Posted at 12.22.2018
Keywords: supersize me documentary, triumph of the will analysis
The term 'documentary' stems from the verb 'to document' - to convey information on the basis of proof and evidence to aid it, based on the Merriam-Webster dictionary. In the realm of films and cinema, a documentary is a film that can be an attempt, in one fashion or another, showing reality as it really is. In this essay, we shall be concentrating on the documentary by American filmmaker Morgan Spurlock. By the finish of this essay we ought to hopefully reach to a conclusion whether Morgan Spurlock used the medium of documentary film effectively to be able to represent the reality. The latter will require a detailed analysis n observation of the style of documentary 'Super Size me' is and exactly how it has been treated and presented by the filmmaker.
'The ultimate goal of documentary is to find the perfect way of representing the real' is exactly what Stella Bruzzi believes is the function of any documentary. As she states it herself, the 'aim' is to 'find' the perfect way of 'representing' reality. The three underlined words are themselves hypothetical conditions that aren't certain, hence this is actually the first indication that documentary might not necessarily achieve its aim. Documentary style of films remain under debate concerning how 'real' can they be, this probably why Stella Bruzzi uses the term 'find' rather than a far more commanding and certain word. Therefore, what is actually a documentary according to different theorists?
John Grierson, the first writer to utilize documentary as a term in his overview of Robert Flaherty's Moana, came up with his famous dictum that documentary is 'the creative interpretation of actuality'. Grierson's essay First Principles of Documentary argued that documentary was cinema's prospect of observing life could be exploited in a new art form; that the "original" actor and "original" scene are better guides than their fiction counterparts to interpreting the modern world; and that materials "thus extracted from the raw" can become more real than the acted article. Unlike Bruzzi's idea of 'representing' reality, Grierson believes in 'interpreting' it. Interpretation can maintain form of re-enactment. Therefore the question that arises is - how realistic is a documentary that has actors and scenes "guiding" the flow of the film? Any re-enactment or borrowed situations can be manipulated to reflect the director's idea, which leaves hardly any space for 100% reality.
In addition to John Grierson's explanation about documentary, Bill Nichols (2001:165) suggests that documentaries have a feeling of realism which other genre of films lack as the realism in documentaries represent what the eyes and ears experience in everyday life. Morgan Spurlock achieves the degree of realism and transparency explained by Bill Nichols in 'realism in documentary film'. Morgan Spurlock presents his point against junk food by living, observing and literally eating it. He documents his thirty days "Mc Diet" effectively that the audience has little or no hesitation to question the transparency and authenticity (Bill Nichols:165).
Morgan Sprulock's objectives to make 'Super Size Me' were to investigate the reason why and claims about USA having an epidemic of obesity. As he sarcastically says initially of his documentary; '. . . The biggest people, America has now end up being the fattest nation on earth, CONGRATULATIONS!' This statement by the filmmaker suggests that in teh documentary, the audience will be seeing and hearing the truth that Morgan Spurlock chooses showing them and he has recently taken the liberty to express his personal emotions towards the theme of the documentary.
Another driving force that led Spurlock to make this documentary was the lawsuit brought against McDonald's with respect to two overweight girls, who, it was alleged, became obese as a result of eating McDonald's food (Pelman v. McDonald's Corp) in 2003. Spurlock argues that case against junk food joints is as significant as the criticism faced by tobacco companies.
A brief summary of the documentary is the fact that Morgan Spurlock makes himself a test subject of the documentary about the commercial food industry. Rigorously eating a diet of McDonald's fast food, three times a day for per month straight and restricts himself to only 5000 steps every day. Therefore, he lives the life of all American who eat junk food regularly and also hard burn it out in conditions of physical activity. Spurlock has gone out to prove the physical and mental ramifications of consuming fast food. While accomplishing this, Spurlock also offers a go through the food culture in America through its schools, corporations, and politics as seen through the eyes of regular people and health advocates. "Super Size Me" is a movie that sheds a fresh light on what has become one of the nation's biggest health issues: obesity.
