The films in the Data Machinery programme “undermine” the “sacred belief” in the visibility of reality. This is interesting given the fact that the films are documentaries, a form so often treated as a direct portal into reality. How do these films trouble this traditional conception of documentaries as pictures of truth?
In that sense they aren’t traditional documentaries. You could say generally in the whole documentary tradition from early on there are two strands: one of which pretends to pervade the truth through visibility, however dubious that may be. And that starts with Flaherty filming in the igloo [for Nanook of the North]. The other strand starts with Vertov and already questions in a polemical way that so-called truth aspect. So the filmmakers I’m presenting don’t just fall out of the sky. They are part of that self-reflective tradition. Certainly Videogramme of a Revolution, with its spectrum of found footage, at the end of the day conveys the fact that just one more bit of found footage is not going to give you anymore truth—that film, at the end of the day, is about filmmaking. Let’s say that the other Farocki film, Images of the World, constructs a complex web of interlinked mechanisms from the history of optical measurement through the general fascination we have for images. And, without highlighting the point too much, the film seems to say that there’s this collusion between man and apparatus that is in itself fetishistic, which has little to do with some ultimate drive towards the truth. It’s more like: well, we get along with machines, so let’s have fun with them. Even though Farocki is well known as an essayist, I think he would admit the ultimate fascination is just a love of machinery. Who says that human beings are searching for the truth? That’s just an incorrect assumption.
All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace is the most far-reaching statement on reality at the moment. You could say within this strand of self-critical documentaries it’s the least self-critical. It’s as if the filmmaker has decided well, times are just too dangerous to go on with any kind of self-referential insider’s slant on filmmaking. It’s time just to tell people how it is. In that sense it’s quite shocking documentary filmmaking, which doesn’t criticize its own oration. (...)
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