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Africa Speaks! (1930) - Exploitative and condescending ethnographic and nature documentary from director Walter **** (His name is Fut-ter, which I did not know was a censor-sensitive word. Had to look that one up.) and Mascot Pictures. Explorer Paul Hoefler travels into "darkest Africa" to film the Ubangi, Masai, Wassara, and Ifi (Pygmy) tribes, as well as documenting the many wild animals, such as giraffes, zebra, antelope, rhinoceros, locust swarms, and of course lions. Some scenes are (badly) re-enacted, and two lions are killed on screen. Some of the tribal footage may be of interest to anthropologists, but the mocking narration by Lowell Thomas doesn't imbue much of an academic aura. This was a hit, playing in exploitation theaters for years, and much of the footage was reused in later cheap jungle pictures.   5/10


Source: YouTube.



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With Byrd at the South Pole (1930) - Nature and exploration documentary from Paramount Pictures. The movie documents the 1928-1929 Antarctic journey of explorer Richard E. Byrd and his party of over 40 men as they first travel by ship to the edge of the frozen continent, and then move inland, where they dig out a base camp to last them several months. Byrd's ultimate goal is to fly a plane over the South Pole itself. 


The two cameramen, Joseph T. Rucker and Willard Van der Veer, capture as much of the action as possible, from the sled dogs bedding down through a blizzard, to the unique construction techniques used to build the base camp, to the actual aerial journey itself. Most of this is a silent film with intertitles. However, there is a long speech at the beginning of the film by Byrd, and the final 15 minutes, detailing the plane trip over the pole, are breathlessly narrated by Floyd Gibbons. The film also has a score and some sound effects. This movie holds a couple of Oscar distinctions: it won the 1930 Oscar for Best Cinematography, and as such, remains the only documentary to do so. It is also the first documentary to win any Oscar, as the Best Documentary category wouldn't be introduced until 1942.   7/10


Source: FilmStruck.





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Future ones that will be fun for you to tackle. No, you don't have to do all of them but go ahead with at least one of these culinary delights.


Baboona (Fox, 1935) featuring Martin and Osa Johnson flying over the Dark Continent. I absolutely looooove Baboona. Can watch over and over and never get bored.


Kon Tiki (Sol Lessor/RKO, 1950) features raft bro-bonding at its best. Also check out the 2011 dramatic follow-up film on the Thor Heyerdahl saga with its cgi enhanced shark scenes.


The Animal World (Warner Bros., 1955) is produced by the future master-of-disaster Irwin Allen, features Ray Harryhausen's dinos (a staple of many a View Master) and some of the lamest "comedy" ever displayed in a nature film. The subtitled Japanese beetle sequence and Papa Bear training junior in salmon fishing have to be seen and heard to be believed. Also Allen was so careful not to bring up that ugly word "evolution" to upset the Bible Belt. Gotta love the final shot of Mother Earth exploding thanks to the hydrogen bomb.


Seven Wonders Of The World (Cinerama, 1956) really is a masterpiece, despite the silly proud-to-be-in-America scenes towards the end with Lowell Thomas greeting the happy housewife and her too-many-to-handle Eisenhower Era brats at the picnic. The scenes of Egypt, an Indian mongoose vs. cobra scene (poor snake!) and Victoria Falls are among the highlights.


The Golden Age Of Comedy (Robert Youngson, 1957) is the fore-runner to That's Entertainment! series, but focusing on Mack Sennett and Hal Roach comedies of the roaring twenties. The follow-ups by Youngson are equally classic.


Mars And Beyond (Disney, 1957) with direction by Ward Kimball. My favorite Disney feature of all time with clever recreations of what life may be like on the Red Planet, but also a cameo by Donald Duck in a spoof on Martian comic stories.


History Of The Blue Movie (Alex de Renzy, 1970), although pretty hetero in its choice of material since it predates Boys In The Sand. My favorite scenes are in the fairly recent 16mm quickie involving the masseuse seduced by her client. Also curious use of Miles Davis' recently released B itches' Brew soundtrack over scenes in the mid-50s under-the-counter-at-your-local-camera-shop ditty The Nun's Story a.k.a. College Co-Ed. As for that 1921 film At The Beach set in Idlewild Beach where the men are idle and the women are wild... um, be careful of how you describe it here.


Mysterious Castles Of Clay (Joan & Alan Root, 1978)... drama and intrigue in a Kenya termite mound.

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Along the Coast (1958) A documentary short from Agnès Varda that looks at the French Riviera. Varda introduces the tourists, regular people, examining their beach habits and beach attire. The short functions as a fashion retrospective on swimsuits and hats.  Interspersed are scenes from the Cannes Film Festival, with celebrities such as Sophia Loren.  Varda closes with a look at the plant life that adds to the region’s beauty.  Filmed in vivid color, this documentary reminds us that, yes, the French Riviera is very beautiful. This was made in conjunction with the French Tourism Bureau. 

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Did anyone else catch Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache when TCM showed it recently? Number 1; It was a very detailed look at the life and career of the pioneering woman director who had been so far under the radar as to be almost entirely unknown. Number 2: It was in itself an exemplary documentary film, expertly spanning eras and locations using extremely clever visuals to do so. She worked in both the United States and France and in both creative and business aspects of what wasn't even an "industry" yet, basically in every aspect of filmmaking. Plus there was a generous selection of excerpts from her films, which have been gradually unearthed from vaults and collections around the world, with the expectation that more will be found. Eye-opening, entertaining and extremely informative. 

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