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L’autofiction comme vision du monde

Cinema as Testimony and Discourse for History: Film Cityscapes in Autobiographical Documentaries

Témoignage cinématographique et discours historique : les paysages urbains dans le documentaire autobiographique
Iván Villarmea Álvarez

Résumés

Bien que l’image cinématographique permette de conserver l’apparence du passé, la signification d’une image n’est jamais transparente ; elle fait partie d’un discours culturel à interpréter. Trace visuelle du passé et représentation, le cinéma permet deux lectures historiques simultanées qu’interroge la subjectivité du réalisateur mise au cœur du discours documentaire. Ce changement de paradigme explique pourquoi la mémoire et l’identité sont devenues deux thèmes principaux dans le documentaire postmoderne. Les « autoportraits urbains » évoquent l’expérience émotionnelle des paysages urbains disparus à l’instar de Roger & Me (Michael Moore, 1989), My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007) et Of Time and the City (Terence Davies, 2008). Ces films, qui montrent le déclin des villes industrielles à travers des souvenirs personnels, désignent trois sous-genres différents: le documentaire politique performatif, le film-essai et l’autofiction. L’étude de leurs dispositifs formels constitue un prérequis à toute analyse des systèmes contemporains de la représentation historique.

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  • 1 Laura Rascaroli, The Personal Camera. Subjective Cinema and Essay Film, London: Wallflower Pr (...)

1In the last three decades, the authority of the traditional documentary and its aura of objectivity have weakened.1 The idea of “truth” in documentary film has evolved beyond the concept of visible evidence as contemporary documentary filmmakers would rather follow the logic of their own line of argument than the use of a transparent mise-en-scène to represent the world. According to Antonio Weinrichter,

  • 2 Antonio Weinrichter (ed.), .Doc. Documentarism in the 21st Century, Donostia-San Sebastián: F (...)

The documentary has not set out to show us the world, but to say something about the world. It is not a representation, which will always be imperfect or partial or “fictitious”, but a discourse, the sum of factual evidence and arguments.2

  • 3 The concept of “impure materials” refers here to the footage that has not been directly (...)
  • 4 According to Bill Nichols, “the performative mode: emphasizes the subjective or expressive as (...)

2The free combination of visual materials from different sources, such as private home movies, archival footage and imaginary re-enactments, conveys a ‘subjective truth’ that reveals the filmmaker’s perception of historical events. From this perspective, impure materials3 become useful resources to tell stories, to develop arguments and to express emotions in documentaries that deal with issues of memory and identity. The best example of this paradigm shift is the emergence of performative and autobiographical documentaries in which the filmmaker’s individual experiences are usually presented as a synecdoche for his or her community, generation, country or time.4

  • 5 Michael Moore was born in Flint, Michigan, in 1954; Terence Davies in Liverpool, United Kingd (...)

3Representative of this trend are Roger & Me (1989), Of Time and the City (2008) and My Winnipeg (2007), three urban self-portraits respectively directed by Michael Moore, Terence Davies and Guy Maddin. These filmmakers, born in industrial cities between the mid-1940s and the mid-1950s,5 shape a similar elegiac discourse about the loss of their childhood’s cityscape using first-person narratives to reflect on the urban decay and the subsequent redevelopment of their hometowns. Despite these similarities, their films belong to three documentary traditions that are not always related: first, Roger & Me widened the possibilities of political documentary with its blend of committed activism, guerrilla practices and ironic self-portrait; second, Of Time and the City recalls a missing industrial cityscape through archival footage and personal memories, dealing with political issues through a highly stylized poetic voice; and finally, My Winnipeg appropriates real found footage to fake it with fictional re-enactments shot by Maddin himself, turning his fabrications into an alternative history of Winnipeg. Through the analysis of these case studies, we propose to delve into the post-industrial urban experience which the filmmakers convey from a subjective standpoint.

The Subjective and Spatial Turn in Documentary Film

  • 6 See Paul Arthur, “’Everything Is Personal’: Michael Moore and the Documentary Essay,” in Ma (...)
  • 7 B. Nichols, op. cit., 13, 18.

4The emergence of first-person narratives can be considered as an adaptation of the artists to changing socio-economic structures and political practices: the neoliberal reforms of the 1980s coincided with the breakdown of master narratives, which led cultural discourses to introduce an individual and even narcissistic dimension. In this context, the gradual disillusionment with collective utopias among social activists has involved the evolution of their struggle towards the demands of specific communities. Autobiographical and subjective strategies connect the performative documentary to the contemporary political agenda: community issues replace collective struggles in documentaries produced and directed by filmmakers from underrepresented or misrepresented groups — including women, gays and lesbians, ethnic minorities and developing countries.6 These filmmakers more often than not resort to the first-person narration to increase the audience’s involvement in the subject matter of their films, hoping the autobiographical approach may help their stories reach a collective dimension. As Bill Nichols explains, documentary filmmakers no longer address the audience from an authoritative perspective, thereby changing the traditional formulation from “I speak about them to you” to “I or We speak about us to you, which expresses a deeper personal commitment.7

  • 8 Autobiographical filmmakers like Jonas Mekas, Ross McElwee, Alan Berliner and Alain (...)
  • 9 First-person filmmakers like Chris Marker, Jean-Luc Godard, Michael Moore and Terence Davie (...)
  • 10 Self-fiction filmmakers like Nanni Moretti and Guy Maddin maintain their real identity in f (...)
  • 11 This concept was originally developed by French historian Pierre Nora to refer to the (...)
  • 12 Other examples of this combination of urban history and identity issues in the American and (...)

5The autobiographical approach pervades several genres: autobiographies8 can be distinguished from first-person narratives9 and self-fiction10, even though all of these explore the dialectical relationship between history and memory. Documentary filmmakers stretch the concept of truth beyond the traditional understanding of objectivity: not only do they make up characters and tell fictional stories based on real referents, as Robert Flaherty and John Grierson did in the 1920s and 1930s, but they also reveal their own personality when showing the world from a subjective standpoint. Michael Moore, Terence Davies and Guy Maddin portray themselves while recounting their hometowns’ historical evolution. They use different film devices that link their identity to their home cities seen as space-time anchors. They recover old cityscapes to question the changes that have affected them, paying particular attention to their own “places of memory”.11 Thus, Roger & Me, Of Time and the City and My Winnipeg exemplify the subjective turn and the spatial turn that documentary film genre has undergone since the 1980s.12

  • 13 Ewa Mazierska and Laura Rascaroli, From Moscow to Madrid. Postmodern Cities, Europe (...)

6Flint, Liverpool and Winnipeg function as ‘city-referents’ in these films, allowing the viewer to recover the image of the place at the time of the shooting and as perceived by their contemporary residents. However, they also exist as ‘characters’ since any city is “the product of countless and intermingled instances of representation”, as Ewa Mazierska and Laura Rascaroli argue, meaning that these cities may also nurture a state of mind derived from their previous representations.13 For this reason, Michael Moore, Terence Davies and Guy Maddin articulate highly critical views of their hometowns’ changing landscapes by combining both the ‘city-referent’ and ‘the city-character’: thus, while a single frame can contain the whole memory of a place, both for what it shows (the past or current image of a place) and for what it suggests (its missing image), it simultaneously captures the consequences of economic shifts as visible traces on the urban surface. In this regard, the films explore “environmental images” which Kevin Lynch has defined in the following terms:

  • 14 Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City, Cambridge, (MA): MIT Press, 1960, 6.

Environmental images are the result of a two-way process between the observer and his environment. The environment suggests distinctions and relations, and the observer — with great adaptability and in the light of his own purposes — selects, organizes, and endows with meaning what he sees. The image so developed now limits and emphasizes what is seen, while the image itself is being tested against the filtered perceptual input in a constant interacting process.14

7Accordingly, Roger & Me, Of Time and the City and My Winnipeg can be interpreted as historical testimonies of how economic and social transformations are perceived by the inhabitants of post-industrial cities.

