The rather unlikely married pair of Martin and Osa Johnson deservedly became the best known explorer/filmmakers of all time, and this fascinating work demonstrates the reasons. Osa, who married the dauntless Martin in 1910 when she was sixteen, accompanied her husband on their many adventures in Africa, Asia and the South Pacific, as described in her delightful book, I MARRIED ADVENTURE. After establishing a home in Nairobi, British East Africa, the Johnsons begin what becomes a long (four year) safari to track the lion (Simba) into his lairs and this film is the gratifying result. As recorded here, the expedition's trip across Abyssinian and Kenyan veldts requires fording of rivers teeming with crocodiles and evading stampedes of elephants and other large beasts, including aggressive rhinos. Eight Kenyan tribes, the Samburu, Boran, Turkana, Meru, Kikuyu, Dorobo, Nandi and the powerful Lumbwa are filmed in some detail for the first, and generally final time, as are the nearly extinct gerenuk and sable antelopes. In the shadows of 17000 foot Mt. Kenya, the only snow capped peak straddling the equator, the explorers devise many unusual blinds from which they grind out thousands of feet of film, while frequently facing down curious animals seeking a tussle. The extraordinary power of this film rests largely in the fact that wild creatures, rather than humans, rule this region, and those aboard the Johnson expedition represent the first experience of veldt denizens with people, as is apparent throughout the footage. James Makubuya composes a score for SIMBA which incorporates traditional Kenyan melodies for its themes, and while eventually the syncopated rhythms become somewhat tedious, they generally blend well with this silent motion picture. Restored and released by Milestone, the print is sleek and the finished product is a tribute to the indefatigable Johnsons, who certainly create historic light for all of us into darkest Africa.
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