Sounder SIGN UP FOR FREE
Hear UR
Hear UR

Season 2, Episode 6 · 3 years ago

Episode 207 - The Woman Who Married Adventure

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Here you are in Times Square, following an usher across the plush carpeting that lines the aisles of the Earl Carol Theater. You escorted yourself through the lobby where some taxider made African animals were on display. Now you're lad between Gaudy rows of occupied wooden seats to the one you purchased for twenty five cents. The moving picture is about to start, so the highly decorated walls are only dimly illuminated. The theater is full of families from all over New York, here to see the newest anticipated hit film by the Documentarians Martin and Osa Johnson, Simba, King of the beasts. The film's bright and pulpy poster promised exotic drama and animal violence. That was sure to be popular. The lights go out as soon as you found your seat, and so begins the film that will change your life. Sure Enough, the screens curtains frame moving images is of a world that seems so different from your own. Like a portal into Africa, the screen displays exactly what the posters promised, images of the real thing. In a report on the film, the Chicago Daily Tribune wrote, Mr and Mrs Johnson met Lions, lots and lots of lions in their native hots sounds thrilling. Believe me, it is thrilling. It shouldn't take so much courage to face a line with a dependable gun. Mrs Johnson, by the way, is quite pretty enough to be in the movies, Hollywood...

...movies, and she shows Simba. Don't be selfish and leave the children at home. This is the first time you had ever seen megafauna in action, a real living lion in his actual natural habitat, in total control of his surroundings. Simba, the King of beasts, who's prowess can only be challenged by the incontestable strength of Western mankind. This was the experience of nearly each patron of the Earl Carol Theater viewing the premiere of Simba, King of the beasts. Now, Simba was an immediate hit. They called it a groundbreaking travel log and the images of foreign and far away lands had such a cultural impact that we still feel it in pop culture today. You know Hakuna Matata and all that. One of the original taglines used to advertise Simba was you'll talk about it for a lifetime. Simba's popularity shows how important looking at animals became an American culture. Watching the Johnson's films suddenly let Americans experience exciting worlds they had never seen before, and we still love this. I mean, who hasn't watched planted earth? It's an animal you can't help but look up too. But what did we really know about Giraffe? But how did nature documentaries become so beloved by Americans? To find an answer, you need to ask a different question first, rather than how. Who? And the answer, of course, is Osa Johnson and her husband Martin. But where did they come from and how did a woman end up on Safari in Africa in one thousand nine hundred and twenty five shooting animals with motion picture cameras? Where...

...your hosts, Daria and Jess? In this episode of nature reconstructed, we tackle the revolutionary films of Martin and Osa Johnson that led to the first nature documentaries, the problematic practices that they took to create these documentaries and whether or not the Johnson's single handedly ended the golden age of taxidermy. This is here you are, season two nature reconstructed, episode six. The woman who married adventure, Osa Lady, was born on March fourteen one thousand eighteen ninety four in a small brick cottage in Chinoot, Kansas. She was raised with the same Victorian expectations of all girls in rural America to marry, settle down and raise a family, but not much as known about her childhood. In her autobiography, I married Adventure, she writes plenty about Martin's childhood, but nothing about her own. Really, her story in her own autobiography doesn't begin until she meets Martin. Martin and Osa met in one nineteen ten, when Osa was just sixteen years old. Osa was still in high school and her main worries in life were whether or not she would get the lead role in her choir's next show. Martin was nine years older than Osa, already twenty five and working in his motion picture house, the snark, in Independence Kansas. Osa had traveled to the big city to visit her childhood friend Gail Hamilton, but she stayed from Martin. They had a whirlwind romance and their first date started with a chariot race, not that kind of chariot race, according to to Osa. A chariot racing was a popular activity for young people in Kansas. I came upon a group getting ready to do a mixed cherry race. The name for this is really pretty accurately descriptive. Two Boys, fast, sure skaters, a harness together they're the horses, straps from their harness like reins. Go back to a third skater, a girl, who's the driver.

