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Aphis, The (1930)


Main image of Aphis, The (1930)
For Secrets of Nature
35mm, black and white, 9 mins
DirectorMary Field
Production CompanyBritish Instructional Films
PhotographyCharles Head
MusicJack Beaver

The life cycle of the rose aphid (Macrosiphum Roseus).

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Mary Field joined British Instructional Films as education manager in 1927, and would go on to collaborate with other prodigious figures such as Percy Smith and J. Valentine Durden, becoming series editor of Secrets of Nature (1922-33) in 1929. The Aphis, which she directed, is a delightful view of the miniature realm of aphids, set to a pleasant stringed accompaniment and a stiff, but rather charming oral narration. In line with the continuous theme of early insect films, the intention here is to take a familiar subject and reveal details previously unknown to audiences. Aphids are especially fond of rose buds and broad beans, both popular plants in Britain, but while many viewers were no doubt aware of these pesky bugs, few would have known much about their life cycle or their relationships with other insects.

The film contains one of the most enduring analogies used in popular accounts of aphids and ants - that ants tend to aphids as humans tend to cattle, 'herding' them in order to extract their fluids. Not only does this encourage the viewer to think of aphids in terms of a much more familiar beast, it furthers the existing association of ants with working men, positioning ants as 'farmers'. The actual human farmer, shown spraying insecticide on his roses and beans, appears somewhat comical when we see him towards the end of the film (rather like a clumsy, frustrated giant), an effect of our prior absorption in the miniature world of the aphid. Like many of Field's films, The Aphis contains a number of descriptive tropes that were gaining prominence with the emergence of nature film as a popular media form, many of which remain current and effective today.

Adam Dodd

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Video Clips
1. The aphis colony (1:54)
Field, Mary (1896-1968)
Secrets of Nature (1922-33)