Critics of the film, including McDonald's, argue that the writer intentionally consumed an average of 5, 000 calories each day and didn't exercise, and that the results could have been the same regardless of the way to obtain overeating. He was eating solely McDonald's food commensurate with the terms of your potential judgment against McDonald's in court papers highlighted at the start of the film.
The film addresses such objections by highlighting that a area of the reason behind Spurlock's deteriorating health was not only the high calorie intake but also the high level of fat relative to minerals and vitamins in the McDonald's menu, which is similar for the reason that regard to the nutritional content of the menus of most other U. S. fast-food chains.
About 1/3 of Spurlock's calories originated from sugar. His nutritionist, Bridget Bennett RD, cited him about his excess intake of sugar from "milkshakes and cokes". It really is revealed toward the end of the movie that over the course of the dietary plan, he consumed "over 30 pounds of sugar, and over 12 lbs. of fat of their food". The nutritional side of the dietary plan had not been fully explored in the film because of the closure of the clinic which monitored this aspect through the filming of the movie.
Spurlock claimed he was trying to imitate what an average diet for a normal eater at McDonald's-a person who would get little to no exercise-would do to them. Spurlock's intake of 5, 000 calories per day was more than twice the recommended daily intake for a sedentary adult male, which would total only about 2, 300 calories. An average man consuming as many calories as Spurlock did would gain practically a pound every day (which is roughly how much Spurlock gained), a rate of putting on weight that cannot be sustained for very long periods. Additionally, Spurlock did not demonstrate or declare that anyone, let alone a substantial amount of people, eats at McDonald's 3 x per day. Actually McDonald's is mentioned during the movie to have two classes of users of the restaurants: There are the "Heavy Users, " (about 72% of the clients, who eat at their restaurants a few times a week), and the "SUPER Heavy Users" (about 22% of the customers, who eat McDonald's 3 or even more times weekly). But no person was found who ate at McDonald's 3 x a day. This brings about the actual fact that maybe Morgan was just as objective as he should have been. There's a clear exaggeration of his "Mc Diet" as no person was found to be eating as much fast food as he did. However, the counter argue this claim you can say that maybe not every day but just like a few participants in the documentary said the eat junk food up to three times weekly. So if one spreads those continuous thirty days over month or two the result might be the same. The only real difference left will be that Morgan's body and health showed accelerated reaction to the fast food intake because he achieved it at an extreme level. According to Bill Nichols in 'Introduction to Documentary' (2001:163): Social issue documentaries are usually in expository mode. However, Morgan Spurlock contradicts this statement by making a social issue documentary in a participatory mode which makes it more a 'personal portraiture' documentary. If 'super Size Me' was to be categorised in the essential six mode of documentary according to Bill Nichols, it would be a participatory documentary. In the latter, investigation takes a step back again to make way for a more responsive and reflective relationship in unfolding the events by the filmmaker (Bill Nichols 2001:119). 'Super size Me' is an individual testimonial where Morgan Spurlock's voice is prominent throughout the entire structure of the film which is what hold the audience's attention.
It will be appropriate at this time to look deeper in to the documentary 'Super Size Me' and analyse it in order to understand the objectives and mode of the documentary.
Firstly, Super size Me is the thought of an ordinary American filmmaker Morgan Spurlock. This is an important fact to be taken under consideration because eventually the ideology and aim intended by Morgan Spurlock is exactly what will 'direct' the ideas reflected in the documentary, hence, objectivity can be compromised. For reality to be completely within order to have a real documentary there should be ideally, no draw backs on objectivity in the portrayal of ideas.
Secondly, Super size Me is more regarding creating awareness between people. Creating awareness is their state or ability to perceive, to feel, or to be aware of events. Within this level of consciousness, sense data can be confirmed by an observer without necessarily implying understanding. This shows that Spurlock had not been aiming at influencing visitors to completely revolt against fast food but at least beware and conscious of the harmful effects of it. He leaves it after the audience to make their choice without brainwashing them.