In the mixed races, six chariots were to start out, three abreast. As the chariots were moving into position, I saw one of the driver swerve and bend over right skate. Then she shook her head. Something was wrong. The band was blowing another fanfare. With a crazy, unaccountable impulse, I darted forward and told the girl I'd take her place. She looked startled but gave me the reins. There was a roll of drums, a blank cartridge was fired and we were off. The race didn't go well for Osa and she ended in a ditch along the track. A crowd descended on her, with Martin at the head. Upset and concerned, Martin pulled Osa out and led her away, ignoring her claims that she could still finish the race. Still, despite their disagreements over how a proper lady should act in public, Martin proposed to Osa the next week and they were married a month later. Osa might have been raised to be a well behaved wife, but their marriage was anything but typical. Martin had spent his early s traveling and making films for his theater. Once they were married, Osa went along with him on these journeys, but with her own experience performing in choirs, Osa wasn't content to remain a traveling companion forever. Eventually she became Martin's partner in film. The Johnson's early films, which were either not feature length or are lost today, portrayed fishing with dynamite in the Solomon Islands and the life of people in the South Sea. These films, which were considered by some to be realistic and unbiased observations of exotic life, attracted Carl Akeley and his friend George Eastman. By extension, the Johnson's soon received funding from a clee through the American Museum of Natural History and Eastman personally to film a feature length Safari Drama Simba, King of the beasts. The ensuing pictures Simba is the high mark of attainment in the cinematographic recording of adventure in Africa, the classic land of mystery, thrills and darksome savage drama. Through all the days of history.

The pages of African annals are bright with the names of living stone, Stanley do Shay, you, Agley, Roosevelt and raining, and now Martin and Osa Johnson. By this film record unfold a triumph that is both a sequel and a climax. You will see thrills without end, but no screen can never record the desperate chances which some of the most peaceful scenes of this production entail. Here is the astonishing record of the most remarkable African expedition symbol. Shown next is the stunning motion picture of African wildlife that had never been for been captured on camera. While Martin and Osa tell the story of their safari through text cards and B roll footage, like modern day nature documentaries, the Johnson's like to tell a series of stories by personifying the animals they shot and trying to explain their actions to the audience, especially by giving names to the animals, such as the Tembo family of elephants and, as in the title, Simba, King of the beasts. But it wasn't just for the animals that the Johnson's came up with these stories throughout the film. Native people too were subjected to this treatment. The natives of our country were a pastoral race of half savage blacks. Here was the age old story of man emerging from savagery. So it seems that the whole of Africa, people, animals and all, were an exotic oddity to the Johnson's, worth exhibiting through their film, but not exactly exhibiting in the same way as any nature documentary we'd see today. The Johnson's documentaries revealed deep seated issues of race and class under the light hearted umbrella of imperialism. In one image, Osa Johnson herself kneels beside the carcass of a dead lion. A rifle in her hand. Osa smiles at the camera, but she is not the only figure in the image, and the other one certainly isn't smiling behind her nails, a native man dressed in his own traditional headdress, acting like a prop in OAS's seen of...

...exotic Africa. This kind of representation of native peoples is unfortunately common in the Johnson's documentaries too. The Johnson's treat natives much like children. In her autobiography, I married Adventure Oser, writes we went to shore, taking with us our usual trade stuff and cameras, but these strange natives showed little interest either in us or our gifts. There were possibly thirty men, women and children about the small village when we landed, and they stared at us, but without either fear or curiosity. In most primitives the instinct to live is strong, but these people appeared to be wholly without even this impulse. Their apathy showed in the flattiness of their bodies, the decay of their four or five huts, the disintegration of their idols. There were no signs anywhere of either ceremonies or celebration. Mental and physical decay lay heavy here and saddened, I drew close to Martin. His sensitive mouth showed that he was affected exactly as I was by the hopeless lives of these people. Natives are also presented as savages. In their nineteen thirty film across the world with Mr and Missus Johnson, they present a group of natives they called the Salomon's, in traditional garb, waving guns and spears. Martin Johnson narrates the scene when we first arrived here. Oh See, naturally, just combing out of civilization didn't think very much of these savages. Of course, I had seen them before and I knew what to expect. I knew that they were cannibals and I knew that they were head hunters. At the same time, I had sort of a feeling children. Their childlike and really happy at times, although of course they are as cannibalistic as any people in the world. They have all kinds peculiar ornaments and their noses and their ears, and some of them to show that they've been in fights, although the Cannibal is really never a hard fighter, he's a coward. Now, while we were here, the way the Johnson's...

