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Visual Anthropology

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The Absent and the Cut Wilma Kiener

To cite this Article Kiener, Wilma(2008) 'The Absent and the Cut', Visual Anthropology, 21: 5, 393 — 409 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/08949460802341795 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08949460802341795

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Visual Anthropology, 21: 393–409, 2008 Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 0894-9468 print=1545-5920 online DOI: 10.1080/08949460802341795

The Absent and the Cut Wilma Kiener This article examines the specific role of cuts, the spaces between the shots, in ethnographic filmmaking. The thesis is that cuts have to fill up absences that can be viewed as a typical characteristic of life in the postcolonial world. The article is illustrated with examples from the author’s documentary film, Ixok-Woman.

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CUT! Until now, the paradigm in ethnographic filmmaking has tended to reflect its equivalent in the written word: ‘‘You are there because I was there’’ [Clifford and Marcus 1986: 22].1 Over recent decades the language of ethnographic filmmaking has evolved into an elaborate fetishizing of the camera, if only for the sake of creating a natural feeling of unity within a finite time and space. That might be justified when the ethnic groups that are studied live in the back of beyond; times have changed, however. Nowadays people from nonindustrialized countries are literally on the run. Spending their entire life in the place where they were born and traveling for romantic reasons only have become a privilege of the few. Until recently, the ‘‘traveling cultures’’ (Clifford’s term) of our time—migration, refugees, globalization, hybridization, to mention just a few key words—have hardly had any impact on ethnographic filmmaking. Are there alternative cinematic poetics that are capable of understanding and conveying the experience of living in worlds of (dis)location and of (a)synchronism? This is precisely where montage comes into play: film is not only limited to the camera, it also embraces editing and montage. Montage cuts and reorganizes connections in time and space. For a certain era in ethnographic filmmaking, montage was even suppressed as being expressive, and as such an antirealist marker. My first aim here is to examine the role of cuts in ethnographic film, the spaces between the shots. Taking my own film Ixok-Woman [1990] as an example, I will demonstrate how an editing style emerged by necessity from the film’s content. Assuming that montage is the key cinematographic technique for illustrating the complexity of cultural interactions in the postcolonial world [Marcus 1995], WILMA KIENER graduated from the Munich Film School and received a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Munich with her book, The Art of Storytelling: Narrativity in Documentary and Ethnographic Films [1999]. She is a lecturer in cultural anthropology at the University of Munich and a mentor at the Transart Institute at the Danube University in Krems, Austria. Her numerous documentaries include Ixok-Woman [1990] and Codename Schlier [1985]. E-mail: SpartakusIII@aol.com

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montage in ethnographic film has to be positioned within the realist stream of filmmaking. An early Russian montage experiment was reminiscent of Marcus’s thesis, at least in terms of its title. In his experimental film Creative Geography, Lev Kuleshov filmed pedestrians on Moscow streets who were miles away from one another, but ‘‘looking at each other’’ and at the White House in Washington in the film [Leyda 1960: 164; Beller 1999: 21; Bordwell and Thompson 2001: 259]. Today Kuleshov might well have called his experiment ‘‘montagescapes.’’ The cuts, as made by Kuleshov, deceive the viewers’ visual perception and so mock the audience as well as the actors. Yet it is precisely this successful deception that gives the power to join together images to build new contexts. Marcus’s and Kuleshov’s works bear as yet unfulfilled promises for ethnographic filmmaking. The question is: how can cuts, these joins between two images, ‘‘speak’’ about our world, or vice versa? Which experiences of today’s life lend themselves to the cinematic language of editing? Just as the rediscovery of montage will reshape ethnographic filmmaking, the rather unusual context of, and the urge for realism in nonfiction filmmaking will inevitably affect the technique of editing. One has to assume that filming cultural geographies, like ethnoscapes [Appadurai 1996], will bring different dimensions of the cut to the fore. At the end of this article the question arises about which differences from Observational Cinema arise from an ethnographic cinema of montage?

