Getting in the mood of Documentary..

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
-  Robert Frost

In a week I am leaving Melbourne search of a documentary story in New York. Is this an infantile fantasy I am chasing? That is my neurotic chatterbox interfering! You might meet him again later on...Wouldn't want to scare you off too soon. 

Having just watched the documentary Grey Gardens by the Maylses brothers' I was confronted by the ethics of documentary film-making. Grey Gardens is certainly a challenging documentary to watch. It is the story of a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship set in a dilapidated mansion in East Hampton. The mother and daughter Big and little Eddie Beale, cousins of Jackie O, allow the Maysles brothers into their lives to expose the querks and eccentricities which they seem suspiciously comfortable to reveal. Oozing with nostalgia, the movie is without debate an extraordinary piece of art. However, to what degree is one willing to disregard ethics in pursuit of good art? 

Watching this documentary through a psychiatric lens raises the issue of authenticity. There was no mention of mental illness throughout the film or in the directors' commentary and it is quite clear that little Eddie is thought disordered and living in a 'fantasy' world.. Although in some ways cinema verite gives an authentic and unadulterated view of the subjects' lives it is the omissions that are more interesting to address. My issue with this film is the potential for documentary film makers to exploit their subjects vulnerabilities for their own ambitious pursuits. 

This documentary certainly puts forward the debate regarding the definition of mental illness? Who defines mental illness? Does consent matter if the subject of the documentary is happy but not competent to make decisions?

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