I’m reminded of the debate about David Simon’s Almighty Verisimilitude, among other things. Of course Simon’s material is explicitly meant to be fictionalized, but that makes it interesting that he seems to be holding himself to a higher standard of detail-realism than some people seem to want their documentaries to adhere to. So what is a documentary anyway? Obviously, a movie that depicts real events. But almost as obviously, we expect the movie-maker to bring a perspective to the recording, and assume they may be selective in their choice of facts to reveal in the pursuit of that perspective. Documentary maker Jason Scott figures King of Kong went too far when the facts it chose not to reveal seemed to be ones that would actively contradict the narrative implied by the ones it did. And now, over at Jason Scott’s blog, there is some ongoing consideration of those factualities.
The factual truth is only one of two related debates here: is the literal truth revealed or distorted by this particular movie, sure, but also: do we expect documentaries to be about the real world, or do we expect them to use the real world as raw medium to construct an artistic truth? Both apparently.
Here’s Jesse Thorn of The Sound of Young America putting the debate to Ira Glass of This American Life, after he got himself worked up complaining to Jonathan Goldstein (former TAL producer) about the same topic.