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

By Trevor Ponech | Go to book overview

the prisoner-functionaries. The average prisoner eked out a miserable existence, locked in an unfathomable cage of terror. 35

Spectatorship is not telepathy; nor are movies magic windows opening directly onto the contents of their creators' minds. Yet there are times when a documentary's explicit features, along with relevant pieces of historical and biographical background knowledge, strongly recommend the attribution of certain action-orienting communicative plans to the author. Assuming the filmmaker moderately rational, and his movie the outcome of purposive action, we may judge that a work such as this likely realizes plans such as these. In light of the available evidence, it is the judgment that makes the best sense of why the work is constructed as it is. In such cases, our reasoning about authorial intentions can give us sufficient grounds for preferring one interpretation over its rival.


Notes
1.
Erotetic narratives and narration proceed by generating questions about the actions and events represented in a movie and then answering them, or most of them, in ensuing scenes. For discussions of the workings of this type of narrative in fiction films, see Noël Carroll, Mystifying Movies: Fads and Fallacies in Contemporary Film Theory ( New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 171-181. Carl Plantinga offers a substantive commentary on the role of this narrative mode in non-fiction film, during which he describes "formal voice" non-fictions as partaking in erotetic narration: "They perform two significant operations: (1) they pose a clear question or a relevant and coherent set of questions (or they elicit such questions on the part of the spectator), and (2) they answer every salient question they pose"; see Rhetoric and Representation in Nonfiction Film ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 107.
2.
For a cogent introduction to this problem, and one possible solution to it, see Annette Barnes, On Interpretation ( Oxford: Blackwell, 1988).
3.
Robert Stecker, "Relativism About Interpretation", Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 53, ( 1995): 14; see also his "Incompatible Interpretations", Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 50 ( 1992): 292-298.
4.
Susan Feagin, "Incompatible Interpretations of Art", Philosophy and Literature 6 ( 1982): 133-146.
5.
Robert Audi, The Structure of Justification ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Susan Haack, Evidence and Inquiry: Towards Reconstruction in Epistemology ( Oxford: Blackwell, 1995); Richard Miller, Fact and Method: Explanation, Confirmation, and Reality in the Natural and the Social Sciences ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987); Paul K. Moser, Knowledge and Evidence ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).
6.
The term "rationality heuristic," and the way in which I am using it, derives from Paisley Livingston, Literature and Rationality: Ideas of Agency in Theory and Fiction ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 45.

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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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