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An Analysis of I am Clifford Abrahams, This is Grahamstown
Place: University of Natal, Durban, South Africa
Type of Product; mimeo
Copyright: Keyan G Tomaselli
An article on the third version of the video in which Abrahams is the only narrator. In the fourth version (1985), Hayman narrates his (and the crew’s) intentions, asking questions of Cliffie Abrahams about poverty in Grahamstown (see Steenveld, nd). In this version, while the focus is on Abrahams, the video is really about Hayman (and the crew) and their exploration of poverty through Abrahams.
Clifford Abrahams, a casual worker and beggar, narrates his life in Grahamstown on location in the places where he begged, sold newspapers, slept out under bushes and in old wrecked cars. He has lived all his life in the `coloured’ and `black’ townships on the fringes of and outside Grahamstown. Cliffie takes the camera crew to the places of his youth: to the Odeon Theatre where he used to beg; to the bushes where he used to drink benzine with his friends as a child; to the student pub where he befriended students, and to the bottle-store where he demonstrates how to `down-down’ a half-jack of Sherry. He takes us to the dustbins behind a block of flats, where he and his friends used to find food, where his friend ate contaminated food and died.
Clifford Abrahams leads the crew and the viewer to a unique `street’ view of Grahamstown, spanning the black, white and coloured geographical areas and social spaces. A drinker since the age of ten, Abrahams has done time in jail been beaten by the police, employers, security guards, his father, his grandfather and still maintained his humour as a defence against a harsh environment.
Graham Hayman and Abrahams have known each other as acquaintances since the mid-1960s, when Hayman was a student at Rhodes University. This relationship is made visible through reflexive techniques which expose the intentions of the crew, and Hayman in particular. (This is most apparent in the 4th version of the video). Viewers are able to see what the relationship is between Abrahams and the makers, and to assess what effect that relationship has on the aspects of poverty that are presented.
I am Clifford Abrahams, This is Grahamstown traces a process of exploration, rather than presenting the findings. It also explores contradictions in the misconception of `the culture of poverty’, and prevents judgements and easy explanations of poverty and how it is experienced.
As the title suggests the video is `about’ Clifford Abrahams and Grahamstown – but it is more than that, for we see a particular man, and by the way in which the video is articulated, we come to see the forces that have created the man. The video can be described as `realist’, in the sense used by Lukacs, for it leads the viewer to the “inner core through which the conscious reader can gain access to the real truth of a historical situation” (1). This essay as a work in progress about a video in process examines the way in which `truth’ is revealed in the video, examining various cinematic practices. This analysis begins with a brief summary of the film in order to show how `content’ is treated to reveal different levels of `truth’.
Immediately apparent to the viewer are three conditions which characterise Clifford Abrahams:
1) he is not permanently employed;
2) alcohol and dagga (marijuana) feature quite largely in his life;
3) he is a very sociable person.
These three elements may appear to be very superficial observations, but through the video we are shown situations (if not processes) which can at least in part explain the kind of man he is. He was born into poverty: “People don’t get enough food. Parents have to battle like hell”. He mentions having to beg to get money to buy food. The reference to begging comes up again and again. Anyone who knows Grahamstown has observed this phenomenon. Many of the inhabitants are anaesthetised to it — the conscience that was once moved to give ten cents no longer sees the beggar. The video shows us why there are beggars in Grahamstown: poverty and unemployment. It locates begging in the social structure: it is a form of part-time employment. This is one way of obtaining money – but not the only way. We are shown the various places Abrahams has worked, and told the remuneration he received : R2.50 per week in one place, R20 in another.
The interviewer asks Abrahams how he started drinking. Abrahams tells us of the teacher who sent him to the Graham Hotel to buy alcohol which was then put into a flask. Abrahams developed the habit of drinking some of the contents of the flask before returning it. Thus alcohol becomes associated with school: schooled in alcoholism. But school was also a place he “didn’t enjoy”, and a place where he was beaten. It is significant how he recalls how things have changed. “They improved the buildings after the riots”. He comments on the fact that there are now water toilets – in his day there were buckets. When he sees a notice board outside his classroom, he touches it and says it wasn’t there in his day. The camera tracks beyond it, perhaps underplaying its importance. The noticeboard is symbolic of `education’. It’s presence recalls an absence: what Abrahams got instead was beatings. School beatings. Home beatings. He recalls the time he threw a brick at a man who subsequently died. He wasn’t convicted of murder because “the witnesses couldn’t get their stories right”. But it seems his going to prison was inevitable (the video doesn’t present this sense of inevitability) — perhaps one should say unremarkable. He was imprisoned on charges of dealing in dagga, but as he says, the dagga he obtained in prison was better than that outside.
