Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Lost City of Z


An Amazon production. Remember, when you pronounce this, to say zed, as the British do, not zee.

For the whole of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, adventurers and explorers (it was often hard to decide which was which) were obsessed with filling in all those blank spots on the map. The biggest ones were in Africa, or in South America, most of all in the Upper Amazon. There are many, many movies about these crazy fellows and the insane lengths they went to and the awful hardships they endured. There were all those polar explorers, many of whom perished. I don’t think there are any polar expeditions that haven’t been dramatized. One film about exploration I particularly enjoyed was Mountains of the Moon, about Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke and their quest in 1857 to find the source of the Nile. That’s right, no white man had any idea where that river started.

This movie concerns a much less celebrated crazy man, Percy Fawcett, who began looking for this hypothetical city where it is said there used to be quite an advanced civilization. Back then, there could be a lot of fame and big money from lectures and books if you made a new discovery.

No one in the bureaucratic hierarchy of exploration, such as the Royal Geographic Society, gave any credence to the story, but Fawcett went looking for it in 1905. He failed, miserably, though he came back with some fragments of pottery. He tried again with a larger party, and failed again. There was a hiatus during which he was temporarily blinded by poison gas during the Great War, and eventually he and his son went back up the river in 1925 … and were never seen again. Men went looking for them, and some of them vanished, too. There is nothing mysterious about this. The hardships we see are almost impossible to believe, and the jungle knows a thousand ways to kill, quickly or very slowly. This is a good movie of its type, and they always leave me wondering what sort of guy would do this sort of thing? A nut, obviously, but a certain kind of nut that the human race probably needs.