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Reel Nature

America's Romance with Wildlife on Film

By Gregg Mitman

Publication Year: 2009

Published by: University of Washington Press

Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Classics

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Title Page, Copyright Page, and Acknowledgments

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pp. 2-9

Books, like nature films, are the product of many individuals, whose invaluable contributions and efforts remain hidden behind the scenes only to surface in the acknowledgments or credits. This book is no exception. Although my thanks will never repay the debt I owe to those who made this...


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pp. ix-11

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Foreword: Nature Screened

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pp. xi-xv

In what is surely the most famous passage in Plato’s Republic, the Greek philosopher Socrates describes a cave in which prisoners, for their entire lives, are shackled with chains so completely that they cannot move their heads and so can only gaze at the rock wall in front of them. A large fire...

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pp. 1-4

In the spring of 1998, the Walt Disney Company opened its newest entertainment attraction, Animal Kingdom. A five-hundred-acre live-animal theme park located on the western edge of Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida seemed an odd venture for the company associated more with fantasy...

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1. Hunting with the Camera

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pp. 5-25

From the town of Gondokoro in the Congo region of British East Africa, a cable dispatch sent to the New York Times on the last day of February in 1910 announced the end of an expedition that had been making front-page copy in American newspapers. Theodore Roosevelt, former president, amateur naturalist...

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2. Science versus Showmanship on the Silent Screen

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pp. 26-58

On May 20, 1923, Trailing African Wild Animals, billed as the first “purely commercial animal picture . . . endorsed as really ‘natural,’” opened at New York City’s Capitol Theater, a 4,500-seat, lavish, first-run picture palace built in 1919. Filmed by the famed adventurer-photographers Martin and Osa Johnson...

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3. Zooming In on Animals’ Private Lives

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pp. 59-84

In an autobiographical essay written near the end of his life, the Nobel laureate Niko Tinbergen reflected on why he chose to spend so many hours of his life observing the behavior of animals in the field. Tinbergen traced his “deep-rooted love of natural beauty” to a “largely innate, typically masculine love...

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4. Wildlife Conservation through a Wide-Angle Lens [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 85-108

In 1940 the New York Zoological Society, under the direction of its president, Fairfield Osborn, launched a major change in animal exhibition at the New York Zoological Park. The year marked the “beginning of the end,” in Osborn’s words, “of exhibiting our animal collections behind bars.” While zoos in the...

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5. Disney’s True-Life Adventures

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pp. 109-131

Four days before Christmas in 1948, Arthur Levoy, exhibitor at the Crown Theater in Pasadena, took a chance. Instead of showing the traditional double bill, Levoy accompanied the feature presentation, MGM’s The Three Musketeers, with a short twenty-seven-minute film on the life of Arctic seals. The week before Levoy...

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6. Domesticating Nature on the Television Set

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pp. 132-156

In 1945 Marlin Perkins loaded some of the more popular small animals from Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo in his automobile and drove downtown to the studio of WBKB, the city’s experimental television station. Recognizing that the “lifeblood of the zoo is publicity and promotion,” Perkins looked upon the new medium...

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7. A Ringside Seat in the Making of a Pet Star

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pp. 157-179

In April of 1993, the tourist magazine Condé Nast Traveler ran a feature on Australia’s top ten beaches, one of which, Monkey Mia, is home to a pod of dolphins that have been cavorting with tourists and beach residents for some thirty years. A two-page glossy photograph of a blonde, suntanned swimmer...

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8. Global Visions, Tourist Dreams

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pp. 180-202

At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, BBC television adopted a popular icon to signify the global environmental agenda of this United Nations conference: “The Whole Earth” photograph taken from an Apollo spacecraft in 1972. Surrounded by total darkness, planet Earth, with its delicate white clouds swirling over...

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pp. 203-208

On February 9, 1996, the Denver Post published a front-page story that made national news. Marty Stouffer, an Aspen filmmaker and creator of the popular nature series Wild America, broadcast on PBS for eleven seasons, was “accused of staging scenes in his documentaries, mistreating animals, and defiling public lands.” The...

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Afterword: The New Green Wave

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pp. 209-220

In the spring of 2005, emperor penguins were on the move. From their home in Antarctica, they had, within a matter of months, appeared on every continent of the globe. This was not some remarkable feat of biological migration. Rather, it was a triumph of technology, storytelling, and the multinational...


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pp. 221-268


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pp. 269-270


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pp. 271-277

E-ISBN-13: 9780295803722
E-ISBN-10: 029580372X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295988863
Print-ISBN-10: 029598886X

Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Classics