The nature of truth in documentaries Essay

Critically discuss and analyze the nature of truth as conveyed through ocular representation in fact based characteristic movies.

What is documental?

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There is ever plentifulness of argument about what really constitutes a docudrama, and definitions in books and movie circles change rather often. However, it is of import for the intents of this thesis to organize a feasible definition of what a documental really is. Of all the definitions around, there are two which are of peculiar note. One is by John Grierson, an English film-maker, who says:

‘We do desire to see them ( the citizens ) given what they are non acquiring now: a service of information on the immediate demands and services of the province. We do desire to see them given what they are non given now: a life sense of what is traveling on.’ ( Grierson, in Grizzly Man ( 2007 )

Grierson besides says that docudrama is “the originative intervention of actuality’ , which in its purest signifier seems like a really good definition of what a docudrama should be.

However, possibly a more accurate description of current documental film-making, peculiarly in a commercial sense, is by D.A Pennebaker: ( Grizzly Man, 2007 )

‘My definition of a documental movie is a movie that decides you don’t cognize plenty about something, whatever it is, psychological science or the tip of South America. Some cat goes at that place and says ‘Holy cow, I know about this and cipher else does, so I’m traveling to do a movie about it.’ Gives him something to make. And he normally persuades person to set up the money who thinks this is the thing to make. Then you have the state of affairs where this thing is shouting on the wall about how you don’t cognize something.’

In kernel, a docudrama is about re-telling or re-casting the truth of some event or state of affairs, and potentially edifying the audience on an unknown or unobserved topic. Whilst this has been done for coevalss through written and spoken media, the existent ‘documentary’ movie is a reasonably new construct.

The ‘documentary’ rubric was foremost given to a movie in 1926, entitled ‘Moana’ , by Robert Flaherty. ( Wikipedia, 2007 ) However, docudramas had been traveling for a clip before this, merely non called so. Items such as travelogues and ‘scenics’ were an early signifier of what we now know as documental work.

However, docudramas moved off from their places of honestness and truth during the Second World War, when many alleged ‘documentaries’ were in fact propaganda movies to carry the audience of a point. The most well-known of these include Triumph of the Will by Leni Riefenstahl and Why We Fight by Frank Capra.

The 1960’s and 1970’s were a different narrative, and docudramas became extremely political as a arm against capitalist economy, particularly in topographic points like Latin America. La Hora de los hornos was a authoritative illustration of this, and its managers Getino and Solanas influenced many during this clip.

However, the docudrama in recent old ages has moved to the bow once more, peculiarly with successful and expansive full-length film docudramas. Meant for the big-screen instead than merely telecasting, they capture an audience in new ways, frequently utilizing the power of modern redaction and ocular representation to force their points across. Many of them talk about ‘truth’ and that their films give you the ‘real’ penetration into a subject, playing on the fact that people want to cognize more and frequently do non believe what they are told by those in power. Some of the most popular over the last few old ages have been ‘Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine by Michael Moore, An Inconvenient Truth, Touching the Void and United 93. In fact, Fahrenheit 9/11 was so successful it made over $ 200 million at the box office and sold 1000000s of DVD’s, doing it the most successful documental of all time. ( Wikipedia, 2007 )

With this increased success has come a alteration in manners, from the original signifier of docudramas as a cinematic position of actuality, to leting the managers far more room to construe and pull strings the events. Re-enactments and dramatic effects are added to the basic narrative to entertain and force frontward the most plausible version of the truth by the manager.

It is this component of how the truth is conveyed through ocular representation and directorial use that will be looked at in the remainder of this thesis. The purpose is to look at the changing ways in which docudramas tell or fail to state the truth, and what the differences between fact and fiction are in these movies. The ways in which these films can be edited to set across a certain point of view will be looked at, and peculiar attending will be paid to the factual use through redacting in the film ‘Bowling for Columbine’ . Besides, two of the most recent docudramas will be looked at in item sing their ocular representation of the truth. The two films of pick are ‘Touching the Void’ and ‘United 93’ , both of which use dramatic visuals to grip and entertain the audience, whilst seeking to convey certain minutes and events in clip that have been a enigma to the populace.

