evolving ecological media culture(s)

Biomorphism (EMI chapter 5)


This week we’ve moved on to the topic of “biomorphism,” which refers to the dimension of life and sensuous interactivity in a film-world – the liveliness that’s found between the passivity of the object-world (the geomorphic) and the human activity of the subject-world (anthropomorphism).

Here is where a film depicts objects as alive, or animals as social, like us, or humans as animal-like. I’ve argued that this is where everything ultimately happens – in the action and interaction between sensorial bodies, things that can perceive and respond to other things. The geomorphic and the anthropomorphic are two ends of the continuum that stretches across the biomorphic field of possibilities.

But since we’ve already dealt with nonliving things (chapter 3) and with humans (chapter 4), we’re focusing here on living, animate things – or what film depicts as living, animate things. Nature films, wildlife documentaries, animation, horror and monster movies, and certain kinds of science-fiction are the genres that most commonly engage this biomorphic realm in the most interesting ways.

This week we’re looking particularly at nature and wildlife films; next week, at films that depict human interactions with animals. But, of course (as we’ve seen with Winged Migration), it’s impossible to depict nature without engaging and interacting with it.

Here are some clips from films discussed in the first half of the chapter.


Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 photographic animation horse


Thomas Edison’s 1903 film Electrocuting an Elephant



Walt Disney’s True Life Adventures series (mentioned, but not watched in class)


There are numerous scenes you can watch from Disney’s Bambi

But it’s the scene of the death of Bambi’s mother that stays with many young audience members the longest. It’s the first of these “Sad original Disney moments”:


Excerpts from Microcosmos



Scenes from Winged Migration

You can find many other scenes on YouTube, and the whole thing on Vimeo. But it’s the “Making Of” documentary, found on the DVD, that is the crucial viewing (and that I describe in the book). I don’t see it online; you may need to borrow the DVD from the library to see it.

Finally, we watched the Ocean Deep segment from the Planet Earth series. Here’s the Vampire Squid from Hell segment.

But you should watch the whole thing (if you missed the class).




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