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Posts Tagged ‘chimpanzees’

Jane Goodall and friend

“JANE”  My rating: A-

90 minutes | No MPAA rating

It’s not like Jane Goodall’s story hasn’t been told before.

If you recognize her name you probably know that she was the untrained amateur assigned in 1957 by her boss, anthropologist Richard Leakey, to study chimpanzees living in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park. Lacking higher education and all credentials, Goodall, 26, eventually was accepted by the animals and began collecting astounding data and observations; her program is now the longest-running study of animals in the wild.

Over the years there’s been no shortage of coverage of Goodall’s work.  But “Jane” — the new documentary from writer/diredtor Brett Morgan — tells her story from a personal point of view, drawing from 100 hours of never-before-seen footage of this remarkable woman from all stages of her career.

The film — narrated by the 83-year-old Goodall — is visually splendid. But even more striking is the emotional power of Goodall’s tale, of her love of these animals (her scientific detachment has often been called into question), of the amazing moments she has experienced, and of her long study’s revelations, especially the deep connections between simian and human behavior.

It’s also something of a feminist statement. Goodall reveals that in her childhood dreamlife she was always a man: “I wanted to do things men could and women couldn’t.”

She was chosen by Leakey (she was his secretary) to do the chimp study because she had no preconceptions about primate life and behavior. A longtime lover of animals, Goodall saw herself as a distaff Dr. Doolittle: “I wanted to come as close to talking to the animals as I could.”

Enduring rain, heat, poisonous snakes and her subjects’ frustrating fear of humans, Goodall became a sort of jungle girl, a long-legged blonde who bathed in mountain streams and climbed trees to get a better look at the chimps.  Later, she recalls, she was perfectly willing to entertain beauty-and-the-beast comparisons if they would publicize her study and attract funding.

Listening to Goodall speak, one is pinned to the nexus of the scientific and the near mystical. Looking into the eyes of a chimpanzee, she says, “I saw a thinking, reasoning personality looking back.” (more…)

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“PROJECT NIM” My rating: B+ (Opening July 29 at the Glenwood Arts)

93 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

We humans are an arrogant lot. Exhibit A is James Marsh’s “Project Nim,” a devastating documentary about a monkey.

Not just any monkey, but a chimp named Nim who in the mid-70’s was the celebrated subject of an experiment  in primate intelligence and the eternal question of nature vs. nurture.

Shortly after his birth in an Oklahoma primate research facility, Nim was taken from his sedated mother and given to a wealthy New York family to raise as their own child.

The creator of this experiment, Columbia University psychologist Herbert Terrace, wanted to see if a chimpanzee reared as a human could learn to speak in sign language. How great would it be if an animal could tell us what it’s thinking and feeling?

(more…)

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