The purpose is to demo that whilst modern docudramas have far more tools at their disposal to convey the truth to the audience, these excess ocular tools frequently lead to deceit of the facts. However, the films have far more power of ‘truth’ than their predecessors, chiefly because of the exciting and advanced ways that they are able to plunge the audience into events through ocular effects. The lines between fact and fiction have decidedly been blurred by many of these docudramas, even if their purposes were to demo the actuality of the event as seen by them. This displacement in the manner docudramas are made and the manner in which they portray truth causes us to possibly alter our definition of these films as docudramas, and besides analyze what it is in footings of truth that we want to derive from such movies.

The following subdivision will look the nature of ‘truth’ and how this construct relates to docudramas.

Truth and its relation to documentary

In the traditional sense, truth is the kernel of a docudrama. The documental signifier is designed to convey the actuality of an event or period in clip, giving the audience echt facts on a certain topic. However, this is a slightly idealistic construct, and ‘truth’ is non ever within the kernel of a docudrama. In old ages gone by many docudramas were biased as signifiers of propaganda or to force frontward a certain docket, and in many ways things have non changed. Documentaries are now controlled far more by the managers who shoot them, leting for directorial prejudice and their ain dockets to go a greater portion of the finished merchandise.

Further, there are some docudramas where the ‘truth’ can merely be based upon speculation, such as those events in United 93. The existent ‘truth’ of these events is non wholly known, for all those who were portion of the existent event are now deceased. The truth is portion of documental these yearss merely in every bit much as the play is based on some truths, and the remainder is frequently theatre.

That is non to state that truth can non be gained from documental, at least in the signifier of penetration. Even if every portion of these movies is non the existent world of an event, an penetration and knew cognition of the event can be gained. In many instances this is frequently the best we could trust for when the existent truth is merely known by those witnessing the event.

Possibly the best manner to depict modern documental films is that they are about the strive for truth, approximately seeking to edify people on a concealed topic. Even if some of them fail miserably to make this or mislead people away from some of the truth, the nucleus values of many of today’s docudramas is to set forward a truth that they believe in. Whether this truth mirrors actuality or non depends on the deepness of facts available and the capable affair, every bit good as the director’s ain prejudice.

Besides, modern docudramas are non merely about conveying the truth, but are besides at that place to excite and entertain the audience. They are political and commercial ventures, frequently with reasonably big budgets and the demands of the audience in head. There are besides force per unit areas from the audience and society to demo ‘truth’ in a manner they can manage.

For case, whilst United 93 was seen as a good docudrama piece sing the events on the 9/11 plane for it dealt with the human issues instead than political 1s, other docudramas on the topic have been less good received. Much of this has to make with the sort of ‘truth’ people want to cognize. For case, a docudrama by Paul Cross called ‘Severe Visibility’ dealt with issues sing whether or non a commercial line drive truly did hit the Pentagon. It was hard for Cross to acquire this movie released by corporate distribution companies, every bit good as being rejected by many festivals. Whilst it is ill-defined whether his movie was the ‘truth’ or non, because his thought of what the truth was did non fit with those of others in power, his docudrama struggled.

Cross said of his jobs:

“ I feel like I am in Nazi Germany the manner some people in Hollywood are responding to it. What is everyone so afraid of? Everyone seems to wish the movie but I have been told by most of the distribution companies that I have approached that they are corporate and hence do n’t desire to let go of a movie with so strong a statement. ” ( Cross, in Brouillet, 2007 )

In many ways, the truth of docudramas presents is dictated by the temper within society, and what they are unfastened to having. Quality issues and budgets aside, this is why movies like United 93 and Fahrenheit 9/11 are more of a success than films like Severe Visibility.

Therefore, what we refer to as ‘truth’ in docudramas is truly a representation of a certain set of facts used to entertain an audience who are willing to larn about a subject from a peculiar point of view.

