This article was written in conjunction with a film program I co-organized in Spring 2012 for Flaherty NYC entitled “The Lives of Animals”, a series that explored a few of the ways in which animals and film have served to illuminate (and sometimes obfuscate) one another; I dedicate it to my friend and co-curator Kathy High.
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But how unobtrusive can one really be? As I write this, my dog stirs with agitation at the higher overtones in the string quartet I’m listening to (just as she has on earlier occasions with the same piece of music)- a physiological response, and a welcome reminder of the heightened sensitivity for some animals (as described by Temple Grandin and others) to our bodily and technological presence. To be truly unnoticed means lowering oneself along the Great Chain of Being, becoming that proverbial fly-on-the-wall; the documentarian’s negotiated parameters with human subjects are replaced by the necessity of the crew’s distancing and concealment as their only hope of capturing the animal “acting natural”- with extremely long lenses, and often with a blind or some other technique such as those used in hunting. (4)
(END OF PART 1)
1) An essay on talking animals is planned for the hopefully not-too-distant future.
2) Jonathan Burt, Animals in Film (Reaktion, 2002), pp. 38-39.
3) Cynthia Chris, Watching Wildlife (University of Minnesota Press, 2006), pp. 16-17; Derek Bousé, Wildlife Films (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), pp. 51-52.
4) Hanna Rose Shell, Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography, and the Media of Reconnaissance, (Zone Books, 2002), pp. 37-39.
5) Bousé, p. 31.
7) Susan Orlean, "Animal Action", The New Yorker, November 17, 2003,
8) Joseph Cunneen, Robert Bresson: A Spiritual Style in Film, (Continuum, 2003), p.102.
9) Jean Collet, quoted in Cuneen, p. 107.
10) Dana Polan, "Au Hasard Balthazar", Senses of Cinema, February 2007,