AN ETHNOGRAPHIC CINEMA OF MONTAGE There are indeed some examples in the history of ethnographic filmmaking in which montage plays a significant role. First of all, one thinks of the trance scene in Jean Rouch’s classic Les Maıˆtres fous [1954], in which archive material of a British colonial military parade is juxtaposed with participants in a trance ritual embodying British colonial figures. Furthermore, The Ax Fight [1971] by Timothy Asch and Napoleon Chagnon, as well as Dead Birds [1964] by Robert Gardner, are two more prestigious films in the ethnographic tradition that are known for their editing style. Yet strictly speaking, not all of these films use montage—in The Ax Fight, the event is presented four times, each time with a different narrational priority [Ruby 2000: 130]—and not all of the above montage scenes show cultural geographies; in Dead Birds montage is a cross-cutting between village scenes and fighting in the mountains [Ruby 2000: 99]. Of these three films, Les Maıˆtres fous is an early example of what I would like to call, for a start, an ‘‘ethnographic cinema of montage,’’ since it is a very successful attempt at filming cultural geographies; in the trance sequence, editing solves the problem of showing what—while being absent—is a necessary part of the whole. The images of the military parade, inserted in what started off as a conventional documentary scene, come as a complete surprise. No wonder that the editing style of the trance sequence has been labeled ‘‘Vertovian’’ [Stoller 1992: 152] or ‘‘Eisensteinian’’ [Russell 1999: 224], an illustration of the influence of psychoanalysis on ethnography [Russell 1999: 225], and of primitivism on modernism [Taussig 1993: 242], a view I actually agree with. Yet I would like to point out the most obvious peculiarity of this montage sequence: film footage of what was absent at the


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moment of the actual shooting was included later, in the editing room. Rouch completed the sequence with missing images, editing cuts into the scene as though into a curtain. Behind the curtain reality goes on. By putting in the missing images, Rouch simultaneously breaks and completes the illusion of the scene. In Les Maıˆtres fous, the past is the significant absence in the overall picture. Space would be another category of absence.

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Absences seem to be a crucial concept in filming ethnoscapes, because their reality is defined by something that is absent; for example the family living in another country, or political protest that is only possible in a foreign country. ‘‘Ethnoscapes’’ are an analytical construct and montage is the cinematic means of their representation—thus montage can also shift our focus to ethnoscapes: montage like no other cinematic means is able to show and stress the absences of ethnoscapes, absences that are not normally visible. These absences cannot be filled with scenes that are complete and stand up on their own, but again only with scenes that are characterized by their absences. [Eva Knopf, e-mail to the author, 8–14–2005; my translation]

Montage does not aspire toward the fictional. On the contrary, it mounts another, additional reality, thus expanding and enhancing the actual observational scene. This addition is not only supplementary but also changes what comes before and after. When the ‘‘absent’’ is speaking about the present and vice versa, when the presence of one scene is the absence of the next, the spiral of montage is set into motion. I always wondered what George Marcus’s [1995] ‘‘cinematic metaphor of montage’’ actually means in relation to montage in film. As the metaphor is meant to describe a practice in ethnographic writing only, Marcus is very cautious about mixing up montage in film with the metaphor of montage in writing. There should be an ‘‘oblique’’ [Marcus] correspondence between writing and ethnographic filmmaking, hence the question arises: what happens to the ‘‘cinematic metaphor of montage’’ once it is metaphorized back into film, once it is reimported into its original medium? It would be interesting to find a screen adaptation of a ‘‘cinematic metaphor of montage’’ in Marcus’s sense, a modernist novel containing montage techniques that later happened to be visualized. Marcus does give such an example, in Small World by David Lodges, which was made into a film by the BBC. Unfortunately the film is flawed, and it seems to fail precisely in its montage techniques. Marcus comments: Tellingly, film in this case has failed to accomplish what the novel has been able to accomplish cinematically, not because it is not able to do so (in fact it probably could have done what the novel did more easily) but because, unlike the novel, it did not appreciate the central problem of realist representation in late modernity. [Marcus 1995: 51]

I would like to follow up Marcus’s explanation by proposing that montage does not stand as a reflexive signifier in itself precisely because it can be done more easily in the film medium. In the process of double metaphorization, from film to writing and back, the effect of ‘‘alienation’’ is lost. As happens often in the arts, the transportation of a technique from one medium or art form to another


