Keep Going. Keep Shooting. Keep Quiet: The Action is Often Not the Action

In years of watching documentaries, especially vérité or quasi-vérité, there have probably been hundreds of moments in which – after the supposed “action” is complete — a filmmaker lingers and keeps the camera running.

I was just watching Herzog’s Grizzly Man yet again and saw a wonderful example. Without ruining the story of this extraordinary film, I can tell you that a fairly conventional interview with a character ends on an emotional note and – rather than end it “logically” or power down the camera out of some felt respect for the subject – Herzog keeps filming. Slowly the subject realizes the emotional implications of her words and the events she was describing. She says nothing but — in her silence, in her coming apart — reveals everything.

My point?

The action often takes place after the action. The main event is often not the main event.  The inner-life, the human steam animating the action,  is often only revealed in subtle glances and facial tics after all the talk is over.

Herzog never seems to forget this. And the Maysles Brothers, in Salesman, elevate the lingering lens to high art.

Keep the camera running.  Stay quiet. Allow the rich texture of inner emotional lives to trump “action.”