Visual Anthropology 15, no. 1 (January-March, 2002), 91-114.

Around the World in Eighty Minutes: The Travel Lecture Film

Abstract: The travel lecture film is the archetypal form of the travelogue in cinema. It formed an important part of early cinema, flourished in later years, and continues today, notwithstanding predictions of its demise in the age of television, virtual reality, and the Internet. This essay examines the world of itinerant film lecturers who present silent travelogues with live narration throughout North America. In the tradition of Burton Holmes, these live travel lectures take place at hundreds of venues across the U.S. and Canada, including museum, concert halls, universities, and community clubs.

"We are the last of the vaudevillians. We go from town to town, set up our projectors, our sound systems, do our shows, and then drive on."
(John Holod, travelogue filmmaker, March 1998)

Jeffrey Ruoff is a film historian, documentary filmmaker, and assistant professor of film and television studies at Dartmouth College. His latest documentary, The Last Vaudevillian (1998), follows one travel film lecturer on tour from New York to Florida.

An American Family: A Televised Life, his study of the 1973 public television series, was published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2001. Address correspondence to


As this journal issue suggests, film history should be about all aspects of the medium, not simply those of the dominant entertainment cinema. Promoting only documentary or avant-garde alternatives, however, further marginalizes other forms, such as newsreels, educational films, industrials, home movies, and, of course, travelogues. In this essay, I argue that the travel lecture film is the archetypal form of the travelogue in cinema.1 This is the world of itinerant film lecturers who present silent travelogues with live narration. At present, I am studying a corpus of 284 feature films in distribution, produced by forty-eight filmmakers, of whom I have met perhaps half. I have attended over thirty live travelogue screenings.2 Travel lectures take place at hundreds of venues across North America, including museums (the Portland Art Museum), concert halls (the San Diego Symphony Hall), universities (the University of Colorado-Boulder), and community clubs (the Kodak Camera Club of Rochester, New York) [Figure 1].


The travel lecture film formed an important part of early cinema, flourished in later years, and continues today, notwithstanding predictions of its demise in the age of television, virtual reality, and the Internet. Despite continuities with early cinema, the travel lecture film remains a little-studied genre. Because it involves a live performance, it cannot be analyzed apart from its idiosyncratic screenings. As Thayer Soule eloquently puts it in his autobiography On the Road With Travelogues, 1935-1995, a travelogue "lives only when the producer and his audience are together" [1997: 136-7]. As such, they leave few historical traces. In addition, from the late 1930s to the 1970s, lecturers projected their camera original -- Kodachrome positive film -- until the prints disintegrated [Wiancko 1996: 21]. As the colors of the camera original are extraordinarily vivid, and the cost of prints considerable, some producers still follow this practice today! Kodachrome positive prints are one-of-a-kind works, like daguerreotypes, that cannot adequately be replicated. Nowadays, even those producers who shoot negative film rarely make more than one or two release prints. As a result, few such travelogues survive, and fewer still have been archived. The historical invisibility of the travel lecture film is most evident in its total exclusion from film history books. David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson make no mention of the genre in their 800-page Film History (1994).

Most research on alternative film production and exhibition practices has been limited to the early decades of cinema. While a ground-breaking issue of Iris: A Journal of Theory on Image and Sound, edited by André Gaudreault and Germain Lacasse, focuses on the film lecturer, all 300 pages are devoted to the early cinema period. In their introduction, the editors claim that the lecturer has "definitively disappeared" [Gaudreault and Lacasse 1996: 15]. And yet the city of Montreal, where Gaudreault works, boasts a remarkable travelogue booking agency which celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary in 1997. Les Grands Explorateurs presents travel lecture films with live French-language narration in forty-four different venues throughout Quebec [Figure 2]. The 1997-98 season included such titles as Visages d'Australie and Parfums de Chine.

The live travelogue's show-and-tell characteristics have remained remarkably consistent over the past century. Most important is the presence of the filmmaker who addresses the audience directly from the stage. A travel lecture offers a "non-fiction drama of people and places, true but dramatized," as one viewer put it, extending the opportunity to "visit vicariously someplace you can't afford to visit yourself." An audience member in Oregon volunteered another definition, "A travelogue is a story about a far away place -- it doesn't have to be far away, yet that seems appropriate -- that presents a variety of information about a culture, in an interesting, perhaps unique way."

