Visual Anthropology Review, Volume 11 Number 1 Spring 1995.

Note - original pagination has been preserved for citations purposes.

"Bring your camera over here, it's going to start."
Chagnon to Asch at the beginning of The Ax Fight


Tim Asch has a unique place in the development of ethnographic film. Unlike most filmmakers, he was not primarily concerned with producing "memorable" films to enhance his reputation as an "auteur" or further a pet socio-political agenda. He was not an anthropologist who conducted field research, analyzed, and published the results. In a remarkably single handed fashion, Asch devoted more than thirty years of his life to discovering ways in which he could produce films in collaboration with anthropologists. The primary purpose of his films is to teach cultural anthropology to university undergraduates and be accessible so that other scholars and teachers could make use of the filmic materials in ways not imagined by their original producers. To accomplish this goal, Asch has: (1) explored the nature of collaboration between anthropologists and filmmakers with a number of anthropologists in several different field situations; (2) sought to develop a sequential method of filming that results in footage that is researchable and that can be edited into both single-concept or sequence films as well as be combined with other sequences into a larger film; (3) explored ways to combine the benefits of observational style shooting with the didactic requirements of anthropological interpretation; (4) worked with the anthropologists to produce study guides to package the films for classroom use; and (5) developed a course of study to train other ethnographic filmmakers.

This paper will critically explore some of these goals and the degree to which Asch has accomplished them by focusing upon two films: The Feast, the first of Asch's films to be produced collaboratively, and The Ax Fight, arguably the most complex and significant of his works. [2] The heart of this essay is a series of interviews I conducted with Asch in October 1993 in New York City and later by phone. The interviews were edited and combined into their present form. All "created" quotations were approved by Asch as representing his point of view. [3] Chagnon was sent a draft of the essay and I have attempted to incorporate his comments either into the text or as footnotes. While the emphasis of the essay is upon Asch, I would remind readers that these films were only possible because of

page 19

Chagnon's fieldwork, analysis, and rapport that he had established with the Yanomami. [4] The readings of the two films invoked in the essay are solely mine. They are based upon repeated screenings of both films in undergraduate and graduate courses, and professional meetings since the films were released. The title of the essay should not be seen as a critical comment about Asch's work. His consistent lack of interest in pursuing current fashion, as well as his lack of synchronicity with the received wisdom of the film world and anthropology, has allowed him to make significant contributions to both.


Asch started his explorations of the pictorial world in high school when he apprenticed himself as a fine arts photographer to Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and Minor White. In 1959, having just completed his BS at Columbia, Asch was hired by Robert Gardner at Harvard's Film Study Center to assist in the editing of John Marshall's Bushman [5] footage. Marshall had released The Hunters and was looking for other ways in which he could utilize the vast amount of footage he shot in southern Africa.

Dave Sapir phoned and told me that I had to go see The Hunters, which was playing at the American Film Festival. After I saw it I wrote a letter to the Peabody Museum saying that I thought the film was wonderful. Apparently Joe Brew filed the letter away. Sometime later when Gardner was looking for an editor, Brew showed him the letter. They contracted Margaret Mead, who recommended me. Gardner, Marshall, and Joe Brew, the director of the Peabody Museum, had gotten a large grant from the National Science Foundation to edit twenty films, and they were looking for an editor, particularly one that wasn't...that didn't have too much of their own will or mind of their own...to help edit their films...When I annotated all 500,000 feet of John's Bushman footage, I discovered in all this footage these little sequences of social interaction that were shot in great detail because John's father (Laurence Marshall) said when you shoot something, shoot it in great detail. None of the rest of us ever had enough money to shoot this much film.

"So instead of shooting little bits of pieces of an event the way Gardner might, John shot everything in detail. There was the N/um Tchai dance ceremony. . An Argument About a Marriage . . . The Meat Fight . [Note: these titles are among the many single-concepts films Asch helped edit.] [6] And I saw in ten of these little sequences great material for teaching. I already suspected that because they were short you could use them much more easily with the literature in short class periods. There wasn't a heavy voice to tell you what to look for and how to interpret what you saw. You could manipulate the film to suit your own curriculum. And I convinced John that it was okay that he wasn't going to make another thematic narrative film right now like The Hunters. He didn't have to make another long narrative film...he could edit these films first...and then he could take bits and pieces of these and make a bigger film, which was done with N'ai. So we put all our energies into editing these short films. Gardner thought we were crazy. Joe Brew, who was director of the Peabody Museum, thought that we were out of our minds. Both Gardner and Brew were worried because they were responsible to NSF (National Science Foundation) for meeting the conditions of the grant. But Brew supported us because I made such a strong case for it educationally.

As a consequence of his editing of the Bushman films, Asch began work with Jerome Bruner, then Harvard educational psychologist, and others at the Educational Development Center (EDC) in the now-infamous Man, A Course of Study (MACOS) project (Dow 1991). His job was to produce short films from the Bushman film corpus to be packaged into an anthropological curriculum for fifth graders. [7] It was during this time, the mid-sixties, that Asch and Marshall conceived of a sequential style of covering events with a clear social scenario in great detail and editing those sequences in a straightforward chronological manner. This approach has informed the majority of Asch's film work since. [8] This was a period when the Drew Associates were inventing American Direct Cinema with such films as

page 20

Primary (O'Connell 1992) and Jean Rouch and his collaborators such as Canadian Michel Brault were creating the technology and ideology for cinema vérité with films like Chronicle of a Summer. In short, because of portable sync sound, the documentary film was in an extraordinary period of expansion and invention in which filmmakers, many trained as social scientists like the Maysles and Rouch, were instrumental in the creation of the conventions of observational and participatory cinema. Lightweight portable 16mm cameras and tape recorders made it possible for the first time to record actual sequences of behavior on location with sync-sound in a manner far less intrusive than before. Advocates of a passive observational style abandoned "voice of God" narration. It was replaced by narrationless long sequences of "spontaneous activity" shot in a way that it was hoped would entice viewers to make their own interpretations as to the meaning of the behavior portrayed. These documentarians were part of the movement that revolutionized both non-fiction and fiction film (for example, Rouch had a major influence on the New Wave via Godard, and the "new" realism of films like John Casavettes' Faces can be attributed to the influence of direct cinema). [9] Asch was familiar with these changes, knew some of the filmmakers like Ricky Leacock associated with Drew Associates, and had seen some of Rouch's work. [10]

At the same time, films of value for the teaching of anthropology were not numerous and those available were in the grand epic tradition of the "ethnographic pastoral." As Asch points out, "In 1960, when I began making ethnographic films through the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, our models were Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North (1922), Meriam Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack's Grass (1925) and Basil Wright's Song of Ceylon (1937)" Asch (1992:196). He has, of course, forgotten the obvious, John Marshall's The Hunters (1957). While grand films have much to offer in their own right, all are too long to use in the classroom and they, of course, suffer from being products of the technology and times that produced them. They did not offer much of a model for making ethnographic film for teaching anthropology.

