The c.d.; the film; the installation….
White Shadows In The South Seas is the title of a book written by Frederick O’Brien in 1919; part of a trilogy he wrote based on his experiences living in the Pacific islands. His book was taken as the starting point for a film to be directed, initially, by Robert Flaherty with W.S.Van Dyke as his support. The film, ultimately, apart from the title, had nothing to do with O’Brien’s book and Flaherty left the film after a few months leaving Van Dyke to finish it.
Because of my on going fascination with all things Pacific, when I discovered this film I started to present it as part of my Live Music/Silent films repertoire. Tabu by Frederick Murnau, which coincidently also had Flaherty as co-director originally, was the first film I ever wrote/improvised and presented as a live performance.
Another of my eclectic and diverse artistic interests is in ‘Exotica’ and ‘Ambient’ music. I have produced several volumes of so called ‘Electronic, Ambient, Exotica’ on c.d. and vinyl. Kiribati, Globe Notes, Rayon Hula (both in vinyl, c.d. and digital format) and most recently New Globe Note on vinyl and White Shadows In The South Seas on c.d. which features some of my music presented in my live screenings of the film.
In February 2014 “A White Shadow In The South Seas” was the title of an audio visual installation I made at the Teatro In Scatola in Rome, Italy, presented as part of a series of sound installations titled ‘Visitazioni’ produced by Proposte Sonore.
White Shadows In The South Seas – from Room40 Records RM454
AUDIO sample track – 08 A WHITE SHADOW PASSES
White Shadows In The South Seas – c.d. cover inner
A WHITE SHADOW IN THE SOUTH SEAS – THE FILM
A silent film for screening with a live score written and performed by
Featuring music from the c.d. of the same name
Directed by W. S. Van Dyke and Robert Flaherty – 1928.
Cast: Monte Blue (Dr. Matthew Lloyd), Raquel Torres (Fayaway), Robert Anderson (Sebastian)
The film, based on the 1919 novel of the same name by Frederick O’Brien began production in 1927 as a co-venture between documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty and MGM and was filmed in Tahiti despite the opening credits saying it was in the Marquesas islands. O’Brien’s original novel was set in the Marquesas.
The film is known for being the first MGM picture to be released with a pre-recorded soundtrack. The soundtrack consisted of a romantic score by William Axt and David Mendoza, with a few sound effects such as wind howling, a storm, trees ruffling and one faint word “Hello”. The Tahitian location was sumptuously captured by cameramen Clyde De Vinna and Bob Roberts. De Vinna picked up an Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 1929.
The film features a supporting cast of almost all Tahitian islanders and/or actors with only the featured stars and a few heavies/villains coming from Hollywood. Flaherty, upon arriving in Tahiti, began shooting the film at a slow pace and after clashing with Van Dyke, left the production, leaving Van Dyke as sole director for the film. However, Flaherty did shoot some scenes before departing the production, and some footage of his may be seen in the existing print.
His ship is caught in a typhoon and Lloyd is shipwrecked–freed from the ship’s wheel–and washed ashore on another island as yet untouched by the “White Shadows.” He is rejuvenated by the pristine environment and the innocent people, who embrace him as a god. But the corruption of civilization is too close and the world too small for paradise to be eternal.
An Audio / Visual Installation
A WHITE SHADOW IN THE SOUTH SEA
This piece was first installed at Teatro In Scatola as part of a series of international sound installations organised by Proposte Sonore in Rome in 2014 titled Visitazioni .
The video clip was shot from behind one of three mosquito net ‘tents’ used in the piece with an excerpt from my super eight film Planet Pacific-Pieces Of Heaven? projected onto it.
photo – Leila Buongiorno
The essay below, as well as our collection of Hawaiian shirts and Exotica and Hawaiian vinyl records, was an inspiration for this installation.
‘..the transformation and reconstitution of the souvenir commodity as an indigenous ethnic art form and a scarce relic of Hawai’i’s romanticized past…’ from – Clothing and Textile Reasearch Journal – From Kitsch to Chic by Marcia A. Morgado.
Photo – Leila Buongiorno
Michael Thompson’s Rubbish Theory (1979)
‘ …a critical aspect of Western culture is the pre-disposition to see objects in terms of two overt categories: the transient and the durable. Objects identified as transient have finite life spans and lose value over time, whereas those identified as durable have infinite lives and over time increae in value….category assignments are arbitrary, but once assigned a category membership determines relative value. Fashion apparel-by defenition-is assigned to the transient category; paintings commonly are designated durables….how is it that transient objects.. ( e.g. Hawaiian shirts and vinyl records ) ..sometimes become durables.
Photo – Leila Buongiorno.
Thompson proposes that between the overt categories lies a covert category,
which he calls………………………………
Objects assigned to the rubbish category are largely invisible, have no value and, ideally, no life span. Fashion for example, no longer worn and relegated to the back of the wardrobe has fallen into the covert rubbish category. But rubbish can be rescued and transformed. Thompson says ‘ What I believe happens is a transient object gradually declining in value and in expected life span may slide across into rubbish. Here it exists in a timeless and valueless limbo where it has a chance to be re-discovered and be successfully transformed to a durable. Such transferes are radical: objects gradually slide from transcience to rubbish, but the transformation from rubbish to durable involves an all-or-nothing leap across two boundaries, that separating the worthless from the valuable and that between the covert and the overt. Things drift into obscurity but they leap into prominence.
The delightful consequence of this hypothesis is that in order to study the social control of value we must study rubbish……..
photo – Leila Buongiorno.
The rubbish-to-durable transformation is accompanied by the development of highly specialized knowledge derived from the discovery of subtle variations and complex details that went unnoticed in the objects transient stage. The discoveries initiate renewed interest in the object and its market value begins to climb. As prices soar beyond the reach of ordinary people, the object becomes available only in high priced collectors’ markets. Furthermore, as market values rise, the aesthetic value of the object undergoes a reassessment as well, and it becomes increasingly apparent that the objects intrinsic beauty has been overlooked. Ultimately the object is re -assigned as a durable and becomes recognized as a timeless classic.
Photo – Leila Buongiorno.
Leila Buongiorno’s photographs are copyright.
Exotica, Ambience and Pacificism – A dialogue with Mike Cooper & Professor Philip Hayward Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor of Research Southern Cross University, Lismore, Australia.
Switching Tracks: Improvising Music for the Screen – A Discussion with Mike Cooper – Prof. Philip Hayward