Sounds like Canada: a reexamination of the development of Canadian cinema-verite.
For example, in Canada, the National Film Board's federal mandate and funding opportunities, guided by producer Tom Daly's benevolent leadership at Unit B, created a unique kind of documentary laboratory. Daly, who had apprenticed with John Grierson and Stuart Legg at the Board during the war years, was a gifted film editor, and his years at the helm of Unit B offered those more ambitious or visionary filmmakers a strong sense of structure. Beyond the cinematic texts themselves, trouble-shooting new technical and aesthetic challenges offered unparalleled training to the filmmakers working under Daly, and those skills would be exported abroad. French director jean Rouch perhaps not-so-famously credited his partnership with NFB director-cameraman Michel Brault with creating Chronique d'un ete (1961): "Everything that has been done in France in the field of cinema-verite comes from the NFB and from Brault." (1) Around the same time another NFB director-cameraman, Terrence Macartney-Filgate, quit the confines of Unit B to go the U.S. and join the Drew Associates. Macartney-Filgate worked with Robert Drew, Richard Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker and Albert Maysles shooting the first Direct Cinema feature, Primary (1960).
This is not to suggest that Canadians single-handedly "invented" cinema-verite. Rouch's comments may be as much indicative of his personal and professional generosity as a recognition of Brault's talent and input. Although Rouch was familiar with the NFB's output and was even something of an expert, he had considerable ethnographic documentary experience and had already made The Human Pyramid (1960) as a kind of test-run prior to his brief collaboration with Brault. And whatever Macartney-Filgate's contribution to Primary, and he claims it is substantial, (2) Drew had already been producing short-form news documentaries in the direct cinema style for American television. Back home at the NFB, Roman Kroiter credited earlier British Free Cinema documentaries, like Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson's Momma Don't Allow (1956), as fueling his own desires to make verite. (3)
Yet what emerges is not a Utopian direct documentary movement, since we see that filmmakers immediately used the emerging technologies and techniques to different ends. As has been well documented, back in the 60s the Americans saw themselves doing something quite distinct from their gallic brethren across the Atlantic. Charlie Michael provides a good, quick summary of the two camps' positions:
As the story goes, the American "direct cinema" of Drew and associates (first exemplified by Primary) strives to capture events without allowing the presence of the camera or the filmmaker to "distort the situation" ... of real events on-screen. Conversely, the French cinema-verite of Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin, first exemplified by Chronique d'un ete, confronts the invasive nature of the new equipment by actively signaling its presence on-screen with the filmmakers and their subjects. (4)
Thus the debate is framed around issues of authenticity, or which mode is more "real": not interfering (Direct Cinema) or acknowledging its presence (cinema verite). Michael notes how both Erik Barnouw and Bill Nichols' influential historiographies would help perpetuate these distinctions. For Nichols, there are two distinct modes of documentary filmmaking: "'observational' (direct cinema) and 'interactive' (cinema-verite)."' (5) Certainly these are not static conceptions with iron-clad boundaries. Any given direct documentary may veer from the observational towards the interactive. Or a documentary may become so interactive that it slides all the way out of the "interactive" and into what Nichols calls the "self-reflexive." (6) Given Nichols only outlines four modes of documentary ("expository", like the NFB wartime documentaries using the so-called "Voice-of-God" narration, is the last mode), the divide between cinema-verite and Direct Cinema is not inconsequential. Thus while the same technological advances more-or-less enabled both kinds of documentary filmmaking, they remain quite distinct.
