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Friday, September 13, 2013

Africa Speaks! (1930)






















Starring:
  • Harald Austin
  • Paul L. Hoefler
  • Lowell Thomas

IMDB.com

Hear the hoof-beats of the gnus and see a young boy chased down and killed by a lion (sans the screams)was what "Africa Speaks!" promised, and delivered. Filmed on the Colorado African Expedition of 1928, headed by Paul L. Hoefler, this film rose above the 'jungle-graph' films of the past---"Chang" excepted---because of the sound and not the views of the Dark Continent offered, albeit most of these were new views that some of the critics debated over whether or not some of them were staged. It contained: a locust swarm that devoured everything but the expedition camera; a visit to the duck-billed pygmy tribe in which the females of the tribe had discs inserted beneath their lips when very young and, as they grow older, larger discs replace the previous discs; an antelope---called and spelled illampa in the film---that jumps forty feet backward or forward when frightened and some slow-motion shots are used. "Africa Speaks!" showed Africa to be both dangerous and noisy.

In order to bring this important early sound era documentary into proper cultural and natural historic focus, one must bethink of the prodigious changes that have altered the face of Africa as well as its humanity and fauna during the more than 70 years since the film's production. One can only imagine the reaction of a 1930 audience which viewed the extraordinary events presented and filmed by Colorado-based explorer Paul Hoefler, including the death and mealtaking by a family of lions of one of Hoefler's expeditionary native assistants, total decimation of the expedition's surrounding flora by a massive winged horde of locusts, and remarkable animals and people of many varieties. Narrator Lowell Thomas' somewhat casual comments of events that could not have been greeted in such cavalier fashion at the time they occurred can be offputting, and his attempts at whimsy consistently fall as flat as the veldt being traversed, but withal the narration provides a raft of historically fascinating data. Hoefler's book of the same title, published shortly after the release of the film, differs insofar as the expedition actually travelled from east to west, rather than the reverse, but for purposes of visual impact actual events were edited in order to produce dramatic action.

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