Play the Facts and the Truth: Disability in Documentary Film
Keywords:Documentary film, 2005 Vancouver mayoral election, partisan politics, wheelchair candidate, mobility, the body as truth, voyeuristic able-bodied gaze, Giambattista Vico, Descartes, Mary Poovey, Lady Gaga, Ludwik Fleck
This paper explores how film viewers, especially documentary film viewers, attribute a kind of “truth” to a subject’s body. Sam Sullivan’s body, throughout the film Citizen Sam, reinforces a certain cultural assumption about what a disabled body means. Sam Sullivan is not only the subject of the documentary, but is the fact of it. When one examines the very notion of a fact (scientific, poetic, artistic, etc.), the act of fact-making begs the question of what, in fact, is a fact? And how do “facts” inform a viewer’s acceptance of filmic authenticity and veracity? At times, the facticity of this documentary film lies in the depiction of a disabled man struggling through various political and personal minefields and conquests. The film projects an underlying conventional view that corporeality does, still, verify. Much of the film concentrates on personal and intimate details of Sullivan’s daily operations, often focussing on how a mayoral candidate campaigning from a wheelchair involves added exertions. Diary techniques intimate that Sam is alone, that no one around him will view these “private” confessions: not his wife, not his opponents, not the voters, not the camera operator, not even the director; only the viewers. The fiction of such access creates intimacy and extends a titillating aura of illicit revelation. These personal “entries”—interjected into a fairly straightforward documentary film narrative— convince viewers they are getting the “inside scoop.” Citizen Sam’s filmic construction is that Sam’s body (and any private moments deemed particular to that body) inherently belongs in the public eye.
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