Jaguar And Les Maitres Fous

Much as history is written by survivors, film history is frequently written by distributors. So the greatness of the serials of both Louis Feuillade and Jacques Rivette must remain a postulate for Americans who can’t see them, and the towering importance of the fascinating ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch is usually something U.S. viewers can only read about. Rouch was a pioneer in working with sync sound and in mixing fiction and narrative with documentary, usually through the creative intervention of the subjects being filmedaspects that were to fundamentally influence the French New Wave. Fortunately, one of Rouch’s finest (and earliest) features has been unearthed for a rare screening: shot in the 50s and completed in 1967, Jaguar is a semifictional story about three young men who leave Niger to find work in Ghana prior to its independence. Rouch invited the major characters to improvise a narrative over the footage, which is an amazing and often funny document in its own right. If you care about cinema and haven’t yet encountered Rouch, this shouldn’t be missed. Perhaps even greater is Les maitres fous, Rouch’s seminal ethnographic short of 1955 about the Hauka of West Africa, whose violent trance rituals imitate and mock British colonialism, apparently purging them of their fury so that they can return to their dull labors afterward. The disturbing half-hour film is said to be the principal inspiration for Jean Genet’s play The Blacks. (JR)

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