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Performing Documentary

By Geoffrey Cox and Keith Marley

Abstract

The development of non-conventional representational strategies within documentary practice is central to the work of Marley and Cox. Their theoretical hypothesis proposes that one can represent reality faithfully by rejecting conventional modes of representation and adopting an avant-garde aesthetic, in order to create a reflexive text that has the ability to draw attention to the film making process. This serves the purpose of revealing the constructed nature of so-called realist texts, and in reference to the intentions of the influential Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov, can encourage audiences to see and view the world in a different way to that which they have been previously accustomed. Previous works by Marley and Cox have paid particular attention to the creative treatment of diegetic sound (drawing heavily on aesthetic concepts derived from musique concrète) in order to create a deeper level of signification within their documentary work. This is an area of creative practice that has largely been ignored within documentary production, with the aural signifier often seen as subordinate to the visual signifier. Marley and Cox have addressed this hierarchical relationship by adopting representational strategies that make an attempt to render the visual signifier subordinate to the aural. They are currently using technologies that are seldom associated with documentary practice; these will be discussed briefly below, and will provide the context for the presentation that they are proposing for Documentary Now. Marley, who is concerned with the visual element of documentary production, is currently using technologies normally associated with the videojockey (VJ) whilst Cox, who is concerned with the aural element, is exploring the use of software normally associated with the electroacoustic / electronica genres (primarily MAX/MSP) to trigger and / or transform audio material. Such technologies allow great freedom in terms of real-time sonic and visual manipulation allowing material to be sampled, sequenced, looped and creatively manipulated in a ‘live’ editing situation. By adopting these technologies it is hoped that new discursive practice can emerge from this improvisatory approach allowing the audience new ways of experiencing the documentary format whilst creating the potential for multiple encodings from the use of the same core material. This would implicitly open up the potential decoding of the text by audiences. The presentation will summarise the theory and aesthetics underlying Marley and Cox’s work and also demonstrate their methods by showing examples of their concept of performative documentary alluded to above, whereby the documentary product results from the editing of images of actuality and associated diegetic sonic material as a live creative act. This takes the form of a structured improvisation where the stock of materials to be drawn on and the formal outline of the performance are pre-determined. In many ways Marley and Cox’s work can be seen as building a bridge back to the poetic style of British documentary filmmakers such as Humphrey Jennings and Harry Watt, a style which became rapidly superseded after WWII by the journalistic / empirical modes of representation

Topics: M1
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