(Reader) Truth in Documentaries

According to Bordwell and Thompson, “A documentary claims to present factual information about the world”. The most important word in that sentence is “claims”. The makers of a documentary present everything in its final form as accurate and a truthful analysis or showing of real world events. However, sometimes that’s not true. Bordwell states the idea that in many documentaries, the makers will stage events or modify the situation to better suit their needs for the film. In one example given, Humphrey Jennings wasn’t able to film when London was getting bombed in World War II for the film Fires Were Started, so he and his crew set a group of bombed-out buildings on fire and filmed it. This type of manipulation is severe, but happens in many documentaries.

One example of this can be found in a documentary that I recently watched: Beckham. Beckham tells the story of a young David Beckham, taking viewers through the high and lows of his career and life. While this documentary is incredible, there are definitely inaccuracies shown. One very apparent one that many fans picked up on were inconsistencies between game footage that is shown and when Victoria Beckham attended games. Victoria spoke about one particular game in which she was watching from the stands at Old Trafford, when the game was at Stamford Bridge. Obviously this might be a simple mistake by her, but footage from the Stamford Bridge game shows Victoria wasn’t in attendance, and she was just making up a story. There were also moments where old press conferences from one of David’s managers on the England national team, Glenn Hoddle, talks about David as a young talent, but does not include the vast criticism and public disliking that Hoddle had for Beckham.

The main reasoning for these inaccuracies in the Beckham documentary is because of its form. Bordwell describes the two types of form in documentaries. There’s categorical form, which tells the story of a specific category, such as penguins or women with gapped teeth, and how these categories impact the world. Then, there’s rhetorical form documentaries, which filmmakers are making an argument to convince the viewers of something. Beckham is a rhetorical form documentary with the goal of painting David Beckham as a kid who had a hard life with people always doubting him, who then rose to the top and proved them all wrong. It’s a propaganda piece for David Beckham to make him seem likable and a great person. That’s why the most important deviance from the truth in this documentary occurs: Rebecca Loos. Rebecca was David’s personal assistant who he “allegedly” had an affair with. Alleged meaning she claimed it happened multiple times, and when the Beckhams threatened to sue she said she had information about David that only a woman who slept with him would know, and the lawsuit was then dropped. Several other women came forward after Loos to claim that they had slept with David Beckham. Instead of addressing this major milestone in David and Victoria’s lives, they briefly mention that they stood by each other’s side no matter what. In the documentary where the point of it is to make someone look good, the filmmakers made the right decision by not lingering on the subject of him cheating on his wife multiple times. Overall, documentaries are based on truth but many times contain lies or some kind of falsification to make the story better, just like what happened with the Beckham documentary.

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