Customer Reviews: A New History of Documentary Film
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on June 2, 2016
Not since Eric Barnouw's landmark survey, "Documentary, a History of the Non-Fiction Film" in 1993 has there been a better, more complete and up-to-date history of documentary film making. Betsy McLane not only covers the evolution of the form and craft from the first images that flickered with movement, she offers valuable information and insights to help readers enrich their understanding and appreciation of important non fiction films and understand changing styles and the issues they raise, as well as adding very human portraits of the passionate and committed men and women who devoted their careers to capturing the quicksilver of the real word and framing it on film. Including a short bibliography and filmography with each chapter, McLane organizes her material in a clear and usable fashion for both educators and the curious general public. As a veteran documentarian, I'm grateful for the invaluable contribution she's made to a greater appreciation of the importance of documentary film making, past, present, and especially the future.
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on September 17, 2011
This book is very insightful about old film and those who first used it! I love old things and learning the history of how they came about! For those of you who like documentary films, this book is recommended. It is an easy read!!
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on February 27, 2013
The author is able to strike a wonderful balance between the contributions of major figures in the field and social trends that shape the impact of this important communications movement.
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on July 30, 2013
excellent, informative book, but could have spoken more on minority documentarians. The Kindle version interactivity(dictionary, wed search, highlighter, etc., very helpful.
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on August 10, 2014
This book gives people like me an opportunity to journey into the history of the forefathers of documentaries. It's interesting to learn about the early documentaries but also about the propaganda behind some documentary's. I was amazed at how gullible we as an audience can be when accepting documentaries for what we believe the definition is supposed to be ... "Truth". I recommend this book to everyone, whether interested in film, documentary books, or anything that has to do documentaries at all (past, present or future). For some it will be amazing at how many styles exist and how many different ways the word "documentary" is viewed.
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on November 22, 2013
I teach two documentary film classes that require or suggest this book. In a nutshell, the prior editions, written with Jack C. Ellis, are superior. If you're not buying this book because of a requirement for a class, get the prior edition, save money and get a better perspective.

In Fall of 2013 we finally adopted the current edition of this book as our official textbook. I found it odd that Ellis' name was no longer on the cover, wondering if McLane really wrote all of those first few chapters herself since they are quite similar to the prior edition.

Somewhere in the middle of the book are where the real changes happen between the editions. McLane groups the WWII docs differently, that's an improvement. However, the last several chapters of the book are a pretty big disappointment. The voice of the book has an abrupt shift and sounds more like a movie review than scholarly writing (the coverage of Supersize Me, in particular, where McLane goes off on a bizarre tangent about wine...)

The biggest surprise was that she virtually eliminates Michael Moore from documentary history! Like him or not, he *did* make the highest grossing documentary film of all time. Ya think that might warrant a mention? Nope. Not in Betsy McLane's version of film history. The only mention Michael Moore gets is a photo! That's right. Check out the index. No mention but a photo and related caption. Bizarre... I'm wondering if there's an agenda here...

And whom does she give plenty of air time to? Davis Guggenheim. OK, I respect Guggenheim (even thought he was kinda hot at one time because I walked past him in the lobby at my job a few years back). He worked on Deadwood, which I think is absolutely brilliant. But McClane simply *glows* over his achievement in this text, noting on page 341 that "Guggenheim is the only filmmaker to release three different films ranked within the top 100 highest-grossing documentaries of all time."

There's only one thing wrong: Michael Moore has actually, not only "released" 4 top grossing documentaries in the *TOP 24* of highest-grossing documentaries of all time ([...] Moore actually directed them too. There is something seriously wrong here when a so-called authority of documentary history has re-written that history so drastically. These figures are easy to look up and refute. How did she think she'd actually get away with blatantly eliminating Moore, an important figure, regardless if you actually dig his work or not. (I'm not a massive Michael Moore defender but I respect what he's done and I respect the truth more than anything... and Betsy McLane has side stepped it in this texbook in a BIG way. It's absolutely outrageous.) Which title do you recognize more: Bowling for Columbine or It Might Get Loud? My point exactly.

So, clearly there's an agenda here that has trumped accuracy. Which really begs the question: where else is she taking liberties? After I go through this book with a fine-tooth comb, I may post a follow up and answer that question.

----- FOLLOW UP -----

This is follow up to the above. More inaccuracies found: DECEMBER 7th was directed by both Gregg Toland and John Ford, but McLane only credits Toland with being DP. I get raked over the coals by students for supplying inaccurate info, but it's hard to teach accurately when our textbook actually gets it wrong. Students are the first to point it out. Let's hope the next edition is fact-checked before publishing.
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on September 20, 2013
A thorough and well-researched history of mainly western english-language documentary production. The book leaves some gaps, however, given the scope of the work and its usefulness, an excellent intro textbook.
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on February 23, 2014
I love how I relieve the book in less then a week. One thing I loved that I was so surprise was that even though the book was use the book was in great condition. I love it!
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on February 4, 2015
Purchased for a film course. Gives a great list of documentary films to watch. I learned a lot about the neo-realism and the best ways to narrative documentaries.
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on August 23, 2013
I have been teaching at USC School of Cinematic Arts currently in the Peter Stark Producing Program since 1979. I was the executive producer of the Academy Award winning documentary BIG MOMA and was nominated for an Academy Award for POSTER GIRL in 2011 for Best Documentary Short. Both works aired on HBO.

Dr. McLane's book A NEW HISTORY OF THE DOCUMENTARY FILM is required reading for ALL of my producing students who want to create and produce documentaries. There is no better overview of documentaries available.

Every documentary filmmaker should be familiar with the history of our field. This book is organized clearly and McLane covers all of the key works. The index is really helpful in the revised edition.

For film history, production or producing classes there is no better overview of the documentary field than this work. It is an invaluable resource that should be kept so it always at hand.
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