While there might have been a revolution afoot in the technology and approach to making documentaries, Asch, who had never been to film school, was never concerned with "cinema" per se but with film as a vehicle for teaching anthropology. He never subscribed to the orthodoxy of "no narration." Before many ethnographic filmmakers had even embraced observational style, Asch realized that the problem with narrationless observational films about cultural behavior exotic to Western audiences was that viewers simply did not have the knowledge necessary to understand what they saw and were more likely to employ racist stereotypes without some assistance. If the observed behavior of the other was self-evident, why was anthropology even necessary? His interest in the pedagogical value of single-concept films for the teaching of anthropology was equally unique for its time. Most anthropologists received no formal training in teaching. Often they used films as a "substitute" teacher when they had to be away from their classes. Films were shown at the American Anthropological Association (AAA) meetings as an evening's' entertainment rather than as they are now an integral part of the program. While the AAA had published a monograph on The Teaching of Anthropology (Mandelbaum 1963), the profession was not putting much thought or energy into the development of a sophisticated multi-media curriculum. Asch found himself more allied with psychologists of education like Jerome Bruner than with anthropologists.

When I showed them [the Bushman films that Asch had been editing with John Marshall] to Jerry Bruner, he thought...these short little, open-concept films were the best way to teach any subject but certainly the subject of anthropology. So I took a lot of John's films, some of which I had edited myself in rough form, and brought them out to Brandeis and taught an introductory anthropology class, which was fantastic. I mean, people were really bowled over. I was young and enthusiastic, I suppose, but in a way, I almost never have taught as well, as effectively, as I did with those sequences.... And so it was really with Jerry Bruner' s support and interest and knowledge and what I learned from him as an apprentice that I took it all the way with the rest of the Bushman films and the Yanomami films and had the courage to teach anthropology in a different way. [11]

After having taught with these short films, Asch was now ready to make his own-to actualize his idea in a field situation.

page 21

Well you know, I had this plan by then (mid- 1960s) that shooting sequences was the best way to go because I could use them for teaching. I initially thought of making film solely for my own purposes to use for teaching but because of Gadjusek and Sorenson's research film idea [a research film consists of putting together all the footage in the order in which it was shot and then heavily annotating it prior to editing; see Sorenson 1967) I...I thought we should make a research film first before doing anything else...I would come back from the Yanomami with maybe sixty one-thousand-foot sequences, which is exactly what I came back with. It really made such good sense to...in terms of economy to first make this huge research film out of which you can make a number of different kinds of films instead of just spending a lot of money, time, and effort going out and getting one film like Dead Birds out of thirty hours of footage. And so, my idea was to film discrete events in detail that the anthropologist thought were interesting or that I thought were interesting.... [12]

So I was ready to go out and make my own corpus of material....I put the shingle out saying, "Ethnographic Filmmaker Will Travel." I asked Manners [Robert Manners, then Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Brandeis University] if he would stake me to a ream of paper saying the Center for Documentary Anthropology and then I wrote letters on it. And he said he would...he was wonderfully supportive. I didn't even have the stationary yet and Chagnon phoned...

In 1968 Asch began his first collaboration with an anthropologist, Napoleon Chagnon. Over the next decade, it resulted in thirty-nine films. The Yanomami, like the Bushmen, became the most filmed non-Western, non-industrialized society in the world. Among the films are Asch's most influential works-The Feast and The Ax Fight. With Chagnon's Holt, Rinehart monograph designed for introductory cultural anthropology courses (1983), college teachers had, for the first time, the chance to integrate readings with a film. In addition, the book and the films appeared at a time when the U.S. was in turmoil about the Vietnam War and concerned with the role of violence and aggression in society. As a consequence of their timeliness, the Yanomami films became as commonly used to teach anthropology as The Hunters and Dead Birds. So many other filmmakers have followed in Asch's footsteps that in 1978 Jean Rouch was able to convene a conference in Paris solely devoted to the ways in which the Yanomami have been filmed. [13]

When John Boorman was looking for a model of "primitive savagery" for his fiction fantasy, The Emerald Forest, he chose the Yanomami. [14] The work has attracted the film world as well. Asch, along with Marshall, Gardner, and MacDougall, are among the few ethnographic filmmakers to have had their works programmed at the Whitney Museum of American Art and reviewed in such non-anthropological publications as the Village Voice. [15] While some would argue that the interest in the Yanomami is more racist than enlightened, it is the case that these films and Chagnon's

page 22

writings fueled the debate about the nature of human aggression in a way seldom seen in anthropological circles.

The Feast represents two innovations. First is the form of the film. It begins with a series of still frames from the film depicting the "highlights" of the event with an explanatory narration by Chagnon. The second section of the film is an observational representation of the feast with only subtitles. The Feast is an experiment in combining the didactics of anthropological explanation with an opportunity for audiences to concentrate on the filmmaker's pictorial representation of the event. This experimental form becomes elaborated upon with The Ax Fight. It flew in the face of the received wisdom of the time that caused documentary and ethnographic filmmakers to avoid all narration and rely upon the viewers' ability to make sense out of what they saw. [16] Secondly, The Feast is one of the few films produced to illustrate an anthropological idea-Mauss's concept of reciprocity (1967).

In 1968, Chagnon was a recent University of Michigan Ph.D. involved in a medical study of the Yanomami of Venezuela. After attempting himself to shoot a film, Chagnon went looking for a filmmaker. Both Robert Gardner and Asen Balicki suggested that he go to the National Film Board of Canada or to Timothy Asch. Asch recalls that an early discussion with Chagnon about Mauss motivated him to go film the Yanomami.

And then he [Chagnon] stopped and he said, "by the way, have you ever read Marcel Mauss' book The Gift?" Now The Gift was one of my favorite books as an anthropology student. And Chagnon said it was his favorite book. In fact, he said, 'I would like our first film to be of a feast for which Mauss has written the script in his book, The Gift"....I thought if I could take a piece of theoretical literature and illustrate it or describe it to some degree in film so students could get it both ways . . . What a challenge!

Chagnon recalls the event of filming the feast thusly.

