Modern documentary filmmakers use fiction-influenced narrative styles that blur the boundaries between fact and fiction, stretching the limits and rules of the genre set by what is referred to as classic or expository documentary. Another major change in the documentary form and narrative style is the inclusion of the filmmaker in the film. As a result of filmmakers starring in their own films, interacting with the subjects, and narrating the story themselves, documentaries have become more personality driven. In these modern methods, the voices of the narrators and/or the filmmakers carry a significant importance as narrative elements. Taking five music-related documentary films into account—Lot 63, Grave C (Sam Green); Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (Fatih Akin); Metal: A Headbanger's Journey (Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen, and Jessica Joywise); The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: Metal Years (Penelope Spheeris); and Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul)—this paper analyzes how the voices of the narrators and/or the filmmakers are used as narrative elements, and what effects these voices have on the narrative styles and the modes of these documentaries.

Expository mode is the “classic” documentary form that features a narrator—usually in the form of an authoritative male voice-over—headshots of experts talking, interviews with people on the street, and stock footage and images that illustrate and reinforce the narrator’s point. These conventions in documentary arise from the need to convince viewers of the authenticity of what they are being told.1 Classic documentary form claims that the film the audience is watching is objective and that it presents only the truth.2 To further reinforce this verisimilitude in classic documentaries, long shots and scenes are used so that the audience feels as if they are watching untouched reality, and classical music is often used to underline the seriousness of the film.

In time, documentaries have changed. Marsha McCreadie traces the changes in documentary form and genre from past to present. She suggests that documentaries were “fact-filled, earnest and well-meaning movies that prefaced a main feature, or nature shows on television with embarrassing or comic sex scenes” but now they have become “so exciting that [they have] spun off all kinds of new and interesting subgenres” that incorporate “personal filmmaking, documentaries and rockumentaries, socially conscious docs (nothing new there), old-fashioned talking heads information docs, and docs with an inserted narrator starring him- or herself.”3 This excitement resulted in increased interest in documentaries in the mainstream. The reason behind this change is the change in the documentary form.

Modern documentary filmmakers use fiction-influenced narrative styles, blur the boundaries between fact and fiction, utilize fiction film camera and editing techniques, and, as Errol Morris states, “work in the area between fiction and film.”4

Another major change in the documentary form is the inclusion of the filmmaker in the film: Filmmakers have started “starring” in their own films. As a result, documentaries have become more personality driven. The storyteller (the documentary filmmaker) thus becomes as important as the story itself. McCreadie acknowledges that though the filmmaker as a persona in his or her own film was actually seen as early as 1912, this tendency has only recently been accepted as an established and provocative form:

Documentaries with a point of view, and a creative mix of fact and fiction, have become the place to be. And if that means starring yourself in your own film, so be it. In fact, be it better.5

In these modern forms and methods, not only the sight but also the voices of the narrators and/or the filmmakers carry a significant importance as narrative elements. To support this claim, this article analyzes five music-related documentaries —Lot 63, Grave C; Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul; Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey; The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: Metal Years; and Searching for Sugar Man—in terms of how the voices of the narrators and/or the filmmakers are used as narrative elements, and what effects these voices have on the narrative styles and the modes of these documentaries.

The well-known documentary Gimme Shelter (directed by Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin, 1970) follows the last weeks of the Rolling Stones’ 1969 US tour and focuses mainly on the infamous Altamont Speedway Free Concert, at which an 18-year-old man with a pistol in his hand, Meredith Hunter, was stabbed to death by Hells Angels, who were in charge of security around the stage. While Monterey “marked the apotheosis of the San Francisco-based flower culture” and Woodstock was “three days of Love, Peace, and Music,” Altamont represented “the death of flower-power, the death of Love.”6 Gimme Shelter, which helped shape both the “Direct Cinema” movement and the “rockumentary” genre,7 features the footage of Hunter’s stabbing and shows the Rolling Stones later as they watch the incident and reflect on it, but it does not say much about Hunter himself. Neither did the media. The press focus was on Altamont only because, as Robert Christgau suggests, it provided such a complex metaphor for the way an era ended.8 Hunter was lost to history.