Thirdly, Super Size me is exactly what Grierson would categorize under participatory mode, where filmmakers move from behind the camera and appear as subjects in their own work like Spurlock carries out his experiment himself and becomes the key subject of the documentary. He's the director, producer and writer of the documentary. Very much control over a project does make it a very passionate and well organised good article; however, with so much power and control over a project, the audience might be getting the medial side of story which the director has in mind. Hence, can the audience be completely reliant on what's being proven to them and think that Spurlock had been completely objective?
The audience plays a great role in what and the way the director offers the documentary. 'Super Size Me' premiered in 2004, mainly for the American audience as he directs his focus on Americans by repeatedly saying 'WE are. . . ' The taste of the particular audience want now could be different from that which was expected in earlier years when illiteracy levels were at their highest. The audience want something more intellectually stimulating rather than propaganda. Moreover, reality and truth by means of controversy is what really gets people's attention. This most likely the deciding factor when it comes to Spurlock piecing together eye catching facts and shocking occasions like his depression, or his girlfriend admitting to him being much less good as before during sexual activity. Such facts can be hidden or edited out, however the director keeps it, showing his transparency but also to include the elements that sell nowadays.
In addition, editing plays a large role in representing reality. The camera can capture all the truth there is usually to be captured, but the audience eventually see what is presented to them after much chopping done in the editing room. Director's selection of scenes, images and music is what's eventually reflected in the documentary. Quite simply, only 1 or a few people's choice or ideology is selected and presented to the audience. The director's selection will not necessarily have to reflect the reality. Therefore, how is reality ever represented in documentaries?
Triumph of The Will (1935) "is not only a masterpiece completely alone, divorced from political or propagandist considerations, however in its emotional manipulation of the audience represents the heart of what propaganda is all about". (Barsam, 1992, 130) Riefenstahl is able to create a glorified representation of the NSDAP, or Nazi party, by using a music score that invents Hitler as heroic. Her ability to represent a political party so triumphantly is noted in the moving and chilling pieces of cinematography when Hitler gives his final speech and compares his party to a holy order. She captures an essence far purer than the NSDAP, and in a way does more than justice to the party's attempts of propaganda. On the other hand, her achievements in portraying the NSDAP as glamorous can be seen as misrepresenting and a line can be drawn between fact and fiction as to, whether her glorifications are unjust and morally wrong.
For the Nazis, the euphoria of a perfect Germany according to them can be portrayed with proper film aesthetics but without directly referring to the contemporary society of the 1930s. The 'what it might be like if Nazis ruled' agenda can be portrayed by using abstract visuals and other techniques so long as the 'real' is not referred to, as societies in Germany were not of pure race. The thought of developing a pure race and portraying this in a film is nearly mythical, yet alone absurd. In order to portray an Aryan world blatant lies and imaginative discourse would be called for. The ethical implications behind this, is that the people themselves must change in order to generate this ideal society.
The overly repeated Flag Bearer image depicts symbolism connected to Nazism; the inclusion of an flag bearing the Nazi Swastika symbol represents the militarized power of the party. As the trend in Nazi propaganda, there is enormous emphasis on military symbols in Triumph of the will, triggered deeply felt emotions associated with Germany's former military might.
Leni Riefenstahl's editing provides an insight in to the status of Triumph of the Will as Nazi propaganda. For instance, one sequence during Hitler's arrival in Nuremburg is composed of four shots; the first two shots show the old buildings of the location and a German flag therefore representing the old, traditional Germany. The next two shots depict Hitler and a Swastika. This sequence typifies how Riefenstahl has represented the Nazi ideology of an return to a mythical epoch by linking the ideals of the traditional dogma with a visionary future. Similarly, prior to the scene of the city awakening Riefenstahl links a shot of an old church to represent Volakis thought, with the rally camp site to signify the new Germany. Incidentally Hinton shows that as result of these sequences, Triumph of the Will is greater than a document of the 1934 Nazi Party Rally; this can be a document of metropolis of Nuremburg' where in fact the viewer gains a feeling of the beauty and history of the medieval centre. Furthermore, the use of German and Nazi flags fits in with the use of military symbols inherent in the propaganda of the 3rd Reich. She also states that; 'In my cutting room, it was the most difficult work of my life' describing the task that took at least five months to fulfil. She explained that she did not care much about chronological accuracy on the screen and that she intuitively tried to discover a unifying way to edit the film in a way which would progressively take the viewer from act to act and from impression to impression.
