Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Roosevelt in Africa

I am a big silent movie buff and couldn't resist looking up some of the movies Gregg Mitman discussed in the first chapter of his Reel Nature: America's Romance with Wildlife on Film. I really wanted to see "Silent Enemy," a movie about Native Americans in Canada released in 1930, but that doesn't seem to be on Youtube. I did find "Roosevelt in Africa," a documentary of sorts of former President Theodore Roosevelt's 1909 African hunt. According to Mitman British filmmaker Cherry Kearton happened to be in Africa on safari when he crossed Roosevelt's path in August 1909. Although there was potential for a great film, the result was a dud, a flop. A "short" of less than 20 minutes, "Roosevelt in Africa" lacked any semblance of drama. Despite the title Roosevelt makes only several appearances in the film, and none of them dramatic. Instead of the Rough Rider bringing down lions and the like, the movie goer gets to see him planting a tree! The African war dance was probably the most interesting item, although 100 years later it is hard to get a feel how much emotion an earlier viewer would have felt. I found a scene in which the Roosevelt party crosses a river to be the most telling. Here the white hunters, nattily dressed, hopped on the back of a native porter who carried him across the water. It says so much about the deplorable racial attitudes of the time as well as to the power of the colonial overlords.

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