Many current performers trace their origins to Burton Holmes, who gave over 8,000 illustrated travel lectures, using slides and, later, motion pictures, from the 1890s to the 1950s [Wallace 1978: 11].3 Different approaches within the live travelogue include comedy, wildlife, history, and tourist emphases. John Holod, who uses slapstick routines and vaudeville humor, exemplifies the comic approach and continues the tradition of his idols Don Cooper and Stan Midgley. John Wilson prefers to explore the natural world in such movies as Iceland: Europe's Wild Gem;


while Robin Williams uses historical figures for works such as Amadeus, A Traveler in Italy. Others, including Grant Foster and Buddy Hatton, stick to the well-trodden path and highlight enduring tourist sites. Harder to classify is the "travel theater" of Howdee Meyers and Lucia Perrigo in The Magnificent World of the Mountain King: Ludwig II's Bavarian Castles or the absurd humor of William Stockdale in travelogues such as Cemeteries Are Fun.

Travelogue lecturers are cultural brokers, translators, and interpreters for American audiences. As a measure of their significance, 16mm


live travelogues play to greater numbers of people than many foreign features and undoubtedly most avant-garde films. More Americans undoubtedly saw Frank Klicar's travel lecture film The Yugoslav Republics than Emir Kusturica's masterpiece Underground (1995). At the moment, there are at least thirty full-time travelogue filmmakers in North America while, to my knowledge, no such full-time ethnographic filmmakers exist here at all. There is an established travel lecture circuit ;4 John Holod has dates booked through the year 2002 [Figure 3].

The 16mm travelogue industry, in its current configuration, bears remarkable similarities with the production, distribution, and exhibition of motion pictures at the beginning of the 20th century [Gunning 1998: 258-262]. Individual filmmakers are involved in all facets of the business. Exhibition venues are not uniform and often serve multiple functions. The principal sound accompaniment comes from a live performer in the theater and, correspondingly, varies from show to show. Travel lecturers are not celebrities and the films are not usually structured around their personalities, as was the case with the films of Martin and Osa Johnson [Doherty 1994: 38]. Not only are there no stars in live travelogues, there are frequently no characters at all. Like early cinema, the emphasis is on actuality footage and scenics. Similarly, it is difficult to date travel lecture films. When projected in theaters, many do not have printed titles or credits. Producers have a vested interest in deliberately not dating their films. When I saw Charlie Hartman present The Sunny South of France in 1996, I was led to believe the film was new [Figure 4]. However, a 1988 advertisement in Travelogue: The International Travel Film Magazine indicates the film is at least a decade old.

In venues across North America, travel lecturers enjoy face-to-face contact with their audiences. As Sandy Mortimer, the president of the International Motion Picture and Lecturers Association (IMPALA) said, "If you make a program for television, no one knows your name. When you stand in front of an audience, you are the name above the title." While life on the travelogue circuit may be rewarding, it is not easy. A successful producer typically stays in hotels 250 nights a year. One lecturer, recently retired, flew his own plane to his performances. Most travel by car, driving hundreds of miles between shows. Thayer Soule, who apprenticed with Burton Holmes before pursuing his own career, averaged 33,000 miles a year from 1958-1995 [Soule 1997: 178]. In the end, they spend more time touring cities and towns in America than they do visiting the countries shown in their films.

After a few years lecturing on the road, tired of motels and roadside restaurants, producer John Holod bought a mobile home. He now lives and tours in this $80,000 vehicle -- with satellite TV, VCR, global positioning system, personal computer, films, videos, promotional materials, projectors, and tuxedos -- giving over 100 presentations a year. (I accompanied him for two weeks in March 1998 as he presented Cuba at the Crossroads on tour from New York to Florida, producing my own travelogue The Last Vaudevillian [Figure 5].5 ) Holod's motor home is a movie theater and motion picture studio on wheels. When the 1997-98 lecture season ended, he headed north to Alaska to shoot the footage for his next feature The Last Great Road Trip: Alaska RV Adventure!.



Travelogue producers on the North American circuit are independent entrepreneurs who produce, shoot, record sound, edit, distribute, exhibit, and narrate 16mm movies. Most are Americans of European origin, with university degrees from schools such as the University of Southern California, Stanford University, and Harvard University. Many have had experience in the print, radio, television, and film industries. Like their audience members, many lecturers are over sixty years old. Of the forty-eight filmmakers currently active, only two women independently produce and present films. While there are few women travel lecturers, many wives assist in the production process and manage the careers of their filmmaker husbands, handling bookings, publicity, and occasionally mixing sound on the lecture tours [Travelogue 1992: 49]. Producers do not regard learning other languages as a prerequisite to making travelogues. A Canadian filmmaker admitted in his essay "Why the Ukraine?" that the only word he knew of the local language was "Kanada" [Willis 1997: 16]. Another described filming in China in the early 1980s "with sign language and a good phrase book" [Green 1996: 23]. Even with exceptional ability and the best of intentions, who could learn the languages of the thirty or more countries in which Thayer Soule made travel movies? [Soule 1997: 246].