The video exhibits no visually discernable narrative or thematic structure. It follows Abrahams’ verbal recollections. A particular location may prompt memories which deal with several `themes’. However, despite the discursive nature of the text, we do get a vivid picture of `black’ working class Grahamstown: the corrugated iron shacks; the barber plying his trade in a backyard; the tap from which water must be carried; the outside toilets; the lack of money; people trying to get by. Fortuitously, we see white Grahamstown too: the woman at the old age home where Cliffie’s grandfather was a gardener. Although on her best behaviour (what Jean Rouch calls “performing” for the camera), she articulates the racist paternalism of `white’ liberal Grahamstown, perhaps of South Africa too. She speaks of the man as if he were inanimate: “…well you can’t have him, I’m busy with him now….You can have him now…”. When they recall how the man had been robbed, her retort was that “those things happen… not here … not at his work”. There is the classic non-involvement. `Their world’ – `our world’, and never the twain shall meet.
Contrasted with Abrahams is the initially unseen man who speaks articulately of his job in Port Elizabeth. He is organising a union so that people can be united “and say one thing”. The townships do not only produce Cliffie Abrahams’ who are victims. They also produce people who are reflexive about their situation; who involve themselves in labour struggles to try to change society. It is to this process that the video is addressed.
The following analysis examines the video in terms of contemporary ethnographic film making theory, in an attempt to show how the makers have integrated theory and practice through production. These are:
1) Karl Heider’s concept of the `ethnographic presence’;
2) Jay Ruby’s concept of `reflexivity’; and
3) David MacDougall’s thesis of `participatory cinema’.
At the beginning of the video we see Graham Hayman-as-interviewer explaining the process of video production to Abrahams. Hayman describes the various parts of the camera, and the functions of the lens; then we see them in the editing room where he explains how they can compress footage. The visual track constantly refers to the establishing shot in front of Rhodes University where the explanations took place, or to the editing room.
Jean-Paul Fargier describes films as “militant” if they can be used as a weapon in the class struggle. He maintains that a film can also be materialist if:
… it produces specific knowledge about itself. It can show the material facts of its physical and social existence. It can draw away the veil which normally covers a film’s ideological, political and economic function, and by doing so denounce the ideology inherent in the cinema’s `impression of reality’. (2)
I argue that I am Clifford Abrahams, This is Grahamstown is a materialist film which starts from its own material nature and that of the world, showing them both in one movement.
ETHICS, TRUTH AND CODES
What follows will be a discussion of televisual form, and the problems of finding a form that can best articulate `truth/reality’ or whatever other objectives the video-makers may have had. However, a word of caution from Richard Blumenberg who warns against relying on a particular aesthetic form to be the sole criterion for distinguishing between documentary and fiction films:
… since audiences have in recent years developed their eye for techniques such as hand-held shots, zoom shots, real people in real locations, grainy film, and other such devices, people will tend falsely, to give authenticity to fictional constructs. As long as documentary films rely on aesthetic criterion, they stand the chance of not being viewed as significantly different from fiction films (3).
Blumenberg raises these points in connection with the “Problem of Truth” in relation to documentary film. Films are not `oppositional’ de facto because they use `oppositional codes’. We might conclude that Clifford Abrahams is a militant film – in terms of Fargier’s definition – but that of itself does not warrant, necessitate or validate the use of the camera in a particular way.
Anthropologist Karl Heider uses the concept `ethnographic presence’ to account for the effect that ethnographers and their film crews have on the behaviour of their subjects (4). This was a development in response to the formulation of some ethnographers that ethnographic films should be a record of the normal behaviour of people as if the camera were not present. Many writers have commented that the presence of the ethnographer and film-crew should be encoded into the film so that it is a factor to be considered in the assessment of the study. Heider sees the `ethnographic presence’ as one of the `attributes’ of ethnographic film. The more of these `attributes’ a film has, the more `ethnographic’ it is. Jay Ruby, in a critique of Heider notes that:
The remaining 14 (attributes) appear to be based on Heider’s unspoken assumption that the current conventions of documentary realism are by definition more scientific and ethnographic than other cinematic conventions (5).
