Before television International News was seen at the movie theatres around the world thanks to newsclips shot by international organisations such as Pathé. Prior to seeing the main feature film, cinema goers were treated to sights and sounds from around the world. Well good news, much of the old black-and-white footage has been rediscovered and restored by Pathe themselves, and this week they released 80,000 film clips to YouTube, many from Indochina.
The footage includes what documentary makers might call pickup shots; backgrounds and scenes that themselves do not have much news value, but allow the filmmaker to set the scene. A lot of this footage has no sound, and in fact when Pathé put together their short news films for the cinema circuit they were heavily reliant on music and on voice-overs scripted by people who had never, apparently, been overseas themselves.
One of the short films released this week is an account of the annual paddle race at the Phnom Penh; 1945. The footage is exciting, and quite telling – revealing French and British troops in attendance. The voice-over makes no reference to the fact that western Cambodia had been annexed to Thailand at the time. It seems these news stories had no time for actual news! And unfortunately the scripted voice-over, in that British broadcasting voice characteristic of the day, is ugly, dishonorable and condescending to say the least. A lot of the “facts” are simply made up.
However, if we can look past this appalling example of colonialism, and turn down the sound then an interesting experience awaits. Some of the footage, the earliest being shot in 1910, connects modern Cambodia with life in the early to mid 20th century. It gives pause for reflection and inevitably asks the viewer; how has Cambodia changed? In what ways is Cambodia now different?
Here are just three links to this footage.
- 1910 – Buddhist ceremony
- 1945 – Cambodian Paddle Championships
- 1962(?) – Norodom Sihanouk, rural life and Khmer Dance
For more stories about Cambodian film:
- Haing S Ngor accepts Oscar for The Killing Fields
- Zombies! They’re here in Phnom Penh!
- Documentary about Pol Pot years
- Pop Music Documentary – Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten
- Still I Strive – a brilliant film worth checking out. It presents the story of a Phnom Penh orphanage (National Action Culture Assn. orphanage) that gives the children not only a good basic education, but also training in dance and acting. But don’t expect a mawkish doco: this is uplifting, exciting stuff!