This essay interweaves an analysis of Raymond Depardons short documentary film, 10
minutes de silence pour John Lennon (1980), with some broader reflections on time,
cultural history, and silence. Shot in a single take, the film records the
expressions, movements, and reactions of some of 200,000 mourners who gathered in
Central Park to commemorate Lennons life six days after his death in December, 1980.
Despite its observational form and aesthetic reticence, 10 minutes de silence renders
unexpected coincidences of colour, perspective, gesture, and noise, spontaneous
formations and patterns that resonate beyond the films actual moment and journalistic
Regarding the real: cinema, documentary, and the visual arts develops an approach to the study of documentary film focussing on its aesthetic and cultural relations to the modern visual arts, especially: animation, assemblage, photography, painting, and architecture. In particular, it examines how documentary practices have often incorporated methods and expressive techniques derived from these art forms. Combining close analysis with cultural history, the book re-assesses the influence of the modern visual arts in subverting the structures of realism typically associated with documentary film, and considers the work of figures whose preferred film language is associative, and fragmentary, and for whom the documentary remains an open form, an unstable expressive phenomenon that at its best interrogates its own narratives, and intentions. In the course of its discussion, the book charts a path that leads from Len Lye to Hiroshi Teshigahara, and includes along the way figures such as Joseph Cornell, Johan van der Keuken, William Klein, Jean-Luc Godard, Jonas Mekas, Raymond Depardon.
This chapter provides an introductory discussion of the book’s conceptual shape and critical approach. It outlines some key issues in the study of relations between cinema and the visual arts, and refers to recent scholarship in this field before offering summary descriptions of the individual chapters to follow. In each case, the description also indicates points of cultural convergence between the chapters, and relates them to the book’s more general concerns.
This chapter looks at Len Lye’s filmmaking throughout the 1930s, and especially his relations with the General Post Office (GPO) Film Unit. While discussing the nature and extent of his involvement in the British documentary movement, the chapter also situates Lye’s work within a wider visual and film culture. In particular, it examines how his filmmaking combined animation with found-footage and live-action documentary techniques. Lye’s GPO films – like those of Norman McLaren, Lotte Reiniger, and Humphrey Jennings – complicate commonplace assumptions about the documentary movement of the inter-war era, and its relations to Modernism. There was an anarchic quality to Lye’s career, and while he was by no means the only experimental filmmaker associated with the GPO unit, the extent of his ability to innovate – in spite of meagre to non-existent production budgets – with colour processes, musical compositions, and stencils, exemplifies a concept of filmmaking that successfully blurs the boundaries between documentary and other visual arts.
In Joseph Cornell’s New York films from the 1950s, documentary forms shift between realism and symbolism, materiality and mystery. This chapter emphasizes several converging critical contexts for the study of these films: firstly, the visual – especially, photographic – culture in New York in the 1950s, a culture that included Cornell, even if he did not, officially, belong to any of its coteries; secondly, the people he worked with on these films, especially his collaborations with Rudy Burckhardt and Stan Brakhage, and their respective connections to the New York School, and the city’s burgeoning avant-garde scene; thirdly, how – in formal terms – Cornell’s films from the 1950s relate to his other art work, especially, the boxes, assemblages, the collage-montage films of the 1930s, and his artistic vision, more generally; and finally, the relevance of these films to a broader discussion on documentary practice, and its relation to the modern visual arts.
This chapter elaborates on the role of various modern visual arts in the documentary filmmaking of Johan van der Keuken – especially, painting and photography. The cross-section of Van der Keuken’s work examined in the chapter deals with issues ranging from the enduring legacy of WW2 to the filmmaker’s experiences as a cancer sufferer, the Siege of Sarajevo to the surreal world of To Sang’s photographic studio in Amsterdam. In each case, the chapter examines how such films extend – and often, subvert – conventional documentary frames of reference in their attempts to transcend the problem of rendering a reality that is always elusive, and a representation that is always inadequate.
This chapter discusses William Klein’s filmmaking in relation to his photography, and how he has used documentary forms to investigate the relations between time and movement, image and montage. The chapter also looks at how Klein negotiates his identity as an American in Paris who has, nevertheless, remained artistically and politically attached to the USA, especially New York City. Some of Klein’s most iconic street photographs were taken in 1950s, in the streets of his childhood, and – as the chapter elucidates – much of his documentary filmmaking has involved expeditions into American culture in the second half of the twentieth century. In examining the various aesthetic and cultural issues provoked by Klein’s films, it also suggests a correspondence between his work and Roland Barthes’ intellectual project.
This chapter focuses on the work of Jean-Luc Godard during 1968, and examines his interest in the radical potential of a new alliance or cultural front involving cinema and other contemporary visual art forms. Godard’s projects during this period – especially, his film maudit, One Plus One – are characterised by a series of investigations into, and subversions of, the conventions of the documentary, especially in relation to television journalism and news coverage, where an increasingly stylised form of reportage-realism articulated the mass media’s antagonism towards the cause of the students, strikers, and activists.
This chapter compares two documentary treatments of the 1980 Central Park vigil for John Lennon: Jonas Mekas’ Happy Birthday to John (1995), and Raymond Depardon’s Ten Minutes Silence for John Lennon (1980). Mekas and Depardon might seem an improbable combination but as the chapter shows, there are affinities, if not direct points of convergence, in their outlook and method: both sensibilities have been shaped by migrant experiences, and much of their work, for all its formal and structural differences, is preoccupied with exile and displacement, rootedness and the meaning of home; the country and the city; both are Europeans who have developed a distinctive artistic relationship with New York City; both are concerned with the place of autobiography in their work, using captions, inter-titles, diary entries, photographs, and 1st person commentary to complicate relations between the imaginary and the documentary.
This chapter discusses Hiroshi Teshigahara’s documentaries, especially his 1985 film, Antonio Gaudí. The chapter examines how that film elucidates instances of convergence between documentary filmmaking and architecture. Although Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes (1964) secured his international reputation as a major figure of the Japanese New Wave, filmmaking only constituted one facet of his artistic activities, and he was – like his father, the head of the famed Sōgetsu School in Tokyo – an accomplished sculptor, ceramist, calligrapher, and landscape designer. In making a film devoted to Gaudí’s work, the chapter argues that Teshigahara was not only exploring the curious affinity between Japanese ikebana (floral art) and Catalan moderisme, but he was also elaborating an aesthetics of documentary deeply influenced by other visual arts.