In 1968 I was, as a researcher in the Department of Human Genetics, University of Michigan Medical School, responsible for bringing James V. Neel and our Venezuelan medical collaborators into a series of Yanomamo villages per usual during my long-term collaboration with the Neel team (1966-72). That year was also my first filming collaboration with Tim Asch. Our filming effort was funded by Neel's Atomic Energy Commission grant on the condition that we also make a film about 'multidisciplinary studies,' which we did, using also some of the film I had previously shot before meeting Tim Asch. I intended, with Asch, to film a feast that year and knew that the Patanowa-teri would be having one with one of its allies, not knowing which one. Patanowa-teri was also one of the big villages I wanted to bring Neel's medical group to, but they were not at their regular location when the medical researchers arrived. The Patanowa-teri were being harassed by many enemies-and in response had begun clearing new gardens in a more remote area between the headwaters of the upper Mavaca and the upper Shanishani rivers-near a site at which they had earlier lived. This site was impossibly far from a walkable point for the medical work we planned. Since I was heavily involved in responsibilities to the medical researchers and had to take them to more immediately accessible villages so they could get maximum work done in minimum time, I asked Asch if he would like to accompany the Yanomamo messengers I was sending into the Patanowa-teri asking them to return to their earlier location. He enthusiastically agreed, since there wasn't much he could film at that point. Neel had also hired a young missionary named Daniel Shaylor to help his medical people that year as a translator, and since Shaylor was fluent in Yanomamo and had a portable short-wave radio, I also asked him to go on the trip to find the Patananowa-teri. I located several well-informed Yanomamo guides for them, all familiar with that area. Thus, Asch, Shaylor, and three Yanomamo guides set out to find the Patanowa-teri and ask them to return to their earlier location so the medical people could treat their sick and do their investigations. Shaylor and Asch kept in daily contact with us via short-wave radio. [17]

Well, the guides got confused and lost and it took them several days longer than anticipated to find the Patanowa-teri, but they finally did....The Patanowa-teri agreed to return to their earlier site, where I eventually took the medical workers for their research project. Asch filmed them at work, resulting in footage that went into the film,

page 23

Yanomama: A Multidisciplinary Study-along with footage I had earlier shot.

When the medical people left, I remained in Patanowa-teri with Asch to shoot ethnographic footage per our previously-discussed plan. I knew they would most likely have a feast during that time, but was not sure who it would be with. They eventually held a feast for the Mahekodo-teri. I did not "stage" this-it happened naturally. They could not have cared less about our interests in filming and are the kind of people who would not do something this costly and time consuming for two whole communities simply to accommodate the filming interests of outsiders (personal communication, 1994).

During the academic year 1968/9 Asch returned to Brandeis to teach and edit the film and Chagnon went to the University of Michigan. In the process of completing their first film, Asch and Chagnon devised a method of collaborating that made it possible to produce thirty-nine films over the next seven years while both were teaching full-time. The collaboration is one of the earliest and undoubtedly the most productive between a U.S. anthropologist and a filmmaker. For anyone interested in how wordsmiths and image makers work together, it is a collaboration essential to understand.

As a way of exploring their collaboration, I asked Asch about Chagnon's role in the making of The Feast. His response evolved into a general discussion of the way they worked in the editing all their films.

Well, he [Chagnon] had very little input in editing the films. It wasn't necessary as the work was pretty straightforward. Much of the film had already been edited in the camera while I was shooting. However, when I asked for translations, he gave them. And when I got stuck and I asked for advice and what not, he was always helpful. He was a first class professional....He never really had much of a role in any of the editing because he never really wanted it. That is, he would have wanted it if he hadn't liked what I had done. I would ask him questions and I would ask him to translate sync sound conversations....He never balked at any amount of work that I would assign....I was very good about showing him what I was doing, and he was always very praiseworthy and then we would go out and drink beer. But, at heart, he wanted to make didactic self-contained films with heavy long narration. I mean, the first script of The Feast was something like thirty-five pages that I had to cut down to four pages.

You see I am not an auteur because I never went to film school. So I don't have that precious background about having to do this work all by my creative self. You know, I'm the filmmaker. What do I know about film, really? I'm...sort of somebody who's really interested in the anthropology of a particular area and working with an anthropologist who is knowledgeable about the language and the culture. So I feel it is only decent to work with the anthropologist and let him know what I am doing. I didn't have to do that with Chag. He didn't care. He just wanted to see the films. We could have done all our work on the phone... 'You remember that film of so and so. Yeah. Well I am going to edit this way.' ...pretty much as we saw it for what it was, which is the way I did everything. And he would say fine, because he is busy, he is really busy. He likes the idea that I am independent. But I go to Michigan with a complete editing studio in two suitcases anyway. And we look at the film and we discuss it. And I tell him what I am going to do. We had complete trusting each other. I'd say, 'You know, I need this translated.' And he didn't cry or moan or say 'Oh, God, I got an article due next week.' He'd just go and translate until he was done-anything I would ask him to do. He was great that way....You have to take your ego and just put it in the wastebasket because it is not going to serve you very well in a collaboration. And that is probably why few of my students collaborate.

Asch's editing of The Feast was a direct consequence of the sequential way in which it was shot. The editing consisted of a tightening of the actual chronological sequences. Once in a rough version, Asch began to show a cut of the film to his classes. In this form, the narration ran throughout the length of the film. While "test screenings" and "sneak previews" of a fine cut have long been a tradition of filmmaking, taking an unfinished version of a film into a classroom, seeking students' reactions and then recutting the film as a consequence of their response is a somewhat unusual

page 24

way to edit a film. Most filmmakers do not have the luxury of sufficient time to have so many test viewings. Perhaps the economic realities of the world of professional filmmaking in which deadlines are always tight and the intellectual world of anthropology are not always very compatible.

I'd been showing it la cut of The Feast] a lot in different classes to finish it. It edited pretty much the way I shot it in the camera. Most of my films do-well, some of the later films haven't. But basically even now I film and edit events chronologically....I worked hard showing the film in class. And it seemed to me...it wasn't working right with Chagnon's heavy narration. And I didn't know what to do until the day before the Flaherty Film Seminar (where the film was first shown publicly in 1969), while I was mixing the film with Chagnon's voiceover. And I just didn't like the way his voice interrupted the indigenous action.

During these test screenings Asch determined that "...it was too difficult for students to see the moving images and hear the narration..." (Ennis and Asch 1993:75). He therefore selected some representative still frames from the footage to replace some of the narration. He constructed a still visual sequence to serve as the background for Chagnon's narration and the form of The Feast was created. Asch recalls "We discovered it was too difficult for students to see the moving images and hear the narration. So freeze frames from the actual film were made into a sequence with Chagnon's analytic description of the event. The purpose of this part of the film was to enable viewers to focus their attention on the narration and understand the event better." The film was released in 1970. Because it was funded through the University of Michigan's medical research grant from the Atomic Energy Commission, The Feast was initially distributed by the National Audio-Visual Center in Washington, D.C., and sold at cost for an amazingly low $75-not an insignificant factor in the wide use of the film in teaching. Immediately after completing The Feast, Asch began to fundraise for a second filming season among the Yanomami.


For many people the moment of serious confusion or revelation in The Ax Fight occurs when the screen goes black after the "rushes" have been shown. On the sound track is heard the slightly less-than-clear voices of three confused, stressed-out men who are trying to figure out what they just witnessed. It is a moment of Goffmanesque "backstage" [18] that exemplifies the reflexive Reconstructive nature of this film. After reading the study guide, one discovers that the voices belong to Craig Johnson, the soundperson, Napoleon Chagnon, and Tim Asch. Once you realize who these people are, the subversive nature of this film becomes all too apparent. Their lack of certainty contrasts so much with what follows as to leave a viewer with no sense of closure and with a great deal of doubt about the "explanations" that follow. In one film, the conventions of documentary/ethnographic realism and the "scientific" certainty of anthropological explanations are called into question.

