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Introduction
1930

Borderline by Kenneth Macpherson, starring the poet HD and Paul Robeson

Borderline attempts to depict "the labyrinth of the human mind, its fantasy, suppression and desires." Kenneth Macpherson

Directed by Kenneth Macpherson, editor of the influential film journal Close Up (1927-1933), Borderline is seen as pioneering for its representations of race, sexuality and experimental editing techniques.

Set in a Swiss mountain resort near Montreaux, the film stars the radical black activist and popular mainstream actor and singer Paul Robeson, alongside his anthropologist wife Eslanda, and Macpherson's fellow Close Up editors, the imagist poetess H.D. (Hilda Dolittle) and historical novelist (and wife of Macpherson), Winnifred Brhyer.

The film's narrative revolves around the problems – racial, sexual and psychological – that are caused when a black couple and white couple meet and begin an affair in a small, prejudiced holiday resort. The inclusion of a lesbian relationship within the story-line was particularly groundbreaking for the time.

Influenced by both Soviet montage and Viennese psychoanalysis, Macpherson explores the film's rather basic plot in complex ways through experimental editing and lighting techniques. Using what H.D termed as 'clatter montage' where rapid montage editing almost becomes superimposition, along with dynamic compositions and dramatic lighting, Macpherson attempts to portray the internal fantasies, fears and desires of the characters on screen.

Lara Thompson

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Still from Borderline

Courtesy of the British Film Institute
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