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The looking machineEssays on cinema, anthropology and documentary filmmaking$
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David MacDougall

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781526134097

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9781526134097.001.0001

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Anthropology and the cinematic imagination

Anthropology and the cinematic imagination

(p.129) 10 Anthropology and the cinematic imagination
The looking machine

David MacDougall

Manchester University Press

The anthropologist George Marcus has written that cinema helped to inspire the use of montage-like juxtapositions in ethnographic texts. In this chapter, the author argues that the emergence of a cinematic imagination, which imagines the world constructed around the viewer, had more effect on anthropological writing than the presence of films themselves. Concern about how the construction of documentary films represents reality also probably preceded similar concerns by anthropologists about the writing of anthropological texts. In the 19th and early 20th century, anthropologists conceived of images as a source of knowledge, but this waned as they turned to less visible aspects of culture. Interest in visual anthropology only revived after the Second World War with the work of Jean Rouch and John Marshall, the first of whom pioneered a form of intense, immersive cinema, and the second who employed filming and editing strategies that placed the viewer imaginatively within the three-dimensional field of the scenes filmed. This tended to counteract the perceptual and conceptual ‘flatness’ of earlier representations of culture. Malinowski’s and Evans-Pritchard's writing had contributed to a more immediate and rounded view, but ethnographic cinema confirmed it, making a significant contribution to anthropology as a whole.

Keywords:   anthropology, ethnography, ethnographic film, stereoscopy, film history, John Marshall, Jean Rouch

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