JOHNSON "Sound Reel 14; February 28, 1971; finish of wife-beating sequence."

ASCH "Did you get sync on that?"

CHAGNON "Wife-beating sequence my foot.'

JOHNSON "Okay, what is it?"

CHAGNON "It was a club fight."

JOHNSON "What was first?"

CHAGNON "Well, two women were in the garden and one of them was seduced by her 'son.' It was an incestuous relationship and the others found out about it and that's what started the fight."

ASCH "No kidding!"

JOHNSON "About 3:30 in the afternoon."

CHAGNON "No about 3:00 it started....One guy was hit on the back from behind with an ax and just about knocked unconscious with the blow."

ASCH "So this is just the beginning of lots more."

CHAGNON "Well when you get a village this big things like this are bound to happen at any..."

ASCH "Did you figure out how many there were in the village?"

CHAGNON "No. I haven't counted them yet- there are over 200 there." (He turns to talk to Moawa in Yanomami.) Aaah, that's about the tenth person today that's asked me for my soap." ASCH "Tell him I'll give him my soap..."

CHAGNON "No you won't give him your soap!"

ASCH "...when I go home."

CHAGNON "They're going to make damn sure we leave in a hurry if we keep promising them everything when we go home."

page 25

ASCH "Shotiwa (brother-in-law), living in your village is going to be tiresome."

CHAGNON "Thought I was shifting you about the fierce people, huh?"

(from the sound track of The Ax Fight)

The Ax Fight was made possible because Asch was able to secure a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for a second filming expedition to the Yanomami in 1971. It was one of the last grants NSF gave in their "fear of Sputnik" era of giving money to improve science education (see Dow 1991). Chagnon was already in the field when Asch arrived with his agenda for shooting a large number of sequential films. The proposal makes it clear that Asch, with Chagnon's advice, had developed a rather complete agenda for the variety of short, open-ended films that he needed to develop the curriculum he envisioned. What started out as a collaboration between two equally interested partners became a project of a filmmaker/teacher asking his anthropological colleague for some assistance.

Asch's plans were interrupted when the unexpected happened on the second day after his arrival. Asch describes the circumstances of the filming:

I was lying in my hammock and the camera as usual was tied to a post on a special slip knot that I could quickly undo...otherwise the Yanomami would have kicked out the legs of the tripod and it would have fallen. I mean the young ones (ages 14 to 21 )...there was always a group of young ones who were showing off. And so I heard some women crying, I mean they were really crying. And they were about 100, 125 feet away from me. And I got up on my own and pulled the slip knot. I started photographing them on my own. I said, Craig get your sound. Craig came over with sound a little after I was filming. And then after those first shots of the women crying and what not, Chagnon said, say, come on over and get your camera it's going to start...meaning it's over there...whatever it was...But, whatever was happening was happening down there. So I took the camera off the tripod and left it [the tripod] there. And started to go with the camera, when the guy who goes likes this with his hand in the film...remember him? [Asch indicates it is the young man that puts his hand out meaning stop and smiles directly at the camera.]....And I take my eye away and smile at him and he smiles and puts his hand down....That same guy did the same thing when he saw me running down to where the fight was most intense. And I...these are the kinds of things you get to know pretty quickly...this gesture was saying, 'don't come down there. You can film on your tripod if you want here. But there is no way of telling what could happen down there. And, you know, we are having a fight and we don't also want to have to be responsible for you. So please don't.' Nobody is even in real physical danger who's out of the picture. If I were Ken Goode and married to a Yanomami woman, you know, that might be something different. But the anthropologist is never in physical danger of something like that. But except...you can get in the way and just being there can heighten tension.

The ax fight lasted about eighteen minutes. Asch filmed eleven minutes, which meant that while he had unusually complete coverage of the event, he did not have sufficient footage to make a straightforward chronological film that would be comprehensible. In addition, the event involved a lot of people and was so complex as to necessitate an equally complex explanation. He therefore had to invent a form sufficient to the task. The solution was a radical departure from the existing models. He chose to show the viewer all of the unedited footage, then a didactic version with wall-to-wall voice over narration, slow-motion and arrows identifying the principals, a third section with kinship charts that carried viewers through a structural-functional model employing alliance theory and notions of fission and fusion, and finally a "Final Edited Version"-a passively slick observational-style rendition of the event with no narration. Asch explains the creation of this form in a pragmatic rather than theoretical manner:

The first thing I did was to go over with Chagnon to look at the film. So we looked at the film on a projector once. And I said, 'what are we going to make out of this?' And he said, 'let's look up the people first.' So we looked up the people in his good genealogy that he had constructed with photographs he had taken of everyone in the village so that we could see who the people were. And then it was easy to see how they were related. Once we knew how they were related we could explain why the ax fight happened. These discoveries all hap-

page 26

pened in about fifteen minutes. So it wasn't really but a few minutes after having discovered how people were related that we could easily make at least a structural-functional analysis of what happened in the ax fight. It took moments and that was it. We knew. Well, we had one explanation in what was still an acceptable form-structural-functionalism. In 1971 it was perfectly okay. And alliance theory worked out perfectly well with what else we knew about the culture.

It was so easy. It was a question of going through the thing frame by frame and figuring out how you would explain this most efficiently. And there were things that Nap [Chagnon] wanted to say. So I said, 'Okay, Nap, here is what's happening.' And I gave him an outline. 'Now, what do you want to say?' So he went off and he wrote his script. And then we pared it down...he was always writing an article...always too verbose, as most anthropologists are. And then I felt I had something that was short enough to work with. Then it was just a question of here's the script. I got him to record it.

The first thing that got constructed was the middle of the second section of the film. And when I got the narration, then I could structure the rest of the film. Well, right away I conceived of it as a four-part film. The original film [footage], the slowdown detail part of it, some of which I even enlarged on the Oxberry animation stand, the kinship chart, and always this last fourth edited version, which I would-if I could have gotten Leni Riefenstahl to edit-I would have. I wanted somebody who was a real expert to edit that final section and, you know, distort it as much as possible but have it look smooth and slick-the way any good ethnographic film looks. Because what we usually see is that last section. And shorten it, you know, shorten it as much as you can....In the end I had to edit the final section myself, just doing a little bit of distortion...I couldn't do a hell of a lot of distortion. But the little bit that I did do was obvious enough to any audience...