When challenging Heider’s thesis that close up’s should not be used as they contradict the concept of `holism’, Ruby notes: “Their validity rests on the strength of the epistemological system which underlies the description…” (6). These two criticisms raise the problem of finding an aesthetic most appropriate to a particular film. The first criticism counters a view that styles derived from documentary film are necessarily more appropriate to the scientific ethnographic film, or that one has to use `oppositional codes’ in `oppositional film’. This formulation suggests that some codes are, by definition, `oppositional’. Ruby questions such absolutist ideas, and sees all codes in relation to their function within a particular film.
Ruby’s second criticism emphasises this notion in relation to the theories underlying the argument or view presented by the diegesis. Generally speaking, in Cliffie Abrahams we can justify the encoding of the crew’s presence in the video in terms of the “epistemological system which underlies the description” (6).
In so far as the crew have encoded their presence into the Cliffie Abrahams, one can say that they have used a technique derived from a scientific discipline. In Clifford Abrahams the crew use their presence to generate situations, a technique known as reflexivity.
REFLEXIVITY : THE CONCERN WITH PROCESS
Reflexivity is “a stance that would reveal … PRODUCER-PROCESS- PRODUCT” (9). Jay Ruby maintains that the viewer will not be able to have a critical understanding of the product unless such a stance is taken. He explains his position thus:
… being reflexive means that the producer deliberately and intentionally reveals to his audience the underlying epistemological assumptions which caused him to formulate a set of questions in a particular way, to seek answers to those questions in a particular way, and finally to present his findings in a particular way (10).
The practice of ethnographic presence is methodological, and its motivation is to guarantee the `objectivity’ that is demanded of a scientific study. However, Ruby notes that:
… documentary film-makers have a social obligation to not be objective. The concept was inappropriately borrowed from the natural sciences – an idea which has little support in the social sciences (11).
This may appear a dangerous statement, for it could be used to legitimize films like This is Soweto, To Act a Lie or Dimbleby’s The White Tribe of Africa. However what it implies in context, is that if a film is reflexive, then the epistemology on which it is based will be revealed. Partisan approaches can be made, recognising that they are partisan and defining very clearly the point of view to be taken. Thus the video doesn’t present itself as an `objective ‘ and `omniscient’ account, as the above-named films pretend they are, under the guise of being (objective) documentaries. Ruby is trying to deal with the core issue in documentary film-making: that of `objectivity’. His position is uncompromising:
To be reflexive is to reveal that films – all films, whether they are labelled fiction, documentary, or art – are created, structured articulations of the film-maker and not authentic truthful objective records (12).
The implication is that even a scientific description like an ethnographic film is still a report from a subjective human point of view, however objective, scientific or factual the minutiae of the information may be.
The key difference between the concepts of `ethnographic presence’ and `reflexivity’ is that the former is a purely formal device which produces information/knowledge within an ideological terrain that is non-dialectical. The encoding of reflexivity into a video text, however, reveals both the method of production and the epistemological basis of the `content’. Thus reflexivity becomes an aesthetic which embraces both `form’ and `content’, and the way they are structured by the producers.
Clifford Abrahams is a reflexive video. On the formal level it shows “Producer-Process-Product”. However, the revelation of the `underlying epistemological assumptions’ is more subtle. Initially we are told that the video will be about Cliffie Abrahams, but as the third version of the documentary develops, it becomes clear that it is less `about’ the existential being of Cliffie Abrahams, than it is of him as a product of a particular set of social/political/economic conditions. These then are some of the factors that contribute to the `epistemological assumptions’ of the video, and we are presented with them by going to them, physically, on location. Physical location – Grahamstown: the taps; poor housing; school; the location – plus intelligent questioning by the interviewers, followed by skilful editing concretize concepts such as ” history/economics/politics”. Thus in terms of the `content’, Producer-Process-Product are also revealed.
Observational cinema has as its intention the more accurate depiction of relationships by recording continuously, and editing in a way which presents the “truth” of the footage by “showing it”, rather than “telling it” (13). The observer is simply a recorder, and the film produces a viewing subject that is dissociated (ethically and emotionally) from what appears on the screen. The achievement of observational cinema, according to David MacDougall, is that it “taught the camera how to watch”(14), but he is critical about the “attitude of watching” (15).
McDougall questions the ascetic, scientistic approach which denies itself access to “provoked responses” which the laboratory scientist uses as a means of research (16). Furthermore, this approach results in the observational film-maker being denied access “to anything latent in the culture which events do not bring to the surface” (17). (One could see how easily this could happen if the interviewers in Clifford Abrahams had not questioned Abrahams the way they did). This methodology raises ethical and political considerations, for it is predicated on a distancing between the subjects and the video makers. MacDougall notes with regard to the ethnographer that:
If not in his personal demeanour, then in the significance of his working method he reaffirms the colonial origins of anthropology…”(18), … (that) … The traditions of science and narrative art combine in this instance to dehumanize the study of man. It is a form in which the observer and observed exist in separate worlds, and it produces films that are monologues (19).
