Answer 4 questions Documentary crumb

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Answer the following questions with as much detail as possible, illustrated by examples from readings,
class discussion and student film presentations.
1) Describe four different modes of documentary and place them into both historical and
technological context. Why did these different forms of documentaries arise when they did?
What were some of the factors and conditions that either led to their continued popularity or
their demise?
2) It has been postulated that the documentary tradition has depended upon both truth-telling and
tangible documents. Select two films presented in class by student groups and describe what form
of documentation or evidence the films “truth-claim” was based upon.
3) Select two films that student groups presented in class and compare and contrast them. Note
varying means of authenticity, mode of presentation, style, and other differences or similarities.
4) Why would some documentary makers choose to use a poetic or experimental approach as
opposed to a more traditional approach? What are some of the advantages or disadvantages of
such an approach? What are some the characteristics of a poetic or experimental approach? What
would be some examples of a poetic or experimental documentary?
“Harlan County USA” (1976)
By Barbara Kopple
In 1972, Kopple came to a coal mine of Duke Power company located in Harlan County
to record the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) strike against the Eastover Coal
Company’s Brookside Mine and Prep Plant.
The helpless, yet tough miners and their families
Unscrupulous capitalists, management, and thugs.
The government was in collusion with the capitalists (1969: the election of the National
Federation of Miners ballot), but the chairman of the old trade union colluded with the
capital class, so they ended up killing the candidate who supported the working class,
Joseph Yablonski.)
Musical Component: All original music sung by the union picketers/organizers.
o Which Side Are You On? By Florence Reece, a social activist in the film
Dominant female voice to represent wider themes
Close ups of shots
Narrative using the drama techniques
• Produced and directed by Barbara Kopple with associate director Anne Lewis,
cinematography done by Kevin Keating and Hart Perry with several camera operators
• Kopple initially went to Harlan from New York with $9000 to fund her documentary, but
she eventually wound up $60,000 in debt
• Framed around Harlan County also known as “Bloody Harlan” due to a strike in 1931
where one miner and three deputies were shot dead
• Film was originally intended to focus on campaign against UMWA (United Mine
Workers) president Tony Boyle by Arnold Miller
Events in Harlan against Duke Power were a side story in the film, but the director
decided to change subjects as the strikes became violent
Desired new contract allowing miners to unionize under the UMWA; it was agreed upon
after the death of Lawrence Jones by a mine supervisor
Group of about 50 miners’ wives led picketing charge
Duke Power arranged for prisoners from Kentucky jail to be work released to guard
“scab” workers
Kopple spent over a year living with these people, and as a result, they became
comfortable with her filming them and their strike so closely
Genre/ Stylistic Choices
Kopple used various styles to produce the documentary. There were mostly hints of
observation and cinema vérité as much of the film involved filming the subjects and their
interactions. Of course, there were various interviews conducted throughout the film
(though without Kopple’s voice), and some found footage and newsreels were used, but
generally, the audience experiences the film by way of the citizens of Harlan talking
about the strike and their resultant struggles.
The documentary voice felt rather indirect embodied. While there were occasional
interviews, most of the film involved vérité style footage, found footage, and all narration
and exposition explained by the subjects (or sometimes even the songs) of each
respective clip.
The film has hints of both judicial and commemorative rhetoric. Not only does Kopple
want to explain the miners’ strike, but she wants the viewers to examine the lives of
certain impacted individuals. In a way, they go hand in hand as this better understanding
of the physical and financial toll of the coal miners strike provides relevant background
information regarding events that occurred before the strike commenced.
Reception/Fallout of Film
Won numerous awards including an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1977, LA
Film Critics Association Special Award, and Belgian Film Critics Association: Grand
A UK magazine, Sight and Sound, created a list of the “Greatest Documentaries of All
Time” and placed “Harlan County USA” as 24th.
Library of Congress entered the film into The U.S. National Film Registry in 1989
Critics such as Roger Ebert gave high praise as “The film retains all of its power.”
Overall Thoughts
Kopple’s dedication to documenting Harlan’s story accurately is apparent as her efforts
were subsequently applauded and awarded
Due to the minimal interference of the subjects and historical context of the miner strike,
Kopple’s documentary appears to ring true
One could argue the ethics of living amongst people in grief stricken areas to film their
lives for “entertainment” and how that may be a form of slumming. However, if that
footage is used to educate the population about an unfair situation and how the
perseverance of the strikers got them through their hardships, the project seems more
beneficial than not.
