‘First Person’ documentary filmmaking and the audience’s response to it.
Films used to support this essay; Awesome: I Fuckin’ Shot That! and DVF [through Google Glass].
Through this essay I will examine how first person documentary style frames participation, how they address themselves to the audience, what its effect is on the audience and what its effect is on the documentary genre as a whole.
Documentary filmmaking as a whole, was considered mundane and dull- John Corner of the University of Liverpool stated in 2000 that until recently, “the dominant model […] both of anthologies and conferences, was of the contribution on documentary as something distinctly peripheral.” Nowadays, it has become quite the contrary; it has become a genre that people trust, that people find entertaining. First person documentaries, in turn, are becoming
The first film I will discuss is Awesome: I Fuckin’ Shot That! by Nathanial Hörnblowér, or rather, by fifty fans of the Beastie Boys during a concert at Madison Square Garden. The second film is the pioneering short documentary DVF [through Glass] by Diane von Furstenberg, a fashion designer who recorded this remarkably intimate day at New York Fashion Week with the newest technology, Google Glass.
The style of films based in reality has been more important in recent years than ever before, and as a result these films are both more prolific and more significant.
One just has to read the title of this documentary to identify the extent to which the camera has been awarded a special significance. Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That! gives fifty fans of the Beaties Boys a video camera to record the live performance gig. ‘I’ shot that, as the film title stipulates not only suggests the documentary is partly about those who filmed it, it is about the fan that declares they shot it too.
In this documentary subject participation begins with the capturing of the raw footage that is then handed over to a production team (director/producer/editor). For this particular film covering a Beastie Boys concert involved giving fifty fans Hi8 video camera to shoot their perspective on the concert with their sole instruction being: “Do whatever you want, just keep shooting.” The film, as a result is akin to that of a montage-like concert documentary subtitled as ‘an authorized bootleg’ is .
The vast amount of cheaply available camera equipment needed for this style of documentary shooting is nothing less than a modern phenomenon. The fact that cameras so cheap and lightweight are readily available is pivotal to this operation, as well as the technology that allows one to manage the vast amount of data in a manageable workflow for editing and showcasing.
The only aesthetic constant being that its editing structure faithfully keeps time with the group’s bouncy hip-hopping beats, Awesome has an undeniable verve thanks to both the enthusiastic energy of its rowdy camera operators and the surprisingly electric big venue-charisma of the Beasties themselves, who ably hold court on a stage decorated only with some straightforward lighting, Mix Master Mike’s DJ station, and video screen projections of computer graphics and a web-based clip of a boxing cat.
That said, if Awesome highlights the inspired possibilities promised by give-and-take artist-consumer interaction, it nonetheless also reminds one of the kitschy pop-cultural sphere that the Beasties inhabit, a place made up of somewhat hackneyed allusions to Scrabble, Star Wars, and, as seen in a tongue-in-cheek opening text crawl, Scarface. Worse, though, is that—because of its amateur cinematography and Hörnblowér’s increasingly schizophrenic cutting and orgiastic use of CG effects—the grainy footage frequently looks like shit. And while such rough-around-the-edges shortcomings are intrinsic to the endeavour’s sought-after atmosphere of “you are there” immediacy, there’s still no getting around the fact that the film’s dynamism is too often weighed down by sloppy zooms, pans, and compositions that feel as if they’ve been executed by a coked-up monkey.
The second and final documentary I am examining DVF [through Glass] taken from the perspective of a famous fashion designer, Diane von Furstenberg during her hectic day at the New York Fashion Week. As well as having a set of Google Glasses for herself she gave one to each of her runway models to wear as they paced the runway in front of thousands of aficionados.
Raw footage of von Furstenberg overlayed with funky music is spliced together with backstage images of employees prepping for the fashion show. The 3 minute 50 second video pulses with a voyeuristic undertone, the point-of-view shot giving it an almost otherworldly feeling, almost like you’re spying on someone. In an interview with Co. Design von Furstenberg states “I felt completely free and totally unaware that I was filming or being recorded […] It therefore feels very true and intimate.” At one point, a model’s hair even begins to eclipse the frame. It’s both fascinating and unsettling.
The best part was undoubtedly seeing through the eyes of models as they take to the runway. It was almost like we were there ourselves, minus the perilously tall and undoubtedly uncomfortable high heels.
The result: a video which elegantly showcases the capabilities of Google’s Project Glass devices for fly-on-the-wall documentary making, using the head-mounted cameras for a point-of-view filming experience that has been difficult to achieve in the past — and in a form factor that didn’t look out of place alongside von Furstenberg’s designs.
The film no doubt highlights some of the potential for wearable technology. Being able to watch video from the perspective of the person shooting the video opens up some interesting possibilities. While you may have never really wanted to know what it is like to walk a fashion runway, it was very interesting to view the event from the model’s perspective.
A variety of this experiment was shown to work before in the Beastie Boys’ Awesome as discussed. Smartphones have all but shattered whatever barrier to posterity remained after that. The only remaining frontier, as far as I can tell, is the regular freedom to construct our own visual narrative from someone else’s as it happens. People watch movies for experience — the experience of the visuals, the story, the characters and everything else onscreen. In framing these experiences within another, controlled experience, Glass will essentially make its own movies in ways that the competition so quaintly leaves up to the user.
What does this do for future first person documentary filmmaking? Well, the web already developed an intimate, online media presence for everyone and in time, we will be sure to see many Glass documentaries unfold through the eyes of increasingly large crowds. Celebrities will promote themselves greatly through the most connected company in the world and may it be a regular day at the office, a rainy soccer game through the eyes of a goal keeper or a rock concert from the perspective of the lead singer. It’s a deal that will work for probably everyone.
Chris Shaw, a serial entrepreneur who founded LexSpot and has advised over a dozen technology startups, said he wanted to use Glass to give back to the community that enabled his success. “Glass is a truly innovative way to tell stories and share experiences,” says Shaw.
As with most new inventions there are a lot of concerns and inhibitions. An obvious worry for the general public and filmmakers about this new piece of equipment is privacy. However, having said that, the result could be a refreshed paradigm for equipment. A world once dominated by engineering decisions could be dictated by artistic tastes. Conceptually, it invites users to tuck into the growing post-cinema world where filmmaking and filmgoing are practically one in the same – where the images one creates by simply pressing “record” are framed in a live, shareable exchange. In its self-contained way, it joins the 21st-century notion that everyone is a filmmaker with the more conventionally accepted truth that everyone is an audience.
Let’s not pretend that this isn’t the world we’ve been trained to inhabit since even before Hitchcock turned voyeurism into high art and Michael Powell put us behind a killer’s lens in Peeping Tom, or that no one saw or could ever have seen this coming in the Google era.