The projector in your mind that can’t unsee the seen.
A scene from outside Kyiv from the BBC and some from the mind of one of the Soviet Union’s greatest filmmakers, Andrei Tarkovsky’s whose grandfather was Ukrainian.
You can’t unsee this. But, to its relevance, for when I speak about cinema journalism it is not to diminish ( in this case) the horrors of war by comparing it to fiction.
Cinema journalism is a way of capturing the world in which words and pictures marry, fuse imperceptibly into a unison and sear themselves into recesses of your long term memory.
It engenders a conscious understanding of the psychology of the movie image and words ( see Henri Bergson) and the Freudian (see Edward Bernays) , or neuroscience behind reportage.
As viewers we’ve come to appreciate the psychological power of (fictional) cinema; the work of a DOP ( cinematographer), the script writer who hones the words, dialogue from the screen, overall crafted by a director.
Many years back now, I started to ponder how do some photographers, news and film makers capture images, cite words that never leave us? How?
Take Michael Buerk’s 1980s Ethiopia news film. I can still see it today and hear Buerk’s words that ran almost as pentameter.
It’s seen as an exemplar for great television news; yet it’s also a palimpsest for a newer type of news making. Just as there exist overlaps of styles in documentaries exploring expository, performance, musical, historical ( see Oscar winner Summer of Soul) it would not be out of sorts to think of an iteration on television.
It’s there in plain site, but it’s complicated by a narrative imbibed since television’s dawn and a schema handed down by execs that proclaimed how television news worked and should be interpreted by viewers.
Yet cinema’s language gave birth to TV’s schema. How TV people sought to sanitise cinema’s language is the great wonder. Cinema’s language of a factual form was sustained in the once Soviet Union. In touring Russia, I sought to understand those pioneers some more; Eisenstein, Vertov, and the likes of Tarkovsky. Cinema journalism is no more a fad than its early explicit incarnation as cinema verite courtesy of American Robert Drew et al.
Our minds, early cinephiles said, act as projectors. Some like Ukrainian filmmaker Vertov combined the artisan nature of factual cinema with news making. Vertov pioneered many of the filming techniques today.
There was, I discovered from my own portfolio because of my influences, and an emerging group of journalists/ filmmakers a cinemacity to their work.
Often an image resonates a punctum that is highly expressive and it’s up to the photographer to capture it and in so doing they move the viewer in ways that are visceral and deeply impacting.
You can’t unsee the images below and it’s almost difficult to separate the BBC’s deeply disturbing footage with Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979). But the impact is undeniable.
Can you be taught this? Yes! But it involves a deeper understanding of the mind, memory and the science taken for granted.
My research suggests more and more journalists are picking up on the form to express a journalism that exercises the power of narrative.
More on David here.