Constructing 2

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The presid.entnnd the iru'age

unstable, vulnerable to interpretation ancl forever bciug recontextupelpetr-rally Within this frameq'ork, the performancesby the presidents alisedand reassessed. and candidatesthemselvesare comparably performative and serve as reminders that to tr1' to enforce the distinction bern'eenthe 'real' person and the performperformative. In the next chapter, this ance is ftltile; the politician is necessarily in will be discr-rssed relation not merely to those in front of the camera notion but also to the perfbrmati\re doclrmer-rtary,films tl-rat in and of themselves the nting reality. ackr.rou4edge inherent instabiliw of represe


The performative documentary

This chapter will discussthe performative documentary,, rnode which er-nphaa sises and indeed constructsa film around - the ofien hidder-r aspectof performance, whether on the part of the documentary subjectsor the filmmakers.When one discusses performanceand the real event, this fusion has more usuallybeen applied to documentary drama, lvhere a masquerade spontar-rcity be seen of can to function at an overt level. It is useful to note the discrepancy betr.veen performative documentaries and dramas that adopt the style of a documentary by using, for instance,hand-held cameralvork, scratchysynch sound recording and ad-libbed dialogue as one finds in Ken Loach's Cathy Coyne Hoyne.Loach, the exponents of Free Cinema at the end of the 1950s (L)'ndsay Anderson, Karel Reisz and others) and the British tradition of gritry drama that ensued - for instance BBC social issue dramas such as The Spongers (1978, directed by Roland foffe , written by Jim Allen) or Granada Television'sdocudrama or.rtputof the 1970s to early 1990s - a1lapproach 'realness'from the opposite perspecrive to the filmmakers to be discnssed here, assumingproximity to the real to residein an ir-rtensely observationalsryle. The docudrama output of the past 30 yearsrs predicated upon the assumption that drama can legitimately tackle documentary issuesand uncontentiously use non-fiction techniques to achieveits aims. It thus becomespossiblefor drama to perform a comparablefunctior-r documentary: to Cathy Come Horne raised public awareness homelessness of and prompted the founding of Shelter, whilst Granada's Who BornbedBirwingham? (f990) led directly to the re-opening of the caseof the Birmingham Six. Continuing in rhis tradition, Jimmy McGoyern's Dochets(1999), about thetLiverpool dockers' strike, confused the boundaries between fact and fiction further: dockers and their wives collaboratedu'ith McGovern on rhe script and some appeared alongside actors in the cast.l Within such a realist aesthetic,the role of performance is, paradoxically, to draw the audienceinto the realiry of the situationsbeing dramatised,to authenticate the fictionalisation.In contrast to this, the performative documentaryuses performance within a non-fiction context to draw attention to the impossibilities of authentic documentary represenrarion. The performative elment within the framelvork of non fiction is thereby an alienating, distancing device, not one whicl-ractivelypromotes identification and a straigl-rtforward response a film's to


