Very Early Cinema...
...Was often used to document things.
The Lumiere bros. 1895.
The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight
Enoch J. Rector 1897
“Science Films’ emerged from experiments and studies using the cinematograph. The
field developed blending technical innovation, scientific enquiry, education and
entertainment. For instance pioneers such as:
● Eadweard Muybridge (UK/USA) experiments in photographing motion began in 1872
● John Macintyre (Scotland) filmed the movement of a frog's leg in 1897
● Eugène-Louis Doyen (France) began filming several of his operations, among them
the spectacular separation of the Siamese twins Doodica and Radica. 1898
● Gheorghe Marinescu (Romania) first science films The walking troubles of organic
● Ludwig Braun (Vienna) made film recordings of the contractions of a living dog's
heart in 1898
● Francis Martin Duncan (England) produced an array of popular-scientific films for
Charles Urban: "The unseen world: A series of microscopic studies” 1903
● Lucien Bull (France) filmed a bullet entering a soap bubble in in slow motion in 1904
● Max Seddig and Victor Henri recorded Brownian motion with the help of a
cinematograph. 1907 and 1908, respectively.
● Julius Ries (Switzerland)was one of the first to film fertilization and cell division in
sea urchins in1909
Science films 1898 -1901
Essentially descriptions of journeys,
showing the wonders of far off places.
These started with painted majic lantern
shows as early as the 1740s and matured
into Travel Lectures with photographic
slides by the 1840s.
The most famous lecturer in the USA was
probably John L. Stoddard. Who gave about 3000
lectures between the 1870s and 1897.
I’m weary of the loin-cloth,
And tired of naked skins;
I’m sick of filthy, knavish priests
Who trade in human sins:
These millions of the great unwashed
Offend both eye and nose;
I long for legs in pantaloons
And feet concealed in hose.
Stoddard quoted in Barber (1993)
He was followed by E. Burton Holmes
who had started out as a majician,
travelling showman and then became a
He is credited with coining the term
‘Travelogue’ in 1904 and continued to
have a great career doing these lectures
and films until his death 1958.
"a film picture of sheer adventure, of veiled,
mysterious, unknown tribes, and hidden
A typical example of a British version of the
travelogue is Crossing the Great Sahara (1924)
“A filmed record of Angus Buchanan's
expedition to the Sahel region of the Sahara
in 1922-23. Full of adventure and sensational
footage of the places and people he
Although this was presented on one hand as
educational and scientific it also had huge
There is a clear division between the
'primitive' subjects on screen and the
'civilised' British viewer. Locals are paraded in
front of the camera, as the titles emphasise
their distinctive features ("Note the curious
decoration of Cowrie shells") and are
presented almost as animals, crawling on all
fours, dressed in feathers and employing their
'primitive instincts' to dig out anthills.”
View and see more info on
BFI Screen Online
The French director
Marc Allégret set out to
challenge the cultural
pervaded much of the
news and travel films of
Marc Allégret and André Gide
He was inspired by his mentor and lover André Gide who said:
“ the less intelligent the white man is, the dumber he perceives
Blacks to be”
(Bowles, Brett, 2013)
He also wanted to
avoid the dramatised
adventure stories that
were seen in other
Voyage au Congo, (1927) avoided the stories of the filmmakers,
tried to show the people on their own terms, and even used long
lenses to maintain objective distance. It is seen as a highly influential
work in the development of ethnographic filmmaking.
The terms ‘Actuality’ and 'Documentaire' were
already in use to describe films that act as
documents of records of real life.
‘Travelogues’ and ‘Ethnographic’ films show real life
and tell stories.
But is this documentary?
Is often given the title ‘The
Father of Documentary’ and
is credited with the first use
of the term ‘Documentary’ in
its modern sense when
writing about Roberty
Flaherty's film Moana (1926).
He also wrote:
(Grierson, 1932 pp651)
7. The Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, in Paris, was founded in 1913 by playwright
and critic Jacques Copeau in an attempt to revitalize French theater and is now part
of la ComédieFrançaise.
8. Moana is the second film by Robert Flaherty (US, 1926), shot in Samoa; Earth,
by Alexander Dovzhenko (USSR, 1930) is about collectivization in the Ukraine; and
Turksib (1929) is a Soviet documentary directed by Victor A. Turin about the
construction of a train line through central Asia.
9. Voyage au Congo was a three-volume “journal” by French explorer Jean-
Baptiste Douville, published in 1832, which turned out to be a hoax travelogue. (ie
not the film by Allegret).
Notes from (Grierson, 1932 pp892)
It is hard to find any mention of Allegret by
Grierson at the time. But then there are the
In Just 20 years
(Oktober by Sergei Eisenstein, 1928.)
WHAT KIND OF FILMS WOULD YOU MAKE?
IN THE REVOLUTION?
Fiction film Drama and the Cine-Eye
A speech (15 July 1924)
" We are directly engaged in studying the
phenomenon of life around us. We place
the ability to show and interperet life as it
is significantly above the occasionally
amusing playing with dolls that people call
theatre, cinema etc."
" The fiction film drama
should occupy the
place in a film show
that is now occupied
by the newsreel film.
The remainder of the
programme should be
filled with the works of
the Cine-Eye in the
field of science,
The film drama
stimulates the nerves.
The Cine-Eye helps
people to see.
The film drama shrouds
the eyes and the brain
in a sickly fog. The
Cine-Eye opens the
eyes, clears the vision.
