Too much information/just enough information | Bleader

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Too much information/just enough information

Posted By on 04.11.12 at 03:06 PM

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From the locally produced documentary Beneath the Blindfold
  • From the locally produced documentary Beneath the Blindfold
Yesterday I kvetched about the ongoing deluge of all-content, no-form documentaries—which finds its latest wave in the upcoming Architecture & Design Film Festival, which won’t screen a single actual film. I was so splenetic that I failed to mention I have no problem with going to the movies to learn: my problem is with going to the movies and being subjected to a lecture. I understand that overt stylization is inappropriate for certain types of content—human rights abuses are an obvious example—but that doesn’t mean a filmmaker must resign him- or herself to formula in order to get that content across. As an example, consider Beneath the Blindfold, one of my favorite movies to play Chicago so far this year.

That movie is an eye-opening documentary about the fate of torture victims living in the U.S. I left the movie aware of certain facts I hadn’t known before (for instance, the sheer number of victims living in this country) as well as the unquantifiable knowledge of what it’s like to live with the memory of being tortured (I previously wrote about it here). Yet what stays with me three months after seeing Blindfold are the close-ups of Guatemalan refugee Matilde de la Sierra and her American husband. As they speak candidly about their struggle to maintain a healthy marriage in spite of Matilde’s traumatic memories (a scene of unsettling, Bergmanesque intimacy), we see the lasting impact of torture in Matilde’s premature gray hair and careful, strained expressions and in her husband’s cautious balance between sensitivity and deliberate nonchalance. It is an informative image, but more importantly, it is an image. It has not been predetermined by the subject matter, as a bland, information-spewing talking head would be; rather, it conveys a moment of real experience that colors our understanding of the information.

I think we need to decide upon a label that designates nonfiction movies (I can’t say film; nearly all of them are shot on video) that merely illustrate a written argument from those that actually document something. To go on calling an extended iMovie demonstration like Unfinished Spaces a “documentary” is to insult the legacies of Robert Flaherty, Joris Ivens, David and Albert Maysles, Frederick Wiseman, Joel DeMott, and countless other artists. Reportage? Infotainment? Lazy?

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