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From Talking Head to Social Gesture: Direct Address and the Frame-Breaking Event of Mistranslation
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Media Studies.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-4706-3300
2014 (English)Conference paper, Presentation (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

From the early years of broadcasting culture, the talking head (in live transmission or

in the “real time approximation” of TV films made to look like live television) was established as an authoritative marker of veracity, information, and knowledge: The face of an educated lecturer or TV personality, or the pretty face of a girl announcing the next program. Documentary portraits did already present compelling framings of people, but these images were often in the regime of ethnographic cinema: Exotic images of people and places that tended to be subordinated to the narrative conventions of educational programming, or the artistic ambitions and subjective imagination of amateur filmmakers and skillful photographers. By the mid-sixties, the recent technological innovations of portable camera equipment and synchronized sound had radically changed the premises of documentary filmmaking, and did also result in new modes of address, new voices and faces in television.

The case study of this paper will account for the intimate format of television and the mediated face in relation to the moment in media history when the “World-at-your-door” attraction of predominant educational programming met with the agency of the committed documentary. The establishment of the “talking head” as a convention of factual television, the 16mm aesthetics of direct address, the imperfection of direct sound, and the supposedly revolutionary image of the handheld camera – these are the proverbial qualities of authenticity that we usually ascribe to the documentary of the 1960s and 1970s. I intend to look beyond the familiar characteristics of cinéma vérité and direct cinema, to consider how the new technology of sound recording and synchronized sound made way for the testimonial act as a component of media activism. In particular, I am interested in problems of the voice and strategies of re-enactment that infused the solidarity film of this era and, assumingly, the reception of mediated recollections and lived experience in the immediate presence of war and political struggle. Examples from the Swedish context of solidarity programming will reassess the trope of the talking head, in order to also discuss the problematic aspects of translation and mistranslation that are often poignant in documentary processes of framing and re-enactment, and perhaps most notably so in the context of public television.

A more conceptual aim of this paper will be to pin down what I would label “the social gesture” of direct address and TV testimonies, while also aiming at a reflection on the mediated face and the emotional event of the testimonial act in documentary more broadly. The expression of “the social gesture” build on the phenomenological notion in classical film theory (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Roger Leenhardt, André Bazin) regarding the ways in which the cinematic face may ideally invoke the human gesture. The related arguments regarding the importance of scale and duration still holds true for the present context of TV documentaries and solidarity films, although the ideological aspects of framing and the social and cultural realm of voice and performativity bring attention to still overlooked aspects of sound and re-enactment in documentary theory. 

 

References:

Chion, Michel, ”Le son et la voix dans le cinéma documentaire. Entretien avec Michel Chion par Jean-Louis Comolli”. Images documentaires 55/56, 47-59.

Chanan, Michael, The Politics of Documentary. London: BFI, 2007.

Chion, Michel, The Voice in Cinema. Trans. Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Kahana, Jonathan, Intelligence Work. The Politics of American Documentary. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008

Waughan, Dai, ”The Aesthetics of Ambiguity”, in For Documentary. Twelve Essays (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1999)

 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014.
Keyword [en]
Documentary film, public broadcasting history, Swedish TV history, film sound
National Category
Studies on Film
Research subject
Cinema Studies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-145716OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-145716DiVA: diva2:1134209
Conference
Face Value: The Face of Terror, Trondheim, Norway, May 7-9, 2014
Projects
The Documentary Call for Action
Funder
Swedish Research Council
Available from: 2017-08-18 Created: 2017-08-18 Last updated: 2017-09-06

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