Notes for a New Documentary

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Tony Conrad, Yellow Movie 12/17/72

If, as Tony Conrad might have us suppose, a Movie is light and any marking of the passage of time, what is Documentary Cinema as a category? In fact, the Minimalist structural filmmaking practices of Conrad and others share concerns with documentary's base impulse, namely the transmission of a "factual record or report." 

As screen culture settles into its well-earned ubiquity, we must revisit old questions about the where and the what of cinema as an object and what constitutes something separately known as the "cinematic." All cinema is, on some level, depictive, not necessarily by choice, but rather by inevitability. As fictional as any narrative may assert itself to be, it is also a real event. Every book is a record of someone and something somewhere writing and printing it in real time, and so too every image on screen. Regardless of visual effects and editing, the moving image is, at its root, depictive, depicting its own movement as a bare minimum.

With this in mind, is a digital clock cinema? Is any screen producing light at any time—picaresque and episodic as devices are woken up, sleep, wake up, sleep, screens within screens are opened and closed, sleep—also cinema? Regardless of any durational claims made by an individual work, it appears to me that a movie or television show begins when you turn the screen on and ends when you turn it off.

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