[Marxism] The Story of the Weeping Camel

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jan 6 11:36:47 MST 2006


"The Story of the Weeping Camel" is a beautifully filmed and completely 
engrossing movie about the lives of Mongolian sheepherders in the Gobi 
desert for whom the camel is an indispensable means of production. Filmed 
on location and employing a nonprofessional cast, it is on a level with the 
best of Robert Flaherty's work, especially "Nanook of the North."

While Flaherty's approach was to simply document the lives of Inuits, who 
are the distant relatives of Mongolians, the directors of "The Story of the 
Weeping Camel" decided to construct their film as kind of folk tale, not 
much different than those told by the elders in the film to their 
grandchildren late at night within the confines of the spare but gorgeously 
appointed yurts they dwell in.

The first third or so of the film depicts an extended family as they go 
about their daily tasks. In one scene the men cut the beard from a camel 
which a female village elder weaves into rope. I was immediately reminded 
of how the Northern Plains Indians made use of every inch of the bison, 
either for food, clothing or shelter, etc. Such peoples can teach 
industrialized societies a thing or two about recycling.

Every spring it is time for the camels to give birth. For one camel, this 
is a painful ordeal as her rare white colt comes out feet first. When she 
refuses to accept her offspring, the villagers decide to carry out a ritual 
to reconcile the two beasts. Since the ritual requires a musical offering, 
two brothers are dispatched on camel-back to a distant town to recruit a 
master violinist.

While they are there, the younger gazes in wonder at a television set at a 
local store. The happy ending of this film involves a positive outcome for 
the ritual as well as a new television and satellite dish. The fact that 
such "primitive" peoples can happily reconcile ancient customs with new 
technology counters Jerry Mander's warning in "In the Absence of the 
Sacred" that television and other such devices can spoil them.

How "The Story of the Weeping Camel" got made is a story in itself. As a 
film student in Munich, Germany, Byambasuren Davaa decided to make a film 
set in her native Mongolia. She told a fellow student, Luigi Falorni, about 
mother camels rejecting their young and being coaxed into nurturing them 
through a musical ritual. They eventually traveled to the Gobi Desert, 
spending nearly a month with one family and their 60 camels, 300 goats and 
sheep and a few cows. That is where they encountered the birth of the white 
colt, which was actually rejected by its mother. In keeping with the deeply 
fortuitous circumstances that accompanied the making of this film, the 
chanting ritual actually worked!

As inspiring as this film is, I could not stop thinking about the 1996 
Monthly Review article that describes the collapse of Soviet Mongolia, 
which concludes as follows:

"Beggars and the homeless are now on the streets in freezing winters that 
reach minus 40 degrees. Though restaurant waiters and hotel staff may 
proudly decline service tips, and rural herding families in their ghers 
(traditional dome-shaped tents) still offer free meals to passing 
travellers, pickpockets now haunt buses, prostitutes line the karaoke bars, 
and some children live in sewers. And the Western NGOs, churches, and 
charities have joined the armies of aid-workers to perform their good deeds 
in Mongolia."

full: http://www.blythe.org/nytransfer-subs/99lab/The_Marketization_of_Mongolia

Ultimately, the redemption of such people will depend on the renaissance of 
socialism which Marx and Engels were anxious to point out will synthesize 
the values of primitive communism with the technology of advanced 
capitalist society.

--

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