Introduction The expository style is utilized in mostdocumentary films.
Its flexible nature allows filmmakers to tell their storyusing a specific genre. The versatility of this narrative style interested meto explore how different filmmakers use this style based on different genres.The filmmakers’ use of their creative techniques in employing this style alsointerested me. In this paper, the definition expository style and itcharacteristics will be discussed. There will also be a discussion of threedocumentaries that are based on different genres: Nanook of the North (1922) by Robert Flaherty, An Inconvenient Truth (2006) by Davis Guggenheim, and Frozen Planet (2011) by AlastairFothergill. Lastly, a comparison and contrast of these three documentaries willbe done, and a very brief conclusion will also be provided.
The Expository Style ofDocumentary The expository mode of documentary is the most commonlyused documentary style. Expository documentaries use heavily researchedmaterials and aim to explain things most people know little about(Beisterfield, 2015). Bill Nichols, in his book Representing Reality, defined that the expository style “addressesthe viewers directly with titles or voices that advance an argument about thehistorical world” (Nichols, 1991, p. 34). Moreover, expository documentary modeheavily utilizes narration or the “voice-of-God” to allow the reader IS1 to better understand subjectof the film (Nichols, 2017, p. 121).
In most cases, the images in the filmserve to illustrate what the narrator is saying. One characteristic that the expository style has isnarration. The narration around the subject matter forms viewers’ perspectiveand logic. The voice combines the five canons IS2 of rhetoric, namely invention,arrangement, style, memory, and delivery (Henderson, 2013). Invention serves asa proof for that the narrator uses to persuade the audience (Universityof Arkansas, n.d.). Arrangement is used to maintain the organization of topicsand events in the film (University of Arkansas, n.
d.). Style encourages thedocumentary voice, which in this case is authoritative because most expositorydocumentaries’ purpose is to inform. Memory is used to execute talking points(University of Arkansas, n.d.).
Lastly, the delivery element is used to connectthe audience to the subject matter. These elements are crucial in expositorydocumentaries as it is effective in telling the story, and at times, persuadingthe audience (University of Arkansas, n.d.). Another technique that is being used in expository modeis the use of archival footages and reenactments.
Archival footages are used tofurther provide proof and talking points in the film topic. Having historicalarchives incorporated in the film adds validity and legitimacy to the filmsubject. The same is true with reenactments, but some critics argue thatinstead of bringing in historical accuracy, they say that reenactments enhanceshistory and draws it away from reality (Kougell, 2015). Ethnographic director,Robert Flaherty, argued that the reenactments used in his film, Nanook of the North, was “based on thesubject’s memories, and is truthful in spirit” (Kougell, 2015). An AcademyAward producer Allie Light also commented, “a goodreason for doing reenactments is that the past lives of most people are notdocumented, so very little material exists to tell the story” (Kougell,2015). She claims that the retelling of the storywill bore the viewers and have them watch a film with nothing to look at.
To further explore the flexibility of theexpository style and how these characteristics are used, I have chosen three documentaries: Nanook of the North (1922), AnInconvenient Truth (2006), and FrozenPlanet (2011). All were filmed in different decades, which will show thedifferences in the graphical element of each documentary. More importantly,these three documentaries are in different genres and will allow use toidentify the different approaches of the filmmakers on using the expositorystyle.
Expository Documentary ExamplesA. Nanook of the North (1922),Robert FlahertyGenre: Historical/Biographicaland DocudramaSynopsis: Nanookof the North looks at the life of an Inuit, named Nanook, and his family.The film took place in the North of Canada at the Hudson’s Bay. Nanook’s bandforage for seals, walruses, and bears to feed on and to use as hides.
Duringthe warmer months, Nanook and some of his family members travel to morecivilized areas using kayaks made of wood and seal skin to barter their goodsin exchange for knives, beads, and other goods. During the winter, they travelwith their artic foxes and sleds. Winter months are the most difficult for Nanookand his family, as food is really hard to acquire as animal are hibernating anda thick wall of ice separates them from their food sources (seals andwalruses).Filmmaker Details: Robert J. Flaherty is one ofthe founding fathers of documentary film. He is known to make documentariesthat revolve around the theme of “humanity against the elements” (Williams,2002).
His background in exploration inspired him to incorporate his romanticideals of cultures in his films (Aufderheide, 2007). Although there are a fewcritics that disagree with the ethical components of his work, viewers,including the Inuits, still have great affection towards Flaherty’s work asthey allow them to know their traditions.Documentary Review: Nanookof the North isvery different from any documentary that I have watched. I found that despitethe lack of narration, the documentary is successful in showcasing thelifestyle of the Inuits. The reenactments that Robert Flaherty utilized helpedme, as a viewer to visualize the Inuits’ way of living up north. Overall, thesilent featured film is interesting in a way that the presentation is veryunique, and nothing compared to the documentary we have available today. I wasable to “experience” how it is to live in the Arctic North and learn about theIndigenous peoples’ way of life. B.
