The Lost World

Year: 1925
Production Co: First National Pictures
Director: Harry O Hoyt
Writer: Arthur Conan Doyle
Cast: Wallace Beery, Bessie Love, Lewis Stone, Lloyd Hughes
It's funny to think films can be historical pieces. With the exception of Birth of a Nation this is the oldest film I've seen, predating not just colour and sound but Hollywood, the director as creative figurehead and most of the other institutions we equate with the movies. Harry O Hoyt is listed in the credits as 'camera director' or something similarly inauspicious.

It's also interesting to realise how films were about the stylisation of speech, action and emotion. Actors operated within a very constrained canon of movement and expression that was made up and portrayed especially for the screen. Watch the heroine's many vacant, far-off gazes to denote sadness or the knuckle in the mouth to denote horror. It's almost a parody of reality, and if the filmmakers of that era could see a movie nowadays with their depiction of swearing, sex, violence and raw emotion they'd think they were looking at a different medium altogether.

It was also a very different world as far as theme and entertainment went. Nowadays, a kid wanting to do a movie about travellers going to an island of dinosaurs with little theme except for the spectacle would be laughed out of a production office or rejected outright by a publisher.

In those days, Conan Doyle, Twain, Dickens and their contemporaries just told stories, and they didn't need deeper meanings or subtext to make them politically relevant. Watching two stop-motion plastecine models fight each other in a miniature rainforest of plastic trees was reason enough to enjoy a movie.

If you don't know Conan Doyle's story you don't take enough notice of popular culture. It's the classics Land Time Forgot archetype before there was one, a pocket of landscape the Triassic era never left. In this case it's a high plateau in the South American Amazon, and a group of intrepid explorers plus one gasping bimbo travel there from London to come back with proof dinosaurs exist.

In 1925 this seemed altogether possible, but even in this day and age where no corner of the Earth hasn't been at least photographed by satellite we share a common cultural fantasy that such mysterious places exist - just look at the enduring popularity of King Kong and it's many remakes and homages idealising not jut a giant gorilla but his romantic Skull Island home.

The troupe includes a borderline crazy scientist disgraced because of his claims but determined to bring back a live specimen and clear his name, played by 1920s star Wallace Beery and looking like a cartoon Tolstoy.

The hero is a reporter whose newspaper funds the expedition with the promise of an exclusive, who also goes to show his impetuous, immature fiancé he can look death in the face. They're joined by a famous hunter and the bimbo, whose father has gone missing looking for the fabled plateau and who they hope to bring back alive.

After watching various beasts fight and raise hell, they get their chance to snatch an injured Brontosaurus and bring it back to London, where it busts loose from the ship (off camera - effects too expansive for 1925) and goes on the rampage through London, knocking over statues menacing the populace and falling through Tower Bridge into the Thames.

This was the days long before not just special effects (it was the first film to use stop motion animation) but the modern nuances of editing and direction, so expect a very different experience of cinema than you're used to. We can only hope that such unabashed fun for its own sake might become fashionable at the movies again...

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