Examples of Alternative Documentaries

The first example I looked at was “Rain” by Joris Ivens from 1929. It is an early example of film with sound (which only started in 1927 after film was invented in the early 19th century) and instead of having the natural sound of the rain it actually has classical music as soundtrack together with the images of rain.

After watching this video I thought more about sound and how much better, in my opinion, this documentation of rain would have been if it had natural sound capturing all the essence of rain. The classical music gives it more of a cinematic touch but really, a documentary about rain without the sound of rain somehow doesn’t quite do the trick for me. So for my project I really want to put the focus on natural sounds, saturated and amplified, just like a blind person might hear them through their enhanced senses.


The second example I looked at is Làszló Moholy-Nagy’s video called “A Lightplay: Black White Grey” (1930) which “is based on the shadow patterns created by his Light-Space Modulator, an early kinetic sculpture consisting of a variety of curved objects in a carefully choreographed cycle of movements.”
This example is more abstract than the one about rain not just because of what is actually captured but especially through the way he framed and cut the video, not giving away what it actually is that we see as it is shot very close up.

This is something to consider, how a close up can create an extra layer of abstractness and give a sense of something which actually can’t be fully seen. Also the sound plays quite a crucial role because it is much more “experimental” than the classic piece of music, it sounds like wind chimes but also has something very rhythmic to it.


The third example I looked at is “Sans Soleil” by Chris Marker made in 1983, so a more modern example.  It is “a meditation on the nature of human memory, showing the inability to recall the context and nuances of memory, and how, as a result, the perception of personal and global histories is affected. […] Expanding the documentary genre, this experimental essay-film is a composition of thoughts, images and scenes, mainly from Japan and Guinea-Bissau, “two extreme poles of survival”. Some other scenes were filmed in Iceland, Paris, and San Francisco. A female narrator reads from letters supposedly sent to her by the (fictitious) cameraman Sandor Krasna.

Sans Soleil is often labeled a documentary, travelogue, or essay-film. […] The fictional content derived from the juxtaposition of narrative and image adds meaning to the film along with occasional nondescript movement between locations and lack of character-based narrative.” (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sans_Soleil)

This is quite a good example of how stock footage can be used together with a strong narrative. I found that the voice of the female narrator was very captivating and able to hold the viewers attention through her style of recounting the experiences.

But the main point that stood out to me was the interaction between visual and sound/narration. In the opening scene she briefly describes a scene whilst the viewer can only see a black screen, then the visuals come in showing what she just described and fade out again 8with now sound). And it repeats. This is a very nice technique to consider, it made me realise that the use of black screen doesn’t mean there is nothing there to look at but actually gives the viewer space to imagine whilst the focus lies solely on the narrator and what is said. This is something very important to consider for my project!


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