Colin Ross film materials at the Austrian Film Museum

One of the elements that sparked Mapping Colin Ross was a collection of Ross’s film prints deposited at the Austrian Film Museum, Vienna. These prints had been donated in the late 1980s by Ross’s daughter, Renate Ross-Rahte (1915-2004). Except two, these are all 35mm duplicate positive nitrate prints. These prints can be arranged in three groups.

First, there are thirteen nitrate reels of footage shot in the United States between October 1938 and March 1939. These have never been edited into a finished and released film, because of a technical failure.1

The remainder of the nitrate prints, secondly, are all excerpts—albeit sometimes with an alternative montage—of four of Ross’s commercially released, feature-length travelogues: Die erwachende Sphinx (1927), Als Dreijähriger durch Afrika (1928), Achtung Australien! Achtung Asien! Das Doppelgesicht des Ostens (1930), and Das neue Asien (1940). Strictly speaking, however, these reels are only excerpts insofar as they are compared to the abovementioned titles. Their distinct titles indicate that in another sense they are complete: their length—not one reel runs over 15 minutes—suggests that they were used as moving image illustrations for Ross’s frequent lectures.

Finally, there are two acetate (or safety stock) positive prints that were originally jointly titled Australien. These prints have been compiled from footage shot in Australia and New Zealand and consist exclusively of family scenes. They are the only prints that have retained (sections of) the soundtrack of their parent film. Our best guess is that these two reels were made for purely private reasons, as the compiled scenes disregard storylines and brusquely interrupt Ross’s voiceover narration. Perhaps it was Renate Ross’s moving image memorial for her family, whom she had lost at a relatively young age: her younger brother Ralph Colin died at age 18 by lightning, in August 1941, during the war against the Soviet Union, while her parents, both Nazi supporters, committed suicide shortly before war’s ending, on April 29, 1945. Their journey in Australia and New Zealand was the last recorded one that the family made as a whole; it was also the film that featured Renate more frequently than the other travel films. The soundtrack may well have contributed to its commemorative function, as all family members had dubbed their own voices for this, Ross’s first sound film.

A key part of our project was to make as much of these film materials accessible as possible. For preservation, new acetate negative prints were struck of all thirteen reels with US footage as well as of the four reels with silent excerpts from Achtung Australien! Achtung Asien! for future use. Digital high resolution frame-by-frame scans of all these prints as well as of the two, relatively well-preserved sound reels are featured in the online exhibition.

Nico de Klerk

1 See for more information: American journeys – the film materials. There are also two cans with loose, short strips of film shot at various identified and unidentified locations in the US.

Film strip from Ross's American footage 1938/39 at the Austrian Film Museum

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