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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Why are we no longer able to trust that a documentary is authentic?

Catfish hasn’t even opened yet — though it has played to numerous festival and preview audiences — and already the filmmakers are having to defend its authenticity. Codirector Henry Joost tells MTV News:

It is a documentary in that it’s something that actually happened and we filmed it and none of it is staged or fake. To us, we had no idea people were going to have that reaction until Sundance, and after the first screening, [“Super Size Me” director/star] Morgan Spurlock went up to somebody on our team and went, “That is the best fake documentary I’ve ever seen,” and we were like, “Really?” Because how do you react to that in our shoes? … It’s kind of strange, because to us, there’s no debate; that’s what happened. I think what people are reacting to a lot is, the film is edited. We can’t put out a 250-hour movie, so we’re making decisions and streamlining the narrative and presenting what we feel is the clearest representation of what happened, but it’s real, and there’s nothing disingenuous about it…. [W]e’re not that creative.

Meanwhile, as I’m Still Here debuts at the Venice Film Festival, director Casey Affleck is on the defensive: speculation that his documentary about Joaquin Phoenix is a put-on has been rampant for months, and now, with the film finally being seen by audiences, it has exploded. From the Guardian:

Is it an authentic, warts-and-all documentary about a tortured artist who has fallen out of love with his chosen profession? Or is it a shameless stunt, perpetrated by a pair of Hollywood playboys with too much time and money on their hands? Last night the crowds thronged the Venice red carpet to catch the world premiere of I’m Still Here, a film that features the Oscar-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix and is directed by his brother-in-law, Casey Affleck. It’s safe to say they went home none the wiser.

Affleck insisted the film was strictly on the level. “There’s no hoax,” he told reporters. “The idea of a hoax makes me think of [US TV series] Candid Camera and that never entered my consciousness.” Affleck was, however, more coy when quizzed on the specifics of several key scenes within the film. “I can understand why this movie can be confusing in terms of what’s real and what’s not,” he admitted. “But I’m reluctant to speak about certain scenes because that would influence people’s interpretation of the film. I sincerely don’t want to do that.”

Why are we no longer able to trust that a documentary is authentic?

Of course, it doesn’t help that we have been bombarded lately with avowedly fictional films aping the documentary form: District 9, The Fourth Kind, Paranormal Activity, the current The Last Exorcism. But surely it’s more than that: Could it be an indication of the collapse of trust in journalism? If we know the mainstream media is slanting reality or simply not presenting us with truly important things we need to know, if we know that serious journalism has been supplanted by something we could call news-etainment, is it a stretch to look at an engaging and narratively complete documentary and that suspect that it might be too perfect to be true (Anvil! The Story of Anvil, anyone?). It seems a shame that excellent work on the part of bona fide documentarians could be suspect merely because their work is so excellent. But it’s where we are.

It won’t help the situation if I’m Still Here and/or Catfish actually turn out to be fake.

I find it very disconcerting, this sense of reality being unsteady beneath my feet. I don’t mind a fake documentary, as long as it’s upfront about being fake — it’s the not knowing, and the idea that we shouldn’t believe filmmakers who tell us their documentaries are actually documentaries, that I find deeply uncomfortable. The Christopher Guest brand of mockumentary — This Is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind — in which the fake subject is what’s being mocked, seems to be dead. Now it seems we the audience is being mocked, if not by fake documetarians but by a zeitgeist that becoming unable — or willing — to distinguish between reality and fiction.

Am I alone in this? What’s happening to us?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • P.

    The only people mocked by fake documentaries are people who think a story has to be factual to have value. They think they are superior to thousands of years of human storytelling, that they’ve “grown out of it.” They deserve to be mocked.

  • bitchen frizzy

    These films are the movie version of reality television.

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    There’s also a tendency to call real documentaries “propaganda” when they cut against ideological lines. A lot of people think “An Inconvenient Truth” is fundamentally flawed ideological garbage, despite the facts presented holding up much better under scrutiny than the claims of the accusers.

  • RogerBW

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twenty-seven times, shame on me. People are increasingly realising that no documentary is trustworthy, any more than TV news is trustworthy.

    (It used to be that only people who’d been near newsworthy events – who could then read the papers and know how much had been got wrong – came to this realisation. I wonder whether perhaps this will kill newspapers even faster than their time-delay and cost…)

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    I don’t think it can be a bad thing that people are more ready to question things that the media presents to them as facts, but it does seem to rest on some unexamined assumptions about what a documentary is, what bias entails, how editing can be a tool for good as well as evil, etc.

