Student’s Lesson

Biography and Narrative

Student Activity: Biography and narrative

A documentary biography has the same intent in trying to explore someone’s life objectively and again, it creates a story by selecting parts of someone’s life and organising these into a narrative. In a coherent narrative only those parts that develop the story are necessary. There is a sense of causation that is that one thing happens to lead to another and influence the outcome. The main character is the person being studied and the setting is the places he/she has been.

Most biographies tend to adhere to certain conventions. They like to follow a chronological pattern from childhood to fame, often a variation of the hero’s journey. They try to suggest that there was always something about that person that distinguished him/her from others. Consider whether PAUL KELLY — STORIES OF ME responds to all or any of the biographical elements listed below.




Focuses on a person Focuses on a character Focuses on Paul Kelly
We find out about that person from the way others speak about him/her The other characters are used to illustrate aspects of the protagonist’s personality
Mentors and other influences such as defining events are described and explained
Different places are seen as influences on the person The setting and the character’s relationship to the setting reflects an aspect of the character.
The trials faced by the person and the way they are overcome become the focus of an examination of the power of the person The plot follows a series of complications and resolutions which further illustrate aspects of the character
Only those events that lead to a change in the person are explored All the actions lead to a result (cause and effect)
The significance of the person and importance of contribution is analysed and appraised Actions build to a climax, a turning point which then resolves into some kind of solution

Bringing it all together:

  • To what extent is PAUL KELLY — STORIES OF ME a biography and to what extent is it a narrative?
  • What do you think are the differences between stories and real life?

Interactive PDF Form: Biography and Narrative

Framing the subject

Student Activity: Analysing Visual Techniques

The documentary, PAUL KELLY — STORIES OF ME, opens with dramatic action and intent that shape the text. Watch the first five minutes from 00:00 to 05:10 and consider how Paul Kelly is framed through the opening sequence.

Using the jigsaw technique[1] students focus on one of the dot points below and then explain their findings to a new group consisting of students who have worked on the other two:

  • the choice of characters and their placement, costume, movement
  • the landscape, soundscape, set contrast and mise-en-scene
  • camera angles, shot length and size, focus, light and lighting.

Bringing it all together:

The arrangement of narrative and filmic elements results in the composition, pace and effect of the movie. It involves a high degree of artifice and shapes the representation of the subject of the text and meaning for the spectator.

  • Brainstorm the documentary maker’s intention in beginning the movie this way? In your class there are likely to be several different answers to this question.
  • Consider each of these answers and, using as evidence the details gathered in the jigsaw exercise, debate whether the introduction is successful in engaging the viewer’s interest in the subject and in the film.

[1] Jigsaw technique:

Student Activity: Artist and image

Refer to film (13:23–16:40)

For many musicians their image has been critical to their success, as it has often accompanied their music and become connected to their success.

1. Briefly outline how Paul Kelly represents himself as a musician, and discuss how his image is portrayed.

2. Research some other Australian artists that were around in the early eighties and find some recordings and if possible, footage of them. You may even find some pictures of them performing. Select one other artist and look at the image they presented to accompany their music.

3. Compare Paul Kelly’s image to this artist you have selected and discuss how this representation is typical of that era in Australian Rock Music.