Tuesday, 29 April 2008

A woman’s touch

Writer and broadcaster Mark Cousins salutes the British documentary movement’s unsung female voice, Stirling’s Ruby Grierson.


Thursday, 3 April 2008

Orwell, ‘Politics and the English Language’

Its over 60 years since Orwell wrote the essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ -yet its warnings are as relevant now as they were then.Orwell argued that the decline of the English language as a useful tool reflected the political conditions of his time. But far from being an inexorable process he thought the abuse could be stopped and believed journalists had a particular responsibility amongst writers to show their dissatisfaction.

The power of the written word was being under-minded by an adoption of Politician Speak. He gave five examples of bad language accusing the authors of ‘Ugliness’’ ‘Staleness of Imagery’, and ‘Lack of Precision’. Political writing was the most guilty of having those characteristics.

Prose construction was avoided by the use of lazy “ metaphors”,
“Verbal false limbs”, “pretentious diction” and “meaningless words”-
Important precise concepts like Fascism and Democracy had become distorted and were being used in a consciously deceptive way.

Modern writing shunned originality and was the product of lazy uncritical methods of work. His anecdote: Writers should ask -

1 What am I trying to say ?

2 What words will express it ?

3 Could I put it more shortly ?

4 Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly ?

He argued there was causal link between clich├ęd phrases and the defence of the political status quo, euphemisms numbing the public as words got sanitised by colourless concepts such as ‘pacification’ to describe Genocide.

Orwell’s’ goal was not to straightjacket writers . His key was to let the “meaning choose the word” . It’s almost twenty years since the fall of the Berlin wall . WMD’s and “45 minutes” are only the most infamous of many examples that could be given that show Orwells’ essay is, sadly , as relevant as ever.

Peter Burton

Fred Wiseman

Time for Wiseman

Technological changes in the sixties led to the introduction of lightweight portable
16 mm cameras , the new technology changing the nature of documentary filmmaking.

Cinema Verite minimised voiceover commentary and non-diegestic music. The style and form appeared observational but in fact a film would be culled from days of footage, the selection of shots having deliberate intended effects on the audience.

One of the key exponents of the new style Cimema Verite ( Cinema Truth)
was Fred Wiseman .In the case of Wisemans’ High School 80 minutes of film was selected from 40 hours of footage. On the surface the film looks like a slice of High school life, but through the use of long shots, editing, extensive dialogue, close ups, conflict, and an absence of continuity, a representation is made of power and conformity to that power by students and parents. And “ No one in power loses an argument” to quote Wiseman.

Regimentation of school life is conveyed through association or montage techniques.
The power of both content and form saw Wisemans’ first film Titticut Follies about
the criminally insane at a Massachussettes Institute banned from 1967 until 1991.

Wiseman destroyed stereotypes , and combined tenderness , brutality ,apathy
dedication of purpose and integrity in a way that other Cinema Verite filmmakers struggled to match. To watch a Wiseman film is to go through a real experience. His main films in addition to High School were Hospital 1970 and Near Death 1969. Other must see Cinema Verite films include Salesman 1969, Gimme Shelter 1970, Primary 1960 Grey Gardens 1973 and Don’t Look Back in 1965.

Peter Burton