Observational vs. reflexive.Posted: June 1, 2011
Horaah, i hear you say. Yes, editing is finally finished. Apologies for the lack of blogs recently, dear wordpress, but it is only due to the fact that i’ve been a little busy editin’. So, i have 7 videos all up, 3 with my brother and the fruit shop, and 4 based on particular restaurants around town. They range from between 2.30 – 3.30. So almost have a standard 22 min doco on my hands here. SBS here i come.
So, how’s it look? Overall, i’m pretty happy with it. I’ve remained pretty close to the initially envisaged shooting style throughout, which i think is evident in the consistency between the videos. This is particularly true for those focusing on the restaurants, all using similar mix between interviews, coverage from their shop, and portraiture.
For the most part, it also sticks pretty closely to the documentary mode that i was aiming for – that being observational. This is clear in the fact that there’s no narration, and the majority of the interviews have been edited to sound as if it where a continuous stream of one way dialogue, without any questioning or prompting from me, the filmmaker. Yet, while i initially had hoped to keep me out of it entirely, there are a number of little moments that came to the fore in the editing process that reveal the true nature of the man behind the camera – i mean that there was a man behind the camera, and that what appears is a constructed artifact. This is probably what i would define as fitting within the reflexive mode of documentary.
So rather than hide these, i’ve decided to include a number of them. the most obvious is the final sequence of the film, where my voice, off camera, can be heard correcting my brother about which streets in melbourne are the busiest. Another showed my brother handing me a greek coffee to sample after i’d just documented the process of brewing it. Admittedly, these moments made the final cut to add humour as much as to tick another box in the Nichol’s mode matrix. Which, as i mentioned waaay back, is a good thing. As far as i’m concerned, no filmmaker should appear in his own film unless it adds something to the story. In my case, with humour, i believe it did.
I also think that there’s a bit of reflexivity going on in more subtle ways too, and generally which i hadn’t identified until finally viewing the finished product. These come about in the composition of the shots.
Firstly, we have the portrait shots that i’ve used. While there is nothing explicitly reflective about them, i feel that in some ways, having a subject look directly down the lens makes the viewer more aware of the filmmaker in the process. It’s as if by staring down towards the audience, the audience brought to realize that the subject was, in the creation of the shot, directly engaging with the filmmaker. Or at least his camera. These variations of framing was something i touched upon earlier.
The other possibly quasi-reflexive aspect that could be noted in the finished product is the overt out-of-focus shots. And no, this is not me trying to pass off my poor camera work as an intentional meditation upon the reflexivity inherent in film. As anyone that’s used a large sensor camera will know – particularly those with the 5D – the otherwise beautiful shallow depth of field means that it is a difficult beast to keep in focus. Constant refocusing is required, and even gaining good focus on a static subject will usually mean zooming in, focusing in, going too far, then pulling it back to the right plane. This is unavoidable if you want to get an image correctly focused. Where the deliberate part comes in then, is in the fact that i have chosen to keep them in there. I could have chosen to cut out all sections where i’m still trying to find focus, and present the viewer with a focus perfect world for the entire duration (although the duration may have been significantly lessened, were that the case). But by keeping them in, i feel the audience is forced to recognize the fact that it is through a camera that we are seeing these images, a mechanical object, and one more fallible than our own eye. The occasional refocus means that the audience are brought into the filmmaking process, and made aware of the imperfect nature of it. What they are being presented with is not the image they would get if they were there, in the kitchen, in the van, but the image that has been produced as a result of my work in recording it, in the kitchen, in the van.
However, yet again, the choice to leave such sections in the final film were not just to elucidate the audience to the films constructed nature. Again, more shallow than that. I just thought that their, for want of a better word, rough – and – ready nature somehow added to the visceral experience of the works. Seeing these cameras actions does somehow bring us closer to the action, and makes it all feel a bit more hands on. i believe it works well with the quick cutting style, giving it an overall more “real” quality to it.
Either that, or it just shows up my poor cameramanship.