Thursday, June 02, 2016

Videos of the Allegory of the Cave [updated]

There are myriad videos of the allegory of the cave available, but most are not very good. Searching for videos mostly yields student projects, adaptation of classroom lectures, and videos that are using the allegory of the cave to push a religious or conspiratorial agenda. There are, however, some very good videos out there was well, suitable for classroom use. Three are listed below.

Weiss, Sam (Director). 1973. The cave: a parable told by Orson Welles Stephen Bosustow Productions. Animated. Time: 8:13

Comments: I highly recommend this. The script is a slight editing of the Jowett translation, read compellingly Orson Welles. The visuals are animations of evocative drawings by the illustrator Richard Oden, who among other things did some very striking illustrations for medical textbooks and ran the drawing program at Cal State University Long beach. Oden’s drawings can give the student a clear image of what is going on in the allegory and pack an emotional punch without being distracting. The music by soundtrack composer Larry Wolff is haunting.

The editing done to the Jowett translation is very slight. Mostly, they cut out Glaucon’s replies, sometimes working a few words into Socrates’s speech. A few words are changed here and there. The one major edit is at the end, right before 517b, after Socrates notes that anyone caught trying to free the prisoners would be put to death, the narration skips to a rougher paraphrase of 519d where Socrates says that the enlightened person is obligated to return to the people of the cave “partake of their labors and honors, whether they are worth having or not.”

Credits: Narrator: Orson Welles; Animator: Dick Oden; Music: Larry Wolff; Producers: Nick Bosutow, C.B. Wismar.

Publication and availability: As of this writing, an ok-quality copy video is readily available online (e.g., however it is not clear who the rights holder is. The sound in the version shared online is a little muddy and the picture a little grainy. The original production company seems to be Stephen Bosustow Productions, and education film company founded by one of the creators of Mr. Magoo. At some point, the movie may have been owned by McGraw-Hill Films, but it does not show up on the website for the current McGraw-Hill companies. VHS copies also show up in the catalogues of various libraries, but it is not clear that any of these would be higher quality than the version currently being shared online.

Ramsey, Michael (Writer, director, producer). 2007. The Cave: An Adaptation of Plato's Allegory in Clay Bullhead Entertainment. Claymation. Time: 3:10

Comments:This is a well done Claymation version, using an original script that is true to the parts of the text that it covers. The main problem, that because it is only three minutes long, it leaves out a lot of important elements, including the important multiple levels of representation, with the shadows representing the objects on the walkway and the objects on the walkway representing the objects outside, etc. It also leaves out all sorts of detail about the return of the cave. Instead, when the freed man returns to the cave, his friends do not recognize him, because he now appears as a shadow on the wall. The clip ends with the narrator emphasizing that the things outside of the cave are “not less real” than the shadows. He doesn’t say that the things outside are more real than the shadows, and he there is no depiction of attempts to free the other prisoners.

Credits: Claymation Artist: John Grigsby, Voice: Kristopher Hutson; Producer Tim Schultz; Photographed by Michael Ramsey and John Grigsby; Editors: Bruce Rudolph and John Grigsby; pyrotechnics: Jack Spivak; PA: Meaghan Lamond.

Publication and availability:Posted to YouTube by the production company that made it, also available at its official website
Gendler, Alex. (Writer). Undated. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. TED Conferences, LLC.
Comments: Gendler is a TED-ed regular who has presentations on topics ranging from how Tsunamis work to logic puzzles. Gendler simplifies the presentation of the cave by eliminating the raised walkway and the puppets that cast shadows on the wall. Instead, the shadows are cast directly by the objects on the outside. This ruins the parallel with the divided line. However, there is still a sense of layering of representation, because he does talk about the escaped prisoner first only looking at reflections of objects in the water. The video concludes with a quick sketch of the theory of the forms. The animation is cute and accompanied by snappy sound effects. Animated. Time: 4:33

Credits: Alex Gendler: Writer/educator; Narration: Addison Anderson; Director: John R. Dilworth; Animator: Pilar Newton/Stretch films; Sound Designer: William Hohauser;

Publication and availability: The video is produced by the TED spin-off TED-Ed, and is covered by a creative commons (BY-NC-ND) license. There is also an online platform that comes with discussion forums and quiz questions and the possibility of creating further lessons that remain under the control of TED-ed.