    The example LWF quotes above, for example – it always interests me when people say “propaganda” as if it’s a bad thing. Surely propaganda is only as good or as bad as the viewpoint it’s pushing? Seen in one light, Schindler’s List is propaganda; it unquestionably is the work of a director with a firm viewpoint on the issues it addresses, and it is shaped to encourage a certain opinion in the viewer. It’s just that the opinion it’s trying to engender (“the Holocaust was terrible”) is so obviously righteous that people don’t want to call it propaganda. But what’s so bad about propaganda in support of a noble cause?

    Mostly, the complaints about modern documentaries – I don’t want to get into the issue of TV news because I don’t watch enough to form an educated opinion – seem to hark back to an idealised age where no documentarian ever staged scenes, or had a viewpoint on what they were filming, or shaped their work to encourage a certain viewpoint. A quick look at some of the high points of pre-Michael Moore documentary cinema (Fires Were Started, Nanook of the North, Meet Marlon Brando, Hearts and Minds, The Sorrow and the Pity, for example) will reveal that this was never, ever the case.

  • RogerBW

    Der Bruno Stroszek:

    what’s so bad about propaganda in support of a noble cause?

    The moment something is perceived to have a bias, every assumption and statement in it will get picked to death.

    Also: is it really worth winning the argument if you did it by appealing to people’s emotions rather than encouraging them to think? Emotions get countries into pointless wars.

  • Martin

    Isn’t this a good thing in a way?

    Surely people being sceptical of what they are being told is a good idea.

    I’d be more concerned with people implicitly agreeing with anything they see in a film labelled as being truth.

  • bitchen frizzy

    The word “propaganda” has negative connotations. It implies deliberate deceit or cynical manipulation.

    If you stated, to a stranger, “Schindler’s List” is propaganda,” he is likely to wonder if you are a Holocaust denier.

    The trend that disturbs me is the dismissal of the “propaganda” label – the condoning of deliberate deceit – by those who believe that the ends justify the means if the cause is “right”.

    This taints all documentary making. If fans and critics won’t call bullshit when they see it, because they agree with the POV, then documentary makers are encouraged to outright lie to make their point.

  • Martin

    But what’s so bad about propaganda in support of a noble cause?

    If you’re right, why do you have to lie?

    If someone told you that if you don’t recycle, you’ll get cancer, would you accept it since the message is correct? Would you accept it because you don’t want cancer? Or would you want to know the facts to back up the claim?

    If you think the claim is correct anyway, there’s no need to lie. If the claim has changed your mind, you’ve been manipulated using your fears. If you’re a sceptic, are you going to trust someone that you know has lied to you?

  • bitchen frizzy

    I’d hesitate to call these two films “documentaries” in my admittedly traditional sense, having grown up on episodes of “Nova” and “Wild Kingdom”. More like “reality movies,” as I said.

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    If you’re right, why do you have to lie?

    That’s the misassumption right there, that “propaganda” is synonymous with “lie”. It’s not. Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position. That could be done truthfully, or with deception. The reason we associate propaganda with lying is because a lot of propaganda, especially ultra-nationalist propaganda, has been based on lies and deceit.

    By simple definition, the common-sense public safety cartoons put out by Canada’s National Film Board are propaganda, as they aim to reduce home accidents within the community. Same with the old animated PSAs from the 80’s in the US, like “Time for Timer”.

  • bitchen frizzy

    The reason we associate propaganda with lying is because a lot of propaganda, especially ultra-nationalist propaganda, has been based on lies and deceit.

    And so, from here on henceforward, the word has negative connotations. Happens to words and memes all the time. “Swastika” now connotes evil, though that’s an injustice to its prior uses, but no putting the toothpaste back into the tube.

    Working to change the connotation of a word is a tilt at windmills. Why are you doing it?

  • Arthur

    I think the critical question is: Why do we watch documentaries? We watch them to develop informed opinions. Sure, a good documentary can evoke emotions, but that’s added value, secondary to a documentary’s purpose. And while a filmmaker might have bias that will tilt the playing field, the more the bias, the less trustworthy the documentary.

