September 2009 Archives
I found a number of similarities while comparing the content of The Vanishing American to The Battle at Elderbush Gulch. Despite the fact that the story lines have two very different agendas, The Vanishing American focuses on the government's maltreatment of Native Americans while The Battle of Elderbush Gulch focuses on the defeated and over exaggerated noble savage, both movies help perpetuate (not always by author's choice) the melodramatic, either good or bad Indian stereotype.
If film, as Louis Reeves Harrison suggested really had the power to provoke social change, how do you think The Vanishing American (1925), if it had been acted out as it was originally planned, would have been received? Do you think the film would have had a positive impact with the potential to change the direction of thought towards the American Indian or do you think it still would have been too early for the Euro-American audience to digest the progressive message in Grey's "outspoken" film?
In the first few pages of Celluloid Indian Kilpatrick suggests that America's myth in centered on the idea of, "How the West Was Won." With this in mind, turn to page five and read the quote by film critic Peter Wollen then give three detailed examples from The Battle of Elderbush Gulch that coincide with this description of nationalist discourse. In what do you think the movie exaggerated the Native American image most?
Much of what we have read about anthropology in this class so far has portrayed the field as a harmful force on American Indian cultures because of its tendency to focus on "the distinction of native versus foreign", thereby "othering" American Indian people. It is apparent that this distinction played a role in fueling the era of boarding schools and other attempts at assimilation by the U.S. government. However, do you think that anthropology's attempts at the preservation of "dying" cultures ever have merit? Or does this tendency to make distinctions always lead to the degradation of the culture in question?
1. In Celluloid Indians, Kilpatrick discusses the American frontier, stating that it "provided a challenge against which Euro-Americans, especially white males, could pit themselves. ... It was the cultural frontier that established the identity of the American West and the settlers and cowboys who pushed that frontier ever westward." In "The Battle at Elderbush Gulch" what type of identity is portrayed in regard to the American West? Additonally, what role did the orphans play in shaping the Indians' identity?
2. Kilpatrick also discusses the level of intelligence of American Indians in film. She states that "Aside from bloodthirstiness, (Bird's) Indians seemed only slightly more intellgent than the rocks they hid behind. One very effective method for transmitting their stupidity to the reader was linguistically through the use of pidgin speech, recognizable now as Tonto-talk." What methods were used in The Battle of Elderbush Gulch to convey the Indians' level of intelligence? Which methods were most effective in their pursuit? Consider the role of music as well as film.
1.John Borneman writes in his article that, "In the American context the constructed category Indian occupied the space of the quintessentially "foreign" (665). He then suggests that in order for European's to define themselves as American, they had to liquidate the American Indians. Do you agree with Borenman's thinking that one of the main forces for American Indian expulsion was Identity issues?
2. In the Celluloid Indian, Kilpatrick mentioned that one of the ways that the Euro-Americans challenged themselves was through the frontier (6). We see this theme presented in many Westerns, including the stereotypes of American Indians. Why do you think these stereotypes persisted in film, despite fact that most no longer perceived
Native Americans as threat??
1) In what ways did D.W. Griffith's film, The Battle at Elderbush Gulch, reify the nationalist narrative, which Borneman describes as "...to [re]create oneself as and to occupy the category 'American'..." (Borneman 665)? In other words, and in the context of the film, what is and what is not an "American," and furthermore, what cinematic techniques are used to define each?
2) Kilpatrick discusses the fact that while the United States was "...preparing for World War I...[a]udiences increasingly responded to the all-American hero on screen...negative depictions of Natives best fit the story Americans were telling themselves about themselves..." (Kilpatrick 19). Since then, Borneman discusses the modern approach of anthropology as needing practicing anthropologists to "...engage more self-consciously in the post-cold war debates..." (Borneman 670).
As modern consumers of media, the self-conscious approach to human rights issues seem to exist heavily in the comedy genre, using satire to talk about prejudices and stereotypes. Why do you believe this is and do you think this is a productive way of dealing with the subject matter? Compare the effectiveness of the humorous-approach to the use of historical films like Griffith's, The Battle at Elderbush Gulch, now used to educate and reconstruct notions of the past.
2. In Celluloid Indians, Jacquelyn Kilpatrick she said, "Perhaps the most interesting point about the silent movies was not that there were negative portrayal or positive portrayals but that the negative portrayals were the one that continued" (19). Why do you believe that the negative portrayal of Indians continued in movies? Also, if positive portrayal continued instead of the negative portrayal, how do you think the history of film would have changed?
