6. The Creative Treatment of Actuality
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6 THE CREATIVE TREATMENT OF ACTUALITY T H E C R E A T I V E T R E A T M E N T O F A C T U A L I T Y • 445 . . . Since its inception, cinema has often been described as a dichotomy between the actualités of the Lumière brothers and the fantasies of Georges Méliès. But despite Hitchcock’s bon mot that “in feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director,” this dichotomy has always been a false one.1 As early as 1896, films such as Démolition d’un mur brought fantasy into the realm of the Lumières’ actualit és, while the films of Méliès quickly embraced the emergent protodocumentary ethos to give his fantasies a sense of reality in works such as Le voyage dans la lune (France, 1902) and À la conquête du pôle (France, 1912). This tension between documentary and the real—succinctly codified by Jean-Luc Godard in his oft-cited statement that “if you want to make a documentary you should automatically go to the fiction, and if you want to nourish your fiction you have to come back to reality”2—underlies many of the theoretical concerns, ethical practices, filmmaking strategies and film manifestos concerned with documentary cinema. Part of this drive comes from the influential codification of the documentary by John Grierson as “the creative treatment of actuality.”3 Contained within this phrase is the precise dichotomy that pervades documentary cinema and only grows in an age of globalization. In Wim Wenders’s documentary on Yasujiro Ozu, Tokyo-ga (West Germany, 1985), the filmmaker meets with his New German Cinema colleague Werner Herzog, who was shifting to documentary filmmaking at the time. Herzog states: There are few images to be found. One has to dig for them like an archaeologist. One has to search through this ravaged landscape to find anything at all. . . . It’s often tied up with risk, of course, which I would never shun, but I see so few people today who dare to address our lack of adequate images. We absolutely need images in tune with our civilization, images that resonate with what is deepest within us. We need to go into war zones, if need be, or anywhere else it takes us . . . to find images that are pure and clear and transparent . . . . I’d go to Mars or Saturn if I could . . . because it’s no longer easy here on this Earth to find that something that gives images their transparency the way you could before. All the manifestos in this chapter address, to one degree or another, this tension, central to the heart of documentary cinema, beginning with the founding manifesto of documentary filmmaking: “First Principles of Documentary,” from 1932. Grierson, the founder of the documentary film movements in both the United Kingdom and Canada, argues that the story told by a documentary film must emerge from the footage filmed, that the documentary film cannot be prepackaged, in the manner of the Hollywood studio system, beforehand. Grierson is also fairly scathing about city symphony films, like Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927), as he argues quite polemically 446 • T H E C R E A T I V E T R E A T M E N T O F A C T U A L I T Y thatunlikethefilmsofFlaherty,citysymphonyfilmsareaboutnothing.OswellBlakeston’s “Manifesto on the Documentary Film,” published a year later, is even more polemical, decrying the destruction of documentary by the aesthetics of montage and simplifications offered by educational documentary cinema, proclaiming the need for documentaries that reflect reality and do not simply offer an aestheticized vision of the world, divorced from profilmic reality. The “Declaration of the Group of Thirty” is concerned with a different set of issues, namely the potential demise of short-film production in France. Signed by some of the most notable documentary filmmakers in France at the time (Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Alain Resnais, Alexandre Astruc, and Georges Franju among them), the manifesto is a protest and call to arms against changing film policies in France. Subsequent manifestos in this chapter address the question of the relationship between documentary film and political action. Two manifestos in particular arise from controversies over what kinds of films are included and elided in film festivals. “Documentary Filmmakers Make Their Case,” from the Krakow Group (Bohdan Kosi ski, Krzysztof...