Film and Philosophy

Volume 24, 2020

Shannon Brick
Pages 63-83

Identifying Documentary; Against the Trace Account

This article argues that we ought to reject Gregory Currie’s “Trace Account” of documentary film. According to the Trace Account, a film is a documentary so long the majority of its constitutive images are traces of the film’s subject matter. The argument proceeds by considering how proponents of the Trace Account could respond to Noel Carroll’s charge that their analysis is radically revisionary. I argue that the only responses available are either implausible or show that a fully worked out version of the Trace Account collapses into Carroll’s own, rival definition of documentary. I then consider how advocates of the Trace Account might attempt to rescue the theory by reframing it as an account of a genre or as a theory of evaluation and argue that neither attempt would succeed. Given this, we ought to embrace Carroll’s own account of documentary, according to which a film is documentary if and only if it is a film of presumptive assertion.

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