The final structure of the film comes out of teaching. I mean, how am I going to teach kids with this film?...I show it to my Harvard students and they only understood half of what they are supposed to. So then it is a problem. They don't tell me how to edit the film but I get a feeling of what it is that they don't understand and why. So I start changing it. And I am really using film as if it were clay. It's very much like that. I've got a strand of film here. It's not working here in this section. Well, it's...a twenty-foot section...so I break it up and decide I need a title in there. I've got to have an explanatory title with a still shot slide as background for it. So I type it on the typewriter in as large letters as I can and film it with a Bolex. So I've got that and I take it up to the lab. I'll need a dissolve here. So I take the two pieces of film and put them into my little duplicator and make a dissolve. So I have another strand. But I will need a slide. I will need a slide I've got which would work well here. And so I will film that. So I may have four or five new strands to this film on the synchronizer. And then it is a question of syncing them all up and putting them on reels with twenty feet of leader and making sure that everything is exact. Then give it to the lab and they marry the five strands together into one strand. Then I just snip the old twenty feet out, put this new strand in and I race off to another friend's class. It might be at Boston University. It might be at Wellesley. You know, where ever. I'm off. And I'm listening. I'm really attuned to what's going on. And it works. It's there...you know it may not work with another audience but I'm through with that one section of the film for a while. When I see that is not working quite right with another audience I change it a little bit.

Well, in the end, it turned out...I didn't always have the uncut section first. You show them the raw material, stop the projector, have them talk about it-what is going on and so forth. Show them the second piece, which is our explanation, but let them know that there are other explanations. I mean in this film we are really locked into a very tight simplistic structural-functional explanation here. And then the kinship chart because that is what anthropologists love to have....We are dealing with models now, I'm building a model the way anthropologists build models only I am doing it with film. I think one of the biggest contributions to anthropology is to show how film can be manipulated to be an effective model. And then show them what it would be like ordinarily, which is all they get ordinarily-the slick version that I show at

page 27

the very end.... I changed The Ax Fight twenty-five times in the course of that semester.

You know the joy of The Ax Fight...is that because Chagnon was so stuck in simple theories that, right away, the film became a real joke. It is funny with its simplistic, straight-jacketed, one-sided explanation....One of the things I liked about it was that it's a pretty funny film. And it's a very dated film if you are going to take it as a piece of serious work. It belongs in another era. But I think also that the film is harbinger of postmodernism long before we get postmodernism...and I was feeling, you know, halfway into making the film, this great suspicion of the whole field beginning to fall apart before my eyes as I was putting The Ax Fight together. I had a powerful piece of material and it was suddenly looking kind of foolish. But it was kind of fun. Actually I wanted to do something like that for a long time. And I realized that when I saw the Oxberry animation stand that I could do it. But now I would love to put on an introduction to it that says, "About Realism."

I was dealing with a document of great realism and certainty. As anthropologists we assumed that we could make an accurate translation and representation of culture. It was the culmination of my work with Mead, Arensberg, and Freed, on the one hand, and Biedelman and Middleton on the other. At one point I thought I was making a perfect film but when I asked Chagnon to do the kinship diagram (his only responsibility) for a third time to show the marriage alliances between the combatants-which somehow didn't get into the first two attempts- that was the whole point of the kinship chart. He had done it twice and would not do it a third time. I was flabbergasted. I couldn't believe it because, you know, I was making a "perfect" film. But then I thought so much of our work as anthropologists is flawed, why should this be any different? Its flaws were instructive to students. I felt it was a little bit like a gargoyle at Chartres...one of those strange things that stick out and you say, what's this? This flaw is very instructive to students so I convinced myself that it was okay. It's like making one of those great oriental carpets. You sit down and start weaving and think 'this is going to be perfect' and always a third of the way through there are all these flaws. And so it is going to be the next one. So that is kind of the way I looked at it.

I might have still believed wholeheartedly in the structural-functional explanation during the first three to five showings. But after the tenth or twenty-fifth, I was pretty much jaded. So what I am trying to say is that I went into this fairly naively with my anthropology training, thinking that I was making a fascinating truthful translation or representation of culture. But a third of the way through it...because I had had to see it so often, I began to get jaded about the whole thing. I mean it almost became a joke. I wasn't aware of any postmodern critiques of representation. I hadn't really picked it up on my own until about five months later. I was with the Australian anthropologists John and Leslie Haviland, and this whole notion of truth and making an accurate representation blew up in my face because they had already gone through this in very practical ways with their fieldwork. That was when my whole life and commitment to anthropology got really shattered. I had really put myself out to make this film and in so doing it completely undercut years and years of training. It is kind of interesting. These insights didn't take place through my reading at the time. I did it the way I always have done things in my life, in a practical way, through my hands. At that moment, I saw The Ax Fight as a subtle commentary about the end of an era. But that didn't mean it still wasn't fun to do. That is where a lot of the irony is, I mean, that is why I didn't make things explicit about the way I felt, because I didn't really feel that way until I was a third of the way into it. And then I thought, let the others figure it out for themselves.

In writing about the "final" section of the film in study guide, Asch and his co-authors state that:

The final section is the edited version. By comparing this version to the first section, students discover how strongly intellectual models influence visual perception. A by-product could be some understanding of how filmmakers create finished film from raw footage and sound....The final interpretation of the fight, the edited version, was included as a counterpoint to the first version. It is only one example of the many ways this footage

page 28

could be edited. The viewer can see that in making the footage flow more quickly and smoothly a great deal of the information is lost and the initial integrity of the event is damaged. The film editor noted that the final presentation of the fight was edited to fit into the context of the entire film. Since the viewer has seen the unedited footage, he could and did take liberties with the footage that he would not have taken were he editing the fight to stand on its own as a sequence. Asch adds, though, that few filmmakers edit social events in such a way that the integrity of the event is maintained (Bugos, Carter, and Asch 1993: 133 95).

The Ax Fight is a truly remarkable film for a number of reasons. [20] I know of no other non-fiction film that not only displays all of the footage shot but shows three different edited versions. There are several "editing" exercise films in which a scene from a fiction film or television series like Gunsmoke is given to several editors to recut. These films are designed to be used in courses about fiction film editing. Chris Marker in A Letter from Siberia repeats the same footage twice with ideologically different voice-over narrations as an exercise in demystifying the documentary. The Public Broadcast Lab of PBL (the precursor of PBS) did a show Mirror, Mirror on the World in which they analyzed media coverage of the march on Washington, D.C., of the Jeanette Rankin Brigade of Woman against the Vietnam War. In it the producers showed in Rashomon fashion how various news agencies represented the event to suit their formats. The Ax Fight accomplishes what the editing exercise films do in that it demonstrates how the same footage can be edited into very different versions of the same event. But it differs from these films because it deals with nonfiction, a genre popularly assumed to not distort the "facts" of an event. Like Mirror, Mirror on the World and A Letter from Siberia, The Ax Fight undermines the naive belief in the objectivity of the documentary/ethnographic film. In addition, the film calls into question the adequacy of anthropological theory to explain complex human encounters. For example, nowhere in the film or in Chagnon's writings is the political role of women discussed (see Connor and Asch in this volume). In The Ax Fight their visibility confounds their invisibility in the literature. As Asch suggests, because of its reconstructive nature, The Ax Fight is prematurely postmodern. [21]

Viewers who have never made a film are sometimes perplexed when they see "rushes." They are not used to seeing all the "mistakes" in focus and exposure, and the jerky movements of the camera as Asch tries to locate the center of the action and compose his shot. To the untrained eye, it all looks so messy and haphazard. Often undergraduate students of mine will argue that Asch is simply an incompetent cinematographer. The inclusion of that which is hidden to the eyes of the normal viewer affords the teacher a rare opportunity to expose students to the constructed nature of film. Because the pictorial world is seldom a topic of discussion in our educational system, students are unprepared to deal in a critical fashion with films or photographs-or television for that matter. The implicit proscenium arch that surrounds all films, coupled with the students' vast exposure to television, predisposes them to passively watch films, expecting to be entertained-not challenged. Contrary to Marshall McLuhan's fondly held fantasies, growing up watching television does not cause students to become critical of what they see. The adolescent cynicism of MTV's Bevis and Butthead has not thus far produced a generation of critical viewers. In order to teach anthropology with film, teachers have to first instruct their students on how to critically examine what they see. The Ax Fight is designed for that purpose.

