Samsara (2011)

On the official website of the film Samsara, you can read: “SAMSARA is a Sanskrit word that means ‘the ever turning wheel of life’ and is the point of departure for the filmmakers as they search for the elusive current of interconnection that runs through our lives.”

If you are like me, you will want to enjoy this visual masterpiece without too many preconceived notions. You will want to stop reading here and skip directly to the download link. But of course, you are welcome to read on. I will not reveal too much about the contents.

African warriors in Samsara (2011)

For all intents and purposes, Samsara is a silent film. Sure, it does have a soundtrack, but that soundtrack does nothing more and nothing less than a good soundtrack for a silent film from the 1920s. There is no spoken dialogue or narration, nor any background sounds that I can remember. The soundtrack rests entirely on the music, partly original music composed for the film. Some of the tracks have lyrics, but those lyrics are not directly related to the images, as far as I can tell. For example, there is a Swedish lullaby early on, but none of the images it accompanies seem to be in any way connected with the theme or the words. And yet, the music works extremely well, producing an almost hypnotic sensation.

But the most memorable and powerful aspect of the film is the visual images, filled with vibrant colours. The photography is exquisite, and so is the cutting. The tempo is slow, yet many sudden twists mean that we have time to see images from many different countries and many aspects of both nature and human life. This is a film filled with contrasts. Peacefulness and hostility. Untouched nature and huge cities. Ancient history and modern technology. East and west. Life and death. Religion and … well, I am not sure there is a contrast to religion, but the religious motif is definitely there, and it is very inclusive in the sense that several different religions are represented, and none is shown to be more important than the others.

Samsara is, indeed, a turning wheel of life. If it has a weakness, then it is that it tries to say too much. There is not one message in this film, but many, and perhaps that means it is spread just a little bit too thin, sending its energy into many directions at once. But that is a minor quibble, because who said that good art always has to be propagandistic?

This film is best enjoyed as cinematic poetry. It can be analyzed and interpreted endlessly, but will it enhance the enjoyment of viewing? I doubt it, though meditating about the many wonderful pictures may give you some insight into the world we live in, or even into your own self.

Dancers in Samsara (2011)

Samsara
Download link
Year: 2011
Running time: 1 h 42 min
Directors: Ron Fricke
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Low (720×304)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: Cinepack (1.4 G)

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Swamp Fire (1946)

Today it is exactly thirty years since Johnny Weissmuller passed away, the most iconic of the many Tarzan actors on the silver screen. Weissmuller, who was already famous for his achievements as a swimmer, including five Olympic gold medals, was the first to portray the ape man in a sound movie. When Weissmuller’s acting career started, Tarzan’s popularity was going downhill fast. Weissmuller’s twelve films turned that trend, and without them it is possible that Tarzan would not have such a strong iconic presence today.

As Weissmuller’s Tarzan career was nearing its inevitable end, he also made the film Swamp Fire. This is, in fact, Weissmuller’s only major role where he did not play either Tarzan, Jungle Jim or himself.

Buster Crabbe, Carol Thurston and Johnny Weissmuller in Swamp Fire (1946)

In Swamp Fire, Weissmuller plays Johnny Duval who returns home to the Louisiana bayou after service in World War II. But due to his traumatic experiences in the war, he cannot go back to his old job as a bar pilot. Duval wants to marry his old sweetheart Toni, but then there is the headstrong and rich city girl Janet Hilton, who has decided that she wants Duval for herself. To complicate things further, Buster Crabbe (who had also played Tarzan, in the film Tarzan the Fearless (1933)) plays Mike, who is also after Toni’s heart.

I guess, this being the Big Man’s death date and all, one should be respectful. But then, mommy always told me to tell the truth too and, truth be told, Swamp Fire would be a pretty nice little romantic melodrama if not for Weissmuller in the lead. Because while most of the other actors do what can be expected under the circumstances, and Buster Crabbe is really good, Weissmuller is mostly stiff and unconvincing. His acting repertoire turns out to be very limited, as he uses the same mannerisms here as in his Tarzans. But while they work there, they fail here.

This film is best enjoyed for the very unusual pairing of two Tarzan actors. Not only that, but Virginia Grey (Janet Hilton) had previously played against Weissmuller in Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942), and it would appear that the film is shot in the same swamp jungles as the very first Tarzan movie, Tarzan of the Apes (1918). For a final Tarzan connection, the film includes a Tarzan tribute scene where Duval wrestles with an overgrown alligator.

Carol Thurston, Johnny Weissmuller and Virginia Grey in Swamp Fire (1946)

Swamp Fire
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Year: 1946
Running time: 1 h 9 min
Director: William Pine
Stars: Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (688×519)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (1.4 G)

Tarzan of the Apes (1918)

Tarzan is often mentioned as one of the most iconic literary characters of the 20th century, after Sherlock Holmes and maybe Dracula. But Holmes and Dracula were both created in the 19th century, so perhaps Tarzan is the most iconic literary character to emerge during the 20th, disregarding comic characters such as Superman.

Today, when you think about Tarzan on the silver screen, you probably think first about Johnny Weissmuller, who played the ape man through most of the 30s and 40s. Starting with his films, and continuing for decades thereafter, the movies were not based on any of the books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Indeed, even the characters barely resembled those in the books (Boy and Cheeta were never in the books at all).

Stellan Windrow as Tarzan in Tarzan of the Apes (1918)

The first Tarzan movie Tarzan of the Apes, on the other hand, is very faithful to the original story. Perhaps too faithful, which may have been the reason why it was cut heavily, apparently from three hours originally, and even then they only did half the book. (The rest was adapted into a second film, The Romance of Tarzan (1918), which was thought lost until a partial print was discovered recently.)

But the existing film of only an hour is too short. You can feel the incoherence caused by the heavy cutting. Some films really deserve to be restored to their best possible versions. But restoration is expensive and time consuming, so for now we will have to settle with the butchered version.

The one-hour version at the Internet Archive is the longest extant version known to me (there are commercial releases with better music and image quality, but the same content). Yet, it can be assumed that other surviving versions contain material not used in this one. The best example is a 1937 cut of the first half of the film (Tarzan’s childhood) titled Tarzan the Boy, which was up for sale a while ago on eBay. Then there are rumours about a 73-minute version, and there are probably others. Even though a complete version may never be found, it should be possible to do considerably better than what exists at present.

The casting in the film is not exactly great. Even Edgar Rice Burroughs himself was said to be dissatisfied with Enid Markey as the young and beautiful Jane, and while Elmo Lincoln is certainly muscular enough, he does not exactly look like he could suddenly jump into a tree and start swingning away. Rather, he is lumbering around in the jungle. In fact, another actor, the Swede Stellan Windrow, was originally cast for the role, but he was drafted when shooting had only just begun. It is him we can see in some of the scenes where Tarzan swings through the trees.

The film was shot in the swamp jungles of Louisiana. A documentary was recently made about the filming. I have not seen it, but it is said to be very good.

This film is best enjoyed if you are unfamiliar with the original. It really is a great story, and this first filming tells it better than most later ones even though some liberties have been taken.

Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan holding Enid Markey as Jane in Tarzan of the Apes (1918)

Tarzan of the Apes
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Year: 1918
Running time: 60 min
Director: Scott Sidney
Stars: Elmo Lincoln
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Soundtrack: Poor, random music
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: DivX (426 M)