Roger & Me (Michael Moore, 1989): The Industrial City in Global Times

  • 15 Sergio Rizzo, “The Left’s Biggest Star: Michael Moore as Commercial Author,” in M. (...)
  • 16 See Gaylyn Studlar, “Class, Gender, Race and Masculine Masquerade in the Documentaries of M (...)

8Michael Moore’s best mise-en-scène and editing ideas were incipient in his first feature film Roger & Me: the quest structure, the practice of ambush interviews, the détournement of found footage and the creation of his own film character — dubbed the “schlump in a ball cap” by Sergio Rizzo.15 His close relationship with Flint is an important part of that character, since it allows him to introduce himself as a member of the working-class in opposition to the elite.16 The city provides the central focus of Roger & Me and Moore has periodically returned there to reaffirm his film persona as an ordinary citizen concerned about his community. Bowling for Columbine (2002), Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) and Capitalism: A Love Story (2009) include conspicuous references to Flint, recalling Moore’s working-class origin which, along with his on-screen presence, has become the main mark of subjectivity in his films. Although he has never been an autobiographical filmmaker, Moore uses the subjective approach to develop what Douglas Kellner defines as:

  • 17 Douglas Kellner, “Michael Moore and the Aesthetic and Politics of Contemporary Documentary (...)

A unique character in popular culture, himself, and a unique genre of filmmaking, the personal witnessing, questing and agit-prop interventionist film that explores issues, takes strong critical point of view, and targets villains and evils in U.S. society.17

9Moore’s particular use of first-person narratives and ironic editing strategies may prove to be his main contribution to the history of documentary film. For example, the opening sequence of Roger & Me establishes his autobiographical approach by introducing the filmmaker himself as a character, summarizing his origins, personality, wishes and current situation through a vertiginous editing of all kinds of found footage. The film begins like a diary or a self-portrait, which serves to create a contrast between Moore and Roger Smith, the president of General Motors. Moreover, this sequence introduces the place where their confrontation will occur, Flint, which is portrayed through a naïve account of its heroic past.

10Moore’s self-portrait and Flint’s social situation go hand in hand in this documentary. The filmmaker proudly introduces himself as part of the affected community: his father worked at the AC Spark Plug factory and his uncle took part in the historic Flint sit-down strike of 1936. Moore has never worked for General Motors, but his status as a citizen of Flint gives him moral authority to level criticism at the corporate power represented by the company. The construction of his film persona relies on the loss of his referents whereas the film structure is based on his quest for an interview with Roger Smith, as Jim Lane explains:

  • 18 Jim Lane, The Autobiographical Documentary in America, Madison: The University of Wisconsin (...)

His own representation as the autobiographical narrator in search of answers and of Roger becomes a disabled self, armed with the critical apparatus to understand what is going on in his hometown but incapable of effecting change as much as the working people whom Moore indicts. The film becomes a self-portrait of political impotence and futility within the larger frame of social and economic conditions with which the subject maintains a perplexing autobiographical connection and moral detachment.18

  • 19 Miles Orvell, “Documentary Film and the Power of Interrogation: American Dream and Roger & (...)
  • 20 The interview begins as follows: Jacobson: “The impression that one has from the mo (...)
  • 21 G. Studlar, op. cit., 53.
  • 22 M. Orvell, op. cit., 136.
  • 23 See M. Orvell, op. cit., 138; J. Lane, op. cit., 138; and María Luisa Ortega, Espej (...)

11In terms of narrative structure, Roger & Me follows Moore’s political discourse and not chronological order, sacrificing “historical accuracy in order to achieve the unity of satiric fiction”.19 The manipulation of facts and figures, justified as a narrative device, has stirred up much controversy, starting with a famous interview in which critic Harlan Jacobson accused Moore of tampering with the chronological sequence of events.20 On the one hand, Roger & Me has been criticized for its lack of structure and its failure to create a coherent socio-political analysis;21 on the other, it has been hailed by other critics for its ability to convey “the oblique truth of satire”.22 No matter the narrative path, the documentary conveys the local perception of a socio-economic process, equating Moore’s failure to interview Roger Smith with the feeling of powerlessness experienced by laid-off workers.23 Although Manufacturing Dissent (Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk, 2007) recently revealed that Moore had actually obtained an interview with Smith but chose not to include it, which undercut a crucial premise of the film and damaged its credibility, it does not affect the metaphorical meaning of the hunt for Smith.

12Moore denounces how Reaganomics has transformed the U.S. labour market, shattering the idea of a job for life in a secure company. Rather than produce an economic analysis which was to be the focus of Capitalism, a Love Story (2009) two decades later, the filmmaker highlights the deep disorientation of his community. Roger & Me does not aim at the macroeconomic system yet; it focuses on Flint’s situation as a metaphor for other Rust Belt cities: most workers are unable to understand their historic defeat and do not know how to stop the closure of factories. Moore emphasizes their alienation by cutting to pop culture and television entertainment programmes that promote escapism, an attitude embodied by Bob Eubanks, an anchorman born in Flint, who hosts the Newlywed Game in an attempt to lift the spirits of the unemployed. His intervention parallels that of out-of-date singers and beauty queens, who show that the debate on the crisis is trivialized by endorsing a neoconservative discourse that enhances personal initiative. These public figures represent the optimistic discourse of promise, which Moore’s generation grew up with during the post-war economic boom and the policy of bread and circus that General Motors offered as only compensation after eight decades of active service. Moore’s documentaries, however, denounce the fact that the American Dream can no longer be fulfilled in the neoliberal paradigm, since the alliance between large corporations and Republican administrations has destroyed the chances of a decent job for life (Roger & Me), the public health care system (Sicko) and the ability to acquire a home of one’s own (Capitalism, A Love Story).

  • 24 P. Arthur, op. cit., 112.

13Paul Arthur explains that Roger & Me is “a melding of personal experience and social history”:24

  • 25 Idem.

Moore mobilizes diverse filmic materials for purposes of editorial comment as well as illustration of factual statements. Home movies, TV news clips, excerpts from studio-era Hollywood films, automotive television commercials, newsreels, clips from industrial training films, and pop music — for instance, the satirical use of the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” — produce not only humorous asides but decenter effects of a unified enunciative presence. 25

  • 26 Moore may have followed the influence of his cinematographer, Kevin Rafferty, who used the (...)
  • 27 According to Merlin Coverley, the détournement “demonstrates how an avant-garde art (...)

14The combination of various types of footage26 follows the logic of situationist détournement,27 parodying all the fake optimism conveyed by beauty queens and television personalities whose messages fail to grasp the situation of the community. Moore’s humour pervades the film, producing ironical dichotomies that further his political arguments: he develops a musical score in counterpoint to the image track, using songs and upbeat lyrics to criticize the effects of urban decay. Thus, while “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is played over a tracking shot that depicts the abandoned city, including its dilapidated buildings and empty houses, the sequence is intercut with close-ups on rats and extracts from radio programmes that comment on the increasing rates of pests and crime. The choice of this particular song was suggested by Moore’s interviewee, who recalls listening to it as he suffered an anxiety attack when learning that he might be fired for the umpteenth time: its upbeat lyrics contrast with the man’s depressive mood and thereby parody all those positive messages that were unable to improve Flint’s situation.

  • 28 The clearest example was the local government project to promote the town as a tourist dest (...)

15The lack of prospects in Flint is illustrated by a gradual demobilization of the community: politicians and trade unionists demonstrate during the big parade that commemorates the Great Flint Sit Down Strike, while believing that going on strike will not prevent companies from locking out their employees. After the failure of the rejuvenation attempts made by local authorities, Flint,28 as Moore and the people of his generation remember it, was disappearing in the 1980s. According to U.S. census figures, its population declined from 159,611 in 1980 to 140,761 in 1990, an 11.8% decrease which can be situated within the wider context of five decades, during which the town lost half its population due to the macroeconomic process of deindustrialization: the population of Flint, numbering about 196,940 in 1960, dropped to 102,434 according to the 2010 US census.