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can create something new, and it seems that the ‘‘metaphor of montage’’ creates an alienating effect in writing which gives the modernist novel an effect of simultaneity, of a deterritorialization of actions, that is not automatically rendered by its screen adaptation. As Marcus’s article shows, in the medium of writing, something extra (somehow hinting at deterritorialized cultural production) is added to the sentences through means of montage; however, this ‘‘extra’’ is not automatically created by montage in the film medium. Quite to the contrary, in the case of films it seems that the cut has to make up for something; there has to be some kind of ‘‘lack’’ intrinsic in the image preceding the cut, a hint at an absence hors-cadre. This ‘‘lack’’ is a prerequisite for the most elementary cut, the cut to the gaze, but it can also be found in a broader sense in the trance scene in Les Maıˆtres fous. There is an emotional texture inherent in every absence that connects directly with the expressive use of the cut in film language. Each absence is peculiar, and it is up to the cut to define the character of the absence. When the image is not the only thing that matters, as in Observational Cinema, the cut itself actually becomes the thing that matters. For example, the image of that which is absent may relate to the future (a wish, a threat) or lie in the past (a memory, the background); it can be a conscious representation of a situation elsewhere (political protest) or, on the other hand, images might pop up in a random way like a roaming mind. In order to react and interpret the manifold relationships between presences and absences in contemporary cultural production, the editing style or montage in ethnographic filmmaking must be eclectic, embracing the virtually unlimited range of cuts in film language. It should be noted therefore that the loose term ‘‘ethnographic cinema of montage’’ is not intended to discriminate between montage proper (like Soviet-style montage or parallel editing, where two seemingly disparate scenes build up dialectically toward a meaning that transcends each individual scene) and other editing techniques. Once the spiral of montage has been set in motion, many other forms of ‘‘electronic quilting’’ [Stam 2003: 37] come into play besides the flow of images, such as the interweaving of sound and image. What is more, filming cultural geographies creatively will also change the interpretation of the cuts. In fact, the joins between two images can be described in the way they present absences in terms of time or space and absences from the dominant mode of perception. I would like to apply this thesis to the example of the most popular editing techniques, viz.: . Flashbacks and flash-forwards indicate an absence in time. In melodramas and in films noirs, scenes that do not follow normal chronological patterns have been used nostalgically to explain characters in a Freudian sense [Hayward 2006: 157]. In today’s nonfiction filmmaking, a flashback may also serve biographical purposes in showing where a person comes from or where he or she is heading. Hence the following doubts arise: ‘‘To what extent are we all really globalized and nonlocalized creatures? With all due respect to Appadurai, I think he overstates this. My view is rather that many people move through a series of different but localized cultures’’ [David MacDougall, e-mail to the author, 11–30–2004]. Thus in an ethnographic film, a flashback or a flash-forward scene might point to the previous or the next stage of a person’s cultural context.


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. Cross-cutting is the editing solution for synchronous events happening at different places. The classic topos of that technique in fiction filmmaking is the chase, which employs accelerating cuts back and forth. Variations to successive shots depicting simultaneous events are panel shots (the screen is divided into two or even more parts). How should one film telephone calls? The split screen technique was a ubiquitous solution in mainstream cinema in the 1970s. Could panel shots also be a way of presenting the simultaneity of different globalization effects? If so, this type of ethnographic film is yet to be made. . In parallel editing, images are connected that hitherto stood in different contexts, absent from each other in the public’s perception. This is a highly selfconscious editing technique and, though it strives to analyze and deconstruct, it also has a strong emotional impact. Its first precursor is the example of Eisenstein’s parallel montage of a starving child set against fat people engaged in the act of drinking, in his film Streik [1924]. Besides the above-mentioned three large montage patterns that present the quality of absences, there is a cornucopia of editing techniques which, in our context, is apt to interpret the relationship with the ‘‘absent.’’ What type of joins are used between the shots—hard cuts or lap dissolves? Seamlessness or abrupt jerky jumps? . This is where the school of continuity editing, also known as American editing, comes into play. The graphic, rhythmic, and spatial effects of continuity editing endeavor to deceive the eye and make a cut feel seamless (match-action, the 180degree law, etc.). On the other hand, in violation of the laws of continuity editing, a cut can be punctuated and purposefully rendered awkward and abrupt (a jump cut). In one instance, the present can be rudely interrupted; in the next case it can be freed up and expanded by the ‘‘absent.’’ Editing ‘‘absences’’ creates a manifold layer of meaning that cannot really be put down on paper. For example, is the connection unproblematic between two scenes from different parts of the world, which are seamlessly connected, thereby creating a smooth flow from shot to shot and preventing viewers from noticing at first, or does it involve a touch of irony? I would like to give an early example of a documentary film that is highly inventive in joining and juxtaposing shots. The silent experimental documentary piece On the Subject of Nice (A` propos de Nice) [1930], by Jean Vigo and Boris Kaufman, is also one of the first films in cinematic history to depict simultaneity in parallel worlds. One set of images shows society’s opulent side, making an almost sickening display of itself: at the ballrooms, at the beach, in the limousine. These official postcard images are deconstructed by a second set of images of that which is overlooked: the poverty, the factories, the graveyards, the working children. Vigo’s and Kaufman’s goal is to turn viewers into accomplices in a revolutionary society [Barnouw 1983: 77]. Montage can be a magic carpet that carries viewers away to distant places, the way dreams do, and thus lulls them into a dreamlike state. However, it must be stated that this effect represents just one use of the technique and is not inherent in it. On the Subject of Nice proves this point very well. Montage is the primordial means in film language of saying


