Our thanks first and foremost to Brian Hill and Century Films for all the help they have given us. Thanks also to Simon Armitage and Simon Boswell for interviews and feedback. Thanks to Fernando Andacht, Maria Baltar, John Corner and Julia Lesage for their comments on drafts of the article and (in the case of Maria and Fernando) their willingness to share their research.

All images are the copyright of:
Century Films
Studio 32 Clink Street Studios
1 Clink Street
London SE1 9DG
United Kingdom.


1.  See especially Paget (1998) and Roscoe and Hight (2001). We are currently doing further work on the ideas in these books. Derek Paget is preparing a second edition of No Other Way to Tell It that will reflect the burgeoning field of docudrama on television and film. Jane Roscoe and Craig Hight are writing a new book that focuses on the expansion of mock-documentary forms in television.

2.  Showgirls was first transmitted on HBO on September 6 2003 (director: Kirby Dick). The approach in Hill’s documusicals is different, too, from what is on offer in "docu-opera." To treat this sub-genre, much less to make a comparison with documusical, would need another paper.

3. Jane Roscoe used this phrase in her Opening Address to the Symposium "Documentary – The Non-Conformists" in Sydney, Australia (10-12 September 2004). Speaking at the same symposium, Hill indicated his preference for "documentary musical" as a defining term. He wants to emphasize, not trivialize, the documentary aspect of the work.

4. We are thinking here of seminal texts such as Rosenthal (1988), Nichols (1991), Renov (1993), Winston (1995), Corner (1996) and others that have built on their opening up of this area. Voiceover is frequently discussed, of course, but sustained analysis of sound is rarer.

5.  A panel convened by Derek Paget and Chuck Kleinhans (at which a version of this article was given as a paper) broke this cycle of neglect in Montreal 2005. Kleinhans’s paper pointed out that audio documentary is an even more neglected area of study, though the form is burgeoning on US and UK airwaves.

6. This is taken from Sergi’s web article
We found the reference in Vivian Sobchack, "When the Ear Dreams: Dolby Digital and the Imagination of Sound" (Film Quarterly 58, 4, Summer 2005, 2-15). This essay opens up issues in which we too are interested. The website quoted offers a good range of practical and theoretical publications on sound, most of them from the past 10 or 15 years.

7. "Pro-sonic," to the best of our knowledge, is our coinage.

8. Jane Roscoe used "flickers of authenticity" first in "Real Entertainment: New Factual Hybrid Television’, Media International Australia 100 (2001): 9-20. It is a concept to be developed further in her work (forthcoming) with Craig Hight. We are grateful to Fernando Andacht (Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos, Sao Leopoldo, Brazil) for his perceptive comments on our paper both at and following "Visible Evidence 12." He pointed out the qualitative difference between Reality TV "flickers of authenticity" and the song-moments of documusicals.

9. A documentary proper on anything socially constructed as a vice will always run the risk of making disapproving Malvolios of its spectators – "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" as the magnificently named Sir Toby Belch asks the Puritan self-deceiver in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

10. We spoke to Hill at the Sydney Symposium, and subsequently at his company office in London (18 July 2005). Paget also conducted telephone interviews with lyricist Simon Armitage (9 June 2005) and musician Simon Boswell (13 July 2005).

11. Kate Bailiff and Alex Reed directed this film. Its subject was the transformation by charitable surgery of hideously disfigured Philippino children.

12. We applaud Sundance's recognition of Hill. Our aim in this article is to try to ameliorate the situation further by getting information on the documusical into the world of the documentary scholar, particularly in the USA.

13. Ami and Kerry are what are called "binge-drinkers" – there is currently something of a moral panic in the UK about this phenomenon amongst young people. Denis, old enough to know better, cheerfully drives to and from his pub. Donna is the really tragic case in the film – she is seen only once.

14. Interestingly, Tony too had singing in his background. He belongs to a Birmingham family famous on the UK folk circuit and two of his brothers are members of the band UB40.

15. Our editor, Chuck Kleinhans, commented that "Sherry and Me" fits into a recognizable sub-genre of popular music – songs like Frank Sinatra’s "One More for the Road," for example.

16. Among the many documentaries made by Roger Graef, the 1982 13-part series Police is perhaps the most famous. Following a public outcry after the episode "A Complaint of Rape" police forces across the UK were forced to re-think their treatment of rape victims.

17.  A cricket bat: US readers should think baseball bat, but bigger and heavier! Holloway is a women’s prison in North London, where McBride’s mother did, indeed, bring him into the world. Since McBride could neither read nor write, he found learning his song even more difficult.

18. Playwrights have recently been wrestling with similar problems with the "Verbatim Plays" currently fashionable on the London stage. Another essay would be needed to develop the point fully, but two plays from 2005 represent what we have in mind: David Hare’s Stuff Happens (about the aftermath of 9/11), and Robin Soans’ Talking to Terrorists. In both, freely composed dialogue has to an extent been replaced by verbatim testimony edited by the dramatists. All this bears out Hill’s contention that there is currently an "appetite for testimony" in modern culture – see also Dovey (2000) and Ellis (2000) on modern television’s focus on tropes of confession and witness.

19. Before he became a writer Armitage was a Probation Officer, so the ethical dilemma of over-involvement with clients was familiar to him.

20. Barb Jungr actually sang on screen in Hill and Armitage’s Killing Time (2000), a film setting of Armitage’s long poem about the millennium. She is a well-known cabaret performer in the UK.

21. We share the creative team’s belief on this matter, but do not have the kind of information that could sustain any claim to this effect.

22. Century even had interest from a London theatre producer wishing to develop the film as a stage show.

23. We find a kind of "reverse view" here, in which dominant gender positions are switched in terms of the "looked" and the "looked at."

