Friday, 11 July 2014

A Welcome Reminder of a Bygone Era

The greatest...

Last night just as I was settling into bed after finishing the grade of another section of "Of Shark and Man" (I say "night," it was 3am...) a link popped up on my Facebook timeline which genuinely excited me, it was a Youtube link for the full hour long, 1983 National Geographic special, "Sharks" or "The Sharks" as it was titled on its VHS release.

I can't tell you how many times I watched this as a kid, a hundred plus easy, but since the advent of DVD and Blu-Ray (and laser disc but the less said about that the better) and the phasing out of VHS players it must be around twenty years since I saw it last.

Coincidentally I had been speaking to my friend Jason earlier that evening, about how much of a drastic nosedive the genre of factual shark film has taken in the last fifteen years or so. Of course there is still some good stuff, "Sharkwater" for all its flaws is still a great film, I enjoyed "Extinction Soup," I love the "Sarah Shark" series and every year Shark Week seems to come up with the odd gem here and there ("Alien Sharks," "Great White Highway" from last year as two examples) but the good stuff is becoming increasingly more difficult to find in amongst the various vanity projects, hyperbolic exploitation pieces (Red Sea Jaws) and the downright cheap and nasty (feeding watermelons and hot dogs to sharks anyone?) so this was a really welcome reminder of a time when people actually respected the craft of film-making.

The heyday for shark documentaries is unquestionably the period from the greatest of the all, "Blue Water White Death," (1971) to the mid-nineties when the technology had advanced but not to the point where it was ultimately detrimental to the art of storytelling. If you watch "Sharks" you will not only notice the obvious amount of time spent making the film (something incredibly rare these days, after all, why bother going to the effort of shooting your own footage when you can just use stock footage on the cheap right?) but also the cinematography, the sound design, the raw, natural and unscripted aspects, the almost poetic narration and perhaps most of all, the sheer weight of content within the hour. This is honest, beautifully crafted and real documentary film-making and reminds those of us old enough to remember, an hour long TV slot used to mean an hour of content as opposed to 47 minutes of content wrapped around what the broadcaster really wants you to watch, the 13 minutes of commercials.

Look at those involved on screen as well, The Taylors, Eugenie Clark, John McCosker, Richard Ellis, all of whom are there because they have earned the right to be there, they have something of value to add, they're not there because they look cool, because they do as they're told or because they've bought their way in, they're there because they're awesome.

I make no bones about it, "Of Shark and Man" is a throwback to this golden age, I am purposefully constructing the film almost as an homage to the films that inspired me so much as a child and as I say in the film itself, "...nobody is making the films I want to see anymore so I figured I may as well just go and do it myself."

So all you shark lovers and documentary fans, take an hour, sit back and enjoy.

Big thanks to Scott Curaloto-Wagemann for linking it up in the first place

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