Still/Moving: The Aesthetics of Hercs Franks’ Early Television Documentaries

 

Zane Balčus

 

Starting from the end of the 1950s, documentary films were produced at the television station in Riga. For some filmmakers, television became a springboard preceding the work in the documentary and newsreel department of the Riga Film Studio, or remained a parallel site of documentary production. For the scriptwriter Hercs Franks (1926–2013), later one of the leading documentary filmmakers in Latvia, television was an initial platform for directorial work – he debuted as a documentary film director in television in 1965, before moving on to directing films for the Film Studio. These two short documentaries, Salty Bread (Sāļā maize) and At Noon (Pusdienā), display themes and approaches characteristic to Franks’ later films. His interest in photography is reflected in the use of still images as a stylistic element (Salty Bread), or the use of photography as a research tool for constructing and carrying out a meticulous production plan (At Noon), which can be followed through in his later work. At Noon, the production background of which Franks has described in great detail, foregrounds the importance of Dziga Vertov and Jean Rouch’s work for Franks in terms of framing the topic, use of editing, and other aspects, confirming his deep interest in aesthetic and technological perspectives of documentary.

 

In the presentation, I will analyse Salty Bread and At Noon in the context of the use of still image within a moving image realm as a stylistic approach (drawing on the theoretical work of Roland Barthes, Victor Burgin, David Campany, and others), and place them in a broader context of television aesthetics of the documentary productions at the time.

 

Zane Balčus is a junior research assistant at the Advanced Research Centre of the Latvian Academy of Culture and a PhD candidate at the Latvian Academy of Culture. Balčus is a co-author of Inscenējumu realitāte. Latvijas aktierkino vēsture (Reality of Fiction: History of Latvian Fiction Film, 2011) and Rolanda Kalniņa telpa (Cinematic Space of Rolands Kalniņš, 2018), and a freelance film critic writing on cinema for various publications (including Film New Europe, Kino Raksti, etc.). Her main research interests are documentary cinema and audience studies.