chapter  5
Real life
Pages 18

T he single most persistent argument about documentary is how truthful it is, or shouldaspire to be. ‘Cinema is truth twenty-four times a second’, says Bruno Forestier, acharacter in French film director Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Petit Soldat (1963), asserting what we might call the creative absolute. Much misquoted and predictably disavowed – by directors such as Brian de Palma and Errol Morris, both of whom have retorted ‘Cinema is lies twenty-four times a second’ – one filmmaker’s truth is another’s poison. Television – which actually operates at a standard of 25 frames per second – has an uneasy relationship with the truth, preferring to categorise its product by labels such as fact or fiction, real or reality. Documentary traditionally stood at the apex of the factual pyramid, the fully filmically realised statement of the actual. But the interventions and selections involved in documentary realisation are what challenge its claim to be truthful. The viewfinder finds the view that the director or cinematographer wants; the final film is the artful juxtapostion of such shots to achieve the narrative, mood, argument and style of the filmmaker. As we have seen in the previous chapter, there are occasions when the objectives of the filmmaker are designed to be coterminous with that of the film’s subjects, but these are rare and no less of a construction.