Monday, March 9, 2009

More than just a Soup Can

Ric Burns' documentary on Andy Warhol is thorough, informative, well-crafted, but not that original in its storytelling. I biographical documentary from PBS, Warhol's story is communicated in traditional documentary style, utilizing interviews with friends and family, analysis of experts and other talking heads, along with a voice-of-god narrator.
While pretty standard (albeit well-done), Burns' film does a few things particularly well. Most notable is the introduction to both of the two parts of the documentary. The film opens with music, and the voices of experts/family/friends over images of Warhol's art as they talk about what was happening at that time in Andy's life. Upon my first viewing, I thought the entire film would be like this, but then the title came up and the more conventional narrator started being used. I think this was an effective way to bring viewers into the film - using image and sound to tell the story in their own ways.
Also worth noting is the documentary's use of music - I'm very musicially inclined, and I felt Burns made the right choices in the soundtrack throughout the work. The classical violins and cellos accompanied Warhol's Polish immigrant upbringing, moving into increasing radical rock as Warhol made his climb to fame, culminating in the wild Factory days. The music never distracted me, but definitely affected my mood as I watched the film. I think soundtrack is an area often overlooked or discounted by filmmakers that can be instumental in pushing a documentarian's agenda, even if that agenda is only to make you identify with a character, as I did with Warhol.

1 comment:

  1. A little side note: I interned with Ric Burns film company Steeplechase Films in NY one summer and have become completely appreciative of documentaries in the narrator, biographical style. Before interning, I wasn't big into bio films. I didn't dislike PBS documentaries, but verite, event story-telling documentaries were first choice. However, working as a fact-checker on the Eugene O'Neill documentary completely changed my perspective of biographical films. There is a whole bunch of research and time that goes into making the film. It's almost like an investigation of a person's life and soul. The research doesn't end when the doc is complete. A script is devised during narration recordings in which "fact-checkers" have to verify all the information is correct, or else! I and some other interns had to verify each sentence of the script, finding three literature sources that verified the factual sentence. At first I thought this was ridiculous, but if you think about it, this type of documentary is objectively telling a life of, specifically someone deceased, to whole a bunch of people. Many viewers may not have any idea who Andy Warhol is so, they learn everything from this documentary. It's gotta be correct.
    I talk about this, because even though there are those "standard" documentaries on PBS or other biographical films, they are truly phenomenal story-telling documentaries. The biggest battle I would face, if I were Ric Burns, is how do we cover an entire person's life in an hour or two hour documentary, determining which stories to tell and which associated persons we should interview? Maybe that's why his New York series is 600 minutes. But, anyways, a lot can be learned from bio films in regards to storytelling. It's like learning how to write a paper about a really interesting person. Why is this person important? What important events made this person the person they were? What became of him/her? How did they impact society? Etc. etc. etc.