John Grierson Essay

839 words - 4 pages

John Grierson was born in Deanston, Scotland in 1898. From an early age, his parents laid strong emphasis on their sons education as well as political and philosophical ideals. This upbringing can certainly be considered as one of the reasons why Grierson would later become a recognized European intellectual of the 1930s. He was part of the generation that matured in a post-war Europe, full of pessimism and cynicism, as well as conflicting political philosophies of fascism and communism. Despite of all the negativity in Europe at the time, Grierson pursued higher education in many prestigious universities, from University of Glasgow where he studied philosophy, to University of Chicago, where he focused his studies on the psychology of propaganda and the influence of media on forming public opinion. It was this study that eventually lured him into becoming a filmmaker as well as critic and a philosopher.
Today, John Grierson is widely considered as the father of British and Canadian documentary film, as well as the father of the “documentary” film genre. Grierson first mentioned the term when he reviewed Robert Flaherty’s film Moana (1926). He wrote that it had a “documentary value” and would later argue that basically the “raw” and “original” subjects or scenes were always better than their fictitious counterparts when trying to interpret the world. He would later go on to define documentary as “the creative treatment of actuality”. In order to discuss the implications of Grierson’s definition, we must try to explore the concept of a documentary, and look at some key characteristics of documentary film.
So what is a documentary film? Most people who didn’t have time to think about it would say that documentary is simply a representation of reality, the opposite of a fiction film: ‘non-fiction’ or something that is depicting things as they really are, basically that it is a representation of truth. That of course is not true. If it was true, a person who installs surveillance cameras for a living could be considered a documentary filmmaker. He does after all, record reality; he doesn’t use actors, nor are his recordings fiction. Most people would agree that he doesn’t qualify, that there is more involved as simply letting a camera run, that there must be some message, some viewpoint, some idea and ambition behind it all. The process of defining a documentary is very difficult. In fact, many authors and filmmakers have tried to define what a ‘documentary’ is and have...

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