Codes and Conventions

Only by comparing it to a professionally made documentary film can I truly evaluate the work I made for our factual program unit. To do this I had to watch a film of a similar theme and subject matter and take into consideration how both mine and that piece of work fit the codes and conventions. These are the structural supports which any documentary has to have in place in order for it to be successful, otherwise it will fail.

The piece of work chosen to do this is Alive Inside – a film which follows social worker, Dan Cohen, as he travels to care homes housing elderly dementia patients, and shows how music can bring them out of their semi-unconscious state, as they sing and show emotions not seen for years.

In terms of the subject of the two, they are similar in regards of showing how we as human beings react to certain pieces of music and what happens in our brain when we hear it. Mine doing it in a much more simplistic fashion on purpose it must be added. But Alive Inside takes it to another level in how it relates it to the growing discontent in how care homes in America are being run, the day to day lives of dementia sufferers in these homes as well as their treatment. I made my documentary overly simple on purpose so it focused on the music and the people instead of something else but I can also see how adding the view of health care into Alive Inside made it a more emotionally powerful film to watch.

Where the subject matter is fairly similar, the structure of the two films are very different. Mine opens with a montage, showing music within our world over the years and how it is used in media and eases the viewer in to the experiment, using a clip from a lecture by Dr. Ani Patel talking about how and why it affects our brains. Whereas Alive Inside opens with Cohen introducing himself and his idea, chucking us straight into it. You could say that this makes it seem a bit more professional and serious in its overall message while mine seems a bit more fun and “artsy fartsy” in a way.

When we get into the main bit, mine cuts between the different interviewees talking about the song which is currently playing – for example, it cuts between each of them talking about Frank Sinatra, and then moves on to them talking about Arctic Monkeys. It appears that I may have placed the clips randomly, but it was well organised so that there is a mixture of emotional and opinion contrasts, especially towards the end of each song, like when The Smiths ends with Danny talking about the sadness of the song and then switches to Fiona adding a bit of humour (albeit unintentionally). I did this as I thought it was the best way to show case the variation responses to the different songs.

Alive Inside goes from the introduction, to presenting the problem of dementia and then show us what happens when you play a patients favourite music to them. After a few examples, it then goes on to look at the problem with care homes in which these people live and how drugs aren’t helping, and if anything, along with the isolation, making them worse. It then takes us to a dementia sufferer who doesn’t live in a care home, who already fully understands how powerful music can be in helping her and how she gets on with life almost normally, and finally shows Cohen campaigning to get music players in homes, where he is very marginally successful. Each segment cuts from one to the other and regularly cuts to a psychologist explaining what is happening, whereas mine just cuts between the interviews.

In terms of report style, in Alive Inside, it mainly concentrates on Cohen asking the patients questions about their condition and music, using very simple, yes and no questions initially when they are still in their semi unconscious state but he uses more open questions when they are awake afterwards, when they are able to answer in a lot more detail.

None of my questioning was shown in the actual documentary as it would have disrupted the flow of it all, but when the interviewees weren’t able to think of something to say for a certain song, using open questioning such as “what does this song make you think about?” or “what image comes to mind?”.

Overall I think both were very subjective pieces, as in mine I reflected my view of certain songs in how I edited the segments in some cases, as well as the majority of people being other people’s opinions. Alive Inside is subjective as throughout Cohen is trying to push his opinion upon the entire film and uses the reactions as evidence to back him up.



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