The three edited versions of the event extend the alienating quality of this film. The didactic version, at this point in the history of anthropology and educational film, appears dated. As Asch suggests, it is almost funny; one could even see it as a parody of those long dead days when the Encyclopedia Britannica ruled educational films. Even the initial thrust of the narration alienates us from the incredible scene we are witness to. Chagnon begins the narration of this section as if he were talking about a movie and not real life- "The film opens as Sinabimi is comforted by her sister." Whether intentional or not, it distances the viewers even more from the immediacy of the event and reminds them again that they are witness to a representation filtered through a complex process of abstraction and thought.

The next section, titled "The Final Edited Version," is at once the easiest to view and the most confusing. In this version the event is represented in a seamlessly edited passively observational manner. All backstage moments such as the footage of Chagnon accidentally walking into camera range with pipe and camera or

page 29

when Asch berates the sound man for being scared have disappeared. There are no confused observers trying to figure out what happened. The event now seems comprehensible, contained. And yet if viewers look carefully they notice some of the scenes of the "haranguing" woman who so magnificently taunts her enemies have been moved out of their chronological order. You know that only because you have seen the rushes. Exactly what Asch intended with this section is a bit unclear. On the one hand, a viewer could see the section as a warning to not believe what you see in films because editors can easily create a chronology that did not exist. The section, however, is entitled "The Final Edited Version" and it is not impossible to assume that this version is the one the filmmakers approve of. While Asch suggests in the interview quotation cited above that his intention was to undermine the verisimilitude of ethnographic film, his editor suggests a less than subversive intent. As reflexive as this section may be in intent, Asch was not willing to give up on all movie illusions. In the second section of the film as the action is slowed down so that viewers can be informed about who the principals are and their kin relations to each other, when the climatic moment comes when a crunching blow is delivered with the ax, the sound has been "sweetened" in the studio so that audience will have the gut reaction Asch desires. Ultimately it does not matter, because whether intended or not the impact of this film is to create doubt about the conventions of representation in ethnographic film and about the nature of anthropological explanations.


The Ax Fight and The Feast may not be Asch's best work, [23] but there can be no question they are what he is best known for. While Asch has subsequently worked with several other anthropologists and produced a number of films in Bali and other cultures in Indonesia, it is the experiences of the Yanomami project that have informed his subsequent endeavors. It is during the period from 1967 to 1972 that Asch's notions of collaboration and constructing films and accompanying written materials for teaching and research were formulated. As a way to conclude this essay, I will comment upon these three concepts as articulated and practiced by Asch.


The question of collaboration between filmmakers and scholars is often a touchy one. Agencies like the National Endowment for the Humanities have institutionalized the idea of working together. All of their media projects require a panel of academic humanists. The British Disappearing World television programs are always based upon collaborations. While seldom the subject of much public debate, the idea of working together has been a source of displeasure and discomfort for many who have tried it (see Hoover 1992 for a description of one such venture). In some instances collaboration has meant that the anthropologist is a glorified "Kelly girl" for a filmmaker who is really the author of the work; anthropologists are asked to provide field rapport, translations, and cultural context while the filmmaker pursues his/her vision of what is important. At times the final product is positively embarrassing to the anthropologist.

The collaborative work of Asch and Chagnon would appear to be exemplary in that they were able to produce a record number of important films together. A closer examination reveals a venture that was less than satisfying for both parties. While initially Asch and Chagnon appeared to have been equally interested, Chagnon's involvement lessened by the time of the second filming expedition. Many of Asch's grand scheme notions were never realized. [24] The study guides for all of the Yanomami films remain in draft form with the still hopeful admonition, "These are preliminary study notes which will be replaced by a comprehensive study guide written by Napoleon Chagnon."

There are two responses to the model of collaboration that Asch described in the interview above-the ideal and the pragmatic. In the best of all possible worlds one would wish for more active participation by an anthropologist-a collaboration in which filmmaker and scholar were equally involved in all phases of the work from inception to completion. Realistically, as Asch points out, anthropologists have their books and articles to write. [25] As much as some of us would like to see a visual anthropology coequal to written anthropology, few anthropological careers have been estate" fished through the production of films. Rouch's admonition that only anthropologists are qualified to make

page 30

films about the people they study is a wonderfully unrealized fantasy. While the Asch-Chagnon model is far from ideal, it did produce a large number of significant films. Ultimately, it may be that the product is more important than the process.


Asch has been an early advocate of the notion of shooting footage in the field for the production of a research film as well as films to be released as teaching devices. The origin of the idea is to be found in Margaret Mead's research in Bali and in the films by Wolf and the Institut fur den Wissenschaftlichen Film in Germany. The research film/archive was actualized in the United States in a National Institute of Health sponsored by Gadjudsek and Sorenson and then at the Smithsonian in the National Anthropological Film Archive. Beginning with the first Yanomami footage, Asch was convinced that depositing the footage and/or research film in an archive was the only ethically defensible way to make films about people who are in a period of rapid culture change. The footage can be edited by the filmmaker into teaching films and possibly a feature-length film. The footage is carefully annotated and available for scholars to study for a variety of purposes unimagined by the original producer.

Evaluating the concept of research filming and archiving is a complicated one. The underlying motivation for most research filming is the idea of salvage ethnography. During the period of rapid and destructive Westernization, Sovietization, and Sinization of the world, the number of cultures displaying behavior clearly outside the realm of these hegemonies drastically shrank. Many people, not just anthropologists, felt the moral and intellectual necessity to "save" what they could for future generations. The problems with salvage ethnography are too well known to bear repeating here. In terms of research film work, the fact is that twenty years after the inception of the idea there are remarkably few examples of scholars using archived film footage-Alan Lomax and the Choreometrics project being the biggest exception. The Yanomami research footage remains ready to be used but as yet no one appears interested. Why are these collections so underutilized, except for the production companies looking to buy some stock footage to insert in their own films? Two possibilities exist. Perhaps the concept of research film is flawed; footage shot by someone else for their own purposes may be as useless as someone else's field notes. The alternative is that the scholarly world has simply not asked the right questions of the footage. The dilemma of the film archive is like the dilemma of so many other things in our society: What do we save and what do we throw away? There are sufficient horror stories about what has been thrown away (WNET's discarding of all the original footage from An American Family comes to mind), to make one pause at discarding anything. And yet we cannot even keep a representative sample of the seven billion photographs taken annually. Given the relatively small amount of film footage taken of people in the midst of the turmoil of rapid culture change, it seems a pity to throw any of it away simply because we are uncertain about what to do with it.


