Cinéma vérité: Wikis


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Cinéma vérité (French: [sinema veʁite], "truthful cinema"; English: /ˈsɪnɨmə vɛrɨˈteɪ/) is a style of documentary filmmaking, combining naturalistic techniques with stylized cinematic devices of editing and camerawork, staged set-ups, and the use of the camera to provoke subjects. It is also known for taking a provocative stance toward its topics.



The term originates in Dziga Vertov's Kino-Pravda (Russian both for "cinema of truth" and "truth of the cinema"), a documentary series of the 1920s. While Vertov's announced intention was to use film as a means of getting at "hidden" truth, largely through juxtapositions of images, the French term refers more to a technique influenced by Vertov than to his specific intentions.

Cinema-vérité, unlike most types of filmmaking, is dependent on specialized camera and sound technology. In the late 1950s, filmmakers in the US (Richard Leacock and DA Pennebaker, and later Al Maysles) and in Europe (Jean Rouch working with Éclair) struggled to develop quiet cameras that could be used with portable tape recorders (first Perfectone, then Nagra and Stellavox, though primarily Nagra) to record synchronous sound on location. These first rigs (like Morris Engel's 35mm system used for Weddings and Babies - a fiction film) were large and clumsy. A prototype rig that did not really work was used on "Primary" - generally considered the first American cinema-verite film. Most of the sync drifted horribly, but was repaired in editing; the film showed what might be possible if the technology were perfected.

Ricky Leacock had a revelation after seeing an early Bulova Accutron watch - it used a 360 Hz tuning fork as a time base. He realized syncing was a timing problem, and that if the camera motor were driven by a tuning fork (later crystal) and the tape recorder recorded a reference signal from a similar tuning fork, sync sound without cable was possible. Using money from Time-Life (enabled by Drew Associates), this was developed, with the help of engineer Mitch Bogdanowicz. Drew Associates had some converted Auricon Cine-Voice cameras in the early 60s. In the post-Drew days, DA Pennebaker made major improvements—he shortened the camera viewfinder so the camera could sit on one's shoulder, added a handgrip, and improved the electronics. Al Maysles did similar things in building his unique "bazooka" rig.

These rigs permitted a crew of just two people: cameraperson (usually the director him/herself) and soundperson, to be the entire crew of a film. That allowed more intimacy and transparency to the process.

In the 1970s, Jeff Kreines and Joel DeMott believed this was still too constricting, and worked to develop the "one person sync rig". This used the Nagra SNN spy recorder built into a CP16 non-reflex camera, fitted with a 10mm Switar prime lens and Leica optical viewfinder. The filmmaker held the microphone in his left hand, shot with the right, and was completely self-contained. Filmmakers can use this setup for all their films, eschewing zoom lenses and wireless microphones. Some of their students, including Ross McElwee and Mark Rance, have adopted this working method.

The technique began in earnest in Quebec (particularly at the National Film Board of Canada) and France in the 1950s and flourished in the 1960s. The aesthetic of cinéma vérité was essentially the same as that of the mid-1950s "free cinema" in the UK and "Direct Cinema" in the US. Some filmmakers in France and Québec found the term cinema vérité to be pretentious, and called it "cinéma direct" instead.[citation needed] Some American filmmakers prefer to use the term "non-fiction film."

There are subtle yet important differences among these terms. Direct Cinema is largely concerned with the recording of events in which the subject and audience become unaware of the camera's presence. Operating within what Nichols calls the "observational mode," direct cinema is essentially what is now called a fly on the wall documentary. Many therefore see a paradox created by drawing attention away from the reality of the camera and simultaneously declaring the discovery of a cinematic truth.[citation needed]

Cinema vérité involves stylized set-ups and the interaction between the filmmaker and the subject, even to the point of provocation. Some argue that the obvious presence of the filmmaker and camera was seen by most cinema vérité filmmakers as the best way to reveal the truth in cinema.[citation needed] The camera is always acknowledged, for it performs the raw act of filming real objects, people, and events in a confrontational way. The filmmaker's intention was to represent the truth in what was he or she was seeing as objectively as possible, freeing people from any deceptions in how those aspects of life were formerly presented to them. From this perspective, the filmmaker should be the catalyst of a situation. It should be noted that few agree on the real meanings of these terms, even the filmmakers whose films are being described.

Pierre Perrault sets situations up, and then films it, for example in Pour la suite du monde where he asked old people to fish for whale. The result is not a documentary about whale fishing; it is about memory and lineage. In this sense cinéma vérité is concerned with anthropological cinema, and with the social and political implications of what is captured on film. How a filmmaker shoots a film, what is being filmed, what to do with what was filmed, and how that film will be presented to an audience, all were very important for filmmakers of the time.

In all cases, the ethical and aesthetic analysis of documentary form of the 1950s and '60s has to be linked with a critical look at post-war propaganda analysis. The best way to describe this type of cinema is probably to say that it is concerned with notions of truth and reality in film.

As Edgar Morin wrote: "There are two ways to conceive of the cinema of the Real: the first is to pretend that you can present reality to be seen; the second is to pose the problem of reality. In the same way, there were two ways to conceive cinéma vérité. The first was to pretend that you brought truth. The second was to pose the problem of truth." [1]

Feminist documentary films of the 1970s often used cinéma-vérité techniques. Soon this sort of 'realism' was criticized for its deceptive pseudo-natural construction of reality.[citation needed] For example, in 1979 Michelle Citron released Daughter Rite, a feminist pseudo-documentary which deconstructs the conventions of cinéma vérité.

Filmmakers associated with cinéma vérité, free cinema or Direct Cinema

Select cinéma-vérité films

The techniques (if not always the spirit) of cinéma vérité can also be seen in fiction films such as The Battle of Algiers, The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, District 9 (2009), and Paranormal Activity (2009), among others.

Short films

Cinéma vérité-style films and television shows

Many film directors of the 1960s and later adopted use of the handheld camera, techniques and cinema vérité styles for their fiction films based on screenplays and actors. They often had actors use improvisation to try to get a more spontaneous quality to the takes. Influential examples include director John Cassavetes, who broke ground with his film Faces.[7]

The techniques of cinéma vérité were also readily adapted to use in TV fiction programs, such as Homicide: Life on the Street, The X-Files, Sanctuary, Friday Night Lights, NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues, Battlestar Galactica, The Thick Of It, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Lost, Arrested Development, Reno 911!, Trailer Park Boys as well as both the UK and American versions of The Office. Documentary series are less common, but include:

See also


  1. ^ "Il y a deux façons de concevoir le cinéma du réel : la première est de prétendre donner à voir le réel; la seconde est de se poser le problème du réel. De même, il y avait deux façons de concevoir le cinéma vérité. La première était de prétendre apporter la vérité. La seconde était de se poser le problème de la vérité."[citation needed]
  2. ^ Richard Leacock in Allmovie, accessed online on the New York Times website 23 October 2006.
  3. ^ a b c Plot description of Cinéma Vérité: Defining The Moment, accessed online on the New York Times website 23 October 2006.
  4. ^ Daniel Asa Rose, Frederick Wiseman Takes His Camera to the Races, The New York Times, June 1, 1986. Accessed online 23 October 2006.
  5. ^ées+seconde&search_type=
  6. ^ Apple - Trailers - Billy the Kid - Trailer
  7. ^ John Cassavetes in Allmovie, accessed online on the New York Times website 23 October 2006.

External links

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