Documentary Modes (Nichols): “Birth of a Book” by Glen Milner

Birth of a Book from GLEN MILNER on Vimeo.

The documentary “Birth of a Book” by Glen Milner shows the traditional way of printing a book. It starts with only the words on a transparent layer and ends with the finished book that you can buy in a book store. Both, machines and manual labour are involved in this process.

It is easy to identify the documentary mode (by Nichols) in which this film can be classified. The documentary forgoes the narrator and even not only one word was spoken. The thing that makes the documentary worth watching is not only the interesting topic but the music that gives the whole process a reverent and kind of long-ago impression. The music keeps the suspense and the viewer who is (in my case) awed by the short film, also the fast cuts which can be found during many parts of the process give the viewer little time to see and especially to observe what happens which keeps the suspense either.

At first glance one would allocate the film to the observational mode because the camera is just a neutral observer who follows the process of the traditional printing. There are no comments, no interviews in it, just the worker and the machines who do their work. The music provides an artistic or poetic sense to the film.

Though the question here is if the film is subjective instead of neutral because the way this film is composed like the cuts and the music gives this documentary some kind of poetic expression. The whole process of the printing is staged and there are many short cuts which make it really artistic.

Neither the expository, the participatory, reflexive nor performative mode matches the film since the film seems to be neutral due to the lack of comments. Since it is not completely neutral, the observational mode does not match either due to the staged and artistic expression. So the only mode the documentary can be classified in is the poetic mode where everything is shown in an artistic way.

In conclusion, the short documentary can be classified into the poetic mode because it has specific characteristics that points to an artistic manipulation which is the main point of the poetic mode.

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2 thoughts on “Documentary Modes (Nichols): “Birth of a Book” by Glen Milner

  1. A great choice of a film and a good analysis. At the end of the day by process of deduction you rule out the other modes which is a useful process to undertake – analysis if you will. Of course it is difficult to put your finger on which mode this sits within because it purposefully employs techniques that highlight the nature of filmmaking as a means of telling a story. In the end though, I agree this is a fundamentally poetic film even though it aims to inform and educate. This is not how it is formally organised though as you point out it is the tone and flow of poetic images that gives the film its quality.

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