The Politics of Taxidermy and Romantic Ethnography says:
As Flaherty himself explained, he did not want to show the Inuit as they were at the time of the making of the film, but as (he thought) they had been. (p.305, par.1)
Although it was typical for explorers to "nickname" the Inuit they encountered, Flaherty's innovation was in giving the Inuit nicknames that sounded Inuit. (p.307)
Can Groups 1 and 2 Students provide sample(s) of when you have seen, heard or felt nicknaming of people. Do you agree that Flaherty's innovation is not really innovation, but a form discrimination and continuance of indigenous language abuse?
Second, I examine the discourse around the Inuit, a discourse which has been largely ignored: Nanook-mania was preceded by a historical fascination for Inuit performers in exhibitions, zoos, fairs, museums and early cinema. (p.301-32, par. 3)
The film showed some scenes and the text writes about dead animal furs and Rony does comparisons with "The Politics of Taxidermy and Romantic Ethnography". Ethnography is a branch of anthropology dealing with the scientific description of individual cultures... Flaherty said he wanted to show the Inuit "as (he thought) they had been". Nowhere was the cultural ways of the daily ways of living live of the Inuit was then in real time "off the film and off the record". For a real live time comparison: across the street from Rapson Hall is the Bell Museum that has fur, feather and skin bearing and wearing animals that had been alive, now dead and have dressed up and stuffed, then arranged as if they were actually out in the wild... Do you think Flaherty and Rony avoided writing text or visually showing anything about the Inuit other than showing how to kill fish, walrus and seal culture? What reasons do you believe were avoided for not showing nor writing about non-human culture such as fur, feather and skin wearing beings...
1) Rony's article focuses on Nanook of the North as a piece of visible anthropology and ethnography and discusses how it could be the archetypal film of such areas. This could be attributed to the addition of title cards detailing the trivial daily activity unfolding onscreen allotting for a more factual presentation of the images.
Keeping the same images in the same order how could changing the information on the title cards alter the message conveyed to the audience? For example, if the title cards followed a more Hollywood narrative style would the meaning of the images have changed? Would Nanook of the North still be viewed as a piece of ethnography or would it be just another film romanticizing the "first man". Think back to both the Dippie and Pinney readings from last week and bring it one step further with Rony.
2) Rony discusses how even though Nanook of the North follows Inuit daily life it still contains a "slight narrative". One could argue that it is difficult to portray a piece of documentary without a narrative that reflects the opinions of the filmmaker no matter how diligent they are. In Nanook's case this includes Rony's claim that Flaherty's films all contain the desire to portray the majesty of an untainted primitive way of life.
Keeping this in mind when thinking about Nanook of the North's musical track, how does the pairing of the images with the fluctuating music convey or impact the story the filmmaker wants you to see or the emotion the filmmaker wants you to feel? Does it glorify trivial daily activity like climbing to the top of a hill or is it simply a nice addition to an otherwise silent film?
1. Rony writes in her paper "The reception of a film as 'authentic' is dependent upon the audience and its already established notions of the characteristics of 'real' people (320)". What responsibility do we as an audience hold in viewing this and other ethnographic films?
2. Although some believed Flaherty's work on Nanook of the North to be a misrepresentation many thought his work was genuine and even helpful in understanding this "vanishing race"(Rowry, 304). How do filmmakers and anthropologists alike bend the truth to make their ventures seem authentic? Although there are misunderstandings that come from this bending of truth does anything positive come from it in the end?
1) On page 305 of Rony's article, the author discusses the ways in which "genocide is made erotic" in the trading post scene of "Nanook of the North." What does this mean? Do you agree that this happens in representations of Indians, why are why not? Support your answer with visual examples from the two movies we have watched and our readings.
2) IMDB.com, a popular website for movie information, describes "Nanook of the North" in this way :
"Documents one year in the life of Nanook, an Eskimo (Inuit) and his family. Describes the trading, hunting, fishing and migrations of a group barely touched by industrial technology. Nanook of the North was widely shown and praised as the first full-length, anthropological documentary in cinematographic history."
Using the articles to support your answer, do you feel it is correct to classify the film as a documentary? Why or why not? What are the possible implications, if there are any, of doing so in regards to attitudes towards Inuit people and Indians in general?