Yet trying to parse these various subsections of direct documentary filmmaking has been the source of considerable critical consternation. No doubt the nomenclature is partly to blame. Almost all the terms are derivatives of Dziga-Vertov's kino pravda ("film-truth") and kino glaz ("film-eye"). And there was a tendency to use the terms interchangeably: some French films were sometimes called cinema direct but almost never its literal English translation which was reserved for the American films. But the term cinema-verite took hold in English much like the contemporaneous spread of the Auteur Theory. Today the Drew Associates website has a tab at the top of the screen that reads "Cinema Verite." Clicking it yields an article that begins, "In 1960, when Robert Drew produced Primary, it was recognized as a breakthrough, the beginning of what came to be called 'Cinema Verite', in America." (7)
This "tale of two cinemas," so to speak, is further complicated by the Canadian context which frequently becomes lost in the shuffle. Charlie Michael goes on in his essay expressly to wrest the Quebecois direct documentary epic, Pour la suite du monde, from being a mere hybrid of the dominant schools: "Brian Winston has cleverly characterized the two poles of direct documentary as 'flies on the wall' (Drew) and 'flies in the soup' (Rouch). These metaphors may be correct, but as overall descriptions of nascent direct techniques, they miss out on at least one filmmaker whose innovative approach did not aspire to insect status in the first place." (8) Bruce Elder's essay, "Notes on the Candid-Eye Movement", remains one of the few systematic attempts to theoretically place the documentaries made by Unit B for (and around) the Candid Eye series (1958-59) within the direct documentary debate. These dozen or so short documentaries produced by Unit B, including The Days Before Christmas (1958), Blood and Fire (1958), The Back-breaking Leaf (1959), and the series send-off, Lonely Boy (1961), in many ways still represent the NFB's quintessential contribution to direct documentary.
Drawing on Stephen Mamber's book, Cinema Verite in America, Elder notes that the Canadian filmmakers following Henri Cartier-Bresson's quest for the "decisive moment" in the quotidian favoured an observational approach over what Mamber calls the "crisis-structure" dramatic frameworks of the American school of Robert Drew. Elder uncovers surprising ideological implications to what he characterises as the Candid Eye model. Having successfully distinguished it from the American Direct Cinema model, he suggests it belies a view of reality that "appears mystified and needing continually to be demystified." (9) The shadow of Peter Harcourt's seminal essay on Unit B from a decade earlier, "The Innocent Eye", looms large albeit unspoken. What Harcourt first praised as "a quality of suspended judgment, of something left open at the end, of something undecided," (10) Elder paints Canadians as treating their own subjects from the vantage of an outsider. Elder likens this Candid Eye detachment to the alienated perspective of the colonized artist described by Franz Fanon. Elder writes,
For this reason, that structure employed in the films of Drew Associates which depends upon a grasp of the homology between the dramatic form and the structure of conflicts which characterize the inner working of reality is not available to the colonized artist of this phase. His work is restricted to presenting merely the surfaces of reality. Thus what was claimed to be the result of a meritous, willful detachment shows itself, on deeper study, to be a meretricious alienated lack of understanding. This sort of realism surely deserves the appellation it has sometimes been given--"naive realism." (11)
Even Unit B's use of ironic humour, best evidenced by Lonely Boy, is characteristic of this phase of colonized art. Elder would no doubt agree with Harcourt's assertion that there is "something very Canadian in all this." (12) Elder extrapolated his thesis into a book on the larger topic of Canadian cinema, Image and Identity, that shares the philosophical critique of realism throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Elder trumps the Canadian avant-garde led by Michael Snow and Jack Chambers as "our strongest cinema": "I argue, in essence, that this cinema does not attempt to present realistic illusions but rather inquires into the conditions of realistic representations." (13)
Whether one accepts Elder's conclusions, (14) it is not hard to understand why Canadian direct documentary would so often be marginalized or at best seen as a hybrid exception in this debate of American and French direct documentary. Certainly his approach is the minority position. The truth is that Canadian culture does not wield as much clout compared to France and America. Canadians, as Elder himself writes in Image and Identity, "have every reason to take pride in what we have produced, but to pretend that our culture flourished just as [America's] has is to ignore the reality of impoverishment ... It is to deny the reality of our oppression." (15)
Just as Elder was writing in the larger context of the post-structuralist critique of the philosophy of realism, the current resurgence of nonfiction film theory provides a new approach to the "fly-on-the-wall"/"fly-in-the-soup" debate. Carl Plantinga's Rhetoric and Representation in Nonfiction Film directly tackles the theoretical framework that helped inform Elder's analysis. Questions of realism are no longer what characterize the documentary in Plantinga's reconstruction. He writes, "Perhaps a clearer way to put it is to say that nonfictions assert a belief that objects, entities, states of affairs, events, or situations actually occur(red) or exist(ed) in the actual world as portrayed." (16) It is worth quoting at length:
Note that this conception of the nonfiction film assumes no necessary realism or resemblance between the nonfiction work and actuality ... the moving photograph and recorded sound, under special circumstances, have a special status in relation to the recorded scene, of an order different from a verbal description. However, this status is also common in the fiction film, and thus cannot distinguish nonfiction from fiction. My argument is that the fundamental comes via the situation of the film in its sociocultural milieu--its indexing and the spectator response this cues, and not according to an ostensible imitation or recording of the real. (17)
Questions of spectatorship thus become crucial. Most fiction films are a kind of record of actors playing a scene; what makes it fiction rather than nonfiction is how it's indexed by/for viewers rather than any truth claims of the record itself. Indexing is more than publicity. It is "a social phenomenon, as much determined by what audiences will accept as nonfiction or fiction as by the intentions of those who handle the film." (18) It is an interplay of assertion (filmmaker) and reception (spectator).
