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The dogmatic documentary: The missing mode

Chu, Y. (2015) The dogmatic documentary: The missing mode. New Review of Film and Television Studies, 13 (4). pp. 403-421.

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This paper addresses a widely accepted typology of the genre of documentary cinema, proposed by Bill Nichols in the 1980s. Although a number of improvements have been suggested in the literature since then, in principle his historically derived and structurally argued types, distributed as they are on a spectrum from expository to performative modes of presentation, are still useful and readily acknowledged to this day. However, this paper argues that the typology contains a major lacuna in that its most authoritatively controlled type, the expository mode, is not well suited to cover a much more radically supervised kind of documentary, the dogmatic documentary which, I contend, is characterized by a specific formula of production and mode of presentation. I develop my argument with a focus on the documentary film production during the period of Mao Zedong's China, a focus that has the advantage of dealing with a clearly identifiable historical epoch and political system. Beyond my observations about China, the argument is intended as a contribution to genre studies in general and, specifically, the genre of cinematic documentary. By way of conclusion, the paper makes a number of concessions, as for example with reference to other modifications of the typology associated with Nichols, the generalizability of the dogmatic documentary to other dictatorial regimes, and the special character and exclusion from the typology of the parodic variety of the mock-documentary, or mockumentary, as a meta-fictional type of cinema.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Publisher: Routledge as part of the Taylor and Francis Group
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