January 27th marked the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of the character Tarzan on the big screen. TARZAN OF THE APES was a silent film starring Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan and Enid Markey as Jane. It is by far the most faithful film adaptation of the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and remained largely the ONLY faithful film adaptation until THE LEGEND OF TARZAN in 2016. Entire books could be written on how Burroughs’ genius-level Ape man got transformed into the dimwit most familiar to movie audiences–“Me Tarzan, you Jane!”–and in fact entire books HAVE been. The character’s durability, however, even if that character is altered, is undeniable. There have been dozens of Tarzan movies made in the past century. Tarzan is tied with Dracula as the most recognizable fictional character worldwide. How is it, then, that we aren’t seeing the guy more at the theaters? Even THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, which was a surprise slow-burn hit for Warner Brothers, hasn’t been given a sequel?
It all comes down to politics. And I find that sickening. If Tarzan weren’t white, or if he’d been abandoned on some alien planet instead of in Africa, they’d still be cranking out Tarzan films. Today’s political climate is to blame. Ignore those who will tell you that the character and the story are simply “past” their vitality. It is a lie. The blurring of the lines between human being and animal, exactly where that line exists, and the concept that a human being can become something MORE by incorporating his animal nature, his wildness, those themes are timeless. Politics fade away and die. Tarzan will persevere. We haven’t seen the last of him yet. Not by a long shot.