    I agree with the Filosopher that it’s disturbing to not know if a “documentary” is fact or fiction. The documentary style of the openly fictional DISTRICT 9 adds to the verisimilitude. But a covert mockumentary makes a joke at the audience’s expense. While I can envision the filmmakers enjoying the practical joke, it undermines the validity of genuine documentaries — given BLAIR WITCH was fake, how do we know AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH might not be a lie?

    We’re going in a troubling direction. While it is good to have a skeptical eye, to mistrust everything gives the average person license to believe unconditionally in any news source — whether Weekly World News, Pravda, or Fox News — given how you can’t trust anyone.

  • I think part of this idea of distrust comes from the fact that the common audience member does not understand why documentaries are really made. People think they are made to provide facts and enlightenment regarding an issue, but that’s not the reality. Fundamentally, filmmakers make documentaries to tell an interesting and compelling story because that’s what’s going to keep you watching. Pure documentaries, in the philosophical sense, would show every single thing there is to show about a topic. As a result, they would be extremely long and extraordinarily boring. Just think about it: filmmakers may literally shoot hundreds of hours of footage, but the final product may be only 90 minutes long. Why aren’t they giving you all the footage, all the information, all the “reality”? Because it wouldn’t be interesting! Because it wouldn’t make a compelling story! Editing, by its very nature, means you are manipulating the normal, or “natural,” events that have unfolded. You are explicitly deciding what the audience sees and what they do not see. Some filmmakers make their decisions based on a sense of ethics. Others, not so much.

    In regards to Catfish specifically, I would need to see it to decide if it is fake or real. However, I have made a judgement regarding the ethics of the filmmakers based on this moment in the film described in an IFC review:

    “…Nev realizes he’s never actually gotten to talk to Abby, and calls to find the building Angela claims they bought for Abby’s gallery is still vacant. He’s horrified and humiliated and reluctant to continue, but Ariel [the director] urges him on, now that a far better story has fallen in their laps.”

    Manipulating the subject to do things he does not feel comfortable about just because it would make your film more interesting? Highly, highly, highly unethical. Compare to this example: A couple years ago, Kirby Dick (Twist of Faith, This Film is Not Yet Rated) spoke at my University, and he said that during filming on Twist of Faith (about a man dealing with childhood abuse from a priest), the subject told the filmmakers that he was too distraught and overwhelmed by the emotions that he did not want to continue filming. Kirby Dick was compassionate and discussed it with the subject, and the subject compromised by requesting that they leave him alone for a period of time and contact him on October 1. The filmmakers agreed, flew back to NYC, waited, called him on October 1, and the subject said he would be willing to continue filming. Kirby Dick may very well have had no film if the subject had turned them down, but he respected the subject’s wishes anyway because that is what an ethical documentary filmmaker does. You do not manipulate the subject purely because it would make your film better. It begs the question: What else are the filmmakers of Catfish manipulating?

  • Alli

    I think it’s less to do with the state of Journalism at the moment, and more to do with Reality Television. Most people know that the “coincidences” and the “big moments” on these shows are staged. No one takes programs like the Jersey Shore, The Hills or Real World seriously (which is too bad about Real World, because it was a good show when it aired 20 years ago). So obviously people are hesitant about these films. We’re all aware of the potential spin editing can put on TV show, so I’m not surprised people are leery of it in film too.

  • But what’s so bad about propaganda in support of a noble cause?

    This strikes me as a dangerous approach in documentary filmmaking. My understanding of documentaries is that they, like news reporting, are supposed to show their audience the investigation of their subjects. Propaganda doesn’t have to lie, but it does represent one perspective and attempt to persuade the audience to adopt and (usually) act according to that perspective. I would hold documentaries to a different standard from public safety cartoons. A documentary might include only the truth (or at least its creators’ understanding of the truth) and might argue in favour of a cause many people would call noble, and it would be propaganda and I still think it would be inappropriate, just as I would consider propaganda inappropriate for news reporting, whether it includes deceit or not.

    Propaganda is also not the same as bias. Allow me to use the documentary I was involved with as an example. It deals with Japanese military sexual slavery during World War II. I don’t think anyone watching the film had any doubt about whose side we were on, but I would defend it as a proper documentary and not propaganda because it includes interviews from those who deny that sexual slavery was Japanese military policy. They present their arguments against it without interruption or intercutting with scenes of violence or flashing signs of ‘LIES!’, nor do the segment finish with the narrator saying, ‘Yeah, that’s what they say, but here’s why they’re totally wrong and bad and wrong.’

