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Showing posts from September, 2015

Fake Inductive Structure

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The Search for General Tso dir. Ian Cheney, 2014 Genre: Quirkumentary/Cultural documentary Streaming on Netflix, available on instant video
For some reason it is hard for me to pinpoint the genre of The Search for General Tso, even though it is similar to many mainstream feature documentaries and even though the film fits pretty neatly with what I call postclassical documentary narration. The film, a cultural history of the Chinese-American restaurant staple, is a mix of expert testimony, interviews, B-roll, and illustrative animation graphics. In this sense, it is a formally safe rather than innovative doc, but is pitched as such, to a general interest audience. On these terms, the documentary does a terrific job of seeing the big picture in the small, by using culinary history as a hook for an exploration of Chinese diaspora, US immigration policy, and a series of secondary issues. 
The film presents itself as a detective story (the search for origins) and unlike some investigative …

Medium Term Scales of Innovation

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Costa da Morte
dir. Lois Patiño, 2013
Genre: poetic documentary
Not currently in wide distribution

There is currently an excitement that generates a lot of documentary work that is in a similar vein. Static shots, locked down camera, often in telephoto or at least long shot, digital cinematography, and sound design done in "close up." I thought of these when watching Costa da Morte, a poetic documentary about the Galician coast and the villagers' relation to their landscape. I do think that Lois Patiño has a distinctive eye and that Costa da Morte activates the tropes of contemporary poetic doc for interesting thematic ends. And at times (such as the passage of the seasons), it departed from a strictly contemplative pace. But in so many ways, it feels like one example of a larger genre and hews fairly closely to that genre.

Which makes me wonder about the time-scale of aesthetic innovation. I still think the poetic approach seems fresh, in part because so many technologi…