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Friday, May 4, 2012

Sneak Peek from the Stacks: Robert Kaupp's Footage of the Festival of the Battle of Puebla

This Saturday Mexicans will celebrate the 150th anniversary of their victory against French military forces at the Battle of Puebla.  Primarily a regional Mexican celebration, Cinco de Mayo has become increasingly popular in the U.S. among Americans of Mexican heritage and lovers of all things Mexican.  In the 1980s, the NMNH Department of Anthropology received a large donation of Mexican festival masks from private collectors Robert E. and Kathleen von Kaupp. The donation included 500 feet of unedited silent 16mm Kodachrome motion picture film from 1968 documenting the masks in use in the town of Huejotzingo in the state of Puebla, Mexico. The film rolls were deposited in the Human Studies Film Archives and accompanying documentation on the making of the masks was given to the National Anthropological Archives

Independent anthropologist Robert Kaupp fits the model of the intrepid anthropologist-explorer.  Although only 15 minutes long, his festival footage is rich in ethnographic detail and does a great job of capturing the fascinating blend of folkloric and religious traditions.  He even includes surprisingly rare shots of the dancer’s feet in action, so often forgotten by many filmmakers inclined to focus at eye-level and see only upper bodies and the spectacle of the masks themselves.  And this silent footage with its scenes of colorful marching bands and celebratory gunfire gives a vivid impression of the noisy and exuberant street festival.  Sadly, Mr. Kaupp passed away earlier this year after a full life of research and adventure.
In memoriam Dr. Robert E. von Kaupp, 1925 – 2012.
Que Viva Mexico!

Looking ahead: On May 19 the National Gallery of Art will host a touring program of films from the 2011 Robert Flaherty Film Seminar.  Known for its provocative mix of archival, experimental and political films, the 2011 seminar's theme "Sonic Truth" explores music and documentary film. Don't miss the rare opportunity to see these films on the big screen right here in DC!

Thank you to Daisy Njoku and Jennifer Murray!

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