Navajo Talking Picture: Cinema on Native Ground

By Randolph Lewis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Intent

Looking at the screen, most viewers want to know: Why did she do this? What were Arlene Bowman’s intentions in making Navajo Talking Picture? Finding an answer, however, is more difficult than we might expect, because the relationship between intention and meaning is one of the most perplexing issues in the study of documentary film. Scholars have said relatively little about the question of “authorial intent” in documentary cinema, and what has been said in our broader culture tends to presume an uncomplicated relationship between intent and meaning — usually that a documentary film is a precise rendering of what the filmmaker meant and hardly anything more.1 In the interest of taxonomy, some scholars have talked about intent in order to distinguish nonfiction films from their fictional counterparts (i.e., that nonfiction intent is an essential prerequisite to categorizing something as documentary), but not often how such categorization would affect meaning per se.

We might assume that the pitfalls of looking at “authorial intent” to settle questions of interpretation have long been apparent. As far back as Plato’s Apology, we see Socrates interrogating the poets of ancient Greece about the meaning of their words. “I took them some of the most elaborate passages in their own writings,” Socrates said, “and asked what was the meaning of them, thinking that they would teach me something.” The poets failed the philosopher’s test. “I must say that there is hardly a person present who would not have talked better about their poetry than they did themselves,” he is reported to have observed, before comparing the poets to diviners and soothsayers “who also say many fine things, but do not understand the meaning of them.”2 Nonfiction authors can find themselves in a similar predicament. In 1632 the Presbyterian

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Navajo Talking Picture: Cinema on Native Ground
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Indicenous Films ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Series Editor’s Introduction xiii
  • Introduction xvii
  • Chapter One- A Brief History of Celluloid Navajos 1
  • Chapter Two- Navajo Filmmaker 49
  • Chapter Three- Reaction 72
  • Chapter Four- Intent 88
  • Chapter Five- Ethics 105
  • Chapter Six- Native Ground 124
  • Chapter Seven- Final Thoughts 161
  • Navajo Talking Picture Production and Distribution Information 175
  • Notes 177
  • Further Reading 209
  • Index 211
  • In the Indicenous Films Series 216
  • Other Works by Randolph Lewis 217
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