Education in the School of Dreams: Travelogues and Early Nonfiction Film

Education in the School of Dreams: Travelogues and Early Nonfiction Film
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As an entirely unique commodity in the early twentieth century—one that provided a new kind of experience, travel- ing in the cinema—travelogue films provide much of historical and critical interest to explore. In picturing the world that does exist, early travel films created a world that does not exist: an idealized geography that functioned as a parallel universe on the cinema screen. Travel films have been present throughout film history.

Travel subjects began to take shape as a film genre with specific formal and stylistic conventions around During the —15 period, and par- ticularly in the years —13, travelogues occupied an important position in the burgeoning film industry. While these assertions ultimately proved incorrect, they provide important insight into the developing film industry and the broader cultural values it negotiated in the s. Travelogues persisted in commercial movie theaters throughout the silent era and into the sound era; one of the best-known travelogue series is James A.

Although they were celebrated for their ability to serve as surrogate travel, I analyze travelogues as a unique ex- perience in their own right: a multimedia sensory interlude in which specta- tors sat immobile in a darkened theater surrounded by strangers, their eyes and minds mobilized by images of geographical and cultural difference.

Watching a travelogue film, the viewer becomes a disem- bodied eye floating through a foreign landscape. As we shall see, these exotic views were actually quite generic, drawing from older traditions of picturesque travel represen- tation in popular media such as postcards, illustrated magazines, and stere- opticon lectures.

The films also drew on dominant notions of racial and cul- tural hierarchy, presenting all forms of difference within a grid of preexisting formulas. It is my contention, however, that despite these quite obvious tra- 4! Travelogue films, in capturing landscapes and people in movement, updated older forms such as the photograph, the stereograph, and the magic lantern lecture for the new century.

The years I discuss in this book, after the dawn of the twentieth century but before the First World War, represent a particular moment in the history of modernity. The so- called Edwardian Era, or the Progressive Era in the United States, was a mo- ment of rapid transformation industrialization, urbanization, immigration, new technologies, new cultural forms that yet held fast to many nineteenth- century values and sensibilities. The modernity thesis so called by those who oppose it has been the subject of much debate in film studies, and I do not want to rehash those debates here, especially since others such as Ben Singer have done such a thorough job of summarizing them.

For the purposes of materialist historiography, the sensibilities of an era are determined from the ground up—that is, through an analysis of texts and contexts—rather than imposed from the outside. Alongside this contradictory reformist rhetoric is another more theoretical tradition to which we might turn for a critique of travel films as ideological products in the context of modern mass culture.

His crucial intervention, against the pessimistic critical tide of the era, was to argue that the road to surmounting the decline of experience in modernity can be found only by moving through mass culture. For Benjamin, the path to overcoming this disenchant- ment was precisely through the agent of disenchantment: mass culture. I analyze travelogues as a contradictory genre that poses as a form of knowledge but actually functions as a form of mythification. Moreover, my analysis reveals a film genre so fraught with contradiction and ambivalence that it contains many moments of rupture and opportunities for resistance.

As much as they document places, travel films can also be seen as documenting mythologies about those places. Analyzing these myths entails not prolonging the dream but debunking its fictions in the spirit of awakening from the dream. As a form of landscape representation, travelogues engage questions of territory, nationalism, and political power.

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Indeed, W. Travelogues are deeply imbricated in the power dynamics of empire, but while they enact an imperial gaze, they also display the contradictions of that gaze. The dream metaphor is useful for signaling the deeply ambivalent nature of the fan- tasy landscapes conjured up by travelogues: Some dreams become night- mares, after all, and the dreamer does not always triumph in her dreams. This book does not provide a Freudian or psychoanalytic account of travelogues. The act of critical analysis, or reading against the grain, then, is akin to an act of awakening.

As an experience of technological modernity, travelogues contributed to a changing human perception of the world: What had been seen before through an inert series of still images now became a moving panorama of consumable places and people. Where do they go, and why do they go there? Travelogue films can help us think through some of these crucial questions of modernity. Travelogues traffic in images of the globe, enabling a trade in place-images to accompany the trade in material goods.

The early twentieth century was characterized by an unprecedented level of movement, not only of goods but also of people. In the visual cul- ture of travel that emerged out of this climate, a popular taste for foreign views emerged. Travelogue films found a niche in the mass culture of the era The Dreamworld of Cinematic Travel!

The new visual cul- ture of travel enabled people to envision the world as a series of consumable places. This sense of consumption is crucial: the various new forms of mass reproduction created a sense that places were now endlessly representable commodities.

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Home / Education in the School of Dreams Travelogues and Early Nonfiction Film In the earliest years of cinema, travelogues were a staple of variety film. Education in the School of Dreams: Travelogues and Early Nonfiction Film [ Jennifer Lynn Peterson] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. In the.

Indeed, given that the early twentieth century is also the high- water mark of imperial power, this era should also be seen as marking a new kind of visual imperialism, achieved through travel practices and the visual- ization of travel. They were also increasingly empires of travel. Nonetheless, what is so striking about these films is how they capture the awkwardness of the en- counter between filmmakers and their subjects.

More than a representation of a people or a place, it is this encounter that travelogues reenact for the viewer. This is not an actual contact zone but a represented one. While leisure travel was accessible to more people than ever before at the turn of the twenti- eth century, it was still not the common experience it became after the Sec- ond World War. International travel in this period still implied high-society leisure, luxurious trains, and ocean liners. Therefore, it is more precise to state that travelogues confer a tourist point of view on 8!

