Documentaries Were Better in the Past.

#1
I have just been watching an episode of the documentary "The War in Europe - the Siegfried line". Recently I watched a documentary about the first world war simply entitled "1914-1918" (they were both shown in UK on the "Moviesformen" channel ). I don't know the exact dates they were made but they are obviously decades old because A. the presenter can be heard but is always entirely out of sight B. original archive film from the time and place being talked about is shown throughout, C. the fillm shows many aspects of the fighting, not only the same narrow selection that modern documentaries seem fixated with, D. that the monologue is entirely factual, without any questionable theories or false pathos.
 

Chlodio

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Aug 2016
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#2
There does seem to be a greater tendency in recent decades to want to reach the audience on an emotional level. Years ago, culture, especially TV and movies, was more masculine, produced by men for a male audience. Previous generations of men were more skeptical of emotionalism than are current generations of men. There are more women produding and writing TV and movies today, and producers are more aware of the female audience.

Today there might be more pressure on producers to produce profitable material, which drives them to make content that appeals to a larger audience.
 
#3
Chlodio, I don't think it is about more feminine producers particularly, I think it is the drive to make a profit, that is the problem here. That requires a photogenic presenter who emotes on screen, and presents some aspect (any aspect) of recent history, but there is no money/time to look through the available archive material, and the old well-known footage is used, whether it is appropriate or not.

Now I am seriously trying to read more books and use the television and radio much less. I am now reading a relatively old book about Hadrians Wall; the density of information in the text is startling.
 
Last edited:
Jul 2016
7,353
USA
#4
All documentaries are designed to "teach", whether for the sake of simple learning, or else propaganda. But first and foremost, to make it on television they need to make money. Modern documentaries are shot and edited with the understanding that they will generally be seen on television and will be competing with reality television (which dominates the channels which traditionally focused on documentaries). They will have limited budgets, limited time to tell their story so it will be squished in. They have to produce and edit it with the understanding that there will be frequent commercial breaks. In between these breaks they need to bring viewers back, entertain them lest they change the channel, and try to drive new viewers jumping in mid-show after flicking channels who will need
to be quickly caught up to speed, so they will have to constantly repeat themselves and make every segment its own act of the overall story, so as not to lose viewers. Monologuing narration is still sometimes used but most viewers are turned off by such, after all these are the same people who barely passed primary school because its too boring. They will instead interlace exposition with frequent interviews done with "subject matter experts" to work in their explanations instead of the narrator just reciting information, the use of these SMEs allows the viewer to feel like they are getting the truth since its coming from someone who is knowledgeable, almost like its being sourced.
 
#5
ll documentaries are designed to "teach", whether for the sake of simple learning, or else propaganda. But first and foremost, to make it on television they need to make money. Modern documentaries are shot and edited with the understanding that they will generally be seen on television and will be competing with reality television (which dominates the channels which traditionally focused on documentaries). They will have limited budgets, limited time to tell their story so it will be squished in. They have to produce and edit it with the understanding that there will be frequent commercial breaks. In between these breaks they need to bring viewers back, entertain them lest they change the channel, and try to drive new viewers jumping in mid-show after flicking channels who will need
to be quickly caught up to speed, so they will have to constantly repeat themselves and make every segment its own act of the overall story, so as not to lose viewers. Monologuing narration is still sometimes used but most viewers are turned off by such, after all these are the same people who barely passed primary school because its too boring. They will instead interlace exposition with frequent interviews done with "subject matter experts" to work in their explanations instead of the narrator just reciting information, the use of these SMEs allows the viewer to feel like they are getting the truth since its coming from someone who is knowledgeable, almost like its being sourced.
You are saying that the documentaries are aimed at people "who barely passed primary school"? So it is true to say that they were better in the past then?
 
Jul 2016
7,353
USA
#6
You are saying that the documentaries are aimed at people "who barely passed primary school"? So it is true to say that they were better in the past then?
I prefer them. Back in the day they weren't trying to get every idiot watching television to tune in, they accepted they'd have a limited audience. Nowadays its purely about money, take a look at any channel that documentaries are commonly aired and they are filled with garbage designed to get the lowest common denominator humans to watch.

Besides that, most don't even remotely try to hide their bias, which is another problem with documentaries is that almost none of them are doing anything other than pushing their own agenda.

Overall, the last place I would expect to get any good info from is a documentary.
 
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Jun 2018
27
New Hampshire
#7
I completely agree. Not only was the quality and content of the older (especially British) documentaries greatly superior to the more modern ones, but the entire ambiance was preferable.

I am referring especially to the background music. In older documentaries, particularly those dealing with ancient and medieval history, the music had a more serene and majestic feel to it. The modern documentaries tend to play techno or rock and roll which I find ruins the entire atmosphere of the educational experience.

Perhaps I'm nitpicking a bit here. But I am sure some will agree.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
2,996
Dispargum
#8
If you're comparing British documentaries to American ones, then a couple of points. To an American ear, a British accent sounds more authoritative and honest. That's why so many American TV commercials have British spokesmen and women. Also, many of the older British documentaries were made by the BBC and so were subsidized by tax dollars. The need for profitability and mass market appeal was less than it is today.
 
#9
Also, many of the older British documentaries were made by the BBC and so were subsidized by tax dollars. The need for profitability and mass market appeal was less than it is today.
Good point, but what is so very annoying nowadays is that the BBC appears to now be playing the commercial TV's game. The whole point of the BBC is that it doesn't need to bow to commercial pressures (because it gets about £5 billion a year given to it), it can produce quality product regardless. It seems to me that the modern set of media studies graduates have learned the same lessons as their commercial counterparts and feel the need to have all sorts of irritating gimmicks in their programs, rather than presenting an authorative program full of facts.
 
Feb 2017
159
Devon, UK
#10
In other words 'nostalgia ain't what it used to be'. On a more serious note BBC4 is currently running a 'Timewatch Guides' strand which deals with precisely this question, examining the treatment of particular peoples, eras and themes throughout 50 or 60 years of their own historical documentaries. And the conclusions they demonstrate are that historical documentaries reflect the preoccupations of their own times just as much as they tell us about the subject at hand. They also reveal that 'gimmicks' like dramatic reconstructions are nothing new and that apparently 'authorative' programmes 'full of facts' are just as guilty of authorial bias and sins of omission as any other.
 
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