Lot 63, Grave C (directed by Sam Green, 2006) is a short documentary about Meredith Hunter. The film’s title refers to Hunter’s grave location. The film does not chronicle Hunter’s life; instead it depicts a person’s state of being lost to history. Green writes that “although Meredith Hunter lives on as a symbol, as an individual, he’s been pretty much completely forgotten” and even in death “he’s never had the dignity of his own identity” as his grave was unmarked, without a headstone.9

The strength of Lot 63, Grave C comes not from the choice of plot or the story, but from the way Green presents it. Apart from a few newspaper articles on microfilm and the stabbing footage, Green had no visual material on Hunter.10 Although this is a major problem when producing a documentary, Green overcame this by using a narration style different from those in conventional documentaries. He follows Edward Wilkes, the general manager of Skyview Memorial Lawn, the cemetery where Hunter’s grave is located, and tells about Hunter through Wilkes’s words. Instead of interviewing Wilkes in front of the camera, Green constructs his way of storytelling by following Wilkes as he walks from the entrance gate of the cemetery to Hunter’s grave. During this walk, Green uses Wilkes’s voice mostly off-screen, but in some instances he also shows Wilkes talking. The film is almost ten minutes in length, and nearly five minutes of it include shots of Wilkes walking and standing, and other cemetery scenes on Wilkes’s way from the gate to Hunter’s grave. Green also uses intertitles to give brief information about the Altamont Speedway Free Concert and the incident that happened that day. The film includes footage of Hunter’s stabbing from Gimme Shelter and shots of newspaper clippings on microfilm.

Green had very little visual material; if he had interviewed Wilkes sitting in front of a camera, the film could easily have turned out to be a “talking head” documentary, or, with the addition of a voice-of-God commentary, an expository one, which relies “heavily on informing logic carried by the spoken word.”11 Many documentaries lean on this mode in which a ubiquitous, omniscient, and objective professionally trained male voice, speaking directly to the audience, organizes images and makes sense of them. This commentary therefore places itself in a higher order than the accompanying images. Instead of employing the expository mode, Green chose to follow Wilkes walking from the cemetery gate to Hunter’s grave, which gives a sense of motion, turning Green’s search for Hunter almost into a journey in which Green finally finds Hunter and his unmarked grave—he reaches his destination and concludes the film.

Up until Wilkes reaches Hunter’s grave, Green uses Wilkes’s voice off-screen, as a voice-over commentary. Although we see Wilkes on the screen, we sense his voice as an acousmatic presence, a disembodied voice as in Michel Chion’s concept acousmêtre,12—since Wilkes is not shown talking to the camera, the voice has not yet been connected to its bearer. Chion suggests that “the sight of the speaking face attests through the synchrony of audition/vision that the voice really belongs to that character, and thus is able to capture, domesticate, and ‘embody’ her.”13 When Wilkes reaches his destination and points out Hunter’s grave, Green shows him talking on-screen for the first time in the film; by doing so he supports and reinforces the moment of revelation of Hunter’s grave by using the effect of embodying Wilkes’s voice. Unless the coincidence of the voice with the mouth is verified, the voice retains an aura of magical power.14 Green uses this throughout Wilkes’s journey, then he also uses the power of the moment of the voice’s embodiment to reinforce the effect of the revelation of Hunter’s unmarked grave. It should also be noted that, in practical terms, using Wilkes’ voice as an off-screen commentary—that is, using it as an unsynchronized sound—gives Green much more freedom in the film-editing process by making Wilkes’s monologue an autonomous element, allowing him to assemble it freely, without worrying about the synchronized picture.

Lot 63, Grave C incorporates footage from Gimme Shelter, intertitles for brief information about the concert and the incident, as well as newspaper clippings on microfilm, and Green creatively uses shots of the microfilm archives as visual effects for transitions between intertitles, footage, and Wilkes’s walk. Green’s Lot 63, Grave C, with its rather unusual structure, is a very good and solid example of a documentary based on a plot for which the filmmaker does not have enough visual material.

The way Green structures Lot 63, Grave C—how he creatively incorporates Wilkes’s voice to present the story—is very effective and serves the film well. At the beginning of the documentary, right before Wilkes starts to walk, Green shows himself on camera very briefly, wearing headphones and holding a microphone, but he is not seen engaging with his subject—an indication that the filmmaker is present in the scene, it keeps the film in the documentary genre as his presence detaches the film from fictional qualities, yet helps him keep a transparent profile as a filmmaker who does not, at least directly, influence the events that are being filmed.

Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (directed by Fatih Akin, 2005) is a documentary that follows German musician Alexander Hacke and his journey through Istanbul’s music scene. Akin’s aim is not to put together a compilation of Turkish folk music or to chronicle milestones in Turkish music but to portray the contemporary music scene and cultural life in Istanbul, with all its diversity, and he succeeds at that. The place and role of Hacke are not strictly set in the documentary genre; in fact, the boundary between documentary and fiction genres in the film tends to be blurred at times. Hacke serves as an off-screen narrator but at the same time he is in the film, staying at the same hotel that the leading character in Akin’s fiction film Head-On stays at, traveling around Istanbul, interacting with musicians, and interviewing them—though Akin never shows him speaking on-screen—and, equipped with a mobile recording studio and microphones, making recordings of the bands and artists. These all give Hacke a fictional quality. That Hacke is set partly in documentary and partly in fiction creates a contrast and distinguishes Crossing the Bridge from conventional documentaries.

Similar to Wilkes’s voice in Lot 63, Grave C, Hacke’s voice also has the attribute of acousmatic presence. Although Hacke is seen and heard in the film, his voice is not truly embodied, because Akin does not show him talking on-screen. So, in Chion’s term, Hacke’s voice is never de-acousmatized:

As long as the face and mouth have not been completely revealed, and as long as the spectator’s eye has not “verified” the co-incidence of the voice with the mouth (a verification which needs only to be approximate), de-acousmatization is incomplete, and the voice retains an aura of invulnerability and magical power.15

In practical terms this gives Akin the freedom to assemble the narration of Hacke independently from the picture and to change, manipulate, and re-record it, even with different text, during the post-production phase of the film.

Akin follows a certain structure in introducing the artists and the bands. He starts with pop, rock, hip-hop, and electronic music, all Western genres but played with Turkish and Middle Eastern influences by Istanbul artists and bands, and he gradually moves deeper to the roots, to the progenitors who influenced younger musicians. Crossing the Bridge successfully builds a balance between music and interviews and Hacke’s journey. Music is very much present all through the film, yet it never overshadows the interviews or, in general, the depiction of Akin’s portrayal of Istanbul’s diverse cultural life.

The narrative structure that Akin has built works perfectly for the film. The structures of Green’s Lot 63, Grave C and Akin’s Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul are similar as they both employ the same technique of narrating the story through a person in the film. On the other hand, they are different because in Lot 63, Grave C Wilkes is very much real, which—along with the involvement of the filmmaker—keeps the film in the documentary genre, whereas in Crossing the Bridge Hacke has a fictional quality, which at times blurs the line between the genres of documentary and fiction. Akin keeps the film within the boundaries of the documentary genre at times, then crosses the border to the fictional side, and then goes back again to the documentary genre. This complex but highly effective narrative structure works perfectly for Crossing the Bridge.

Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (directed by Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen, and Jessica Joywise, 2005) follows Sam Dunn, an anthropologist and filmmaker, who sets out on a journey in Europe and North America to discover why heavy metal music has been consistently stereotyped, dismissed, and loathed and yet is loved so passionately by its millions of fans. Along the way he conducts interviews, exploring and questioning the different views about origins and culture of heavy metal music and the controversy that surrounds it. Among Dunn’s subjects there are not only musicians but journalists, writers, record company professionals, and academics as well.

Some points set Headbanger’s Journey apart from Lot 63, Grave C and Crossing the Bridge. In Lot 63, Grave C the filmmaker is on camera very briefly but is not seen engaging with his subject. In Crossing the Bridge the filmmaker is not on camera at all. Unlike these two films, in Headbanger’s Journey the filmmaker is on camera. The film follows him and he is actively engaged with the interviewees. This places Headbanger’s Journey in participatory mode, a documentary mode put forward by Bill Nichols. In participatory mode the filmmaker interacts with the subjects, and this interaction is documented on camera. Nichols suggests that the “filmmaker steps out from behind the cloak of voice-over commentary…and becomes a social actor” but “retains the camera, and with it, a certain degree of potential power and control over events.”16 In participatory mode, the fact that the filmmaker’s presence and interaction with the subjects might intentionally or unintentionally affect the subject is not hidden: “If there is a truth here it is the truth of a form of interaction that would not exist were it not for the camera.”17

