Argumentative Essay: Autobiographical Film vs. Autobiographical Prose

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Autobiographical film, like prose, is filled with the memories of the major events in one's life. In prose, authors give detailed descriptions of their past, while in film directors are able to employ visuals and the use of song and voice-over to illustrate someone else's life or his or her own. Autobiographies are supposed to portray one's life truthfully and accurately; however, most contain stretched truths and over-dramatized events or emotions. In the film medium there is more opportunity for fiction than in prose. Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation and Agnès Varda's The Beaches of Agnes are two differing documentaries that explore this idea.

Throughout these two documentaries the directors make use of visuals and sound effects to elicit an emotional reaction from the viewers. The use of these effects allows the audience to better understand how the director remembers a certain event and how it affects them. One of the frequently used elements in documentaries is re-enactment. While this can be helpful in portraying an event, if you don't have real footage it allows for over dramatization and interpretation from the actor playing the role. The actor can listen to how the director wants it to be however they could never fully portray the event truthfully because they were not present for the actual event. This allows for major discrepancies in the retelling of one's past.

In a review of Tarnation Michael Bronski discusses how "the extent of horrific psychic and medical destruction here is overwhelming (if not based on fact, Tarnation would play like a second rate John Waters film)". The reality of the film reminds audiences of the fragility of life and how quickly things can change. Bronski goes on to discuss how the facts of Tarnation really give the film power, emphasizing the idea that truth can evoke just as powerful a reaction as a manipulated re-enactment. Using re-enactments in autobiographical film can force the audience to wonder about the level of...
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