The Origins of Direct Cinema: Cinema Vérité

Topics: Cinematography, Film, Cinematographer Pages: 7 (1057 words) Published: December 21, 2012
The Origins of Direct Cinema: Cinema Vérité

Before submerging into the realm of Direct Cinema, it is essential to understand

where it is originated from. Although today the notions of Direct Cinema and Cinema

Vérité are often confused, overlapped and substituted with one another, they must be

differentiated on the basis of two main characteristics: the time period in which they came

about, and their specific approach concerning the radical change they intend to implement

The very first pioneer of the movement of “film truth” also known as Kinopravda

was Dziga Vertov, the man who was not reluctant to call every type of fictional movie

“mortally dangerous [and] contagious” (Michelson 7). He sought to find how the medium

of film can transgress the boundaries of conventional storytelling methods and convey a

completely new message, one that even goes beyond what cinematography was originally

used for by the inventor Lumière brothers: recording everyday scenes as they are. Vertov's

aim was to take this idea further, and to give the documentations an experimentative touch

thus calling into life a subjectified vision of the outside world, while discovering a hidden

truth through editing and montage techniques. His ideas were directly represented later on

in the Direct Cinema, the Free Cinema, and the Cinema Vérité movements.

Only in the 1960s Cinema Vérité began to unfold its anti-aesthetic views of

cinematography in a technically much more advanced environment where the art of

cinema was already defined by numerous film theoreticians setting a firm ground to what

is called conventional within the realms of the Seventh Art. These conventions were torn

down with the onset of the 1960s, when intellectuals and artists began to recover their

consciousness almost two decades after World War II. The Direct Cinema movement

picked out essential characteristics from the innovations of its predecessor for its very own

set of rules. Cinema Vérité was accused of not providing a coherent and valid theoretical

basis and that “they have absolutely nothing in common except celluloid” (Hassard and

The new trend of showing subjects in their everyday actions had to be

preceded by a technological development that solved the problematic of image and sound

synchronicity. From the very emergence of the documentary genre cinematographers were

eager to find new ways to expand filming techniques allowing them to broaden the means

to express their creativity, and to more precisely transmit their artistic messages. In the

late 1950s, North-American and European filmmakers sought to develop quiet cameras

that could be used with portable tape recorders that would liberate cinematographers from

inefficient and exhausting post-production work to synchronize sight and sound. The first

lightweight mobile camera was created by Louis Lumière with which he was able to

record on the streets and did not have to confine filming to the rigid setting of a studio. A

long path led to the findings of Morris Engel: he produced a camera that was small enough

to be carried by a single shoulder strap, allowing him to shoot unobtrusively and to

seamlessly mingle with crowds. Later on, improved rigs needed only two people on the

set: a cameraperson and a soundperson, from which it was only a small leap to reach the

one-person-rig set-up enabling the cinematographers to move freely, being responsible for

vision and sound at the same time. The synchronization of sound inevitably questioned the

justification of narrated ethnographic films until the sixties: “Commentary began to be

seen as a limiting rather than a liberating factor” (Barnouw 251). The commentator’s

fatherly voice gave the effect of an impersonal lecture that heavily manipulated the

attention of the viewers. The innovation that enabled filmed people to appear with their

own voices...
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