15, no. 1 (January-March, 2002), 1-2.
Travel is to Possess the World"
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.
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.
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
kindly put together an annotated resource guide to North American
archives of travel film materials.
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.
College, July, 2001
1998 Tracking King Kong: A Hollywood Icon in World Culture.
Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
1997 Parallel Tracks: The Railroad and Silent Cinema.
Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
and Carol Nelson
1989 High-Class Moving Pictures: Lyman H. Howe and the Forgotten
Era of Traveling Exhibition, 1880-1920. Princeton: Princeton
Rony, Fatimah Tobing
1996 The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle.
Durham, NC: Duke University Press.