Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Faking The Past

It's a semi-dramatized documentary film about a Victorian murder case. They use a lot of contemporary photographs and pictures and have- in places- inserted the faces of their modern actors. One of them appears in Frith's rather famous painting of a railway station. Another has been grafted onto a familiar portrait of Karl Marx.

I have several objections to this- not all of them entirely consistent with one another.

1. Original documents are being falsified. A kind of a hoax is being perpetrated on the viewer.

2. I'd like to know what these people really looked like. The guy who appears with Karl Marx was quite famous in his day. There must be authentic pictures of him.

2. The fakes don't look right. They misrepresent the past.  Modern faces and Victorian faces are different. Modern faces are generally better nourished and less battered by life than Victorian ones. Cleaner too. Even wealthy Victorians look a bit scruffy by today's standards.  Also the long time exposures of 19th century photography mean that Victorian people are more intensely present in their portraits than a modern poser- snapped in a fraction of a second- can ever possibly be. If you want to fake a Victorian photograph use a Victorian camera; nothing else will give you the authentic look. The mocked-up carte de visite of a prostitute is particularly unconvincing. That is a modern face radiating a modern sexuality and conforming to modern notions of the beautiful.

3. The photoshopping is really badly done. The joins show and the results are ugly.

The semi-dramatized documentary is a bastard form. A dramatist is allowed dramatic license, a documentary maker isn't. Mix the genres and the rules become unclear. I'm not saying all dramatized documentaries are dreadful (there are classics of the genre) but an awful lot of them are. The film maker who attempts one needs to have a finely attuned artistic conscience.
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