Travelogues are shot by small crews, often only a few people or a husband-and-wife team, occasionally a lone filmmaker. Location shooting typically takes place during June, July, and August. (There are no screenings during the summer, when it is presumed that travelogue audiences themselves are on the road.) Most travelogues are shot with lightweight 16mm spring-wound or battery-powered cameras; few producers record sound in the field. The average shooting ratio for an eighty-minute feature is five to one. Most travel lecturers scorn video; one longtime producer referred to the VCR as "an abomination" [Cooper 1996: 36].6 Despite their disdain, however, many lecturers now sell videotape copies of their works, mostly at the screenings, but also by mail order [Figure 6]. (These tapes include recorded voice-over narration, music, and effects that approximate the sound of the live presentations.) For many producers, video sales make the difference between profit and loss.

The initial run of a travel lecture film is about three to four years, though it may remain in distribution considerably longer. When marketing their works to potential exhibitors, travel filmmakers are anxious to point out the newness of their footage. As the director of China: The Middle Kingdom asserted at the 1997 IMPALA film festival, "There are no whiskers on this film; it was shot only six months ago." Given the initial investment, however, producers are inevitably drawn back to film in the same regions, a process that encourages updating films. For example, a director with Hong Kong in his catalogue may shoot additional footage during the transition to mainland Chinese rule and then market a new film under a similar title. As a result, the sounds and the images of individual films evolve over time.


Travel lecture films are exhibited in the widest possible array of venues, including libraries, museums, service clubs, universities, high schools, institutes, and concert


halls. John Holod said that he might play a 900-seat auditorium with a full house, spotlight, projectionist, and changing room one evening, then lecture to fifty people in the basement of a school the following night, where he has to put on his tuxedo in a bathroom stall, and contend with projector noise throughout the presentation. Fees and ticket prices, too, vary. The Vassar Brothers Institute pays lecturers $1050 per presentation; a more common figure is $500. A season ticket for five screenings at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina, sells for $25, while seven shows cost $52.50 in Portland, Oregon.

At a time when most Hollywood films are explicitly directed at young teenagers, travel lecture films reach viewers whose average age is approximately sixty. Travelogue screenings, attended by well-to-do audiences, many in formal dress, have more in common with ballet performances than with multiplex cinema experiences. As a mark of this difference, lecturers often sport tuxedos for their presentations. The audience for educational travelogues, as in the past [Musser and Nelson 1989: 189], is conspicuously middle-class. A description of a 1950s audience in Santa Barbara -- "elderly, wealthy, well dressed, attentive, and appreciative" [Soule 1997: 119] -- still holds true. An informal survey concludes that "most are professional people, i.e., doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc" [Ferrante 1979: 40]. In addition, the travelogue audience is loyal. A series at the Denver Museum of Natural History has awarded plaques to women, dubbed "Golden Girls" [Perrigo 1994: 12], who have frequented lectures for fifty consecutive years.

As during the early cinema period, the film itself is only a portion of the evening's entertainment. A woman from the Rose Villa Retirement Home in Portland pointed out, "It's an opportunity for us to get off the grounds here. It offers camaraderie and a chance to be together." Door prizes may be awarded and presentations are frequently coupled with musical performances. Screenings at the El Camino College series in Torrance, California have been routinely preceded by live music [Perrigo 1995: 21]. At East Carolina University, film lectures are followed by dinner parties with the cuisine of the featured country [Perrigo 1996: 44]. In the end, after the door prizes have been handed out, it may matter little whether the subject of the movie was Cuba or Canada.

Individual films are always shown as part of a series of travel lectures. The Geographic Society of Chicago provides season ticket holders with a "trip around the world" that touches upon all seven continents [Fisher 1991: 28]. An article on "How to Start Travel Film Series" in Travelogue magazine offers suggestions for exhibitors, "Vary your presentations geographically. Austria and Switzerland look similar on film. So do Denmark and Sweden. Avoid such conflicts in the same season. Consider the ethnic makeup of your community" [McClure 1988: 34]. Responding to a magazine survey, a promoter in Sarasota states, "We also like to give a bit of education for our season ticket holders. We think they should see a Malaysia or a Tunisia along with Germany and Switzerland" [The Performer 1981: 6].

The first travelogue screening I attended took place at an old picture palace in Portland built by the Chicago firm of Rapp and Rapp in 1928. Now renovated, this center for the performing arts seats 2800. Entering this vintage theater for a live travelogue lecture was like traveling back in time to another era of movie


exhibition. Attendance the evening of March 28, 1996 was probably 1000. Unlike screenings at regular movie theaters, tickets were sold for numbered seats; an individual ticket cost $9.75. Though the enormous theater had many empty chairs, spectators nonetheless dutifully filed towards their assigned seats. They were season ticket holders, partial to their regular places.