The technique of conducting and/or editing the interviews is also different in Headbanger’s Journey. Neither the filmmaker Green in Lot 63, Grave C nor the musician Hacke in Crossing the Bridge (who has a fictional quality) directly engages with his subjects. The questions they ask are not heard on film and there is never an exchange of words between them and the interviewees. In Headbanger’s Journey, however, Dunn shows himself interviewing his subjects, even talking and socializing with them. At the beginning of the film, Dunn states that he has been a part of heavy metal culture since he was 12 years old. His involvement with his subjects in the film, especially the musicians of whom he has been a fan since childhood, gives the documentary a more sincere touch.

Dunn’s association with the subject matter at hand brings out another difference: In Lot 63, Grave C Green and Wilkes are not directly connected to Hunter or the incident that leads to Hunter’s death. Similarly, in Crossing the Bridge Akin and Hacke are not a part of Istanbul’s music scene. Dunn, on the other hand, is a part of the heavy metal culture that he investigates. This explains why Dunn puts himself in the center of his documentary and why the documentary follows him. The structure of narration of Headbanger’s Journey is similar to Green’s Lot 63, Grave C and Akin’s Crossing the Bridge: They all employ the same technique of narrating the story through a person in the film, but, unlike the other two films, in Headbanger’s Journey the person narrating the story is the filmmaker himself. Again, this gives the documentary a more sincere touch.

Dunn uses the voice-over technique for some of his commentaries but he is frequently seen on camera talking, which means that the voice and the sight of the person are married—or the voice is embodied, as Chion puts it. Dunn’s voice is not presented as the voice of a narrator who speaks objectively, without being involved in the story. He does not talk from a balcony, which Chion suggests is the place of voice-overs.18 He does not sound like an authoritarian commenter as in documentaries that use expository mode. Nichols suggests that expository mode emphasizes the impression of objectivity, as the voice-over commentary has the capacity to judge the actions from a distance without being caught in them.19 Laura Rascaroli argues that it is the extra-diegetic positioning that gives the voice-over its supposed judgmental and authoritarian quality.20 This is not the case in Headbanger’s Journey; Dunn’s voice is embodied, so he is always present in the diegetic space of the film since he is actively positioned in the story.

In The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: Metal Years (directed by Penelope Spheeris, 1988), the filmmaker focuses on the Los Angeles hard rock and heavy metal scene from 1986 to 1988, with an emphasis on glam rock. The filmmaker’s involvement with her subjects, and her interaction with them, place this documentary in participatory mode, similar to Headbanger’s Journey, but in The Decline of Western Civilization Spheeris exists only as a voice. She is never on camera. All through the film, Spheeris’s disembodied voice interacts with interviewees and leads them. In that sense, Spheeris can be thought of as an acousmêtre:

When the acousmatic presence is a voice, and especially when this voice has not yet been visualized—that is, when we cannot yet connect it to a face—we get a special being, a kind of talking and acting shadow to which we attach the name acousmêtre.21

According to Carolyn Abbate, the word acousmêtre, coined by Chion and derived from the combination of the words acousmatic and être (“to be” in French), has entered Anglo-American film theory terminology directly, without translation.22

Wilkes in Lot 63, Grave C, Hacke in Crossing the Bridge, and Spheeris in The Decline of Western Civilization can all be regarded as acousmêtres. However, there are some differences between them. According to Chion’s concept of disembodied voice, Spheeris can be thought of as a “complete acousmêtre,” “the one who is not-yet-seen, but who remains liable to appear in the visual field at any moment.”23 Spheeris’s presence is so strong in the film that the audience expects her to appear on camera at any second, although that never happens.

