South Africa

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South Africa

South African landscapes provide us with the lush greens of the jungle, the dry grass of the savanna, the majesty of the mountains, the eroded clay of the desert and the high-rise mortar of the city. A filmmaker can find there any background desired as the scenery for his motion picture, but variety is not the only true value of the African landscape. Here we find the lush, well tended greens that represent the wealth and control of the Europeans who have invaded the country; the dry savannas where the animals roam freely, but the native peoples are restricted; the eroded clay that somehow manages to sustain life and reminds us of the outlying township slums that somehow sustain oppressed lives; and the stifling city where a restrictive government and looming skyscrapers bear down to oppress the human spirit. According to Hugo Munsterberg, "the photoplay tells us the human story by overcoming the forms of the outer world, namely, space, time and causality, and by adjusting the events to the forms of the inner world, namely attention, memory, imagination, and emotion" (104). The South African landscape reflects its country’s history and the struggle of its people, and when a director chooses it carefully for background in his film, it can add emotional and symbolic depth to his message.

In 1652, the Dutch East India Company came from Europe to South African soil to set up a fort for the purpose of replenishing their ships with supplies. The Europeans, in their high and mighty way, saw South Africa as land for the taking complete with savages and rugged landscapes to be tamed and civilized, and so begin the colonization of the country. When Cy Enfield’s Zulu (1964) opens, Lieutenant John Chard is attempting to tame a piece of that landscape as he is trying to build a bridge across the river at Rourke’s Drift. Ironically, the mountains surrounding Rourke’s Drift present an untamable foe to the one hundred forty British soldiers camped there. The soldiers have been informed that the Zulu are coming, and the audience is drawn into the soldiers’ world while together they watch for the destined attack along the elevated landscape.

The soldiers find themselves facing thousands of skillful and determined native warriors who seem to appear from nowhere with the help of the natural mountain formations and the dry grass that hides them.

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