At the World Cavalcade series in Portland [Figure 7] ,7 audience members arrive in couples or small groups of five or six. Senior citizens from retirement communities pull up in buses, well before the 7:30pm screening. Gentlemen dress in suits and ties while some women wear hats they may keep on during the screening. Considerable banter animates the auditorium as ticket holders return to familiar seats. Most travelogue presentations include intermissions when audience members stretch, chat, smoke, use the restrooms, purchase videotapes and other souvenirs. At the same time, the break gives the lecturer an opportunity to rest and the projectionist time to change the 16mm reels (which, under normal circumstances, cannot run longer than forty-five minutes).

Since the filmmaker narrates the movie live, each showing resembles a Hollywood preview screening at which the producer directly gauges the audience response. As a result, there is a particularly good match between travel lectures and their public; audiences are rarely disappointed. Travelogue viewers are not in the thrall of the images and sounds, an implication often made of spectators of commercial fiction film. The presence of the narrator, as Miriam Hansen has suggested of early cinema exhibition [1991: 142], breaks off this engagement. Further, live travelogues do not encourage the kind of identification and emotional involvement found in much Hollywood film.8 It is not uncommon for exhibitors to leave the lights on in the auditorium for spectators to be able to read their programs (which are frequently itineraries of the sites visited). Viewers of travel lecture films prefer information over identification, discourse instead of spectacle.


What kind of world is constructed night after night on the travelogue circuit? Of the 284 features in my sample, the continental distribution of works is: Europe (39%), North America (26%), Asia (15%), Central and South America (9%), Australasia (5%), and Africa (4%). There are no films about Antarctica.9

Among individual countries, the United States (21%) receives the greatest coverage. The United Kingdom is a distant second (6%), Canada (5%) third, Italy (3%) fourth. If counted individually, Alaska (3%) and Hawaii (3%) tie with the Russian Federation (3%), and appear more than most countries, including France (2%), Greece (2%), and Spain (2%). The most popular subjects on the Asian continent are China, Indonesia, and Israel. In South America, Peru and Brazil lead the way. In Central America, only Mexico and Costa Rica are represented more than once. In Australasia, Australia and New Zealand appear most frequently. Egypt and South Africa dominate the few films about Africa. Absent were such countries as Rumania, Bulgaria, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Nigeria, and Somalia.


It is surprising that, unlike most ethnographic films, travel lecture films do not principally deal with so-called exotic cultures at all. Over two-thirds of those in distribution explore Europe and North America. The films about the United States favor the wilderness and the west, particularly the mythology of the frontier. Except for two movies, the entire eastern seaboard is ignored. The midwest, with no single state films, appears merely as a place to leave at the outset of Along the Santa Fe Trail, The Oregon Trail, and The Trail: Lewis & Clark Expedition 1803-1806.

The topic of a country suggests no automatic approach. Among the most favored, and now cliched, is the "land of contrasts" -- modern vs. traditional, rural vs. urban -- which allows considerable flexibility. Most travelogues offer a smorgasbord of local culture. A viewer in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, praised Cuba for its breadth, "The variety was good, a little bit of history, climate, geography, nature, the economy." Most travel lecture films endlessly catalogue facts about the locale and quantify the world in every possible way.10 Exemplifying this tendency, Across the Bering Sea takes inventory in a tiny Alaska town, "two trees, one hotel, no traffic lights, and thirteen radio stations." One may learn many curious things from viewing travelogues, including that there are fifty-four kinds of snakes in Belize, that most of the great Gothic churches are in the north of France, and that Guatemala is about the same size as Oregon.

Despite the apparent narrative frame of the journey (departure-exploration-return), most travelogues do not represent temporally coherent voyages. Chronology exists more often as a construct of post-production; Hong Kong in Transition includes footage from four different trips to the city taken between 1989 and 1996. The lecture film tends to be an essay on geography or history, not a journey per se, resembling a guidebook such as Fodor's Exploring Vietnam (1998) rather than a travel adventure book by Paul Theroux.

