form of documentation is married with fictional or imagined realities within the process of documenting and portraying members of a social group under study. This approach is based on the idea that the documentary maker (in this case, a filmmaker) always influences the behaviour of the subjects. The camera, is never a candid camera. The dictaphone is never neutral. Acknowledging how much the cameraman, ethnographer and researcher affects the subjects, Rouch (father of ethnofiction) encourages participation and documentation of such participation. For example, if your subjects are dancing, dance with them. Record through the doing, not the watching. The term is also used to refer to fictional creations that have a root in ethnographic and social studies.
Cinema Verite translates to truthful cinema. Invented again by Jean Rouch, inspired by Sziga Vertov’s theory about Kino-Pravda and influenced by Rover Flaherty’s films. It merges improvisation with the use of the camera to unveil truths about the subjects and hard reality. Within this idea, it is useful for me to reach out and examine realism too. I am concerned with integrating into my documentary sound approach is a mixture of banality, the day to day, spattered with handfuls of formative and indelibly intense experiences. A key part of attaining such forms of documentation, where essentially subjects are less aware of being documented, is Bill Nichols idea of observational mode, or a fly on the wall approach to documentation. Subjects becoming less aware of the person recording the environment is key within Cinema Verite or direct cinema. Building a deep and regular trust is vital part of the relational process, in which the participant becomes to feel unselfconscious around the documentary maker. This whole realist approach is concerned with presenting life as it is, without intervention, illusion or too much dressing up. As an artist, not a film-maker, but someone interested in documenting and disseminating the experiences of the everyday, of the universally human experience I refer to the aesthetic theory and practice of realism. This is a movement within the arts that attempts to represent subject matter truthfully and without artificiality, avoiding artistic conventions and stylization. The pursuit of realism is concerned with the presentation of the mundane, ugly or sordid. It is this harder, colder, more inescapable side of life that I am concerned with studying, documenting and exploring.
A question I have been asking myself, how does cinematic style, theory and approach relate to my sound documentary practice. I am looking to describe the lens I use to focus on the world around me. It’s not through a camera lens, but rather a focussing of sound, of listening. And within my preference for listening over looking, I am faced with the question of how. How to portray, how to present, how to suggest and invite, and how to describe anothers lived experience, and of course, within that, my own.
I know I have a preference for non linearity. A disrupted narrative, where events are portrayed out of chronological order, without distinctive plot lines, or a clear pattern of events. The tone is descriptive of a dream immersion, or overlay of moments, happenings and experiences. It is a narrative tool, often used to mimic human memory, but also to create other effects. Really, it is an abandonment of linear order, yet the aim is to still convey and document a recognisable moment, a cohesive story, something compelling. It’s just that these experiences are often rooted in chaos not chronology.
I shall leave it here for now, but just linger on a question for a moment more. Why it is important, and significant to describe our lives in symbols, moments, impressions instead of structured lines?