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‘‘both . . . and,’’ ‘‘neither . . . nor’’: North and South, here and there, to left and right, inside and outside, subjective and objective. In summary: when expression is not solely a matter of the images, the cut becomes an expressive tool in its own right. To relate to the variety of absences in a globalizing world, an ethnographic cinema of montage will rather risk being eclectic than neglect any of the categories of the cut. The important point is that montage necessarily arises from the content, and that it establishes a unity with the film’s form and style. Though individual filmmakers may use montage with different intentions, cuts in montage scenes are always both about cutting and connecting things. They are about splitting as much as splicing together; thus they literally ‘‘cut two ways.’’ This dual character of the cut seems to me to lie at the heart of an ethnographic cinema of montage. In contrast to writing, analysis and (re)configuration cannot be separated. I will now continue with the analysis of my own film, Ixok-Woman, focusing on the successive development of the film’s content and form and on the ultimate emergence of a particular editing style from this interdependence.

EDITING IXOK-WOMAN In the very early poetic days, documentary filmmakers had one main goal: ‘‘You must show how a rose smells.’’ But how does Flaherty’s dictum translate into our times? The challenge in ethnography now is the adaptation and reworking of anthropological practices to the ‘‘non-localized quality of cultural reproduction,’’ to use an expression of Arjun Appadurai’s [1996: 48]. Focusing on the practice of ethnographic filmmaking, one arrives at the following questions: what do ethnoscapes look and sound like on film? How does deterritorialization taste? And in a close-up, what could be the expression on the face of someone tasting it? This reflects the very situation I encountered while shooting the documentary Ixok-Woman, which I made together with Dieter Matzka in 1990 (hence, in this article, I will continue writing in a plural form). A woman, an actress from Guatemala, had captivated us with her stage performance: a one-woman show presenting the life of an indigenous Guatemalan peasant. Her performance was so engaging that we were initially convinced that she was, in fact, an indigenous woman. Her name was Carmen Samayoa. Later we accompanied her from Vienna, Austria, to Hanover, Germany. During the first interview, Carmen resolutely distanced herself from her stage persona: she explained that she was not indigenous, did not know any of the Maya-Quiche´ languages, and was actually a professional ballet dancer who grew up in Guatemala city. I can still remember her expression at that moment. It was part contentiousness toward us for naively confusing the real with the stage persona, part pride in the artistry and power of her acting which had misled us, and part humbleness toward the real indigenous women who had contributed their life stories to her art. There was also a certain demonstrative haughtiness in her manner, perhaps due to having made a name for herself on the international stage and not being a simple indigenous woman to begin with. As she expressed


