Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Review of The Lost World of Mr. Hardy

Few companies in any field are as aware of their own mystique as the legendary Hardy Bros. of Alnwick. This has certainly been true from the early days of the firm, but is best seen in two artifacts from the company’s rich history. The first are the luscious Angler’s Guides, filled with everything one would need to know to angle for every game fish that swims, from the noble Scottish salmon to the mighty mahseer of India. The second are the numerous instructional and promotional films—often featuring the Hardy men—the company commissioned from the 1920s onward.

It is these old movies that give special poignancy to the elegant film The Lost World of Mr. Hardy, by the filmmakers Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier. Based on interviews with surviving Hardy employees, many of them legends in their own right, and played out against the backdrop of the modern economic climate, the film serves to document not just a rapidly dissipating world but also the survival of some of its elements. As such the film is sprinkled with equal parts silent despair and eternal hope.

The real star of the documentary is Jim Hardy, the last man related to the founders to work for the firm and the firm’s head during some of the most difficult times. It is his interviews that tie the past to the present, as he explains the origins, development, and growth of the firm founded by William and John J. Hardy in 1873. J.J. Hardy and L.R. Hardy in particular play an important role in this film, as it is their spectres that peer out from the vintage films depicting the by-gone era of fishing suits, gillies, and massive Atlantic salmon so plentiful you could almost walk across a river and not get your feet wet. It is hard not to get nostalgic watching such scenes.

Shining only slightly less are the past and present artisans—some of them former Hardy employees like salmon fly dresser Ken Middlemist and bamboo rod maker Edward Barder—who intersperse the film with their own Hardy remembrances as well as subtle commentary on the current state of affairs. These men, or perhaps the skillful editing of the filmmakers, take great care to avoid the great controversy surrounding such decisions as moving the Hardy reelworks to Asia, the scuttling of the dressed fly division, etc

Yet no matter how subtle the critique remains. Hardy’s (now technically Hardy & Grey’s) is rapidly morphing into something else all together, and in doing so by definition has had to turn its back on a large portion of its past. The days of the gorgeous Hardy Uniqua reels, the C.C. De France fly rod, and the hand-tied salmon flies are now long gone, although a few of the people who helped craft them remain. Legendary Hardy names such as Ivor Davies, George Ternent, Jack Dotchin, Terence Moore, and Ian Blagburn lend their considerable weight to the documentary, as do such noted names in collecting as John Mullock, John Stephenson, and Neil Freeman.

Collectors will indeed have much to drool over, whether it is the beautifully filmed sequences on the internal workings of the Hardy Perfect fly reel or noted collector and appraiser Freeman explaining the importance of the massive Hardy Fortuna saltwater reel. Of particular interest, I’m sure, will be the internal films of the company’s factory, showing reel, rod, and fly makers hard at work at their craft.

Yet The Lost World of Mr. Hardy is much more than just a film about fishing. It is a work that reminds us that it isn’t just Mr. Hardy’s world that is disappearing, it is the world of tradition, craftsmanship, and elegance that Hardy in part represents. Yet offered up as an antidote to this tragic loss is the reemergence of the artisan, in the form of a hand-tied Middlemist salmon fly or a hand-made Barder split cane rod. Fly tiers and rod and reelmakers will gain much by watching these and others at their craft. Even fiberglass fly rod aficionados can watch how a Hardy glass rod is made.

The film is much more than just a chronicle of the Hardy Bros. firm. It is a social history of Britain, a technological history of fishing, and a social commentary on the modern world, all rolled up into one neat and graceful motion picture. It is also as one of the finest works of its kind ever filmed. Perhaps Jim Hardy summed it up best when, while viewing a forgotten Hardy film featuring the Hardy Phantom fly rod, he turned to his companion Ian Blagburn. “This is history,” he quipped, “and it’s visible.” One might say the same thing about The Lost World of Mr. Hardy.

The DVD is available from Truffle Pig Films, which you can visit by clicking here .

-- Dr. Todd

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