• Assenka Oksiloff


This book focuses upon a mythical moment in the intersection of film and anthropology in the German tradition: the birth of the “primitive” body as both a visual artifact and a mode of cinematic observation. The myth is situated within a broader context, what French ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch refers to as the “magical meeting” of the camera and the human subject at the end of the nineteenth century.1 The union, in its most general sense, stems from the fascination with recording and observing the human form. When the hand first turned the crank of the movie camera, the privileged object in front of the lens was more often than not the human body. From the very beginning, in the celebrated shorts by Lumière, Edison, and other early film pioneers, the body is displayed in various guises and performing a variety of activities: leaving a factory en masse; drifting in a boat or riding in a pram; dancing to form a swirl of movement bordering on the abstract; or, captured in close-up in 32 frames, caught in the act of sneezing. Visual anthropologists and film scholars alike have noted the simultaneous rise of cinema and of the body as an object of observation. Ethnographic filmmaker David MacDougall regards the invention of the cinema as, in large part, a response to the desire to observe the physical behavior of men and animals.2 Similarly, Linda Williams takes note of the “visible intensification of the body” that came about with the emergence of film.3


Nineteenth Century Film Theorist German Tradition Movie Camera Early Cinema 
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    Jean Rouch, “The Camera and Man,” in Principles of Visual Anthropology. ed. Paul Hockings (The Hague: Mouton Press, 1975), 83–102.Google Scholar
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© Assenka Oksiloff 2001

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