Monday, December 11, 2006

Chapter the Fourth: in which a Man, having seen a Moving-picture, is himself moved to issue his own Judgment upon it.

"Give us this day our daily bread"
-The "Our Father" prayer

This week, another admission: I despise social documentaries. Jesus is it good to get that pressure off the windsacks. Oh sure, I’ll go see documentaries with my friends and agree that yes the director was almost lyrical in her framing of shots and oh definitely the human subjects developed a very natural and conversational rapport with the camera and these are all lies, LIES. If I have ever gone to see such a documentary with you, and we have talked about it afterwards in generally positive terms, I was lying to you. Through my teeth. I am so sorry.

Here is what I really think: Social documentaries are insufferable, manipulatively edited moral vehicles. They are secular sermons gussied up and masquerading as reporting, bolstered by the weighty claims to real representation that the medium of film offers. Ooooh I hates ‘em.

Now, one last admission: I just saw a remarkable documentary. It is called Unser täglich Brot (Our Daily Bread), from Austrian director Nikolaus Geyrhalter.
It aims to do nothing more, it claims, than to depict the harvesting, mining, production, and processing of food in the European Union. As my town’s gnarled and dedicated film-swami stood before the theater audience and introduced the movie, praising it for its neutrality and its pretension only to report, I sneered my special sneer reserved for social documentaries and snacked upon my Haribo gummy candy with increasingly hateful intensity. The film started. I took in the long, extended shots of chicken factories, row-crop fields, slaughterhouses, salt mines, and sorting plants, waiting—just waiting—for the director to expose the plight of the immigrant rutabaga-picker or the moral vileness of the charnel house. But such revelations never really came. Sure, the work of the harvesters and factory workers was tedious, and factory farming / slaughtering can be gruesome. But there were no interviews, no exposés, no veneer yanked away to reveal a consciousness-altering reality. Just shots of people carrying out a task and then a few brief glimpses of them on a smoke break.
For like an hour and a half.
The film simply put into belabored detail what most of us already suspected about its subject—picking tomatoes all day is real boring, immigrants do it because Europeans don’t want to, slaughtering pigs is nasty and bloody, and so on and so forth. Oh wait I lied again, the film did reveal a few things—salt mining is far, far radder than any of us could ever have known, and chicken rearing gives rise to a few moments of unintended but inspired hilarity, usually involving confused chickens in various stages of maturity being shot out of cannons and sucked into huge vacuums.
I guess if I had to ascribe some motive to Unser täglich Brot, it’d be a Marxist one, the film focusing as it does (and really, really focusing) on the modes of production. But we are nitpicking now. What I want to tell you all, my friends, because I think my friends are the only ones who read this site, is that I have seen the first social documentary that did exactly what its name suggests: document.


William said...

Kevin C.
I'm not your friend! Congratulations. Or, as it says in Commando (A great Nintendo game: you must know it!), "Congraturations!" I know because I beat the game, and was duly congraturated. This is a lie. I never beat Commando or any other games, because I did and do suck at video games. But my brother and Zak Williams didn't, and don't; they beat Commando while I watched, happily.
Full disclosure. Much to your chagrin (I imagine, because it's fun), I am Martin's friend, and I found this blog because he told me about it. At first I forgot the name, and searching for "hair nice today Martin" is unsatisfactory. But today Martin emailed me the addy. And I visited the site, and I read some of the things on it. Looked at the pictures. And when I went to write this response, had predicted my name that my name was William, and it is, as indicated below. Amazing! These blogs.
Anyway, I don't think I've really seen any documentaries recently (again, I lie. Right now, my roomate is watching a documentary on the making of some HBO tsunami mini-docudrama, and I am catching some of it out of the corner of mine eye. Mr. Orange from Reservoir Dogs is saying something about taking a nap. He doesn't have the same accent he did in Reservoir Dogs). So I don't know what to say about that. I like getting high and watching documentaries about concerts. I think I might even like some socially provocative documentaries, seeing as I am a Democrat and I'd rather have people be skinny than fat. But I haven't seen them, so quien sabe.
I'm sorry about the tangential nature of this entry: it's a very long line that only for an instant comes in contact with the circle (the discussion about rockudramedies). But I'd like to leave behine a poem that I recieved today in my gmail inbox. It was from, and it was spam. But promising. I edited it lightly.

Graves, uncovering, atrocities deferred. Bridge bomb kills troops JFK.
Operation until moreover detect threats.
Today! Ebook!
Membership promo materials inside matthew chipmunk slicer.
Matters, rubric trover, an honored seminal launchbar commander. Translator boomerang beta clipboard?
Quiet concern: Capitol Hill consent decree ongoing oversight.
Meanwhile, study Islam Zimbabwe sanctions sabre Colin Powell.
Drug treatment bipartisan, if not Iraqi.
Chamber, prisoner azkaban goblet musicjames christmas musiclove beatles rocka.
Weeks, privacy, share, illegal including, games, etc.

Died fire, Moscow.

joe's friend said...

chickens are shot out of cannons?