Unlike Spheeris, Wilkes is not simply a complete acousmêtre. Wilkes’s case is more complicated than Spheeris’s. As described previously, Green uses Wilkes’s voice off-screen; although Wilkes in on camera, he is not shown talking—that is, there is no synchrony of audition and vision—which produces a problematic case of acousmêtre, similar to the one in Psycho (directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1960). In the final scene of that film, Norman Bates is shown sitting in the holding cell and the mother’s voice, which is believed or expected to be produced by Norman, is heard over his face, but his mouth is closed and his lips are not moving. This “final encounter with Norman,” as Peter Morfoot suggests, “is one of the most moving and disturbing of the film.”24 The mother’s monologue is heard “as if to suggest possession by spirits, or ventriloquism.”25 The voice cannot find a place to be embodied, so it pastes itself, artificially, on Norman’s face.

The mother’s voice in Psycho is more problematic than Wilkes’s voice because it never could be truly visualized or embodied. The same can be said for Hacke in Crossing the Bridge, though it is not as intense as Norman’s voice in Pscyho. Wilkes’s voice is embodied when Green shows him talking on camera the moment he reaches his destination and points out Hunter’s grave.

While Spheeris’s and Dunn’s interaction with their subjects place both The Decline of Western Civilization and Headbanger’s Journey in participatory mode, there is an obvious difference between them in how they approach their subject matter. Dunn’s involvement with his subjects makes his film more like a celebration of heavy metal and its culture, whereas Spheeris’s is almost a harsh interrogation. She asks questions such as, “What if you don’t make it as a rock-and-roll star?” “Did you go to school?” “What was the last job you had?” “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” “Are you in it for the money?” In addition, Dunn’s enthusiasm and adoration for his subject matter, heavy metal and its culture, are obvious on camera while Spheeris’s voice always keeps its distance from the interviewees and the music genre in general and at times shows signs of contempt.

Searching for Sugar Man (directed by Malik Bendjelloul, 2012) is a documentary about the search for mysterious American singer and songwriter Sixto Rodriguez. The Detroit-based folk musician had two albums released in the United States; neither of them sold well, so the record company dropped him. Then in the early 1970s, unbeknownst to Rodriguez, his albums somehow reached Cape Town, South Africa, where through the hand-to-hand exchange of bootleg copies his songs became an anti-establishment inspiration. Rodriguez, although an unseen figure, turned into a star comparable to Bob Dylan or the Beatles. In the 1990s two South African fans, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, set out on a search for Rodriguez to find out who he really was and what happened to him. Although Searching for Sugar Man tells the story of the search for Rodriguez by Segerman and Strydom, and even though the plot of the film and the backbone information are conveyed by them, the film does not follow them. As a matter of fact, the film does not follow any person—not even Rodriguez himself, who appears on camera in the second half of the film. Bendjelloul builds a narrative structure on interviews, not only with Segerman, Strydom, and Rodriguez, but also with other people connected to Rodriguez, and he supports the interviews with new and archival footage and animations.

The narrative that Bendjelloul constructs on interviews works very well. It moves between Cape Town and Detroit, in two different yet complementary directions. Interview by interview, Bendjelloul moves forward in the story, as if completing a jigsaw puzzle. He uses each piece—information from the interviews—strategically, so while he completes the puzzle on the one hand, he creates a denser mystery on the other, teasing the audience and keeping their attention. While doing this, Bendjelloul manages to squeeze in information and opinions about the cities and circumstances, such as the censorship of music and the political situation in Cape Town and in South Africa in the 1970s, and the effects of Detroit on its residents: “It’s a city that tells you not to dream big, not to expect anything more,” says Sandra Rodriguez-Kennedy, Rodriguez’s daughter, about Detroit in the film. Robert Edgar, Kirsty Fairclough-Isaacs, and Benjamin Halligan, referencing Eric Hertz—who writes about post-punk films and suggests that those films “link the music’s authenticity to the fate of the cities themselves”26—note that “music documentary often presents the city as the essential element to understand music.”27 Taking this into consideration, the information and opinions that Bendjelloul give the audience help them to better understand Rodriguez and his music as well as the reception of his music.

