Film & Theater Studies

Analysis of Documentaries

“Nanook of the North”, “The man with the Movie Camera”,” Song of Ceylon” and “Listen to Britain” are examples of films that portray social, cultural and political activities of people living in different parts of the world. They all share a common theme, change. This is because they are used to depict changes in given societies from one generation to another. They also talk about different people living in different places on earth but leading different lifestyles.

“Nanook of the North” is a silent documentary that is used to show the existence of different cultures in the world (Bilby, 1925). It shows a foreign traditional culture of people living outside Europe. It is used to portray uncivilized foreign culture that valued fishing, hunting and even igloo-building. Man’s struggle against nature is depicted as the source of success in North America and abroad. The film shows how man survived in the past before influence by European civilization. Spears and not guns were used in hunting wild animals in the bush (Bilby, 1925).

.           The social perspective of the film is to show how man lived before the invention of technology. The film shows that the man had a family with family members who supported each other in their daily activities. It shows that there was unity in the family because the man and his wife went to hunt together (Jacobs, 1971). The political view of the film emphasizes on man’s development from the non-technological to technological days. It shows how people from different parts of the world helped each other to develop from the traditional way of life to the modernized world. The cultural part of the film shows how man’s culture was very different in the olden days unlike in the current one.

This is to show that man has dropped his original culture and aped a new cultural style. The film is very effective in drawing a picture of the traditional world that man lived in. It shows real transformation of man from the olden days politically, culturally and socially. The film is meant to give man hope in future development because of the evident transformation from the olden days to the current world. The film is punctuated with slow motion and freeze in motion to enable a viewer discover the intended message. This impresses me so much, because I am able to see and think about the meaning of some pictures displayed in the film.

“Man with a Movie Camera” is a different kind of documentary that displays a different aspect of life. It gives the other side of “Nanook of the North” as it presents the urban life in Odessa and other Soviet cities (Roberts, 2000). The daily activity of Soviet citizens is shown from dawn to dusk. The urban lifestyle is shown by the technology used by the citizens. People are involved in interaction with machineries showing an image of a developed world. The film emphasizes on social, cultural, political and historical aspects of life. Socially, interaction of people is shown in the accomplishment of their daily activities. The political view of the film is shown by the fact that the development of the society has been caused by political intervention, which has led to implementation of order in the society.

The working culture of man is portrayed as a changed one from the traditional to modern one, while history is depicted by the fact that the current generation is very different from the old one. Extreme close-ups and split screens of the film have impressed me so much, because they enabled me to get the actual meaning of the film (Roberts, 2000). They also make the film lively. The documentary has enabled me to know about the political, social and cultural aspects practiced by the Soviet societies. It has also enabled me draw lines between the Soviet society’s culture and the culture of other societies in the world.

The film captures attitude and viewpoints of the time it was made in a technological aspect. The technology used in the film production shows that film was made during the current generation because of the use of machineries. Extreme close-up is used to display the daily activities of Soviet society’s citizens. It has impressed me so much because it enabled me realize the interaction between men and women in their daily activities. The film therefore is meant for people to be able to know the trends in development of the current world. It also draws hope into the minds of people about the future because development is seen to be real in the Soviet society.

“The Song of Ceylon” is an example of a lyrical documentary that depicts Buddhism and the art of life it has to offer based on Western Metropolitan civilization. It shows that it is important for man to work in order to get whatever he desires (Sloniowski, 2000). The struggle of man in his daily activities shows that man undergoes a very hard time in order to achieve his goals. It also shows that man exists in a complete world and relies mostly on interdependence for survival. Man has to work to be able to get wealth. Pilgrims are shown going to pray in the mountainside to show the existence of religion in the society. There are also voices of commerce in the film that are used to depict the presence of trade in the society. The last section of the film shows the original cultural practices of the Ceylonese people before the arrival of the British (Sloniowski, 2000).

The film outlines the social, cultural and political situation of the Ceylonese people after and before the coming of the British who led to their transformation from the traditional world to the technological world. Socially, people go to church together to worship and even work together in accomplishing their daily activities. Politically, it is beyond doubts that the British brought their political framework to the Ceylonese who adapted to it. The cultural practice of the Ceylonese is also seen to be different from the original one before civilization. The Ceylonese people are said to have transformed after the arrival of the British and that their past life remains to be history.

The film is effective in capturing the viewpoints and attitudes of the time it was made because it clearly shows that it is the current modernized world depicted in the film. The modern culture is also shown by the working attitude of the people in order for them to acquire what they desire. Cinematic aspects like extreme close-ups, Dutch angles and slow motion have been used in the film. Slow motion has impressed me so much, because I could clearly see the people in the mountainside during a prayer session. In normal life, it is very difficult for one to judge persons in prayer in a film unless in a church or in a mosque or even wearing the worship costumes.

“Listen to Britain” is a propaganda film that was produced during the World War II to support the related war effort. It portrays a day in the life of Britain during the Blitz. The film starts with a foreword that speaks of what is to happen in the future (Low, 1997).The film uses symbols to show the actual weapons and war. In the foreword, Personification is used to show a female military picture ready to go to war. Britain is symbolized as having a heart and a pulse like cannon. The film shows the social, cultural, political and historical perspectives in different mannerisms.

The co-ordination to be administered in the war shows the social existence of the British community. Historically, the film is used to remind people of the World War II that left a mark in the world. Politically, it is clear that the British had an established administration before the war broke out (Low, 1997). The viewpoints and attitudes used in the film show that the film was shot to explain the occurrence of the World War II. The cinematic aspect used in the movie involves the foreword and the slow motion. These two aspects impress me because they make the message of World War II easy to understand.

It is therefore true to say that, the four films are used to expound on the history of different societies and changes in their political, cultural and social aspects of life. Culture is shown to be different as time passes from one generation to another. Social and political aspects of the lives of the people also tend to change from one generation to another (Low, 1997). From the films, it is fair to draw a conclusion that they are used to portray transformation of different aspects of the life of human beings with time.




















Works Cited:

Bilby, Julian. Nanook of the North. Eugene, OR: Arrowsmith, 1925. Print.

Jacobs, Lewis. The Documentary Tradition, from Nanook to Woodstock. Cranbrook, Ilford: Hopkinson and Blake, 1971. Print.

Low, Rachael. The History of British film. Liverpool. Merseyside: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Roberts, Graham. The Man with the Movie Camera. London, UK: I.B.Tauris, 2000. Print.

Sloniowski, Jeannette. Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video. Windsor, ON: Wayne State University Press, 1998. Print.


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