Monday, August 21, 2006

Reversibility of the camera

Found in a recent browse of Google book search, this short but interesting quote of Daney's comments on the ethics of documentaries in his review of Antonioni's 1974 documentary of China Chung Kouo:

The reversibility of camera in Television Drama: Realism, Modernism, and British Culture, John Caughie, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 112

I copy the quote below:

"In the scene in The Passenger in which the old African chieftain grabs the camera and films Jack Nicholson, one can see quite clearly what is at issue: the sudden possibility of a reversibility, of the camera passing without a word from hand to hand to the great confusion of the scene and the actors. This, in China, was simply impossible.

(...) those for whom there exists no reversibility, no chance of becoming themselves "filmeurs", no possibility of participating in the image which is made of them, no hold on the image. Mad people, children, primitives, the excluded, filmed without hope (for them) of a reply, filmed 'for their own good' or for the sake of science or scandal: exoticism, philanthropy, horror."

In the article, Daney actually identifies three types of situation when someone is filmed. I translate the full extract below:

"1. The filming happens within the framework of the industry of cinema. It is then symbolically covered by the type of contract (wage, one-off fee, benefits participation, unpaid) agreed between the production and the actors. In the name of this contract, the filmmaker will be able to demand a certain acting or performance.
2. The filming happens within the loose framework of a documentary, of a socio or ethno-logical essay, or of an investigation. Most often, actors do not have the capacity, total or relative, of controlling, technically or intellectually, the operations to which they lend their bodies and voices. We then enter the domain of morals and risk: to film those for whom there exists no reversibility, no chance of becoming themselves "filmeurs", no possibility of participating in the image which is made of them, no hold on the image. Mad people, children, primitives, the excluded, filmed without hope (for them) of a reply, filmed 'for their own good' or for the sake of science or scandal: exoticism, philanthropy, horror.
3. There is a third type of situation (the one that interests us here): when the filming is done by a filmmaker or a crew who have decided to put their camera and their know-how at the service of. Of a people, of a cause, of a fight. In these conditions, the non-reversibility has other causes (under-development, lack of equipment, need for foreign help) , but generates new kinds of problems."

The original article is "La remise en scène (Ivens, Antonioni, la Chine)" in Cahiers du cinéma, number 268, July 1976, reprinted in La rampe - Cahiers critique 1970-1982, Ed. Cahiers du cinéma-Gallimard, 1983.

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