Of particular note is Bendjelloul’s visual style. Like most filmmakers, he uses visual material, such as film footage and animation, so that the interviewees do not end up functioning solely as talking heads. What he uses as footage, and how he uses it, sets Bendjelloul’s visual style apart. It is obvious that he had very little visual material of Rodriguez from the past—a few photos, almost no videos—so instead he uses a mixture of recently shot videos and archival footage of Cape Town and Detroit. Most of the time there is no real connection, in terms of content and context, between the images and the statements of the interviewees other than that the incidents the interviewees are talking about took place either in Cape Town or Detroit. It is almost like the statement of the interviewee goes one way while the image goes another, acting like autonomous elements; yet this phenomenon, which Chion calls “counterpoint,” is not obvious to the audience. Chion’s audiovisual counterpoint, which is different from musical counterpoint, “implies an auditory voice perceived horizontally in tandem with the visual track, a voice that possesses its own formal individuality.”28 He provides the coverage of a bicycle race in Barcelona that he encountered on television as an example in which the image shows the racers from a helicopter, while the soundtrack consists of a dialogue between the reporter and some cyclists. He writes that it is obvious that those speaking are not watching the images, nor are they saying anything remotely related to them. Apart from the only link between them, which is the topic of cycling, image and sound act independently from each other, and yet, Chion suggests, no one notices this obvious counterpoint. He also gives the reason why this counterpoint is not noticed:

It is not enough if the sound and image differ in nature (the content of each, their spatial characteristics, etc.). Audiovisual counterpoint will be noticed only if it sets up an opposition between sound and image on a precise point of meaning.29

It can be argued that this is the reason why the counterpoint of the images and the statements of the interviewees in Searching for Sugar Man work. Unlike Chion’s example, however, Bendjelloul’s images are aesthetically sequenced stylized shots. They do not illustrate, reinforce, or conflict with what is said. They are in neither a leading nor a supporting role. Their aesthetic contribution, a reflection of Bendjelloul’s visual style, enhances the viewing experience.

Halfway through the film Rodriguez appears on camera, in interviews in which the interviewer is an unseen male, most probably Bendjelloul himself. His voice is heard but he is never on camera. Just like Spheeris in The Decline of Western Civilization, Bendjelloul is also a complete acousmêtre. Unlike Spheeris, whose voice has a very strong presence and interacts with all subjects in the film, Bendjelloul interacts only with Rodriguez, and his voice does not have a strong presence because it is not as prominent as Spheeris’s. Bendjelloul sounds very neutral: He is not like a character or part of the story, and he is just asking questions, not leading the subject.

The following chart summarizes and compares the narrative styles of the five documentaries discussed in this essay.

FilmFollowsNarrated by/throughNarrator on camera?Filmmaker involved with subjects?Filmmaker on camera?Filmmaker’s voice present?Additional comments
Lot 63, Grave C Edward Wilkes, a subject in the film Edward Wilkes, a subject in the film Yes No Yes, very briefly No Wilkes is on camera, but his voice is not embodied until the moment of resolution in the film. 
Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul Alexander Hacke, a subject / almost a fictional character in the film Alexander Hacke, a subject / almost a fictional character in the film Yes No No No Hacke is on camera but his voice is not embodied; it is never de-acousmatized in the film. 
Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey Sam Dunn, the filmmaker Sam Dunn, the filmmaker Yes Yes Yes Yes Among these five documentaries, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey is the film in which the filmmaker is the most prominent. 
The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: Metal Years Does not follow a particular person Spheeris, the filmmaker No Yes No Yes The filmmaker’s presence is strong all through the film. She is a complete acousmêtre. 
Searching for Sugar Man Does not follow a particular person Is not narrated by/through a particular person N/A Yes No Yes There is no narrator or any other subject or character who acts as a carrier; the film narrates itself through the interviews. 
FilmFollowsNarrated by/throughNarrator on camera?Filmmaker involved with subjects?Filmmaker on camera?Filmmaker’s voice present?Additional comments
Lot 63, Grave C Edward Wilkes, a subject in the film Edward Wilkes, a subject in the film Yes No Yes, very briefly No Wilkes is on camera, but his voice is not embodied until the moment of resolution in the film. 
Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul Alexander Hacke, a subject / almost a fictional character in the film Alexander Hacke, a subject / almost a fictional character in the film Yes No No No Hacke is on camera but his voice is not embodied; it is never de-acousmatized in the film. 
Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey Sam Dunn, the filmmaker Sam Dunn, the filmmaker Yes Yes Yes Yes Among these five documentaries, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey is the film in which the filmmaker is the most prominent. 
The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: Metal Years Does not follow a particular person Spheeris, the filmmaker No Yes No Yes The filmmaker’s presence is strong all through the film. She is a complete acousmêtre. 
Searching for Sugar Man Does not follow a particular person Is not narrated by/through a particular person N/A Yes No Yes There is no narrator or any other subject or character who acts as a carrier; the film narrates itself through the interviews. 

