Documentary Intertext: John Marshall, The Hunters 1957

  • Daniel White


John Marshall’s The Hunters provides a window to the practices of an age-old hunting-and-gathering economy persisting into the twentieth century. The labors of men and women are detailed in their respective daily tasks. Problems that arise in “authentically” representing the works and days of a Paleolithic people in terms of a camera-eye view become obvious here. The camera, as Susan Sontag argues, transmutes what it “sees” into forms that are merely “picturesque” from the viewpoint of the modern middle-class flaneur. More problematic still, as in Robert Gardner’s Dead Birds, is the need for the ethnographic filmmaker to reconstruct scenes supposedly representative of primeval cultures since none are now available. In visual ethnography, here, as in John Gardner’s Dead Birds, the problems of cinéma vérité and the epistemology of documentary film are first and foremost. Yet, beyond worries about truth in representation, the film also raises issues in the history of media culture: orality and storytelling’s evolution into scriptography and reading, then in turn into electronic imaging. Hence, this chapter takes a step back into the ancient campsite to consider the role of fire in human evolution, including its “light” in the development of media and consciousness. The fire around which ancient bards and their listeners huddled served as a wellspring not only of warmth, but also of communicative practices. Today, like Paleolithic peoples before the fire, postmodern moviegoers gather at the cinema and we all, from Sub-Saharan Africa to New York and Beijing, now hover before our glowing electronic screens (Pew Research Center: Global Attitudes and Trends, Cell Phones in Africa: Communication Lifeline, 2015).


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel White
    • 1
  1. 1.Honors CollegeFlorida Atlantic UniversityJupiterUSA

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