FILM FLAMES

Adventures on the Upper Nile (American Museum of Natural History, 1927)

This short clip is excerpted from Adventures on the Upper Nile, “a pictorial record of the O’Donnell-Clark African Expedition into the Southern Sudan…for the purpose of securing specimens of the rare giant eland.”  The film exemplifies the rhythms of ethnographic cinema: stretches of empty, unproductive duration (waiting, watching, etc.) punctuated by spectacular, but equally unproductive events.  In Adventures, these events include animal death/dismemberment, ritual dance, and environmental contingencies.  In this particular scene, the boat encounters a series of fires along the shore.  But, here, too, the event extends, repeats, stretches out.  It is an almost lyrical, meditative encounter, one which brings film material as such to the fore.  Here, we are told, birds dive towards the flames for insects.  We strain to see this interspecies interaction, but the birds and insects mingle with the deteriorated image, with its burns, scratches, and holes.