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all this, we discovered the subject of a film, a feature-length (sort of) portrait of Carmen. Carmen’s work, her sense of artistic expression, her political and critical attitude are to a large degree defined by her real existence as a woman and an artist. In a world full of insurmountable boundaries, she appears like a character to whom boundaries and restrictions are foreign. And we liked her. During the course of our research, we found that no individual scene or shot was sufficient to convey Carmen’s experiences to a European audience. A character as rich and complex as Carmen called for an entirely different and equally rich cinematic structure. To show why Carmen and her partner Edgar were living in exile, we had to return to Guatemala; to show the violence that was inflicted by the state military apparatus on Guatemala’s indigenous population, we had to refer to Carmen’s theatrical performance; to show the veracity of the stage play, we had to film the military training operations in Guatemala; and to show how Carmen held together the different areas of her private life—nationality, womanhood, race, the stage—we had to shoot scenes of her everyday life while she toured Europe. When we submitted our project proposal to a German television network the commissioning editor, though excited about the subject matter, was doubtful at first as to how theater scenes would actually fit into a documentary film. Later, when we showed him our first rushes of the stage scenes, he was enthusiastic but now could not imagine how authentic footage from Guatemala could ever fit into a theatrical sequence. Finally, our TV colleagues were so ‘‘diversely’’ thrilled by one or another aspect of the film that we ended up receiving no television funding at all. After the film was completed, various television stations offered to air it, but without reimbursement. The many layers of the narrative turned out to be a complete drawback for the market. Montage in our film is mainly used to deal with that which is absent in Carmen’s life. What the film really aims to show, beyond its narrative line, happens on the formal level of the montage pattern where the missing parts of a certain reality are joined together in order to create the whole picture of the story and the character. Once the shooting is finished, the film is the only place where the essential dimensions, the cause and effects of the story, blend together. On the one hand, this represents a hidden meaning; on the other hand, it is visibly manifested in the editing style. Carmen’s story could not have been told in a different way. In her everyday life, absences are due to her move from Guatemala to Europe, from one regional context to another. On stage, Carmen represents absent people, with the stage play recollecting the life of peasant women from Guatemala whom Carmen and Edgar had met years ago in a Mexican refugee camp. What is more, the powerful presence of the army in Guatemala must be weighed against that which they take away or ‘‘turn into an absence.’’ It is the job of the military, the police, and the paramilitary troops to ‘‘create absences’’ and take people away; many have been killed or have left the country. For all intents and purposes, those who are absent constitute the true reality of Guatemala. On the other side, in Europe, one meets immigrants but cannot fully understand their personal or political background, which lies elsewhere. That is why this documentary ended


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up with three different layers telling one and the same story: everyday life in exile, the stage play, the situation in Guatemala; each layer had to be introduced and find its proper closure at the end of the film. Back to film language: in Ixok-Woman, the cut must express the different levels of the absences it has to fill between the pictures, be it unnoticed, seamless, visible, striking, or something else. I will select three examples of montage that show the technique’s eclectic character, as each of them employs a different film language: a cutaway, a match action cut, and cross-cutting.

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1. Cutaway: ‘‘Shots that Take the Spectator Away from the Main Action or Scene’’ [Hayward 2006:96] At the time of shooting, Carmen and Edgar could not go back to Guatemala as this would have been too dangerous. They had hoped that the presence of the film team would allow them to move freely in Guatemala, but we doubted that the camera would impress the military personnel enough to leave them alone. Although Carmen had wished very much to show us Guatemala, she and Edgar had to stay in Paris, which meant that the two do not appear in the Guatemala footage at all. The introductory scenes of the film are set in Europe, their place of exile. The sequence I am describing now is the point when the first image of Guatemala appears in the film. The cuts are intended to create the closest possible connection between the images of Guatemala and the two central characters. Shot 1 Carmen on the road in Germany: it is raining, the car is moving through the greenish, dimly lit mist of an industrialized landscape. Carmen is looking out of the window and as usual she is listening to the music of Mercedes Sosa, her favorite singer [Figure 1]. A horn sounds (overlapping from the next shot). Shot 2 Cutaway shot to the first shot, with music continuing: in Guatemala the sun is shining, a blue truck passes from the right, honk! honk!, at breakneck speed, advancing quickly, until it fades into a little spot in the picture [Figure 2]. Shot 3 Similar graphic composition as Shot 2: back to the wet road in Germany. Shot 4 Another cutaway, this time to a factory outside in the rain. This sequence is actually based on a deception, as one of two apparently similar inserts (Shots 2 and 4) is taken from a different context. The deception is made easy by the seamless


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Figure 1 The gaze out of the window leads to . . .

Figure 2 . . . a cutaway to Guatemala.

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transition from one cut to another that is due to the overlapping of sound, the cut to the gaze out of the window, and similarities in image properties. Before continuing with the next example, I should describe an insert that did not work. The following scene was therefore not included in the film: Carmen talks about her mother, telling us that she is a great cook. As we had filmed Carmen’s mother cooking at home in Guatemala, we could put the image beside the interview. The effect was devastatingly comical, and now I know why. Carmen’s mother is duly represented during Carmen’s interview, and because there was nothing absent, nothing missing, nothing hinted at, the insert was just hilarious.