McDougall’s argument illustrates how methodologies which appear objective and `scientific’ can in fact have encoded within them neo- colonialist attitudes. This is demonstrably obvious in the `see for yourself’ scenes in films such as Soweto and To Act a Lie where, one might argue, observational cinema techniques are used, but the overall intention of the films is not consistent with the proposed ethic on which observational cinema was founded. “Participatory Cinema” is offered by MacDougall as one way out of this impasse. He notes:
by entering actively into the subject’s world (the ethnographic film maker) can provoke a greater flow of information about them. By giving them access to the film he makes possible the corrections, additions and illuminations that only their response to the material can elicit (20).
We can see this towards the end of Clifford Abrahams when Hayman and Abrahams are in the editing room and Hayman remarks that he can see from a shot on the playback monitor that Cliffie can read. He then asks him how to learnt to read and from there we move on to how he learnt to write; how he gained his knowledge of English. The strength of Clifford Abrahams lies in its participatory approach. Part of the `narrative’ of the video is the constant discussion between the interviewer and Abrahams. We see them on location making the video, and then back in the editing room discussing rushes – in this sense, the `reality’ as `reality’ is encoded in the video. However, MacDougall comments that participation can sometimes lead to `performance’ – as in the case of the woman at the old age home, or even Cliffie himself. But as Rouch noted: “whatever he (she)tries to be, he (she) is only more himself”(21).
The point is that a genuine participatory cinema should not be formalistic. In so far as the interviewer in Clifford Abrahams describes, at the very beginning, what they are going to do, and explains each stage of the process, the video is a very successful exposition of participatory cinema. However, MacDougall notes that the film itself,that is, its conception, should be a joint undertaking. In this sense, Clifford Abrahams is still the idea of the video-makers, realised with the help of Clifford Abrahams. However, without this help we would not have access to the `street view’ of Grahamstown depicted. One might argue that cinema uniquely helps outsiders to get an inside view of life beyond their immediate experience. But is Clifford Abrahams any closer to seeing either his own world from outside, or inside the makers’ or viewers’ worlds?
The debate is continued by Seth Feldman who identifies the assumption on which “subject-generated” films are made. They are:
… based on the ethical principle spawned by the popular notion that the degree of truth (or integrity) in a work is directly proportional to the amount of subject participation in its creation (22).
Feldman argues, from the example of the Bantu Kinema Educational Experiment (1935) (23), that such a joint venture need be no more than what Fanon identified as the African participating in her/his own subjugation. In this instance collaboration lends credibility to propaganda designed by others. This is evident in Soweto and To Act a Lie. But this is very obviously not the case in Clifford Abrahams. Here collaboration or participation is not co-opted to subjugate, but rather to give a voice to a man, and metonymically to people who are often voiceless. Not only are they voiceless, but they are `imageless’ – or rather, they have no image of themselves other than those provided by their subjugators who present them with a particular, false image of themselves as a tool in the subjugation process. Film can present them with a different image of themselves. In fact they can create images of themselves and let those be the foundation of a new (revolutionary) way of looking at themselves. At one point in the video there is a shot of the video-maker and Abrahams in the editing room. The interviewer asks Abrahams what it is like to see himself on TV. He says very simply “it’s nice….it’s very nice” and he recalls the time the others had seen him on TV — on Police File. Images in the dominant media have been used against humankind, in radical cinema they can be used for humankind. Although the video is called I am Clifford Abrahams, This is Grahamstown, and although Abrahams sees the video as being about himself only, the text encodes Clifford Abrahams metonymically as representative of the situation of the `black’ working class, or more particularly, the lumpenproletariat, in Grahamstown — and perhaps by extension, South Africa.
Feldman, however, sounds a note of caution: “Film-making created roles. The creation of these roles necessitated decisions about the powers and freedoms of the individual concerned” (24). A `solution’ to this would be to have a synthesis of reflexivity and participatory cinema. Thus in a video like Clifford Abrahams, reflexivity in the whole production process would result in him being reflexive about his life — aided by the video making process. In this way his participation in the video would not only lead to outsiders knowing more about Grahamstown, but he himself would be led to that realization. In this way film becomes a very concrete tool in the class struggle. Feldman believes that the “path to a more honest film-making is not to deny the inevitability of these power structures but rather to work on strategies that will expose them to all concerned” (25).
