Prompt #3 – Introduction to Documentary

This reading is taken from Bill Nichol’s seminal book Introduction to Documentary which articulates the different modes of documentary. Narrowing it down to these modes can be seen as reductive but definitely a good way to look at documentary as long as you don’t see this as the only way. This reading is a quick summary.
Choose one mode and describe its hallmarks and why you might like to work in that way.

The Lumière brothers shot a scene from the back of a train in 1896 that marked the birth of film. The first raw footage shot by Lumière brothers are more like what we call documentary. Since then, documentary was given a definition that documenting some aspect of reality or maintaining a historical record, and sometimes called as cinema verite.

In the seminal book ‘Introduction to Documentary’, written by Bill Nichols(2010), he articulates the different modes of documentary including:

  1. The Observational Mode
  2. The Participatory Mode
  3. The Expository Mode
  4. The Poetic Mode
  5. The Reflexive Mode
  6. The Performative Mode

I know Expository Mode more than other mode because Expository mode is widely used in Chinese documentary. Expository Mode “emphasizes verbal commentary and argumentative logic” often using a narrator. The mode addresses the spectator directly with an employment of titles or voices that propose a strong argument and a perspective. It usually exposes a person or a topic. John Grierson stress the main role of Expository Mode is educating people. However, Expository Mode is the best way to give audience explanations with images by God of Voice, which is regard as an omniscient perspective. For example, Chinese Science and Education program released a TV show called Human and Nature which covers a wide array of subjects from environmental protection, wild creatures, geology and biology. The commentary in the documentary alongside with its images plays a significant role in giving new a meaning and introduction to audience. This mode is very easy to deliver the filmmaker’s idea and talk to audience directly.

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