Certainly, when you centre the issue on documentary as a discourse, rather than on claims of access of reality (or the critique thereof), the debate between cinema-verite and Direct Cinema begins to dwindle in importance. In Plantinga's new categorization, they are both of the same "open voice" mode. (19) John Corner notes, "General truth claims in documentary cannot be seen to be fully grounded in primary fidelity [the relationship a between particular sound/image and element of pro-filmic reality] since fidelity underdetermines them, even within the particularly focused (sometimes, indeed, obsessed) project of verite." (20) Like assertion in Plantinga's nonfiction film, documentary is foremost a mode of discourse for Corner: "So the attempted reconstruction of documentary starts with the vulnerability of documentary as record and does not seek to remedy this. What it does seek to remedy is the nature of documentary as a discursive practice." (21) In practical terms what matters in any given documentary is the relationship between the primary level of sound and image and the secondary stage of their construction rather than any innate veracity of the images and sound. Too often these levels become conflated. Corner describes the danger: "Should the employment of the primary level be regarded as too heavily a function of secondary level discursive requirements, then there are problems of credibility even though the primary veracity of the material remains undisputed." (22)
Stressing the discursive nature of documentary is not to deny the differences between the American, French, and Canadian filmmakers. It is to bring these differences down from the level of ethics to the level of form and aesthetics. In the introduction to Cinema Verite in America, Mamber writes, "At its very simplest, cinema verite might be defined as a filming method employing hand-held cameras and live, synchronous sound." (23) Mamber notes this definition is obviously incomplete, because what matters is the interplay between technology and the filmmaking philosophy. If we treat direct documentary as a means--a tool--rather than an end--say, to not "distort the situation" as claimed Drew (24)--we need no longer tie ourselves in knots pitting the various strands of direct documentary against each other. Perhaps nowhere is this "means not an end" philosophy more evident than in the eclecticism at the NFB.
Much has already been written on the importance of Cartier-Bresson and his book, The Decisive Moment, in the development of the Candid Eye series. Wolf Koenig stresses this influence was paramount: "Henri Cartier-Bresson ... Here was real life, as it happened, captured on film at the moment of greatest clarity and meaning. I showed the book to Roman, Tom and others, with the purpose of convincing them that we could do this kind of observation on film." (25) Yet arguably just as important as the inspiration of Cartier-Bresson was their reaction against the style of documentary being made at the NFB at the time. Roman Kroiter notes,
There was a series being made at the Board called On the Spot that was carefully scripted and, in my opinion, really dull. Wolf had taken a Bolex camera home with him. He did a little sequence on his father that was beautifully shot, like all of his stuff, and it became perfectly clear that you could just walk into a real situation and get some interesting images. Wolf was the guy who said we ought to make whole films in this manner. (26)
Yet while there's no denying the freshness of Koenig and Kroiter's filmmaking, Candid Eye would have a lot in common with On the Spot.
On the Spot was one of the first NFB documentary series edited specifically for television, with twenty-six episodes airing on the CBC from '53 until its replacement with Perspective in '56. (27) Each quarter-hour episode was introduced by a narrator who declares, "On the Spot, the National Film Board of Canada's up to the minute report of what's going on somewhere in Canada. This week and every week, NFB's camera crews are on the spot where things are happening, recording the varied and colourful lives of Canadians."