We have suggested a practice that goes beyond merely exposing unegalitarian structures in film-making. Indeed, one could envisage a film `about’ Clifford Abrahams and Grahamstown in which sections of the working class participated, so that group discussion about what would be filmed could be the basis of more structured discussions about their situation and the forces which create them. Thus the film-making process could be a political tool for consciousness raising in much the same way that Paulo Freire’s methods of literacy training are (26). The structure of I am Clifford Abrahams is a “cumulative” one. Analysis will show by inference the extent to which reflexivity and participatory cinema techniques both create the structure and are necessitated by it.
Location, questioning technique and editing provide a `structure’ in the video. Structure is important for it not only provides a framework of articulation for the film-maker, but also a sequence for the viewer. This is particularly important when most audiences’ visual literacy is founded on narrative structure. Clifford Abrahams is a difficult video to come to terms with at once, because it is difficult to locate within a film taxonomy: there is no overt signal of how it should be `read’. A second problem, related to the first, is that there is no obvious `progression’ — change of rhythm, climax — which could facilitate a preferred reading of the text. The only `progression’ is the progression we see of the video being made, from discussions regarding what will happen; shooting; viewing rushes; editing; and finally, the last scene in the editing room before Abrahams and Hayman present the video to its first audience. This scene is a beautifully wrought challenge to our perception: the image is indexical of the end of the making of the video and the fact that the `processes’ have become embodied as ‘video’ to be presented to its first audience; the reality (the viewers’) is that we have come to the end of the video, not the end of the ‘story’. Paradox: the viewers’ end is the birth of the video.
We thus reach the `end’ of the video perhaps without being fully prepared for it, because the `narrative’ doesn’t follow a beginning, middle, end progression. The video does not appear to function or proceed sequentially, but cumulatively. It does not unfold, it is an unfolding. Observational cinema techniques and reflexivity function in a way which reveal more and more depth as the video proceeds. Thus the text does not proceed outward toward a closure, but it seems to dig further and further down, and the depth is endless.
An analysis of the last fifteen minutes will show how the video functions in a cumulative way, specifically : 1) What do we learn about Clifford Abrahams; and 2) What do we learn from him, until we finally reach the `end’ which is no `end’ for the structure leaves the video open. For Clifford Abrahams, the video is over after the credits. He asks, “We are outside the film now?”
1) What do we learn about Clifford Abrahams?
In the last ten minutes the viewers are treated to a potted history of Clifford Abrahams. They are told about:
a) His family – of a witchdoctor father, a hard man, and the relationship he had with his children; of Cliffie’s sisters and their present employment — two as domestic workers; one in a bakery.
b) His children, “from different womans”, and whom he sees, “which is that when I feel to go and see them, I just go and see them”. When asked who supports them, he replies that he does, but that their mothers do too. However, from the way in which this is said, it seemed that the mothers did more of the supporting than he did, but that male `pride’ made him play down their role. This is a very poignant moment in the video, for there is a long pause in which one feels there is a well of untold thought and feeling — until he finally says: “I got to mention it to you, got to say it to you. The life of this earth … people like … people who have never went to school … they haven’t got no sense, nothing, they’re stupid. I’m not stupid. I’m ugly, I know, but I’m not stupid.”
Abrahams’ comments may appear non sequiturs, but because of the way in which they are articulated, they do not come across as such. There is obviously a latent thought pattern which we cannot follow because we do not know the material reality to which it refers. Thus Abrahams’ inarticulateness and the seemingly non-logical presentation of his thoughts need not be indexical of his `stupidity’, or `drunkenness’ — reasons myth might have us interpret these signs as. But the fact is that he does have a depth of unspoken thoughts and feelings. This contradicts the myths presented by the ruling hegemony that `blacks’ or the working class are `different’ – not like `us’, because they don’t think and feel in the same way as we do. Commenting on a development project carried out in Alaska, and presented on film to `white’ US officialdom, Kennedy noted that: “One such liberal individual described his response to the film by saying :”I never thought that Eskimo parents felt the same way about their children that I do” (27).
c) e learn of the many part-time jobs that Clifford Abrahams has had, and his wages: R20 a week painting the Victoria Hotel; or perhaps R40 from a more generous employer. We should perhaps see the support of his children in this light. We see the self pride that is generated from having done several jobs: “Look here Graham… used to hold my papers like this just me by myself…These okes they don’t wake up like I used to at about 4:30 to wait for Mr. John Robinson.” The corollary is, what effect does unemployment have on self- image? This also contradicts the myth that `blacks’ or the working class are `lazy’, `don’t want to work’, etc.
d) We learn how Abrahams learnt to read – from newspapers; to write – from example; to speak English – from the Dickensons’.
e) We observe Abrahams’ sociability.
Nothing of what we have learnt in these last 15 minutes of the video is new information – it is just presented in a more concentrated way: whereas the earlier narration inferred the epistemology underlying the diegesis, in this section it becomes more apparent – perhaps by accumulation of the images.
In the next section, I show how this epistemology is revealed when we view Clifford Abrahams as a metonymic sign.
2. What do we learn from Clifford Abrahams?
One has to ask why it is that Cliffie is so sociable. Is this the `happy narrative’ myth; the `drunk’ myth? NO. When questioned closely, he says: “I think it’s a real thing to know people – it’s a real thing to know people. Otherwise if you don’t know people then you just don’t know … No one will know you … Then you haven’t got no help”. Thus knowing people, having a certain sociable disposition is a mode of survival: a response to economic conditions — not a faddish eccentricity, or racial stereotype.
In fact, each item of information revealed about Abrahams earlier in the video becomes very clearly situated as a response to or result of economic conditions: his class position in a political economy whose foundation is racial capitalism. Thus, in so far as he is just one of a class, he functions metonymically for that class. What we learn from him pertains to his class. What does his situation vis-a-vis his children tell us about the plight of women who have to support children; of family structure? What do his sisters’ jobs tell us about employment for women? What does his wage expectation (when he finds employment) tell us about working class wages? Why does he drink so much? The list of questions and inferences are endless. We can see how earlier observation and narrative become more clearly situated in a deeper structure: the accumulation and intensification of images which function more obviously as metonyms than they did earlier in the video.
The video lacks closure; it does not unfold, but is an `unfolding’. This raises an important consideration: tense. Most narrative cinema creates a sense of `past tense’ by its closure. Documentaries are situated in the `present simple tense — which grammarians use to define `usual’ (normative) action. This implies closure: things as they are and will be for ever. Clifford Abrahams is different: one might suggest that its tense is the `present continuous tense’ — revealing action as it is now, but there is no closure: things could change. This sense of non-closure operates on at least two levels: in terms of the video itself, it could be continually edited, (Four versions exist); or, in terms of the content: what is present now need not always be that way. There is the possibility of infinite change. The open-endedness of the video is possible because of the reflexivity and participatory cinema techniques used by the makers.
The video not only informs the viewer about the conditions which have caused Clifford Abrahams to be the kind of person he is, but also of the methodology employed by the producers. This provides the viewer with an inside knowledge of production processes, editing decisions and `narrative’ structure. The video thus produces specific knowledge about itself, one of Fargier’s criteria for a materialist film. This knowledge changes depending on which version is being studied. The longer version tends to be paternalistic, while the shortest version makes a more effective transition from the apparent paternalism of the method of interview to the structural analysis which underlay the makers’ intentions. Thus, one is watching a process of methodological experiment working itself out, not only in the text under scrutiny, but between the different texts which mark the evolution of this experiment into form.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Quoted in Williams, C. (ed.) Realism and the Cinema. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980, p. 11
2. Ibid. pp. 181-182
3. Blumenberg, R.: “Documentary Films and the Problem of Truth”, Journal of the University Film Association, Vol 29 No 4, 1977, pp. 20-21.
4. Heider, K.: Ethnographic Film. University of Texas Press, Austin.
5. Ruby, J.: “A Review of Ethnographic Film by K Heider”. Mimeo, p.
6. Ibid, p. 6
7. Although not an ethnographic film, Clifford Abrahams is not easy to categorise.
8. Comolli, quoted in Williams, op. cit., p. 233.
9. Ruby, J.: “The Image Mirrored: Reflexivity and the Documentary Film”, Journal of the University Film Association, Vol 29 No 4, 1977, p. 3.
10. Ibid. p. 4
11. Ibid. p. 10
13.Young, C.: “Observational Cinema” in Hockings, P. (ed.): Principles of Visual Anthropology. Mouton, The Hague, 1975.
14. MacDougall, D.: “Beyond Observational Cinema” in Hockings, op. cit.
16. Ibid, p. 118
19. Ibid, pp. 118-119.
21. Quoted in Williams, op. cit.
22. Feldman, S.: “Viewer, Viewing, Viewed: A Critique of Subject- Generated Documentary, Journal of the University Film and Video Association, Vol 29 No 4, 1977, p. 23.
