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Whaling Afloat and Ashore (1908)


Main image of Whaling Afloat and Ashore (1908)
35mm, black and white, silent, 730 feet
Production CompanyPaul's Animatograph Works
ProducerR.W. Paul

A look at whaling off the Irish coast

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Although R.W. Paul remained in the film business until 1910, Whaling Afloat and Ashore is thought to be the last of his films to survive, and exists only in an incomplete copy. Filmed in Ireland (along with several other films, now lost), it is thought to have been made to commemorate the opening of the Arranmore Whaling Company at South Iniskea, an island off the north-west Irish coast.

It is immediately notable for its length and variety. Two years earlier, Paul's cameraman had made a very static and repetitive film of the Aberdeen University quarter-centenary celebrations, but here there seems to be a genuine effort to instruct the audience in the process of whaling, in much the same way that the near-contemporary A Visit to Peek Frean and Co's Biscuit Works (Cricks and Martin, 1906), showed every detail of the biscuit-making process. Although the term 'documentary' had yet to be coined, this film is a clear ancestor of pioneering works like John Grierson's Drifters (1929) and Robert Flaherty's Man of Aran (1934), albeit made over two decades earlier.

It starts on board ship, with the whale sighted and harpooned (and the camera impressively steady), but the bulk of the film takes place ashore. Here, each stage of processing the whale's corpse into a series of marketable products is depicted in unflinching detail, notably the stripping of blubber off the skeleton. The whalebone is then cleaned, while the blubber is cut up and processed into oil.

The film ends with a sequence of Irish and Norwegian whalers letting their hair down by participating in a variety of sports, including dancing, wrestling, trials of strength and a sack race.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'R.W. Paul: The Collected Films 1895-1908', with music by Stephen Horne and optional commentary by Ian Christie.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Whaling afloat (3:52)
2. Whaling ashore (8:16)
Complete film (12:09)
Drifters (1929)
Man of Aran (1934)
Visit to Peek Frean and Co.'s Biscuit Works, A (1906)
A Year in Film: 1908
Paul's Animatograph Works: Longer Actualities