Synopses & Reviews
Americans have had a long-standing love affair with the wilderness. As cities grew and frontiers disappeared, film emerged to feed an insatiable curiosity about wildlife. The camera promised to bring us into contact with the animal world, undetected and unarmed. Yet the camera's penetration of this world has inevitably brought human artifice and technology into the picture as well. In the first major analysis of American nature films in the twentieth century, Gregg Mitman shows how our cultural values, scientific needs, and new technologies produced the images that have shaped our contemporary view of wildlife.
Like the museum and the zoo, the nature film sought to recreate the experience of unspoiled nature while appealing to a popular audience, through a blend of scientific research and commercial promotion, education and entertainment, authenticity and artifice. Travelogue-expedition films, like Teddy Roosevelt's African safari, catered to upper- and middle-class patrons who were intrigued by the exotic and entertained by the thrill of big-game hunting and collecting. The proliferation of nature movies and television shows in the 1950s, such as Disney's True-Life Adventures and Marlin Perkins's Wild Kingdom, made nature familiar and accessible to America's baby-boom generation, fostering the environmental activism of the latter part of the twentieth century. Reel Nature reveals the shifting conventions of nature films and their enormous impact on our perceptions of, and politics about, the environment.
Whether crafted to elicit thrills or to educate audiences about the real-life drama of threatened wildlife, nature films then and now reveal much about the yearnings of Americans to be both close to nature and yet distinctly apart.
In Reel Nature, Gregg Mitman weaves a tale about nature films and television programming in the 20th century, a tale filled with intrigue, controversy, and conflict over the commercial exploitation of nature
It is a well-documented, systematically analyzed, well- written, and compelling story for all interested in contemporary environmental ideology/policy. Thomas R. Dunlap - Pacific Northwest Quarterly
American wildlife film-makers...abandoned truth in favor of more alluring lode stars. Reel Nature is an admirable history of why they did so. [The book] is about American wildlife film--an industry ruled ultimately by the standard of Hollywood...Very well told. The Guardian
Mitman's book treats its subject in the broader context of natural science, living collections, and conservation...Fascinating coverage. Stephen Mills - Times Literary Supplement
American wildlife film-makers...abandoned truth in favor of more alluring lode stars. Reel Natureis an admirable history of why they did so. [The book] is about American wildlifefilm--an industry ruled ultimately by the standard of Hollywood...Very well told.
How the wildlife documentary got from Roosevelt to Disneyworld is a story of charlatans, hucksters, crooks, imaginative cameramen, brilliant zoology and shameless appeal to the sex and violence of life as cinema audiences have grown to expect it to be. Mitman...tells the American version of this lurid celluloid safari. Tim Radford
Mitman's fascinating history of nature films revolves around the conflict between the quest for scientific authenticity and the demand for audience-pleasing dramatization...Mitman discusses the cultural impetus for the evolving perspectives of nature films over the decades, profiles the best and worst of nature filmmakers, chronicles tricky collaborations between scientific establishments and Hollywood, and analyzes Disney's taming of the wild and the huge success of television nature shows. He concludes that while nature films have had a positive impact on our understanding of nature, the whole truth about our place in the web of life has been left on the cutting-room floor. Thomas Lovejoy - Science
The book's primary strength is its attention to the uncomfortable symbiosis among money, art, and science. There is more here, however, and two of Mitman's other themes deserve the reader's attention. One is his analysis of filmmakers' expression of ideas about race, empire, and the evolutionary ladder of human races; the other, his discussion of filmmakers' dependence on organizations. Booklist
Reel Nature is a real achievement
it transcends the well-rehearsed arguments about correctness or distortion in science popularization by foregrounding a genre in which scientists were only one part of an inherently collaborative enterprise. Dr. Jo Liska - Anthrozoos
This work aims to reveal the shifting conventions of nature films and their impact on perceptions of the environment. Whether made to thrill or educate about the drama of threatened wildlife, nature films reveal much about the yearnings of Americans to be both close to nature and yet apart.
yearnings of Americans to be both close to nature and yet distinctly apart.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 211-254) and index.
About the Author
Gregg Mitman is Professor of History of Medicine, History of Science, and Science Studies at the University of Wisconsin.
Table of Contents
1. Hunting with the Camera
2. Science versus Showmanship on the Silent Screen
3. Zooming In on Animals' Private Lives
4. Wildlife Conservation through a Wide-Angle Lens
5. Disney's True-Life Adventures
6. Domesticating Nature on the Television Set
7. A Ringside Seat in the Making of a Pet Star
8. Global Visions, Tourist Dreams