24. Fernando Andacht developed this telling phrase first in a paper "On the Irresistible Index-Appeal of a Global Attraction: Big Brother is Touching You" (presented at the Forum "Le temps des Média" in Paris, July 2002). Ruoff makes a similar point about the impact of amateur performance in his discussion of An American Family referred to above. Pat Loud, he contends "becomes a touching signifier of the authenticity of her routine appearances in front of the camera" precisely because of her "inexperience as a voice-over narrator" (see Altman 1992: 231-2 – our emphasis).

25. Maria Baltar is a Ph.D. student at Universidade Federal Fluminense, Rio de Janeiro. Her fascinating paper, "Intimacy Pact – or Some Dialogical Possibilities between the Documentary Imagination and the Melodramatic Imagination," focused on Brazilian documentarist Eduardo Coutinho’s films – specifically his 2002 Edificio Master. There seems to us to be some synergy between Coutinho’s and Hill’s work.

26. We are grateful to John Corner both for this phrase and for the insight that our original phrase "giving back a voice": "harbors a dangerous degree of condescension" owing to "years of opportunist use by 'radical filmmakers' of every hue" [email: 18 August 2005]. We take John’s point but reiterate that this is the creative team’s view – it must be said that it is also our subjective experience of watching documusicals.

27. Derek Paget presented this paper to research groups at Reading and Bristol Universities in the UK in October 2005. There was a general agreement in discussion of the paper that the images used for the songs were also in some sense "amateur." Clearly, Hill’s budgets and crews were nothing like what is routinely available to makers of videos for the music industry. What we see in documusicals are clever images that recall music video to us intertextually. Intertextuality extends to Hill's title, which recalls Chris Terrill's 1999 BBC docusoap Jailbirds, also about women prisoners.

28. In Pornography, there is a section where Kelly Cooke was given a video camera to record a "video diary" of her return to work. Kelly records her thoughts on her role in a "watersports" porn session. The video diary format was firstpopularized by the BBC Community Programmes Unit’s "access" policy fifteen or so years ago. A series called Video Diaries began in 1991, and involved participants making do-it-yourself films under instruction from the Unit.

29. For further details, see Derek Paget, "Case Study: Theatre Workshop’s Oh What a Lovely War, 1963 – Chapter 17 in "Vol. 3: Since 1895" of The Cambridge History of British Theatre (ed. Baz Kershaw), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.


Films by Brian Hill:

 Saturday Night 1996
 Drinking for England 1998
 Killing Time 2000
 Nobody Someday 2002
 Feltham Sings 2002
 Pornography – The Musical 2003
 Songbirds [work in progress]2005

Other films by Century:

The Facemakers [dir: Kate Bailiff/Alex Reed] 2000

Other films/TV programs:

Night Mail [dir: Harry Watt] 1936
Spare Time [dir: Humphrey Jennings] 1939
A Diary for Timothy [dir: Humphrey Jennings] 1945
Don’t Look Back [dir: D.A. Pennebaker] 1966
An American Family [TV series – dir: Craig Gilbert]1973
Pennies from Heaven [TV drama series – writer: Dennis Potter] 1978
Police [TV series – dir: Roger Graef] 1982
Sherman’s March [dir: Ross McElwee] 1986
The Singing Detective [TV drama series – writer: Dennis Potter] 1986
Man Bites Dog [dirs: Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel, Benot Poelvoorde] 1992
Showgirls: Glitz and Angst [dir: Kirby Dick] 2004


Our Town
writer: Thornton Wilder 1938 [most recent edition published by Harper Collins, 2003]


Rick Altman (ed.), Sound Theory Sound Practice. New York and London: Routledge, 1992.

John Corner, The Art of Record: a Critical Introduction to Documentary. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1996.

John Corner, "Sounds Real: Music and Documentary," in Rosenthal and Corner, 2005: pp. 242-52.

Jon Dovey, Freakshow: First Person Media and Factual Television. London and Sterling VA: Pluto Press, 2000.

John Ellis, Seeing Things: Television in the Age of Uncertainty. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2000.

Steven N. Lipkin, Real Emotional Logic: Film and Television Docudrama as Persuasive Practice. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2002.

Bill Nichols, Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991.

Derek Paget, No Other Way to Tell It: Dramadoc/docudrama on television. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1998.

Derek Paget, "Case Study: Theatre Workshop’s Oh What a Lovely War, 1963 – Chapter 17 in "Vol. 3: Since 1895" of The Cambridge History of British Theatre (ed. Baz Kershaw), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Michael Renov (ed.), Theorizing Documentary. New York and London: Routledge, 1993.

Jane Roscoe and Craig Hight, Faking It: Mock-Documentary and the Subversion of Factuality. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2001.

Jane Roscoe, "Real Entertainment: New Factual Hybrid Television," Media International Australia 100 (2001): pp. 9-20.

Alan Rosenthal (ed.), New Challenges for Documentary. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Sothern Illinoi University Press, 1988.

Alan Rosenthal and John Corner (eds.), New Challenges for Documentary [2nd edition] Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005.

Jeffrey Ruoff, "Conventions of Sound in Documentary," in Altman, 1992: pp. 217-34.

Vivian Sobchack, "When the Ear Dreams: Dolby Digital and the Imagination of Sound," Film Quarterly 58, 4, Summer 2005, pp. 2-15.

Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting. London: Minerva, 1996.

Brian Winston, Claiming the Real: the Documentary Film Revisited. London: British Film Institute, 1995


[home page]

[direct link to the Gianluca Sergi article quoted]

[2006 Sundance festival website]

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