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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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Introduction: Africa’s Last Romantic, by Glenn Reynolds


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Introduction: Africa’s Last Romantic

The Beckoning Land

The ‘golden’ era of European filmmaking in colonial Africa extended from about 1910 to 1960, as a result of increasing interest in the industrialized West in exotic images from distant countries. Following World War Two, Equatorial Africa in particular was a site targeted by filmmakers from all over the world to compete for something new and sensational. There was one European explorer, author and cineaste of the continent who remained fascinated by the fast-disappearing Africa of old, and who worked tirelessly to catalogue its many unique cultures undergoing rapid transition. John L. Brom, heralded for numerous treks through some of the most remote areas of the continent between 1949 and 1962, was in many ways a man born a century too late. Having read in his youth the thick tomes of earlier African exploration, he perhaps would have been more comfortable accompanying one of the many European explorers who traversed the beckoning land of Africa in the second half of the nineteenth century. Yet even in his own time, Brom emerged along with Armand Denis and Lewis Cotlow as one the most prolific postwar chroniclers of the ‘Africa of old’ as the continent veered fitfully toward independence.1 A resourceful man of remarkable wit and tenacity, Brom produced a steady stream of documentary films, books, and television specials on the unique cultural attributes of tribal Africa which were translated into numerous languages and went into wide circulation...

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