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Koko: A Talking Gorilla (Criterion Collection)
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In 1977, acclaimed director Barbet Schroeder and cinematographer Nestor Almendros entered the universe of the world's most famous primate to create this captivating documentary. The film introduces us to the remarkable Koko at the age of three, recently brought from the San Francisco Zoo to Stanford University by Dr. Penny Patterson for a controversial experiment -- she would be taught the basics of human communication through American sign language. An entertaining, troubling, and still relevant documentary, Koko: A Talking Gorilla sheds light on the ongoing ethical and philosophical debates over the individual rights of animals and brings us face to face with the amazing "individual" caught in the middle.
Many folks have heard about the gorilla who learned sign language, but few have seen the depth revealed in Koko: A Talking Gorilla. In 1977 Barbet Schroeder and Nestor Almendros teamed up to explore the world of this gentle ape and her researcher friends, and the film raises difficult issues, questioning basic assumptions of scientists and skeptics alike. Of vital importance to both sides of the arguments on topics as diverse as animal rights and artificial intelligence is the question of whether Koko understood abstract concepts in the same way we do, which is no clearer now than then. The film, though, is careful to follow the gorilla's entire range of behavior and helps individuals decide for themselves what was happening behind her eyes. Powerful, thought-provoking, and even heartbreaking, Koko: A Talking Gorilla is essential viewing for anyone interested in intelligence, communication, and the nature of humanity. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The movie documents the efforts of Penny Patterson, a doctoral student at Stanford at the time the movie was released, as she works with Koko, a 6 year-old (at the time) gorilla who supposedly can communicate through American Sign Language. Towards the beginning, we learn that other scientists have taught ASL to chimpanzees, but it had never been tried with Gorillas before Koko, since they were considered too dangerous. Whatever your opinion on the wisdom of the experiment, you have to admit that Patterson is a brilliant, dedicated teacher and that Koko is an amazing Gorilla.
"KoKo" raises all kinds of difficult questions relating to the relationship between humans and animals. First, can KoKo (or any primate for that matter) understand language and concepts the same way that humans can, or is she simply displaying operant conditioning? This isn't any clearer now than it was 30 years ago. There are examples within the documentary to support both points of view. For instance, in one scene Patterson is getting a yellow sweater out for KoKo, but she keeps making the sign for red, apparently indicating that she is asking for her red sweater; this suggests that KoKo is indeed thinking with language. Plus, Patterson claims that KoKo creates new words such as signing "finger bracelet" when shown a ring. On the other hand, at one point KoKo makes a mess of papers and rips a book. Patterson is visibly angry with KoKo and asks her, "why did you make a mess" and "why do you rip things when I'm not looking?" KoKo just signs "me bad." In watching that scene, there was nothing to convince me that KoKo even had the capacity to answer a question like that. In this case, I would side with San Francisco Zoo Director Saul Kitchener who says at one point, "with Gorillas there is no right or wrong." In addition, there's a scene where KoKo presses buttons that speak words through a computerized voice. Supposedly, KoKo understands the meaning of the buttons, such as "apple" and "milk," and KoKo would press a button when asked a particular question. It seemed as though KoKo were simply pushing buttons and not having any clue what they meant, other than that if she pushed one particular button, she would get an apple- classic operant conditioning. One way to resolve the controversy, or at least shed more light on it, would be to have cognitive scientists who know ASL conduct aptitude tests, without Patterson's supervision, to determine what KoKo's cognitive capacity is. To my knowledge, however, nothing like this has been done. And as director Barbet Schroeder points out in his interview, there are very few articles in peer-reviewed journals on KoKo.
Then of course, there's the whole issue of KoKo's rights, if any. Saul Kitchener sees KoKo as the zoo's property. Patterson, of course, has a different view. She sees KoKo as an individual, and comparable to a child with Down Syndrome; disabled relative to the general population, but still possessing the same rights. But then this begs the question: If KoKo is an individual with rights, then what right does Patterson have to teach KoKo something that she would not have learned in her natural environment? Indeed, how does one go about proving that KoKo gave her consent for the experiment? One issue that came to my mind was, if KoKo has rights and harms or is harmed by another gorilla, then how would one go about holding the perpetrator responsible? If a gorilla has rights, then it has responsibilities, such as not to interfere with the rights of other gorillas. But if the gorilla has no concept of right and wrong like humans do, as Kitchener alleges, then the whole case of KoKo having rights collapses, or at least is seriously problematic. But I digress.
"KoKo" is a must-see for movie fans who enjoy thought-provoking documentaries. Plus, it's a great movie to use for discussion in schools at all levels.
The DVD shows how intelligent she is - she has a sense of humor (which some people don't even have, lol) and grieves (heartbreaking scene after she is told her kitten, Allball, has died). You have to see this to realize how important this is. You will be appalled that people still eat gorilla meat - they share 98% of DNA with us. Of course, other animals we eat are sentient beings, so that's a cunumdrum for me, not being a vegetarian.
If you care about animals, you will love this DVD and Koko's story. If you are like me, you will want everyone to know about Koko.
and it did the job. The content is quite amazing as we watch Koko
learn and sign new words.
My only objection is that the DVD seems old and is very slow and sometimes
the sound was not clear. At times it seemed like someone's home-made
video and was amateurish. But the purpose for me was to get the students
to speak and they did. I have seen many films by th director, Barbet
Schroeder and was a little disappointed in the quality - a bir grainy and