The reflexive mode incorporate the filmmaker and the camera into the final product.
The nonfictional reflexive mode documentary style poses doubtful questions to its audience and approaches its subjects with an air of hesitation. Reflexive films frequently include shots of the camera or the production staff to erase preconceived notions about the film’s substance or intent. Read on to find out how reflexive mode differs from participatory mode and the reflexive mode films you should watch.
At A Glance
- The History
- Characteristics of the Reflexive Mode
- Reflexive Mode vs other Modes
- Reflexive Mode – Ones To Watch
- Notable Filmmakers
The documentary’s reflexive form analyses its own quality, explaining its methods and weighing its consequences. As an added bonus, the film itself features filmmakers.
Dziga Vertov‘s Man with a Movie Camera was released in 1929. In the video, he showed clips of his brother and wife working behind the camera and in the editing room, respectively. Including these photographs was intended to help the audience comprehend the filmmaking process and foster an educated and critical outlook.
However, in 1974’s “…No Lies,” directed by Mitchell Block, he played a quite different role. Also, it reflected on and discussed the observational mode, offering thoughts on observational methods and how well they capture reality.
When it comes to the ethics and the technical limits of documentary filmmaking, the reflexive mode of documentary often acts as its own regulating board.
Characteristics of the Reflexive Mode
Reflexive mode is similar to participatory mode. Both experimental and documentary styles emphasise the filmmaker’s participation. The camera operator and equipment are usually considered essential cast members. Attempting to tell the truth, or at least one version of it, in nonfiction is how the reflective documentary technique uses ambiguity in its inquiries and approaches to its subjects.
The camera or the production team is often on display in reflexive documentaries to dispel assumptions about the film’s intent or subject matter.
Analysis of nine films with varying degrees of reflexivity demonstrates the concept of reflexivity as using one or more of the six functions of the documentary communication process in the reflexive mode. Films like Man with a Movie Camera and Chronique d’un été are classic reflexive films. Still, more obscure works like Sherman’s March (McElwee, 1986) could be considered pseudo-reflexive.
Reflexive Mode vs other Modes
The filmmaker in a participatory film engages with the social actors he or she is filming and actively shapes the action being captured on film. This trend took up in the 1960s when technological advancements made it possible to record music and dialogue in perfect time. Using in-depth interviews and questions to probe participants, most documentaries fall within this category. The cameraman is conversing with the subject instead of just watching the director interact with the people in the film.
Conversely, the reflexive method is the most introspective and self-aware approach. Documentaries are subject to certain assumptions and norms that must be followed. This method is widely acknowledged for improving our comprehension of filmmaking and providing a more realistic representation of the world on screen.
Reflexive Mode – Ones To Watch
Man With a Movie Camera (1929)
Reflexive documentary filmmaker Dziga Vertov made headlines with his portrayal of everyday life in Soviet Russia without using actors. Shots, edits, and angles have a role in the story since they are highlighted in the documentary. This kind of self-awareness is meant to make viewers think about how the film’s production affected their experience of it.
Vertov’s film is a prime example of the “city symphony” genre, in which impressionistic montages of city life serve as the narrative focus. Vertov reveals a surprising interest in lingerie and mud baths, and his vision is simultaneously musical, abstract (caught between organic life and industrial modernist geometry), and sensual. Vertov’s wife and editor, Yelizaveta Svilova, and his brother, cameraman Mikhail Kaufman, both play significant roles, as do the fetishised trappings of projectors, film reels, etc., making this an extremely self-reflexive film. An optimistic manifesto that exalts the boundless potential of cinema.
Chronicle of a Summer (1961)
French filmmaker Jean Rouch (an anthropologist) and sociologist Edgar Morin (also a filmmaker) spend an entire summer following regular people as they share their thoughts on what makes life worth living and how the French working class may improve their lives a lot in life. The producers openly discuss their pre-production preparation with their subject, prompting viewers to wonder how much of the video is staged and how much is natural. Documentary footage’s veracity and reliability are left to the audience’s interpretation.
Of course, “Chronicle” is also about a lot of other stuff, including the filmmakers’ thoughts on the picture, which Rouch describes in a voiceover as “an experiment in cinéma vérité,” a term that Morin had just made up. It’s one of the best documentaries of all time because it challenges the conventions of the genre and the entire idea of factual filmmaking by asking and answering fundamental concerns about cinematic form and moral involvement. It’s clever reflexivity isn’t the reason for its significance; rather, it is the source of that significance.
Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989)
Weird Weekends with Louis Theroux is a documentary series on television in which viewers are given brief introductions to people and communities with which they might not otherwise come into touch. This usually entails conducting interviews with members of marginalised communities, whether because of their outspoken beliefs or appearance. It premiered on BBC2 in the UK. Theroux received two prestigious awards in 2001 for his work on the series: the Richard Dimbleby Award and the Best Presenter BAFTA.
Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends (1998)
This series follows documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux as he travels the world to chronicle his experiences with “strange” happenings or interactions with subcultures or people that the average viewer may not come into contact with. Extremists of many faiths, infomercial celebrities, survivalists, separatists, and even swingers are all represented in the series. By focusing on these folks, Theroux hopes to dispel false assumptions about them and provide a more nuanced understanding of their worldviews and practices.
- Mitchell Block
- Louis Theroux
- T. Minh-ha Trinh
- Jean Rouch
- Nick Broomfield
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