Some mildly racy footage from a 70’s B-movie double feature shown.


Film review:Translated by www.rabudo-ru.com


The film “thin blue line” is based on the murder of police officer wood in Dallas, Texas in 1976. The film and the investigation of director Errol Morris finally proved that Randall Adams, the murderer sentenced to death in that year, was actually wrongly sentenced, and the real murderer was David Harris who testified against Adams, He was sentenced to death for another murder and finally admitted that he was the murderer. After the film was released, it caused a heated debate. Adams, the “scapegoat”, was also acquitted after being imprisoned for more than 11 years. As one of the representative works of western new documentary films in the 1970s and 1980s, the thin blue line shows a highly stylized narrative strategy and an exploration of the true essence of the documentary, achieves rebellion and criticism against the direct film, and also changes the traditional concept of the documentary in dealing with the relationship between reality, It shows the unique aesthetic characteristics of new documentary films under the trend of postmodernism.

1、 Collage structure and polyphonic narration

In fact, due to the nature of recording, the internal narrative of the film has been formed before the film, and its narrative only exists outside the film, that is, how it is presented in front of the audience. Or its internal narrative actually depends on the external structure. As Morris himself said, “the film is not about a murder story, not about an investigation. It is an investigation in itself” ([1]). Here, the story is the form. Specifically, the film is a series of interviews with the parties to the case, including criminal investigators and detectives in ADAMS, Harris, Dallas and Vitol, Harris’s friends, lawyers, judges and witnesses. The interviews of a total of 18 people are scattered in the film in a fragmented manner. The interview materials are interspersed with a large number of image materials with different styles, such as the scenes related to the crime, the words and photos of news reports, historical / record photos, archival words and photos, as well as court restoration paintings and early Hollywood detective films. At the same time, there are many theme soundtracks running through them to create a nightmare like feature film temperament. The whole presents a collage structural style, forming a polyphonic narrative structure of multi text and multi viewpoint.

Under the fragmented material collage, its narrative clue is still relatively clear under the action of editing. From Adams and Harris about the general course of the case, to the detailed description of the trial of Adams and the investigation of the case, to the discovery of Harris’ criminal record and motive, as well as the disclosure of court testimony details and judicial procedure details, Adams was wrongly convicted step by step, and ended with the recording of Harris’s confession at the end. If the interview material constitutes a Rosenberg style multi viewpoint narration, the visual material is more a kind of demonstration. As the visual presentation and visual material evidence of the interview content, it keeps pace with the words appearing in the narration, and constructs a visual narrative space about the past, which constantly interacts with the current narrative space of the interview, It points to the real historical / memory space eleven years ago. The moving scenes set off the interview and voice over narration, which not only enhanced the audience’s sense of substitution, but also emphasized separation and examination with fictional instructions, such as gorgeous and suspense filled close-up and slow lens, Dallas street and city night scene mixed with the current and past sense of time, as well as fictional simulated car cinema scene, etc. In the past, huge evidence materials such as words and photos infiltrated into the space of characters and history in the form of static photos, forming an in-depth and interesting juxtaposition with the current space of interviews. The character portrait and detective film image examine and present their past and current psychology through the content of character narration.

The polyphonic narration formed by this collage is not only reflected in the extension of the narrative space by the multi text structure, but also in the dialogue collision and repeated narration presented within the text, such as the polyphonic dialogue forms produced by the narrative texts of 18 interviewees and the multi angle repeated performance scenes. In the interview lens, the director only retained the respondent’s answer and cancelled his voice (except the interview recording of the last lens), and there was no voice over explanation, so that the conversation in the film remained in a state of self telling. The parties described the crime in their memory in front of the lens, forming a multi angle narrative collision. The stylized images of repeated crime scenes are not intended to restore reality, but to imitate the hypothetical situation dictated by the parties, thus canceling the deterministic statement of a single reference.

According to Bakhtin, polyphonic art has two fundamental characteristics: the creative principle of dialogue and the creative technique of dialogue. These two aspects are reflected in the creator’s concept of treating works and the means of creating works. “The new record film advocates that documentaries should reflect the ‘multi voice part’ of postmodern society and the torn soul of people.” They advocate letting each voice part make its own voice, rather than launching events under the will of the director. As Morris said, “I want to focus on the subjects, that is, how they see themselves, not how we see them”. ([2])

2、 Intertextuality and Reflexivity

The collage and hybridization of multiple texts bring rich intertextual discourse space to the film. This intertextuality exists in two levels: one is the Intertextuality between the film’s multiple texts and their narrative space, and the other is the Intertextuality between the text and the external world.