With political pressure, adoration for Adolf Hitler, and obviously a propaganda film, Triumph of the will does portray reality in terms of the images used; all of them are live rather than re-enacted by Riefenstahl. However, this can be a biased documentation of the reality. I believe it would have been a real documentary only if there was not really much of glamour shown about the Nazi rallies, and the darker side like the Holocaust and ghettos were also covered. The latter would have made it a far more objective piece of work, making it more of a documentary rather than a propaganda tool.
From the info given above about the documentaries involved the initial thing that is important to notice is the fact that Triumph of the Will was an idea suggested by Adolf Hitler whereas, Super size Me was the idea of an ordinary American filmmaker Morgan Spurlock. That is an important fact to be taken into consideration because eventually the ideology and aim intended by Adolf Hitler and Morgan Spurlock is exactly what will 'direct' the ideas reflected in the documentary, hence, objectivity can be compromised. For reality to be completely within order to truly have a real documentary there should be ideally, no draw backs on objectivity in the portrayal of ideas.
Adolf Hitler was a Nazi dictator ruling over a robust country like Germany, his influence and power to pressurise Leni Riefenstahl was unquestionable. On the other hand, Morgan Spurlock was just an independent director. The type of objectivity and impartiality (two very important subjects to reflect reality) can one expect from a director working under a dictator who handled the population through fear?
The purposes of both documentaries are extreme opposites. Triumph of the Will was designed to be considered a propaganda political film. Propaganda is in the end; a form of communication targeted at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position. As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda in its most elementary sense, presents information mostly to influence an audience. Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the info presented. The desired result is an alteration of the attitude toward the topic in the prospective audience to further a political agenda. In comparison to this, Super size Me was more regarding creating awareness between people. Creating awareness is the state of hawaii or ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events. On this degree of consciousness, sense data can be confirmed by an observer without necessarily implying understanding. This shows that Spurlock was not aiming at influencing visitors to completely revolt against fast food but at least beware and conscious of the harmful ramifications of it. He leaves it after the audience to make their choice without brainwashing them.
The presentation of Triumph of the Will is what documentary forefather, John Grierson would categorise under Poetic mode. Such documentary thrive on the filmmaker's aesthetic and subjective visual interpretation of a subject, in addition to it different music is selected for different scenes, exactly like in the Triumph of Will. By contrast, Super Size me is what Grierson would categorize under participatory mode, in which filmmakers move from behind the camera and appear as subjects in their own work like Spurlock carries out his experiment himself and becomes the key subject of the documentary.
The time period where both documentaries are occur are also crucial points to be noted. Triumph of the Will was set in 1935 in Germany, where people were in the middle of Nazi revolution and political chaos. In contrary to 2004 America where Super Size Me is shot, the taste of the audience has changed dramatically. Audiences of Super Size Me aren't only in the us but world around, which wasn't the target audience of Triumph of the Will, the latter was meant for only the Germans. To increase this, Germans in 1934 were comparably less educated than the audience of 2004, because one of Germany's major issues in those days was low education. Hence, propaganda movies worked to its full potential as people would not question or form their own opinions; however, the same cannot be expected from liberal thinking people in 2004. The taste of what audience round the world want now is very different from that which was expected in 1930's. Nowadays, reality and truth in the form of controversy is what really gets people's attention. One may wonder if 1930's audience could have liked to view real documentary, what if Triumph of the Will was to include scenes from the concentration camps, how could have the audience responded to the documentary?
