Filmmakers are oftentimes trying to convey controversial ideas in a film and it is a matter of finding the right style to best convey them. In The Central Park Five, five boys, between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, were accused of violently attacking and sexually assaulting a woman who was jogging through Central Park. There was very little evidence that these boys actually committed the crime. The police had taped confessions from each of the boys but none of the confessions added up completely to the others or to what really happened. Yet, these boys still spent a minimum of seven years in prison. Chicago 10 is a documentary about eight young men who were accused of trying to start a riot during the Democratic National Convention. They really were trying to start a non-violent protest against sending more troops to Vietnam. The police ended up being the ones who were violent but the court treated the protestors unfairly by not giving them the same rights as the prosecution. Therefore the question with a film or documentary is, how do the filmmakers find different ways to get their points across and ideas heard. The Central Park Five and Chicago 10 are great examples of filmmakers using different methods of filmmaking to get their points across.
There are many things to be said about the movie The Central Park Five. Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David Mcmahon directed a very powerful documentary that showed how five boys can be convicted of a horrible crime because of the color of their skin even though there was lots of evidence showing that these boys had nothing to do with this specific crime. The most powerful message in this documentary is how racism can make people blind to the real facts. Just because these boys are black and hispanic and live in a bad part of New York, known to be a poorer area and more subject to crime, does not mean that they beat and sexually assaulted this woman. The city wanted to make the public feel relieved and secure by finding a culprit as quickly as possible. In the end, the district attorneys and city of New York still haven’t fully taken responsibility for what they put these innocent kids through.
The style in which Burns, Burns and Mcmahon decided to make The Central Park Five was a mix of classic documentary style and avant-garde style. As Jaime Pena wrote for Cinema Scope: “In the current festival landscape, the observational documentary is something like the new academicism—which would make the classic talking-head documentary by extension the new radical avant-garde, or perhaps an endangered species.” The directors used lots of archival footage from the tapes of the kids from the police station, tapes from when they were examining the scene, paintings of what it must have looked like in court and newsreels from reports given at the time. Burns, Burns and Mcmahon used lots of b-roll footage that they shot, mostly time-lapse to show what the prisons, park and neighborhood looked like. Along with this combination of different mediums of film which make it an avant-garde style, they used classic documentary style interviews. These were put together in a fashion where there were parts that went quickly through news reports and slowly through scenes explaining what happened. While explaining what happened, they used narration and text on the screen. With all of these techniques together, this documentary is truly powerful.
In Chicago 10, Brett Morgen, the director, also tried to convey a powerful message. The main themes are that Americans should have the right to organize a group to protest but in this case, they were punished for doing so. The “Yippies” were a group who wanted to protest non-violently yet the police came at them with nightsticks and beat them until they left whichever area the police were clearing. The police even did this to people who were not part of the protest but happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Morgen shows how the city of Chicago put the eight men on trial for coming to Chicago to start violent riots. But he clearly shows in everything before then that the men had not intended to be violent. Not only was this charge by the city of Chicago wrong since the men said they did not want violence but the court was unfair. Also, the judge would not grant the defendants the same rights as the prosecutors. Some examples are how the defense wasn’t granted any breaks during the trial to privately discuss their case yet the prosecution was granted breaks and also how Jeffrey Write, one of the young men, wanted to defend himself and the judge would not allow it. Morgen showed these scenes with archival footage and, for the court scenes, he used animation because there was no actual footage available. This is a great example of avant-garde style because it shows an experimental way to convey facts. With the animation, he was really able to capture the way the men acted both in court and for scenes before the trial and conversations outside the court. Though made in an avant-garde style, this fits into the documentary category very well and even better into post-modern documentary because of how they “call into question ‘grand’ theories that purport to explain everything for everyone forever. Claims there is no universal/objective truth; everything is subjective and relative. Holds that the self is socially constructed,” Joseph Byrne. These post-modern documentary ideas all show how unique and forward thinking Chicago 10 is, with still getting its message across.
Both The Central Park Five and Chicago 10 are documentaries fighting for a cause and are done in unique ways. These documentaries have different causes but both are challenging core beliefs. Though The Central Park Five is about a group of boys wrongly accused of a violent act and Chicago 10 is about a group of young men wrongly accused of trying to start a riot, I believe the most important element here is that they both are treated incorrectly during the process. The boys from The Central Park Five were questioned for more than 10 hours at a time and then told they could go home if they just told the police what the police had wanted to hear. This was unfair. These boys had been in the park and had been harassing other people but they never harmed this woman. There was almost no evidence to convict these boys yet somehow the justice system let them be arrested, taken to court and then sent to jail without a second thought. The young men in Chicago 10 had just wanted to use their first amendment right – to have the people who are supposed to be representing them in the government hear what they and many others believe. The people who were protesting were treated unfairly and the police were violent when trying to get them to follow orders. The judge also treated them unfairly by not giving them the same rights as they gave the prosecution during the trial. The directors of the films go about showing these court cases differently. Burns, Burns and Mcmahon use classic interview style footage but they also use clips from newsreels and time-lapses with text over it. Morgen creates the court scenes with animation. Animation is much more avant-garde, but the mix of the news, text over shots, and interviews used The Central Park Five could also be called avant-garde.
Filmmakers are oftentimes trying to convey controversial ideas in a film and it is a matter of finding the right style to best convey them. The Central Park Five and Chicago 10 are great examples of using different styles effectively. Ideology was very important in both movies and the filmmakers did a great job letting the audience know what they wanted to convey. Burns, Burns and Mcmahon show how these boys’ case should not have ever gone to court since there was so little evidence against them and how racism should not blind one’s judgment. Morgen shows how these men were average citizens trying to use their first amendment right but in the end, it was about the government thinking that the intent was to use violence and the way that the court system treated them during the trial. Both of these films were done in an avant-garde documentary style with the themes in ideology.
Bianculli, David. “‘Central Park Five’: Rape, Race And Blame Explored.” NPR. NPR, n.d.Web. 13 Dec. 2013.
Byrne, Joseph. “English 245: Film Form and Culture.” English 245 Film Form and Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.
“CENTRAL PARK FIVE: A Film By Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.
“Central Park Five.” NY Daily News. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.
Chang, Chris Chang. “Review: The Central Park Five.” Film Comment. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.
“First Amendment Center.” First Amendment Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. Flumenbaum, David. “Ken Burns: Bill De Blasio Has Agreed To Settle 10-Year-Old Central Park Five Case.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 12 Nov. 2013. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.
Pena, Jaime Pena. “TIFF Preview -3: Autrement, La Molussie |
Post Tenebras Lux | The Central Park Five | The Gatekeepers | A Hijacking | ILL Manors | Imagine | Kinshasa Kids | Mekong Hotel | Miss Lovely | Penance | To the Wonder.” Cinema Scope. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.
Ventura, Elbert. “Reverse Shot.” Chicago 10. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.