Jane

MojibMojib   October 04, 2017  
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2017
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Jane Austen wrote six of the most beloved novels in the English language, we are informed at the end of "Becoming Jane," and so she did. The key word is "beloved." Her admirers do not analyze her books so much as they just plain love them to pieces. When I was very sick last year there was a time when I lost all interest in reading.

It must have been a documentarian's dream when National Geographic handed Brett Morgen over 140 hours of 16mm color footage shot in the 1960s and previously unseen, detailing the work of Jane Goodall studying chimpanzees in the wild in Africa. And while the result of that visual windfall, Jane, may be neither the first nor the last film on the pioneering British primatologist, it will likely stand as the definitive portrait. Set to an almost overwhelmingly emotional original score by Philip Glass, this is a wondrous and moving account of a remarkable life that puts us right there with Goodall to share directly in her discoveries. How National Geographic will handle the streaming and downloading rights isn't really sure.

The X factor is that Morgen gained access to a treasure trove: more than 100 hours of footage originally shot by Goodall’s late ex-husband, famed wildlife photographer Hugo van Lawick. Never used, it was considered lost until recently. Comprising the bulk of Morgen’s new feature, that mostly color 16mm material is shaped to retell a remarkable life story in terms greatly benefiting from the trust the cameraman achieved with his subjects — chimps as well as spouse. National Geographic (van Lawick’s employer at the time) should find a wider audience for this charming biographical artifact than for most of its nature docs, with some theatrical exposure possible in addition to the usual home-viewing outlets. A
Given that Goodall's family had not been in a financial position to provide a university education, her qualifications were "an open mind, a passion for knowledge, patience and a love of animals." A companion was required for the trip, so Goodall's mother volunteered, and setting up a camp clinic to treat local fishermen from miles around. That fact alone — two brave, curious, mutually supportive women venturing into wilderness territory — make for a rousing feminist story.

With a capacity for recall that's both detailed (she took copious notes) and poetic, Goodall outlines her routine on that anxious first expedition, setting out at dawn into the hills each day and returning at dusk, waiting for the wary chimpanzee community to become accustomed to her presence among them. She feared that the funding would run out before she was able to get close enough for significant observation, but finally was able to gain the animals' trust.

Like a modern chick-lit heroine, Jane has no interest in marrying a juiceless man, rich or poor, who has the imagination and charisma of a stick. An aspiring novelist in a rigid social order in which women of conspicuous intelligence are frowned upon, she is willing to take her chances. At its most hardheaded the film makes clear that when Jane forfeits her best opportunity for a financially advantageous match it is no laughing matter.

“Jane” basically limits its narrative span to the crucial activities of the 1960s, from which the “found” footage primarily dates. Political, personal and other changes subsequently led her away from Gombe (though research there continued), into a still active life of tireless global education and activism on behalf of wildlife preservation and conservation.
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