Accepted paper:

Changing glances: reflecting ritual in early ethnographic cinema

Author:

Heinz-Jürgen Middendorf (Heidelberg University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper argues that Spencer’s and Gillen’s pioneering cinematography of the Arrernte is an attempt to reflect upon the complexity of ritual performances beyond the limits of verbal communication. It questions the coherence between reflexivity und aesthetics in the transformation and transgression of ritual practices.

Paper long abstract:

In anthropological literature Spencer’s und Gillen’s 1901 camera-work about Arrernte ritual performances in Central Australia is often conceived as „aesthetic“ – in terms of its commendable artistic value or a deplorable linguistic incompetence (v. Leonardi in Carl Strehlow 1907, T.G.H. Strehlow 1971, Cantrill & Cantrill 1982, Mulvaney 1982, Long 1993, Batty, Allen & Morton 2006). Since the 1970s the controversy between observational and linguistic analysis of ritual practices in Aboriginal Australia entered an ethical arena which condemns aesthetical categories. In addressing the “tropes” in the transformation and transgression of ritual practices it seems worth to pose the question of the inherent coherence between reflexivity und aesthetics in a new way. I will demonstrate how and why Spencer’s and Gillen’s pioneering cinematography is an attempt to reflect and depict the complexity of ritual performances that reaches beyond the limits of verbal communication. In intuitively developing a set of film-aesthetical rules, they were able to operate with the visual depiction of ritual movement and the problem of deep space in cinematography. The choreography of ritual agents in the field of performance was transformed into the choreography of the filmmaker in the field of vision. Since the development of ocular centrism in Early Modern Times the latter is considered as „truthful description“, the basis of scientific writing.

panel W118
Ritual and reflection: tropes In transformation and transgression (Wenner-Gren workshop)