What is realistic about documentaries

Published 12 Apr 2017

The camera shows an iron fence. The atmosphere is dark and bleak. The music in the background is low and very dramatic. The camera slowly moves up the fence to reveal a very large structure behind it. As the camera gets a better it becomes apparent that his structure is a house, a house that looks abandoned and in need of repair. Suddenly the camera moves up to a window that is lit and inside there is a large bed. A person says “Rosebud,” and is perceived to be dead when a glass falls and breaks on the floor. This is the very first scene of the movie Citizen Kane (1941). With the use of this movie and the movie Night of the Living Dead, this paper will examine: what is realistic about documentaries and neo-realism; what is realistic about the movie Night of the Living Dead (1968); and what elements of expressionism can be found in Citizen Kane.

According to Wikipedia.com neo-realism as it pertains to art is “is a cultural movement that brings elements of true life in the stories it describes, rather than a world mainly existing in imagination only.” In reference to movies, this is the process of exhibiting the story as if it were real instead of imaginary. In order to do this the production crew must present the move in a way that enables the audience to believe it is true or even possible.
There is an emphasis that must be put on certain features within a documentary or movie to portray the event taking place as realistic for neo-realism to take place. This is often accomplished with camera angles, character actions, or music. This can be seen as occurring in documentaries by showing an animal or individual as being closer to another object based of the angle the camera shows them, or also the size comparison of the two individuals or objects.

When it comes to more current documentaries the use of the zoom feature of a camera helps to create the reality that an animal is closer to the person shooting the film then they might actually be. The audience perceives what is in front of them, so if the camera is zoomed in right up next to the animal, the audience feels as if they too are right next to the animal. This is a false reality that is created because the actually photographer or cameraman might be hundreds of feet to miles away from the animal. The main thing to focus on here is that the productions staff, of the film, is trying to create this false reality by tricking the audience’s perceptions.
This use of neo-realism can also be seen in the movie Night of the Living Dead. The concept the movie portrays itself is hard to believe because humans do not experience walking zombies, nor is this concept something that has been scientifically proven to be true. This challenge is what the production staff faces as they try to create a movie to come across to the audience as realistic.

One examples of how the movie Night of Living Dead is portrayed to the viewer as being realistic can be seen within the first fifteen minutes. Just after the couple visits the cemetery, the first zombie attacks harming the man, the lady gets away and runs to a farmhouse where she discovers a body that has already been mutilated. This is the first case where the audience is given the feeling of the reality of the zombies. Up to this point the movie explains little about what is going on, other then showing the first attack, but at this point it becomes more apparent and believable that the lady is in danger.

As the movie progresses and the search for food and supplies starts the feelings of fear and danger grows rapidly as more of the zombies appear. The emotions expressed by the lady and the hurried movements of the man help to express the impending danger as this is exhibited towards the audience. This also helps to engulf them more into the reality of the situation. At this point the audience is under the impression that the scenes taking place are more realistic and believable due to the expressed emotions and the possibility of the action they could see themselves doing in a similar situation.

During the movie the camera angels, the music, and the actions help portray a realistic feel of the events that continues especially when more individuals come across the farmhouse and the competition of power between individuals takes over. To this point there is still an unclear reason for the zombies, but when the news is shown and portrayed as being the local news the movie takes the audience even deeper into a realistic understanding of the movie. This is because society has an understanding that the news is an accurate portrayal of reality and since the news is showing it, it must be real. This tactic is used in many movies to help convince the audience of a real occurrence.

A similar tactic is used in the movie Citizen Kane. The movie has a news reel just after the death of the individual in the room and it is portrayed as occurring the next morning. This news reel is viewed as being very believable and the discussion of the news anchors shows a real sense of reality by the use of different photography and camera angels to help convince the audience it has happened. This helps to draw the audience deeper into the reality of the movie. During the news clips the last works of Mr. Kane are discussed and the movie opens up to the main story dealing with the history of Mr. Kane.

As the story of Mr. Kane takes place the audience is given a sort of inside view to the reporter’s journey as he tries to discover the meaning to Mr. Kane’s last words. Memories by different individuals are examined and each one shows a lapse back into history. This helps to capture the reality and true existence of Mr. Kane. Along with this realistic portrayal is the use of expressionism throughout the movie.

According to Wikipedia.com expressionism is “the tendency of an artist to distort reality for an emotional effect.” This can be seen in many instances throughout the movie of Citizen Kane. The biggest way this is accomplished is through camera angles. As the viewer watches the movie the camera angles come from either above or below the scene. There is little if no use of straight on camera angles. This is done to provide the viewer with a specific feeling during that scene. As discussed earlier in regards to the very opening scene of the movie the camera angle is from the ground looking up. This helps to express the emotion of awe or wonder at the size of the structure that was being viewed.

Later in the movie when the news reels are shown, they are exhibited in a more straight forward fashion which helps to exhibit a realistic feel and creates an emotion of reassurance to the actual existence of Mr. Kane. As the movie progresses the scene where the reporter is sitting at the table in the viewing room an above camera angle makes the room looks huge. This helps to convey to the viewer the sense of accomplishment and grandeur Mr. Kane has had in his life. Another similar use of the above camera angle happens later in the movie where Kane and his wife are in the sitting room of his mansion. The camera shows him sitting at one place where she is in another farther away. The use of the camera angle here helps to convey a sense of loneliness and separation the two have in their relationship, across a vast area of their home.

Another example of this is viewed when Mr. Kane has expaneded his newspaper into a larger building area. A scene showing him looking out the window of his building gives the viewed the feeling that the building is actually larger than it might be and with this the solo framing of Mr. Kane in the window help to show that he is solely responsible for this company. These two examples give the audience a feeling that would not be the same if the camera angles were to be shown straight on. This use of expressionism helps to convey the true meaning behind the story and the power that Mr. Kane had as well as a sense that he was lonely and felt sort of isolated.
By viewing these two movies and the various scenes in them that exhibit a high uses of either a ground up camera view, or a sky down camera view, the audience is given a different perspective of reality they are expected to believe. Combined with this the use of story and actions of the characters an existence of reality is created with a concept that might not be considered to be possible or even believable. This use of neo-realism and expressionism can help to turn a movie in a masterpiece.

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