Radar Station (Allen Stark, 1953), hosted by Squad Leader Bill Lee, is an early effort. Lee, holding a microphone and directly addressing the camera like a television news reporter, interviews the persons working at the radar station to provide viewers with an understanding of how the station operates. Much of the dialogue is wooden, possibly half-scripted, and the film's aims are clearly expository rather than dramatic--until an air-raid warning over the loudspeaker unexpectedly (to the viewer) "interrupts" Lee interviewing two female employees in the cafeteria. "Stick around and you'll see some action," says the Colonel. The film then cross-cuts between the various departments at the station we have already seen as the jets scramble to meet their target. If it was not clear before, it is now apparent that this is what Corner calls an enactment: "the production of an event precisely for the purpose of spectatorship." (28) It seems highly unlikely any location documentary crew would have enough cameras--at least four cameras by my count, not to mention dolly tracks and necessary sound equipment--to cover this scene as it is constructed. In the cinematic language before verite, the filmmakers employ the language of Hollywood fiction to connote "real": carefully composed frames, smooth dolly shots, cross-cutting like a Griffith melodrama between the various points of foci--as the film abandons the reporter-on-the-scene style that preceded the scramble. Rather than leave the audience in suspense that we are under attack--or even worse that they have been the subject to the filmmakers' hoax--the bogies are revealed to be RCAF Lancasters. The camera pans over to Lee, who has apparently been waiting patiently off to the side despite the apparent threat of attack, "Well, it's a good thing they turned out to be friendly. This was just another in a series of test exercises ..."
These scripted, dramatic sequences, or enactments to use Corner's term, were common in the On the Spot series. In another On the Spot documentary like Football Story (Bernard Devlin, 1953), our reporter Fred Davis is on a rooftop in downtown Edmonton speaking to the camera: "In this heart of western commerce, the clear-headed, cool-thinking pioneers of industry make the decisions that help shape our country's destiny." We then cut inside an office. An older boss-type gentleman in a dark suit is talking to his staff, until a shady character in a heavy coat and rumpled fedora comes in. The boss quickly kicks out his staff. "Have you got it?" the boss asks. "It'll cost ya," the guy replies. "Money's no object!" the boss insists. The guy then hands him two football tickets for that night's game. The film cuts back to Davis outside, now smiling, "As you can see Westerners take their football pretty seriously, and that's why football is our assignment for today." The film then cuts to the Edmonton Eskimos practicing on field, and Davis interviews their young head coach.
Unlike the air raid in Radar Station, one wonders if viewers were supposed to take that enactment as real. One suspects not, especially given Davis' chuckle. As we shall see, Davis serves an important role in guiding the viewer through the text. That goofy opening sequence aside (or the equally corny coda where two enthusiastic female fans mistake Davis for a football player), Football Story is actually ingeniously constructed. Davis' interviews are certainly scripted--or at least scripted in the sense that audiences have since become accustomed to watching late night talk shows like Carson and Letterman where shape of the interview, along with the answers, is discussed beforehand. (Davis seems always to know just what question to ask next to lead the film to its next sequence.) As head coach Darryl Royal discusses his "Split-T" formation offense, Davis asks him to clarify for non-experts like himself. Royal replies, "Well, I usually use a blackboard to explain it." With a quick fade to black, we now see Royal in front of a blackboard talking to the camera showing the layout of the men on the field. (29) We cut back to the sidelines of the field with Davis, now speaking directly to the camera, "Now that you've seen the Split-T on the blackboard, let's see how it works on the field." Cut to a high shot above the field, and the scrimmage unfolds with the split-T in slow-motion. Cut back to Davis, who now tells us that we'll see the same play at regular speed, and we cut to the same high angle and see the play unfold in a few quick seconds. What's especially interesting is that Davis is looking offscreen to the side when we cut back to him, as if these plays are occurring right there within the diegesis and Davis is watching the slow-motion right there on the spot along with us.
Using Davis to create that kind of homogeneity is consistent throughout the film. When Davis says now would be a good time to meet some of the players, we expect him to walk over and interview them like we had seen Bill Lee do with the personnel in Radar Station. Indeed he is walking off-camera when the film cuts. The film cuts to a montage of the various players, as Davis' offscreen voice naming them and their position.
