Documentary Film Techniques Appropriated By Political Campaigns
Victimized people telling the camera about their hardships, varying film stocks and images of abandoned factories surrounded by empty parking lots - these are the elements of a documentary exposé by Michael Moore, Robert Kenner or Alex Gibney. As reported by David Carr in the Jan. 16th, 2012 NY Times, these tropes also play a prominent role in “When Mitt Romney Came to Town” - a 28 minute film attacking Mitt Romney that was paid for by supporters of Newt Gingrich.
Is this use of documentary style filmmaking a new feature of political campaigns?
Here's a political campaign film from 1956:
Notice how the filmmaking techniques of the 1956 Adlai Stevenson film (with John F. Kennedy playing the part of a television interviewer in an awkwardly formal "at home" conversation) are similar to the techniques that Edward R. Murrow was making popular in his "Person to Person" interviews - like his 1955 interview with Marilyn Monroe:
Also notice how Lyndon Johnson's 1964 campaign ad used some of the techniques (juxtaposing images of an innocent against the military efficiency of a countdown to a nuclear attack) from a nuclear-preparedness "documentary" from 1957:
Alex Gibney, the filmmaker who has made documentaries like “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” and “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” told David Carr writing in the NY Times that he was concerned about the appropriation of his techniques for “When Mitt Romney Came to Town”: “It worries me because it pollutes the form... People could marginalize something that I made by saying that it’s no different than some other piece of paid propaganda that is out there.”
But hasn't this appropriation of techniques always been the key to successful political filmmaking?
Posted by Randy Finch on Monday, January 16, 2012
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Thoughts from a film producer about making and distributing films.
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