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Real-life individuals discuss topics on society, happiness in the working class among others and with those testimonies the filmmakers create fictional moments based on their interviews. Later on, the individuals discuss the images created with their own words and see if the movie obtained their level of reality. Written by
Dugan McShain - Chronicle of a Summer - or - Chronicle of film marketing in 1960's France
Dugan McShain Anthropological Film Chronicle of a summer Chronique d'un été
Filmmaker Jean Rouch, in coordination with sociologist Edgar Morin, create a story out of seemingly random interviews and anecdotes. Together they create a piece that describes life in Paris circa 1961, they converse with their friends and associates about life, the current war in Algeria, and the mindset of the daily life of Parisians. Using the newly available 16mm camera they set out to do what no one had done before them: try and capture daily life and discuss it. They talk at length about politics, arguing on film, and discuss, both during the film and at the end when the filmmakers show their finished work to the participants and have them dissect it.
They give feedback, feelings and talk about the characters, describing what worked and didn't, what felt real and what seemed contrived. The people that they interview are across the board when looked at socioeconomically, intellectually, and racially, providing alternate views about the problems faced, the stories that they needed to tell to the camera and the trials that were associated with their lives.
I was, to say the least disappointed with the final product that was shown. As I was watching the film there came a scene where the two filmmakers are discussing their participation and the feat that they had just accomplished with the finished film ready to be shown. It was a very intimate scene where it seemed as if both of the filmmakers were unaware that they were being filmed and as such proceeded to expound on the principles, and the theory of making an anthropological film.
It was half way through this conversation that I realized that they staged this discussion not as a candid frank debate but as a 'realistic end cap' to put on their film to add flair and realism. What seemed at first as a novel approach to film-making came off more as a clever marketing ploy, using the audience as a sounding board, and bringing the audience closer to the subject matter of the film through the use of intimacy.
The filmmakers opted for participation in the film instead of the typical vein of anonymity. Reflexivity is a device that is used to vary the distance from a subject, giving the idea that the filmmakers, the product and everything that goes along with it a unity in the production. This style is self-serving in that the filmmakers could be seen prompting the subjects and providing a direct line of questions that they could use to form a solid piece. In the court of law this is called 'leading the witness' in order to get the desired answers that you seek, as opposed to the answers that come naturally from a subject matter that is brought up.
Rouch gives specific questions that lend themselves to specific answers. "I would argue that most anthropologists implicitly believe content should so dominate form in scientific writing that the form and style of an ethnography appears to "naturally" flow out from the content." - (Ruby, Studies in the anthropology of Visual Communication, Pg 106,Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall 1975). In providing specific questions, they do not let the life naturally 'flow' but instead impede it at their own will destroying the illusion that they have created. These filmmakers seem almost like they wish to participate in the very spectacle they wish to show, and cannot distance themselves from the subjects for fear of losing notoriety.
Morin and Rouch are extremely open to their subjects, providing valuable insight into their minds, as well as the minds of the people whom they are interviewing. This certainly provides for honesty in front of the camera creating a cushion of comfort for the subjects so that the camera does not seem to interfere as much a simply record. In certain scenes it seemed as if we were an observer regarding these people with a cold unfeeling eye. The argument in the hallway for example. This does not lend itself to a self-conscious conversation.
There are moments in the film that do seem very contrived however. There is a scene of a woman walking through the streets of Paris along with her walking we hear her telling the story of her father's internment and her own in a Nazi death camp. This is obviously a scripted scene. It lends itself to disbelief when we see that she is walking, lost in thought. The technique of us hearing those thoughts is vital to this disbelief.
The film-making was excellent at times, as I said, giving the sensation of an omniscient- floating eyeball, observing the people at their daily lives. This feeling is ruined however when we are privy to the Rouch's and Morin's conversation on what they feel the outcome of the film represents. It creates a feeling of false voyeurism then, incompatible with the sensitive proximity that we have just watched. The scene in the theater when he shows the characters dissecting each other is especially grating as it lends it self even more to a Dali-esquire surrealism where the characters are watching themselves as we watch them.
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