Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Zoo, an eleven-minute documentary directed by Dutch filmmaker Bert Haanstra in 1962 is an amusing, touching and humorous look at the way people and animals behave. It is a montage of people’s expressions when they visit a zoo, and the animals’ expressions in return when they see people watching them. The shots are all cut-to cut put together by associational editing.
It is obvious that Haanstra has not filmed the documentary with the knowledge of the people or the animals. It is footage from a hidden camera, which captures a two-way relationship that the human beings and animals share without realizing it.
Zoo uses the associational form of editing to show relational continuity for narration, with music that contributes greatly to the feel and pace of the emotions at play. Haanstra masterfully mixes zoo footage of the people who gawk at animals and parallely shows footage of the animals’ reaction to the same humans who gawk at them. The animals are seen to gawk back at the people, thus creating meaning in the shots, a certain sarcasm, giving a feeling of continuity through editing.
An example of this relation can be seen evidently when we see school kids entering the zoo to see the animals, and Haanstra cuts to close ups of a giraffe and the ostrich and they also take a look at the humans who have come to see them, which throws open the question of who’s watching who in the zoo. We see the style of walking of kids, old ladies, a young couple, an elderly couple and then its cut to the walk/march of the penguins drawing a similarity. Hence although the animals and the people in the zoo have been shot at a different space and time, the relational continuity helps us to forget the difference.
The establishing shot is very strong too. Haanstra starts by showing the rails of the cage with a lion in it and then a shot of people walking into the zoo followed by an old man standing behind the bars, drawing a relational parallel between the lion and the man. The editing bringing out these specific shots in continuation to give a brilliant introduction to the purpose of the documentary - to show that animals watch people too and in many ways how people’s actions are similar to those of the animals. For instance, there’s a shot of a father carrying his young son on his shoulders followed by a shot of a baby monkey sitting on the shoulder of its parent.
The music is what really drives the story. Pim Jacob’s jazz music gives the images a punch and creates the pace and feel of the developing montage. The meaning of the shots is punctuated with variations in the flow of music that runs parallel with the action on the screen. The inclusion of animal sounds in between gives an impression of the characters crucial in making the film. The best example is that of the parrot’s voice that comes in between the jazz music.
Zoo’s specialty is the frequent use of "rhyming images" and of images blending into each other. The film is perfectly able to catch the peculiarities of human behavior when they watch animals in a zoo. It is a tribute to the animals who we mock, emote and laugh at, as the film shows us their point of view and how they equally mock and laugh at us. Zoo is a delightful mix of humor, emotion and genuine expressions.