16Roger & Me portrays that process by recording an endangered cityscape and by constructing a nostalgic discourse on its loss. Moore and his crew filmed the last truck made in the Flint factory, simultaneously capturing the mood of the time: most of the workers clapped their hands, but one of them warned about future concerns: “What’s everybody so happy about? We just lost our jobs!” The narrative is shaped both as a testimony about the decline of Flint and as a political discourse against it: the film explores a dialectical relationship between visual and audio materials from different sources, which are edited together to establish a contrast or antithesis. This strategy challenges the current and former official discourses suggesting what might have been. Flint, like other Rust Belt cities, should have been nice, but it has become the worst of three hundred urban areas according to Money magazine.

  • 29 M. Orvell, op. cit., 134.

17The solutions to this crisis proposed by the people interviewed, including Ronald Reagan, are either migration to the Sun Belt or the invention of new jobs. Moore highlights the absurd situations that the crisis has led to by focusing on several individual cases: a woman sells rabbits as pets or meat; a security guard of the new county jail watches his old workmates now turned criminals; former General Motors workers have been hired as employees in the fast food sector. In the latter illustration, a manager of Taco Bell explains to camera that former industrial workers quit their jobs at Taco Bell because they are unable to keep pace with the hectic rhythm of making tacos and burritos: “Many of them say this is a lot of hard work [...] because assembly work is easy. […] At Taco Bell, every day’s a new day. Every time you turn around, it’s a different challenge.” This example becomes a metaphor for the social stagnation of the working class, which is unable to switch to the service industry. Moore’s sympathy for the workers’ predicament and the plight of the city29 accounts for his personal involvement with the community, which remains the key factor in his conveying the bitter experience of the industrial decline.

Of Time and the City (Terence Davies, 2008): Memories from the “Dirty Old Town”30

  • 30 “Dirty Old Town” is a song written by Ewan MacColl in reference to Salford, a city located (...)
  • 31 This sentence paraphrases Michael Zyrd’s definition of found-footage filmmaking: “Found-foo (...)
  • 32 See Julia Hallam, “City of Change and Challenge: The Cine-Societies’ Response to the Redev (...)

18While Roger & Me depicts the destruction of Flint’s industrial base and social fabric, Of Time and the City retrospectively recalls post-war Liverpool at a time when the city had already moved on a new path of economic development as a business, shopping and tourist city. Liverpool’s former cityscape could only be retrieved through personal memories and images of the past. Terence Davies appropriates archival footage to “comment on the cultural discourses and narrative patterns behind history” and to “critically investigate the history behind the image.”31 Most footage comes from films commissioned by the city’s Public Relations office, as well as from other documentaries produced by public institutions like the BBC or the BFI, such as A Day in Liverpool (Anton Dyer, 1929), Morning in the Streets (Denis Mitchell, 1959), Liverpool Sounding (Ken People, 1967) and Who Cares (Nick Broomfield, 1971).32 These materials are edited according to a dual time frame, juxtaposing the past tense of archival images with the present tense of the commentary, allowing Davies to develop an emotional inquiry into his own memoryscape instead of simply expressing nostalgia for the old Liverpool. This device identifies Of Time and the City as an essay film, according to Paul Arthur’s reflections on the use of archival images in this genre:

  • 33 Paul Arthur, “Essay Questions: From Alain Resnais to Michael Moore,” Film Comment, 39, 1, (...)

It’s tempting to cite the deployment of found footage and collage as endemic to the essay, given the multitude of films that rely on juxtapositions of archival images and present-tense commentary. However, if essays are not invariably heterogeneous in materials, their segmental and sound-image relationships tend to entail collision or dialectical critique. The emphasis is on converging angles of inquiry rather than historical nostalgia or pastiche. It follows that essays are infused with found footage yet resist the urge to flaunt or fetishize images from the past.33

  • 34 See Antonio Weinrichter, “Distant Voices, Still Lives. Times of a Return,” in Q. Ca (...)

19This film preserves the original meaning of old footage, documenting the past in Liverpool, yet its editing and commentary superimpose a new sense and appropriate the visuals of the past into Davies’s subjective discourse. His Liverpool does not match the real city, but is an imaginary place that only exists in his memories. This intimate geography unfolds on the screen without a linear narrative, because his stories follow an emotional order and not a chronological one,34 as Michael Moore’s documentaries do but for different reasons.

  • 35 See Nigel Floyd, “A Pebble in the Pool & Ships like Magic,” Monthly Film Bulletin, (...)

20To give an example, Davies describes the narrative device of his film Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) through the metaphor of a pebble dropped into a pool: that pebble is like the sudden memory that unleashes all subsequent evocations, and the different layers of memory can be compared to the ripples in the pool.35 The flashbacks are not always related to the present, as Wendy Everett has explained in commenting on Distant Voices, Still Lives:

  • 36 Wendy Everett, Terence Davies, Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press, 2004, (...)

The pebbles are the moments outside time, the shards of memory at the heart of the movement. These “timeless moments” are positioned quite literally outside the flow of time by being depicted as still or frozen poses which disrupt the temporal and spatial movement of the film itself.36

  • 37 Ibidem, 167.

21Davies incorporates popular songs to revive collective memory just like that pebble in a pool; the music recreates “a remembered past but also, simultaneously, interrogate[s] and deconstruct[s] that past.”37 The songs do not exactly accompany the images but contrast with them, thus creating a dialectical tension between the image track and the musical score, articulating a critical account of Liverpool’s urban evolution. This strategy links the filmmaker’s personal memories with the audience’s collective experience by arousing shared feelings.

22Of Time and the City was produced as part of the Liverpool European Capital of Culture 2008 event and marked Davies’s return to the cityscape already explored in The Terence Davies Trilogy (1983) — formed by the shorts Children (1976), Madonna and Child (1980) and Death and Transfiguration (1983) — as well as in the feature films Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes (1992). All these films use Liverpool as setting, but they show the city either in the present or in the past instead of establishing a dialectic between both periods, as Of Time and the City does.

23Davies’s obsessions with the past permeate the voice-over commentary, recalling that he spent his childhood between “home, school, the movies and God”. Archival footage, however, extends this domestic topography to the public space: Liverpool’s architectural landmarks, such as Saint George’s Hall, the Royal Liver Building and the Catholic Cathedral, emphasize the contrast between the representations of imperial, economic or religious power and the street landscape where people hustle and bustle in their everyday lives. This spatial and visual opposition appears in The Terence Davies Trilogy and has been defined by Everett in these terms:

  • 38 Ibid., 45.

In Davies’s Liverpool, we see that one of the main spatial oppositions his films articulate is between the close intimacy of the women’s spaces, hidden behind the net curtained windows of the terraced streets on the periphery of the town, and the wide-open, masculine confidence of the public spaces at its centre.38

24Davies’s images show Liverpool’s architectural landmarks from outside, because these places do not really belong to the people. They are symbolic places that have been recontextualized by urban renewal. Davies recovers them through archival footage of extinct rituals and customs depicting industrial and port work, domestic routines and afternoons at the beach, in New Brighton. Such scenes awaken the emotions experienced at the time, as Davies explains by quoting Chekhov: “The golden moments pass and leave no trace.” These emotional memories can only be retrieved through subjective devices and filters like the musical score.

25The whole narrative of the film is organized according to the structure of a symphony: the main leitmotiv depicts the passage of time in the city and variations introduce Davies’s usual topics — Catholicism, homosexuality, popular memory and cinema. Davies refers to Listen to Britain (Humphrey Jennings, 1942) as a model, but with a twist: Humphrey Jennings’s film was a celebration of national unity in wartime, whereas Of Time and the City is “a love song and a eulogy to the city of Liverpool” for the defunct industrial city of the working-class — according to its subtitle. There are several musical sequences in this documentary that explore and reinforce the idea of a critical revision of the past, but three of them especially stand out: the first uses Peggy Lee’s popular song entitled “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” whereas the other two are based on classical pieces by Salvador Bacarisse (Concertino for Guitar and Orchestra in A Minor, Op 72) and by Gustav Mahler (Symphony No 2 in C minor, “Resurrection”).