Even though travel films were often figured as a kind of compensatory travel, making tourism avail- able to those who could not otherwise command the power of the tourist gaze, I argue that early travel films constitute an experience in their own right. This is not an experience of travel but an experience of sitting in a darkened movie theater. Travel films use a specific set of cinematic tech- niques—framing, editing, movement—that tend to call attention to the act of looking. So while the spectator stared at these images on the screen, more often than not, the anonymous people filmed by travelogue cameras stared directly back at the audience.

This returned gaze is one way in which travelogues undermine the security conferred by their formulas, and can be opened up to resistant viewings. The early cinema period coincides with a peak era of immigration to the United States in the early twentieth century. But despite the fact that The Dreamworld of Cinematic Travel!

Why were representations of migration suppressed in this period, when so many people were actually migrating? One probable reason has to do with issues of class and cultural distinction.

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Perhaps the emergence of a film genre devoted to tourist imagery in an age of migration is symptomatic of the larger aspirations of upward mobility that characterize the Progressive Era. As recent scholarship on tourism has established, one of the constitu- tive points of tension in tourism is that between the tourist and the trav- eler.

Tourism, as one means of conspicuous consumption, has long been a way for the middle and upper classes to distinguish themselves from each other and from those who are less economically endowed. The origin point of modern tourism, the European Grand Tour, emerged in the seventeenth century as a sort of finishing school for the patrician male citizens of Great Britain. Animal imagery seems their inevitable lot: they are said to move in droves, herds, swarms, or flocks.

There is now scarcely one in the same number who has not spent a day there.


Continue shopping Checkout Continue shopping. Michele Pierson. T73P48 If you have changed your email address then contact us and we will update your details. As such, the author contends that scenic pictures provided audiences with vicarious travel experi- enees, which encouraged them to engage directly with the films. Yet the basic idea that travelogues are primarily an aesthetic experience rather than an educational one anticipates the argument of this book.

Historians do not seem to be able to agree, however, on when the era of mass leisure travel actually began. And some argue that the post—Second World War era was the beginning of truly mass tourism as airplane travel became common- place. While the scope of mass tourism has only continued to broaden since the nineteenth century, the scope of migration has followed a different path.

Be- tween and , almost Census Bureau. Migration takes many forms and has always been an important part of human history. But representations of migrant experience—including eco- nomic migration, forced migration, or migration to escape persecution— have not proven as marketable as representations of tourist experience.

When considering travelogue films, we should keep in mind the displace- ments of migration that are masked by their tourist gaze. When those who were themselves migrants viewed a travelogue film, perhaps of their home country, the film might have served as a compensation for migrancy, en- abling the viewer to reconnect with the homeland.

All of these social changes are an important context for the travelogue film of the early twentieth century, but aesthetic traditions present another crucial framework for understanding the genre. Cinema and Landscape: The Major and the Minor Popular place-images such as travelogues fostered a new way to see the world as representable through techniques of rational observation, a world filled with locations that could be pictured, landscapes made for consump- tion.

Travelogue films were particularly significant because they modernized the landscape by rendering it in motion and by breaking it into fragments through editing. We might begin, then, by thinking of travelogues as a quin- tessentially modern kind of space: a mechanized landscape. Approaching the films from the perspective of landscape allows us to locate and analyze their position of cultural marginality. Landscape is a well-established topic in art history and geography, but it has only just begun to be addressed in film studies. In fact, the small body of scholarly work on cinematic landscapes 12!

As a genre of painting, landscape rose to its highest prominence in the nineteenth century; before this, landscape was considered a lower- order subject.

Education in the School of Dreams

During the Renaissance, the European art academies ranked types of paintings by their significance, with landscape following genre painting, portraiture, and history painting in hierarchical importance. This hierarchy began to change in the nineteenth century, as British painters such as John Con- stable and J.

Turner forged a new kind of romantic landscape. For the Romantics, painting was no longer merely a matter of artistic practice but a reflection of the inner moral and religious disposition of the artist. At the same time, a new impetus for realistic documentation in landscape paint- ings was inspired by the ascendance of rational observation, exemplified by painters such as Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt. Landscape continued to gather significance in the modern world, and in mass culture it followed a path to increasing commodification and mechanization.

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Landscape became an essential component of illustrated magazines, chromolithographs, photo- graphs, and stereographs, all of which came to constitute a visual culture of travel in the nineteenth century. This emphasis on landscape continued into the new motion picture medium at the turn of the century. These films demand a different kind of spectator than narrative films. More- over, Third Cinema is avowedly political, while travelogues are only uncon- 14! How, then, can travel films be understood as a form of minor cinema?

And what do we gain by this categorization?

If cinema constitutes its own kind of language as some have argued since the s , then certainly it speaks in both a major and a minor key. Second, travelogues are saturated with political significance, un- abashedly displaying their colonial ideologies and their belief in progress through industrialization and modernization. While a few travelogue filmmakers are certainly known to film histori- ans today e. Depue , in this book I am less interested in tracking down unknown directors although this is certainly an important task than I am in unpacking the rhetoric of travelogues as a genre—or, in a larger sense, as a kind of institution.

The Dreamworld of Cinematic Travel! To understand travelogues as a form of minor cinema, we must read them against their grain, unearthing the potentially disruptive and opposi- tional power they contained. Travelogues are not oppositional in the way that avant-garde cinema is, but they do use a formal strategy that is distinctly different from that of fiction films of the same era.

In sum, travelogues are not intentionally minoritarian, but they had the potential for minoritarian effects. While these displays of dif- ference certainly follow colonialist conventions, they also frequently exceed the boundaries of such conventions.