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BFI Classics Documentary Collection BFI Classics Documentary Collection

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Four Documentary BFI Classics for only £40 Four Documentary BFI Classics for only £40

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Shoah

Claude Lanzmann's epic 1985 film Shoah is the distillation of more than 350 hours of footage gathered over eleven years. The film tells the story of the Holocaust through interviews with survivors of the extermination camps, bystanders who watched or participated in mass murder, and some of the perpetrators of genocide. As a filmic document of the Holocaust, it shuns those staple elements of archival footage or a consistent voiceover that characterise other classic works. Instead, it is composed entirely of eyewitness interviews in a wide range of settings, contrasted with footage of landscape in the present, and with the chilling imagery of travelling trains. In this way, Shoah's effect is to represent the past, but only as it exists in the present, and it is, in Lanzmann's phrase, a 'fiction of the real', and not a simple documentary.

In this insightful study, Sue Vice explores Shoah both as cinema and as an example of Holocaust representation. In addition, the author follows Lanzmann's declaration that 'Shoah is a fight against generalities' in emphasising the importance of the detail in both dialogue and filmic technique. Vice uses close readings of some of the film's interviews – including that with Abraham Bomba, a barber at the death camp Treblinka, and one secretly filmed with Franz Suchomel, a guard at the same camp – to explore the background to the film, the difficulties in its financing and production, and the long process of editing that led to Lanzmann's realisation that 'the subject of my film is death itself, death and not survival'.

Grey Gardens

The Maysles brothers' Grey Gardens (1975) is one of the most important documentary films of the past thirty years. In the past decade the film has gained the status of cult classic, inspiring both a Broadway musical and a 2009 HBO feature film. In this first single volume study of the film, Matthew Tinkcom argues that Grey Gardens reshaped documentary cinema by moving the non-fiction camera to the heart of the household, a private space into which film-makers had seldom previously ventured. Already well-established figures in the 'direct cinema' movement of the 1960s (with their previous films, including Salesman and Gimme Shelter), the brothers' visual record of a summer spent in the Beale household demonstrated that the private lives of their subjects were rich materials for the camera.

By the time the film-makers appeared on their front porch, the film's two central figures, 'Big Edie' Beale and her daughter 'Little Edie', had been living for two decades in near-poverty in their beach-side East Hampton mansion (the 'Grey Gardens' of the title). Close relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, by the early 1970s the Beales had lost much of their personal wealth and their everyday lives had descended into a state of barely-controlled squalor. However, as the film-makers discovered, the women were hardly victims of their poverty; rather they saw themselves as artists who were willing to make seemingly any sacrifice for their singing and dancing talents. When the Edies perform for the camera, audiences are challenged by the question of how much anyone would be willing to give up in order to lead a life of eccentric pleasure. Tinkcom argues that the film is one of the first to combine documentary with the conventions of fiction film melodrama, and that the film's appeal arrives in the rich melodramatic dimensions of the Beales' everyday lives in which they argue, dress up, flirt, laugh, sing, dance and reminisce about their experiences in New York's social elite in the first half of the twentieth century.

Night Mail

"Night Mail" (1936) is one of the best-loved and best-known films in the canon of British documentary cinema. Bringing together the creative talents of Harry Watt, Basil Wright, WH Auden and Benjamin Britten, the film gave John Griersona??s documentary school its first popular success. Its collectivist politics and its peculiarly modest brand of modernism is as redolent of the inter-war age as Agatha Christie, Penguin Books or The Shell Guides. Bit it was also a corporate promo, part of a publicity campaign initiated by Clement Attlee to stave off Post Office part-privatisation and to improve the morale of postal workers. Scott Anthonya??s study provides a lively appreciation of this vivid, witty and often just plain eccentric masterpiece. In doing so he uncovers the remarkable stories of civic-minded idealism, creative intrigue and political trickery that underpin this classic documentary.

Salesman

Selected by the Library of Congress as one of the most significant American films ever made, Salesman (1966–9) is a landmark in non-fiction cinema, equivalent in its impact and influence to Truman Capote's 'non-fiction novel' In Cold Blood.

The film follows a team of travelling Bible salesmen on the road in Massachusetts, Chicago, and Florida, where the American dream of self-reliant entrepreneurship goes badly wrong for protagonist Paul Brennan. Long acknowledged as a high-water mark of the 'direct cinema' movement, this ruefully comic and quietly devastating film was the first masterpiece of Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, the trio who would go on to produce The Rolling Stones documentary, Gimme Shelter (1970).

Based on the premise that films drawn from ordinary life could compete with Hollywood extravaganzas, Salesman was critical in shaping 'the documentary feature'. A novel cinema-going experience for its time, the film was independently produced, designed for theatrical release and presented without voiceover narration, interviews, or talking heads. Working with innovative handheld equipment, and experimenting with eclectic methods and a collaborative ethos, the Maysles brothers and Zwerin produced a carefully-orchestrated narrative drama fashioned from unexpected episodes.

J. M. Tyree suggests that Salesman can be understood as a case study of non-fiction cinema, raising perennial questions about reality and performance. His analysis provides an historical and cultural context for the film, considering its place in world cinema and its critical representations of dearly-held national myths. The style of Salesman still makes other documentaries look static and immobile, while the film's allegiances to everyday subjects and working people indelibly marked the cinema. Tyree's insightful study also includes an exclusive exchange with Albert Maysles about the film.