An Inconvenient Truth (2006),Davis GuggenheimGenre: Persuasive/Advocacy,Personal and Cause & EffectSynopsis: Politician and former vice president ofthe United States, Al Gore share his passion and commitment in reversing theeffects of global warming. He became first aware of the global warming in 1970,and has since made laws and legislation directing to the conservation of theenvironment and the reversal of the effects of climate change. Filmmaker, DavidGuggenheim followed Al Gore as he presents specific changes in the environmentthat global warming has caused, such as melting ice caps, natural disasters,and human and animal deaths.
The documentary ended by Al Gore suggesting whatthe government and the public could do to save the Earth and all the speciesliving in it.Filmmaker Details: Davis Guggenheim directed andproduced the Oscar and Academy Award winning documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth” (“Davis Guggenheim,” n.d.).
The filmmakeris also known to make former US President Barack Obama’s campaign infomercialsand short films (O’Sullivan, 2015). Guggenheim is always found producing andmaking documentaries that promote advocacy and awareness, such as Malala (2015), a film about Pakistanischoolgirl that was shot because of her campaigns demanding the right toeducation for girls, and Waiting forSuperman (2010), which focuses on the failures in the public school systemin America (Aftab, 2015).Documentary Review: The film is a mix of Al Gore’sjourney into spreading awareness about the effects of climate change and anumber of scientific data and statistics to back-up his claims.
The topic issomething that, for some people, might be too complicated to understand, but AlGore included some presentation and short entertaining clips that will help theaudience understand the issue. Overall, the documentary is personal,informational, moving, and entertaining. C. Frozen Planet – Spring (2011),Alastair FothergillGenre: ObservationalSynopsis: The Frozen Planet has a total of 7episodes. The second installment of the series titled “Spring.” In thisepisode, the ice melts and life returns in the Polar Region. Animals that werein hibernation wake up and migratory animals move to the Polar Regions to feed.
For most animals, spring is their breeding season. The “Spring” episodefeatures the changes that is happening in the Arctic and Antarctic. It showedhow the frozen waterfall was brought back to life by the melted Arctic freshwater river. This episode also features a polar bear hunting seals to feed hercubs, narwhals migrating in a narrow path of water, the annual cod harvest ofsea birds and seals, the courtship of albatrosses, rivalry of elephant sealsand the wooly bear’s transformation from being a caterpillar to a being a moth.Filmmaker (Producer) Details: Alastair Fothergill is one ofthe leading producers of natural history television programs including The Blue Planet (2001) and TheHunt (2015). He was inspired by David Attenborough’s work, Life on Earth (1979), and from there hestudied zoology and started making wildlife films (World Film History, n.d.
).He helped pioneer a whole new contemporary format for wild life teleivisionwith The Blue Planet (2001) (WorldFilm History, n.d.
). Planet Earth (2006), which he produced,was the first BBC series to be shot in high-definition (World Film History,n.d.).Documentary Review: FrozenPlanetreminded me of the documentaries that I used to watch when I was a kid. Thedocumentary, Frozen Planet, is veryinformative.
The narration really explained what is going on in the footagebeing shown. While watching the film, I could only think about the art andtechnique that was put in to producing and filming this film. The way theyfilmed how animals live during the season. The filmmaker had managed to captureboth the graceful and aggressive movements of these animals.
What interested methe most was the technique they used in filming the polar bears and theelephant seals because contact with both animals is really dangerous. Overall,this documentary is very insightful and it gave me a chance to learn aboutanimals that I did not even know exists. Comparison and ContrastTopic objective The three documentaries that I havediscussed all aim to inform the public about the film’s subject matter. In Nanook of the North (1922), RobertFlaherty exhibited the survival skills of the Inuits, particularly Nanook, inthe hostile winter. The featured film also showcases the traditions of theInuits. In FrozenPlanet (2011), the filmmaker’s goal was to inform the audience the changesthat are happening in the environment and the life that is happening in theArctic and Antarctic during the spring. Similarly, An Inconvenient Truth (2006), informs the audience the travestyglobal warming and climate change had caused and will cause.
Unlike Nanook of the North and Frozen Planet though, An Inconvenient Truth also has anelement of persuasiveness and advocacy as the data and accounts that Al Gorepresented aim to induce little change into the audience’s actions to helpreverse the effects of global warming. Narration Ipurposely chose these three documentaries because each of them employed theexpository style differently. One of the main characteristics of documentariesusing the expository style is the narration. David Attenborough, the narrator in the”Spring” episode of the Frozen Planet,applied the typical narration style that is normally found in informationaldocumentaries. The narrations are engaging, it adds to the suspense of thefootage, and it has an authoritative tone that insinuates their knowledge aboutthe topic. Contrastingly, instead of using the”voice-of-God,” Davis Guggenheim used Al Gore’s presentations to tell thestory. Just like David Attenborough, Al Gore also has an authoritative tonewhile doing his presentation.
