Sunday, July 4, 2010

Response, "Through Navajo Eyes"

Frankly, I feel the authors of this project took themselves a little seriously.

"A working hypothesis, then, for our study was that motion picture film, conceived photographed, and sequentially arranged by a people such as the Navajo, would reveal aspects of coding, cognition, and values that may be inhibited, not observable, or not analyzable when the investigation is totally dependent on verbal exchange ..." (page 28)

It appears to me they set up production so they could attempt to crack the subsequent films like some sort of code.

But then, who is to say a culture has a monolithic aesthetic code? After spending the past year in a program in which 14 people were making individual films, I can say after every screening there were 14 opinions about what we had just seen. Could there be a book titled "Through American Eyes?"---or why do we assume our own perspectives to be more nuanced than those of populations "such as the Navajo"? (And I note they too own "American eyes.")

Later they do draw conclusions from the construction of various shots: For instance, there are few close-ups of faces because of the Navajo respect for privacy.

But this is a value that they were already aware of, and so I'm unsure how the filming has necessarily brought out the "inhibited, not observable."

Viewing the films brought up several important questions in my mind: Why did they decide not to include any diegetic or non-diegetic sound? Why did they use black and white film, when it was the 1960s? Who did filmmakers intend their audience to be?

I can't say these were particularly 'enjoyable' shorts to view, nor did I leave with a greater understanding of the Navajo. Though I don't think this was necessarily the point: They seem created more for anthropological analysis than for general audience consumption.

This in itself is an audacious equation: Rather than studying objects of cultural expression, the ethnographers prompt creation of non-traditional objects and then analyze them for cultural meaning.

While the authors did admit to being haunted by the question of "why" they were making the films, they never seemed to seriously doubt their "hypothesis" of what these films would ultimately reveal.

I'm not convinced the results are particularly revelatory.

-posted by Maureen

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