Monumentalizing the Real: On the Status of the Document and the Functions of the Image in Griersonian Documentary Film

By Lars Weckbecker.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published Online: May 27, 2016 $US5.00

This paper investigates the status of the document and the functions of the filmic image in early Griersonian documentary film. I argue that Griersonian documentary, as it emerged in the early decades of the 20th century, might better not be called documentary, given its specific governmentality and the common strategic creation and optimization of actuality and the resulting filmic image for a layered ensemble of pedagogic, propagandistic, economic and political purposes. While existing research has pointed to the strategic and formative aspects of Griersonian documentary, the term documentary itself is usually simply accepted as a given taxonomic and generic term. However, Griersonian documentary film might rather be regarded as an exercise in monumentalization than as being primarily concerned with observation and documentation. Thus I propose to regard the term documentary, as rationalized by Grierson, to be historically resulting from an exercise in propaganda. It might hence be useful to substitute it with the term monumentary in order to draw attention to the strategic, instrumental and appropriative nature of early Griersonian documentary, which we still encounter today.

Keywords: Documentary Film, John Grierson, Governmentality, Document, Monument, Monumentary

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 7, Issue 4, December 2016, pp.21-26. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published Online: May 27, 2016 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 460.867KB)).

Dr. Lars Weckbecker

Assistant Professor, College of Communication and Media Studies, Zayed University, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates