Baron Victor von Plessen’s “Kopfjäger von Borneo” (1936) is a magnificent early ethnographic film. A painter, ornithologist and ethnographer, von Plessen (1900-1980) apparently was an independent spirit of independent financial means. There is absolutely no indication for the fact that this was produced in Third Reich Germany, but this might nevertheless account for the relative obscurity into which this film has sadly fallen.
Made three years after Plessen’s “Insel der Dämonen”, “Kopfjäger von Borneo” is a half-fictional documentary much in the vein of Murnau’s “Tabu” or de la Falaise’s “Legong”. The plot involves a love story between a girl and a boy of incompatible social classes, but I assume very much that Plessen first filmed the village life and the social customs of the people of Borneo and then used this footage to adapt it to tell a mythical tale well known in that culture. A tale told, however, mostly via voice-over narration; there is little to no dialogue, which might account for the wrong designation of it as ‘silent’ in the imdb entry.
Unlike other ethnographical films of the time, there are no white people in the film, and it seems to me that Plessen wanted to show the original culture in an as ‘uninfluenced’ way as possible. In this respect, the film is perhaps even more important as an anthropological document than films by other directors, including those by Flaherty or W.S. van Dyke. Beautiful close-ups and magnificent nature images make this film attractive even if you don’t care for its ethnographical value. Knowing that it was photographed by Richard Angst might give you an indication of its visual beauty, but perhaps these screengrabs already speak for themselves
849MB | 1:04:47 | 576×448 | avi