The Champagne Safari
Format: 16mm Colour/Black & White
Runtime: 94 min
National Film Board of Canada,
Field Seven Films Inc.
Director George Ungar dedicated sixteen years of his life to uncovering the sensational story of Charles Bedaux, one of the most enigmatic and frighteningly influential figures of this century. The French-born, self-made Bedaux emerged as a pioneering architect of industrial labour relations and efficiency processes for such American manufacturing giants as General Electric, Campbell Soup and Goodrich Rubber. He became so insidiously influential that he was lampooned by Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936).
Much of The Champagne Safari focuses on the wealthy and eccentric entrepreneur’s 1934 expedition through the northern Canadian Rockies – a failed attempt to chart the course for what is now the Alaska Highway. Bedaux’s entourage included his wife, his mistress, a maid, fifty-three cowboys on horseback and seven Citroën half-track vehicles loaded down with cases of champagne and caviar. Also along for the ride was Academy Award®-winning Hollywood cinematographer Floyd Crosby, who was hired to film what turned out to be one of the most extravagant home movies ever made. Lost for decades, this precious footage was finally unearthed by Ungar, whose exhaustive research traces the unscrupulous Bedaux from the failure of his industrial vision in the United States, through his triumphant return to French society as the protector of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, to his collaboration with German Nazi industrialists.
A thoroughly engrossing tour de force, The Champagne Safari illuminates both the past and present as it probes the nature of heroic, visionary megalomania. Ungar manages to pack a great deal of information into the film while withholding judgment of Bedaux, opting instead for an ambiguous conclusion and effectively maintaining his subject’s considerable mystery. The film won a Genie Award for Feature Length Documentary.