Questions and notes from Documentary Testimonies

July 20, 2010 — Leave a comment

Dealing with the testimonial apparatus…

“What does the comparative project lead us to discover about the limits and potentialities of documentary as public record?” (p3)

“What are the corporeal and performative dimensions of testimony? And how do they compensate for or exacerbate the frailty of memory?”(p3)

A question to myself…what key analytical position underlies my research work and direction?

“Reflecting on the theory and practice of Cuban documentarist Victor Casaus, Michael Chanon remarks that ‘the vocation of documentary is testimonial.'” (p5)

“…the vocation of testimony is archival, and jointly, the vocation of the archive is ethical.” (p5)

Testimony can be seen as a performative act continually in the making, as can documentary filmmaking. I am aiming to study what we think of as moving testimony, and what this means to the filmmaker both ethically and creatively.

“…the presence of a story sharer may attest, again paradoxically, to the impossibility of telling.” (p7)

“…still we would attribute the perceived rawness of video-taped testimony to an impression it conveys rather than an inherent quality of the video testimonial mode. As with literary work, the audio-visual representation of a person, animal, object, or geographical setting is ontologically distinct from the creature or thing itself: video testimony visits but does not inhabit the traumatic past, any more than it does the real.” (p7)

This is one of the key analytical positions I take, and which I base my research on. As the work is ontologically different from the subject itself, to what ethical and creative extent can/must the filmmaker go to create representation. i.e. must a ‘window on reality’ be literal and parade itself as real? (or to what extent)

“Audiovisual testimony, like documentary film, does, however, participate in what Bill Nichols has termed ‘the discourse of sobriety,’ ‘systems’ such as ‘science, economics, politics, foreign relations, education, religion, welfare’ that ‘regard their relation to the real as direct, immediate, transparent.” (p7)

“Audiovisual testimonial utterances are are always already mediated at the level of the speaking subject, whose personal narrative is a product of selection, ordering, interpretation, partnership, prohibition, character, reflection and the vicissitudes of memory; and at the level of the media text.” (p7)

A good way to frame my introduction may be to say that I am interested not just in the ingredients, but the cooking method of cinematographic and video testimony.

Check up on Francis Guerin, and Roger Hallas, “who reject both the mimetic presumption that a moving or still photographic image is an authentic representation of the world it depicts and that images therefore speak for themselves.” (p8)

Guerin and Hallas call on documentary studies to recognise, as they so eloquently put it, ‘the specific ways that the material image enables particular forms of agency in relation to historical traumas across the globe.’

“the testimonial apparatus is performative with regard to the truth and memories of testifying and witnessing.” (p9)


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