Staging an encounter

When the Rosses witness a corroboree—an Australian Aboriginal dance—, the camera and the editing not simply register the event, but highlight the moment of encounter.

Much of this lengthy sequence is staged in a frontal, presentational manner that is a staple of such filmic records of native dance and ritual, from the turn of the century to the present.1 The dancers often face us directly; the shots cut closer and back to the ensemble.

Yet, from the very beginning of the sequence–most of which was filmed in the session described by Ross in his writing (see: The business of shooting a ritual dance)–the encounter between the Aborigines and the Ross family is repeatedly foregrounded. The shot of the Rosses’ car arriving is answered by a point-of-view shot from their own perspective, showing the Aborigines marching ever closer towards the camera with their weapons drawn. Later, a shot of Ralph standing next to the dancers is followed by a similar point-of-view shot from his position, with a dancer performing towards the camera.

Similar to the other big dance sequence of Achtung Australien! Achtung Asien! (1930, see: Ethnographic spectacle with audience), Ralph and Renate are on hand within numerous shots as surrogates for European cinema audiences. In the penultimate shot of this excerpt, the film presents us with a more unintentional, and brief, encounter. Behind a group of dancers adorned with cotton balls, a man in white shirt and pants appears briefly in the background, hurrying into and out of the frame. Possibly, he was an intermediary who made contact with the dancers for Ross. In any case, the appearance of the dark-skinned man in present-day garments disrupts the dichotomy between modern whites and archaic natives that the preceding sequence has constructed.

Joachim Schätz

Colin Ross. Australien Reise [archive title]
[Excerpt from] Colin Ross. Achtung Australien! Achtung Asien! Das Doppelgesicht des Ostens. Germany: Ufa/Ullstein; 1930.

35mm | b&w | silent | 268m | 16 fps | 15’

Master:; 0:03:37,12-0:08:30,09

Clip: 0003-02-0139_Australien_Reise_X_OeFM_2016_H264-12Mbits-KFauto-CABAC_1440x1080_16fps_IsFormatOf_ProRes422HQ_3072x2160_24fps_00033713-00083009.mp4

Topic: Indigenous peoples
Case: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30


1 For another corroboree, shot in a similar fashion and with an interest in similar details (the paint, the scars on the chest...), see the last third of Primitive People - Australian Aborigines (1950s),  

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