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Borderline (1930 film)

Directed by Kenneth Macpherson
Produced by The Pool Group
Written by Kenneth Macpherson
Starring Paul Robeson
Eslanda Robeson
Hilda Doolittle
(billed as 'Helga Doorn')
Cinematography Kenneth Macpherson
Edited by The Pool Group
Release date
  • 1930 (1930)
Running time
63 minutes
Country Switzerland
Language English

Borderline is a 1930 film, written and directed by Kenneth Macpherson and produced by the Pool Group in Territet, Switzerland. The silent film, with English inter-titles, is primarily noted for its handling of the contentious issue of inter-racial relationships, using avant-garde experimental film-making techniques, and is today very much part of the curriculum of the study of modern cinematography.

The film, which features Paul Robeson, Bryher and HD, was originally believed to have been lost, but was discovered, by chance, in Switzerland in 1983. An original 16mm copy of this film is now held in the Donnell Media Center, New York City Public Library. In 2006, the British Film Institute sponsored the film’s restoration by The George Eastman House and eventual DVD release with a soundtrack, composed by Courtney Pine. Its premiere at the Tate Modern gallery in London attracted 2,000 people. In 2010, the film was released with a soundtrack composed by Mallory Johns, and performed by the Southern Connecticut State University Creative Music Orchestra.

The film revolves around an inter-racial love triangle and its effects on the local townsfolk. The story is based in a guesthouse occupied by a set of liberal, hedonistic young people sympathetic to the emerging black American culture. In what would have been completely frowned upon at the time, the manageress has let out a room to a black couple, Pete Marond and his wife, Adah. Adah has an affair with Thorne, a white man, much to the dismay of the prejudiced townsfolk and Thorne's wife, Astrid. Pete attempts a reconciliation with Adah, but she eventually decides to leave him and the town. Astrid confronts Thorne on the affair and attacks him with a knife. In the scuffle, Astrid is killed. The film concludes with the aftermath of Thorne’s trial for murder and the townsfolk’s resolution of the issue.

Macpherson was particularly influenced by the cinematic techniques of G.W. Pabst and Sergei Eisenstein, whom he first met in 1929. In Borderline, he uses avant-garde experimental film-making techniques, blending Eisenstein’s montage innovation and Pabst’s psycho-analytical approach, to identify the emotional and psychological states of the film’s characters. These techniques called for unconventional post-production editing, the use of light and shadow, and exaggerated movement on the part of the actors. "Macpherson’s brilliance lies in his ability to photograph small movements as nuanced, meaning-producing gestures".

  • 1930 (1930)
  • McCabe, Susan (Spring 2002). "Borderline Modernism: Paul Robeson and the Femme Fatale". Callaloo. 25 (2): 639–653. 


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