Night and Fog vs. Fahrenheit 9/11
Prof. Brooks/ TA: Josh Olejarz
Kahana, Jonathan. Intelligence work: the politics of American documentary. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. Print.
Spence, Louise, and Vinicius Navarro. Crafting truth: documentary form and meaning. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2011. Print.
TA: Josh Olejarz
Montage Influencer of Historical Events: Night and Fog vs. Fahrenheit 9/11
In documentaries when a director takes on a sensitive subject matter, like upsetting historical events, he or she needs to develop a certain point of view without being biased, or the authenticity of the documentary is jeopardized. Two historical events that are featured in many documentaries are the Holocaust and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Director, Alain Resnais, captures the horrors that took place in the Jewish concentration camps during World War II in the 1955 short documentary film Night and Fog; whereas director, Michael Moore, focuses on the actions of President George W. Bush following the 9/11 attacks in the 2004 documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11. Though both films expose the truth behind the said historical traumas, the different montage approaches of these directors evoke distinct point of views: one that is omniscient while the other is objective, respectively.
To emulate authenticity, directors who deal with documentaries that are discussing past historical events use stock footage like both Night and Fog and Fahrenheit 9/11 utilized; however the directors used the stock footage in completely different ways. In Night and Fog, Resnais uses the footage to give the audience a distressing visual of the callous treatment of Jews in the concentration camps. Even though this footage is black and white, the image of thousands of dead bodies lying on the snowy ground headless and malnourished has a significant impact on the omniscient point of view Resnais is conveying. Although the clips Resnais displays are moving, Moore is able to capture that same feeling with the stock footage or more accurately lack of footage of the airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center. Moore blackens out the frame and leaves the soundtrack of the footage playing, but reveals the stock footage in time to present the reactions of the people of New York witnessing the terrorist attack occurring. This use of the stock footage allows the documentary to maintain an objective point of view because it does not try to get an emotional reaction from the audience by displaying the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Both these films exude authenticity because of the directors’ strategic usage of the stock footage available to them allows them to elucidate the events to the audience member without adding their own bias.
Since there has be drastic advancement in the public’s access to information, Moore was able to use stylistic editing in 2004 to conceal the images without the audience being left out of the loop, whereas Resnais was forced to illustrate the conditions of the concentration camps because few people actually knew what happened in those camps in 1955. And for those reasons the only way Night and Fog holds any credibility is for the fact that “the commentary, written by poet Jean Cayrol, himself a survivor of the camps.” (Spence Navarro 41). Resnais takes the commentary Cayrol wrote and uses the technique of “voice of God” to build on the omniscient point of view. There are parts of the film where there is no voice and only the music score is played, which is skillfully edited with the tone the images project. Compared to Night and Fog, Fahrenheit 9/11 features mostly diegetic sounds with a few scenes that feature the voice commentary from the director himself, Michael Moore. This particular...