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Truth and Filmmaking

cr88's picture

We talked in our small groups this week about how "truth" is represented in the film "Adaptation." The film appears to begin as a "true story", that of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman struggling to adapt Susan Orlean's book "The Orchid Thief" into a film. As the film progresses, however, events appear to distance themselves further and further from this "true" story, becoming completely sensationalist in its sex and violence-filled conclusion. Yet this progression also demonstrates that the notion of "truth" in filmmaking is ultimately chimeric. All films, narrative films in particular, are complete constructions. The narrative cinema of Hollywood has a highly developed series of cinematic techniques that are used to convey a sense of reality in film. Nothing in a narrative film is supposed to draw attention to the fact that what the viewer is watching is a film; transitions are smooth, dialogue is "natural", etc. However, these aesthetic efforts bely the fact that a film is extremely constructed. "Adaptation" draws the viewer's attention to the fact that even when a film appears to be "true", it is in fact this sort of construction. One needs only to see the scene where Charlie visits the set of "Being John Malkovich" to understand this. This scene takes place during the "true" part of the film, yet what the viewer is actually seeing is a movie (Adaptation) in which an actor (Nicholas Cage) playing a screenwriter (Charlie Kaufman) visits the set of a movie (Being John Malkovich) in which actors (John Cusack and Catherine Keener) play regular people who can become an actor (John Malkovich). This sort of metafilmic mise-en-abîme demonstratse that even the most realistic film is entirely constructed.


elly's picture

"Real" Science

In my course on the history of women in genetics with Greg Davis, we discuss women and their role in the development of the sciences, particularly developmental biology and genetics. One of the reasons that women were able to enter these fields earlier on than many other fields of science was because it was not considered to be a "real science" yet. While this is kind of a sad thought, it is great that today this field is still dominated by women and it has become a highly respected, developed area of study.

What interests me about this connection is that we see very few women in the fields of engineering and computer science today, and at the same time the social sciences are not considered to be hard sciences but are often full of female students and professors. Do we see the distinction of fields as useful here? Why are the social sciences, which rely on qualitative research and study rather than quantitative, and may focus much more on writing and literature, not represented as real science? Is it because of the facts just mentioned? I wonder one day whether these distinctions between sciences (as the "real" science of the late 19th and early 20th centuries has changed quite a bit) will change in the years to come, and whether or not the separate categories really mean more than what they currently represent for our society. And hey, society evolves right?

rachelr's picture

Why the heck is this so hard?!

 While I too agree that there need to be distinct categories for the sciences and humanities, I still have trouble articulating what that main difference is. When you begin to split hairs, to dissect the differences and break everything down, it becomes much harder to figure out the absolute and specific differences between the arts and the sciences. I feel that sciences is indeed much more empirical and that is the best example for me of the differences. Even the mediums for fine arts are related to the sciences (wood, hair, copper, plant matter and pigments, etc.), and sciences is used for many fine arts uses. Last year in chemistry we made copper prints as well as a solid copper from copper dust, something many metal works artists do to create jewelry and sculpture. In my mind the overlapping between the fine arts and the sciences are much more extensive than is often noted, and is most likely even more complicated than I can think about and consider right now. This topic has come up for me in several courses and it just seems to get more complex and go around in circles every time I come to it again. 

ckosarek's picture

The "Truth" in Categories

 Your post reminded me of another topic that we talked about in Paul's section. In our exploration of what "true" means, we ran into the questions, "What separates science from literature? What makes us take either form as more or less true?" In trying to delineate science and literature by evaluating their relative "truthfulness" and "usefulness", Paul posed the question, "Are the separate categories of 'science' and 'literature' useful?" 

Though we were at a loss to define how, exactly, science and literature differed (both seemed to deal with some form of "truth", both both posed possibilities and eliminated possibilities), none of us were willing to get rid of the separate categories. To us, probably because we are socialized to believe as much, science and literature are somehow fundamentally (but in a way that we are unable to articulate) different

I, too, like having the two categories. I think their usefulness lies in their scope of practical usefulness in reality (whatever reality is). For example, health science affects how we care for ourselves physically. Fiction encourages creativity and the reorganization or strengthening of social schemas. The line between the two disciplines is not clearly drawn, but no binary line ever is (think of the line between "male" and "female" - even that becomes very blurred!). I don't think there's a "truth" in where the line lies, but I do think that having these two separate categories creates separate "truths", each of which finds their own applicability to the world in which we live. 

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