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The looking machineEssays on cinema, anthropology and documentary filmmaking$
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David MacDougall

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781526134097

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9781526134097.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM MANCHESTER SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.manchester.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Manchester University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in MSO for personal use.date: 23 July 2021

Observation in the cinema

Observation in the cinema

(p.119) 9 Observation in the cinema
The looking machine

David MacDougall

Manchester University Press

In this chapter the author notes that for some people ‘observation’ connotes an attitude of surveillance towards the subject. Despite this, the term is a useful summation of the original documentary idea, which was to show viewers as accurately as possible what the filmmaker had seen. ‘Observational cinema’ emerged as one of several closely related documentary approaches of the 1960s, with close ties to anthropology. Unlike other forms, it placed the filmmaker at the centre of the film as an investigator of on-going events, a position shared with the viewer. This approach was encouraged by the introduction of new, light-weight cameras and sound recorders and was inspired partly by Italian Neorealism and partly by live television. While often perceived as aspiring to detachment and scientific objectivity, it was in fact a highly authored form involving a close relationship between filmmaker and subject and representing the limited point of view of the individual observer. The author argues that while the long camera take is often regarded as the primary characteristic of observational cinema, its true marker is a commitment to the sustained witnessing of specific events. A further consequence of observational filmmaking is that it has stimulated reflection on what it means to observe.

Keywords:   cinema, observation, anthropology, documentary, film history, Neorealism

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