Ray Funk and Andrew Martin
Of all the early films involving calypso, Windjammer is perhaps the strangest and rarest of the lot.
The film was brought to my attention by the calypsonian Lord Superior some years ago. Lord Superior mentioned a strange film in which he appeared called Christian Radich and suggested that it was one of the first to feature calypso, steelband, and limbo. Christian Radich proved to be the namesake of a Norwegian sailing boat and the film he was talking about was the 1958 film Windjammer.
This unique and little seen film chronicled the Christian Radich's epic 238-day voyage that began in Oslo and made stops in the island of Madeira off the coast of Africa, Puerto Rico, Curacao, Trinidad, New York, and Rhode Island before going back across the Atlantic to Norway.
Windjammer was a big event at the time and had a large feature-film budget behind its creation and production. The movie was premiered at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on April 8, 1958, and played for 36 weeks, followed by another 15 weeks at the Fox Theatre.
Windjammer was shot using a new technological film format called Cinemiracle and was the only large-screen feature film ever shot in this format. The Cinemiracle process involved shooting three rolls of film simultaneously from one bizarre special camera with three lenses.
Because of the unique technological needs of Cinemiracle films, Windjammer had to be shown on special projection equipment. As a result, the film was only screened in a few other theatres around the United States, Germany, and Scandinavia. Columbia Records issued the film's soundtrack as an album in the US, and in Europe and a book was issued about the film in several languages.
The Cinemiracle film process never caught on in Hollywood and Windjammer disappeared from popular view shortly after its premiere and has only been shown a couple times since.
Among film collectors, an almost unwatchable version of the film made from a conversion of the Cinemiracle format has circulated for several decades.
However, recently the American film restoration company Flicker Alley (best known for its work restoring the great films of French director George Melies) has restored Windjammer and rereleased the film. The box set features all the extras one could possibly want, including two separate hour-long documentaries on the film itself and another on the film's restoration process.
The scenes in Windjammer filmed in Trinidad offer a fascinating glimpse into the early developments of calypso and steelband and are not to be missed. The Trinidad portion begins and ends with scenes that feature the steelbands Boystown from Carenage and Silvertones from Belmont–both of which no longer exist.
The Trinidad scenes takes place over the course of a dozen or so days while the ship was docked in Trinidad.
Interestingly, Windjammer offers one of the first detailed filming of Trinidadian steelband performance known to exist anywhere. The scenes include a dance on the docks next to the boat, a steelband performing pan-around-the-neck marching down the streets in what appears to be Laventille Hill, and multiple scenes of steelbands performing on the Christian Radich itself.
The two "calypsoes" found in Windjammer are performed by a calypso chorus featuring Lord Superior, Viper, Skipper, Al Thomas, and the March of Dimes. Bizarrely, the calypsonians were not allowed to sing real calypsoes; rather, they were relegated to singing two songs written in a fake calypso style by an American folk trio called the Easy Riders.
Popular among Hollywood producers, the Easy Riders scored a top-ten hit single in the United States for their re-write of the famous calypso Mary Ann. Having successfully adapted one calypso for American audiences, producers envisioned that for Windjammer The Easy Riders should be flown down to Trinidad to teach real calypsonians their fake calypsoes. Here then we see The Easy Riders performing Sugar Cane and their latest single Don't Hurry Worry Me with a Trinidadian chorus singing on the dock. The scene involving Sugar Cane is further paired with images of young Norwegian sailors eating raw sugar cane in a cane field during harvest time.
On board the ship, guests were entertained by a small mas band listed in the credits as Peter Rapsey's Ocean Extravaganza Group. Several band members were wearing huge fish heads, and there was a Neptune complete with trident, and young women inside scallop shells. Windjammer also includes footage of limbo dancing featuring the group of Henry Trim Junior.
Along with Fire Down Below (1957) and Island in the Sun (1958) this was one of the earliest film depictions of limbo dancing.
Of those three, it was the only one filmed in Trinidad.
Island in the Sun was shot in Grenada and for Fire Down Below the limbo dancing by Stretch Cox and Julia Edwards was shot in England after the main filming in Trinidad.
Given the need for special movie projectors, the movie never made it to Trinidad in 1958.
Now, however, Windjammer is readily available on Amazon.com. While otherwise a strange and dated film, Windjammer offers some of the first film of pan, calypso, mas and limbo, and is indeed an important documentation of Trinidad's musical and cultural history.
Carnival historian Ray Funk is presenting a talk on the history of Carnival arts on film with rare clips tonight at Nalis, Port-of-Spain, at 7 pm.