Cinema: Eye for Fact

Most movies ask the audience to use only one eye—the eye trained on the world of make-believe. Documentary movies often ignore that eye, sometimes too self-righteously, and concentrate on the other eye—the one trained on the actual world. At their worst, documentaries turn actuality into something insufferably boring and unreal. At their best, they give reality a new clarity and beauty.

During the war, mass U.S. audiences had their first real chance to see some of the finest and some of the worst documentaries. Now that the war is over, and most documentary makers...

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