Up until now, I have been concentrating on those constraints that make a constative of a movie. At this stage of my exposition, I shift attention onto matters of uptake, that is, those conditions and processes supporting the viewer's comprehension of the work. It is now my purpose to lay down part of the groundwork for the next two chapters' consideration of some interpretive and epistemic aspects of documentary spectatorship. Since any exposition of how spectators derive meaning and knowledge from movies in general, and cinematic constatives in particular, must eventually confront the difficult topic of visual perception, I begin the study's new phase here, with a discussion of the complexities of the relation between seeing something and understanding something about what one is seeing. In so doing, I substantiate some of the perceptual assumptions behind my previous discussions of depiction and representation.
A motion picture's capacity to mean anything to anyone depends, in part, on what it looks like, since many of its visible properties are significant to the viewer to the extent they stand in an indicator relation to something beyond themselves. The spectator perceives these visible features, visually recognizes what they indicate, and thereby sees that the work has a given significance. This process is roughly what I intend by my use of the term "perceptual access." The process normally consists of the discovery of a great many facts about cinematic as well as extra-cinematic entities and situations -- facts concerning vual access." The process normally consists of the discovery of a great manisible as well as non-visible states of affairs. I therefore treat visual perception as a particular mode of comprehension, that is, the acquisition of knowledge and beliefs by visual, versus aural or olfactory, means.
Watching The Thin Blue Line ( Errol Morris, 1988), we can, for example, see that it contains reenactments; and we can see by those reenactments that witnesses claim to have seen Randall Adams shoot a policeman.