Shoah

Claude Lanzmann's epic 1985 film Shoah is the distillation of more than 350 hours of footage gathered over eleven years. The film tells the story of the Holocaust through interviews with survivors of the extermination camps, bystanders who watched or participated in mass murder, and some of the perpetrators of genocide. As a filmic document of the Holocaust, it shuns those staple elements of archival footage or a consistent voiceover that characterise other classic works. Instead, it is composed entirely of eyewitness interviews in a wide range of settings, contrasted with footage of landscape in the present, and with the chilling imagery of travelling trains. In this way, Shoah's effect is to represent the past, but only as it exists in the present, and it is, in Lanzmann's phrase, a 'fiction of the real', and not a simple documentary.

In this insightful study, Sue Vice explores Shoah both as cinema and as an example of Holocaust representation. In addition, the author follows Lanzmann's declaration that 'Shoah is a fight against generalities' in emphasising the importance of the detail in both dialogue and filmic technique. Vice uses close readings of some of the film's interviews – including that with Abraham Bomba, a barber at the death camp Treblinka, and one secretly filmed with Franz Suchomel, a guard at the same camp – to explore the background to the film, the difficulties in its financing and production, and the long process of editing that led to Lanzmann's realisation that 'the subject of my film is death itself, death and not survival'.

Grey Gardens

The Maysles brothers' Grey Gardens (1975) is one of the most important documentary films of the past thirty years. In the past decade the film has gained the status of cult classic, inspiring both a Broadway musical and a 2009 HBO feature film. In this first single volume study of the film, Matthew Tinkcom argues that Grey Gardens reshaped documentary cinema by moving the non-fiction camera to the heart of the household, a private space into which film-makers had seldom previously ventured. Already well-established figures in the 'direct cinema' movement of the 1960s (with their previous films, including Salesman and Gimme Shelter), the brothers' visual record of a summer spent in the Beale household demonstrated that the private lives of their subjects were rich materials for the camera.

By the time the film-makers appeared on their front porch, the film's two central figures, 'Big Edie' Beale and her daughter 'Little Edie', had been living for two decades in near-poverty in their beach-side East Hampton mansion (the 'Grey Gardens' of the title). Close relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, by the early 1970s the Beales had lost much of their personal wealth and their everyday lives had descended into a state of barely-controlled squalor. However, as the film-makers discovered, the women were hardly victims of their poverty; rather they saw themselves as artists who were willing to make seemingly any sacrifice for their singing and dancing talents. When the Edies perform for the camera, audiences are challenged by the question of how much anyone would be willing to give up in order to lead a life of eccentric pleasure. Tinkcom argues that the film is one of the first to combine documentary with the conventions of fiction film melodrama, and that the film's appeal arrives in the rich melodramatic dimensions of the Beales' everyday lives in which they argue, dress up, flirt, laugh, sing, dance and reminisce about their experiences in New York's social elite in the first half of the twentieth century.

Night Mail

"Night Mail" (1936) is one of the best-loved and best-known films in the canon of British documentary cinema. Bringing together the creative talents of Harry Watt, Basil Wright, WH Auden and Benjamin Britten, the film gave John Griersona??s documentary school its first popular success. Its collectivist politics and its peculiarly modest brand of modernism is as redolent of the inter-war age as Agatha Christie, Penguin Books or The Shell Guides. Bit it was also a corporate promo, part of a publicity campaign initiated by Clement Attlee to stave off Post Office part-privatisation and to improve the morale of postal workers. Scott Anthonya??s study provides a lively appreciation of this vivid, witty and often just plain eccentric masterpiece. In doing so he uncovers the remarkable stories of civic-minded idealism, creative intrigue and political trickery that underpin this classic documentary.

Salesman

Selected by the Library of Congress as one of the most significant American films ever made, Salesman (1966–9) is a landmark in non-fiction cinema, equivalent in its impact and influence to Truman Capote's 'non-fiction novel' In Cold Blood.

The film follows a team of travelling Bible salesmen on the road in Massachusetts, Chicago, and Florida, where the American dream of self-reliant entrepreneurship goes badly wrong for protagonist Paul Brennan. Long acknowledged as a high-water mark of the 'direct cinema' movement, this ruefully comic and quietly devastating film was the first masterpiece of Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, the trio who would go on to produce The Rolling Stones documentary, Gimme Shelter (1970).

Based on the premise that films drawn from ordinary life could compete with Hollywood extravaganzas, Salesman was critical in shaping 'the documentary feature'. A novel cinema-going experience for its time, the film was independently produced, designed for theatrical release and presented without voiceover narration, interviews, or talking heads. Working with innovative handheld equipment, and experimenting with eclectic methods and a collaborative ethos, the Maysles brothers and Zwerin produced a carefully-orchestrated narrative drama fashioned from unexpected episodes.

J. M. Tyree suggests that Salesman can be understood as a case study of non-fiction cinema, raising perennial questions about reality and performance. His analysis provides an historical and cultural context for the film, considering its place in world cinema and its critical representations of dearly-held national myths. The style of Salesman still makes other documentaries look static and immobile, while the film's allegiances to everyday subjects and working people indelibly marked the cinema. Tyree's insightful study also includes an exclusive exchange with Albert Maysles about the film.

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