Some would even take it farther than this and suggest that documentaries no longer incorporate truth, and are in fact based upon prevarications. Ian Jack is one such critic, who claims that:

“The docudrama has ever been a sweet based on prevarications ” ( Jack, in Holmwood, 2007 )

Jack believes that so many of the docudramas these yearss have deceptive or non-truthful elements that they should no longer be seen as fact at all. He cites illustrations such as the wrongly emended footage of the Queen on the BBC and movies that were wholly falsified such as The Connection. However, others, including myself, differ with this statement. It seems that whilst some companies specialise in ‘reality television’ , which are factual amusement shows incorporating staged scenes with existent people, other ‘truer’ docudrama shapers are focused on relaying the truth of events, albeit in some kind of biased or potentially inaccurate manner. Documentaries may be floored, but there is some degree at which truth is still a chief constituent or at least a chief motive of the documental film-maker. Although possibly a somewhat biased position, Alan Boyd of BBC Storyville and Scum celebrity said:

“Documentary shapers are non prevaricators and they don’t manipulate things” ( Boyd, in Holmwood, 2007 )

Whilst I don’t wholly ascribe to this position either, it seems to me to be someplace in the center. Many documentarians are motivated by the truth, but more frequently than non that is the truth harmonizing to their positions. Besides, the demand for commercial success and gratifying to audiences adds some prejudice. However, I believe many docudrama shapers still relate ‘truth’ as the chief motive and rule behind their work.

So, if the truth has been eroded so much in many docudramas, how are fact and fiction, as in documental films and fiction films, different from each other?

In the following subdivision the difference between fact and fiction will be looked at, and how this difference or deficiency of it affects the credibleness of docudramas.

Similarities between fact and fiction

With the eroding in the nature of ‘truth’ in documental film-making, many have claimed that docudramas are now non much different from the fictional films we are used to.

Possibly the best illustration of the fuzz between fact and fiction is the film ‘The Da Vinci Code’ . Based on the book of the same name, the thought of the film is based on some ‘facts’ and existent administrations, such as the Opus Dei and the Catholic Church. Although the narrative is wholly fictional, the scenes and some of the history behind the topics is slightly accurate. For many people the Da Vinci Code is a pure act of fiction, whilst to others it is seen as a extremely entertaining but nevertheless reasonably credible movie on Grail history. Whilst it is clear that the Da Vinci Code is clearly a work of fiction, with its usage of factual elements, or at least the visual aspect of factual elements, many find it far more credible than other fiction movies.

In contrast, many find some docudramas to be full of arrant fiction, such as those who are opposed to the positions put frontward in docudramas like Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11. However, these films do incorporate a just sum of factual grounds, albeit manipulated in a certain manner.

So, what is the difference between fact and fiction in movie?

Well, the nucleus difference appears to be that factual movies are first and foremost about conveying truth, whereas fictional films may hold elements of truth in but their purpose is to entertain more than convey truth. Of class, with the current degrees of use in documental movies and the realistic feel of many fiction films, the borders between the two are film overing. This is particularly true with modern docudramas that are filmed in a really similar manner to fiction films, utilizing ocular effects and dramatic tools to set forward the facts.

Besides, unless a docudrama is literally the unedited cinematography of an existent event, there is ever traveling to be some component of fictional reading in the content. No affair how dedicated the manager is to making an existent representation of the facts that is all it is – a representation. In that sense, it is similar to fiction, although the footing for the movie is more based in fact and non merely on imaginativeness.

If fact and fiction are so close though, what is the chief difference between them, as in how can we specify the ‘fact’ in docudrama? Well, in many ways it is about impossible to make this without researching each single docudrama on its factual virtues. The world is, even the most convincing and apparently true docudramas now use many of the techniques of fictional films to portray their thoughts and convince and entertain the audience. This can be seen clearly within the redacting techniques frequently used by documentarians to take facts and utilize them in the most convincing manner possible for the docket they are seeking to follow. An illustration of this will be seen in the following subdivision.

