Flying Clipper (1962) is an enticing, humbling, inspiring journey, following a crew of sailors from the North Sea to the Mediterranean.
To belittle Flying Clipper for the purposes of a concise introduction: Flying Clipper is a 1960s travelogue that follows twenty teenaged boys and their captain as they sail a tour of the Mediterranean aboard a five-masted vessel. As a person with an ego that drives them to acknowledge their thoughts and sentiments as being of unverifiable importance, however, Flying Clipper (within its ~150 minute runtime) impressed upon me to an extent that no concise introduction of mine is ever likely to capture. Despite the documentary presentation, Flying Clipper strikes me as being more fantastical than any Dune movie, for example, ever could be. It captures a wide, deep, incomprehensible, unvisitable world. These lakes, these mountains, these shorelines, these people – how do I get there?
The contribution of Flying Clipper to this unquenchable desire for escape that sits in my cramped chest makes me feel introspective; it reminds me of how I first came to be a movie-watching person. Because I’m one of those self-obsessive types that believe not only are their feelings on a movie worth trying to record and subsequently publicise, but are also more important than the technological, iconic, and narrative aspects of the movie they’re supposedly reviewing, I’m going to elaborate. We can always categorise this as an impressionist review, if it helps us sleep better.
As a kid, I wasn’t averse to watching movies. Sitting with my brother on a Friday night, watching Peter Pan, or The Pacifier? Sure, why not? That sounds like a fun and entertaining way to hold the attention of a child. Then, at seventeen, during a stretch of retrospectively-blatant depression, I became more interested in movies. I didn’t much enjoy life outside of the screen, and so I lived in front of it. I was particularly drawn to horror movies in a way I never had been before. Worlds of impossible odds, unexplored phenomena, and final girls? Worlds of deep mystery, inexplicable happenings, and reasonable loneliness? Sure, why not? That sounds exciting and confrontational enough to abate the sadness of a teenager.
Plus, there are enough movies out there to obsess over the medium forever. There are more movies, more audiovisual portals out of mundanity, than there are days in a dozen lifetimes. Unfortunately, a slab of self-awareness has settled on my shoulders since the days of teenagedom that often makes me question what it is I’m doing. A movie will come along that I fall deeply in love with, and I think myself lucky to have discovered it. Then I choose to commit a year to studying for a certificate in ‘Film’. Why? I’ll spend a week or more making a little movie of my own and have a true jolly time. Then I’ll watch a movie that alienates me from the entire artform. Is there not something else I should be doing?
In this, Flying Clipper feels like a final chapter – it feels like the last movie I ought to watch. It sums up why I, seemingly without the intention to, adopted movies as my primary interest these last seven years: to retreat, to leave, to be somewhere else. Flying Clipper too seems to be keen on escaping. The movie is obsessed with ancient history, with other stories, with tangential occurrences. The sailor boys are suddenly free-climbing up a Giza pyramid, the camera is suddenly interested in American fighter planes, the narration suddenly wants to define the class divide present in the south of France.
Flying Clipper is never only about the Flying Clipper and its crew. Burl Ives (the narrator of the US version) says that, for the sailors, the map of Earth is like a magic carpet. Something used to travel anywhere, anytime. And so as the focus of this movie twists and turns like that of a great, omniscient cat, so did mine. I cried from seclusion at a scene of the sailors eating spaghetti around a table in the Italian countryside, I laughed from memory at a scene of two boys pillow-fighting on a greased pole, I yearned to sit above deck as the sun set. I felt sympathy for Charly the chimpanzee, glad to see how the other side lives (as the narration put it), while the crew chased him around the ship.
I pictured scenes. A room with open patio doors. A warm summer breeze moving opaque curtains. A cluster of dear friends sat close, watching the Flying Clipper, half-dozing, dreaming sun-bleached dreams of plenty, inspired by the blue, the music, and the community on-screen. If movies continue to inspire the same brand of imagination and self-reflection in me as Flying Clipper has, then perhaps I require a new form of escape. Perhaps I have reached a stage in my cinema fixation where my obsession has started eating its own tail, and thus notices itself. But it is the convenience of cinema that concludes it likely I remain attached.
There are many prerequisites to seeing the mountains, the lakes, the shorelines and the people: financials not in my possession, the cutting of medicinal ties that have yet to bear fruit, the navigating of a world hell-bent on keeping us in one place, one time, one pattern. It’s infuriating, how jealous I am of those teenage boys who, in the early 1960s, seized the opportunity to sail the Mediterranean. And yes, yes, it’s easy to romanticise the past when looking at it from a distance. Even here, in what appears to be an innocent travelogue, there is undeniable evidence of our progress towards cultural preservation and against misogyny and animal abuse these last sixty years.
But gosh, even knowing I’d be treated a second-rate person if I were to somehow pierce the fabric of Flying Clipper, there’s something alluring about the whole expedition – the freedom of the ocean, the naivety of youth: tearing through Europe and Africa like a smiling, rosy-cheeked tornado.
Flying Clipper (also known as Flying Clipper – A Mediterranean Holiday and Mediterranean Holiday) is now available to stream on Kanopy (US) and to watch on demand in various countries.