Film, Media and Music

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The early films of John Marshall and Timothy Asch
Paul Henley

When John Marshall filmed the San people of the Kalahari Desert in the 1950s and Timothy Asch filmed the Yanomami in Amazonia in the late 1960s and early 1970s, little re-enactment was required to film traditional ways of living. However, these film-makers also struggled to reconcile the perceived need to produce objective film records with the requirements of making a film with a narrative structure, that is, a ‘movie’. To circumvent this dilemma, Marshall and Asch developed the ‘event-sequence’ method. This involved identifying spontaneously occurring events with an intrinsic beginning–middle–end structure and then filming these without intervention. In this way, they hoped to produce films that would have the narrative characteristics of a ‘movie’ but which would also constitute an objective record. Initially applied to Marshall’s San footage, the method was most extensively used by Asch in his work with the Yanomami. But by 1975, it had become apparent that this attempt to have the best of both worlds was illusory.

in Beyond observation
The films of David and Judith MacDougall in Africa and Australia
Paul Henley

In the mid-1970s, the terms ‘reflexivity’ and ‘participation’ became commonplace in discussions of English-language ethnographic film. Their emergence was associated with the recognition that the production of objective film records was an illusion and that the participation of the film-maker in the lives of the subjects should be acknowledged in an openly ‘reflexive’ manner. This primarily epistemological issue was overlain by the more ethical and political concern that the role of the subjects themselves in the making of an ethnographic film should also be acknowledged. This chapter analyses the contribution of David and Judith MacDougall in developing this more reflexive and participatory praxis, first in their work with pastoralist groups in East Africa, and later with Aboriginal communities in Australia.

in Beyond observation
Open Access (free)
Beyond the burden of the real
Paul Henley

This chapter begins with an overview of Gardner’s career. This was of similar duration to that of Rouch, but very different in that Gardner made films in many different parts of the world, never staying long enough in any one place to learn the local language or get to know his subjects well. It is argued that this was only one of several respects in which Gardner’s praxis was at odds with certain central tenets of anthropology as an academic discipline. Another was his frank admission that he was more interested in what his subjects’ lives signified to him as an observer than in how they themselves might understand them. The chapter continues with a consideration of Gardner’s praxis as a cinematographer,, which while being technically highly skilled, very rarely involved any kind of reflexivity or verbal engagement with the subjects. The remainder of the chapter is dedicated to a discussion of Gardner’s praxis as an editor, drawing extensively on his masterwork, Forest of Bliss, a film about cremation procedures at the Hindu holy city of Varanasi.

in Beyond observation
Open Access (free)
Indigenous media and the Video nas Aldeias project
Paul Henley

From the 1970s, cheap lightweight video camcorders underpinned the making of films by indigenous subjects. Often referred to as ‘indigenous media’, a term first coined by Faye Ginsburg in the 1980s, these works are now of a highly variable character, ranging from feature-length fiction films to modest informational videos. This chapter confines itself to a review of a limited number of indigenous media projects in which anthropologists have played an important role, with a special emphasis on those set up in Amazonia. It also considers some general questions raised by these projects, such as whether the use of modern audiovisual technology undermines traditional indigenous identities and whether film-making by outsiders is redundant now that indigenous people can make their own films. The latter part of the chapter is dedicated to an extended account of the Video nas Aldeias project in Brazil, which has been running since 1987.

in Beyond observation
Paul Henley

This chapter considers a range of film genres that prior to the Second World War led to the production of works of ethnographic interest, even though their primary motivation was commercial. Beginning with a discussion of the reportage films produced by the Edison and Lumière companies, and by the French newsreel companies Pathé and Gaumont, it then briefly considers the US travelogue genre. The main body of the chapter proposes that three major works produced for commercial purposes but claimed retrospectively as masterworks of ethnographic film history – Grass, In the Land of the Head Hunters and Nanook of the North – should be read as emerging from a combination of the travel film and the exotic melodrama genres.

