BluRay/DVD Reviews

CAPTURING REALITY

By • Nov 1st, 2009 •

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I watched CAPTURING REALITY not only as a reviewer, but as a documentary filmmaker. I’ve made several documentaries, each with a different approach befitting my vision of the subject matter. What, I wondered, would this study of the form put forth to viewers? Would it be narrow in its scope, or liberal in terms of the definition of the documentary medium?

When I was a student several decades ago, and took a course in the documentary, each student was given a camera and one roll of 8mm film, and was then given twenty minutes, one at a time, to document a rose in a flower-pot in the adjoining room. We each did, all 12 of us, and when the film came back the following week, there were twelve completely different stylistic visions of that rose. Long shots, close ups, low angles, high angles, rapid cutting, long takes, low key lighting, bright lighting, images shot through improvised diffusion filtration, etc., etc., etc.

The instructor smiled. “So we never use the word ‘objective’ again in this class, right? And if you’re smart, never again in your own lives either. Your lives aren’t objective. Why should documentaries be?” I liked it. He rested his case and there was no room for disagreement, at least as far as that clinical trial was concerned. What might the 38 doc specialists interviewed in this film have to say about that, and numerous related topics?

“We piece together reality…reality isn’t handed to us whole.” So states Errol Morris, one of the many guests on the disc, discussing the prismatic nature of one of film’s most fascinating genres, recently much in the forefront of both theater patronage and award attention. Much of CAPTURING REALITY’s value comes in the form of sound-bites, rather than being an historical perspective (there’re no clips from NANOOK that I can recall). And after a while the filmmakers on hand really get down to it, issuing some worthy quotes that can guide you in whatever direction you wish to take in the field.

“I am looking for an ecstasy of truth that lies beyond facts.” Who else could have uttered that but Werner Herzog. He’s certainly one of the art’s iconic signposts. Clips support his and the others’ opinions about their work, whether it be somber third world coverage, or Morris’ noirish re-enactments (THE THIN BLUE LINE), the kind that worry purists, driven home by his use of Philip Glass scores. As interrupted as ‘reality’ is in Morris’ world, things are no less tentative in terms of manipulating reality than in Herzog’s work. He explains, in a section on Sound, that the unique noises made by the ice crevices in ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD were created by a leopard’s roar, slowed down fifty times.

Featured are Nick Broomfeld, Albert Maysles, Particio Guzman, Heddy Honigmann, Kevin Macdonald, and of course Morris and Herzog, and 31 others. Absent are Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky, Ken Russell (who takes credit for the first re-enactments in the history of documentaries), Wim Wenders, Ira Wohl, Ken Burns, Manny Kirschheimer, David Gregory, Barbet Schroeder, Michael Apted, Frederic Wiseman and, most conspicuously (although his name, and style, are invoked, and not always in a positive light) Michael Moore. However, there are so many fine artists represented, if there were many more it might have easily become a burden of riches (oh, that conjures another one – Les Blank [BURDEN OF DREAMS]). Perhaps, if this generates enough revenue, we’ll have a Part Two.

Speaking of Part Two, there’s a second disc containing over 4 hours of additional material, again sorted by topic. It’s really a valuable resource, for teaching, for general enlightenment, of for getting your head into your own upcoming doc shoot.

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