  • 40 See Eulàlia Iglesias, “Of Time and the City. Return to Liverpool,” in Q. Casas (ed. (...)
  • 41 When he took the photograph, Bernard Fallon was a student in the Liverpool College of Art a (...)

26Peggy Lee’s music is played over a sequence that retraces the transformation of Liverpool’s urban landscape: the film depicts post-war terraced houses and cuts to concrete tower blocks, juxtaposing footage of everyday family life in Arcadian neighbourhoods with images of their decay and demolition. The sequence ends with the cold and impersonal cityscape of the new habitat, where people look trapped. Peggy Lee’s song evokes a bright future that was never true for working-class Liverpudlians,40 which Davies illustrates through a careful selection of archival images: an old lady removes a used can from a lift while people stand isolated on their balconies. Davies also inserts a well-known photograph by Bernard Fallon, “The Long Walk,”41 which is part of the photographic series that documents the city’s everyday life from 1966 and 1975: “Liverpool: The Long Way Home.” This image portrays a lonely man walking down Everton Brow amid ruins and rubble and has become emblematic of Liverpool’s urban decay because it conveys the mood of the period between demolition and reconstruction.

  • 42 Ricardo Aldarondo, “Songs for a lifetime,” in Q. Casas (ed.), op. cit., 204.

27Davies criticizes the replacement of “a citizen-friendly town planning approach that fostered communication among people” by “another, overcrowded model based on concrete tower blocks, graffiti and neglect.”42 The same criticism is conveyed by Bacarisse’s music in another sequence: the terraced houses are linked to the main theme, a guitar solo, whereas the images of concrete tower blocks are associated with the same theme played by an orchestra. The music expresses Davies’s negative perception of urban change, emphasizing the emotional experience of living through urban rejuvenation. This device explores what Michel Chion calls the added value of music:

  • 43 Michel Chion, Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, (...)

The expressive and informative value with which a sound enriches a given image so as to create the definitive impression, in the immediate or remembered experience one has of it, that this information or expression “naturally” comes from what is seen, and is already contained in the image itself. 43

  • 44 Manuel Yáñez Murillo, “Interview with Terence Davies,” in Q. Casas (ed.), op. cit., (...)

28Davies uses music as a rhetorical device to suggest that post-war urban planning created a hostile environment for community life. He then borrows from Mahler to describe his later discovery of a renewed city: when he returned to Liverpool to record contemporary images for this documentary, Davies felt like “an alien in his own land”,44 but he later realized that life had gone on beyond his frozen memories when filming young people’s new social routines, such as going out at night, and children discovering the world in the street. These children look at the city as something new, with the same curiosity that Davies felt at their age, which means that the city is still alive: it has re-emerged in a completely different historical time. Liverpool was resurrected in the 2000s, which the film announces through the composition of a visual sequence that relates archival images of urban decay in late 1960s and early 1970s Liverpool, referring to the last years that Davies spent in his hometown, with Mahler’s symphony explicitly entitled “Resurrection”.

  • 45 According to Francesc Muñoz, “[o]n the one hand, [banalscapes] have a local character, beca (...)

29Fireworks explode over the city’s waterfront in the closing sequence, ironically connoting the triumph of the post-industrial city: Old Liverpool has been completely removed from the urban surface to achieve that resurrection, sacrificing its architectural and social heritage in the process. Of Time and the City shows the destructive consequences of a socio-economic process that is also described in Roger & Me, and its lyrical approach reminds us that urban renewal policies do not consider the preservation of the city’s historical working-class identity: Liverpool’s waterfront has become a banal landscape, an autistic cityscape that can be reproduced everywhere in the world because it promotes architectural features to sell the city on the global market.45

My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007): A Faked Urban Self-Portrait

  • 46 The concepts of ‘hometown’ and ‘home’ are understood here as geographical and cultural plac (...)

30My Winnipeg (2007) is a docu-fantasy on Guy Maddin’s hometown, which expresses the filmmaker’s emotional, nostalgic experience in the face of urban change. Instead of Roger & Me’s political commitment and Of Time and the City’s social conscience, My Winnipeg builds a whole imaginary cityscape of Winnipeg, thus characterizing the relationship of the residents with their city through the irrational ties that bind them to their hometown.46 This relationship also includes a supernatural dimension that certainly comes from Maddin’s tendency towards fantasy, a clear transgression of the discourse of sobriety that nevertheless serves to provide the city with a whole urban mythology.

  • 47 Winnipeg is located hundreds of miles away from any other major city, and it has below-zero (...)

31The isolation imposed by Winnipeg’s geographical location and its severe climate has indirectly fuelled Maddin’s film activity.47 The filmmaker has completed eight feature films and over twenty short films before making his own autobiographical cycle, which is composed of Cowards Bend the Knee (2003), Brand upon the Brain! (2006) and My Winnipeg, three silent parodies of family dramas starring a fictional double of the author. Maddin’s film portrait of Winnipeg is based on his personal experience of the city, blending facts and fiction by introducing fictional characters in real locations: the beauty shop is associated with his real mother while the Winnipeg Arena is identified as his real father’s workplace. The trilogy also explores the filmmaker’s childhood and adolescence through fictional accounts that convey personal memories.

  • 48 K. Halfyard, op. cit..
  • 49 See Covadonga G. Lahera, “My Winnipeg. El cineasta que surgió del frío,” Blogs & Docs, Apri (...)

32When Guy Maddin was commissioned to shoot a documentary on Winnipeg, he realized that he had to unveil himself first in order to depict his Winnipeg.48 The narrative thereby combines three superimposed levels: Winnipeg’s local history, Maddin’s family portrait and a series of surreal episodes that belong to the realm of imagination.49 Fantasy and subjectivity are constantly used to present the city’s features and events, introducing a city-character instead of its real referent. However, according to Barry Keith Grant:

  • 50 Barry Keith Grant, “My Winnipeg,” in Barry Keith Grant and Jim Hillier, 100 Documentary Films. BFI (...)

Maddin’s […] thick soup of personal memory, distorted imaginings and factoids about the city […] is probably closer to the way most people relate their environment than the urban celebrations depicted in city symphony films.50

  • 51 Dave Saunders, Documentary, London, New York: Routledge, 2010, 153.

33Following this line of argument, Dave Saunders defines the film as “a work more immersed in the truth of the city and its psychological effects than any by-the-book chronicle.”51 This imaginary Winnipeg is built through the counterfactual logic of “what if?” which invites us to consider all those futures that the city never developed.

34The first sequence shows how Maddin, as a character played by actor Darcy Fehr, attempts to escape from Winnipeg by train. His journey compels him to cross the whole city, thus forcing Maddin, as storyteller, to relive his past before he can flee Winnipeg and be free. Contrary to Terence Davies who dreams of returning to his hometown in Of Time and the City, the Canadian filmmaker wants to escape. Maddin’s physical trip involves a parallel journey through Winnipeg’s local history and its collective memory, consciously imitating the local tradition of “buried treasures”, an annual contest organized by the Canadian Pacific Railway, in which, according to Maddin’s account, Winnipeggers used to wander around the city in search of hidden treasures. This story provides a metaphor for My Winnipeg’s narrative: Maddin relives his past by exploring both the urban surface of his hometown and the depth of his own memories there. The whole film therefore conveys the narrator’s search for “buried stories” that can reveal a hidden city. Maddin creates an entire mythology for Winnipeg by excavating untold stories from local history, film archives and his own family memories. According to William Beard:

  • 52 W. Beard, op. cit., 335.