    So our documentary is biased–as, of course, it must be–but it is not propaganda that presents only our chosen side in a positive light and opposing sides in a negative light or not at all. That is my understanding of what a documentary–and news reports–should be, and it is an example of what fewer and fewer of either are today.

  • bitchen frizzy

    So our documentary is biased–as, of course, it must be–but it is not propaganda that presents only our chosen side in a positive light and opposing sides in a negative light or not at all. That is my understanding of what a documentary–and news reports–should be, and it is an example of what fewer and fewer of either are today.

    Well, that’s right. There’s a lost art of documentary making – an almost forgotten ethic that made the distinction between documentary and propaganda and put it into practice.

    As the posts here indicate, there’s an entire generation grown up now that’s barely aware of the distinction. They expect deliberate one-sidedness and slant in every documentary, complete with editing tricks.

    So maybe Catfish will be the new normal? Lights going out?

  • MaryAnn

    We’re going in a troubling direction. While it is good to have a skeptical eye, to mistrust everything gives the average person license to believe unconditionally in any news source — whether Weekly World News, Pravda, or Fox News — given how you can’t trust anyone.

    Yes. Exactly. It also gives the average person license to *disbelieve* even the truth. If we can’t trust anything, it’s easy to trust nothing… even that which we should trust.

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    As the posts here indicate, there’s an entire generation grown up now that’s barely aware of the distinction. They expect deliberate one-sidedness and slant in every documentary, complete with editing tricks.

    Expect? Or observe?

    Because this is what I was talking about earlier, that there really was no “golden age” of honest documentaries. When you look back at some of the pioneers of the genre like Robert Flaherty or Humphrey Jennings, their films included fabrications, editorial slants and staged incidents with absolute abandon. Nowadays, by contrast, every time Errol Morris uses a clearly-identified dramatic reconstruction there seems to be a massive debate over whether or not this is acceptable conduct for a documentarian. So how can we honestly say that documentaries are more biased now than they used to be?

    Frederick Wiseman was once approached by an audience member who said his form of cinema verite documentaries were more misleading and more biased than any other type of documentary, because he removed all evidence of a film crew from them. The audience was lulled into accepting what was on screen as an unmediated reality without being made to consider that people might be behaving differently in the presence of a camera.

    There have been some good thoughts on the dangers of propaganda here and most of them – Hasimir’s, for example – I agree with. But there is still this massive and in my opinion inaccurate assumption going on that older documentaries were more ‘honest’. They weren’t; they were just less likely to acknowledge their own biases.

  • bitchen frizzy

    So how can we honestly say that documentaries are more biased now than they used to be?

    No. I wasn’t referring to a “good old days” when apple pie tasted better. I know better than that.

    But I am aware of a distinction, the one that Hasimir makes, between documentary and propaganda, and that distinction is – or was – more than mere hairsplitting. “Propaganda” was a derogatory term applied to bad documentary.

    My point was, are we losing the ability – or desire – to make such distinctions?

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    But I am aware of a distinction, the one that Hasimir makes, between documentary and propaganda, and that distinction is – or was – more than mere hairsplitting.

    Frankly, I think that distinction was always pretty ambiguous. No documentary shows all the recorded footage of the subject. The editing process introduces bias in the form of what is left out, what is left in, what music to use, and how much emphasis is placed on certain events. Any film with a narrative is going to have footage selected to better fit that narrative. Anything that’s exciting, dramatic, different or unusual (All judgements based on individual and audience bias), is naturally going to be emphasized over the dull, mundane or ordinary.

    If true objectivity was interesting, the public at large would be reading scientific journals, rather than seeing the research filtered through documentaries, books and pop science articles. Short of that, I would much rather people realize that every documentary is biased in some way.

    I think it’s much more honest and useful for Michael Moore to say “I think Healthcare is busted, here’s why I think that, challenge the facts if you can” like in Sicko, than to try and produce a “Fair and Balanced” documentary detailing the healthcare system, which lulls the viewer into thinking all the evidence is presented, and that all the points of view included are valid representations of the political debate.

  • bitchen frizzy

    I think it’s much more honest and useful for Michael Moore to say “I think Healthcare is busted, here’s why I think that, challenge the facts if you can” like in Sicko, than to try and produce a “Fair and Balanced” documentary detailing the healthcare system, which lulls the viewer into thinking all the evidence is presented, and that all the points of view included are valid representations of the political debate.

