Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Archives #1

Watching film or video reportage of current affairs these days is a bit of a visual black hole. The same shots, sequences and structures rolled out night after night. Short turnaround documentary fills the hole in terms of allowing viewers to engage more deeply with reportage of events, but you have to wonder when and how the visual component of reportage became so damned lazy and by the numbers.

Currently, we are ploughing through acres of archival material as part of editing the feature doco murundak - songs of freedom. We are not using a lot of archival material but we want and need to find just the right material so that it feels visually intertwined with what is a primarily observational film.

By accident - having nothing to do with the film we are making - I came across this iconic old movietone reel from the 1945 armistice celebrations that erupted on the streets of Sydney (as elsewhere) at the end of WW2. As I watched it, I couldn't help but wish for the kind of craft and lyricism and storytelling in this inspired little sequence. Without Jack Davey's hammy newsreel voice over, the images capture a moment in time directly, emotionally and with an immediacy that brings the events into your lived experience in a powerful way. The shot of the 'dancing man' (who is either Frank McAlary, Ern Hill or Patrick Blackall depending on who you believe) has become a visual touchstone for the time, and deservedly so; it seems to be so entirely about the joy and release of that moment that it couldn't have been constructed through the most elaborate of fictions.

And from almost 60 years later, here, in Jem Cohen's apocalyptic 'Little Flags', is the antithetical statement to this peace time newsreel, by a filmmaker who creates the 'news' (in the Ezra Pound definition of the idea - "literature is news that stays news"):

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