in Beyond observation
Paul Henley

This chapter begins by relating the emergence of ethnographic film on British television in the 1970s to the Reithian broadcasting principles whereby television franchise holders were required not only to entertain their audiences, but also to ‘educate and inform’ them. It then compares the two basic formats of ethnographic film on British television. One of these was the comparative format favoured by the BBC, in which material from several different groups, each based on the research of a different anthropologist, was compared in the course of a single programme, as exemplified by the series, Family of Man (1969–70) and Face Values (1978). This is contrasted with the ‘one-by-four’ format, in which films of one hour about one social group were constructed around one central theme based on the research of one anthropologist, as exemplified by the Granada Television series, Disappearing World, which ran, with various interruptions, between 1970 and 1993.

in Beyond observation
Open Access (free)
Mia-Marie Hammarlin

Only a tiny proportion of the cultural regulatory system to which people must relate can be communicated through signs in the street or in law regulations. A considerably greater part of our understanding of the circumstances and restrictions of the community happens through informal talk, for instance in the form of gossip. The media scandal as a phenomenon reveals these often unspoken and emotionally regulated cultural agreements. It makes the boundaries of cultural life visible, allowing us to examine those boundaries by talking about them and exploring them emotionally together. What the book has brought out is the circular character of the news food chain where gossip, journalism, the exercise of public authority, and political considerations form an intricate network, without clear hierarchies or directions for the flows of information. In this sense, gossip-influenced and gossip-dependent journalism is not by definition bad or inferior. Undoubtedly, more studies on news journalism need to be conducted with respect to its oral, informal methods – not least now, in the midst of the shift of journalism from industrial production to an emotionally charged networked environment.

in Exposed
Open Access (free)
Living with scandal, rumour, and gossip

This book illuminates the personal experience of being at the centre of a media scandal. The existential level of that experience is highlighted by means of the application of ethnological and phenomenological perspectives to extensive empirical material drawn from a Swedish context. The questions raised and answered in this book include the following: How does the experience of being the protagonist in a media scandal affect a person’s everyday life? What happens to routines, trust, and self-confidence? How does it change the basic settings of his or her lifeworld?

The analysis also contributes new perspectives on the fusion between interpersonal communication that takes place face to face, such as gossip and rumours, and traditional news media in the course of a scandal. A scandal derives its momentum from the audiences, whose engagement in the moral story determines its dissemination and duration. The nature of that engagement also affects the protagonist in specific ways. Members of the public participate through traditional oral communication, one vital aspect of which is activity in digital, social forums.

The author argues that gossip and rumour must be included in the idea of the media system if we are to be able to understand the formation and power of a media scandal, a contention which entails critiques of earlier research. Oral interpersonal communication does not disappear when new communication possibilities arise. Indeed, it may be invigorated by them. The term news legend is introduced, to capture the entanglement between traditional news-media storytelling and oral narrative.

Open Access (free)
Mia-Marie Hammarlin

This chapter is different from the others. This is partly because the main figure in the case that is described in detail is an anonymous private individual, partly because the story can be included in the concept of public shaming, with some folkloristic elements, rather than in that of a media scandal, although the two are related. The material is suitable for illustrating enduring relations between the local and the medial, between text and talk, and between journalism and gossip. The concept news legend is introduced, to pinpoint the narrative contagion and passing-down that take place among journalists and other news providers, in cooperation with the news audiences.

in Exposed
Mia-Marie Hammarlin

In this part of the book, the analysis of the relationship between the interpersonal and the mediated dimension of the public scandal is taken a step further. The chapter shows that these dimensions are more or less interwoven, a circumstance to which media researchers have not paid much attention because they have usually chosen to focus on the media themselves, employing a narrow definition of the ‘media’ concept. The overall question is: How is a media scandal possible, and through which media is it created? On close examination, it becomes clear that scandals have been mediated for centuries, and that general person-to-person conversations about them have played a notable part in that process. In a historical perspective, the oral distribution of news should in point of fact be considered a form of mediation.

in Exposed