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directed by Jean Rouch
France 1953


One of the early pioneers of ethnographic filmmaking to treat the field as something beyond the documentation of processes and descriptions of objectively-observed behavior, anthropologist Jean Rouch (1917-2004) left a body of work about African cultures encompassing everything from traditional cultural practices to the adaptation and resistance of practitioners when confronted with mechanization and industrialization, even entering into collaborative relationships with his subjects of study and producing controversial works questioning the intersection between the people in front of the camera as storytellers and the influence of his own control as film editor. The EIGHT FILMS BY JEAN ROUCH in this collection represent roughly a tenth of his output between 1953 and 1971, and that period roughly a third of his fifty-five years as a filmmaker; however, it does include some major works of note. The most traditionally observational of Rouch's films in the set, MAMMY WATER details the "The Festival of the King of Shama" in which the "Surf Boys" of Shama must leave a series of offerings to the water spirits when the catch is bad. THE MAD MASTERS takes a somewhat more experimental and reflexive approach to observational documentary as it depicts the possession rituals of the Hauka sect in immigrants from diverse places in Africa working as tradesmen in Accra on the Gold Coast are inhabited by the new gods (whose identities mirror and lampoon their colonial masters), and ponders the role the ritual plays in the clash between tradition and modernization. I, A NEGRO is an example of Rouch's ethnofiction, created in collaboration with its participants - narrator and job-seeking laborer "Edward G. Robinson" (whose ambition is to become boxing champion "Edward G. Sugar Ray Robinson"), taxi driving lothario "Eddie Constantine", boxing idol "Tarzan", and childhood love interest/prostitute "Dorothy Lamour" - covering a week of their lives in Treichville in search of work, food, recreation, and romance before the cycle starts all over again.

THE HUMAN PYRAMID is in some ways a follow-up to I, A NEGRO in which Rouch collaborates with students of the Lycée Français of Abidjan to create and enact a story about the effect of the arrival of white French girl Nadine to explore interracial relationships between white colonials and black Africans, as well as how making the film affects their views on the issue and one another. In depicting the elaborate Songhay rituals before a hunt, THE LION HUNTERS is not so much a return to observational cinema in that it sheds light on the importance and interdependence of social roles, with Rouch himself taking part in front of the camera. JAGUAR depicts the trip on foot of Rouch and three Songhay men to Accra in search of job opportunities with the participants reuniting a few years later to record "commentary" recollecting and impose an improvised narrative that provides a sort of ethnographic self-observation. In a kind of companion piece to CHRONICLE OF A SUMMER, LITTLE BY LITTLE turns not the camera but the observers upon French culture as Rouch follows two young Nigerian men through Paris in a satire of the ethnographic film. THE PUNISHMENT, although critically reviled, show the influence of the French New Wave as Nadine Ballot - a fixture of Rouch's French films from CHRONICLE OF A SUMMER and THE HUMAN PYRAMID to THE FIFTEEN YEAR OLD WIDOWS and Rouch's segment of the anthology SIX IN PARIS - as a student suspended from school for the day after arriving late. Rather than return home, Nadine wanders around the city (with a Nagra field recorder in her purse and a lavalier microphone attached to her clothing) and enters into conversations with three men that indirectly touch upon notions of race, gender, and class in 1960s Paris. A number of the films in the set were produced by Pierre Braunberger, whose narrative filmography included works by François Truffaut (SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER), Alain Resnais (MURIEL), Jean-Luc Godard (VIVRE SA VIE), and Walerian Borowczyk (IMMORAL WOMEN) among others.

Eric Cotenas

Theatrical Release: 1953-1971


DVD Review: Icarus Films - Region 1 - NTSC

Big thanks to Eric Cotenas for the Review!

DVD Box Cover

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Icarus Films

Region 1 - NTSC

Runtime 9:06:46

1.37:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: ~4.42 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio French/English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Subtitles English, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Icarus Films

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.37:1

Edition Details:
� Disc One:
� 'Mammy Water' (1956; 19:01)
� 'The Mad Master' (1956; 29:21)
� 'I, a Negro' (1959; 1:13:20)

� Disc Two:
� 'The Human Pyramid' (1961; 1:32:33)
� 'The Lion Hunters' (1967; 1:20:51)

� Disc Three:
� 'Jaguar' (1967; 1:32:30)
� 'Little by Little' (1971; 1:36:00)

� Disc Four:
� 'The Punishment' (1962; 1:03:30)
� 'Jean Rouch, The Adventurous Filmmaker' documentary by Laurent Vedrine (2017; 55:14)
� Booklet featuring essays by Paul Stoller and by Eric Kohn

DVD Release Date: November 14th, 2017





Newly restored in 2K from the Centre National du Cinema, these progressive, anamorphic pillarboxed 1.37:1 fullscreen encodes are the best I have seen these titles look (having covered some of Rouch's work for my master's thesis), taking into account the verite nature of the work and Rouch's preference of the wind-up Bell + Howell Filmo 16mm camera and Kodachrome reversal film for most of his African work. While the narration of THE MAD MASTERS is in heavily-accented English as usual - optional subtitles would have been helpful in this case as I had to consult some old college notes for the line "panacea against mental disorders" - the other films are in French with newly-translated optional English subtitles. Besides the new documentary "Jean Rouch, The Adventurous Filmmaker" - which is just as much about Rouch in Africa as the ways his film endeavors spurred the development of a filmmaking culture in Nigeria - the set also includes a booklet with essays by Paul Stoller (author of "The Cinematic Griot: The Ethnography of Jean Rouch") and IndieWire's Eric Kohn.

NOTE: the English narration of Mad Masters and Lion Hunters has optional closed captioning.

  - Eric Cotenas

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Icarus Films

Region 1 - NTSC



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