24. Ibid, p. 36.
25. Ibid. p. 36
26. Friere, P. Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
Kennedy’s Skyriver Project testifies to this, but he presents this within a reformist praxis, so that: “The film had a consciousness – raising effect on government offices” Kennedy, T.: “Beyond Advocacy: A Facilitative Approach to Public Participation”, Journal of the University Film and Video Association, Vol 34 No 3, 1982
27. Ibid. p. 44
Steenveld, nd. VIDEO: WHO SEES? A Way of Seeing :Iam Clifford Abrahams and This is Grahamstown”. Grahahmstown, Rhodes Universiry, South Africa.
Producers: Graham Hayman and Clifford Abrahams
Directed and edited by Graham Hayman
Chief Cameraman and assistant editor: Keyan Tomaselli
Additional cameras: Don Pinnock and Graham Hayman
Interviewers: Graham Hayman and Don Pinnock
Post-production editors (3rd version only): Larry Strelitz and Keyan Tomaselli
Reflexive narration (4th version only): Graham Hayman
Boom swinger: Appolo Slingers
Sponsored by the 2nd Carnegie Inquiry into Poverty and Development in South Africa (University of Cape Town) and the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Rhodes University
Shot on U-matic video
4 versions: 80 minutes, 65 minutes, 45 minutes and 50 minutes
Videoed in Grahamstown in December 1983, January 1984
Additional video footage shot in early 1985
Fourth and final version May 1985
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essence of the Couture woman is contradiction: She says no
but she means yes, you want her but you hate her, she’ll love
you, but who knows what she’ll do with you.”
In the background, the four women, silent and restrained, teeter in their high heels.
Cosmopolitan, Gucci, spray-on window cleaners, Audi TT,
Wonderbra, satellite television, microwave meals, Britney
Spears, anti-wrinkle miracle creams, DIY spiritual, cellulite,
emotional healing – R99.99. You’re watching WOMAN TODAY – stay
EDIT 2001 film competition is a fantastic opportunity for
emerging filmmakers to make short films that explore new media
possibilities and which push the boundaries of filmmaking. The
competition aims to encourage future media makers to indulge in
the adventurous avant-garde and innovative, to take film into
the unknown, into the future. As one of the ten national finalists
selected to participate in the competition, we were given the funding
and freedom to create a fifteen-minute film that would reflect
our vision and politics.
feminists and emerging filmmakers, we wanted to create
something that would be stylistically innovative and which would
illustrate some of the oppression and containment that women
face in South African society.
Ms.Fits is the illegitimate progeny of UND feminists, filmmakers and friends.
film takes the idea of a ‘Natural Woman’ and turns it on its
head. The theme of female deviancy is played out in the
narratives of four ordinary women, who discover that the gender
roles that they are expected to play, were not made to fit them.
They reject the narrow confines of their socially constructed
gender identities, and in this way become ‘misfits’.
first of the four stories involves a black domestic worker who
is unable to raise her own children, because the lack of child
support and infrastructure forces her to work far away from her
family in a suburban home, where she runs the household and
cares for the children of her employer, a white working mother. This
story reflects the ways in which our social and economic systems,
oppress the mothers of our nation, where childrearing is often
the task and financial responsibility of women only. This
narrative is important because it highlights the fact that not
all women are oppressed equally, and women are often
simultaneously oppressors and the oppressed. The white working
mother can only cope with the help of another woman who raises
her children on her behalf, but the domestic worker in turn needs
someone else to raise her children. A hierarchy of women is
constructed, with each of us standing on the back of one of our
sisters. This story was researched and written with the
assistance of domestic worker, Thandezile Mgubane.
second narrative that unfolds is that of a Muslim woman who
rejects the paternalistic social traditions of the conservative
Muslim community. The story is loosely based on the Islam Radio
and Gender Commission Constitutional Court Clash of 1997, where
Islam Radio failed to fulfil its Independent Broadcast Authority
mandate of gender representation quotas on the air and in the radio
station management. The story then tells of a Muslim woman who
hijacks a Muslim radio talk show and speaks out against some of
the traditions that oppress and contain Muslim women. This story
was researched and written with the assistance of Radio Lotus
DJ, Raeesa Mohammed Malek.
