‘Suspense, fright, emotion, happy ending’
Documentary form and audience response to Touching the Void
in Watching the world
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This chapter uses research among audiences for Touching the Void, the highest grossing British documentary in history, adapted from a best-selling climbing memoir. It examines the film's form, and interrogates a mode of engagement that treated the film as an inspirational story of suffering and survival. Revelations are made on how viewers responded to aesthetic aspects such as Touching the Void's use of dramatic reconstructions alongside ‘talking heads’-style interviews with the climbers involved in the original event. Elements of melodrama exist in Touching the Void, and its story of disaster and survival against the odds carried huge emotional clout for some commentators and audiences. A central plank of the documentary's appeal is its presentation of opportunities to find out about, and somehow connect with, other people ‘out there’ in the world. One way in which this connection can occur is via empathetic engagement with another's situation.

Watching the world

Screen documentary and audiences

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