If one again asks the question of what the criteria for narrativization are in this film, the answer here must again come back: something that symptomatizes the place’s sickness, forgottenness, isolation, inauthenticity, decay, pathology.52

35The voice-over explicitly compares the city to a text that should be decoded: “A city of palimpsest, of skins, of skins beneath skins. How to decode the signs of the city?” Some sequences before, Winnipeggers themselves have been described as people “skilled in reading past the surface and into the hidden depths of their city,” an ability that leads Maddin to turn the slightest detail into a euphemism for a much more sordid truth. The resulting confusion between small anecdotes and historical events is nevertheless justified by the logic of memory, since the film recalls Winnipeg’s past from the filmmaker’s perspective.

  • 53 Violeta Kovacsics, “Entrevista Guy Maddin. La lógica de los sueños,” Cahiers du Cinéma. Es (...)

36The narrative systematically twists and trivializes all the stories about Winnipeg’s past, making it impossible to distinguish truth from fake. Maddin continuously re-enacts news items from the local archives: the narrator relates the story of race horses that drowned in a frozen lake, using black and white animation to depict their flight as a legend. The frozen heads turn into visual shapes that stick up from the snow covered landscape, providing a macabre landscape where Winnipeg’s couples wander. The voice-over presents the anecdote as history whereas the black and white film testifies to its authenticity by simulating the visual aspect of old archival footage.53 Furthermore, Maddin lies when he seems to speak the truth: he claims he will try to recover his childhood memories by renting his old house and hiring professional actors to play all his relatives except his mother who will play herself; but the re-enactments were actually shot in a studio set and the role of his mother was played by Ann Savage, the leading actress of Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945). Real materials, such as old pictures and home movies, generate a sense of confusion.

37The first of these re-enactments is the family reunion around the Ledge Man, a local television series which offers variations on the same situation every day: a hypersensitive man threatens to jump from a window-ledge and only his mother can convince him to come back, although the next day the man finds another reason to attempt suicide. This soap opera is another fake in which Ann Savage and Darcy Fehr play the roles of mother and child; the repeated intervention of the mother as a saviour works as a psychoanalytic metaphor for Maddin’s entrapment, both as a person and as a character, in Winnipeg:

  • 54 D. Saunders, op. cit., 160.

The parallels with Maddin’s struggle to escape the clutches of his hometown, and his mother’s apron strings, are abundant: Ledge Man’s leap into the unknown world, the world outside Winnipeg, is constantly prevented by his mother’s hectoring and infantilising; the Maddin surrogate […] is unable to get away, or to fulfil even the death drive for fear of matriarchal reprimand. […] “Archetypal episodes” from the psychoanalytic id become literal episodes of a still ongoing daily drama.54

38Other re-enactments refer to the tedious task of straightening the hall runner or to the mother’s two main phobias: fear of birds and, above all, fear of being dishevelled.

39These sequences reveal the existence of family tensions and traumas hidden beneath the banality of the everyday, meaning that Maddin’s family portrait interweaves with his portrayal of the city, articulating an attempt to discover what lies below the surface. The sequence that Ann Savage rehearses in the film’s prologue — a violent argument between mother and daughter due to a traffic accident — explains the interpretative dynamics of the film: as the daughter comes home late after running over a deer, the mother identifies the traces of blood and fur on the bumper as the unquestionable evidence of a sexual encounter. “No innocent girl stays out past ten with blood on her fender”, she concludes after mercilessly insulting her daughter. The filmmaker intimates through the mother’s statements that a car accident in Winnipeg is necessarily a euphemism for some darker instincts. Maddin underlines the link between his family secrets and his hometown’s untold stories, turning both narratives into interdependent accounts.

40The film’s version of Winnipeg’s founding myth is precisely based on the interplay between local history and the filmmaker’s mindscape: Maddin visually compares the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers with a female pubis while rhythmically reciting the words “the forks, the lap, the fur”. Repeated as a spell, the phrase suggests two mental associations: first Winnipeg is intimately related to the filmmaker’s family through the connection between the river confluence and the lap of his mother, and secondly the city is introduced as the meeting point of two river routes in a fantasy narrative. This connection is based on the native legend of The Forks Beneath the Forks, which the voice-over refers to in the first sequence: “An old tale from the first nations has it there are subterranean forks. Two secret rivers meeting, directly beneath the Assiniboine and Red. This double pairing of rivers being extra supernaturally powerful.” Maddin’s fantasies are nurtured by the magic of his hometown, whose cultural traditions are embedded in local legends.

  • 55 The expression “heartsick architecture” appears in a title card introducing a sequence on t (...)
  • 56 Maddin himself calls the demolition of Eaton’s and the old Winnipeg Arena “architectural (...)

41The imagination of the filmmaker prevails over the real cityscape: Maddin depicts its landmarks as a “heartsick architecture”,55 focusing on two real and recent architectural tragedies that epitomize the tensions between destruction and reconstruction in post-industrial Winnipeg.56 He first evokes Eaton’s, the main department store, which was replaced by a new sports arena, the MTS Centre. Maddin juxtaposes images of Eaton’s demolition with a contemporary view of the MTS Centre: the same framing emphasizes the visual effect produced by the new building. Maddin ironically mentions that the construction was an architectural mistake when relating that the local hockey team, the Jets, moved to Phoenix shortly after the centre opened. He even finds an explicit pun in the real cityscape: the S of the new arena’s neon sign did not work when Maddin filmed the façade, reading MT Centre (“empty centre”).

  • 57 W. Beard, op. cit., 342.

42The construction was used as a pretext for the demolition of the old Winnipeg Arena. Maddin’s affection for this building comes from its familiar connotations as a source of male influence: not only did Maddin’s real father work in the Winnipeg Arena when he was a child, but he also states in the film that “this building was my male parent, and everything male in my childhood I picked up right here.” However, this autobiographical connection is immediately faked when he claims to have been born in the locker room. He says goodbye by urinating in the men’s toilet and recording the act as self-expression with “qualities that are infantile (reacting to negative stimulus with an excretory event), and animal-like (marking the territory that is about to be destroyed) as well as memorial (ritually repeating an act already performed ‘a million times before’)” according to William Beard.57

  • 58 The first attempt to blow up the concrete framework of the Winnipeg Arena did not s (...)

43The emotional tribute to the place is developed again as fantasy and as testimony: not only does he use the logic of “what if” to dream of an imaginary hockey team formed by Manitoba’s best players of all times, but he also includes an amazing real shot of its failed demolition with a group of nostalgic supporters shouting “go, Jets, go!” off-screen.58 Being well aware of the historical value of this shot, Maddin repeats it three times to emphasize the resistance of the building. Yet, the sequence shows a building that fits better in the imaginary city than in the real one, reinforcing the film’s supernatural atmosphere through the manipulation of real footage.

  • 59 Ibidem, 336.

44Maddin’s denunciation of Winnipeg’s rejuvenation projects turns this film into another visual eulogy for the missing city, in which the demolition of Eaton’s means “the long, gradual slide downhill of a city that had not so many decades earlier been so bustling and full of promise,” quoting Beard’s words again.59 Maddin attempts to protect his beloved memories by shooting such places as the Paddle Wheel Club, which connote past experiences and emotions. He thus portrays himself as the guardian of Winnipeg’s ghosts and hidden stories: his imaginary city can only be a mindscape, preserving Winnipeg’s emotional experience from destruction and oblivion.

45In conclusion, the directors of Roger & Me, Of Time and the City and My Winnipeg use autobiographical accounts to portray the urban experience in the last third of the 20th century. They address the decline of the industrial city from a subjective perspective in order to preserve and recover the aesthetic and emotional experiences of these missing cityscapes. While Roger & Me portrays an endangered city struggling to prevent its disappearance, Of Time and the City recalls working-class Liverpool as it used to be through personal memories and archival images that prompt the narrator to reflect on the city’s death and subsequent resurrection. Finally, My Winnipeg introduces an imaginary city which only retains a slight resemblance to the real one, thus better reconstructing the relationship between the place and its residents. The films highlight the filmmakers’ aims and style, pervading three different sub-genres that have emerged after the subjective turn in non-fiction film: the performative political documentary (Roger & Me), the essay film (Of Time and the City) and self-fiction (My Winnipeg). These film forms alter the traditional concept of truth since their discourse is mainly based on subjective perceptions instead of objective facts: the directors use their personal stories to make political statements. More than their personal attachment to their hometowns, they show how their individual experiences can dispute official accounts. These urban self-portraits develop an historical account that comes from below, from the residents of the city, instead of from above, from its institutions and corporations.

