Whether on stage or “live,” whatever the exact degree of contrivance, documentaries stake everything on their appeal to reality. The documentary sets out in search of the real world—to show us real lives, to give those lives a sudden and final importance—and what makes Eisenstein (for example) so disappointing is that he never really tries to find it. Instead of the sensitive detail, the caught inflection of a face, there is the grand imposing spectacle filtered through montage. With Eisenstein the documentary serves artifice at one extreme and Realpolitik at the other (scrambling to delete all mention of Trotsky from Ten Days That Shook the World), though Realpolitik may itself be a higher end—dialectically speaking. His pictures all want lurid coloring; they create an objective viewer because of their artificiality, not their truth.
We cannot imagine the documentary film— with its grainy reality, unwinding the truth 24 times a...
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