Archive Footage? Fake Documentary? ——Forrest Gump

In Historiography and Historiophoty, Hayden White created the word “Historiophoty”, which corresponds to the traditional “historiography”. He believes that the image is not simply a form of historical material but is also a tool or medium for writing history. Film and television history use visual images and film discourse to depict history and our views on history (White, 1988).

In films, the artificial creative mechanism has been integrated into the whole process of movie performance. Films can achieve unexpected results through the transformation of existing photographic documentaries by the application of digital skills.

In Forrest Gump, “The digital-effects artist used facial cues to animate Kennedy’s image and synchronise his mouth movements with the scripted dialogue. At the perceptual level of phonemic articulation and facial register, the correspondences established are true and enable the viewer to accept the photographic and dramatic reality of the scene” (Prince:2004:94). We can see that digital technology cannot be defined as reflecting reality, but has almost reached the stage of “manipulation”, due to its ability to change reality, in as realistic a manner as possible (Prince:2004:89).


Forrest Gump (1994)

Alexandra Juhasz’s provides a definition of the fake documentary, in which the viewer at some point recognizes the falsehood, “finding out” that the documentary is not “real”. Actually, Forrest Gump is not a fake documentary but a scripted fiction film. Digital technology connects the  fictional character in the movie with real historical people and events, which interact with the historical documentary. “Forrest Gump confuses the fictional with the historically ‘real’ in an absolutely seamless representation.” Indeed, it depends on this for its humour, and obtains the acceptance of the audience for this history puzzle (Baron, 2013:59).


Forrest Gump (1994)

“However, if the gimmick goes unrecognized, the historical record is potentially changed for the viewer ” (Baron, 2013:59)

Maslin and Sobchack suggest that the concept of “seamlessness” is “that it is the fear that the ‘seam’ – which marks the boundary between the found actuality elements and the fictional elements of the image – will not be recognized that is ultimately most worrisome, particularly in relation to viewers with insufficient extratextual or historical knowledge of the imaged events”(Baron, 2013:59).

Historical appraisal plays an important role in the historical procedure, the boundaries between production alteration and misdirection are easily mixed. Indeed, the archive effect of fake documentaries alert people to keep debating and discussing (Baron, 2013:77), and decide under what conditions belief is justified (Baron, 2013:52).

Written By Yilei Peng


Baron, J. (2013). The Archive Effect: Found footage and the audiovisual experience of history. Routledge.

Forrest Gump, Available from [Accessed 20 February 2017].

Prince, S. (2004). True Lies. Film Theory: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies4(3), 85-90, 93-94.

White, H. (1988). Historiography and Historiophoty. The American historical review93(5), 1193-1199.


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