Sadly, most On the Spot episodes were not quite formally interesting as either of these films. (Kroiter's ire is well placed. They are boring.) Another Devlin-Davis collaboration, Vancouver's Chinatown (1953), is a rather plain series of interviews with members of Vancouver's Chinese community. And after a clever opening, Curtain Time in Ottawa (1954) dissolves into an awkwardly earnest paean to repertory theatre (although those of a postmodern inclination might enjoy seeing "real" actors onscreen shifting back and forth between acting on the stage and acting "natural" in front of Devlin's camera behind the scenes) and it shares with Radar Station a similarly climatic "crisis" as the repertory races to and fro backstage on what we are told is opening night (although more likely it is another enactment).
If the enactment-heavy On the Spot series works at all as documentary it is as discourse rather than as record. We do not need to believe that we are watching a real air raid (that the primary level of representation is capturing the pro-filmic reality of an air raid), we merely need to believe that this is (more or less) what happens at the radar station during an air raid (at the secondary level of discourse). On a practical level, however, one can understand Kroiter's criticism. Why bother with this scripted type of enactment at all if you are going to the effort of filming on location with sync sound?
Discussing the relationship between drama-documentary and cinema-verite in the history of British documentary, Corner notes that the impetus behind drama-documentary is in fact quite similar to cinema-verite. Corner argues that the use of dramatisation and enactment was prompted by "the need to produce documentary television about circumstances and processes which could not be filmed directly either because of the technical limitations." (30) Corner is specifically discussing what he calls "the story documentary mode," and the same impetus at play in On the Spot. Yet if we go back to Mamber's first (admittedly flawed) definition of cinema-verite ("verite might be defined as a filming method employing hand-held cameras and live, synchronous sound"), the clunky On the Spot series is more verite--shot on location using live, sync sound--than the contemporaneous "proto-verite" made over at the other end of the Film Board at Unit B.
On a philosophical level, Roman Kroiter and Colin Low were not averse to enactment. Both were merely more much skillful in its deployment. Perhaps this was a result of the culture at Unit B. Low had been an animator prior to his jump to live-action filmmaking, as had been Wolf Koenig. They all certainly benefited from Tom Daly, who had learned to skillfully blend disparate newsreel footage and sound effects into a coherent visual essay during the wartime years. D.B. Jones notes how Daly would go so far during his apprenticeship to stage footage of a German officer studying "luftwaffe aerial photographs" with an NFB secretary in the role because he lacked the necessary newsreel footage to complete a sequence. (31) This same willingness is evident in the films of Unit B.
Richard Hancox traces the evolution of Kroiter's second directing assignment, a piece for the NFB series Faces of Canada (1952-54), as one moving away from Zoe Druick's notion of "governmentality" towards seeking "aesthetic solutions for conveying his subject's character ... and the film's working title, The Switchman, was dropped in favour of the switchman's actual name." (32) Paul Tomkowicz: Street-railway Switchman (1954) is still regarded as a NFB classic. Peter Evans writes,
it is the 9-minute story of a Polish immigrant whose mundane job maintaining Winnipeg streetcar switches in the dead of night becomes a gorgeous study of contrasts in black and white, washed in an audioscope of authentic street sounds. The voice-over technique underscores the wordlessness of the on-screen people and Tomkowicz's alienation in the midst of a bustling urban winter vista. (33)
Evans notes the voice-over is actually that of an actor (albeit speaking Tomkowicz's words), but Hancox's research suggests the extend to which Kroiter and Stanley Jackson reshaped Tomkowicz's original interview for the actor was greater than previously suggested. (34)
It tempting to look at Paul Tomkowicz as proto-Candid Eye: Kroiter's own elevated role in the movement, the location shooting, the use of handheld camera work, an observational style, the intimate feel. What becomes apparent on closer inspection is just how carefully constructed the film is: a carefully chosen subject, carefully framed (and possibly enacted) shots, an actor's voice speaking as the voice of Tomkowicz. Even the intimacy of much the result of the use of POV through classical shot-reverse shot construction, the sort of thing that would be logistically impossible on a single-camera observational film. Yet it is perhaps Kroiter's aesthetic solutions to the technical limitations (little location sound, garbled voice-over, inexperienced crew), in short how he shapes his discourse, that perhaps aligns it with Candid Eye.
