“Chaos is the order of nature, and order is the dream of mankind (Adams).” This famous quote by Henry Adams seems to be the best way to describe the making of art, as film. Throughout the history of film, there has been an underlying motive when it comes to filmmaking, and that is to play God. From Birth of a Nation and Nanook of the North to Verotov’s Man With a Movie Camera, this notion of playing God is seen and well practiced.
No matter how it is recorded, film will never be one hundred percent documentary. Film must, naturally, be edited down, and through that editing the filmmaker creates a story. Such can be easily seen in Flaherty’s Nanook of the North. Being considered the first feature length documentary, Flaherty still chose exactly which aspects of Nanook’s life to show, creating a portrait of how he sees Nanook. Flaherty played God to showcase Nanook and his family’s struggles. What Flaherty chose to capture is now an archive of how we see that tribe of the north. Through playing God, and choosing what to show and capture, Flaherty got the public to believe his view of the Inuit tribe.
Since documentary film is not documentary, in the purest sense, it is hard to ever decipher what is real and what is edited to look a certain way. In Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera, the man edits a Russian city to his liking, even bringing it close to destruction at one point. The “God” figure that the man, or filmmaker, plays is not very well hidden from the public eye. There are shots of action around the city, and then there are shots of a filmmaker splicing away and editing his film. There are also some images of the city falling in upon itself, when two sides of the frame start tilting and overlapping each other. All of this culminating in a superimposed shot of the man with the camera in the sky, looking down on the city and recording, as if he were a puppeteer or the image of Jesus in Birth of a Nation. The image is almost imperial, making the filmmaker the most influential person of the city. The Russian city pulsates to every move of the movie camera, which is controlled by the God-figure himself, the filmmaker.
No matter how ethnologically accurate one tries to make a film, there will always be a skewed perspective in which the filmmaker has full control over. During The Wizard of Oz, the filmmaker/director had full rights to cut to Auntie Em’s house during Dorothy’s trek down the yellow brick road. He also had a right to show the house or castle that Glinda lives in. The filmmaker/screenwriter/director, however, decided against showing those things in order to show what he saw fit. Ultimately, the filmmaker, has the final say in what should be depicted, and therefore interpreted.
Nowadays, however, there seems to be an even higher up übermensch that gets to have final say, and that is the studio executives, if the filmmaker chooses to take that route. But even nowadays, a film in its purest form is completely controlled by the filmmaker. Playing God is something that the filmmaker must be accustomed to. Breaking hearts, breaking lives, and controlling the story are things that the filmmaker does every day during a project. The view and take of the project lies in the hands of this one übermensch. Every artist has a niche for playing God, editing the world down to their perspective.