Assertions Made in Title Cards
by Mimi Taylor
In the essay “When is a Documentary?: Documentary As a Mode of Reception” Dirk Eitzen lays out the argument that “what distinguishes documentaries, and nonfiction in general, from fiction” is whether it makes sense to ask the question “Might it be lying?” (89). To support his argument he draws on semiotician Sol Worth’s essay “Pictures Can’t Say Ain’t,” where Worth makes the argument that pictures cannot lie (Eitzen 89). Eitzen extends this argument to “everything in movies that does not have the character of an express metatextual caption or label” (91). According to Eitzen, movies merely represent “a space, action, or event” (91), and “project a world” (91), until some “metatextual caption or label,” usually in the form of a framing device, asserts meaning. In the case of Paris is Burning sometimes the “metatextual caption or label” is a literal label, in the form of a title card.
Paris is Burning imposes meaning on the projected worlds of the movie through these title cards. For instance, early on in the film this title card is shown: