Representing performance: documentary film, performance theory and the real.
MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.
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This thesis explores the points of intersection between documentary theory and performance theory. Documentary discourse – both practice and theory – concerns itself with the search for an origin; an object in the real world with which the filmmaking apparatus interacts. The object is the nucleus of the documentary text. The fact that the object is taken from the historical world provides the text and its argument with immediacy and relevance. Writing on documentary focuses on the relationship forged between this object and the documentary text. The cynosure of documentary theory is an examination of the practices and processes deployed by the filmmaker in the representation of reality. Where I perceive a gap in documentary theory is in the lack of analysis given to what constitutes reality itself; in particular, the people represented by a documentary. This thesis will argue that human beings can not be regarded as simple, stable objects which yield themselves for the representational practices of the filmmaker. The anthropological, psychological and sociological theories of human behaviour and conduct disseminated by Richard Schechner, Judith Butler and Erving Goffman demonstrate that the individual subject is itself a discursive practice. When a documentary camera represents a human being, it is representing a performance; a consciously and unconsciously maintained ‘act’ composed of gestures, attitudes and characteristics which the subject did not author itself. This thesis will examine four modes of performance in documentary. Performativity illustrates that a subject’s fundamental identity is citational; the origin of any documentary subject’s performance does not reside within that subject, but is rather dislocated and relocated onto the cultural field within which its identity is formed. The presentation of self demonstrates the ways in which a documentary subject can wilfully command and control the manner in which it presents itself, and thus control the manner in which it is represented. Interaction is a dialectical performance which occurs between filmmaker and subject. This is a means by which the filmmaker may use performative strategies of his/her own in order to challenge or pressure the performance of the subject. In documentary reenactments, the historical figure whom the documentary represents is reembodied in the actor who plays him/her. Issues surrounding surrogacy, fantasy and identification come to the fore in this mode of performance. This thesis will explore the impact these modes of performance have upon the documentary quest to represent reality.
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