The film in which the filmmaker is the most prominent is Headbanger’s Journey. It follows Dunn, he is on camera, the story is narrated by him, he interviews the subjects himself, and he is heavily involved with them. Compared to Dunn, Spheeris’s presence in The Decline of Western Civilization and especially Bendjelloul’s presence in Searching for Sugar Man are much less prominent. Nevertheless, the directors’ involvements with their subjects and their actions place these three films in participatory mode. In Lot 63, Grave C, Green appears on camera momentarily, holding a microphone to interview Wilkes. Even his brief presence is enough to keep the film in the field of documentary. Crossing the Bridge, on the other hand, with the total absence of the filmmaker, and with its style that narrates the film through Hacke, a subject—almost a fictional character—blurs the boundaries between documentary and fiction. Hacke interacts with the subjects and he even plays songs with some of them. Akin is the most transparent among these five filmmakers.

None of the films features an authoritarian commenter, a God-like voice-over, which is a common characteristic of expository documentaries. Lot 63, Grave C is narrated by Wilkes, a subject in the film, who walks the audience to Hunter’s grave. The revelation of the grave is the moment of resolution in the film. At first, Wilkes is a problematic acousmêtre, but he becomes embodied in the end. Hacke in Crossing the Bridge is also a problematic acousmêtre, like Wilkes, but unlike Wilkes, he is never de-acousmatized in the film. Chion reduces the embodiment of the disembodied voice to the synchronous presentation of the voice and the face and the mouth that the voice supposedly belongs to. Akin never shows Hacke talking. The audience sees him and hears him, but never at the same time. Hacke’s voice is never embodied. Just like in the final scene of Hitchcock’s Psycho, Hacke’s voice cannot find a place to be embodied in so it somehow artificially pastes itself on Hacke’s face.

According to Abbate, “the voice of Norman Bates’ mother in Psycho has become a locus classicus for interrogations of the uncanny in cinema.”30 It is not as intense as the mother’s voice, but Hacke’s voice has also an uncanny quality. Mladen Dolar suggests that “the voice without a body is inherently uncanny, and that the body to which it is assigned does not dissipate its haunting effect.”31 Hacke’s case can be compared to ventriloquism. Ventriloquists display their art by holding a dummy or a puppet, which is supposed to be the origin of the voice. Although the voice and the face are simultaneously presented, this does not demystify the voice; on the contrary, as Dolar suggests, “it enhances the enigma.”32

Mary Anne Doanne proposes that acousmêtre “deepens the diegesis, gives it an extent which exceeds that of the image,”33 and it can be said that Crossing the Bridge’s narrative benefits from this deepening.34

Headbanger’s Journey and The Decline of Western Civilization are narrated by the filmmakers, Dunn and Spheeris, respectively, and the latter is a complete acousmêtre. It should be noted that Spheeris mostly acts as a carrier who helps the film to move forward. In that sense she functions differently than Wilkes, Hacke, and Dunn.

Voices are among the most personalized and most naturalized forms of subjective self-expression.35 Dolar even suggests that voice is much more than language but is, in some sense, what is left over before or after language.36 People articulate themselves through their voices and assign the voices of others deep meanings.37 The human voice is the most familiar sound to all people. People use their voices and listen to others’ voices each and every day. As Dolar suggests, “all of our social life is mediated by the voice.”38 Whenever people are in environments that are full of sounds, human voices are usually the first ones that capture their attention. All other sounds are secondary.

The human voice is so significant that in music production, it is usually the singer’s voice that is the main focus. The mix of a song is shaped around it. The same is true for the sound mix of a fiction film or a documentary, due to the fact that “the presence of a human voice structures the sonic space that contains it.”39 The human voice has possessed a central role in the film soundtrack since the beginning of sound film.40 Modern filmmakers who changed the form of the documentary, who blurred the lines between documentary and fiction, and who placed themselves in their films, used the human voice as a narrative element and, as seen through the five documentaries discussed here, this has helped them to shape the form, style, and mode of their documentaries.

