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Crossing the Great Sagrada (1924)

Courtesy of Moving Image Communications

Main image of Crossing the Great Sagrada (1924)
35mm, black and white, silent, 935 feet
DirectorAdrian Brunel
Production CompanyAtlas-Biocraft

Cast: Adrian Brunel; Lionel Rich

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Holmes, Sweet and Holmes, the intrepid explorers, set forth on their expedition to Sagrada, sailing via the Bay of Biscay, up the langurous Salamander river and across the desert on camela.

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Crossing the Great Sagrada (1924) is a low-budget independent short made by Adrian Brunel. The film is a humorous spoof of a travelogue film; its title is a play on Crossing the Great Sahara (1924), a travel film made by Angus Buchanan. Travel films were popular in the 1920s, documenting foreign cultures in a way that tended to reflect imperial, nationalist and often racist stereotypes. Brunel sends up many of the conventions of the genre familiar to audiences.

One of the ways in which Crossing the Great Sagrada mocks the travelogue genre is by a series of plays on words, which appear throughout the film's plentiful intertitles. These titles impart the 'jokey' nature of the film, mimicking conventional credit sequences but mixing in a number of spoof names. The titles comment on stock footage of actual travel films, or on Brunel acting out parodic scenes in his garden.

The first scene is a prologue, with Brunel playing a number of characters involved in the funding of the supposed film. Brunel and his assistant Lionel Rich play travelogue filmmakers, as well as the fictional financier of the film, Lord Pford. The scene mocks both the self-importance of filmmakers and the cutthroat attitudes of financiers.

The film features a fast-paced series of text and images that constitute a mock journey into foreign territory. The 'heroes' journey through rivers, across deserts and finally reach the Sagrada, before returning home (and eventually dying on the way). But this journey is portrayed in an absurd manner, drawing attention to the artificial nature of the film. A title announces at one point that the film was shot on Blackpool beach, even though it is a representation of a desert. Titles, intended to provide narrative orientation, constantly give conflicting information, producing a confused, comic effect. Elsewhere there are conflicts between the titles and the images that they represent: at one point a title gives the location as Wapping, although the image which follows is an African village of mud huts.

Crossing the Great Sagrada satirises the colonial stereotype of 'native' people. It also places doubt upon the authenticity of many of these travel films, drawing attention to the way in which films can use 'artificial' locations (such as Blackpool beach) to represent 'authentic' ones (such as the Sahara desert). The film's surreal humour prefigures that of later innovative British comedy, such as Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Jamie Sexton

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Video Clips
Extract (2:00)
Crossing the Great Sahara (1924)
Sheer Trickery (1924)
Brunel, Adrian (1892-1958)
20s-30s Avant-Garde
Short Films
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