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2. Match Action Cut: ‘‘A Cut from One Shot to Another Where the Two Shots are Matched by the Action or Subject and Subject Matter’’ [Hayward 2006: 95] On another level, Ixok-Woman is about a rather successful search for identity. It tells the story of a never-ending journey of growth, of changing identity and moving between various identities of the self. The deeper theme of change needed visualization beyond interviews. The scene I am describing now is one of three similar ones, all of which break out of the narrative stream. They are more like a poem in three stanzas or a video clip based on Mercedes Sosa’s song ‘‘Todo cambia.’’ In technical terms, two 360-degree pans are woven together. As the camera advances in time with the music, the cuts do not feel abrupt. In each take, the camera digs the place in a full circle: one take is shot in the main square of a little town in Austria, the other take at a crossroads in Guatemala. The montage scene starts with Carmen and Edgar playing at the fountain on the Austrian square where Carmen is turning round and round [Figure 3]—and the camera with her. But with the cut to Guatemala, the geography is suddenly out of joint [Figure 4].

3. Cross-cutting: ‘‘Literally, Cutting Between Different Sets of Action that Can Be Occurring Simultaneously or at Different Times . . . ’’ [Hayward 2006: 94] At one point in the film, we had to show the reasons why Carmen and Edgar left their homeland of Guatemala and came to Europe. Some people still tend to believe that asylum seekers come to Germany for the less abrasive climate or to take jobs away from German citizens. It was therefore important to stress the fact that asylum seekers leave their home country neither capriciously nor voluntarily. In fact, Carmen and her partner Edgar were on the blacklist of a paramilitary organization, and artist friends of theirs who had also been on the blacklist had vanished shortly before, never to be seen or heard from again. They were reportedly kidnapped in an unmarked white van with darkened windows and no license plates. Carmen and Edgar noticed such a vehicle following them. An imagined threat or a real danger? Carmen and Edgar went to a theatrical festival in Canada and first returned to Guatemala a decade later. We wanted to present, as clearly and vividly as possible, the perpetual day-to-day political


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Figure 3 A 360 pan over Carmen Samayoa and Edgar Flores . . .

Figure 4 . . . is continued at a crossroads in Guatemala City.

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violence directed at Guatemala’s indigenous population as well as at trade union leaders, journalists, left-wing artists, and Catholic priests. Simply telling these facts in an interview would not have been powerful enough. Witness accounts are associated with even greater problems. In some cases, the telling of their stories may have a liberating effect on the interviewees. In other instances, as with victims of atrocities, the interviewer sends his or her protagonist back to their most grueling memories. The situation is worse when the particular political system is still intact. Carmen and Edgar wanted by no means to heighten their fears: for them, what they heard and read every day in the news about Guatemala and some other countries was enough. In addition, they were repeatedly asked naive, sensational questions by people eager to hear of cruelties that would surpass the ones found in Rigoberta Menchu’s well-known book, Crossing Borders [1998]. Since Carmen and Edgar abhorred talking about torture and death, we decided to transport their refusal into the film as well. At one moment though, it did seem easier for them to open up. When we visited—at their request—the Nazi concentration camp in Mauthausen, Austria, Carmen and Edgar began to talk, ask questions, compare; they remembered past events and spoke in whispers. They began to explain things to us. It was in Mauthausen that they first realized that we too have had a traumatizing history. And paradoxically, it was walking through the memorial grounds that led them to believe in a common basis capable of translating their experiences into ours. These two scenes form the prelude to a montage scene depicting the takeover of a village by the military forces and a massacre. Talking, however, had profound limitations. We had to build a scene using both material from the theater piece and authentic footage from military training operations in Guatemala. We worked our way from words to images. The narrative level of the military sequence begins at the training camp at Solola, interviewing Col. Letona, a man whose appearance initially suggests an intellectual but whose red beret emphasizes the fact that he belongs to the brutal Special Forces of the Kaibiles. Posed before a half-naked woman—a calendar pinup hanging on a rock with her weapon in position—the Colonel talks with eloquence about the gentle methods used by the military to convince the opposition to join the Democratic system. The next scene sheds doubt on these words—as though positioning images against the words that have just been spoken. After meeting him, we drive past a group of washerwomen at a well who form the link to a scene of Carmen on the stage adopting a similar body position as the washerwomen’s. We receive partly amused, partly suspicious reactions from these women: one hides herself behind the well while the sound of Carmen singing blends in. I will outline this five-minute scene in technical terms. The action unfolds from two scenes with different origins that are intercut in a cross-cutting style. The first set of images shows a military training unit in Guatemala at the Solola Military Base: gymnastics, shouting (‘‘desde la muerta’’), climbing, jumping; finally shooting into a valley and running away. In the next piece of footage Carmen is alone on stage, performing the military takeover of a village; the abduction of men, the rape and assassination of women; the quiet after the military have left. The two


