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

By Trevor Ponech | Go to book overview

situations. In turn, the spectator is generally invited to adopt an imagining attitude toward those situations, although she is also expected to recognize that they embody or suggest various literal assertions.

There are no law-like, unconditional signs that a movie is fiction. As a rule of thumb, we are justified in judging that the work's primary purpose is to serve as fiction if that hypothesis makes the author's actions, in producing the work as he did, seem the most reasonable and appropriate. Some combination of a number of more specific heuristics can help us to draw such conclusions. Normally, one clue is the film's reliance upon thoroughly scripted and theatrically staged performances by professional actors pretending to engage in various actions and to be people (including themselves at another time or in an imaginary situation) other than their present selves. Another hint is that the content of these imaginary scenes is not obviously intended to model specific aspects of an actual situation or type of situation.

For example, apparently embedded within the previously mentioned scene from Laughter and Tears is an assertion, but it is in no way established to what degree the features of the cinematically described imaginary situation are intended to correspond to those of an actual anterior situation, such as a real meeting between Rivers and an actual talent agent. For all we know, she was dismissed over the telephone. Contrast this work to the likes of The War Game and Democracy on Trial, which employ such instruments as voice-over narration and interviews to guide the spectator toward information about which parts of the depiction are meant to describe real states of affairs. Laughter and Tears is also analogous to The Glenn Miller Story ( Anthony Mann, 1954), which surely reflects some incidents in the bandleader's life without the producers making a concerted effort to distinguish between those parts of the story that are indicative of their beliefs about Miller's biography and those parts that are the results of their imaginings. In the absence of such explicit distinctions, we require special reasons to classify theatrical movies exhibiting the stereotypical traits of popular fictions as anything more than fictions themselves, despite their constative elements.


Notes
1.
Bill Nichols adopts this view in Blurred Boundaries: Questions of Meaning in Contemporary Culture ( Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994). Similarly, Carl Plantinga, Rhetoric and Representation in Nonfiction Film ( New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), maintains that the borders between fiction and non-fiction tend to dissolve as one moves from the genres' central, prototypical exemplars out toward the periphery of the two categories.
2.
Gregory Currie, The Nature of Fiction ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Peter Lamarque and Stein Haugom Olsen, Truth, Fiction, and Literature

-171-

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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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