They Must Be Represented: The Politics of Documentary

By Paula Rabinowitz | Go to book overview

9
Video Vérité: Rodney King in the City of Angels of History

The previous chapter looked in depth at women's cinematic responses to state terror. The counter-documentary forms Yvonne Rainer, Jill Godmilow, and Trinh T. Minh-ha devised were designed in part to acknowledge how women's voices tell of their experiences in the production of culture (such as in psychoanalysis) while at the same time suffer their occlusion from the arenas of politics. The filmmakers chose to foreground formal innovations in order to call attention to the deficiencies in recent political documentaries, especially in the reliance on talking heads and archival footage to shore up historical authenticity, two strategies developed to correct the historical gaps in cin9ma vérité. However, with the easy availability of camcorders and VCRs, a new era of video vérité is upon us, as America makes its own home videos. This chapter explores the most famous 81 seconds of home-recording: George Holliday's brief tape of Rodney King's beating at the hands of four officers from the Los Angeles Police Department. It serves as a coda to the book's examination of the politics and rhetoric of documentary forms.

When Gil Scott-Heron proclaimed that the revolution will not be televised, the age of CNN and electronic warfare had not yet come to pass. But with increasingly popular primetime shows like Rescue 911 and I Witness Video, with the new mode of advertising vérité seen in the 1992 presidential campaign commercials for George Bush or in the series of EPF (Early Pregnancy Test) ads featuring couples learning whether the woman is pregnant, and with local news stations exhorting concerned citizens to phone in news as it happens from their cellular phones or send in their videotapes for immediate rebroadcasting, what we do have is the counter-revolution, if you will, being televised.

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