Les Maîtres Fous

Jean Rouch’s legendary documentary “Les Maîtres Fous” (The Mad Masters) has been uploaded to YouTube. Below I embed Part 1 of 3. (You can view the other two parts by clicking through to them.) Paul Stoller has written extensively on Rouch. Access an online tribute by Stoller here. Stoller writes:

In all of his films, Rouch collaborated significantly with African friends and colleagues. Through this active collaboration, which involved all aspects of shooting and production, Jean Rouch used the camera to participate fully in the lives of the people he filmed as well as to provoke them and, eventually, the viewers into experiencing new dimensions of sociocultural experience. Many of the films of this period cut to the flesh and blood of European colonialism, compelling us to reflect on our latent racism, our repressed sexuality, and the taken-for-granted assumptions of our intellectual heritage. They also highlight the significance of substantive collaboration, a research tactic that Rouch called ‘anthropologie partagée,’ in the construction of scholarly knowledge. Through these provocatively complex films, Jean Rouch unveiled how relations of power shape our dreams, thoughts and actions.

The film invites the (putatively European) viewer to understand ostensibly ‘savage’ rituals as psychically ameliorative. At the same time, it records a remarkable practice of resignification of colonial powers — impersonation in the genre of ‘madness’. {In Papua New Guinea today, under very different cultural and historical circumstances than those recorded here, popular forms of dance [singsing] include so-called ‘police bands,’ in which young men (or women) dress up in colonial costume, including sometimes white-face, and enact military order as a way to impress audiences at festivals of various sorts, especially school fetes.}  Anyway, there is much to discuss in a ‘text’ like this.  I would just add that YouTube continues to grow into a stunning cultural archive.

One thought on “Les Maîtres Fous

  1. I’m not sure youtube continues to grow into a stunning cultural archive. For some reason, this video “is no longer available” (and they’re sorry). I’m not sure if it’s a technical accident, or a deliberate removal by the youtube staff. I got no explanation.

    Anyway, I’ve put this replacement online :

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