The travelogue lies at the intersection of the industries of travel and entertainment. "The entertainment industry delivers an experience to its customers," an analyst for The Economist writes, "whereas the travel industry delivers its customers to an experience" [Roberts 1998]. Like organized tours, travelogues promise safe and comfortable trips, the opportunity to see the world without the difficulties of travel. Lecture films often include publicity for specific modes of transport, accommodations, and restaurants. At a screening in Portland, filmmaker Buddy Hatton thanked President Alberto Fujimori for making Peru safe for tourism. Hatton admitted that in the past it was dangerous to visit, but now, "Don't hesitate to go." Some producers also lead tours, a profession which parallels their film lecturing, while sponsors often promote series through offers of free trips [Perrigo 1995: 33]. In 1996-97, a Portland agency coordinated its tours with films offered by the World Cavalcade travelogue series. World Travelcade offered group tours of Mexico, Alaska, Peru, France, Scotland, Costa Rica, and Vietnam/Burma, the very countries shown in the travelogues of the previous season. A publicity brochure noted that, "The mysterious land of the Inca is well explored by Buddy Hatton in Peru: The Mysterious Journey, and by you if you sign up for the tour following in Mr. Hatton's steps." So, the director's comment to his audience -- "You might be tired after the long boat trip and prefer to take a short nap upon arrival" -- was not simply rhetorical.


Some travelogues are shot on tours. Reviewing the climate of Indonesia, its population and linguistic diversity, Grant Foster concluded, "The ideal way to see both Java and Bali is to take an overland tour by air-conditioned coach" [Foster 1991: 12]. This tour was the basis for his film Java to Bali: Overland. Any reputable travelogue will feature as many modes of transportation as possible, not only in the image, but also, of course, as ways of representing movement. Adventure Along the U.S./Canadian Border includes POV shots taken from a train, hot air balloon, river boat, dog sled, wagon train, canoe, freighter, plane, and automobile. During a seminar at the School of American Research, anthropological filmmaker David MacDougall jokingly suggested a definition of ethnographic film as "a film in which a goat is killed." Similarly, one could say that a travel lecture film is not quite itself without an antique train ride. Some, such as Antique Trains of Europe, The Great Canadian Train Ride, and The Eastern and Oriental Express, feature little else.


Recent work on early cinema has stressed the importance of the train in the development of film narrative [1997]. Indeed, it has been argued that the structure of classical narrative resembles the linear movement of train travel. In an article in Film History, I suggested that amateur movies and the automobile offer an alternative to this linearity [Ruoff 1991: 243-9]. Most travelogues advance, halt, double back, digress, and generally meander across the landscape. If the train is the figurative engine of classical Hollywood, then the automobile is the figure of the travel lecture film. The travelogue is episodic, the detour its most characteristic narrative device. Consider the breakdown, provided by the filmmaker, of sequences in the first twenty minutes of Belize and Guatemala: Legacy of the Maya, 1) "Belize City, founded by pirates in the seventeenth century," 2) "St. John's Anglican Cathedral, oldest in Central America," 3) "The largest unbroken reef in the Western Hemisphere," 4) "Ambergris Key, largest of the dozens of small islands along the reef," 5) "the ancient Maya city of Altun Ha," 6) "Belize Zoo, home of a family of jaguars," 7) "Danagriga and the largest settlement of Garifuna people," and 8) "Cocoa and chocolate processing." Jorge Luis Borges could not have dreamed up a richer, more imaginative, list.

The actual focus of a travel film may not be obvious from the title. Ukraine, for example, opens with scenes of the newly independent country, as might be expected. But it quickly detours to tell the story of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada and Ukrainian festivals there. In addition, while in the vicinity of one such festival, the director then takes audience members to see the world's largest Easter egg, just "fifty miles away." There is a radical empiricism in the travelogue; links between scenes are fortuitous, and seem to be governed by happenstance, rather than by narrative continuity.

Along the Santa Fe Trail, despite historical associations, contains many unanticipated sequences. The viewer, perhaps accustomed to a Ken Burns-like animation of the past through readings of letters, sumptuous landscapes, and black-and-white photographs, is instead treated to a series of visits to interpretive centers


and museums in Missouri, Kansas, and further west. The film opens in Independence, Missouri, with references to immigration in the 1800s, but then shifts abruptly to the story of Harry Truman's 1948 election and subsequent administration. (Independence is the birthplace of Truman.) Further along the trail, in Abilene, Kansas, the birthplace of Dwight Eisenhower, there is a similar, digressive, recapitulation of his political career. Although this hints at a new structural pattern, the narrative is subsequently hijacked by a sequence on tornadoes. All this in the first twelve minutes.

The producer of Hong Kong in Transition deliberately splits his travel documentary into two distinct parts, structured around the intermission. In the first half, the film describes the local culture, with modest restaurants, herbal medicine shops, and the like. This anthropological emphasis ends when director Frank Klicar comments, "That's it for the Chinese culture of Hong Kong. What will YOU be doing when YOU get to Hong Kong? We'll discuss that when we come back after a 10-minute intermission." The second half of the film then focuses on tourism in the city, luxury hotels, a "Middle Kingdom theme park," and the Happy Valley Race Track, among other standard destinations.

