Mawson, Shackleton, polar expeditions — and authenticity

October 31, 2007 § 2 Comments

The Bioscope

But modern video is too bright, too much of the moment – it anaethetizes the ordeal. The monochrome silent footage, by its very distance, makes those things endured in the past seem all the more astonishing, because they seem so distant. In seeing the films of Scott, Shackleton and Mawson we long for close-ups and the camera techniques of today that will bring them that much closer to us, but maybe it is the lack of intimacy that is their strength. When Hell Freezes’s own faux dramatised scenes were strongest when they showed figures lost in the white distance, not trying to show the agonies etched on their faces.

Or, as I argued in Pordenone 2007 – day 1 – spaces (although about filmed sport events):

it’s more important for the film to tell us that we are indeed spectators, just like the real spectators in the film, rather than to show us what happens. It’s about status — and this still new joy of “being there” thanks to the movie camera. Today the editing is complex, and the spectator is not just a priviledged individual but someone whose participation is required.

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§ 2 Responses to Mawson, Shackleton, polar expeditions — and authenticity

  • urbanora says:

    Interesting arguments – keep ’em coming. I think the distancing effect in early sports films, though partly it’s about telling us that we too are spectators, is also a question of technology (lenses etc) and the practicalities of camera positioning (where the stadium owners would allow the cameras to set up etc). Early sports films, unless its action recreated for the camera, look distant because they were distant. They would have got closer if they could (or would they?).

  • flyczba says:

    Agreed wholeheartedly — the point about owners not letting cameras position themselves wherever they wanted is especially intriguing to me, if you have a document on that or one of those short links to something digitized of which you seem to have an endless supply :-)…
    Yet the position of that kulturfilm “Way to Strength and Beauty” of creating agreement through aesthetization of physical movements AND distanciation is duplicated in parts of that Detroit newsreel from 1917 (http://www.archive.org/details/DetroitN1917). Though you can see more sport action than in the soccer game with Lazio, the polo game (!) is still shot from a distance, and there’s no attempt to explain the sporting context around the action (what was the score ? Who won ? What happened at the 67th minute ? Was this an offside ? etc.). There is an attempt to present some technical elements from polo — and that gives us some closer shots, but they’re in slow motion (just like in that kulturfilm when presenting judo), and again they create a distance rather than implying us as participants in the game. Again the emphasis is on the spectacle: plenty of shots of the fine gents and ladies watching the game, an umbrella in the foreground as if WE were part of that crowd, too. What a thrill: a cheap film theater ticket has placed us, for 30 seconds, with the Detroit elite…
    Well it’s just a thought and one would need to take in more sport images to push this further. (and the discussion also ought to be about the lack of narrative coherence of newsreel images, where the narrative is mainly verbal)

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