According to Asch's National Science Foundation proposal, he wished to produce a body of work that could be packaged to teach all of the basic ideas in an introductory course in cultural anthropology. With the thirty-nine films and the study guides he envisioned, a teacher could occupy most of a semester course. It is an ambitious idea that has seldom been enacted by anyone except Asch. [26] For those who organize their cultural anthropology course around culture types, the Yanomami may serve as a typical example of a "horticultural" society and warrant two or three weeks of the semester. Asch's model assumes that teachers will become as interested in Yanomami society as he has become. It is an unrealistic assumption.

The subtext of both The Ax Fight and The Feast is one of cultural relativity. Asch wishes us to see the Yanomami world as one that is a ruleful and logical as the one Westerners live in. The Feast is the Yanomami equivalent to the West's summit meetings in which alliances for war and peace are forged. The Ax Fight helps us understand that even the violence of this alien society is rule governed. Clearly the intent of these films falls squarely into the best humanist anthropology tradition of seeking to foster tolerance and understanding for other cultures. In a study done by Wilton

page 31

Martinez, one of Asch's own students, undergraduates taking a course in cultural anthropology were discovered to retain their ethnocentric and racist assumptions in spite of, and perhaps because of, the films they saw (1992). While Martinez suggests that it is possible to counter student's ethnocentric predispositions, there is little evidence that anyone has been able to accomplish that goal.

The world has drastically changed since the early 1970s. The Yanomami have rapidly moved from the relative isolation of the rain forest to a people involved in global battles to save their environment and themselves. [27] When Asch went back to the people he filmed twenty years ago: "They looked at the films attentively and said that while they thought that the films were quite accurate, it would be the 'kiss of death' for people to think that the Yanomami still live today the way they appear to in the films. They suggested that I make a film about the way they live today" (Asch et al. 1991: 102). His solution to the Yanomami's anxiety about being known solely as the people of The Ax Fight was not to make another film but to train the Yanomami to image themselves. Ethnographic filmmakers like Asch find themselves in a peculiar dilemma. On the one hand they are concerned with recording, preserving, and displaying the varieties of human culture. At the same time, the people they have recorded are trying to forge a new, more equitable cultural and political identity, and some aspects of their culture provide the ignorant with definite "proof' of their inferiority. Asch commented on this problem and in doing so commented upon a fundamental reason for his film work.

So far the Yanomami have looked et these old films as home movies and said 'this is the way we used to live.' And they are fairly proud about it now. [28] But if they are going to come to my USC (University of Southern California) class, at the end they are going to discover that these films are being used to reinforce the basic prejudices these students already have about 'the other' and then they may see this isn't fair. Then perhaps the films should be removed from circulation. The curriculum was designed to force the USC students out of their set ways, to see the way other cultures see the world on its different terms and to even accept Yanomami values in a cultural relativistic way as being okay for the Yanomami. The purpose was not to threaten the students' values but to interest them in values we might all share. But if the students' values that they live and grow by are so well-established and intransient or entrenched then what students see on film may only strengthen their values. If that is the case, for the sake of these students and the Yanomami these thirty-nine films should be removed to an archive and not used for teaching. Basically, what I am saying is that the lesson of anthropology is that it is necessary for every culture to survive to have a strong set of values that everyone shares in and that are inculcated into the youth. The problem is that these values have always been at the expense of, or in contradiction to, the values of every other society. Because it is necessary to feel this way about their own set of values in order to survive, it's very tricky. It is a hard nut for us to crack. And the students, because they are good solid members of a particular society, have to hold and share these values very dearly. And what we are asking them as anthropologists is to give them up. Well, we aren't really, but many anthropology professors somehow teach in such a way that they are asking them to suspend their values for a time and think about Yanomami values. It's a question of learning something about other people slightly different...understanding them for what they are. It's a fascinating world out there-I mean, the most beautiful thing that humankind has created is culture. Then why the hell are we not learning more about other cultures and sharing them and enjoying them?


[1] I wish to thank Denise O'Brien for her critical reading of the essay.

[2] It is assumed that the readers of this essay have already seen the two films and that they are therefore familiar with their basic story lines. Further it is assumed that the study guides distributed with these films have been read. For those who have not seen the films or read the guides, they are available from Documentary Educational Resources (DER), 101 Morse Street, Watertown, MA 02172 (617-926-0491).

[3] Perhaps some readers will find my "confession" of manipulation unnecessary, while others will profess shock at the idea of creating quotations. After the legal

page 32

and ethical discussions surrounding the Jeffery Masson/ Janet Maslin legal battle, it is clearly unclear as to what our society thinks about how interviews should appear in print.

[4] Asch and Chagnon disagree about the spelling of the name of the people they filmed. "I find his 'new spelling' of Yanomamo to be a political act and an acquiescence to PC [political correctness! (Chagnon, personal communication, 1994). Since this essay concentrates on Asch's work, I will use the spelling he preferred-Yanomami.

[5] The designate, Bushman, is not the preferred term among the San peoples of southern Africa. I use the term because during the time period under discussion it was the term most frequently employed.

[6] Among the films Asch helped edit are A Rite of Passage, The Meat Fight, An Argument About a Marriage, Bitter Melons, Dehe's Tantrum, Men Bathing, and A Group of Women.

[7] Patsy Asch remembers Tim's job a bit differently. "While it may have been Jerry Bruner's long-term intent to have Tim edit the "Bushman" films, Tim was hired to (a) videotape (using the first portable system- 1965) all of the experimental classes for the first MACOS summer school. The machine was huge, constantly broke down, but Tim taped hours of classes; (b) develop curricula materials, in whatever media he wanted-he was to give free range to his imagination. I was head of a unit on the Bushman and developed materials from Lorna Marshall's diaries and from the sequences John and Tim had edited for university instruction. I convinced EDC to drop the Bushman unit several years later when it became apparent to me that unless teachers were willing to confront race and class explicitly, looking at small Black people who appeared very poor to American kids tended to reinforce racial prejudice" (personal correspondence November 3, 1994).

[8] The concept of "sequence" filming has also had a major impact on Fred Wiseman, who learned to make films when he hired Marshall as primary cameraperson and Asch as second camera on Titicut Follies.

[9] The influence was not one-sided. Asch recalls seeing Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless around the time he was working on Marshall's Bushman footage. It was a transformative experience for him. Afterward, he was "absolutely committed" to what he was doing.

[10] Patsy Asch believes that Tim did not see Chronicle of a Summer until after he had finished The Feast.

