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Africa’s Last Romantic

The Films, Books and Expeditions of John L. Brom

Olga Brom Spencer and Glenn Reynolds

Africa’s Last Romantic: The Films, Books and Expeditions of John L. Brom captures the drama and excitement of John L. Brom’s film expeditions from 1949 to 1962 through sub-Saharan Africa. Brom was the only explorer to follow the footsteps of Henry Morton Stanley and in a documentary interviewed the two last survivors of Stanley’s expeditions from 1874 to 1890. In 1955 he also interviewed the famous nineteenth-century East African slave trader Tippu Tip’s grandson, who defended his grandfather’s trade. Brom’s expedition was the basis for his bestseller 20,000 Miles in the African Jungle, which was translated into eleven languages. Brom managed to interview and film the rulers and tribes he encountered before they were decimated in the civil wars of the Congo after independence, and his historic films are now preserved in the Human Studies Film Archives of the Smithsonian Institution. Over 500 articles were published on Brom’s work on both sides of the Atlantic during his lifetime. Africa’s Last Romantic is a useful addition to college courses in Third World cinema, cinema studies, and African history.
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Chapter 12: Stanley’s Great Journey


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Brom was getting ready for his next African expedition. He was in excellent health, bursting with creative energy and had financing secured by his producer in Paris, as well as by the partners in Germany, where documentary films about Africa were in high demand. There was only one important factor missing: the topic for the next journey. He wanted to create a great film that would attract general moviegoers in Europe and bring him attractive financial gain. But in spite of intensive work, the decision remained elusive. None of the available topics seemed to satisfy him. Stories and summaries of various interesting tribes were accumulating on his desk and Brom’s ambivalence was growing with every additional proposal.

One Sunday, frustrated, Brom decided to distract himself by driving to the Port de Clignancourt, where in the 1950s a popular marche aux puces1 was held regularly. Thousands of Parisians, young and old, invaded the hundreds of antique stores, boutiques and outdoor exhibits, hunting for treasures. Guided by providence, as so often happened in his life, Brom entered an old antiquarian bookstore where on a dusty shelf he found a book entitled Through the Black Continent. It was this very tome that would ultimately lead to his most successful expedition in Africa—as if Henry Morton Stanley had waited patiently in that old bookstore to give Brom the opportunity to walk in his footsteps, 80 years after his own...

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