Penn Museum exhibit looks at a 1931 Hollywood expedition to the Amazon

The Penn Museum looks back at an unusual expedition in "Hollywood in the Amazon." Credit: Penn Museum Credit:
The Penn Museum looks back at an unusual expedition in “Hollywood in the Amazon.”
Credit: Penn Museum

In 1931, just four years after “The Jazz Singer” changed film history, an Amazonian expedition teaming a wealthy industrialist, a famed big game hunter, an Academy Award-winning cinematographer and a Penn Museum anthropologist would make its own history as the first time non-Western speakers were recorded on synch-sound film. But “Matto Grosso, the Great Brazilian Wilderness” would remain largely unseen for more than 75 years, until its 2008 restoration via a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Penn Museum’s small exhibition, “Hollywood in the Amazon,” presents the film along with artifacts brought back from the original expedition.

“It’s kind of a hodgepodge,” Kate Pourshariati, Penn Museum film archivist, says of “Matto Grosso.” “It’s really an expeditionary film, a depiction of what they were trying to do on the expedition. But there’s also a lot of made-up material, reenactments and stagings.”

That blend of fact and fiction was typical of documentary films of the era, most famously in Robert Flaherty’s landmark silent film “Nanook of the North.” Cinematographer Floyd Crosby, who would go on to shoot the western classic “High Noon” and a number of films for B-movie master Roger Corman (he’s also the father of rock star David Crosby), won his Oscar in 1931 for “Tabu,” a South Seas-set collaboration between Flaherty and F.W. Murnau.

It was that success that led to Crosby’s involvement in the Brazilian expedition, which was prompted by big game hunter Sasha Siemel, who boasted of his ability to spear a jaguar in mid-air —an attempt which, in fictionalized form, provides the climactic events of the film. He approached industrialist E.R. Fenimore Johnson, whose father had founded the Victor Talking Machine Company, who decided that a venture into the Amazon should have a somewhat more scientific purpose. Penn Museum anthropologist Vincenzo Petrullo signed on, and the party set out to “record some new fragment of the unrecorded,” as the film’s narrator says.

“They had the crazy idea to take all this state-of-the-art Hollywood gear down to Brazil, which is interesting in itself,” Pourshariati says. “And they were at this interesting moment for sound technology and had the foresight to be the first to film indigenous people speaking on film. The thing that’s most exciting to me is that it’s a first.”

“Hollywood in the Amazon”
Through July 27, 2014
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
3260 South St.
$10-$15 museum admission, 215-898-4000
www.penn.museum


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Inmate found dead in Suffolk County jail

An inmate at the South Bay House of Correction, run by the Suffolk County sheriff's office, was found dead inside a cell early Saturday.

News

Easter Egg hunt horror as skydiver plummets to…

A FAMILY Easter egg hunt ended in horror when a skydiver plummeted to his death in a New York garden after his parachute failed to…

News

Boston Marathon 2014 on high alert, Red Sox…

One year on from the horrific Boston Marathon bombings a ring of steel has been thrown around today's race, and a city stands defiant against…

Local

Hillary Clinton headed to Boston for women's leadership…

Former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to visit Massachusetts Wednesday amid continuing speculation about making another bid for the presidency in 2016.

The Word

Terry Richardson tried to trade Vogue spread for…

Last night, model Emma Appleton tweeted a screenshot of a text that appeared to be a proposition from Terry Richardson.

Television

‘Mad Men’ recap: Season 7, Episode 2, ‘A…

Peggy and Lou are horrible, Bert's racist, Don is honest(ish) and Roger and Pete are frustrated. "A Day's Work" not quite worthy of "This Will Be Our Year."

Television

'Game of Thrones' recap: Season 4, Episode 3,…

The problem with the devil you know is that ignoring them doesn’t mean they simply lie in wait. It allows them time to do things…

Television

Discovery cancels 'Everest Jump Live' special in wake…

The Discovery Channel has indicated it will not be moving forward with "Everest Jump Live," a planned special about mountain climber Joby Ogwyn's effort to…

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox walk off with…

Red Sox pick up first walk off win of 2014

MLB

Red Sox and Orioles meet Monday morning at…

Red Sox and Orioles meet Monday morning at 11 a.m.

NHL

NHL video highlights: Bruins smack down Red Wings…

NHL video highlights: Bruins smack down Red Wings in Game 2

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox defeat Orioles, 4-2

Brock Holt the difference in the Red Sox' win

Travel

Packing: The one thing you need in your…

A new survey that looks at the travel habits of 50,000 people around the world has revealed that Western and Asian globetrotters have different priorities…

Home

Is your chair making it hard to talk?

Ever wished there was an office chair that could make impromptu meetings and discussions more private? The Cristiana Wing Chair is an asymmetrical armchair which…

Travel

Live large at these luxury hotels

From Thai boxing lessons and macabre Dracula tours to the Australian Outback, the Four Seasons hotel chain launched a series of new travel packages this…

Parenting

4 things that every summer camp should have

Alan Saltz, director of the 92nd street Y program lists things that every summer camp should have.