Direct Address, Ethical Imagination and Errol Morris's Interrotron

Film-Philosophy 12 (2):17-29 (2008)
Most of us have grown up with faces on television that look back at us, talk to us, even whenwe ignore them. They smile at us, and seem to address us personally. But they cannot seeor hear us, and we may or may not know who they are. Increasingly, in societies wherescreens are prevalent , our encounters with fellow humanbeings are mediated in ways such as this. Has the ubiquitous intervention of screens in ourlives thus made it harder to understand and communicate directly with one another? Or,have screens extended our capacity to empathise and ‘socialise’, bringing us face-to-facewith people and points of view that we otherwise would never have encountered? In thisessay, I examine the idea that cinematic perception enables us to see the social world froma radically different perspective, and that an experience of this perspective may in itself beethical. I focus on the use of ‘direct address’, and discuss two documentaries by Errol Morriswhere the technique of direct address is used in ways that complicate ideas of mediationand empathy: Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. and The Fog of War:Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara . I also draw on the philosophyof Emmanuel Levinas, particularly his work on ethics and the face, to analyse the effects ofMorris’s techniques. The essay highlights the importance of responsibility in human communication, and maintains that by reflecting on the viewing situation we are betterpositioned to empathise with Morris’s controversial subjects
Keywords Errol Morris
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DOI 10.3366/film.2008.0013
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On Photography.Susan Sontag - 1978 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 36 (4):514-515.

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