Visual Anthropology 15, no. 1 (January-March, 2002), 1-2.

"To Travel is to Possess the World"

The cinema remains a machine for constructing relations of space and time; the exploration of the social world through images and sounds of travel has always been one of its principal functions. This special issue of Visual Anthropology focuses on the travelogue, a genre of film that flourished during the early cinema period from 1895-1905, played an important role in the consolidation of documentary and ethnographic film and continues to this day in IMAX theaters, on broadcast and cable television. For generations, audiences around the world have learned about other cultures through travelogues.

While travel writing has lately come under intense scrutiny, very little has been written about the travelogue film experience. "Travelogues and Travel Films" expands the current agenda of visual studies to bring into analytical view a vast body of films overlooked by historians and film scholars. The essays included here draw on extensive primary research on a variety of cinematic forms: amateur movies, illustrated lecture films, independent documentaries, popular television shows, and ethnographic films. They examine the role of travel imagery in the narrative economy of the cinema while simultaneously considering how travel films construct cultural realities.

The f ilm scholar Dana Benelli explores the role of travelogue imagery in Hollywood and how our understanding of the norms of classical Hollywood cinema should be redefined and expanded to include the ways in which spectacular travel footage divert and even interrupt classical narration. Anthropologist Joyce Hammond considers the re-appropriation of tropes of travel and the American road movie by independent documentarists Ellen Spiro in Greetings from Out Here and Renee Tajima-Peña in My America, or Honk if You Love Buddha, filmmakers who provide alternative representations of gays and Asian-Americans in a re-imagined American landscape. Historian Amy Staples rediscovers the films of the once celebrated, but now-forgotten, explorer-adventurer Lewis Cotlow as an example of the popular ethnographic imaginary of mid-century America. After these essays exploring U.S. travelogue production, anthropologist Lindsey Powell considers several current popular Japanese TV programs with highly problematic representations of so-called "primitive peoples," who engage in cultural exchanges with Japanese families. Film scholar Alexandra Schneider provides a close analysis of a 1930s Swiss amateur film of a trip to the mountains that brings back 16mm images of farmers and domestic animals as trophies of urban tourism. My own contribution looks at the 16mm illustrated travel lecture industry as it currently exists in the U.S. Finally, as encouragement for further research on travelogues, Daisy Njoku of the Smithsonian Institution


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has kindly put together an annotated resource guide to North American archives of travel film materials.

Although the travelogue is a staple of motion pictures, its importance is not reflected in the literature of these fields. While individual chapters of interest have appeared in Fatimah Rony's The Third Eye (1996), Lynne Kirby's Parallel Tracks (1997), and Cynthia Erb's Tracking King Kong (1998), there is only one book in print on the subject, Charles Musser and Carol Nelson's High-Class Moving Pictures: Lyman H. Howe and the Forgotten Era of Traveling Exhibition (1989). This special issue of Visual Anthropology attempts to address this gap in these fields, while tracing the intersection of technology and ideology in cinematic representations of travel and cultural difference. It should prove of interest to film and media scholars as well as anthropologists and sociologists. The lists of references, which appear at the end of each essay, should provide a good cumulative guide to past and current research on travelogues.

Jeffrey Ruoff
Dartmouth College, July, 2001

REFERENCES

Erb, Cynthia
1998 Tracking King Kong: A Hollywood Icon in World Culture. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Kirby, Lynne
1997 Parallel Tracks: The Railroad and Silent Cinema. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Musser, Charles, and Carol Nelson
1989 High-Class Moving Pictures: Lyman H. Howe and the Forgotten Era of Traveling Exhibition, 1880-1920. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Rony, Fatimah Tobing
1996 The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

 


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