Documentary as history, memory, dream and film

Liddell, Jon & Hamilton, Jillian G. (2011) Documentary as history, memory, dream and film. In Peters, Geraldine (Ed.) 2011 Expanding Documentary Conference Proceedings, Auckland University of Technlogy, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland.

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A century ago, as the Western world embarked on a period of traumatic change, the visual realism of photography and documentary film brought print and radio news to life. The vision that these new mediums threw into stark relief was one of intense social and political upheaval: the birth of modernity fired and tempered in the crucible of the Great War. As millions died in this fiery chamber and the influenza pandemic that followed, lines of empires staggered to their fall, and new geo-political boundaries were scored in the raw, red flesh of Europe. The decade of 1910 to 1919 also heralded a prolific period of artistic experimentation. It marked the beginning of the social and artistic age of modernity and, with it, the nascent beginnings of a new art form: film.

We still live in the shadow of this violent, traumatic and fertile age; haunted by the ghosts of Flanders and Gallipoli and its ripples of innovation and creativity. Something happened here, but to understand how and why is not easy; for the documentary images we carry with us in our collective cultural memory have become what Baudrillard refers to as simulacra. Detached from their referents, they have become referents themselves, to underscore other, grand narratives in television and Hollywood films. The personal histories of the individuals they represent so graphically–and their hope, love and loss–are folded into a national story that serves, like war memorials and national holidays, to buttress social myths and values. And, as filmic images cross-pollinate, with each iteration offering a new catharsis, events that must have been terrifying or wondrous are abstracted.

In this paper we first discuss this transformation through reference to theories of documentary and memory–this will form a conceptual framework for a subsequent discussion of the short film Anmer. Produced by the first author in 2010, Anmer is a visual essay on documentary, simulacra and the symbolic narratives of history. Its form, structure and aesthetic speak of the confluence of documentary, history, memory and dream. Located in the first decade of the twentieth century, its non-linear narratives of personal tragedy and poetic dreamscapes are an evocative reminder of the distance between intimate experience, grand narratives, and the mythologies of popular films. This transformation of documentary sources not only played out in the processes of the film’s production, but also came to form its theme.

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ID Code: 50274
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Memory, Documentary, Film, History, narrative
ISBN: 2253-1475
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > BUILT ENVIRONMENT AND DESIGN (120000) > DESIGN PRACTICE AND MANAGEMENT (120300) > Visual Communication Design (incl. Graphic Design) (120307)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING (190000) > FILM TELEVISION AND DIGITAL MEDIA (190200) > Film and Television (190204)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2011 Jon Liddell and Jillian Hamilton
Deposited On: 15 May 2012 03:06
Last Modified: 15 Jul 2017 14:43

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