    The end result of the Michael Moore approach, though, is that nothing gets taken seriously. Moore enjoys the adulation of his fans, who approve his work no matter the half-truths because ends justify the means in shaping public opinion. But in the end he’s only preaching to the choir. Skeptics doubt the message because the lies and half-truths cast suspicion on the messenger, and those who don’t want to believe can find their reasons not to and easily explain to their followers why his message should be ignored. Moore’s movies generate more heat than light – few opinions change, and those who most need to hear the message are further biased against it.

    In the long run, the reduction of documentary and professional journalism to docudrama and propaganda inures the public to a media that routinely lies to them – some are appreciative of it because it’s more entertaining, as you point out; and others stop objecting to it because it’s the new normal. And when the public reaches the point that it both no longer cares about accuracy and prefers the bread and circuses, then media actually ceases to serve the public good even if more people are paying attention. This may seem counterintuitive to you, but consider that fascism – a direction that the U.S. may well be heading – requires both a media versed in delivering propaganda and a public that not only tolerates propaganda but prefers it.

    Mind you, I agree with Bruno that utter objectivity and the eradication of propaganda is not realistically attainable, but that doesn’t mean that they’re shouldn’t be standards and measures. A perfect world free of human rights abuses and poverty may not be attainable either, but that’s no reason to give up on trying to make the world a better place.

  • bitchen frizzy

    (Should be “there” not “they’re” in that final paragraph, and sorry for the mixed singular and plural in the second para.)

  • DaveTM

    While I can’t speak on Catfish too much since I haven’t seen it myself my fear for that movie is why they were filming in the first place. It seems very contrived in how it starts. There first comment “It is a documentary in that it’s something that actually happened and we filmed it and none of it is staged or fake.” leads me to throw my hat in with someone else I read that figured that the filmakers knew all along what “the twist” was and played along with it to make a movie.

    However Casey Afflecks comments make me think that “I’m still here” is a “fake” in the same spirit of MTV reality shows. There isn’t a script but the people on screen aren’t being true in what they say and do. He never says it wasn’t staged and in fact goes out of his way not to say that. Hoax makes him think of Candid Camera and he never thought of it like that is what he says which doesn’t answer the question it just attacks the definition of the word hoax. Also the whole “the movie can be confusing in what is real and what isn’t” comment really proves that some part of it wasn’t real.

    Am I too cynical? maybe but BBC manages to make a whole slew of documentaries that I really enjoy and have no doubt that they are true. So Maryann I think the question is more why I don’t trust these two movies and not documentaries in general.

  • CB

    It’s pretty funny that Michael Moore is seen as violating the spiritual ideal of the objective documentary, as if that ideal actually existed prior to people complaining Moore was violating it. It didn’t. Documentaries have always had viewpoints, and have been edited around presenting that viewpoint to the exclusion of others with the deliberate intent of guiding the reaction of the audience just like any filmmaker. Even nature documentaries present subjective viewpoints, or even have contrived footage showing you something that isn’t “real”. Documentaries which actually strive for objectivity and complete accuracy and authenticity are a small subset of all documentaries, and I’m sure it came as quite a shock to many a documentary maker when suddenly that was the only “valid” kind of documentary to be made.

    I’ve seen truly exhaustive analysis of Moore’s movies and what’s quite surprising is how many things actually stand up. He’s really not substantially “worse” than many of the WWII documentaries you see on History Channel.

    But because nobody watching History Channel documentaries disagrees with the viewpoint presented in them, nobody cares to analyze them at that level (with the exception of some major history geek I’ve had the semi-pleasure of watching HC documentaries with).

    So the “new normal” isn’t documentaries which are not objective and factually accurate. The new normal is people are aware that they aren’t, though sadly they apparently aren’t aware than many of the documentaries of the past that they approve of aren’t any better.

    I can agree that this is bad because people, knowing that what someone in a documentary or other program says may be false, will use that to justify choosing to believe it is false whenever they don’t want to believe it. This brand of “skepticism”, where contrary statements are rejected out of faux-cynicism while supporting statements are accepted blindly, is rampant and damaging.

    The solution is not to try to purge all subjectivity and inaccuracy from documentaries, so that people can gain all their knowledge and opinions from documentaries and never be lead astray. That’s just the same false sense of security that they previously lost.

