ISSN 1466-4615

Volume 3 Number 34, August 1999



John Izod

Reply to MacLennan







Gary MacLennan

The Necessity of Critical Realism

_Film-Philosophy_, vol. 3 no. 33, August 1999



Gary MacLennan kindly refers to Richard Kilborn and myself as 'first class practitioners' who 'give a sensible account of documentary practice'. In fact, although we have close connections with documentary producers, we are both academics. This, if anything, makes me feel more grateful for the generous comments MacLennan makes on much of the book. By implication, however, it probably makes us all the more guilty of the inadequacies he perceives. To put the book into its context, it is worth referring back to our starting point.


_An Introduction to Television Documentary_ was offered to our publishers as a basic text for undergraduates. One of the objectives guiding the writing was, therefore, to simplify a number of demanding books and articles on documentary that had been published in the previous decade.


There were two main thrusts to this endeavour. The first involved reducing the stylistic and structural complexities of some of our predecessors' texts. We had found that all too often they placed needless and unproductive difficulties in the way of readers. So we appointed ourselves their uninvited interpreters. The second thrust required the accommodation of theoretical concepts into terms which we hoped our readers would find understandable. We did not discuss using Roy Bhaskar's work.


When I tried adopting Terry Lovell's carefully crafted introduction in _Pictures of Reality_, it proved too hard for me, let alone for our undergraduates. And indeed MacLennan himself reveals both kinds of difficulty I have in mind. This is the case, for example, when he expresses his preference that Richard and I should have taken into account 'the Bhaskarian notion of a meta-reflexive self-totalisation in which the filmmaker, because she is a stratified agent, can not only let us know she is making a film but can also insert her filmic practice within a totality'. One might ask, by the by, why MacLennan's filmmakers cannot be plural, as they are in life, and escape being earmarked as either female or male. However, my main point is that writing in this vein may be lucidity itself for academics who have come to Media Studies through an Althusserian-mediated approach to Marxian thought. But since the collapse of Grand Theory, few, if any, of our undergraduates have this background. Such a formulation is likely to mean nothing to them. Gary MacLennan is right to claim that Film and Media Studies would benefit from work on the notions of objectivity, realism and truth. Whether that work would best be undertaken by the followers of Roy Bhaskar remains to be demonstrated.


University of Stirling, Scotland





Lovell, Terry, _Pictures of Reality_ (London: British Film Institute, 1980).



Copyright © _Film-Philosophy_ 1999


John Izod, 'Reply to MacLennan',  _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 3 no. 34, August 1999 <>.




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