Last week, the Hollywood Bowl held a special screening of “JANE,” the new documentary on Jane Goodall by Brett Morgen. The evening was truly special, featuring a short introduction from the charming Dr. Goodall and Morgen, and live accompaniment of Philip Glass’s gorgeous score. It was a lovely, immersive experience with three screens and stage lights that swelled in different colors during dramatic moments in the score.
In her introduction, Dr. Goodall explained that when she was first approached about a new film on her work, her initial reaction was to say, “Another one?” She was sure that everything about her story had been told, but when she considered that it would help publicize her ongoing environmental work with the Goodall Foundation, she consented. Then later, she was impressed by Brett Morgen’s interview questions for her. Onstage, she and Morgen shared some funny banter and the mutual respect between them was apparent. To me, it seems like excellent timing for the tale to be retold, not only because of the increasing dangers to our natural environment, but also because many young people today have no idea that most of what we know about chimpanzees – our close relatives – is due to this brave, young woman who went out into the jungle alone to study them.
The documentary uses previously unseen National Geographic archive footage from the late, great wildlife photographer – and Goodall’s husband for ten years – Baron Hugo van Lawick. Because it was shot on film, it has a softer look and is occasionally slightly out-of-focus, which, when combined with the lush music, gives the whole thing a dreamy feel. This is especially appropriate when we see passages from Goodall’s journal, which include lines that question whether she is really there at all. Can it be possible that her dream of living among the animals has come true? The colors are vibrant and there are so many stunning views of the Gombe jungle, through which the young Goodall patiently climbs. It becomes obvious too that she is being chronicled by someone falling in love with her, and the clips of van Lawick’s telegraphed proposal are adorable. “WILL YOU MARRY ME STOP LOVE HUGO STOP.” Let’s bring telegraphs back; they’re hilarious.
Morgen does a wonderful job of editing the footage together with such inserts, including press clips and scientific diagrams, family film footage – narrated by Goodall, and including the occasional question from their interviews. The best example of that is when he asks her if she was afraid that a chimp would “tear her face off,” and she says that she simply had no idea that could even happen. Best of all, we are treated to many delightful moments with the chimpanzees. The whole audience cracked up at the footage of them stealing bananas from Goodall’s camp.
Because I read her book, “In The Shadow of Man” (1971), I was familiar with the individual chimps that she named and befriended, such as Flo and David Greybeard. The film doesn’t go into their personalities in depth like the book, understandably, but it’s wonderful to see them interacting with Goodall. Especially Flo’s baby Flint, playing with her! The movie opens this Friday at the Arclight in Hollywood and I can’t recommend it enough.
Photo by Simone Snaith for The Los Angeles Beat