Lastly, editing plays a big role in representing reality. The camera can capture all the reality there is to be captured, but the audience eventually see what's presented to them after much chopping done in the editing room. Director's selection of scenes, images and music is what is eventually reflected in the documentary. Quite simply, only 1 or a few people's choice or ideology is selected and presented to the audience. The director's selection does not necessarily have to reflect the truth. Therefore, how is reality ever represented in documentaries?
Returning to Stella Bruzzi's statement, the aim of documentary is to represent the reality. According to her, the 'way' of doing is still being found. Truth could possibly be the body of real things, events, actuality, or fidelity to a genuine or to a standard. Super Size Me does get close to Stella's definition of documentary. It represents what happens with Americans being dependent on junk food and barely exercising. What makes this documentary a genuine representation of reality is the existence of objectivity. If Spurlock enjoyed something it was showed so when he was not at his best (scenes of vomiting and depression) that was also shown, to portray both sides of the reality. On one hand, Triumph of the Will with the utilization or real images and not actors and fabricated scenes, is a way of showing the reality, however, the sincerity lacks because it is a highly biased propaganda. Moreover, with political pressure at that time, there was no freedom of showing a balanced truth, which is supposed to be the real essence of a documentary. Last but not least about Triumph of the Will, it is to say that it does actually 'document' the events such as Nazi rallies and political speeches, but the immense lack of objectivity does not make the propaganda film a genuine 'representation' of the 'truth' (according to the quote of Stella Bruzzi).
On the other hand, Super Size Me does get near to Stella's definition of documentary. It represents what goes on with Americans being addicted to junk food and barely exercising. What makes this documentary a genuine representation of reality is the presence of objectivity. If Spurlock enjoyed something it was showed so when he was not at his best (scenes of vomiting and depression) that was also shown, to portray both sides of the reality. The documentary is also very credible because of all science backing which it has thanks to the doctors Spurlock had on board for the film. The latter brings a logical reasoning from what is being shown in the documentary, unlike the Triumph of the Will where no space is giving to the audience to make their own opinion. The documentary is also very credible because of all the science backing that it has thanks to the doctors Spurlock had on board for the film. The latter brings a logical reasoning to what is being shown in the documentary.
To conclude, Super Size Me is certainly closer to Bruzzi's definition of documentary as a result of unbiased representation of truth. Nevertheless, in Super Size Me, the experiment is itself incorrect or completely reliable, as no one eats fast food three times per day for a complete month with only 5, 000 steps as 'exercise'. Moreover, Spurlock is somewhat too aggressive in trying to lower one specific chain of fast food joints which is Mc Donald's. He bases his whole experiment solely on Mc Donald's. What about the other junk food companies? Aren't their menus as harmful as or worse than Mc Donald's? This makes the documentary just a little less objective than what the audience want to trust in because it is in the end biased towards giving bad publicity to mostly Mc Donald's. It really is however commendable that Spurlock wisely made science the trunk bone of the experiment. By doing so he bought the logic to the arguments he had up against the unhealthy life style of Americans. The realism that Spurlock explores in his documentary is the 'psychological realism' which 'conveys the sense of your plausible, believable and accurate representation of human perception and emotion. '(Bill Nichols 2001:171) Spurlock achieves this realism but making the audience relate themselves to characters and situations that are real life in a universalizing way. After watching 'Super Size Me', you can either feel more knowledgeable about the dangers of excessive junk food eating or because they are exposed to regular images of Mc Donald's, actually crave for meals at Mc Donald's. This goes to emphasize that visual images is what's mostly kept in the audience's minds. On your final note, it appears that the 'perfect way' of representing the simple truth is yet to be found, till then individual prejudice and biasness will always somehow continue steadily to influence the 'truth' in documentaries however transparent an example may be, there's always somehow a loophole that will lead to documentaries' "truthfulness" being questioned.