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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 18: ‘Icoutou ya Congo’ (‘Name of the River is Congo’)


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The easiest part of their trans-African trip for the Broms was boarding the river boat ‘Baron Liebsbrecht” in Stanleyville. The two hundred meter long vessel featured comfortable cabins with showers and a fine restaurant. Passengers’ vehicles and merchandise were located on the platform in front of the boat and at that very point Brom found sufficient space for a prime position to place his Cinemascope camera and shoot scenic views of the villages. The trip, approximately 1600 miles, lasted a week and as the boat slid along the river, John filmed many small localities that had not changed since Stanley’s era. However, a key question remained for Brom: had the people stayed the same as well, or had they changed?

Stanley’s heroic descent and navigation of the Congo as described in Chapter Twelve was saturated with incredible dangers and constant attacks by cannibalistic river tribes that, upon sighting the expedition yelled, “Flesh, Flesh!” It was hard to imagine that the friendly village people standing on the banks in 1956 were the first and second generation descendants of the wild and savage villagers of the days of Stanley.

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