The first level of intertextuality is mainly reflected in the mutual reference between multiple narrative texts. As mentioned above, interviews, photos, texts and moving images coexist in the narrative structure of the film. They are not scattered disorderly, but show a dialogue relationship reflected by multiple points through editing, constantly generating new references to each other.

Text close-up, such as the corresponding words extracted from the news reports in the newspaper, Adams’s schedule of watching TV programs and the text results of his crime test, Harris’s criminal record, lawyer Mulder’s winning record, etc., pictures, image materials of photos, such as news close-up pictures of criminals and witnesses, pistols and cars, maps of Dallas and Vitol Photos of relevant figures, photos of Harris crime scene, etc. in addition, they are restored portraits of crime scenes, Hollywood detective films and court trials. As the visual presentation and supplement of interview content, they transform oral narration into visual text information. At the same time, the insertion of these materials also has an emotional connection with the narrative text. For example, when Adams said that the district court only cared about how to execute him, regardless of whether he was innocent or not, the information, pictures and close-up of the electric chair were interspersed to convey the “nightmare” sense of despair in Adams’s mouth; For example, the text features “Adams gets death” and “Adams guilty” cooperate with the narration of completely different positions of lawyers and judges respectively, and also carry the meaning of pessimism, helplessness and acrimony; Several moving scenes cooperate with the memories and testimony of the parties, but suggest and show a kind of doubt and banter outside the “conclusive” narration. They construct a visual text with its corresponding miscellaneous interleaving outside the narrative text. In addition, visual texts are linked with each other. For example, Harris’s criminal record and photos of his prison files at that time, photos of destroyed blue cars and crime pistols, young smiling faces in his news reports, and photos of his childhood family life outline some traces of his life. The moving scenes with black film elements and the image materials of early Hollywood detective films also form a certain intertextual relationship.

The second level of intertextuality is the mutual reference between the film text and the external world. First of all, the form of interview is a key factor in Morris’s documentary narrative. His “talk therapy” is essentially an investigation to “try to open up the possibility of some unpredictable things that will happen”. For this reason, he even invented the “terror interview machine” to realize the first person perspective interview, and used this method for the first time in his 1997 work fast, cheap & out of control (1997). ([3]) the interview way in which the characters in this film talk face to face with the camera has shown the consciousness of first person interview. In addition, the interview is presented as a core element in the new record film, and it is also the absorption and Transcendence of the interview method of the real film. Secondly, the gorgeous moving scene has the style elements of black film. The dark urban street scene at night, unbalanced composition, low-key lighting and the presentation of large-area shadows, coupled with the outline of the picture by the lights, shooting and crime cases and deep soundtrack, make the moving lens show a strong feature film. At the same time, this moving style also affected the image style of later documentary TV and “reality show” TV series, such as NYPD blue and police ([4]). For another example, when the judge told about his father’s experience in the FBI and Mrs. Miller’s “detective complex”, the quoted Hollywood detective film materials formed a means of parody against the background of their respective narratives, full of irony. The collage experimental style and open attitude towards image materials revealed in the film also implied the influence of American experimental pioneer films in the 1960s.

Through this unprecedented hybrid technique and technique to highlight the real construction process of documentary, it actually completes a reflexive strategy. According to bill Nichols, the reflexive model in the documentary mainly discusses the interactive process between the filmmaker and the audience ([5]). The reflexivity embodied in the thin blue line mainly lies in the hypothetical performance scene and the interview scene of the whole film.

