Devoid of Verite

By Clayton Dillard
The House Next Door

ames_ferocious coverFor the better part of two decades, a debate has been waging in documentary film studies over exactly what constitutes a nonfiction film, which essentially comes down to a central question: How much power and control does the director yield over the proceedings? In his excellent new monograph, Ferocious Reality: Documentary according to Werner Herzog, Eric Ames uses Werner Herzog's documentaries, nearly 30 films, to make a case for an evolved understanding of nonfiction cinema. However, Ames doesn't wish to simply attempt a blurring of lines between fiction and nonfiction in Herzog's work; rather, he takes up Richard Schechner's concept of "restored behavior" (or "twice-behaved behavior"), what Ames will refer to as "performance," and demonstrates how Herzog's films "perform" under this operative logic. Drawing on film studies titans like Bill Nichols, Linda Williams, and P. Adams Sitney for his framework, Ames lucidly addresses these larger issues while "performing" meticulous close readings of his own, organized into seven chapters, by theme. What materializes is a fascinating, provocative examination of Herzog's complex oeuvre, written with a simultaneous eye for irreverence and certitude, not unlike Herzog's own work.

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