1.) In Rony's essay "Flaherty's Nanook of the North" he states that "the indigenous woman is there to be uncovered, her body - and this is true of ethnographic cinema in general - to be scopically possessed by the camera/filmmaker and the audience as well." Is this subjugation to scopic possession unique to the subjects of ethnographic cinema or is it a problem inherent to film itself? In what ways does this tie into Foucault's theory of film as a form of punishment?
2.) Rony also quotes Bronislaw Malinowski as saying, "The final goal, of which the Ethnographer should never lose sight... is, briefly, to grasp the natives' point of view, his relation to life, to realize his vision, of his world." In what ways does this statement represent an attempt to possess "nativeness"? Why is it important for the anthropologist/European to become native; what political, ethical, or institutional purpose does this act serve?
~ Joe Krall
The cold north wind brings with it chaos and harsh reality when decisions are made by Nezette, who leads members of the Sovereign to rid the west of the intruding Zhaagnaash people by putting flame to oil. Nezette must confront her worst enemy: the temptation of Windigo in herself.
Compare these ideas to the ideas in Dippie's article about how photographs are misrepresenting American Indians and how photographers are propagandists for assimilation. How does this portray American Indians? Why are people so dependent on the photographs to shape their ideas about Indians? You could also link in some examples from the video and narrative to expand on these ideas of photography.
Question 2: After viewing the movie and reading the two texts you should have a good idea of how Indians have been misrepresented through photography. If you were a photographer in the ninteenth and early twentieth cetury how could you photograph Indians to depict them accurately? Is it even possible to accurately portray a people and culture through photography only? Describe in a few sentences each two or three pictures that you could have taken during this time to accurately portray Indians or explain how this cannot be done without misrepresenting them somehow.
2. Pinney's article tells us that it is generally assumed that both Anthropology and Photography communicate through their respective mediums (pictures or ethnographies) some sort of basic, immutable truths about their subjects. But photographs and ethnographies are both influenced by the attitudes and agendas of their creators. In light of this, what agendas or attitudes toward Indians are evident in the Indian Picture Opera?
Throughout the article "Representing the Other: The North American Indian" and the video The Indian Picture Opera: A Vanishing Race there are many instances of a romanticized view of the American Indian. Even though both of these articles were written and made decades ago discuss how and why these images still exist today. (ex. Halloween Costumes such as "Indian Brave" or "Indian Princess")
In the article, "The Parallel Histories of Anthropology and Photography", Pinney states, "The objects of photography can be easily and repeatedly substituted for the objects of discipline" how is this shown throughout the video The Indian Picture Opera: A Vanishing Race?
2: What do you believe were the political motivations for the way Native Americans were portrayed graphically and how did documenting assimilation into white society benefit the government?
One: The narration in 'The Indian Picture Opera' includes the phrase "Moccasined Feet" to describe the American Indian. In his article, Brian W. Dippie discusses a photograph of an Indian Boarding School, "Other pupils sit on the window ledge above the group, what appear to be moccasined feet dangling..."
Why did photographers and narrators physically dissect the American Indian with this common image and description?
How does this observation identify the American Indian as the Other and create a divide between the past and present?
Two: In his article, Pinney states, "It appears that all we can ever say is that the what is of photography, like that of anthropology, lies in its what it is not, its con-text." Review your notes about the images in the 'The Indian Picture Opera'. What information is being expressed to the audience about the American Indian by what is not included in the photographs? What information is being expressed to the audience about the American Indian by what is included the photographs?
In the Christopher Pinney reading, it is mentioned that disciplinary power is exercised through the invisibility of the photographer. Further, it is also mentioned that the subjects of photographs may feel like they are being watched at all times, and as a result of this, they remain in subjection, as if feeling inferior, uncomfortable etc.
Examine the exercise of this disciplinary power, found in the Pinney reading, and examine the photos found in the Pinney and Dippey readings, and in the DVD 'The Indian Picture Opera. Finally, state any connections you are able to make between the exercise of this disciplinary power, and the subjects in the photographs.
How has the romanticization and disciplining of Indians identified in the Pinney and Dippie readings and in the DVD 'The Indian Picture Opera,' affected your own view of Indian people? Further, state how analyzing this romanticization may be helpful to you or others in casting off misrepresentations about Indian people that you or others may have had.
1. Many ceremonies are not allowed to be photographed or recorded. If such ceremonies play a significant role in a culture, can photography be considered a valid type of documentation in anthropology? What other ways could such ceremonies be documented effectively?
2. What role do "fixed" photographs such as portraits have in anthropology? If they do not reflect a culture's "true" way, why should they be studied?