What Is Non-Fiction Cinema? On the Very Idea of Motion Picture Communication

By Trevor Ponech | Go to book overview

3
What About Reality?

From the outset, I have resisted the tendency to define non-fiction film in terms of an object domain, such as some privileged class of referents and subject matters called "reality," of which documentary (ostensibly) supplies objectively true representations. But I have also maintained that any artifact we would ordinarily want to label "non-fiction" would have to be a representation, that is, the kind of thing that can and does have some sort of semantic content because it has been designed to fulfill an indicator function. So the question arises, What are non-fictions about? In essence, my answer is as permissive as it is brief: whatever. Lest my latitudinarianism be mistaken for neglect of this important question, I shall try to offer what I take to be at once a precise, open-ended, and intuitively plausible way of characterizing the wide range of items to which cinematic non-fictions may be meaningfully related.

Outlined in its broad strokes, the objective of this chapter is threefold: First, instead of presuming, or stipulating, that non-fictions refer to or are supposed to refer to reality, I identify their content with situations. The situations to which a non-fiction pertains may be actual, concrete, and particular; but they may be typical and imaginary, too. A second objective is to refine my use of a previous distinction between natural and non-natural meaning. Hence I introduce the claim that non-fiction movies have interpretations, some of which are natural. Interpretation*, as I shall refer to it from now on, in order to distinguish it from the spectator's activity of comprehension, is a technical term. It denotes a situation, or kind of situation, described by the movie. Sometimes we can attribute a work's interpretation* to its natural indicator capacity. On other occasions, by presuming that certain express intentions effectively determine meaning, we individuate a work's representational content on the basis of much more than natural counterfactual dependencies. This observation leads to a third proposal.

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What Is Non-Fiction Cinema? On the Very Idea of Motion Picture Communication
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes 7
  • 1 - What is Non-Fiction Cinema? 8
  • Notes 36
  • 2 - Representation and Depiction 40
  • Notes 69
  • 3 - What About Reality? 73
  • Notes 95
  • 4 - Plans for Non-Fiction 98
  • Notes 114
  • 5 - Planning for Content 116
  • Notes 140
  • 6 - Planning for Force 143
  • Notes 171
  • 7 - Perceptual Access to Cinematic Meaning 175
  • Notes 206
  • 8 - Aspects of Interpretation 213
  • Notes 242
  • 9 - The Truth of Non-Fiction 246
  • Notes 276
  • Works Cited 281
  • Index 293
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