The subject of ’13 Fragments and 3 Narratives from Life’ is a girl called Katya; not an actress playing a part, but an ordinary girl who has collaborated with Jost in making a film about herself. The film employs the form and techniques of a documentary, but what emerges is a three-way dialogue between Jost, Katya, and ourselves in which it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish fact from bias.
The film opens with a series of establishing shots, which, as in any other film, is designed to introduce the subject in its context. We see an aerial shot of a city, a close-up of a girl fastening her blouse, a telephone cord, (while on the sound-track we hear a girl declining an invitation to go out), a close up of a girl applying make-up to her face, a comic strip, and a record on a turntable red rock entertainment testimonials.
This pictorial introduction establishes the subject as a girl who lives in a city, but along with this fact we have been given a biased view of her character. The telephone shot implies that she is unsociable, and the other shots, which are from Jost’s private stock of images, whose meanings become clear after seeing one or two of his films, are a ‘montage of distractions’ establishing her as a complacent consumer of popular culture; the comic strip and the record, and a wearer of disguises; the make-up.
Thus, through his selection of images, Jost has established a context of his own bias, a context which will influence the way we see the girl. The process continues with his verbal introduction:
“Her name is Catherine, but, perhaps to make herself different, she calls herself Katya.”
This comment is the verbal equivalent of the shots of make-up and the blouse; it highlights a quality of pretence in the subject, and, while it tells us a fact, it also conveys an attitude of criticism, perhaps even ridicule on behalf of Jost. The commentary continues:
“Katya’s younger sister used to share the flat, but recently she surprised her friends and was married on a Thursday.”
Again, this comment, which is the verbal equivalent of the comic strip, conveys factual information about Katya, but with its parody of the language of popular romance, it also mocks her. So, although nothing overtly biased has been shown or said, and although it has gone by so quickly we might not have noticed it, a distinct bias towards the subject has been imparted. The point is that all films do this, no matter what their subject, or how objective they pretend to be.
Jost then withdraws and allows Katya to take over the narration:
“He was going to call this film ’13 Fragments and Three Interviews from
Life’, but then he found out I wasn’t very good at interviews.”
Then in the first narrative, entitled ‘The Life of Facts’, the camera holds on Katya’s coffee cup, and then on her, silent and motionless on a sofa, while on the sound-track she tells us some facts about her life; she gets up in the morning and makes coffee, goes to college, does a part-time job, and so on. This is almost direct communication between Katya and us, and although the separation of image and sound-track might seem like interference, it actually increases our sense of objectivity. We can concentrate on what she has to say all the better for not having to watch her speak, and if she had to speak to the camera she would, presumably, either act or become nervous, which, again, would distract us from the facts. The bias of the film-maker seems to be at a minimum here.
Then Jost takes over again: on the screen we see close-ups of Katya’s face, while on the sound-track he reads facts about political events; the war in Vietnam, the Paris riots, and the assassination of Martin Luther King.
The film-maker’s bias now comes across strongly, although the information with which he presents us is strictly factual. The portraits of Katya are stark full-face and profile shots, reminiscent of the ‘mug-shots’ of prison records, conveying the impression that she is being accused of something, or, at least, being held up for examination. We still have in the back of our minds the facts about her life from the first narrative and the juxtaposition of these facts with the facts of political events adds up to a presentation of Katya as insular and complacent, wrapped up in her own world while people in the world around her are fighting and dying for high ideals. Thus, through the selection and juxtaposition of facts, the film-maker has manipulated us into sharing his bias. How often is this done to us in news reports and documentaries?