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The Adventure of the Real

Jean Rouch and the Craft of Ethnographic Cinema

Though relatively unsung in the English-speaking world, Jean Rouch (1917–2004) was a towering figure of ethnographic cinema. Over the course of a fifty-year career, he completed over one hundred films, both documentary and fiction, and exerted an influence far beyond academia. Exhaustively researched yet elegantly written, The Adventure of the Real is the first comprehensive analysis of his practical filmmaking methods.

Rouch developed these methods while conducting anthropological research in West Africa in the 1940s–1950s. His innovative use of unscripted improvisation by his subjects had a profound impact on the French New Wave, Paul Henley reveals, while his documentary work launched the genre of cinema-vérité. In addition to tracking Rouch’s pioneering career, Henley examines the technical strategies, aesthetic considerations, and ethical positions that contribute to Rouch’s cinematographic legacy. Featuring over one hundred and fifty images, The Adventure of the Real is an essential introduction to Rouch’s work.

536 pages | 161 halftones, 3 maps, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2010

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Film Studies


“Paul Henley’s rich, well researched book offers the interdisciplinary approach to Jean Rouch’s career we have needed all these years. Both intellectual history and formalist analysis, this vibrant set of readings is packed with detailed information about the theories and practices informing Rouch’s films. Henley illuminates the work of a complex director who remains vitally important to anyone interested in anthropology, film studies, or French culture.”

Sam DiIorio, Hunter College, CUNY

“This is a splendid book—well researched, original, and lucidly written. I have no doubt it will become a classic: the single indispensable book on Rouch and his work. Henley provides a vast amount of information, detailed analyses of many of Rouch’s films, and above all a subtle and probing discussion of Rouch’s ‘praxis.’ The book is particularly illuminating as to Rouch’s working methods, which only a practicing filmmaker with a gift for analysis and a fund of personal experience could have carried off—a rare combination.”

David MacDougall, Australian National University

Table of Contents




The Surrealist Encounter

Part I: The Camera and a Man In Africa

Nothing but Cinema

Encounters with Spirits

Heroes of the Modern World

Dreams of Black and White

Images of Power

Part II: Between Paris and the Land of Nowhere

Introduction: New Technologies, New Methods

Chronicle of a Violent Game
New Wave Experiments

Between Paris and the Land of Nowhere

A Struggle Waged Against Corruption

Part III: The Craft of Ethnographic Cinema

Introduction: Totemic Ancestors

Inspired Performance

The Harsh Dialogue

The Fixing of the Truth

Shared Anthropology
The Legacy of Jean Rouch


1. The Films of Jean Rouch

2. Jean Rouch’s Films by Year and Category, 1946– 2002

3. Films about Jean Rouch and His Nigerien Associates


Reference List


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