Koko, A Talking Gorilla

Barbet Schroeder - the French producer-director (More, The Valley, Idi Amin Dada, Maitresse) - spent several months in this area preparing to make a film on the communication between human beings and related animal species. His main subject was to be the experiments being carried out at Stanford by a young woman, Penny Patterson, who had succeeded in teaching several hundred words of sign language to a young female gorilla named Koko. The film that resulted - Koko, A Talking Gorilla - makes clear that Koko possesses the faculty to express desires, states of feeling, and some rudimentary concepts in sign language: but the film does more than report this phenomenon. Penelope Houston observed in her Sight and Sound report from the 1978 Cannes Festival:

“...An interesting point in the relationship between Koko and her instructor, a strong-willed Californian blonde, is that the acquisition of language (as in L'Enfant Sauvage) seems inextricably bound up with morality: right and wrong and correct American nursery manners enter the world of the ape-child. Some wonderfully forlorn shots of Koko on a hillside suggest the film-makers' awareness of the equivocal nature of the experiment. At the same time, the film argues for the rights of animals....”

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