    The solution is to teach people a healthy skepticism in everything they hear, not just the things they disagree with. Also teach them that if they are truly interested in a subject, they should not gleaning their entire opinion on it from a documentary and instead need to be doing their own research. And then teach people critical thinking skills, so they can reason about what is and isn’t true (and maybe not fall into fallacies like ‘one thing said was not true, therefore all is’ and many others).

    But ha! First you’d have to get people to agree that they can’t just believe whatever they want for whatever reason they want, and that’s a long uphill battle there.

  • CB

    Mostly, the complaints about modern documentaries – I don’t want to get into the issue of TV news because I don’t watch enough to form an educated opinion – seem to hark back to an idealised age where no documentarian ever staged scenes, or had a viewpoint on what they were filming, or shaped their work to encourage a certain viewpoint. A quick look at some of the high points of pre-Michael Moore documentary cinema (Fires Were Started, Nanook of the North, Meet Marlon Brando, Hearts and Minds, The Sorrow and the Pity, for example) will reveal that this was never, ever the case.

    Der Bruno Stroszek is absolutely right. The only thing that’s changed is perception. And on that note…

    I’d hesitate to call these two films “documentaries” in my admittedly traditional sense, having grown up on episodes of “Nova” and “Wild Kingdom”. More like “reality movies,” as I said.

    Having also grown up on those two, while they are without a doubt outstanding documentary series… I hate to break it to you, bitchen frizzy, but Wild Kingdom often made use of staged shots, or clever editing designed to make you think you were seeing something you were not.

    Is that bad? Is that wrong? Does it make them “reality movies” when in the months or years of filming they can’t get a certain shot, so they create it artificially? Do all the (surely unintentional) faleshoods you learned watching these shows make them unworthy documentaries?

    I personally don’t think so.

    Wild Kingdoms is a great show but not a replacement for a zoology degree and a job doing field work. If you want complete factuality and veritas, you’re never going to get it sitting in front of a screen.

  • mortadella

    I watched the trailer for Catfish today, and thought immediately it was fake. I think my cynicism kicked in when they got to the potential girlfriend’s farm/home. I don’t know what goes down next, but when one of the dudes says, “This place gives me the creeps,” I just kept thinking, this is turning into a Scooby Doo-like situation. I dunno, I’ll have to watch it, because the trailer could be misleading.

    Do people know what real looks like anymore? I dunno. I have a bunch of professional photographer friends who wonder just that. Tweeners take pictures with their point and shoot cameras then go home to photo shop the images and think that’s “real.” Maybe the new real is fake. Maybe these documentaries are dramatized editorials…..and if they are, I wish the film makers would just be up front about that instead of fucking around with the audience.

  • bitchen frizzy

    It’s pretty funny that Michael Moore is seen as violating the spiritual ideal of the objective documentary, as if that ideal actually existed prior to people complaining Moore was violating it. It didn’t.

    If the ideal didn’t exist, how could you be aware of it?

    Do all the (surely unintentional) faleshoods you learned watching these shows make them unworthy documentaries?

    My real concern is intentional falsehoods.

    He’s really not substantially “worse” than many of the WWII documentaries you see on History Channel.

    War history buffs and veterans scoff at the History Channel’s WWII documentaries. Comparing Moore’s body of work to these documentaries is hardly complimentary to him.

    If you want complete factuality and veritas, you’re never going to get it sitting in front of a screen.

    I already stated as much.

    Doesn’t anyone remember or care about the purpose of an ideal, and why ideals are important? Of course they’re unobtainable. That isn’t the point.

    But if we’ve made a complete surrender of standards and accountability, then we’re going to get the shitty documentaries we deserve – they’ll all be no better than reality TV because, after all, the purpose is to entertain and persuade, not inform, right? It’s further depressing for the reasons I’ve described above. Do you think only propagandists that you agree with know how to use the tool? Michael Moore is a hack compared to Reifenstahl and Eisenstein. Wait until the right wingers learn how to make good movies…

    In that case, the best possible outcome will be mistrust and cynicism on the part of the public – better they don’t believe anything they’re being told than they be led by propagandists. But then, the Michael Moore-type documentary loses all power to persuade.

  • RogerBW

    In that case, the best possible outcome will be mistrust and cynicism on the part of the public – better they don’t believe anything they’re being told than they be led by propagandists. But then, the Michael Moore-type documentary loses all power to persuade.

    Which would you rather people do: distrust all mass-media and go to primary sources, or trust some mass-media without bothering to check it? I’m certainly in the former camp.

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