third story is of a white woman in psychotherapy. Her journey
is taken towards reclaiming the memory of her ‘deviant’ mother
and a process of reclaiming her inheritance: a sense of herself
as a ‘natural woman’ with agency and pride of her body and
womanness. Her eventual rejection of psychotherapy along with
its Freudian notions of penis envy and history of notions such as female
hysteria, is also a rejection of the notion that female anxiety
is rooted in the maladjustment of the individual woman to
society, rather than the maladjustment of society to women. She
crosses the boundary from territory where she is object of
(an)other’s construct of reality, into a space where she is the
author of her reality.
fourth story is of a cabaret singer who sings the song of her
oppression as the object of the male gaze. She sings “you make
me feel so cheap,” but her male audience fails to hear her. They
see what they want to see, and her singing is drowned out by
the sound of their whistles. This story is the story of rape, of men
who think that when women say “no” they mean yes, of the rape
survivor who is asked what she was wearing, of women as commodity and
object of male desire.
four stories unfold in three narrative cycles, showing the
dawning of their awareness on their journeys towards liberation.
the women become more ‘natural’ by becoming aware of their
situations and responding with greater agency and consciousness
towards their oppression, they simultaneously become more
‘deviant,’ in terms of socially constructed expectations of
their behaviour and gender identities.
chorus intersperses the four stories. The chorus reflects the
collective status of women more generally. The individual women
rebel in various ways that are relevant to the specific forms of
oppression and containment that affect them, are finally
contained for their rebellion, straightjacketed and led away by a man in
a white coat. At this point, the chorus rises up in rebellion
to this cycle of containment, in the final scene where they burn
the white coat, which throughout the film has been worn by the
agents of the women’s oppression. The heat of the fire melts the
chorus’ geisha make-up from their faces in a scene of
ritualistic cleansing and renewal. Beneath the masks of
male-constructed feminine identity, the four women whose stories
have been told, are revealed as ‘natural’ women with multiple
and mutable gender identities.
Filming Began 31 August 2001 and the film will be flighted on MNet in December 2001.
Executive Producer: Keyan G Tomasellli
Producer andDirector: Sacha Stokes
Screenwriters: Candice Pankhurst and Sacha Stokes
Researchers: Thandezile Mgubane and Raeesa Mohammed Malek
Art Director: Mark Mckeown
Cameramen: Mike Hatcher, Tim, Allen
Wardrobe Designers: Melissa Baskin andColette Palin
Make-up Artist: Pia
Song Writer: Shannon
Lighting: Shawn Watts, Jeremy Martin
Sound Engineer: Stewart Heslop
Boom Swingers: Lloyd Edy, Simon Seabela
Technical Advisor: Andreas
Set Photographer: Alexandra
Craft: Claire Leech
Editor: Sacha Stokes
Assistant Editor: Caryn McKay
Sound Design: Athol Weselink
Final Mix: Grant Danré
Publicist: Candice Pankhurst
Web Site Design: Mike Hatcher and Candice Pankhurst
Ruth Maggie Thipe, Andaleeb Khan, Tamar Meskin, Paidamoyo
Tazvishaya, Ben Voss, Co van Doorn, Sfiso Ngcobo, Afzal Khan,
Maiya Minkova, Jacqueline Hessenaur, Sihle Mgubane, Johan Ploos
van Amstel, Thirosha Naidoo, Maggie, Fahim Jamadar, Sumayya
Kahn, Pearl Lathuli, Kim van den Berg
to: UND Graduate Programme in Cultural andMedia Studies,
Drama andPerformance Studies Department, Audio Visual Centre
(UND), P4 Radio, Haircraft, Anthony Collins, David andJoanne
King, Thandezile Mgubane, Westville Boys’ High School, The
Winston Pub, Technicon of Natal Drama, Design and Video
Technology Departments, NTVA, Caryn McKay
Credits may prove to be incorrect or incomplete, as filming is still in progress
Sex News Magazine Programme
16 mins. BETA SP.
Director, camera and editing: Kubeshni Govender.
Based on research by Elaine Epstein.
Client: City Health, Durban.
Production Company: Video Documentary and Development Project, Centre for Cultural and Media Studies, University of Natal, Durban
SEX NEWS is a magazine format programme directed at young South Africans between the ages of 16 and 24 years. The programme looks at AIDS and STD prevention.
The first segment visits Condom Day celebrations at the Bartel Arts Trust Centre in Durban, where we meet Mr. Loverman, a man-sized condom that talks about AIDS prevention.
Segment two presents a personal look into the life of Alfred, a young man diagnosed with HIV, who is determined to live positively. In the final segment the programme presenters take viewers on a fun Condom Quest finding condoms in unexpected places around Durban. The programme also features a song about AIDS prevention, performed by the singing group Spearmint