Everyday Media

An everyday blog about media by everyday blogger Louise Alice Wilson.

Tag: Documentary

The ‘Truth’ In Cinema

This week we’ve been covering documentary, so I thought that for my initiative post it’s only fair that I pay homage to Werner Herzog, one of the greatest documentary filmmakers of all time. In 1999, Herzog wrote out  his ‘Minnesota Declaration’, an article attempting to explain his approach to filmmaking and his ideas regarding ‘the truth’ and ‘purity’ of the image. The piece is written regarding his 1992 film Lessons of Darkness and is in opposition to the cinematic movement known as Cinema Verité. The piece of Herzog gold is key to understanding his approach to filmmaking as well us allowing the reader to grasp the notion of ‘truth’ in the cinematic image.

The Minnesota Declaration: in relation to Lessons of Darkness.

  1. By dint of declaration the so-called Cinema Verité is devoid of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants.
  2. One well-known representative of Cinema Verité declared publicly that truth can be easily found by taking a camera and trying to be honest. He resembles the night watchman at the Supreme Court who resents the amount of written law and legal procedures. “For me,” he says, “there should be only one single law; the bad guys should go to jail.”                                                                                                               Unfortunately, he is part right, for most of the many, much of the time.
  3. Cinema Verité confounds fact and truth, and thus plows only stones. And yet, facts sometimes have a strange and bizarre power that makes their inherent truth seem unbelievable.
  4. Fact creates norms, and truth illumination.
  5. There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.
  6. Filmmakers of Cinema Verité resemble tourists who take pictures of ancient ruins of facts.
  7. Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue.
  8. Each year at springtime scores of people on snowmobiles crash through the melting ice on the lakes of Minnesota and drown. Pressure is mounting on the new governor to pass a protective law. He, the former wrestler and bodyguard, has the only sage answer to this: “You can’t legislate stupidity.”
  9. The gauntlet is herby thrown down.
  10. The moon is dull. Mother Nature doesn’t call, doesn’t speak to you, although a glacier eventually farts. And don’t you listen to the Song of Life.
  11. We ought to be grateful that the Universe out there knows no smile.
  12. Life in the oceans must be sheer hell. A vast, merciless hell of permanent and immediate danger. So much of hell that during evolution some species—including man—crawled, fled onto some small continents of solid land, where the Lessons of Darkness continue.


W. Herzog (1999). Minnesota Declaration: Truth and Fact in Documentary Cinema. Walker Magazine. 

Catch you later,

Louise Alice Wilson

Fully InFORMed

Let’s talk about sex baby documentary.

We all know what Documentaries are right?  We might not have a pre-prepared google definition, but we could probably list off a bunch of things that we associate with documentaries. Such as: truthful, real-life, handheld, based on, in camera zoom, science, etc, etc.

The curious thing about documentary though, is that the more you learn about documentary films, the more your realise that what you understand to be it’s defining aspects, aren’t necessarily the case. For example, documentaries aren’t necessarily any more ‘truthful’ than standard films and the pure process of filming something, creates a filtered version of the ‘real world’ (if there is such a thing).

But rather than waste 3000 words BLOWING YOUR MIND, lets just bring it back to grad school (shh, I’m pretending to be American) and talk about types of form in documentary film.


Types of Form in Documentary Films

Categorical Form: These are documentaries that focus on a specific category of things (often loosely based) such as ‘butterflies’, in order to convey information about the world.

Common aspects of categorical form:

  • Begins by identifying it’s subject.
  • Simplistic patterns of development (small > large, local > national).
  • Overall thematic goal.

Due to the simplistic developmental patterns of categorical form, it is vital that filmmakers introduce variations to adjust viewer expectations. Or rather choose a category that is obscure or exciting in order to maintain viewer interest, e.g. Les Blank’s ‘Gap-Toothed Women‘.

Another brill way to engage viewers is to add abstract visual interest through the use of patterned filmic techniques by exploring the colour, shape and form of the thing being presented. Les Blank does this well through his various close-ups of gap teethed mouths, each with their own individualistic shape, colour, complexity, obscurity and feeling.

Categorical films can also explore other types of form, such as narrative form, or rhetorical form, adding in small scale narratives or including an ideological point. In Gap-Toothed Women Les Blank makes a statement about beauty, suggesting that society’s acceptance or disgust regarding aesthetics, merely reflects societal bias. Thus, you can imagine how combining multiple forms of documentary can create a much more engaging and well rounded documentary film.

Les Blank – Gap Toothed Women (1987)

Rhetorical Form: In these documentaries the filmmaker is attempting to present a cohesive argument. Attempts to persuade the audience to adopt an opinion about the subject matter and possibly convince them to act upon that opinion.

Common aspects of rhetorical form:

  • Addresses the viewer openly, trying to persuade them of their opinion.
  • The films subject is not an issue of scientific proof, but rather an opinion.
  • Since the conclusion can often not be proved beyond question, the filmmaker will often appeal to emotion, rather than present scientific evidence.
  • Often attempts to persuade the viewer to make a choice that will change their everyday life.

An example of rhetorical form in documentary is Lorentz’ The River, released in 1938. This documentary sought to convince its audience to support President Roosevelt’s policies regarding the Tennessee Valley Authority through it’s use of the rhetoric form. The TVA was a government owned corporation aiming to provide solutions to the country’s  flooding, electricity and agricultural problems  within Tennessee Valley during the Great Depression.

Pare Lorentz – The River (1938)


Catch you later,

Louise Alice Wilson



D. Bordwell & K. Thompson., (1993). Film Art: An Introduction. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993.


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