Australian and New Zealand American Studies Association
Place of publication
The documentary form commonly referred to as rockumentary has become, since its inception in the early 1960s, a staple of American direct cinema. In keeping with its associations with observational direct cinema, rockumentary emphasizes showing over telling; that is, rockumentary privileges the visual capacities of documentary over patterns of exposition. While the ‘documentary display’ of rockumentary is comparable to certain features of the early ‘cinema of attractions’ it exceeds such features in its focus on performance. Typically, an emphasis within documentary theory on unmediated and unreconstructed access to the real as the basis of documentary film has not admitted a place for notions of performance before the camera. Rockumentary, with its relentless foregrounding of the performing body and the performance of musicians, revises this understanding. This essay examines rockumentary within the context of direct cinema as a mode centred on a documentary performative display as it operates within selected works from the 1960s to the present. The film theorist Brian Winston has claimed that ‘[d]irect cinema made the rock performance/tour movie into the most popular and commercially viable documentary form thus far.’ The inverse of this assessment may be closer to the mark: the rockumentary turned direct cinema into a commercially and widely available form, one which the rockumentary has at times returned to and superseded in its scopic attention to performative display.