Monday, July 25, 2016

At the Movies: Tarzan

Edgar Rice Burroughs was one of our most prolific and inventive writers of adventure fantasy, and his Tarzan books were his most important. From the Wikpedia article:

In a Paris Review interview, Ray Bradbury said of Burroughs that "Edgar Rice Burroughs never would have looked upon himself as a social mover and shaker with social obligations. But as it turns out – and I love to say it because it upsets everyone terribly – Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world."[21] Bradbury continued that "By giving romance and adventure to a whole generation of boys, Burroughs caused them to go out and decide to become special."

In any case, he wrote the first books I read, and I soon read nearly everything he wrote.

The new Tarzan movie is silly, of course, but it aims at a serious subject, the brutal exploitation of the Congo by one of history's great villains, King Leopold II of Belgium. Leopold stays off screen, but one of his real life agents, Leon Rom, serves as the movie villain and Tarzan's antagonist. Alexander Skarsgard plays a ridiculously muscular but curiously effete Tarzan, Margot Robbie is suitably gorgeous, wet and dry, as Jane, and Christopher Waltz as Rom is not quite persuasively sinister.

The other real life character in the movie, George Washington Williams, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is much more interesting in real life than in the movie. A better movie would have been all about him.

From the article:

George Washington Williams (October 16, 1849 – August 2, 1891) was an American Civil War soldier, Christian minister, politician, lawyer, journalist, and writer on African-American history.

Shortly before his death he travelled to King Leopold II's Congo Free State. Shocked by what he saw, he wrote an open letter to Leopold in 1890 about the suffering of the region's inhabitants at the hands of Leopold's agents, which spurred the first public outcry against the regime running the Congo since such a regime had caused the loss of millions of lives.

The Congo was taken away from him as a result.

The real Leon Rom may or may not have been the model for Kurtz in Conrad's The Heart of Darkness.