The narrative arrangement of the travel lecture film has more in common with what John Fell calls the "motivated link" in early cinema [1983: 277-8] than with the question-and-answer story structure of classical narrative. Relations of space and time are not subordinated to narrative causality, as Bordwell has argued is the case with classical Hollywood film [1985: 47]. Although travel lecture films usually last about eighty minutes, they could be any length. As with a music hall performance, the order of scenes could be swapped with similar results. Individual sequences do not advance a story, but, instead, add layers to the original conception. Live travelogues jump from one place to another in almost random fashion. The transitions between sequences in Belize and Guatemala -- often as little set up as "just over this mountain range" or "only 10 miles down the coast" -- sooner recall the intertitles of Luis Buñuel's Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog, 1929) than the cause-and-effect of Hollywood narrative.

Return to Sweden, as the title suggests, promises an exploration of the filmmaker's roots in Scandinavia. It opens with family gravestone markers in Texas. This personal angle, however, quickly disappears as the film takes on all the traits of a customary travelogue. It is only shortly before intermission -- after touring Volvo and Hasselblad factories, typical villages, national parks, and an iron mine -- that director Dale Johnson picks up this personal thread and remarks that he wanders the seaside still not knowing the origins of his ancestors. (Small wonder, given his peregrinations.) After a visit to an immigration museum in the second reel, the filmmaker takes a classic travelogue detour, "It would be a couple of weeks before I could visit my ancestral home, so I went to film some glass blowing." Although he eventually finds distant relatives and his great-grandfather's old farmhouse, the feature-length movie includes, at most, ten minutes directly related to this family quest.

When I started this study, I assumed that, similar to many ethnographic films made by North Americans, travel lecture films would magnify cultural differences by depicting bizarre and possibly inexplicable customs, a perspective that has been called "orientalism" in other contexts. To my surprise, while this element


exists, it is hardly a dominant trend. It is much more likely that audience members will hear a lecture about Martin Luther and the rise of Protestantism than they will musings about "primitives" or "the inscrutable east." Further, the travel lecture film is, as often as not, an affirmation of ethnicity, as the case of Return to Sweden implies [Figure 8]. As noted above, Ukraine spends considerable time at ethnic Ukrainian festivals in Canada. Further, it turns out that the Ukrainian footage was shot on a group tour of "Canadian Ukrainians looking for their roots" [Willis 1997: 9]. John Holod's fall 1997 brochure, which includes a description of his film Czech/Slovakia: Land of Beauty and Change, advertises guided "Heritage Tours to Czech and Slovakia" with a company that promises "personalized visits to your ancestral home" and boasts of an eighty percent success rate at finding living relatives of tour members.


Travel lecture spectators evidently still enjoy the combination of human presence and moving imagery. A Florida exhibitor compared live screenings favorably with travel programs in other media, "People go up to the travel lecturers and ask 'Where should I stay?,' 'When is the best time of the year to go?,' 'How is the food?,' and that kind of thing. You don't get that on a movie screen, you don't get that on television." In-person presentation mirrors the live travelogue's emphasis on pre-industrial forms and suggests a nostalgia for the cinema before the coming of sound.

Travel lecturers always give introductions before their films. As a projectionist in Hickory, North Carolina, stated, "The spectrum of their personalities varies dramatically. Some are really low-key. They approach it as if they are showing home movies: 'This is where we went in Cozumel, or, here's an interesting beach in Portugal.' But with others, it's just show business. They come on with a ruffled shirt and a tuxedo, they tell a couple of jokes, and it's like a nightclub act." John Holod's opening monologue at the Vassar Brothers Institute screening of Cuba on March 4, 1998 included jokes about Fidel Castro, exploding cigars, Pope John Paul II, and Monica Lewinsky [Figure 9].

Most lecturers try to include a few references to the region where the film is being presented, a technique, common to live performers, used to foster a sense of community. Paradoxically, the filmmakers mediate the motion picture medium, rather than the other way around. They speak directly to their audiences as fellow travelers, "Those of you who have been to Hong Kong will agree with me that it has the best food in the world." At a screening in Portland, a lecturer jokingly chastised two patrons for arriving ten minutes late. One producer introduced his presentation with the remark, "The more I travel, the more grateful I am to be an American." And, after a pause, he added, "God bless America." Applause followed. In the past, it was not unusual for screenings to begin with the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem [Soule 1997: 188].11 The travel lecturer personalizes the anonymous, but common, "voice of God" narration that often accompanies documentaries on television [Ruoff 1992: 222-6]. In travelogue presentations, the volume varies as the speaker glances at the screen, checks


his or her notes, moves towards and away from the microphone. Lecturers occasionally laugh with the audience at their own jokes. Several husband-and-wife pairs offer a novel style of tag-team narration, alternating sections of the film. Although generally using a low-tech process, lecturers have elaborate techniques


for managing a live mix of sound effects and music along with the voice. Most use music and effects tracks on cassette and manipulate a portable tape recorder from the podium. Others have optical, sound-on-film, prints and use a wireless transmitter which allows them to control the volume setting on the projector from the stage.

