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Fowler’s Flix 11.1.18: The Retro Afrika Collection

Retro Afrika Collection
Still from the film "Umbango."
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Throughout the 1980's, due to the evils of the South African system of Apartheid, many of the low-budget films that were made during that time period were destroyed and lost when the law was finally lifted. Gravel Road Films, however, has committed themselves to finding and remastering these forgotten flicks for a whole new generation of film fans on both an entertainment and a historical level.

While many of these films are reminiscent of Latin American movies due to the tight budgets, weak scripts and various non-actors in most roles, you’ve got to admit there is a brilliant resilience to this outsider art, with little-known auteurs who are willing to get these flicks made by any means necessary; it’s important to keep that resonance in the back of your mind when watching these nouveau classics of world film.

A mad bomber is on the loose in 1983’s backyard actioner Gone Crazy. A disgruntled employee at a chemical factory repeatedly tries to bomb the esteemed mayor’s house, with one flame-throwing weapon of no destruction after another. When those minor threats fail, that’s when he takes it upon himself to commit his biggest crime yet: to blow up the unnamed city’s dam and flood the whole damn thing…that is until a cool cop and a hip private investigator are brought in on the case.

Under the influence of many American televisions shows that were shipped down at the time, much of the action is more “tell” than “show,” but the ingenious way the filmmakers use the surrounding places and bizarre props to new and startling effect makes this a very effective film. Straight and very much to the point, Gone Crazy was a noble first entry in the Retro Afrika Collection, and definitely worth tracking down.

Less successful but by no means less interesting is Umbango, billed as the “first South African spaghetti western.” While admittedly a little hard to follow, set in the “wild west” of Kwazulu-Natal, two men accused of murder take on the ruthless gunfighter KK, who apparently is hell-bent of avenging his brother’s death. Or maybe it’s the other way around? While I can’t be too sure of what’s going, it’s still a lot of fun to watch.

To see these South Africans take on a broad western like this, utilizing their own history and geography through an Italian take based purely on American tropes, is both an interesting study in filmmaking and, perhaps more than that, a wholly engrossing catalog of the attitudes the people had towards American product at the time. Utilizing a bush dude-ranch to its fullest potential, Umbango, though confusing, is still a great little western, with plenty to offer oater fans.

Finally, we have the strange heist comedy Fishy Stones, made sometime in 1990. A very rushed but yet somehow still lackadaisical jewelry store robbery goes titsup when the two bandits are caught by the free-shooting coppers. Ditching the stones in the tall grass of the backwoods, the criminals eventually break out of jail and go looking for the loot which, unexpectedly, have been found by some kids camping.

Mistaken identities, forced kidnapping and plenty of goofy comedy—some of the laughs, I feel, is more than likely lost on Americans, sadly—make up most of the very short running time, with the cast hanging around in the wilderness for most of the movie, doing what needs to be done to reach that 70-minute mark. It’s an involving film, but probably the weakest of the trio.

Even so, it’s a very complete bird’s eye view of African film; all these films are, told from three different perspectives and genres that make a great example of a time long since forgotten, especially by South Africans themselves, for better or worse.

Next week: Country-ish music takes the stage…

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About the Author

Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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