Saturday, August 04, 2007

Films Go Wild, then ABBA Goes Wild

Movie-goers in the late 20s just LOVED to watch pseudo-documentary footage of safaris and expeditions, even more than they loved watching gangsters drive their cars around. On the release of yet another safari film -- "Simba: King of the Beasts" -- the New Yorker film reviewer suddenly cracks on February 4, 1928, and he gives us a wonderful catalog of jungle-film stereotypes:
What with one movie and another I have seen more of Africa than Trader Horn. Victoria Falls is as familiar to me as Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street, thanks to the Fifth Avenue Playhouse, where they will not show pictures of battleships but where they will and do show at least twice a month a picture of Victoria Falls. Thirty-two thousand natives have cavorted before my eyes in honor of the Rain God, or the Sun God, or just for the fun of it. I have seen countless crocodiles slip into every known river in Africa, and then have watched most of them waddle out again. There isn't a monkey in Africa that has not flitted across some of the screens that I have looked at. Hartebeests, wildebeests, and allmenarebeests have shyly rushed across every horizon of the Dark Continent while I have peered at them from theatre seats. As surely as I know my bootlegger's name so surely do I know that a lion can be chased twice without its developing any hard feelings, but that the third time he (or she) will get irritated and eat you up. N'koko incoge ke wa kirria ambwini ngogudema. With the proper incentive I could lower Stanley's time for finding Livingstone by six months, three days, and one minute to change pictures.
I'm unable to find a reference for his "N'koko" native talk, so can only assume it's his transliteration of something he saw on-screen.

Then ABBA Goes Wild

ABBA made a lot of baffling novelty songs in their early years. One that really takes the cake is "What About Livingstone." Agnetha berates some poor people at a newspaper stand who are questioning the worth of the space program, and to teach them a lesson she shrieks out:
What about Livingstone?
What about all those men
Who have sacrificed their lives to lead the way?
Tell me, wasn't it worth the while
Travelling up the Nile?
Putting themselves on the test,
Didn't that help the rest?
Wasn't it worth it then?
What about Livingstone?
We never learn how the people reacted at the newspaper stand, unfortunately, but somehow the song was never a hit.


Eric Little said...

Maybe they should have titled it, "What about Amundsen?"

All those African pseudo-documentaries came in handy later when studios made movies about Africa --particularly the Tarzan series--on their backlots. Then they could just splice in a herd of elephants charging or a bunch of baboons fleeing with the other scenes, such as Johnny Weismuller wrestling some toothless old lion--excuse me, "Simba." And I can just hear Weismuller's voice saying "N'koko." (I don't know what it means either.)

Reminds me--I forgot to send Cheeta a 75th birthday present.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

The film editors must have shed a tear when they went to colour...they had to find new footage to splice in!

But without that old stock footage, Ed Wood's movies would have been far too short.