It is a convention of the travelogue that the lecturer filmed the country represented. By and large, it is so, and the rhetoric of film presentation relies on personal anecdotes, first-hand information, and eye-witness accounts (as does ethnographic writing, I might add). However, films are occasionally narrated by lecturers who did not shoot the images. John Holod learned the technique of film presentation by accompanying veteran Dick Massey on the lecture circuit in 1989 with New Zealand/Red Sea: Above and Below and Along the Mexican Border: California to Texas. Each evening, the young apprentice learned a passage of the narration, which he read live from behind the screen, until, bit by bit, he had memorized both shows. Eventually, when Massey retired in mid-season, Holod took over the presentations, paying fees for the rights to the films. Needless to say, the young lecturer then presented the films as if he had taken them, later splicing in footage of himself to further personalize the movies. For the rest of the season, Holod lectured about places he had never been. Though remarkable today, such a pose would not have been unusual in 19th century lantern slide shows, "Sets of


views accompanied by readings could be acquired from any major lantern firm and could be used by even the most untravelled to present lantern exhibitions" [Barber 1993: 69].

Lecturers rarely flaunt foreign language competency, typically presenting themselves on a trip that any audience member might easily take. Similarly, native speakers are rarely heard as such speech is almost always filtered through the voice of the filmmaker. Although the delivery is typically quite polished, lecturers still occasionally make off-the-cuff remarks, unwittingly stumble over passages, excuse or repeat themselves, features that recall home movie screenings rather than TV programs. Many recite from memory, others consult notes. It is difficult to capture in print the charms and idiosyncrasies of live narration. Speaking of social structure in Central America, the producer of Belize and Guatemala stated in Portland that "the Mayan are on the lowest class of the rung." In the middle of a screening of New Zealand: An Outdoor Adventure, the speaker interrupted his narration to politely ask of the projectionist, "Could we have the focus check, please?"

Clearly, the apparatus of cinema is displayed and acknowledged in the typical travelogue presentation. In some venues, such as those used by Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, the projector is visible and audible in the back of the hall. Recognizing that their audience includes many amateur photographers and would-be cinematographers, producers may explain how they obtained particularly remarkable footage. In addition, there has been a proliferation of films about travel filmmaking recently, as elderly lecturers have produced works such as Adventure Filming the World, The Great American Travelogue: The Story of Travel Adventure Filmmakers, and The First Fifty Years. This reflexive turn has perhaps been fueled by a growing sense of the live travelogue as a dying form. At the same time, such retrospective works also offer an opportunity for producers to recycle old footage, obtaining greater return on the initial investment.

There is a subversive, quasi avant-garde current working in the travel film lecture field, usually under the guise of humor and parody. So, for example, "the holiest of holy pilgrimages" in Bill Stockdale's Pilgrimage Across Europe turns out to be the golf course at St. Andrew's in Scotland. This anarchic spirit also appears in his macabre Cemeteries Are Fun. (Portland exhibitor Alan Jones decided not to book this film, explaining, "A lot of our audience is elderly people. I don't know about having them look at gravestones for eighty minutes.") The same producer even made a film worthy of Andy Warhol, called The Ride, a U.S. cross-country tour shot entirely through the windshield of his car!

The travel lecture film comprises a full-fledged industry, with filmmakers, booking agencies, exhibitors, and audiences in the millions. This industry presents intriguing parallels with early cinema, vaudeville, and home movies, all deserving of additional analysis. As little has been written about post-war travelogues, this article provides an overview of film style and mode of production as a way of opening up discussion in the field. Numerous questions about travel lecture films -- their ideological effects, their role in constructing cultural identities, their nostalgia for pre-industrial forms, their future survival -- await further study. Interested researchers should consult the following entry in this journal issue, Daisy Njoku's "A Resource Guide to Travel Film Repositories."



