Since Thomas Edison showed his audience in the 1890's a locomotive that appeared to be steaming directly towards them as they sat and watched, documentary cinema has been an enigmawrapped in a riddle. What is it exactly? Is it Truth? Not really. Is itobjective? Rarely. Is it compelling? Usually, it is compelling only to the creator. Drama? Comedy? It is both...andneither. These are the dilemas facing the documentary director.
Documentary cinema has evolved into something that ancient philosphers have spoken of for quite some time now. Fundamentally speaking, if any documentary shows any signs of editing in any way, then it has ceased to be a documentary. The word alone demands it. What documentaries have become are filmed opinions, and it is critical to the entire process that the viewer know this.
In fact, to get to the point, there is only one true documentary out there in the entire history of cinema: the Zapruder Film. In that production, Zapruder casually fims the president as he drives by on ane sunny afternoon, and what he gets is the most dramatic moment in modern history: the death of JFK. There is no editing, there is no ulterior motive. Zapruder had no political message, and he had no real interest in what his film ultimately bestowed upon its viewer. He filmed, we saw, and history was made. There wasn't even any sound.
ButZapruder pointed and shot, and, almost as if he had simply opened the lens, exposed his film, then closed it again, came away with a classic. Oddly enough, we can, as viewers step into his film and allow the emotion of the moment takeus away, or we can step away and look at it critically. Or, we could hire experts to pore over it for information.At any moment, this film represents nearly every element of cinema ever created.
Emotionally, the film is devestating. One moment, perhaps the most popular president in modern history is utterly destroyed, his head literally exploding right in front of us. Alive, then not. In an instant.
Critically, an inanimate object plays a role. The street signthat JFK passes is his symbolic and literal linedefining his life and his death. While obscured from view, JFK is shot through the throat.One could argue at that at that moment, JFK's life ended. The final head shot as he emerges only cinched it.
As an expert, enormous informationcan be pulled from this amateur film: shots fired, angle, point of entry, time of day, andother facts critical to the case.
What makes the Zapruder film the only true documentary in history is the starting point for potentially defining the undefinable: what is a documentary?