Friday, October 09, 2009

The Rose of Rhodesia

Die Rose von Rhodesia
ZA 1918. PC: Harold Shaw Film Productions. D, P, SC: Harold Shaw; DP: Henry Howse, Ernest G. Palmer; CAST: Edna Flugrath (Rose Randall), Marmaduke A. Wetherell (Jack Morel), Chief Kentani (Chief Ushakapilla), Prince Yumi (Mofti, his son), Howard Wyndham (Bob Randall? Fred Winters?); 1479 m /16 fps/ 80 min
From: NFM. Restored in 2006. Deutsche Zwischentitel. E-subtitles in English + Italian. Grand piano: Philip Carli. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 8 Oct 2009.

From the GCM Catalogue: "An African chief named Ushakapilla requests more land for his people from the colonial authorities. Denied for a third time, the chief decides to plan an uprising that will make his son Mofti ruler of Africa. To raise funds for buying weapons, he instructs his subjects to work in the white men’s diamond and gold mines. Meanwhile, in a distant city, the gigantic Rose Diamond is stolen from the directorial office of the Karoo Diamond Mines Syndicate. The police quickly identify the thief as Fred Winters, an overseer at the company, who manages to escape into the desert. After collapsing from exhaustion, Winters is found by one of Ushakapilla’s men, who steals the diamond but saves Winters by giving him water.
Arriving in Green Willows, a Rhodesian settlement, Winters teams up with Bob Randall, a failing gold prospector who spends most of his time in the local bar drowning his sorrows. Randall is living with his novelette-reading daughter Rose (played by Edna Flugrath). Initially interested romantically in the villain Winters, Rose eventually falls for Jack Morel, son of a local missionary. Jack is a close friend of Mofti, with whom he enjoys hunting. On one such safari, Mofti is fatally injured. Devastated, Ushakapilla abandons his plans for an uprising and gives the Rose Diamond to Jack and Rose as a wedding present. The couple return the diamond to its rightful owner, who in turn rewards them handsomely for their exemplary honesty. The film ends with a glimpse into the future: a vignette of Jack, now a clergyman, and his wife Rose, with their four infant children.
American-born Harold M. Shaw (1877?-1926) started out directing films for Edison in 1911 before leaving with his wife-to-be, the actress Edna Flugrath, for England, where both found success with the London Film Company. In 1916 Shaw and Flugrath signed contracts with South African entertainment mogul I.W. Schlesinger and his African Film Productions. Their first project was De Voortrekkers (1916), also known as Winning a Continent, a lavish historical epic intended to be the South African equivalent of Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. The film proved an immediate commercial success, and with time emerged as a central text in the political mythology of the country’s Dutch-speaking white Afrikaners. After falling out with Schlesinger, Shaw completed at least two more films as an independent director in South Africa, The Rose of Rhodesia and Thoroughbreds All (both 1918).
Shot at a Cape Town studio and in the Eastern Cape, The Rose of Rhodesia premiered as a 7-reel melodrama at Cape Town’s City Hall on 23 March 1918, where it was received badly. Its local distributor later called it “the biggest flop in the Cinema world”. Shaw likely re-edited the film and shortened it to 5 reels before releasing it in Britain, where it found a warmer reception. Reviewers particularly praised its “gorgeous African landscapes” and “the acting of the natives”. Promotional materials in Britain emphasized that the roles of Chief Ushakapilla and Mofti were played not by actors but by real “native” royalty: “Chief” Kentani and “Prince” Yumi.
The Rose of Rhodesia was thought lost until 1985, when an intact print with German intertitles was donated to the Nederlands Filmmuseum. The film was restored in 2006 by Elif Rongen-Kaynakci at Haghefilm for the NFM. The restored version is available for viewing online, together with a special issue of the film journal Screening the Past (No. 25, September 2009) edited by the authors of this note, in which the background of this unique cinematic find is further explored. – Vreni Hockenjos, Stephen Donovan".

I watched the beginning of this assured and interesting film. It is a professional production with a firm sense of narration and a white settler's viewpoint into the African situation. I saw the first scene with the African tribe and the ingenious robbery scene of the giant diamond. A film worth revisiting. - The restoration looks fine, and it is apparently based on a used screening print.

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