Review: Zoo (1962)

Director: Bert Haanstra | 11 minutes | documentary

‘Zoo’ was Haanstra’s first hidden camera film – and perhaps the first ever, and was considered by the filmmaker himself as just a finger exercise for a feature film, which would later become ‘Alleman’. To this end, Haanstra observed people in Artis for sixty days in their contact with animals. He has managed to shrink his many visual material into a film of more than ten minutes, in which an enormous number of short shots occur that, accompanied by jazz music by Pim Jacobs, are poured over the viewer in a rhythmic and humorous montage. Indeed, the same method that also worked so well in Haanstra’s Oscar-winning film ‘Glass’, in which Jacobs’ music was an ultimate addition to Haanstra’s interesting montage.

The viewer sees the beasts from the point of view of the people and vice versa and the people from the point of view of the beasts, which makes for a nice interaction, and a series of visible similarities between these different animal species. This produces predictable montages like women in striped suits followed by shots of zebras or waddling visitors followed by a shot of a few penguins. But there are also less obvious moments, like lions licking each other’s ear, and a couple in love on a bench doing the same. Or a woman who speaks harshly to her husband and another man who also does the same to a parrot. There is also an amusing montage of yawning people and beasts and when suddenly a eating man comes into view,

Haanstra explains on an extra “feature” on the DVD how important rhythm is, and the length of the shots to get this humor out in the right way. Because timing is essential for humor. The place that a shot occupies in a scene or sequence is also crucial. A shot of a chatting woman is meaningless in itself, but when this shot is surrounded by images of quiet, peaceful animals and people, it suddenly becomes humorous.

Haanstra also makes use of small visual jokes, such as the shot of a boy feeding a moose, but where the point of view makes it look like the child has antlers.

‘Zoo’ does not involve much, but it is certainly a fun finger exercise. The film has a nice (fast) tempo and cheerful, uplifting music by Jacobs who, just like in ‘Glass’, manages to add some amusing musical accents. And it is always fun to look at the (corresponding) behavior of humans and animals. A great short film by Haanstra, so.


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