Though relatively unsung in the English-speaking world, Jean Rouch (1917–2004) was a towering figure of ethnographic cinema. Over the course of a fifty-year career, he completed over one hundred films, both documentary and fiction, and exerted an influence far beyond academia. Exhaustively researched yet elegantly written, The Adventure of the Real is the first comprehensive analysis of his practical filmmaking methods.
Rouch developed these methods while conducting anthropological research in West Africa in the 1940s–1950s. His innovative use of unscripted improvisation by his subjects had a profound impact on the French New Wave, Paul Henley reveals, while his documentary work launched the genre of cinema-vérité. In addition to tracking Rouch’s pioneering career, Henley examines the technical strategies, aesthetic considerations, and ethical positions that contribute to Rouch’s cinematographic legacy. Featuring over one hundred and fifty images, The Adventure of the Real is an essential introduction to Rouch’s work.
A daring, deep investigation into ethnographic cinema that challenges standard ways of writing film history and breaks important new ground in understanding archives
Bad Film Histories is a vital work that unsettles the authority of the archive. Katherine Groo daringly takes readers to the margins of the film record, addressing the undertheorization of film history and offering a rigorous corrective. Taking ethnographic cinema as a crucial case study, Groo challenges standard ways of thinking and writing about film history and questions widespread assumptions about what film artifacts are and what makes them meaningful. Rather than filling holes, Groo endeavors to understand the imprecisions and absences that define film history and its archives.
Bad Film Histories draws on numerous works of ethnographic cinema, from Edward S. Curtis’s In the Land of the Head Hunters, to a Citroën-sponsored “croisière” across Africa, to the extensive archives of the Maison Lumière and the Musée Albert-Kahn, to dozens of expedition films from the 1910s and 1920s. The project is deeply grounded in poststructural approaches to history, and throughout Groo draws on these frameworks to offer innovative and accessible readings that explain ethnographic cinema’s destabilizing energies.
As Groo describes, ethnographic works are mostly untitled, unauthored, seemingly infinite in number, and largely unrestored even in their digital afterlives. Her examination of ethnographic cinema provides necessary new thought for both film scholars and those who are thrilled by cinema’s boundless possibilities. In so doing, she boldly reexamines what early ethnographic cinema is and how these films produce meaning, challenging the foundations of film history and prevailing approaches to the archive.
From reviews of the first edition:
“Ethnographic Film can rightly be considered a film primer for anthropologists.”
“This is an interesting and useful book about what it means to be ethnographic and how this might affect ethnographic filmmaking for the better. It obviously belongs in all departments of anthropology, and most ethnographic filmmakers will want to read it.”
Even before Robert Flaherty released Nanook of the North in 1922, anthropologists were producing films about the lifeways of native peoples for a public audience, as well as for research and teaching. Ethnographic Film (1976) was one of the first books to provide a comprehensive introduction to this field of visual anthropology, and it quickly became the standard reference.
In this new edition, Karl G. Heider thoroughly updates Ethnographic Film to reflect developments in the field over the three decades since its publication, focusing on the work of four seminal filmmakers—Jean Rouch, John Marshall, Robert Gardner, and Timothy Asch. He begins with an introduction to ethnographic film and a history of the medium. He then considers many attributes of ethnographic film, including the crucial need to present "whole acts," "whole bodies," "whole interactions," and "whole people" to preserve the integrity of the cultural context. Heider also discusses numerous aspects of making ethnographic films, from ethics and finances to technical considerations such as film versus video and preserving the filmed record. He concludes with a look at using ethnographic film in teaching.
The practice of morality and the formation of identity among an indigenous Latin American culture are framed in a pioneering ethnography of sight that attempts to reverse the trend of anthropological fieldwork and theory overshadowing one another.
In this vital and richly detailed work, methodology and theory are treated as complementary partners as the author explores the dynamic Mayan customs of the Q'eqchi' people living in the cultural crossroads of Livingston, Guatemala. Here, Q'eqchi', Ladino, and Garifuna (Caribbean-coast Afro-Indians) societies interact among themselves and with others ranging from government officials to capitalists to contemporary tourists.
The fieldwork explores the politics of sight and incorporates a video camera operated by multiple people—the author and the Q'eqchi' people themselves—to watch unobtrusively the traditions, rituals, and everyday actions that exemplify the long-standing moral concepts guiding the Q'eqchi' in their relationships and tribulations. Sharing the camera lens, as well as the lens of ethnographic authority, allows the author to slip into the world of the Q'eqchi' and capture their moral, social, political, economic, and spiritual constructs shaped by history, ancestry, external forces, and time itself.
A comprehensive history of the Q'eqchi' illustrates how these former plantation laborers migrated to lands far from their Mayan ancestral homes to co-exist as one of several competing cultures, and what impact this had on maintaining continuity in their identities, moral codes of conduct, and perception of the changing outside world.
With the innovative use of visual methods and theories, the author's reflexive, sensory-oriented ethnographic approach makes this a study that itself becomes a reflection of the complex set of social structures embodied in its subject.
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