1.

Patricia Aufderheide, Documentary: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 11.

2.

Bill Nichols, Introduction to Documentary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 105–9.

3.

Marsha McCreadie, Documentary Superstars: How Today's Filmmakers Are Reinventing the Form (New York: Allworth Press, 2008), ix.

4.

Quoted in McCreadie, Documentary Superstars, 98.

5.

Ibid., x.

6.

Joel Haycock, “Gimme Shelter,” Film Quarterly 24, no. 4 (1971): 56–60.

7.

Julie Lobalzo Wright, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly '60s: The Opposing Gazes of Woodstock and Gimme Shelter,” in The Music Documentary: Acid Rock to Electropop, eds. R. Edgar, K. Fairclough-Isaacs, and B. Halligan (New York: Routledge, 2013), 71.

8.

Robert Christgau, “The Rolling Stones: Can't Get No Satisfaction,” Newsday, July 1972, http://www.robertchristgau.com/xg/bk-aow/altamont.php.

9.

Sam Green, “Sam Green's Tour Through Lot 63, Grave C,” http://sf360.org.mytempweb.com/?pageid=3257 (last modified April 12, 2006).

10.

Ibid.

11.

Nichols, Introduction to Documentary, 107.

12.

Michel Chion, The Voice in Cinema, trans. Claudia Gorbman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 21.

13.

Michel Chion, Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen, trans. Claudia Gorbman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 30.

14.

Chion, The Voice in Cinema, 28.

15.

Ibid.

16.

Nichols, Introduction to Documentary, 116.

17.

Ibid., 118.

18.

Chion, Audio-Vision, 68.

19.

Nichols, Introduction to Documentary, 107.

20.

Laura Rascaroli, “Sonic Interstices: Essayistic Voiceover and Spectatorial Space in Robert Cambrinus’s Commentary (2009),” Media Fields Journal, no. 3 (2011).

21.

Chion, The Voice in Cinema, 21.

22.

Carolyn Abbate, “Debussy's Phantom Sounds,” Cambridge Opera Journal 10, no. 1 (1998): 75.

23.

Chion, The Voice in Cinema, 21.

24.

Peter Morfoot, “Three Films of Alfred Hitchcock” (PhD diss., University of Essex, 1986), 95.

25.

Chion, The Voice in Cinema, 149.

26.

Eric Hertz, “The Anxiety of Authenticity: Post-Punk in the 2000s,” in The Music Documentary: Acid Rock to Electropop, eds. R. Edgar, K. Fairclough-Isaacs, and B. Halligan (New York: Routledge, 2013), 133.

27.

Robert Edgar, Kirsty Fairclough-Isaacs, and Benjamin Halligan, The Music Documentary: Acid Rock to Electropop (New York: Routledge, 2013), xiii.

28.

Chion, Audio-Vision, 36.

29.

Ibid., 38.

30.

Abbate, “Debussy's Phantom Sounds.”

31.

Mladen Dolar, A Voice and Nothing More (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 61.

32.

Ibid., 70.

33.

Mary Anne Doanne, “The Voice in Cinema: The Articulation of Body and Space,” in Film Sound: Theory and Practice, eds. E. Weis and J. Belton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 167.

34.

According to Freud's concept, the uncanny refers to or is related to something familiar or known, yet at the same time foreign or strange, which results in a feeling of being unsettled and uncomfortable: “the uncanny is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar.” Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVII (1917–1919), An Infantile Neurosis and Other Works (London: Hogarth Press, 1955), 217–56. The acousmêtre in cinema, due to its uncanny quality, not only arouses curiosity and creates mystery or suspense but also helps with audience identification, albeit in a remote way.

35.

Jonathan Sterne, “The Voices” in The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne (New York: Routledge, 2012), 491.

36.

Mladen Dolar, “The Linguistics of the Voice,” in ibid., 544.

37.

Sterne, “The Voices,” 491.

38.

Dolar, A Voice and Nothing More, 13.

39.

Chion, The Voice in Cinema, 5.

40.

Collin Chua, “Re-Sounding Images: Sound and Image in an Audiovisual Age” (PhD diss., Murdoch University, 2007), 42.s