Editing docudramas to convey ‘truth’

Simply conveying the natural truth is non plenty for many modern docudramas. They need to entertain the audience, daze and convince all in equal step. Therefore, the factual elements of the docudrama are frequently edited in a certain manner to do it look like the manner things really happened. Whilst the docudrama may be full of facts, they are portrayed in a manner that is non wholly accurate. A good illustration of the manner redacting the ocular representation can falsify the nature of truth in a docudrama is Michael Moore’s ‘Bowling for Columbine’ . Whilst many see Bowling for Columbine as an highly convincing and accurate history of the province of America at the clip, there are many redacting techniques that distort the facts to carry through Michael Moore’s ain docket. This subdivision will look at some of those techniques and how they distort the nature of truth to convert the audience of a certain different set of facts. ( Hardy, 2003 )

The first usage of redacting techniques to alter the nature of truth in Bowling for Columbine is about the thought of let go ofing captives for short visits out of captive. One such captive released was Willie Horton, a liquidator who when short-released escaped and so assaulted and raped a adult female. In the movie, two runs are merged together to propose Bush feared the black community and didn’t want people like this Lashkar-e-Taiba out. In world, the Bush advert did non demo that Horton was black. Besides, assorted captions were added to the run to rise its impact. These techniques changed the nature of truth to do it more provocative, something that Moore continually does throughout the movie.

Another piece of redacting shows the histrion Charlton Heston keeping a pro-gun mass meeting ten yearss after the Columbine slaughter. It is done to propose how the pro-gun anteroom the NRA were chesty and cold towards the deceases at Columbine. In world, the meeting was required by jurisprudence to take topographic point, and all dinners and other events were cancelled at the event. The meeting had been scheduled long in progress and had to take topographic point. Albeit it might hold seemed cold, the grounds makes it seem like the mass meeting was in response to Columbine as a pro-gun salutation, which in fact is non wholly true. The addresss of Heston are shown emended and combined from different addresss, instead than being what he really said towards those mourning the deceases at Columbine. ( Hardy, 2003 )

Another edit negotiations about Numberss of homicides in states compared to America, aimed to demo America has a much higher rated of gun violent deaths because of its gun policies. However, most of the figures are slightly different from any of the widely published annually homicide rates, and seem to take the lowest figures for states like Germany and Canada and so the highest figures for America by uniting statistics. This inflates the difference between gun offenses in the assorted states, thereby back uping further back uping Moore’s ain docket.

All of these cagey redaction techniques take points of truth and fact and so alter them around somewhat or wholly to foster the docket of the docudrama. Whilst it likely can non be said that Moore is straight-out lying, he is pull stringsing the truth towards his ain terminals. Whether you agree with Moore’s place or non or believe in his cause, the use of facts is difficult to warrant. The redaction of Bowling for Columbine changes the nature of the truth in the docudrama from what really happened to what Moore believed happened. Whilst you could reason that this is the instance for many of the docudramas or in fact that all docudramas contain some prejudice, this is a reasonably obvious illustration. In fact, many even say that this movie is non a docudrama, but instead something else. Under Academy regulations it is in fact a non-fiction film, non technically a docudrama, despite winning ‘best docudrama at the awards. Whilst this is merely a proficient point, it shows how the definitions of docudrama are altering, traveling off from what we traditionally think of stand foring actuality to truly merely being fact-based vass of amusement that contain some truths and some fictional facets.

This alteration is down to the manner in which movies use ocular representation these yearss to convey or change the nature of truth. This is non to state all these films are misdirecting or non true, but instead they are trying to equilibrate the demands of truth with amusement and the willingness of the audience to absorb certain truths.

To exemplify this, two films will be analysed in item in footings of the manner they use ocular representation to demo the nature of truth in their fact-based movies. The two movies chosen are Touching the Void and United 93, both of which are modern fact-based movies that were extremely successful.

Analysis of Touching the Void

Touching the Void is a fact-based characteristic movie released in 2003, about a mounting trip that goes disastrously incorrect. Directed by Kevin Macdonald, it is based on the book of the same name, written by Joe Simpson. It follows the narrative of Joe Simpson and his mounting spouse Simon Yates. They were mounting a distant 21,000 pes high extremum in the Andes, and after making the acme began to fall. During the descent, Simpson fell off an ice shelf and broke his leg. ( Berardinelli, 2004 )

It became dark and snowstorms began and as Yates began to take down his friend the rope jammed and he was forced to cut it before he excessively was pulled to his decease. Believing Simpson to be dead, Yates returned to establish cantonment in order to mount a hunt party. However, in an dumbfounding effort of courage and will to last, a crippled, hungering and frostbitten Simpson crawled his manner back to the cantonment merely earlier Yates was traveling to go forth to seek and happen him.

