Modes of Representation in Three Classic Documentaries

Shows three modes of representation in “Man with a Movie Camera”, “Listen to Britain”, and “High School”.

An essay that analyzes the modes of representation and the different ways in which ‘truth’ is conveyed in three classic documentaries. The styles examined are poetic documentary, observational film, and reflexivity. The films are Vertov’s reflexive Man with a Movie Camera, Jennings’s poetic “Listen to Britain”. and Wises’s observational High School.
Although documentary as a cinematic form usually has an implicit claim of truthfulness, it is generally recognised that documentary can never be entirely realistic, in that it cannot represent real events in a manner that is indistinguishable from the events themselves (Bruzzi 2000: 68). This is partly because of theoretical and practical constraints, but also because of the ambiguous nature of the term realism. Nick Lacey defines realism as a style which just happens, at a particular time and place, to have more credibility in its representation of reality than other forms (1998: 200) while Barthes sees it as a form which attempts to efface its own production (ibid: 132). Such diverse philosophies have given rise to a range of different modes of representation among documentary makers over the past hundred years, many of which have been the subject of classification attempts. Bill Nichols’ six modes of representation provide a roughly chronological framework within which different methods and conventions used to encode reality in documentaries can be classified and analysed.