Dead Birds | Chicago Reader

Dead Birds

The near-Neolithic Dani people of New Guinea didn't know what a movie camera was when Robert Gardner made his noted 1964 anthropological film chronicling their perpetual ritualized warfare. Focusing on the men, the film documents battles (whose goal is often a single revenge killing) and funerals (which include striking music and dance). Gardner says that his goal wasn't to make an objective documentary but to address "certain fundamental issues in human life"; the footage he captured is impressive—the poet Robert Lowell wrote of "the guilty significance of what it tells us about ourselves"—but the film has been justly criticized for the way its controlling narration reduces the images to illustrations.


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