Obviously, this narrative is full of a batch of truths and is possibly one of the most absorbing endurance narratives put into a film. However, as it is adapted from a book the narrative is already rather good known, and so the purpose of the film is to grip you through systematically high degrees of suspense, every bit good as visually conveying to life the agonizing narrative.

To make this the narrative itself is unbroken unfussy, non brooding on why these work forces climb but instead the human component of endurance, and how these work forces got through this state of affairs. To make a true sense of what occurs, the film-makers use arresting visuals, concentrating on the cold, rough world of an icy mountain. Deep crevasses, steep inclines and the beautiful yet endangering colorss of white and bluish ice are used to convey the power of nature.

The promotional posting is a good illustration of this color strategy use:

""from site hypertext transfer protocol: //www.dailyinfo.co.uk/reviews/feature/494/Touching+The+Void+/

The posting, and other points in the movie, shows the great and heroic landscape that surrounds the two chief characters. It is both beautiful and extremely unsafe, demoing their little human being against the forces of nature. The characters are dressed in blue and ruddy, as a kind of contrast to the environing Grey and white of the mountain. The general ocular subject is one of beauty, yet devastation, seeking to convey the immense undertaking that faced both Simpson and Yates. Some illustrations of this can be seen below:

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The purpose is to demo you the truth of how much these work forces went through. In the instance of this film, I don’t think the visuals could of all time be excessively dramatic, because the ordeal gone through by Simpson sounds genuinely hideous. The visuals could possibly be even more blunt and upseting, to convey precisely how bad the event was.

An illustration of the ocular intervention can be seen throughout the scene merely after Simpson wakes up from the rope being cut. The scene cuts between the distraught Yates who is seeking to soldier on after believing he had sent his friend to his decease, to Simpson stuck in a deep crevasse seeking to name for aid. The Visuals are non excessively dramatic, put merely demo the natural province of nature and the hapless physical status of Simpson, broken and frostbitten. The visuals show him take downing himself into the deeper, dark crevasse. This is a symbol of how he is make up one’s minding that he has one opportunity to last, and take downing himself into the darkness is like looking into his ain possible decease. This is where he is so ‘Touching the Void’ .

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As with all the scenes in the film, the manager uses the visuals non for dramatization and to add to the consequence of the narrative, but in many ways to understate the whole series of events. This keeps the narrative to the truth, and makes it more effectual than if expansive effects and cliff-hanging music had been used. The film merely keeps to the natural elements of what is a genuinely singular narrative, and the nature of truth is preserved through the simple yet effectual ocular manner used throughout the film.

As a modern docudrama, this is one of the closest to the ‘truth’ that there is. Adapted from the book written by Simpson, who of class was the adult male involved in the real-life event, the film does non try to over-dramatise or sensationalise the narrative. This is decidedly echoed in the visuals, which are at that place non as a tool to floor or entertain, but at that place to merely convey the narrative and give life to the scene. The visuals do non falsify or disrupt the truth as it is told, they simply provide the eyes with a compliment to the head.

This is one of the few docudramas that does non try to change the truth or utilize the truth to entertain, but merely to set across the narrative in its natural signifier. Alternatively of doing a ‘based on a true story’ type movie that adds artistic alterations and excess play to the crease, the movie was made as a simple piece where the chief purpose of the visuals is to convey the upseting truth of how hard the state of affairs was for these work forces.

Analysis of United 93

United 93 is rather a different type of fact-based movie to Touching the Void, as it chronicles the fatal flight of the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11Thursday, 2001. There were no subsisters, and so no manner to truly acquire the ‘truth’ of what happened inside that plane. Alternatively, the author and manager Paul Greengrass tries to patch together all the information recovered, and concentrate on giving a representation of what might hold happened.

