Travel Culture: Essays on What Makes Us Go

By Carol Traynor Williams | Go to book overview

"The Whole World Within Reach": Travel Images Without Borders

TOM GUNNING

AS CHARLES MUSSER has demonstrated in a pioneering and penetrating essay, the travel genre was "one of the most popular and developed" genres in early film. 1 In terms of pure numbers of productions it could rank with any other form of filmmaking until about 1906. And as Musser and others have shown, it is perhaps the genre of early film that is most clearly prepared for by precinematic practice. 2 Musser's careful research into the precinematic lantern slide illustrated travel lectures of John L. Stoddard and Burton Holmes establishes that the travel film grew directly out of this form. In fact, one would be hard pressed to make a definitive separation between the two, since travel lecturers like Burton Holmes adopted motion pictures as a natural extension of the lantern slides he was already using, and soon after the invention of cinema he simply introduced films into his lectures, interspersing moving and still images. Travel films became absorbed so smoothly into the travel lecture that the older practices of lecture and explanation adapted to the new technology without a major adjustment. However, we must approach such films with caution. "Foreign views" portray not only a distant site but also a particular point of view, one from outside the land viewed. This chapter explores this tourist viewpoint as embodied in early travel films, examining both the forms this viewpoint takes, the discourses that surrounded it, and its place within a peculiarly modern experience in which the role of images has taken on a new dimension. I believe that early travel films display a mode of perception.

Travel films share with other forms of early cinema an enormous range of exhibition contexts. While travel films as illustration for a lecture may have been their privileged mode (and one with enough status and popularity to permanently influence the way travel films were made and understood), such films were also shown as brief segments in a variety format of mixed genres (in the earliest years of exhibition), projected in special theaters designed as railway cars or other means of transportation (e.g., the Hale's Tours in 1905- 1906), or shown as multi-shot

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