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Dead Birds1964

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  • 4.3
DEAD BIRDS is a film about the Dani, a people dwelling in the Grand Valley of the Baliem high in the mountains of West Irian. When I shot the film in 1961, the Dani had an almost classic Neolithic culture. They were exceptional in the way they focussed their energies and based their values on an elaborate system of intertribal warfare and revenge. Neighboring groups of Dani clans, separated by uncultivated strips of no man's land, engaged in frequent formal battles. When a warrior was killed in battle or died from a wound and even when a woman or a child lost their life in an enemy raid, the victors celebrated and the victims mourned. Because each death had to be avenged, the balance was continually being adjusted with the spirits of the aggrieved lifted and the ghosts of slain comrades satisfied as soon as a compensating enemy life was taken. There was no thought in the Dani world of wars ever ending, unless it rained or became dark. Without war there would be no way to satisfy the ghosts. Wars were also the best way they knew to keep a terrible harmony in a life which would be, without the strife they invented, mostly hard and dull. DEAD BIRDS has a meaning which is both immediate and allegorical. In the Dani language it refers to the weapons and ornaments recovered in battle. Its other more poetic meaning comes from the Dani belief that people, because they are like birds, must die. In making DEAD BIRDS certain kinds of behavior were followed, never directed. It was an attempt to see people from within and to wonder, when the selected fragments of that life were assembled, if they might speak not only of the Dani but also of ourselves. - Robert Gardner

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4 members like this review

Criticized for its lapses in authenticity, this film is nonetheless beautifully filmed and presents a memorable vision of a Stone Age society with all its constant threat of violence. The battle scenes look comical at times, recalling Kurosawa's Jojimbo, in which the two warring tribes alternatively charge each other only to beat a hasty retreat. But these wars are deadly earnest as we see warriors wounded with arrows which have to be withdrawn with sticks and even teeth. No less than three deaths are depicted in the film, including a young boy who unwisely ventured too close to the river and was speared to death. Jared Diamond has been criticized for characterizing the life of these traditional people as over-emphasizing the constant threat of violence but this film reinforces his insight that one of the blessings of modern society is the freedom from worry that one can be killed at any moment of the day or night. The events of this film occurred only 50 years ago but reflect a now vanished way of life.

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Member Reviews (5)

108883.small
top reviewer

Criticized for its lapses in authenticity, this film is nonetheless beautifully filmed and presents a memorable vision of a Stone Age society with all its constant threat of violence. The battle scenes look comical at times, recalling Kurosawa's Jojimbo, in which the two warring tribes alternatively charge each other only to beat a hasty retreat. But these wars are deadly earnest as we see warriors wounded with arrows which have to be withdrawn with sticks and even teeth. No less than three deaths are depicted in the film, including a young boy who unwisely ventured too close to the river and was speared to death. Jared Diamond has been criticized for characterizing the life of these traditional people as over-emphasizing the constant threat of violence but this film reinforces his insight that one of the blessings of modern society is the freedom from worry that one can be killed at any moment of the day or night. The events of this film occurred only 50 years ago but reflect a now vanished way of life.

4 members like this review

Not a boring film to watch if required for class. Warning: there is animal, man, and child death in the film if you are queasy about that. Otherwise, the imagery is great and really draws the theme of birds to man throughout the film.

1 member likes this review

If that's a picture of me, I've had a much stranger life than I thought.

As for "Dead Birds," I watched it in 1964, when I was a young Motion Picture officer at the US Information Agency under George Stevens, Jr. It deeply impressed me then, as I went on to make a few dozen films and videos, including 10 for the Peace Corps, and it was quite an experience revisiting Dead Birds the other night, thanks to Fandor.

The narration is heavy handed, story contrived, much of the material redundant, but who cares? The integrity and coherence of a stone age culture remains stunning to this day. Again, thanks, Fandor.

anthropology

quite remarkable how people go about when left untouched