[11] In writing about his influence elsewhere, Asch makes it clear that the idea of sequential films comes from John Marshall. "It was Marshall's model of sequence films that influenced the style of Timothy Asch's filming..." (T & P Asch 1987 fn 2: 352).

[12] Asch has also suggested that his lack of experience in making films made him too timid to try to produce a grand epic film in the style of The Hunters or Dead Birds. "I lacked the confidence in my own ability to make complex, narrative films about the Yanomamo that would represent their cultural perspective in any significant way" (Asch 1993: 3).

[13] While Ramos (1987) has done an admirable job of comparing the different versions of the Yanomami in print, no one was done a similar comparison with the films For example, video artist Juan Downey has produced a number of videos that offer a view contrastive of Asch's (Michaels 1982).

[14] While there can be no question about the Yanomami being the "model" for the tribe in The Emerald Forest, it is not clear how much research Boorman actually undertook. Tim recalls his only meeting with the director: "The cinematographer for Boorman came to see me and said he had a friend who wanted to meet me who was very shy and so it had to be sort of secretive. Could I think of a place we could meet? I said, look, so many people have asked me for a consultation that I have to say no. A week later this guy came back again and he was almost in tears and he said this guy really wants to meet you. So I said to myself, look, I am really tired at the end of the week and I don't have anything to do on Friday. Why don't I just meet him at Margarita Jones and you can pay for some margaritas? So that's what we did. And this rather secretive looking guy came. He could never look at me straight in the face and he asked a million questions. And as I got more and more schloshed, I told them a million tales. It turns out later that it was Boorman."

[15] It is interesting to note that neither the New York Times reviewer, A.H. Weller (March 5,1976) nor the person who wrote the program notes for the 1980 screening of The Ax Fight appear to see its value in commenting upon the conventions of documentary realism. Their apparent interest is in the life depicted, not in the form of the film.

[16] See Banks (1992: 122) for a contemporary argument that observational film is "....the preferred style of

page 33

ethnographic filmmaking..." because it is "...mimetic of anthropological practice."

[17] Asch's memory of this time differs. He recalls that they were basically out of touch, lost even, for several days, and only when they reached the high ground around the village of Patanowa-teri were they able to use the radio.

[18] In a recent conversation, Craig Johnson states that he deliberately recorded the conversation even though they were not filming at that time because he sensed what was being said was significant.

[19] Good is another U.S. anthropologist who works among the Yanomami (Good 1991).

[20] In my discussion of The Ax Fight I do not deal with the value of the film for understanding the complexities of the social and political life of the Yanomami. Asch points out that the film was originally designed to be shown with another film, Tapir Distribution, which deals with the resolution of the conflict that precipitated the fight.

[21] Chagnon points out that "for all of Tim's repudiation of scientism, The Ax Fight could not have been a successful film without the scientific data that underlies it."

[22] Chagnon suggests the people should consult the study guide that he and Bugos wrote for this film for an additional interpretation of the kinship data in the fight. The guide is available from DER.

[23] A Man Called Bee and Magical Death are also among the most commonly used Yanomami films.

[24] For example, Asch wanted to make a feature-length film about one of the Yanomami shamans.

[25] Chagnon points out that anthropologists also and most importantly have to collect field data, and filming can be an interference to this work.

[26] Even Asch did not find all of the film equally useable. "I find twenty-four of the Yanomamo films especially useful in teaching. These open-ended, short films can be used in a variety of ways" (Asch 1993:7).

[27] Chagnon argues that these statements about hove acculturated the Yanomami have become are an over simplification. He claims that one can still find villager as isolated as the one portrayed in The Ax Fight. "Hi [Asch] naively assumes that contemporary Yanomami are all like the ones he has recently visited at Salasian missions and seems to be quite unaware that there art still lots of villages very much like the ones he filmed with me in 1968 and 1971, albeit individuals in most of these villages have now seen nabas [Europeans] by walking out to contact points. This is a misrepresentation." (Chagnon, personal communication, 1994).

28 Chagnon argues that only the Yanomami who live at missions would have this reaction to the films.


Asch, Tim
1992 The Ethics of Ethnographic Film-making. In Film As Ethnography, Peter Ian Crawford and David Turton, editors. Manchester: Manchester University Press in association with the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology.

1993 Bias in Ethnographic Reporting and Using the Yanomamo Films in Teaching. In Yanomamo Film Study Guide, Tim Asch and Gary Seaman, editors. Los Angeles: Ethnographics Press.

Asch, Tim and Patsy
1987 Images That Represent Ideas: The Use of Films on the !Kung to Teach Anthropology (co-authored with Patsy Asch). In The Past and Future of !Kung Ethnography: Critical Reflections and Symbolic Perspectives, pp. 327-358. Edited by Megan Biesele with Robert Gordon and Richard Lee. Hamburg: Helmut Buske Verlag.

Asch, Tim, et al.
1991 The Story We Now Want to Hear is not Ours to Tell. Visual Anthropology Review 7( 2): 102- 106.

Banks, Marcus
1992 Which Films Are Ethnographic? In Film as Ethnography, Peter Ian Crawford and David Turton, editors. Manchester: Manchester University Press in association with the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology.

Bugos, Carter, and Asch
1993 The Ax Fight: A Study Guide. In Yanomamo Film Study Guide, Tim Asch and Gary Seaman, editors. Los Angeles: Ethnographics Press.

Chagnon, Napoleon
1983 The Yanomamo: The Fierce People. Third edition. New York: Holt, Rinhart.

Dow, Peter
1991 Schoolhouse Politics: Lessons from the Sputnik Era. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

page 34

Ennis, Scott, and T. Asch
1993 The Feast: A Study Guide. In Yanomamo Film Study Guide, Tim Asch and Gary Seaman, editors. Los Angeles: Ethnographics Press.

Good, Kenneth
1991 Into the Heart, One Man's Pursuit of Love and Knowledge Among the Yanomama. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Hoover, Dwight
1992 The Middletown Film Project. New York: Gordon and Breech.

O'Connell, P.J.
1992 Robert Drew and the Development of Cinema Verite' in America. University Park: Penn State University Press.

Mandelbaum, David
1963 The Teaching of Anthropology. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Martinez, Wilton
1992 Who Constructs Anthropological Knowledge? Toward a Theory of Ethnographic Film Spectatorship. In Film as Ethnography, Peter Ian Crawford and David Turton, editors. Manchester: Manchester University Press in association with the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology.

Mauss, M.
1967 The Gift, forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies. Ian Cunnison, translator. New York: Norton t1925].

Michaels, Eric
1982 How To Look At the Yanomami Looking at Us. In A Crack in the Mirror: Reflexive Perspectives in Anthropology, Jay Ruby, editor. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Ramos, Alcida
1987 Reflecting on the Yanomami: Ethnographic Images and the Pursuit of the Exotic. Cultural Anthropology 2(3): 284-304.

Sorenson, Richard
1967 A Research Film Program in the Study of Changing Man. Current Anthropology 8(5):443-460.

page 35