It is curious that Elder specifically singles out Tomkowicz and Colin Low's The Circle of the Sun (1961) as two of the "many lyrical, personal documentaries" at the NFB that "exploited features specific to the photograph" because what links both films to me is their lack of synchronous dialogue and unconventional use of narration. (35) (It may be this lack that highlights their nature.) The Circle of the Sun relies on narrator Stanley Jackson's steady cadence for its thrust, but like Tomkowicz uses a recurrent voice-over of its erstwhile protagonist, a young native man who is an outsider of his own dying culture. Like Tomkowicz, this gives an existential bent to the dialogue and by extension the entire film that might not be present had it been delivered in a typical talking head interview. Something similar also occurs in the Koenig-Low-Kroiter collaboration City of Cold (1954), as Pierre Burton's voice narrates his memories (like Tomkowicz, heavily re-written by Stanley Jackson) of the Yukon gold rush over the gliding glass-plate photographs of the era.
Elder's point underlines the tendency to take sound for granted. Rick Altman would almost certainly agree. In Sound Theory/Sound Practice he writes, "'Direct' sound, for example, has been treated by people who should know better as an unmediated form of film sound recording, as if a preference for sync recording of location sound could possibly circumvent the mediation implicit in the choice of a particular microphone, location, or volume level." (36) The importance of sound and sound technology in Candid Eye is not inconsequential.
By the mid 50s, the advances in portable film cameras were well ahead of those in portable sync sound equipment. By late 1958 when Unit B was about to shoot The Days Before Christmas, the latest in single-system sync sound cameras, the Auricon, was too unwieldy (weighing over 25kg) except when sync was vital, and much of the film was shot using the old, non-sync Arriflex cameras. (37) Non-sync sound could be edited into the picture the same way as had been done before. Koenig recalls, "The sound recordist picked up a lot of ambient sound and, with careful picture and sound-editing, we got it to look as if the material was in sync, an editor's trick from the earlier documentary days. You know, the guy talking on the phone, shot so that you couldn't see his mouth move and editing his voice over the picture." (38) Jeffrey Ruoff further notes that while the use of sound in documentary is indeed a convention, these kind of "betrayals" of the conventions of synchronous sound recording are common, yet often go undetected, even in verite. (39)
In comparison, the staid style of most On the Spot episodes was perhaps the victim of its attempts at authenticity. The interviewer speaking in sync on location on camera, even if the interviews were more or less scripted, signified their authenticity. And if sound was often tethered to the interviewer in On the Spot, it is no wonder: prior to 1955 the standard sound-recording system was the Westrex which weighed over 160 kg. (40) Indeed the success of Candid Eye is likely attributable to filmmakers who had proven themselves capable of dynamic location shooting by eschewing sync until a relatively late point.
After its extremely free-form debut with The Days Before Christmas, the next Candid Eye shorts owe considerably to the reportage style of On the Spot and later Perspective. They just had the advantage of being able relying on the voice of Stanley Jackson, rather than some on-screen narrator, to help guide the viewer through the text. This enabled a certain freedom as to when to use the Arriflex to capture looser, spontaneous images in the quest for that "decisive moment", and the Auricon for talking-head interviews on location or sequences that demanded the use of sync. Indeed one could argue that Candid Eye was not just eschewing the enactments of On the Spot, but taking its narrator off the street and putting him back behind the camera where he belongs (at least according to NFB tradition). We see this in Macartney-Filgate's Blood and Fire, shot by Koenig, opening on images of the pomp and circumstance of the Salvation Army with Jackson's narration serving the same role as Bill Lee or Fred Davis did on the spot. When Macartney-Filgate and Koenig interview the Army officers, they remain off camera, but they still rely on interviews--not an inconsequential decision in light of how the Americans would use the portable sound and camera equipment. Most interesting is the climax of Blood and Fire, which features not a trumped-up air raid or the supposed mad scrambled on opening night, but a group of men down on their luck hoping to find a bit of salvation. One could question the ethics of the scene: did the camera influence them? Or perhaps we are witnessing moments too intimately private that perhaps the film is exploitative? But within the film's discourse, there is no denying its impact beyond anything dreamed possible in On the Spot.