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Bibliographie

ARTHUR Paul, “Essay Questions: From Alain Resnais to Michael Moore,” Film Comment, 39, 1, 2003: 58-63.

BEARD William, Into the Past. The Cinema of Guy Maddin, Toronto / Buffalo / London: University of Toronto Press, 2010.

BERNSTEIN Matthew H. (ed.), Michael Moore: Filmmaker, Newsmaker, Cultural Icon, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2010.

  • ARTHUR Paul, “’Everything Is Personal’: Michael Moore and the Documentary Essay,” 105-123.

  • KELLNER Douglas, “Michael Moore and the Aesthetic and Politics of Contemporary Documentary Film,” 79-104.

  • ORVELL Miles, “Documentary Film and the Power of Interrogation: American Dream and Roger & Me,” 127-140.

  • RIZZO Sergio, “The Left’s Biggest Star: Michael Moore as Commercial Author,” 27-50.

  • STUDLAR Gaylyn, “Class, Gender, Race and Masculine Masquerade in the Documentaries of Michael Moore,” 51-76.

CASAS Quim (ed.), Terence Davies. The Sounds of Memory, Donostia: Festival Internacional de Cine de Donostia-San Sebastián / Filmoteca Vasca, 2008.

  • ALDARONDO Ricardo, “Songs for a lifetime,” 200-205.

  • IGLESIAS Eulàlia, “Of Time and the City. Return to Liverpool,” 279-283.

  • WEINRICHTER Antonio, “Distant Voices, Still Lives. Times of a Return,” 253-259.

  • YÁÑEZ MURILLO Manuel, “Interview with Terence Davies,” 220-247.

CHION Michel, Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

COVERLEY Merlin, Psychogeography, Harpenden, Hertfordshire (UK): Pocket Essentials, 2010.

DARR Brian, “Guy Maddin: ‘I Had This Haunted Childhood’,” Green Cinema, August 8th, 2008. <greencine.com/central/guymaddin/mywinnipeg>, accessed January 15, 2014.

EVERETT Wendy, Terence Davies, Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press, 2004.

FLOYD Nigel, “A Pebble in the Pool & Ships like Magic,” Monthly Film Bulletin, 657, October 1988: 295-296.

GARCÍA VÁZQUEZ Carlos, Antípolis. El desvanecimiento de lo urbano en el Cinturón del Sol, Barcelona: Editorial Gustavo Gili, 2011.

GRANT Barry Keith, “My Winnipeg,” in Barry Keith GRANT and Jim HILLIER, 100 Documentary Films, BFI Screen Guides, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, 143-144.

HALFYARD Kurt, “Guy Maddin Talks My Winnipeg, self-mythologizing, psychological honesty, and even The Host,” Twitch, October 2nd, 2007. <>, accessed January 18, 2014.

KNABB Ken (ed.), Situationist International Anthology, Berkeley (CA): Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981.

KOECK Richard & Les ROBERTS (ed.), The City and the Moving Image. Urban Projections, New York (NY): Palgrave MacMillan, 2010

HALLAM Julia, “City of Change and Challenge: The Cine-Societies’ Response to the Redevelopment of Liverpool in the 1960s,” 69-87.

ROBERTS Les, “Projecting Place: Location Mapping, Consumption, and Cinematographic Tourism,” 183-204.

KOOLHAAS Rem, “The Generic City,” Domus 791, March 1997: 78-82.

KOVACSISCS Violeta, “Entrevista Guy Maddin. La lógica de los sueños,” Cahiers du Cinéma. España, 46, June 2011: 80-81.

JACOBSON Harlan, “Michael & Me,” Film Comment 25, no. 6, November-December 1989: 16-26.

LAHERA Covadonga G., “My Winnipeg. El cineasta que surgió del frío,” Blogs & Docs, April 3rd, 2008. <blogsandocs.com/?p=103>, accessed January 10, 2014.

LANE Jim, The Autobiographical Documentary in America, Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2002.

LYNCH Kevin, The Image of the City, Cambridge, (MA): MIT Press, 1960.

MAZIERSKA, Ewa and Laura RASCAROLI, From Moscow to Madrid. Postmodern Cities, European Cinema, London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2003.

MUÑOZ Francesc, Urbanalización, Paisajes comunes, lugares globales, Barcelona: Editorial Gustavo Gili, 2010.

NICHOLS Bill, Introduction to Documentary, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

NORA Pierre (Dir.), Les Lieux de mémoire, Paris: Gallimard, 1984-1992.

ORTEGA María Luisa, Espejos rotos. Aproximaciones al documental norteamericano contemporáneo, Madrid: Ocho y Medio, 2007.

RASCAROLI Laura, The Personal Camera. Subjective Cinema and Essay Film, London: Wallflower Press, 2009.

SAUNDERS Dave, Documentary, London, New York: Routledge, 2010.

WEINRICHTER Antonio (ed.), .Doc. Documentarism in the 21st Century, Donostia-San Sebastián: Festival Internacional de Cine de Donostia-San Sebastián / Filmoteca Vasca, 2010.

  • MARTÍN GUTIÉRREZ Gregorio, “Filming One’s Own Shadow,” 370-377.

  • WEINRICHTER Antonio, “MILLENIUM.doc,” 267-278.

  • ZYRD Michael, “Found-footage film as discursive metahistory: Craig Baldwin’s Tribulation 99,” The Moving Image, 3, 2, 2003: 40-61.

Filmography

A Day in Liverpool (UK, 1929): Dir.: Anton DYER; Prod.: Liverpool Council; black and white; 33 min.

Listen to Britain (UK, 1942): Dir.: Humphrey Jennings; Prod.: Crown Film Unit; black and white; 20 min.

Detour (US, 1945): Dir.: Edgar G. ULMER; Prod.: Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC); Cast: Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald; black and white; 67 min.

Morning in the Streets (UK, 1959): Dir.: Denis MITCHELL; Prod.: BBC Northern Film Unit; black and white; 35 min.

Liverpool Sounding (UK, 1967): Dir.: Ken PEOPLE; Prod.: West of England Film Studios; colour; 20 min.

Who Cares (UK, 1971): Dir.: Nick BROOMFIELD; Prod.: BFI Production Board; black and white; 17 min.

Children (UK, 1976): Dir.: Terence DAVIES; Prod.: British Film Institute (BFI); Cast: Phillip Mawdsley, Nick Stringer, Valerie Lilley, Robin Hooper; black and white; 43 min.

L.A.X. (US, 1980): Dir.: Fabrice Ziolkowski; Prod.: Fabrice Ziolkowski; black and white; 75 min.

Madonna and Child (UK 1980): Dir.: Terence DAVIES; Prod.: National Film and Television School (NFTS); Cast: Terry O’Sullivan, Sheila Raynor, Paul Barber, John Meynell; black and white; 30 min.

The Atomic Cafe (US, 1982): Dir.: Jayne LOADER, Kevin RAFFERTY and Pierce RAFFERTY; Prod.: The Archives Project; black and white / colour; 86 min.

Death and Transfiguration (UK, 1983): Dir.: Terence Davies; Prod.: British Film Institute (BFI), Greater London Arts Association; Cast: Wilfrid Brambell, Terry O’Sullivan, Iain Munru; black and white; 23 min.

Thames Film (UK, 1986): Dir.: William RABAN; Prod.: Arts Council of Great Britain, Channel 4 Television, British Film Institute (BFI); colour; 66 min.