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pictures following show how the shooting of the villagers is presented with the help of one image depicting military training with firearms aimed at human figures [Figure 5]—and Carmen’s bodily reaction to the bullets, a figurative dance of death [Figure 6]. The massacre scene works because Carmen only mocks the soldiers’ presence in her one-woman show while the soldiers in Solola only imagine the enemy during their training. Editing brings these two pretended actions together; the full reality is established only through editing. The filmed scene is entirely and obviously invented; however, it is so reflexive that it never lulls the viewer into a ‘‘dreamlike’’ state. It feels true thanks to Carmen’s expressiveness and precision and to the authentic military footage. I will get back to this scene later. Looking at the similarities of the above examples, it should be noted that each montage sequence is built on a continuing audio level that actually holds the fragmented imagery together. In the history of documentary filmmaking, finding a strong audio level, such as a song, has often been the prerequisite to mount a montage scene, as in Geoffrey Reggios’ Koyaanisqatsi [1983]. Whereas in Observational Cinema the image is always deemed more important than the sound, in montage cinema the soundtrack is at least equal to the imagery, if not more than that.

YOU ARE HERE I would like to conclude this article by citing another difference between the two nonfictional styles: whereas the camera is the object-fetish of the Observational Cinema—a kind of an audiovisual vacuum cleaner, voraciously sucking in time and space—the object ‘‘worshiped’’ in montage cinema is the screen. To the extent that observational-style cinema has become the hallmark of ethnographic filmmaking, the long-take style has become the Observational Cinema’s key element. A problem arises with the characterization of the ‘‘long take,’’ as shots are not necessarily of long duration [Henderson 1971: 9; MacDougall 1999: 293]. If you look at most ethnographic films, the shots are actually fairly short, although the aim may be the opposite. I’ve moved toward shorter shots myself, expressing observational glimpses and perceptions, except for a few scenes where I think the long take is particularly important. Also, if you look at many of the great ethnographic films, such as Rouch’s and Jorge Preloran’s [e.g., Imaginero] and even Marshall’s and Gardner’s, you will find that they are made up of short takes. [David MacDougall, e-mail to the author, 11–30–2004]

As no clear definition of the properties of the long take exists, it might be concluded that the observational style is better described by a certain use, or understanding, of the camera as tool. In that view, the long take is the result of using the camera as a black box—black as a metaphor for vacuum—which draws in the three-dimensional data in front of the lens once the start button is pushed.


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Figure 5 Target shooting . . .

Figure 6 . . . and the reaction shot of the actress on stage.

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Consequently, in ethnographic filmmaking, which is more often than not neither subjective nor uninterrupted, it might be more appropriate to call ‘‘long takes’’ ‘‘vacuum shots.’’ What the camera is to Observational Cinema, the editing room and ultimately the screen is to an ethnographic cinema of montage. It is there that connections in time and space are reorganized. On the screen it is possible to understand the invisible by taking things apart and reassembling them in a new way. The veracity of a montage sequence like the massacre scene in Ixok-Woman is on a different plane than the designating of an exact time and place. In fact, in the example of that massacre scene, the historical place as such becomes unimportant. Instead, a different place takes control: it’s the cinema. Montage scenes resemble an installation, a performance that transforms the real-life space of the spectators. Carmen’s artistic endeavor approaches something like a ‘‘transcultural cinema’’ [David MacDougall]: Sometimes I feel that the public here, the Austrians or the Europeans, perhaps, don’t understand. Because what has to be communicated is the life that Guatemalans really do experience, and the people here are, perhaps, far too removed from all that. So I sometimes feel that the audience doesn’t understand and I feel alone. And I think that, perhaps, they feel alone as well, when they can’t understand. [Carmen in Ixok-Woman]

