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War Documentaries

Abstract : Documentaries provide a first-hand window into the war: whether they are based on media archival footage or witnesses' visual and oral accounts, documentaries articulate and construct the collective vision and memory of the war. Milton J. Bates argues that war narratives build on a dual perspective that pits the perceptions of the man on the battlefield against the knowledge of the military command: "The man on the hilltop, whether he is an elected political leader or one of those civilian or military technocrats whom Noam Chomsky called the 'new Mandarins', knows better than the man in the valley because he knows so much more and knows it dispassionately." From the soldiers' accounts to the version formulated by government officials, documentaries highlight the gaps between war experiences. In The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussel refers to the First World War to argue that the horror of combat defies the attempts of language to represent it. Atrocities such as the Holocaust cannot be contained in language, which accounts for the merging of fiction and nonfiction in a series of documentaries that capture Bill Nichols' "blurred boundaries". The documentary's search for truth is thwarted by the tricks of memory linked to the confusion of events signified by the "fog of war" that make war narratives necessarily incomplete stories. In this issue we prompt contributors to question the discourses of the war in documentaries that either endorse patriotic myths or interrogate their ideological underpinning in the wake of anti-war movements. War documentaries have challenged our perceptions of events as technological progress has democratized film cameras and made it a tool placed in the hands of soldiers and witnesses. Eric Barnouw contends that the development of lighter, cheaper equipment served non-governmental groups as a medium of dissent. From the Vietnam Home Movies series to The War Tapes (Deborah Scranton, 2006), documentaries give voice to the soldiers whose visual memories of the war are coloured by the imagination of the past, thus merging fiction and nonfiction in films that use stories to fashion History.
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Contributor : Georges Fournier <>
Submitted on : Monday, January 27, 2014 - 11:15:07 PM
Last modification on : Monday, February 10, 2020 - 12:16:52 PM


  • HAL Id : halshs-00937166, version 1



Fournier Georges. War Documentaries. InMédia, 2014. ⟨halshs-00937166⟩



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