We performatipe docwmentalY

Theperformatite docurnentnry


content. There is, however, an essentialdifference beween films that are performative in themselvesand those that concern performative subject matter, frequenrly in conjunction (as in the work of Errol Morris and Nicholas Barker, to be discussedhere), with an elaborate and ostentatiouslyinaudrentic r.isualsryle. posited throughout this book has been that documentariesare a The argr-rment negotiation berween filmmaker and reality and, at heart, a performance. It is thereby in the films of Nick Broomfield, Molly Dineen, Errol Morris or Nicholas Barker that this underlying thesis finds its clearestexpression. Bill Nichots in Blurred Boundaries,a little confusingly (considering tl.refamiliarity of the term 'performative' since ]udith Butler's Gender Trowblewas published in 1990) uses the term the 'performative mode' (following the didactic, the observational,the interactive and the reflexivemodes)2to describefihns that 'stresssubjectiveaspectsof a classically objective discourse'(Nichols 1994: 95). Conversely,this discussionwill focus upon documentariesthat are performative in the manner identified by Buder and others after I. L. Austin - r.ramely that they function as utterances that simultaneously both describe and perform an action. Austin's radical differentiation between the constativeand performative aspectsof language (the former simply refersto or describes, the latter performs what it alludes to) has been expanded upon and relocatedmany times in recent years,but rarely with referenceto documentary.3Examplesof words that Ar-rstin identifies as being 'performative utterances'are 'I do', said within the context of the marriage ceremony, or 'I name this ship the Queen Elizabeth', said whilst smashinga bottle of champagneagainstthe vessel's side, his reasoningbeing that 'in saying what I do, I actually perform that action'(Austin I970:235). Aparallel is to be found between these linguistic examplesand the perforrnativedocumentary which - whether built around the intrusive presenceof tlte filmmaker or self-consciousperformances by its subjects- is the enactment of the notion that a documentary only comes into being as it is performed, that although its factual basis (or document) can pre-date any recording or representationof it, the film itself is necessarilyperformative becauseit is given meaning by the interaction between performance and reality. Unlike Nichols, who finds it hard to disguise his latent warinessof the performative documentary mode, supposing that the more a documentary 'draws attention to itself', the further it gets from 'what it represents' (Nichols 1994:97), this chapter will view the performative positively. The traditional concept of documentary as striving to represent reality as faithfully as possible is predicated upon the realist assumptionthat the production process must be disguised, as was the casewith direct cinema. Conversely, the new performative documentaries herald a different notion of documentary 'truth' that acknowledgesthe construction and artificiality of even the non-fiction film. Many theorists would view this reflexivity as breaking with documentary tradition - but this is only valid if one takes as representative of the documentary 'canon' films that seek to hide the modes oF production. This, largely,has been the way in which the documentary familv tree has evolved,with the relative marginalisationof the more reflexivedocumentary tradition exempli-

fied by early films such as Man. with a Movie carnera, A proposde Nice, Land. without Bread and continuing inro the work of Emile de Anro'io. Jea. Rouch arrd Frerrch cinima 'rrlritl, chris Marker. Just as legitimate is the that the 'ie*, nerv performative documentariesare simply the most recent artic.lation of the filn-rmakers' uneaseat this very assllmption of rvhat documentariesare about, that, like the previous films discussedi' this book, the films of Broomfield, Michael Moore a'd others have sor-rght accentuate,not mask, the means of to production becausethey realisetl-ratsr-rch masqueradeis impossibly utopian. a The erroneousassumptionthat documentariesaspireto be referentialor .constative' to adopt Austin's terminology (that is, to represent an u'complicated, descriptiverelationship berween subject and rext), is being specifically targeted i' perfo.native films, which are rhus n.t breaking with the factual filmmaking tradition, but are a logical extensionof that tradition's aims, as much concerned rvith representingreality as their predecessors, more aware of the inevitable but fllsification or subjectificationsuch representationentails. A prerequisiteof the performative documentary as l-re defir-red the ir-rclure is sion of a notable performance component, and it is the i.sertion of such a performance element into a non-fictional context that has hitherto proved pr.blematic. If, horvever,one retlrrns to Austin's speechmodels, then the presumed diminution of the films' believabilitybecomeslessoFan issue:what a filmmaker such as Nick Broomfield is doing when he appearson camera and in voice-over,is acting out a documentary.This performativiry is basedon the idea of disavowal,that simultaneouslysignalsa desire to make a conventionaldocumentary (that is, to give an accurateaccount ofa seriesoffactual events)whilst also indicating, through the mechanisms of performance and Broomfield's obtrusive presence,the impossibility of the documentary's cognirive function. Nick Broomfield's films do this quite literally, as rhe convenrionaldocumentary disintegrates through the courseofthe film and the performativeone takesover. The fundamental issuehere is honesty.The performative element could be seen to undermine the conventional documentary pursuit of representing the real becausethe elements of performance, dramadsationand acting for the camera are intrusive and alienating factors.Alternatively,the use ofperfonnance tactics could be viewed as a means of suggesting that perhaps documentariesshould admit the defeat of their utopian aim and elect instead to presentan alternative 'honesty' that does not seek to mask their inherent instability but rather to acknowledgethat performance- the enactment of the documentary specifically * for the cameras will alu'ays the heart of the non-fiction film. Documentaries, be like Austin's performatives,perform the actions they name. Style, meaning and the performative subject

As indicated earlier, there are rwo broad categories of documentary that could be termed performative: films that feature performativesubjectsand which visually are heavilysrylisedand those rhar are inherently