The question of veracity and authenticity, ever so haunting in nonfictional filmmaking, eventually leads to the one most striking difference between the aesthetics of the ‘‘vacuum shot’’ and montage cinema. Montage cinema, aside from on the purely visual level, also marks a crucial shift in the position of the viewer. Let’s take the film To Live with Herds [1972] as a prominent example of Observational Cinema, filmed within the restrictions of the vacuum shot. Before MacDougall describes the production work he stresses the overall intention: ‘‘What we were trying to give was a sense of being present in a Jie compound, a situation in which few of our viewers would ever find themselves’’ [MacDougall 1998: 200]. Certainly one is reminded of James Clifford’s remarks on ‘‘being there’’—which I referred to in my introduction—as the ultimate effect of ethnographic writing. The focal point of the scenes in Observational Cinema lies ‘‘there,’’ elsewhere, in front of the lens. However, in montage cinema, the focal point of the pictures suddenly turns outside into the spectator, sitting ‘‘here’’ and watching the film. Montage confronts the viewer with fragments: it is a reflexive technique that depends on the cognitive involvement of the audience, who must make sense of the pieces all by themselves and put them together on a cognitive level to get the story right. In montage cinema, the last step in the process of film production is the reception: the film can only be completed in the mind of the viewer. Instead of events occurring in the poetics of the vacuum shot where filmmakers try to give viewers the impression of ‘‘being there,’’ the location of the viewer, the movie theater, or wherever the film might be projected, is transformed into the dominant location in terms of the here and now in the cinema of montage. And this is what incites viewers to ask, ‘‘What is going on here?’’


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W. Kiener

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This article was written for the Postcolonial Studies postgraduate program, overseen by Graham Huggan and Frank Heideman at the University of Munich.

NOTE 1. My text ‘‘Travelling Images—Towards an Ethnographic Cinema of Montage’’ [2006], revised and rewritten, served as a basis for this article. I am very grateful indeed to Eva Knopf and David MacDougall for their valuable comments on the first version.

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REFERENCES Appadurai, Arjun 1996 Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimension of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Barnouw, Eric 1983 Documentary: A History of Non-Fiction Film. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Beller, Hans 1999 Handbuch der filmmontage. Praxis und prinzipien des filmschnitts. Munich: TR—Verlagsunion. Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson 2001 Film Art: An Introduction. New York: McGraw-Hill. Clifford, James, and George E. Marcus 1986 Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. 1997 Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Hayward, Susan 2006 Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge. Henderson, Brian 1971 The Long Take. Film Comment, 7(2): 9. Kiener, Wilma 2006 Travelling Images—Towards an Ethnographic Cinema of Montage. In New Hybridities: Societies and Cultures in Transition. Frank Heidemann and Alfonso de Toro, eds. Pp. 147–160. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag. Leyda, Jay 1960 Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film. London: Allen & Unwin. MacDougall, David 1998 Transcultural Cinema. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1999 When Less Is Less. The Long Take in Documentary. In Film Quarterly: Forty Years—A Selection. Brian Henderson, Ann Martin, and Lee Amazonas, eds. Pp. 290–306. Berkeley: University of California Press. Marcus, George E. 1995 The Modernist Sensibility in Recent Ethnographic Writing and the Cinematic Metaphor of Montage. In Fields of Vision: Essays in Film Studies, Visual Anthropology and Photography. Leslie Deveraux and Roger Hillmann, eds. Pp. 35–55. Berkeley: University of California Press. Menchu, Rigoberta 1998 Crossing Borders. London: Verso Books. Ruby, Jay 2000 Picturing Culture: Explorations of Film and Anthropology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Russell, Catherine 1999 Experimental Ethnography. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


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Stam, Robert 2003 Beyond Third Cinema. The Aesthetics of Hybridity. In Rethinking Third Cinema. Anthony R. Guneratne and Wimal Dissanayake, eds. Pp. 31–48. London: Routledge. Stoller, Paul 1992 The Cinematic Griot. The. Ethnography of Jean Rouch. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Taussig, Michael 1993 Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. London: Routledge.

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FILMOGRAPHY Asch, Timothy, and Napoleon Chagnon 1971 The Ax Fight. Eisenstein, Sergei 1924 Streik. Gardner, Robert 1964 Dead Birds. Kiener, Wilma, and Dieter Matzka 1990 Ixok-Woman. Kuleshov, Lev 1922 Creative Geography. Lodges, David 1988 Small World. MacDougall, David, and Judith MacDougall 1972 To Live with Herds. Preloran, Jorge 1969 Imaginero. Reggio, Geoffrey 1983 Koyaanisqatsi. Rouch, Jean 1954 Les Maıˆtres fous. Vigo, Jean, and Boris Kaufman 1930 On the Subject of Nice (A` propos de Nice).


Wilma Kiener