1.Although the travelogue is a staple of motion pictures, its importance has only just begun to be reflected in the literature of film studies. An earlier version of this essay, "Around the World in Eighty Minutes: The Travel Lecture Film," appeared in CineAction no. 47, 1998, 2-11. I am grateful to Susan Morrison, Tom Doherty, Dirk Eitzen, and Karel Dibbets for comments on that version and to CineAction for permission to reprint it here. My thanks also to David MacDougall, Carl Plantinga, and Richard Chalfen who subsequently made very interesting comments on my work on travel lecture films. In her Ph.D. dissertation, World Pictures: Travelogue Films and the Lure of the Exotic, 1890-1920 (University of Chicago, 1999), Jennifer Peterson argues that virtually all cinema is travel cinema. I am indebted to Margaret Werry's manuscript "'A Share of the Wishful Land': Film, Theater and the Virtual Tourism of the World's Fair" for this reference. Werry is currently completing her doctorate in Performance Studies at Northwestern University, with a dissertation entitled "Tourism, gender, ethnicity and the performance of nationalism, Aotearoa/New Zealand 1889 -- 1914." (back)

2. Travel film lectures have a long pedigree around the world; readers familiar with the history of French and German cinema, for example, will recognize the persistence of this form. My study focuses exclusively on North America and, unfortunately, little literature exists on travel lectures in other countries for comparison purposes. This chapter is based on public screenings, professional literature, fieldwork, and interviews. (All quotes not otherwise attributed come from screenings I attended and interviews I conducted in Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Texas, New York, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida.) I would like to thank the many filmmakers, exhibitors, and audience members who shared their passion for travelogues with me. Special thanks are due producer John Holod, who invited me into his motor home for two weeks during his 1997-1998 lecture tour, and Portland promoter Alan Jones who introduced me to local audience members and lent me photographs, flyers, and posters. Mari Ray of Kamen Film Productions generously provided production stills. (back)

3. During the 1993-1994 lecture season, there were numerous centennial celebrations of Holmes' presentation of what these producers consider the "first travelogue." Cf., "100 Years of Travelogues," Travelogue: The International Film Magazine 17.2 (1994), 8. (back)

4. Annual meetings of the Travel Adventure Cinema Society bring together exhibitors, filmmakers, and booking agencies. TRACS is the umbrella organization of the industry, comprised of the Professional Travelogue Sponsors (PTS) and the International Motion Picture and Lecturers Association (IMPALA). The IMPALA film festival allows directors to preview new work for exhibitors. My research on live travelogues began December 6-8, 1997, at the annual convention in Las Vegas. (back)

5. While attending the 1997 INTRAFILM convention in Las Vegas, I met many travel lecturers, but was most intrigued by one, John Holod, who was staying outside in the hotel parking lot in an motor home. Always joking, John seemed like a good subject for a documentary about the travelogue business. Cinematographer Philippe Roques and I started shooting a portrait of Holod on March 4, 1998 in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he was presenting Cuba at the Crossroads at the Vassar Brothers Institute and then we continued for a ten day tour south that ended in Florida. The 30-minute documentary I directed, The Last Vaudevillian: On the Road with Travelogue Filmmaker John Holod, presents the routine of life on tour, the hours driving, the time in-between performances, the equipment setups, and the encounters with exhibitors, audiences, and friends on the road.


VHS copies are available from Jeffrey Ruoff, Film and Television Studies, HB 6194, Wilson Hall, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA. (It was reviewed in Visual Anthropology, 14(2): 225-227.) (back)

6. The denigration of video gradually started to change in the late 1990s as several producers began to present what they call "E-Cinema travelogues," shot with small Mini-DV camcorders and transferred to 16mm for projection or, increasingly, shown directly with video projectors. Economies of production clearly favor digital video in the future. (back)

7. Interestingly, only in-person appearances by directors Michael Moore (The Big One) and Oliver Stone (U Turn) at the Portland Art Museum in 1997 brought in large audiences comparable with those at the monthly World Cavalcade travelogue series. (back)

8. In contrast to travel lecture films, IMAX widescreen and 3-D travelogues (like many Hollywood movies) thrive on visceral sensations of movement and sound combined with extraordinary vistas. (back)

9. For the sake of this country by country designation, I have excluded from my sample twenty-eight thematically-organized or transcontinental films, such as Great Quotations from Great Locations and Christopher Columbus: The Discovery of the New World. (back)

10. Luis Buñuel's Las Hurdes (1932) parodies this encyclopedic tendency and many other aspects of live travelogues; see my essay "An Ethnographic Surrealist Film: Luis Buñuel's Land Without Bread," Visual Anthropology Review 14, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 1998), 45-57. (back)

11. Through the singing of the national anthem or other comparable gestures, these travel lecture films offer a ritual of communion through which audiences members reiterate their bonds to one another before embarking on a potentially threatening imaginary engagement with another culture. (back)



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