Nanookof the North does not have any narration at all. Instead, text clip wasused to introduce the scene or explain the footage. Because of the earlytechnology they had available back then, using text clips was the next bestthing to narration.
Background Music Nanook of the North is a classic “silentdocumentary,” so the whole documentary was dependent on the classical musicbackground throughout the documentary film. Similarly, Frozen Planet uses a mix of narration and background music. At times when there is no narration, thevolume of classical music in the background will go up. Inboth Nanook of the North and Frozen Planet, the filmmakers used orchestralbackground music that corresponds with the footage being shown. Having morebass sounds in more intense scenes adds more suspense and thrills. For example,background music with heavy bass lines were used in the hunting scenes in Nanook of the North, and in elephantseals fights and hunting scenes in FrozenPlanet.
On the other hand, An Inconvenient Truth barely used anybackground music. In scene where Al Gore is presenting, there are no backgroundmusic at all, but when the scene is about Al Gore’s personal life, there wouldbe a faint background music during the narration. A specific example was thescene Al Gore was talking about his son’s accident. The scene was consisted ofa montage of pictures taken when his son was recovering. While he was narratingwhat happened in the accident and how he almost lost his son, a very depressingmusic is being played in the background.
Graphics Overall,the video quality differs mainly because of the technology available at thetime the film was made. Nanook of theNorth was completely filmed in black and white, and the images could barelybe seen. Although Nanook of the North hasa very rustic 1920’s look, Robert Flaherty had managed to showcase his artistryin the film. AnInconvenient Truth is an example of a documentary that used a great deal ofA-rolls and B-rolls. Al Gore’s presentation was used throughout the film. Insome parts, B-rolls were used. Pictures, data sets, flowcharts, and historicalarchives are used to support the A-roll. The creative use of these two kinds offootages kept me, as a viewer, very engaged and connected to the story.
Lastly,Frozen Planet videography is veryup-to-date. The whole film consists of vivid and crisp clips of the life andthe environment in the Polar Regions. It also included some time-lapses to showthe changes that were happening in the ice fields of the Arctic and Antarcticand some slow motion clips to show the graceful movements of the animals. Production With his 75,000 feet of film, two Akeleycameras, and the help off Allakariallak (a.k.
a Nanook) and three other helpers,Robert Flaherty was able to film Nanookof the North (Flaherty, 1999). Theproduction took a long time because they have to time the scenes and get veryspecific shots. He also asked Allakariallak and his family and friends toreenact some traditional Inuit practices to be included in the film. Flaherty alsohas experienced a lot of mishaps in developing the film because of the weatherin and the location of the set. The scenery in the two Polar Regionsastonished both David Attenborough and Alastair Fothergill. In the interviewdone by Ben Beaumont-Thomas (2015), Fothergill mentioned that they have filmedthings that no one has ever filmed before. They were constricted with time andwere working at the edge of the ice as well (Beaumont-Thomas, 2015). They alsohad to learn how to shoot rifles and flare guns to scare the bears away(Beaumont-Thomas, 2015).
Some of the challenges they encountered were the -40degrees Fahrenheit temperature, getting underwater and above water shots, andgetting close-ups of the animals (McCarthy, 2012). A producer, Laurie David saw Al Gore’spresentation about global warming and was inspired to do a featured film aboutit. Majority of An Inconvenient Truth wasfilmed in a small theater in Los Angeles (Golson, 2006). They also includedanimations, historical archives, digital stills, and black-and-white stillsthat contrasted with the HD shot of Al Gore’s presentation (Frazer, 2006). Conclusion In conclusion, I found that different genres allow forvariation for the application of the same documentary style. The variations andtechniques that Flaherty, Guggenheim, and Fothergill utilized made theirfeatured films really interesting, engaging, and most importantly effective.
Ialso learned that documentaries using the same style do not have to bestructured all the same. It all depends on the vision and creativity that thefilmmaker wants to present the audience. The version of the filmmakers’ and thepresenters’ reality are reflected in the beauty and artistry of theirdocumentaries. In my opinion, all of the documentaries are effective despitethe differences in the use of the documentary elements. I had an inside view ofthe traditions of the Inuits through Nanookof the North. Also, watching AnInconvenient Truth again after a long time still managed to give me thechills. I also have witnessed the changes in the climate, and personallyexperienced natural disasters that were amplified by the warming of the Earth, allof which Al Gore talked about in the film.
Furthermore, I learned about howlife blooms during spring in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Collectively,the versatility of the expository style allowed Flaherty, Guggenheim, andFothergill to execute their individual creative strategies to deliver theirmessage successfully to the audience.