Bill Nichols and Performative Documentaries…

April 23, 2010 — 1 Comment

I got hold of Bill Nichols chapter on Performative documentary and thought I’d do a basic summary to get a clear picture. For me the notion of ‘point of view’ and ‘truth’ is really interesting when talking about documentary. The filmmaker is inevitably tied into the DNA of the film and its design. The films delivery (in a cinema or on youtube) is a whole other major part of the films context that can be entirely out of control. These basic observations lead me to think that Performative is the most appropriate and ethical form of documentary as it is the least assuming. Performative reveals ideas about the world, from the world, but does not go so far as to preach truth or perspective. However, in broadcast news and current affair situations such ideals can become far to abstract. News after all must be news, with facts and opinion.

Notes from Nichols:

• Performative documentary marks a shift in emphasis from the referential as the dominant feature of approach.
• Expressive, poetic and rhetoric approaches to the image or the real world become dominant. In a sense the performative documentary asks the audience to have a revelation, rather than presenting an argument or truth for the audience to merely receive.
• In this sense the performative documentary must be thought of in context with fiction. The performative documentary stresses “subjective aspects of a classically objective discourse.” (p95)
• “Performative documentary clearly embodies a paradox: it generates a distinct tension between performance and document, between personal and the typical, the embodied and the disembodied, between, in short, history and science.” (p97)
• It seems to me that the performative documentary puts its trust in the viewer to think for themselves, rather than to preach. Baraka (Ron Fricke, 1992) might be an example of a purely performative documentary. The audience is presented with a montage of images which are meaningless to each other, in that there is no linear narrative, and then is invited through photography and music to interpret and sense the meaning.

• Nichols, Bill. “Performing Documentary.” Blurred Boundaries: Questions of Meaning in Contemporary Culture. Indiana University Press, 1994, pp92-106


One response to Bill Nichols and Performative Documentaries…


    wow nice stuff bro.

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