I Saw A Film!
The European fascination with the fantastic possibilities of the strange and legendary wasn’t limited to the ignorant past. No, indeed film-makers and other story-tellers maintained a magic Africa long beyond the crossing of the Sahara and even well past satellite mapping of the continent. From Herodotus to H. Rider Haggard, the 19th century pioneer of exotic location fiction (who created Quatermain), fueled white Western expectations well into current times. And I daresay it is an element of what stunts the growth of the perception of the African continent as nations and peoples, struggling to join the modern world while balancing environmental concerns and controlling power-mad despots, hope for understanding, respect and wealthy assistance (as opposed to ridiculous fantasy and weapons).
OK putting aside the inherent racism (too often the writers of these things weren’t even trying), the fictional creations attributed to “Africa” in films such as King Solomon’s Treasure are often inconceivably ludicrous. In our current discussion, Patrick McNee (the guy who did the voiceover for Battlestar Galactica), David McCallum (AKA Illya Kuryakin in the Man From U.N.C.L.E.), and John Colicos (the guy who lead the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica) as Allan Quatermain, legedary adventurer/hunter travel to the “dark continent” with a basic ideal of looting a treasure. This is another bit of hopeless fantasy, uncovering wealth locked away in torturously accessed foreign lands (a bit like our oil imperialism) but assumed to be available to anyone who “discovers” it (again like our oil . . . ), requires the story be told in an age when white men were presumed walking gods, and none more superior than the Victorians, who created these tales originally (just like the Kinks said in “Victoria”), to lend it anything like a worthy adventure tale that a six year old won’t instantly poke holes in. In this sprawling jaunt our daring team locate not only dinosaurs (to the general theory of: Why not!) but a lost Carthagenian city ruled over by a white queen played by Brit Eklund! Their ancient galley is a laughable construct our heroes have to keep from snickering at.
Treasure hunts like this allow for a kind of endless ping-ponging around unconnected events. These things happen as we walk across uncharted landscapes, nature clips, claymation dinosaurs, attacks from leopard-skin wearing tribesmen (giving our heroes something to unhesitatingly blast with their rifles), and on and on. The usual trepidation and angst of being in a foreign and frightening world and suddenly being soothed by the siting of a white woman sitting atop a white throne always sends home the gasping poverty of our care to actually have a picture in which, even to this day, actual Africans are portrayed along with actual legends and actual meaningful exchange. Most of the time the boys are simply shooting the place up, as if it were an old Tarzan short (another favorite white conceit).
Of course it’s just an adventure film wrapped up in a kind of “plausible” landscape. Victorians did indeed march all over Africa, shoot hundreds of Zulus, and spread countless diseases, as well as discover a few. I’m just not sure these sorts of tales help us with our relationships or our understanding of the world at large. I do recall being excited about the possibility of geothermal paradises existing in Antarctica, but it looks like our satellite tech has forever obliterated that sort of refuge of dinosaurs and uncontacted wildmen with a white queen.
Granted, legends and mythos abound to this day surrounding things like the Pyramids and other Egyptian monument devotion. Of course, it was all built on the backs of slaves in the paltry and meaningless devotion to feudalism. As Henry David Thoreau aptly pointed out the Pharoahs should have been tossed in the Nile, we democracy-loving enablers of the everyman (who finally ended our slavery) should not be impressed with the monstrous expense and brutality those monuments represent. But then, it’s impossible not to marvel. There are still archeologists (though, not well respected ones) who regularly think they’ve discovered the 3000 room temples on the Nile described by Herodotus in the Histories. But it’s also well known that Herodotus went nowhere and accepted like a gullible buffoon most of what he was told. He did manage to get some things quite right, but much of what he wrote can be safely ignored as a testament of actual history. Our ancient writers weren’t much for depicting fact. A reason why it’s unlikely we’ll find Troy, or any treasure of some ancient King Solomon.
This is running free on prime and a pretty good unintentional comic romp (though as I say that, it’s possible we’re not meant to take these stories too seriously) . And, if, after all, our interest in the universe spawns “War of the Worlds” why not a few “boys tales” of incredible treasure in some far-away locale protected by dinosaurs and somehow pertinent to ancient scripture and the idea of revealed knowledge from such.