First of all, unlike in traditional documentaries, moving is for real reproduction. For example, Gleason commented on Nanook of the North (1922) to realize the documentary’s “record value” ([6]). This film takes moving as a stylized narrative strategy to directly remind the audience that what they see does not necessarily represent reality, Thus, it deconstructs the traditional concept of achieving reality through fictional reproduction, and realizes a kind of self reference and Transcendence of reality. Reality is inevitable but difficult to achieve, and we can only approach reality in a fictional way. Secondly, as mentioned earlier, the interview clip reflects the director’s non-interference participation and interaction, that is, the intention to present the natural and pluralistic collision between discourse and discourse. This technique produces a kind of reflexivity in the interview process full of self-evident contradictions and lies. That is, through this interview structure, the traditional relationship between discourse and reality is deconstructed, and many documentaries secretly “construct” the sense of reality through “masked interview” ([7]). From this point of view, it seems that it is necessary and inevitable that Harris’s confession at the end of the film is only presented as a recording (although the director only found the recorder on the day of the interview).

3、 Irony and Deconstruction of truth

After analyzing the collage technique of polyphonic narration and its intertextuality and reflexivity, the irony and Deconstruction of Postmodernism in the thin blue line is self-evident.

Specifically, the film shows irony in the presentation of visual materials, reflexive self reference and the Intertextuality between the film title and the film. In the intertextual discourse of visual materials, the most obvious are the parody caused by Hollywood detective films combined with the voiceover narration of the judge and Mrs. Miller, the restored portraits of the court and the gorgeous moving scenes are also full of banter in the process of gradually clarifying contradictions and doubts. At the same time, Adams described the graphic patterns inserted by Dr. Gregson during his criminal personality test, the large close-up of their eyes and ears when the three witnesses accurately described the image of the driver, and the smiling head of Harris in the report against the judicial authority’s disregard of his criminal record in order to protect young people, showing a subtle ironic effect of restraint. In the reflexive strategy, through active intervention and highlighting the real construction process, such as the construction of interview and performance, we ridicule the cognitive way that the images we see represent reality ([8]). In addition, the Intertextuality between the title and the film text further expresses a pessimistic and profound irony. In the 61st minute of the film, the judge tells that he was deeply shocked and moved by the defense lawyer’s final speech on the “thin blue line” in Adams’s trial. It symbolizes the protective power of justice and keeps the people away from troubled times. However, ironically, the court scene itself is a false rally, which misjudged innocent people, The judge and the winning lawyer took the case as one of their great victories, and the “thin blue line” was finally reduced to a tool to promote judicial justice and self touch.

This kind of text discourse with many opposites and hybridization and symbiosis is also isolated, which makes the audience take a sense of distance to examine and observe when facing the interview lens, and further think about the social phenomena behind the picture. Irony and alienation show the questioning spirit of postmodernism. Since the truth is so easily obscured, what can the image of “reality” ensure? In the face of such difficult to penetrate traumatic events about the past, the film does not seek to directly reproduce the past, but actively intervene in the real construction in the fragmented narration of the past by means of fictional reproduction. The seemingly cynical technique reveals a complex difficulty of interpretation, that is, the inaccessibility of the truth of the past, It can only be excavated step by step in repetition and “echo between events”. “It is not simply to expose lies to expose truth, nor to ridicule one kind of manufacture at another, but to show how lies play a role as the motivation and evidence of local truth on historical trauma.” ([9])

From this point of view, as a new documentary film, the thin blue line not only interferes with the construction of reality through diversified text, semantics and reflexivity strategies, so as to oppose the direct film taking the quiet position as the benchmark of reality, but also deconstructs the relationship between documentary images and the real world in the traditional concept, It leads the thinking about the authenticity of documentary to the questioning and understanding of the essence of reality. Since image is an image, it may not have a direct relationship with reality, nor can it guarantee reality. The only thing that can point to is the process of constructing reality, we should treat the text with an open attitude and present confrontation from multiple perspectives, and the acquisition of reality can only be relative, accidental or incidental. Like the end of the film, Harris’s recording can be said to be close to or even reach the truth pursued by the film. Even his explanation for testifying against Adams (because he did not take in a person who helped him) reflects the childhood shadow and revenge against his father he talked about in the interview, showing a more solid criminal motive hidden in the depths, That is, Adams’s role in his psychological process repeats the trauma his father once caused to him ([10]). However, the premise of all this can not be ignored. Harris was sentenced to death for another murder, so he finally said that Adams was innocent and became the most powerful paragraph of the film. The acquisition of this truth can be said to be a special success of the director in the pursuit of truth, but it is also full of a kind of pessimistic sadness.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here