...captured animals on film was just as exploited. If the Johnson's and the team of natives they hired provoked lions by setting bait, throwing rocks and blowing pepper at them in order to get interesting film, they even began interacting directly with the wildlife, sometimes so much so that you are not seeing nature in its true form, but rather nature reacting to the imperialism of man, almost like you'd see in a zoo, such as this elephant experience. One day we were sitting by an ancient elephant trill, hoping something would happen. Upon spotting an elephant, Martin starts rolling the camera. OHSA picks up her giant rifle. Annoyed at finding us on the way, he turned off and to his disgust, there stood another camera. He tried again and there was also the Johnson's cameras. Now have the elephants surrounded. He turned this way and that way possible. Little annoyed a lot. This had been his trail for nearly a century, but also want looking for action she found the Johnson's presented their travels as innocent acts of filming nature for a public audience, but they were truly an active, exploitative imperialism. They presented nature not as it truly was, but as they wanted to capture it. So how does taxidermy fit into all this? It can be argued that documentary replaces Diorama in the realm of animal preservation. In our current day nature documentaries are widely accepted in society as meaningful representations of the natural world. They maintain a significant space in our culture, and what we don't often encounter any more is taxidermy. So that kind of leads to the question did the Johnson's single handedly end the golden age of taxidermy and certainly feels like film has almost entirely occupied the cultural space that taxidermy...

...once inhabited. Is this ironic, considering that taxidermy and film initially worked together to create a cultural narrative about natural spaces? In terms of what's going on with films of that time period, the very notion of trying to preserve something as actually pretty fraught with colonial discourses, with a lot of other things, but also with this idea of preserving something that's already dead. This is Dr June Huang, I'm an associate professor of German in modern lays to the cultures and also in film and Media Studies. Mary Louise Pratt talks about ethnography and ether graphic films as preservation of the the dead, so that you look at them as already a lost time or out of time or somehow not part of the historical moment, so that they're a historical and they're already lost and the hard job is and to preserve them. So in some ways a lot of these nature films and etherrographic films are doing a form of taxidermy themselves rather than look at still the animals in a reproduced environment, as you wouldn't Attack Dremy Diet Rama. Documentary presents living animals in their natural environment, not in a romanticized, picturesque representation of that environment. Or do they? There's no such thing as a true representation, right. So a film, a documentary, is always an interpretation. Pretty much any historical account, anything is always influenced by various discourses, by various biases. There's no way in which something is just a straight retelling. So this begs a question that will continue to shape our interpretation of nature reconstructed. Is there space for taxidermy alongside the advent of documentary film, or does the film remove the need for taxidermid animals and Natural History dioramas altogether? Here you are, as a podcast created by students at...

...the University of Rochester. This episode was produced by Daria Oliva and Jess Huntsiker. Our engineer was Rick Carl The music used on this episode was performed by Lobo Loco, Gilli cutty and Lee Rosevir. We'd also like to thank doctor June Huang for her interview, as well as our voice actors, you and Shannon and Rachel Koon's our. The music is by Joshua Copperman, the coordinating producers for this season. Up here you are are Maa laparde and Liam Gousius. The executive producers are Thomas Fleischmann and Stephen Reussner. Here you are. Is made possible by the teaching innovation grant at the University of Rochester. Be sure to check out the other episodes of here you are season two. Nature reconstructed at here you arecom thanks for listening.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (26)