The film drama gives
people a sore throat."
Man with a Movie Camera
Dziga Vertov 1929
"I am Kino-eye. I am Builder. I have
placed you ...in an extraordinary
room which did not exist until just
now when I also created it. In this
room there are twelve walls, shot by
me in various parts of the world. In
bringing together shots of walls and
details, I've managed to arrange
them in an order that is pleasing."
Bordwell and Thompson (2008 p227)
Soyuzkino was created in 1930 as the
central body to oversee film production.
Boris Shumiatsky was the head of
Soyuzkino from 1931-1938. 1
The NEP (New Economic Policy) 1921 -
1928, under which private businesses
had been permitted with a percentage
tax on produce, was replaced by direct
Under Stalin the soviet art form of ‘Socialist Realism’ became
increasingly proscriptive. He asserted that it should serve a funtional
purpose: it should offer unambiguously positive images of life in
communist Russia, in a 'true-to-life' visual style which could be easily
appreciated by the masses.
the dominance of
Socialist Realism in
Fictionalised versions of
history gained favour
such as the
Chapayev - Sergei and Grigori Vasiliev - 1934
Under Shumatsky many early pioneers
such as Eisenstein and Vertov were
"The strength of Chapayev lies in
the profound vital truth of the film"
"Dziga Vertov's film Three Songs
of Lenin is good and significant
precisely because he has
Shumyatsky in 'A Cinema for the Millions'
Shumiatsky was arrested and executed in 1937, accused of
‘collaborating with saboteurs within the film industry’.
Eisenstein’s seminal work ‘Battleship Potemkin’ was first screened in
Britain in 1929 alongside the premiere of ‘Drifters’ a film about Scotland’s
herring fishing fleet made by John Grierson
John Grierson (again)
In 'The First Principles of Documentary' (1932) Grierson
defines ‘Documentary’ further, differentiating between:
'shimmying exoticisms' and 'lower order' 'lecture films' which
have 'value in entertainment, education and propoganda'
'documentary proper, ...the only world in which documentary
can hope to achieve the ordinary virtues of an art. Here we
pass from the plain (or fancy) descriptions of natural material,
to arrangements, rearrangements, and creative shapings of it.'
He also went on to produce much
of the theoretical work which
underpinned the development of
the documentary form as well as
commissioning and producing
work in Britain and Canada.
He started out in the Empire Marketing
Board, which became the GPO film unit,
where he was influential in gathering the
other great names of the British
Documentary movement including Basil
Wright, Edgar Anstey, Stuart Legg, Paul
Rotha, Arthur Elton, Humphrey Jennings,
Harry Watt, and Alberto Cavalcanti.
He moved to Canada in 1938 and ran the National Film Board
there. (In Britain the GPO film unit became the Crown Film
Unit, producing propaganda during the war.)
Grierson’s influence on factual film-making was immense,
underpinned by a strong social commitment. Of this he said:
“The basic force behind [documentary] was
social and not æsthetic. It was a desire to
make a drama out of the ordinary, to set
against the prevailing drama of the
extraordinary: a desire to bring the citizen’s
eye in from the ends of the earth to the
story, his own story, of what was happening
under his nose.”
(“The Grierson Trust - John Grierson,” n.d.)
Cinema Verite, Direct Cinema, Free
Verite provokes and interacts, Direct cinema is more purely
observational, Free cinema is more personal.
All are about representing truth without an agenda.
Free cinema manifesto:
These films were not made together; nor with the idea of showing them together. But when they came
together, we felt they had an attitude in common. Implicit in this attitude is a belief in freedom, in the
importance of people and the significance of the everyday.
As filmmakers we believe that
No film can be too personal.
The image speaks. Sound amplifies and comments.
Size is irrelevant. Perfection is not an aim.
An attitude means a style. A style means an attitude.
Free Cinema - Original 1956 programme
Film workshops established giving TV distribution to films from
THE ACTT WORKSHOP DECLARATION
London Filmmakers Co-op (London)
Steel Bank Film Co-op (Sheffield)
Came to an end in the early 90's as C4 became more
The return of the Commercial
Roger and Me (Moore,1989)$11,000,000
In Bed with Madonna (Keshishian 1991) $29,000,000
Manufacturing Consent (Achbar&Wintonick, 1992)
Baraka (Fricke 1993) $1,300,000 usa
Hoop Dreams (James 1994) $11,800,000
When We Were Kings (Gast 1996) $3,000,000 usa
Microcosmos (Nuridsany & Pérennou 1996) $1,500,000 usa
Little Dieter Needs to Fly Herzog 1997
The 00’s sees the footage shot on domestic equipment becoming increasingly acceptable
and the tone of much mainstream feature documentary making becomes more ‘political’.
However this is a type of political analysis that is acceptable to major distributors and
arguably sustains the status quo, rather than genuinely challenging it. A concept explored in
this article: https://diigo.com/08xacn
Gleaners and I (Varna 2000)
Bowling For Columbine (moore, 2002)
The Fog of War (Morris, 2003)
Capturing the Friedmans (Jarecki, 2003)
Born into Brothels (Briski, 2004)
Super Size Me (Spurlock, 2004)
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room(Gibney, 2005)
An Inconvenient Truth (Guggenheim, 2006)
Food Inc. (kennar 2009)
Meanwhile on TV...
The rise and rise of Reality TV and ‘factual
The birth of Big brother in 1997 and it’s first UK
series on 2000
More diverse, more radical?