Observational Cinema: Anthropology, Film, and the Exploration of Social Life

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Once hailed as a radical breakthrough in documentary and ethnographic filmmaking, observational cinema has been criticized for a supposedly detached camera that objectifies and ... dehumanizes the subjects of its gaze. Anna Grimshaw and Amanda Ravetz provide the first critical history and in-depth appraisal of this movement, examining key works, filmmakers, and theorists, from André Bazin and the Italian neorealists, to American documentary films of the 1960s, to extended discussions of the ethnographic films of Herb Di Gioia, David Hancock, and David MacDougall. They make a new case for the importance of observational work in an emerging experimental anthropology, arguing that this medium exemplifies a non-textual anthropology that is both analytically rigorous and epistemologically challenging. Read more Show Less

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Overview

Once hailed as a radical breakthrough in documentary and ethnographic filmmaking,
observational cinema has been criticized for a supposedly detached camera that objectifies and dehumanizes the subjects of its gaze. Anna Grimshaw and Amanda Ravetz provide the first critical history and in-depth appraisal of this movement, examining key works, filmmakers, and theorists,
from André Bazin and the Italian neorealists, to American documentary films of the 1960s, to extended discussions of the ethnographic films of Herb Di Gioia, David Hancock, and David
MacDougall. They make a new case for the importance of observational work in an emerging experimental anthropology, arguing that this medium exemplifies a non-textual anthropology that is both analytically rigorous and epistemologically challenging.

Indiana University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Anthropological Notebooks

"Grimshaw and Ravetz offer an appealing study of the observational cinematic method in ethnographic research." —Anthropological Notebooks, XVI, No. 3, 2010

American Ethnologist

"Observational Cinema is a fascinating and much-needed study of an important body of work." —American Ethnologist

Paul Stoller

"Grimshaw and Ravetz not only demonstrate felicitous linkages between visual and social anthropology, which is highly welcomed, but between anthropological gazes and artistic visions. We need more of these kinds of expanded multidisciplinary works for they break new ground and expand the space of imagination." —Paul Stoller, author of The Power of the Between: An Anthropological Odyssey

J. L. Erdman

Challenging those who dismiss realism as a basis for an experimental anthropological cinema, Grimshaw (liberal arts, Emory Univ.) and Ravetz (art and design, Manchester Metropolitan Univ., UK) argue that the text-based (or textual) and conceptual ethnographic film imposes meaning on its subjects rather than drawing it from them in the process of filming. Arguing from the works of André Bazin, Colin Young, Herb Di Gioia, and others, the authors make a case for continuous long shots, respectful engagement with subjects, a humanistic perspective that values the quotidian of people's lives, and a reluctance to indulge in pre-information about the subject matter of films' targeted topics....More about filmmaking than anthropology, this short book is apparently a response to poststructuralist critiques of interpretive anthropology and its conceptual frameworks. Aiming for a universalist argument of letting film audiences become participants in evolving meaning, the authors reiterate their litany of observational practice and camera to argue for ethnography by filmmaking rather than films that are ethnographic. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. --Choice J. L. Erdman, Columbia College Chicago, July 2010

From the Publisher
"Arguing from the works of André Bazin, Colin Young, Herb Di Gioia, and others,
the authors make a case for continuous long shots, respectful engagement with subjects, a humanistic perspective that values the quotidian of people's lives, and a reluctance to indulge in pre-information about the subject matter of films' targeted topics.... Recommended."
—Choice, July 2010

"Grimshaw and Ravetz not only demonstrate felicitous linkages between visual and social anthropology, which is highly welcomed, but between anthropological gazes and artistic visions. We need more of these kinds of expanded multidisciplinary works for they break new ground and expand the space of imagination." —Paul Stoller, author of The Power of the Between: An
Anthropological Odyssey

Choice

"Arguing from the works of André Bazin, Colin Young, Herb Di Gioia, and others, the authors make a case for continuous long shots, respectful engagement with subjects, a humanistic perspective that values the quotidian of people's lives, and a reluctance to indulge in pre-information about the subject matter of films' targeted topics.... Recommended." —Choice, July 2010

Choice

"Arguing from the works of André Bazin, Colin Young, Herb Di Gioia, and others, the authors make a case for continuous long shots, respectful engagement with subjects, a humanistic perspective that values the quotidian of people's lives, and a reluctance to indulge in pre-information about the subject matter of films' targeted topics.... Recommended." —Choice, July 2010

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253354242
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 11/12/2009
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Anna Grimshaw is Associate Professor in the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts,
Emory University. She is author of Servants of the Buddha and The Ethnographer’s Eye: Ways of
Seeing in Modern Anthropology.

Amanda Ravetz is Research Fellow at Manchester
Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design, Manchester Metropolitan
University.

Indiana University Press

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Table of Contents

Contents
Preface
Acknowledgments

Part
One.
1. What Is Observational Cinema?
2. Social Observers: Robert Drew, Albert and David Maysles, Frederick Wiseman

Part Two.
3. Observational Cinema in the Making: The Work of Herb Di Gioia and David Hancock
4. Observational Cinema on the
Move: The Work of David MacDougall

Part Three.
5. Rethinking
Observational Cinema
6. Toward an Experimental
Anthropology

Notes
Filmography
Bibliography
Index

Indiana University Press

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