As a final thought, it is worth mentioning the French-Canadian direct documentary movement as a comparison. While Brault was instrumental in helping shoot the early Candid Eye films, he quickly took to making his own films in French. Consider Michael's typical description of the development of direct documentary style in the NFB's then-burgeoning French unit: "Hand-held cameras and synch sound, affectionately known to French Canadians as le direct, quickly became more than just mere windows on reality--they were a cinematic equivalent of their cultural 'Quebecitude.'" (41) Le direct? Certainly not sound. The two shorts he mentions, Les raquetteurs (1958) and La lutte (1961), two mini-masterpieces co-directed and shot by Michel Brault, employ only a smattering of direct sync sound at best. There's certainly little evidence of sync in Brault and Gilles Groulx's Les raquetteurs. A close reading of the film's soundtrack appears that it is entirely constructed of wild sound carefully edited to appear sync. Or conversely when people standing close to the camera appear to be speaking, but the soundtrack is instead awash with a multitude of indirect, indeterminate voices. In La lutte, Brault, Claude Jutra, and Marcel Carriere have more tricks at their disposal: a montage of fighters is set to a harpsichord sonata, and the climatic fights are all narrated by a would-be radio or television announcer. Only in the end sequence, in the more controlled environment of the locker room, do we see people speaking clearly in sync. (42)
Did Brault and his crew have access to the same Auricon system as his compatriots? Did the French unit have the same financial advantage and clout of Daly's Unit B? (43) Or are the demands for real sync sound on display in Candid Eye intentionally subjugated to not tether Brault's prowling, obsessive gaze? These early Brault shorts appear to favour wide-angle, close-ups whenever possible. Brault's camera is handheld and very fluid, and recording true sync sound given Brault's 360 degree mobility would have been a considerable technical challenge (and soundman Carriere had already proven himself capable of effectively using wild sound to appear sync in the Candid Eye shorts). The Candid Eye films on the other hand appear to use a mix of hand-held and tripod-mounted camerawork, and considerable more reliance on zoom lenses. Not surprisingly the use of steadying tripods appears to dominate the scenes that are sync (presumably shot using the Auricon), as opposed to handheld wild-sound sequences. One might be tempted to suggest that perhaps Brault's work with Candid Eye was shooting with the Arriflex, and thus that's what he would use on his own filmmaking. This is an interesting suggestion, but it would be a mistake to take it too far. One wonders whether the heavy reliance on dubbing common to francophone audiences diminished for Brault the need for true sync if it meant encumbering his camera. By the time of Brault's collaboration with author-poet Pierre Perrault on Pour la suite du monde (1963) words and clearly seeing the voice of the speaker take on a greater importance. Certainly this is no doubt Perrault's influence, whose own background included radio documentaries prior to his foray into filmmaking. Fortunately, the relatively small and portable Nagra-Eclair sync sound package had by then been perfected.
Certainly, there remains much work to be done especially in regards to the use and development of sound. Viewing documentary as a discursive practice, however, clearly enables us to reengage with issues how technology is used at those primary and secondary levels, rather than a circular dialogue of the ethics of form. It is only when we understand how these levels work together can we begin to make meaningful criticism of documentary.
Michael Longfield is an M.A. candidate in Cinema and Media Studies at York University. He is currently researching the work of filmmaker Marcel Carriere.
(1) "Tout ce que nous avons fait en France dans le domaine du cinema-verite vient de I'ONF et de Brault" (Trans. Krista Darin). See Eric Rohmer and Louis Marcorelles, "Entretien Avec Jean Rouch," Cahiers du Cinema. 24.144 (1963): 17. Rouch also talks at length and in great detail about Unit B and its offshoot development of a voix quebecoise that, in his opinion, would ultimately transcend it with Pour la suite du monde (1963).
(2) Sarah Jennings, "An Interview with Terence Macartney-Filgate," Canadian Film Reader, ed. Seth Feldman and Joyce Nelson (Toronto: Peter Martin, 1977) 81.
(3) "Roman Kroiter: Master Filmmaker and Technical Wizard," Take One 10.32 (2001): 23.
(4) Charlie Michael, "Claiming a Style: The "Living Cinema" of Pierre Perrautt's Pour La Suite Du Monde." The Velvet Light Trap 54 (2004): 32-33.
(5) Ibid., 33.
(6) Bill Nichols, Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991), 33.
(7) "The Making of the Cinema Verite in American Film," Drew Associates, 1992, 12 Dec 2006 <http://www.drewassociates.net/Main/verite.htm>.
(8) Michael, 46.