Documentary 1
Title: Crumb
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Group members:
Synopsis: (brief statement of what the film is about)
Directed by Terry Zwigoff, Crumb is about the life of underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, and
his provocative, sexual, and violent, satire of contemporary american culture. Crumb is widely
regarded as the most famous and influential comics artist of the 1960’s. This is the story of a
man, and his two brothers, raised by an amphetamine addicted mother, and sadistic father. We
learn about all the strategies that Crumb developed to make sense of his twisted view of
humanity, and eventually gain success. And how he turned to art as an outlet for all his
disturbing thoughts.
Genre: (Subject, Category, etc.)
The genre of the documentary is Biographical, which shows both Robert Crumb’s work and
personal life. The documentary emphasises on Crumb’s personal life and some of the problems
he has with society, because that is what inspires his impressive work.
History: (Length of time to make, approx cost, anecdotes, etc)
The film was directed by Terry Zwigoff, who met and became acquainted with Robert Crumb
through their shared interest in the same type of music. It took Zwigoff nine years to make the
film from 1985-1994, and during that time, he thought about killing himself due to poor living
conditions. There was even a false rumor that he threatened to shoot himself if Crumb didn’t
agree to make the film. The film’s budget was $300,000 and earned $3.1 million. Originally, the
film was supposed to be centered mainly around Robert, the most successful cartoonist in the
Crumb family, but since his brothers, Charles and Maxon, also had important stories of their
own, the film was titled “Crumb” to represent all three brothers. Before the film could be
released, the eldest brother, Charles, committed suicide as he had been battling depression
throughout the filming. The film won several major documentary awards, although it wasn’t
nominated for an Oscar.
Components in the film: (interviews, archival, graphics, music, B-roll, etc)
The film’s has a lot of loose camera work that follows the main character Robert Crumb, which
is a typical component for cinema verite style. There is a lot of archival components in the film
when Zwigoff shows old pictures of Robert’s family and also some of his early work. Music is
mainly included during the parts of the film where Crumb’s work is shown, and typically for every
movie at the beginning and in the end. There are interviews in the film but they are not
interactive. There are a many parts where B-roll is used, mainly when Crumb’s work is being
explained. The film is based of Robert Crumb’s personal story, which portrays and brings out
variety of different emotions in the viewer.
Technical Considerations:
The film uses close-up shots alternating between Crumb’s work and people’s responses to
depict emotion.
The film is made through the eyes of two artist, both Terry and Robert (Crumb) are responsible
for giving the film the edge it produces. Terry’s ability to let Crumb dictate the narrative is
powerful as it allows for organic interactions between Robert and his brother Charles and other
family members.
Zwigoff major contribution may be his ability to get Robert to do the documentary and allowing
the camera to roll, documenting more than he could have expected from aspects of his family
life and personal beliefs.
Structure and style: What POV, truth-telling approach, rhetorical devices, mode etc, does
the filmmaker adopt.
Even though the film contains interviews, Zwigoff removes himself completely from the film,
making it a more observational mode. Zwigoff incorporated himself within the film, including a lot
about Charles and his medications both as a dedication to him and because of Zwigoff’s own
suicidal struggle. Thus, he emphasizes the stories from all of the Crumb family where they
struggled during their lives. He does not avoid any of the moral and political issues from
Robert’s comics, providing a better connection with the audience. As one of the brothers are
telling a story, he includes either comics or family pictures that illustrate the story. Zwigoff
begins the film with why Robert makes comics and what he is most known for, and ends it with
him moving off to Paris following the 6 years.
Overall analysis: Does it work? Does the film ring true? Are there ethical problems?
The documentary works successfully as it introduces the audience the life of Robert Crumb from
childhood to the artist he is right now. The film guides the audience from different level to
understand the strategies that have kept Crumb alive and made him successful.
The film rings true because of one fact that the director Terry Zwigoff had known Crumb well for
while. Movies like this do not usually get made because the people who have lives like this
usually are not willing to reveal them. However, since Zwigoff known Crumb very well, he
directed the film convinced there are no secrets hid in Crumb’s family.
What is the message of the film?
Nothing accidental behind the creation of great art and Robert Crumb is a great artist.
What five minute clip will you use?
We’re using the clip where Robert Crumb talks about the struggles he faced growing up and
how that directly influenced his cartoons.

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