Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Richard Grusin


At a period of intense technological change, which has led to an increasing degree of modularity in documentary media, "Reassembling Documentary: From Actuality to Virtuality" takes up episodic documentaries and non-fiction films broken into distinctly conceptualized parts, in order to examine how the evolution of technologies transform documentary film and media's relationship to the audiovisual archive across different historical periods. More specifically, the dissertation challenges the assumption that documentary film is essentially holistic in its discursive orientation and audiovisual aesthetics, by studying the fragmented works of a highly unique and international group of filmmakers, such as Harun Farocki, Werner Herzog, Péter Forgács, Aleksandr Sokurov, and James Longley in relation to the large number of modular, episodic, and mix-media films belonging to the documentary canon. To map the technological and theoretical transformations suggested in these films especially in the digital era, I propose the deployment of what I call "assemblistic reading," a type of textual analysis that moves from the distinct parts of a film to the whole, shifting the attention from the hierarchy between the micro and macro elements to their mutual reconfiguration. The project is organized into four chapters, each of which examines a different form of assembly (with individual parts conceptualized as fragments, lessons, installments, and compilations respectively) in documentary media.