Society for Visual Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
This talk examines a sequence from David MacDougall’s ground-breaking ethnographic film, To Live With Herds (1972), as a model of cinematic discourse. He utilized a way of knowing through “proto-language,” a form of structuring knowledge by means of cinematic images. Rather than approach his ethnography as a form of written language—or using film as data collection for later analysis to create the way of knowing later in an essay—he utilizes the techniques of filmmaking as the process in creating the discourse itself.
By examining how the juxtaposition of images and elements of sound design in a particular sequence that epitomizes this approach, the author shows how MacDougall constructs an argument that reveals how the Jie feel about selling their cattle to pay taxes as they face the inevitability of encroaching modernity butting against their pastoral lifestyle. Most filmmakers would use narration or an interview quotation to construct such an argument, but it is never made explicit in MacDougall’s film. Rather, he shapes his discourse cinematically with visuals and sound, utilizing them as pieces of evidence that guides the audience to this conclusion.
The cinematic discourse is further elaborated by film and sound editor Walter Murch, who posits how an audience co-constructs meaning in a film when the filmmaker engages in the use of what he calls precipitant sounds, shaping cultural meaning through different elements of sound that reverberate beyond the denotative into the connotative, a form that bridges image and sound into a new meaning.