Distant Voices, Still Lives (UK, 1988): Dir.: Terence DAVIES; Prod.: British Film Institute (BFI), Channel Four Films; Cast: Freda Dowie, Pete Postlethwaite, Angela Walsh, Dean Williams; colour; 85 min.

Lightning over Braddock (US, 1988): Dir.: Tony BUBA; Prod.: Tony Buba; colour; 80 min.

Roger & Me (US, 1989): Dir.: Michael MOORE; Prod.: Dog Eat Dog Films, Warner Bros. Pictures; colour; 91 min.

Water and Power (US, 1989): Dir.: Pat O’NEILL; Prod.: Pat O’Neill; colour; 57 min.

The Long Day Closes (UK, 1992): Dir.: Terence DAVIES; Prod.: British Film Institute (BFI), Channel Four Films; Cast: Marjorie Yates, Leigh McCormack, Anthony Watson, Nicholas Lamont; colour; 85 min.

London (UK, 1994): Dir.: Patrick KEILLER; Prod.: BFI Production, Koninck Studios; colour; 85 min.

Bowling for Columbine (US, 2002): Dir.: Michael MOORE; Prod.: Alliance Atlantis Communications, Dog Eat Dog Films, Iconolatry Productions Inc.; colour; 120 min.

Cowards Bend the Knee (Ca, 2003): Dir.: Guy MADDIN; Prod.: Philip Monk; Cast: Darcy Fehr, Melissa Dionisio, Amy Stewart, Louis Negin; black and white; 60 min.

Fahrenheit 9/11 (US, 2004): Dir.: Michael MOORE; Prod.: Fellowship Adventure Group, Dog Eat Dog Films, Miramax Films; colour; 122 min.

Brand upon the Brain! (Ca, 2006): Dir.: Guy MADDIN; Prod.: The Film Company; Cast: Gretchen Krich, Sullivan Brown, Maya Lawson, Katherine E. Scharhon, Erik Steffen Maahs; black and white; 95 min.

Manufacturing Dissent (Ca, 2007) Dir.: Rick CAINE and Debbie MELNYCK; Prod.: Persistence of Vision Productions; colour; 97 min.

My Winnipeg (Ca, 2007): Dir.: Guy MADDIN; Prod.: Buffalo Gal Pictures, Documentary Channel, Everyday Pictures; Cast: Ann Savage, Darcy Fehr, Louis Negin; black and white; 80 min.

Sicko (US, 2007): Dir.: Michael MOORE; Prod.: Dog Eat Dog Films, The Weinstein Company; colour; 123 min.

Of Time and the City (UK, 2008): Dir.: Terence DAVIES; Prod.: Roy Boulter and Sol Papadopoulos; black and white / colour; 74 min.

Capitalism: A Love Story (US, 2009): Dir.: Michael MOORE; Prod.: Overture Films, Paramount Vantage, The Weinstein Company; colour; 127 min.

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Notes

1 Laura Rascaroli, The Personal Camera. Subjective Cinema and Essay Film, London: Wallflower Press, 2009, 5.

2 Antonio Weinrichter (ed.), .Doc. Documentarism in the 21st Century, Donostia-San Sebastián: Festival Internacional de Cine de Donostia-San Sebastián / Filmoteca Vasca, 2010, 270-271.

3 The concept of “impure materials” refers here to the footage that has not been directly recorded by the filmmaker according to the observational orthodoxy: they can be re-enactments, home movies, film diaries, animated sequences, found footage and even faked footage, as well as images taken from other documentaries, feature films, television programs or commercials.

4 According to Bill Nichols, “the performative mode: emphasizes the subjective or expressive aspect of the filmmaker’s own engagement with the subject and an audience's responsiveness to this engagement. Rejects notions of objectivity in favor of evocation and affect.” Bill Nichols, Introduction to Documentary, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001, 34.

5 Michael Moore was born in Flint, Michigan, in 1954; Terence Davies in Liverpool, United Kingdom, in 1945; and Guy Maddin in Winnipeg, Canada, in 1956.

6 See Paul Arthur, “’Everything Is Personal’: Michael Moore and the Documentary Essay,” in Matthew H. Bernstein (ed.), Michael Moore: Filmmaker, Newsmaker, Cultural Icon, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2010, 105; and Bill Nichols, op. cit., 134.

7 B. Nichols, op. cit., 13, 18.

8 Autobiographical filmmakers like Jonas Mekas, Ross McElwee, Alan Berliner and Alain Cavalier practice subgenres such as the journal entry documentary or the film self-portrait in which they always fulfil Philippe Lejeune’s autobiographical pact. This device consists of “an identification between the author, narrator and character through the real name of the first of the three, which extends to the other two, namely through the explicit declaration of one’s own identity as a guarantee of an autobiographical reading.” This definition appears in Gregorio Martín Gutiérrez, “Filming One’s Own Shadow,” in A. Weinrichter (ed.), op. cit., 372.

9 First-person filmmakers like Chris Marker, Jean-Luc Godard, Michael Moore and Terence Davies do not always fulfil the autobiographical pact, because they incorporate the self-portrait into other non-fiction subgenres, like the essay film, to explain their personal position on issues of general interest.

10 Self-fiction filmmakers like Nanni Moretti and Guy Maddin maintain their real identity in films set in a non-realistic context, in which the events referred may be imaginary.

11 This concept was originally developed by French historian Pierre Nora to refer to the places and objects in which the French national memory was incarnated. Nevertheless, the concept is used here in a personal dimension instead of on a national scale. See Pierre Nora (Dir.), Les Lieux de mémoire, Paris: Gallimard, 1984-1992.

12 Other examples of this combination of urban history and identity issues in the American and British documentaries of the 1980s and 1990s are L.A.X. (Fabrice Ziolkowski, 1980), Thames Film (William Raban, 1986), Lightning over Braddock (Tony Buba, 1988), Water and Power (Pat O’Neill, 1989), London (Patrick Keiller, 1994) and most of James Benning’s films.

13 Ewa Mazierska and Laura Rascaroli, From Moscow to Madrid. Postmodern Cities, European Cinema, London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2003, 237.

14 Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City, Cambridge, (MA): MIT Press, 1960, 6.

15 Sergio Rizzo, “The Left’s Biggest Star: Michael Moore as Commercial Author,” in M. H. Bernstein (ed.), op. cit., 32.

16 See Gaylyn Studlar, “Class, Gender, Race and Masculine Masquerade in the Documentaries of Michael Moore,” in ibidem, 54.

17 Douglas Kellner, “Michael Moore and the Aesthetic and Politics of Contemporary Documentary Film,” in ibidem, 100.

18 Jim Lane, The Autobiographical Documentary in America, Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2002, 138. Lane also argues that this status of the autobiographical self suggests social “fragmentation and isolation” as a symptom of post-industrial capitalism. Ibidem, 134.

19 Miles Orvell, “Documentary Film and the Power of Interrogation: American Dream and Roger & Me,in M. H. Bernstein (ed.), op. cit., 135.

20 The interview begins as follows: Jacobson: “The impression that one has from the movie is that there was a single felling blow, directed at Fisher Plant #1 (a main GM plant in Flint), which cut loose 30,000 people from employment, resulting in immediate and massive devastation to which the local government responded with fantasy projects […] there is no mention that those projects existed on the boards back to 1970 or 1978 […] certainly no mention that they opened up, ran their course, and closed prior to the cutbacks which form the spine of the movie.” Moore: “Right. Well, first of all the movie never says that 30,000 jobs […] that this announcement eliminated 30,000 jobs in Flint. The movie is about essentially what has happened to this town during the 1980s. I wasn’t filming in 1982 […] so everything that happened happened. As far as I’m concerned, a period of seven or eight years […] is pretty immediate and pretty devastating.” Harlan Jacobson, “Michael & Me,” Film Comment 25, no. 6, November-December 1989: 16. A few pages later, Moore summarized his position with these words: “It's not fiction. But what if we say it’s a documentary told with a narrative style. I tried to tell a documentary in a way they don’t usually get told. The reason why people don’t watch documentaries is that they are so bogged down with, ‘Now in 1980 […] then in ‘82 five thousand were called back […] in ’84 […]’ If you want to tell the Flint story, there’s the Flint story.” Ibidem, 23.

