American Ethnographic Film and Personal Documentary: The Cambridge Turn

American Ethnographic Film and Personal Documentary: The Cambridge Turn

Scott MacDonald

Language: English

Pages: 424

ISBN: 0520275624

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

American Ethnographic Film and Personal Documentary is a critical history of American filmmakers crucial to the development of ethnographic film and personal documentary. The Boston and Cambridge area is notable for nurturing these approaches to documentary film via institutions such as the MIT Film Section and the Film Study Center, the Carpenter Center and the Visual and Environmental Studies Department at Harvard. Scott MacDonald uses pragmatism’s focus on empirical experience as a basis for measuring the groundbreaking achievements of such influential filmmakers as John Marshall, Robert Gardner, Timothy Asch, Ed Pincus, Miriam Weinstein, Alfred Guzzetti, Ross McElwee, Robb Moss, Nina Davenport, Steve Ascher and Jeanne Jordan, Michel Negroponte, John Gianvito, Alexander Olch, Amie Siegel, Ilisa Barbash, and Lucien Castaing-Taylor. By exploring the cinematic, personal, and professional relationships between these accomplished filmmakers, MacDonald shows how a pioneering, engaged, and uniquely cosmopolitan approach to documentary developed over the past half century.


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canonical novel, O Pioneers! (1913), Willa Cather depicts two fundamentally different kinds of passion. The romance between Marie Shabata and Emil Bergson, who fall in love and are murdered by Marie’s husband in the midst of their first erotic encounter, represents a form of youthful passion distinguished by its fierce necessity, its sharp desire, and its inevitable brevity. The novel’s other form of passion is represented by protagonist Alexandra Bergson’s creativity in transforming wild land

trail and the giraffe, as she tries and increasingly fails to keep up with the other giraffes and ultimately succumbs to the hunters. The very invisibility of Marshall’s camera within the diegesis of this story is the best evidence of the fact that this is a story, and Marshall’s intercutting between hunters and giraffe (if the hunters haven’t been able to find the giraffe, how has Marshall located her!) confirms the fabrication. Of course, the unusual nature of this story and its reliance on

of police work in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1969 (William Brayne shot Law and Order and would shoot nine more films for Wiseman), and Marshall was shooting his Pittsburgh Police films in 1968–69: Inside/Outside Station 9 was released in 1970; Three Domestics and Vagrant Woman in 1971; Investigation of a Hit and Run and 901/904 in 1972; and the remaining fifteen titles in 1973.50 The longer films—Inside/Outside Station 9 and 901/904 include films subsequently released, often in slightly different

American academe in particular, during the 1970s is reflected in Rivers of Sand. Indeed, Gardner’s decision to focus on the Hamar seems to have reflected his own developing gender awareness. Rivers of Sand is basically an 85-minute montage, organized according to three general principles, the most basic of which has been described by Gardner himself: “The film was intentionally conceived as a collection of impressions of a frequently fragmentary nature threaded together to comment on the notion

Learning”: “Bob wanted to make a film called The Gatherers to complement The Hunters. He planned to follow the life of a typical Ju/’hoan woman beginning in her lissome youth, proceeding through her gathering maternity and ending with /Gasa in the dust. . . . I knew that /Gasa was exceptional. . . . In film from the early 1950s, she is seen leading her blind sister around with a digging stick. . . .”68 It seems clear that Marshall’s frustration is with Gardner’s interest in /Gasa (Gardner never

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