(9) Bruce Elder, "On the Candid Eye Movement", Canadian Film Reader ed. Seth Feldman and Joyce Nelson (Toronto: Peter Martin, 1977) 93.
(10) Peter Harcourt, "The Innocent Eye." Canadian Film Reader, ed. Seth Feldman and Joyce Nelson (Toronto: Peter Martin, 1977) 72.
(11) Elder, "Candid Eye" 94.
(12) Ibid., 72.
(13) Bruce Elder, Image and Identity: Reflections on Canadian Film and Culture (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 1989) 7.
(14) Testing Elder's thesis of Candid Eye against French cinema-verite, unmentioned in Elder's essay or its elaborations in his book, could be an interesting avenue of future study. Indeed Jane Gaines' comments on Lonely Boy certainly call to mind the ethnographer Rouch: "There is something in Lonely Boy that is reminiscent of the incredulity of the traditional anthropologist studying the other-cultural phenomenon of scarification rituals or firewalking, with the difference here the subject is nothing more than scream ing, love-struck teenagers, ordinary girls-next-door." See Jane Gaines, "Lonely Boy and the Verite of Sexuality," Canadian journal of Film Studies 8.1 (1999): 104.
(15) Elder, Image and Identity 14.
(16) Carl Plantinga, Rhetoric and Representation in Nonfiction Film (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997) 18.
(17) Ibid., 18-19.
(18) Ibid., 21. Hybridity is still possible, since fiction and nonfiction become what George Lakoff calls "fuzzy sets." Indeed a happy corollary of Plantinga's conceptualization is how it helps give a framework to define the elusive pleasures of Jean-Luc Godard's filmmaking in the late 60s which often deliberately seems a kind of documentary of actors in front of a camera making a work of fiction.
(19) Ibid., 115-9.
(20) John Corner, The Art of Record: A Critical Introduction to Documentary (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1996) 18.
(21) Ibid., 25.
(22) Ibid., 18.
(23) Stephen Mamber, Cinema Verite in America: Studies in Uncontrolled Documentary (Cambridge: MIT, 1974) 1.
(24) Michael, 33.
(25) Tammy Stone, "Candid Eye, Lonely Boy & Unit B: Take One's Interview with Wolf Koenig," Take One 11.37 (2002): 36.
(26) "Kroiter," 23.
(27) Gary Evans, In the National Interest: A Chronicle of the National Film Board of Canada from 1949 to 1989 (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1991) 26-7.
(29) The NFB certainly caught them at the right time on the cusp of greatness. Half-back Billy Vessells would go on to be the first Eskimo to win the league's Most Outstanding Player Award that year. Royal himself left the team after the season, and Royal's replacement, Frank "Pop" Ivy, would immediately lead the squad to 3-consecutive Grey Cup championships. And it would be Ivy who history would popularise for pioneering the "Split-T." See "Pop Ivy," Wikipedia, 26 Nov 2006, 12 Dec 2006 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pop_lvy>.
(30) Corner, 35.
(31) D.B. Jones, The Best Butler in the Business: Tom Daly of the National Film Board of Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1996) 36-7.
(32) Richard Hancox, "Geography and Myth in Paul Tomkowicz: Coordinates of National Identity," Candid Eyes: Essays on Canadian Documentaries, Jim Leach and jeannette Sloniowski, ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto, 2003) 20.
(33) Evans, 32.
(34) Hancox, 13-4
(35) Elder, Image 3.
(36) Rick Altman, "Sound's Dark Corner," Sound Theory/Sound Practice (New York: Routledge, 1992) 173.
(37) See Evans, 71 and Seth Feldman, "The Days Before Christmas and the Days before That," Candid Eyes: Essays on Canadian Documentaries, Jim Leach and Jeannette Sloniowski, ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto, 2003) 39.
(38) Stone, 37.
(39) Jeffrey Ruoff, "Conventions of Sound in Documentary," Sound Theory/Sound Practice (New York: Routledge, 1992) 233.
(40) Evans, 71.
(41) Michael, 35.
(42) For those still unconvinced of Brault's early reliance on wild sound, compare these two titles to the documentary he made the following year about hearing impaired children, Les enfants du silence (1962), also with Carriere and Jutra. And unlike the two previous films, much of the film appears to have been shot on a tripod.
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2009|
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