The movie focuses on the riders on the plane, and what their reactions would hold been whilst the events were blossoming. Of class most of this is speculation, apart from the calls made to relatives whilst on the plane and a few other spots of grounds recovered. The movie is chiefly a human narrative, and the purpose of the visuals in this instance is non to merely convey the truth, but to seek and give the viewing audiences a sense of the horror of what happened on the plane. The purpose is to dramatize and rise the sense of feeling trapped inside the plane, and the options of those inside ( Stephens, 2006 ) . Most of the action takes topographic point in the plane, and the camera angles used convey the narrow and claustrophobic sense of being on a plane with terrorists and confronting at hand danger. Examples can be seen here:

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However, despite this sense of tenseness and fright created by the visuals, the manager does non seek and hero worship or demonize one side. The movie in fact starts by looking at the lives of the terrorists and their readyings. He is non seeking to warrant their actions, but simply show all sides of the narrative. Neither does he portray the riders as ‘All-American Heroes’ , alternatively merely demoing them as ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary state of affairs.

The scene that portrays this ocular manner most clearly is towards the terminal of the film when the riders learn about the others planes crashing in to the World Trade Center, and make up one’s mind to ramp the cockpit in a despairing effort to halt the plane crashing into anything.

This scene does non make a sense of the riders going true heroes, but instead them taking the hard pick to make something about what was go oning. The scene isn’t stylised or calendered, but instead a clumsy, frenzied onslaught between groups of normal people. The scene is helter-skelter, as it might good hold been within the existent incident, and there is no existent happy stoping, despite the fact the riders did halt more harm being caused.

The elements in this scene are decidedly seeking to maintain to the nature of ‘truth’ , albeit a truth which has been constructed by guess-work. However, there are plentifulness of ocular elements that besides try and sensationalise the narrative and add to its ability to sell. This can be best seen in the original posting for the film:

""from hypertext transfer protocol: //www.moviethunder.com/r163.html

The posting depicts the plane winging near New York and the Statue of Liberty, which of class did non happen on this flight but is done however as a dramatic and sensational advert for the film. This slightly tarnishes parts of the film that attempt to stay subdued and honest, compared to other scenes that are possibly excessively sensational or over-played to convey ‘truth’ .

Whilst United 93 is a film that in some parts is highly respectful of the sensitive nature of the capable affair, it can besides play excessively much to the audience’s need for amusement. The film uses visuals good to set forward the sense of fright and isolation of being aboard a plane with terrorists on board, but visuals like the film posting and other parts in the movie besides travel off from the nature of truth and more into the kingdom of Hollywood commerce.

However, for a film that can non genuinely derive the existent ‘truth’ due to the deficiency of informants, it does a good occupation of informing the audience of the temper and feelings of what was go oning inside the plane on that twenty-four hours. It is possibly every bit close to the truth as we can cognize, and its visuals complement the feelings that we would all travel through in such a state of affairs.

Decision

This thesis has tried to acquire to the nucleus issue of what is truth within documental film-making, and how the visuals used can portray that truth. In decision, it seems that the true kernel of docudrama should ever be to convey the natural truth of actuality to the audience. However, other factors need to the taken into consideration, viz. the demand to entertain, the fact that some truths do non desire to be heard, and besides the prejudices of the film-maker. Whilst we might prefer the ‘unedited’ truth in each instance, this will non go on. In all documental films we can happen some degrees of truth that we might place with or understand as the feelings of what was traveling on at the clip. Equally long as we remember that non everything we see, even in docudramas, will be the truth so we will be able to do up our ain head sing the truth.

However, the hunt and push for truth is still what separates fact-based films from fiction, even if some of the fact-based movies can be highly broad of the grade. Despite this allowance for creativeness within the representation of actuality, we besides need to do certain that this is non taken excessively far. Examples such as Bowling for Columbine where redaction is used to be reasonably delusory and falsify the truth for an docket should non be portion of documental movie.

The visuals of a documental movie should be used to state the narrative in its purest signifier, much like is done in ‘Touching the Void’ . Whilst this may non ever ‘entertain’ or give the audience what it wants, it preserves the nature of truth and makes the documental all the better for it.

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Sir leslie stephens, P. ( 2006 ) More Human than Human: United 93, Pajiba, hypertext transfer protocol: //www.pajiba.com/united-93.htm

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Wikipedia. ( 2007 ) Documentary Film, hypertext transfer protocol: //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_film

Williams, L. ( 1993 ) Mirrors without Memories: Truth, History, and the New Documentary,Film Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 3 ( Spring, 1993 ) , pp. 9-21

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