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Interiority, identity and the limits of knowledge in documentary film

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-09, 03:14 authored by Thomas AustinThomas Austin
In the cinema, as Marian Keane has noted, “the medium of film - and specifically the camera - takes the nature of human interiority as its fundamental subject." Keane is writing about fiction film, where scripted dialogue, actor performance and codifications presented by mise en scene, framing, camera movement, editing patterns, lighting and music, typically offer cues to characters’ states of mind and emotions. But these resources are not always readily available, or deemed appropriate, across the heterogeneous terrain of non-fiction film. Any confrontation with the “limits on the expressibility of human interiority” presents a particular hermeneutic dilemma for documentary. This piece focuses on a number of films that take interiority as their key problematic by staging inquiries into the possibility of, and constraints on, gaining access to the inner life of the other. My argument begins with examples that pursue traces of a subject assumed to be always already other than the audience: that of the child viewed by adults, or the blind person seen by the sighted. I then turn to the role of the documentary interview in two flims by Errol Morris. The final third of my inquiry centres on an analysis of Carol Morley’s Dreams of a Life, an assemblage of recollections and anecdotes about a woman who lay dead in her bedsit for three years. Intended as a memorial of sorts, the film can also be understood as a self-reflexive inquiry into the means by which documentary might lay claim to this absent other, and the ultimate restrictions on such a project.


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Oxford University Press





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