21 G. Studlar, op. cit., 53.

22 M. Orvell, op. cit., 136.

23 See M. Orvell, op. cit., 138; J. Lane, op. cit., 138; and María Luisa Ortega, Espejos rotos. Aproximaciones al documental norteamericano contemporáneo, Madrid: Ocho y Medio, 2007, 36.

24 P. Arthur, op. cit., 112.

25 Idem.

26 Moore may have followed the influence of his cinematographer, Kevin Rafferty, who used the same technique in his previous documentary The Atomic Cafe (Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty and Pierce Rafferty, 1982). Many compilation films are based on this device, from Esfir Shub’s to Emile de Antonio’s documentaries, although Rafferty’s and Moore’s irony distorts the original meaning of the footage even further.

27 According to Merlin Coverley, the détournement “demonstrates how an avant-garde artistic practice can be turned to political ends, providing a simple tool that subverts one’s opponent’s message while promoting one’s own.” Merlin Coverley, Psychogeography, Harpenden, Hertfordshire: Pocket Essentials, 2010, 96. The original situationist definition of détournement describes it as “the integration of present or past artistic production into a superior construction of a milieu.” Ken Knabb (ed.), Situationist International Anthology, Berkeley, California: Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981, 45.

28 The clearest example was the local government project to promote the town as a tourist destination, which included the construction of a luxury hotel, a shopping centre and a theme park dedicated to the automotive industry, AutoWorld. Moore juxtaposes footage of this campaign with its outcome in another détournement to emphasize the disorientation of his community: the tourists never came, so the hotel was sold, the shopping centre remained half empty and AutoWorld closed six months after its opening.

29 M. Orvell, op. cit., 134.

30 “Dirty Old Town” is a song written by Ewan MacColl in reference to Salford, a city located in the Greater Manchester. Terence Davies included it in Of Time and the City because its tone and message can also be applied to Liverpool.

31 This sentence paraphrases Michael Zyrd’s definition of found-footage filmmaking: “Found-footage filmmaking is a metahistorical form commenting on the cultural discourses and narrative patterns behind history. Whether picking through the detritus of the mass mediascape or refinding (through image processing and optical printing) the new in the familiar, the found-footage artist critically investigates the history behind the image, discursively embedded within its history of production, circulation, and consumption.” Michael Zyrd, “Found-footage film as discursive metahistory: Craig Baldwin’s Tribulation 99,The Moving Image, 3, 2, 2003: 42.

32 See Julia Hallam, “City of Change and Challenge: The Cine-Societies’ Response to the Redevelopment of Liverpool in the 1960s,” in Richard Koeck and Les Roberts, The City and the Moving Image. Urban Projections, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010, 71.

33 Paul Arthur, “Essay Questions: From Alain Resnais to Michael Moore,” Film Comment, 39, 1, 2003: 59. In the same text, Arthur also defined essay film as “a meeting ground for documentary, avant-garde, and art film impulses”. Ibidem, 62.

34 See Antonio Weinrichter, “Distant Voices, Still Lives. Times of a Return,” in Q. Casas (ed.), op. cit., 258.

35 See Nigel Floyd, “A Pebble in the Pool & Ships like Magic,” Monthly Film Bulletin, 657, October 1988: 295.

36 Wendy Everett, Terence Davies, Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press, 2004, 70.

37 Ibidem, 167.

38 Ibid., 45.

40 See Eulàlia Iglesias, “Of Time and the City. Return to Liverpool,” in Q. Casas (ed.), op. cit., 281.

41 When he took the photograph, Bernard Fallon was a student in the Liverpool College of Art and was fascinated by the changing urban landscape and social environment that he witnessed on his route to Art School. Fallon later worked in London as a photojournalist and then moved to Los Angeles, where he currently lives.

42 Ricardo Aldarondo, “Songs for a lifetime,” in Q. Casas (ed.), op. cit., 204.

43 Michel Chion, Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 5.

44 Manuel Yáñez Murillo, “Interview with Terence Davies,” in Q. Casas (ed.), op. cit., 245.

45 According to Francesc Muñoz, “[o]n the one hand, [banalscapes] have a local character, because some original elements of their physical and social space remain, but on the other hand their appearance allows standardized consumption by a global audience. This device makes the final outcome of urban renewal look very similar in spite of being in different cities.” Francesc Muñoz, Urbanalización, Paisajes comunes, lugares globales, Barcelona: Editorial Gustavo Gili, 2010, 195, my translation. See also Rem Koolhaas, “The Generic City,” Domus 791, March 1997.

46 The concepts of ‘hometown’ and ‘home’ are understood here as geographical and cultural places that determine personal identity, but also as an imaginary prison from which nobody can escape.

47 Winnipeg is located hundreds of miles away from any other major city, and it has below-zero temperatures for five months a year. This is the reason why, according to Maddin, “we don’t talk our best ideas out into the cafe night air. You’re stuck inside, and there’s nothing to do but actually doing your stuff”. Brian Darr, “Guy Maddin: ‘I Had This Haunted Childhood’, Green Cinema, August 8, 2008. <greencine.com/central/guymaddin/mywinnipeg >, accessed January 8, 2014.

48 K. Halfyard, op. cit..

49 See Covadonga G. Lahera, “My Winnipeg. El cineasta que surgió del frío,” Blogs & Docs, April 3rd, 2008. <http://www.blogsandocs.com/?p=103>, accessed January 8, 2014.

50 Barry Keith Grant, “My Winnipeg,” in Barry Keith Grant and Jim Hillier, 100 Documentary Films. BFI Screen Guides, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, 144.

51 Dave Saunders, Documentary, London, New York: Routledge, 2010, 153.

52 W. Beard, op. cit., 335.

53 Violeta Kovacsics, “Entrevista Guy Maddin. La lógica de los sueños,” Cahiers du Cinéma. España, 46, June 2011: 81.

54 D. Saunders, op. cit., 160.

55 The expression “heartsick architecture” appears in a title card introducing a sequence on the hidden — and sometimes imaginary — memory of Winnipeg’s symbolic landmarks, such as the Arlington Street Bridge, Eaton’s department store, the MTS Centre or the old Winnipeg Arena.

56 Maddin himself calls the demolition of Eaton’s and the old Winnipeg Arena “architectural tragedies”. For more information on their real history, see William Beard, op. cit., 335-340. Regarding the continuous tension between destruction and reconstruction in the post-industrial city, Carlos García Vázquez argues that cyclical demolition has become an important part of urban planning in the American cities since the 1970s. Carlos García Vázquez, Antípolis. El desvanecimiento de lo urbano en el Cinturón del Sol, Barcelona: Editorial Gustavo Gili, 2011, 27.

57 W. Beard, op. cit., 342.

58 The first attempt to blow up the concrete framework of the Winnipeg Arena did not succeed; it was still standing after the explosion of dynamite charges.

59 Ibidem, 336.

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Iván Villarmea Álvarez, « Cinema as Testimony and Discourse for History: Film Cityscapes in Autobiographical Documentaries », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. XII-n° 1 | 2014, mis en ligne le 27 février 2013, consulté le 13 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/5579 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.5579

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Iván Villarmea Álvarez

Iván Villarmea Álvarez holds degrees in Journalism and Contemporary History, both from the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, where he also obtained a Master in Art History with a dissertation on Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa. At the moment, he is about to complete his PhD dissertation entitled From Post-Industrial City to Postmetropolis. The Representation of Urban Change inNon-Fiction Film (1977-2010) at the Universidad de Zaragoza. He has written several papers on the representation of the city in film, and co-edited the volume Jugar con la memoria. El cine portugués en el siglo XXI (Shangrila, 2014). Moreover, since 2013, he has co-editor of the online film magazine A Cuarta Parede .

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