Tuesday, July 6, 2010

RESPONSE: Through Navajo Eyes

In the reading, I was intrigued by the authors’ analogy of filmic conventions to the rules of speech. They ask: if the ability to learn language is indeed innate, are there also certain filmmaking/viewing conventions—“universal patterns” of organizing visual information-- that can be understood and analyzed by people from another group?

Though the authors do not take a definitive position on this question, and take pains to acknowledge the cultural relativism at play in their field, I think their answer would be yes. This for me brought back some of the ideas we discussed during the first week, particularly Derrida’s decontructionist critique of semiotics, and his distrust of drawing definitive or overarching conclusions from any given sign system.

In general, I found that the authors’ analysis shared many of the same characteristics – and criticisms-- as those of structural anthropologists. There were a number of passages that struck me as ethnocentric (notably the passage on page 29 on “guided innovation”), and I found some of their conclusions (notably the passage on “walking) quite underdeveloped considering the relatively narrow range of source material.

That said, I understand that the project pre-dated postructuralism by many years, and that it was an important turning point in the fields of cultural anthropology and film theory. I was also impressed by the timeliness of its central concepts in contemporary Youth Media studies, which aims to give voice to disenfranchised young people by giving them access to media tools.

As for the films themselves, I agree that they were visually beautiful, particularly the closeups of hands engaged in material activity – weaving, drawing in the sand, washing, etc. I also thought it was interesting that many of the films avoided linear chronologies, and that they varied so significantly in their pacing (ie. Intrepid Shadows employed rapid jump cuts, while Old Antelope Lake and the Weaver seemed much more stable/static).

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