On a lighter note,
WATCH ::: http://vimeo.com/32553320
Every summer steel drum orchestras gather in panyards across Brooklyn to gear up for the annual Steel Band Panorama Competition. The Despers come together every night throughout the summer. The sound is captivating, indeed trance-like. We, my brilliant film partner Sarah and I, left each time elevated. I was in cinematic heaven.
And speaking of cinematic heaven, this past week I checked out a few “ethnographic” oldies.
Film Forum ran a retrospective of Robert Gardner’s films and Margaret Mead Film Festival did the same for Jean Rouch.
I checked out Gardner’s Dead Birds and Forest Of Bliss. Both are cinematically brilliant, absolutely gorgeous. He carefully chooses his compositions, constructs his shots mysteriously, slowly revealing. He pays attention to details such as plants, insects and the silence of the atmosphere. The viewer enters the film, engrossed. He also uses the voice of god type of narration to inform the viewer about the Dani culture and the two main characters. He goes so far to tell us their thoughts, disappointments and exaggerations and I can’t help but wonder how he has come up with them?
It’s staged to a point (so are Flaherty and Rouch’s films) and somewhat problematic in the sense of exotic othering (he doesn’t mention his intent to the Dani people) but I find myself unable to dismiss its value. It’s fascinating. Here’s a tough and interesting critique of the film by Jay Ruby.
Forest of Bliss is equally as beautiful, though here Gardner looses his voiceover and also refrains from subtitles. We watch and interpret for ourselves. The films circles, repeating images and enclosing the viewer in what seems a small radius on the Ganges…death is theme but so is life…and life is struggle in this film.
Jean Rouch’s Jaguar is funny, entertaining and a sort of docu-fiction.
In constructing the story, he stages and directs the actions of his characters. He also uses his friends in the films and as crew members.
After some criticisms of his early films, he here gives the voice back to the people filmed by having them watch themselves and come up with their own narration to the film. They themselves comment on life in Accra, Africa, culture etc. (they make fun of different tribes and their nudity and gestures)..the exchanges are humorous and at times tiring, there is no natural sound of the filmed scenes and so the viewer is not really entering their world.
The people of colonized countries are or perhaps were somewhat subservient toward the colonizers and I wonder to what extent the narration is constructed to “please” Rouch. There is also a part in the film where one of the characters, upon arriving to Accra finds himself in a managerial position and treats his workers unkindly - this part immediately linked me back to a clip of Rouch I had watched prior to Jaguar.
Not an easy task, documenting, representing, respecting the theme, people and the message.
Let’s keep questioning ourselves, reflecting back to ourselves.
And in closing, here are the two men together, The Screening Room chat between Gardner and Rouch