Racialized Modernity and the Anthropology of Winds: Nasser Taghvai’s Bad-e Jinn

Film practice during the late Pahlavi era curated exoticized images of Iranian racial minorities in documentaries and ethnographies. Traditional film scholarship contextualizes the Iranian New Wave through connections to Iranian literary modernism and European filmic modernisms. This paper calls for a more nuanced reading of the Iranian New Wave and places the movement in relation to the contemporaneous rise in government-funded ethnographic documentary. Large-scale state funding through Reza Shah Pahlavi's Ministry of Arts and Culture and National Iranian Radio and Television propelled both New Wave and ethnographic filmmaking in Iran. The institutional matrix of support for avant-garde filmmaking practices draws a complex relation between ethnographic documentation of rural forms of life, government investment in filmmakers’ abilities to draw international acclaim in awards circuits, and the ongoing project of constructing an authentic, yet cosmopolitan and modern Iranian nationalism. Through an analysis of two films by Nasser Taghvai, the ethnographic documentary Bad-e jinn (1969) and the feature film Tranquility in the Presence of Others (1970), I argue that the sudden government-funded interest in New Wave filmmaking and ethnographic documentary sustained a racializing mode of disjunctive temporality undergirding the concept of the modern. New Wave filmmakers visually preserved “decaying” forms of traditional life and articulated modernity in mid-twentieth century Iran through their ethnographic documentaries. Adapted from Ghulam Hossein Sa’edi’s Ahle-Hava, an ethnographic monograph about the spirit rituals practiced by descendants of African slaves in Bandar Lengeh, Nasser Taghvai’s Bad-e-jinn (1969) is narrated by the renowned modern poet Ahmad Shamlu and makes the zar ceremony the subject of an enigmatic twenty minute documentary. Produced just one year later, Taghvai’s Tranquility in the Presence of Others (1970) also treats the theme of madness, but through the use of more recognizably modernist tropes of anxiety such as the dangers of women’s liberation, modern medical practices, hollow relationships, western popular music, and closed-form aesthetics. I argue through the juxtaposition of these temporally proximate films that the different treatments of subjectivity and space in Bad-e Jinn and Tranquility in the Presence of Others mark the disjunctive temporality that sustains the modern as a racial concept.