Review: ‘Jane’ Is an Absorbing Trip Into the Wild With Jane Goodall

Review: ‘Jane’ Is an Absorbing Trip Into the Wild With Jane Goodall


Photo

Jane Goodall in the documentary “Jane,” directed by Brett Morgen.

Credit
Hugo van Lawick/National Geographic Creative

Jane Goodall’s observations of chimpanzees in the wild challenged conventional wisdom about what made humans exceptional. Brett Morgen’s documentary “Jane,” which tells Ms. Goodall’s story largely through footage of her expeditions, is such an absorbing account of her experiences at a reserve in what is now Tanzania that you may not pause to think about how its imagery was captured.

If Ms. Goodall — who was 26 and had no scientific degree when she first ventured into the forest, hoping to gain acceptance from chimpanzees inclined to run from her — was mostly exploring on her own, who set up the camera for that incredible shot of her climbing? How is it that the animals are so calm in the presence of moviemaking tools?

Video

Trailer: ‘Jane’

A preview of the film.


By NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC on Publish Date October 18, 2017.


Image courtesy of Internet Video Archive.

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As an opening title card explains, most of “Jane” comes from 16-millimeter film shot by Hugo van Lawick, the renowned wildlife photographer who joined Ms. Goodall on her travels and eventually became her first husband.

His footage has appeared before, notably in the 1965 National Geographic documentary “Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees,” narrated by Orson Welles. But Mr. Morgen’s film draws on more than 100 rediscovered hours from National Geographic’s archives. The abundant raw material allows Mr. Morgen to construct the impression of a complete narrative arc, and to show the tedious work of gaining the trust of the chimps and collecting data in fast forward, conveying the excitement of scientific discovery with adventure-movie momentum.

Photo

The young chimpanzee Flint as seen in the film.

Credit
Hugo van Lawick/National Geographic Creative

Ms. Goodall, who is seen in a fresh interview with Mr. Morgen and heard in excerpts from an audio version of one of her books, narrates her efforts to make contact with the chimps. The footage has been edited in a way that is not strictly faithful to chronology but complements the storytelling. (Even the visuals accompanying the tale of her initial months were filmed later, once Mr. van Lawick had arrived.) Because the archival footage lacked sound, the natural noises — chimp grunts and bird chirps — have been created, seamlessly, from separate recordings made in the Gombe forest that Ms. Goodall once explored.

Such editing-suite sleights of hand may displease purists, and so will an insistent score by Philip Glass, whose melodious montage glue has become something of a documentary cliché. But the flip side of such freehandedness is that “Jane,” like Mr. Morgen’s “Chicago 10” and “The Kid Stays in the Picture” (which he directed with Nanette Burstein), is involving and immediate. He fashions a firsthand account of what Ms. Goodall learned about the chimps’ capacity for toolmaking, nurturing and cruelty, and what they taught her when she became a parent herself.

“Jane” will delight those familiar with Ms. Goodall and provide a vibrant introduction for newcomers.



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