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
Holod, travelogue filmmaker, March 1998
should be about all aspects of the medium, not simply those of
the dominant cinema. Promoting only documentary or avant-garde
alternatives, however, further marginalizes other forms, such
as newsreels, educational films, and industrials. My current interest
is the travel
lecture film, which I see as the archetypal form of the travelogue
in cinema. 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. 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).
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." 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. 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travelogues survive, and fewer still have been archived.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
on alternative film production and exhibition practices has been
limited to the early decades of cinema. While a recent 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."
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. The 1997-98 season included such titles
as Visages d'Australie and Parfums de Chine.
travelogue's show-and-tell characteristics have remained remarkably
consistent over the past century. The 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."
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.
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.
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
probably saw Frank Klicar's travel lecture film The Yugoslav
Republics than Emir Kusturica's 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;
John Holod has dates booked through the year 2000.
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. 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. 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. However, a 1988 advertisement in Travelogue:
The International Travel Film Magazine indicates the film
is at least a decade old.
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. In the end, they spend more time touring cities and towns
in America than they do visiting the countries shown in their
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.)
His motor home is a movie theater and motion picture studio on
wheels. When the 1997-98 lecture season ended, Holod headed north
to Alaska to shoot the footage for his next feature The Last
Great Road Trip.
Production: The Total Filmmaker
producers 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
sound on the lecture tours. 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." Another described filming
in China in the early 1980s "with sign language and a good phrase
book." 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?
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
producer referred to the VCR as "an abomination."
Despite their disdain, however, many lecturers now sell videotape
copies of their works, mostly at the screenings, but also by mail
order. (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
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.
and Audiences: Variety is the Rule
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, is conspicuously middle-class.
A description of a 1950s audience in Santa Barbara - "elderly,
wealthy, well dressed, attentive, and appreciative" - still holds true. An informal survey concludes that "most
are professional people, i.e., doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc."
In addition, the travelogue audience is loyal. A series at the
Denver Museum of Natural History has awarded plaques to women,
dubbed "Golden Girls", who have frequented lectures for fifty consecutive years.
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. At East Carolina
University, film lectures are followed by dinner parties with
the cuisine of the featured country. 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.
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. 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." 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."
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.
the World Cavalcade series in Portland, 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
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, breaks off this engagement. Further, live travelogues do
not encourage the kind of identification and emotional involvement
found in much Hollywood film. 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.
of the Travel Lecture Film
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.
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.
of a country suggests no automatic approach. Among the most favored,
and now clichéd, 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
the locale and quantify the world in every possible way.
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.
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 by Paul Theroux.
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." 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. 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.
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." 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.
Structure: The Detour
work on early cinema has stressed the importance of the train
in the development of film narrative.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
narrative arrangement of the travel lecture film has more in common
with what John Fell calls the "motivated link" in early cinema 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. 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.
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
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.
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." 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.
The Lecturer as Go-Between
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.
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
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. The travel lecturer
personalizes the anonymous, but common, "voice of God" narration
that often accompanies documentaries on television.
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."40
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?"
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.
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
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 virtually
nothing 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.
Although the travelogue is a staple of motion pictures, its importance
is not reflected in the literature of film studies. In my manuscript-in-progress
on the travel film experience, Being There: Notes on the Travelogue,
I analyze travel lecture films (Cuba at the Crossroads,
Return to Sweden), documentaries (Land Without Bread,
Sherman's March), ethnographic films (By Aeroplane to
Pygmyland, Cannibal Tours), experimental movies (Reminiscences
of a Journey to Lithuania, From the Pole to the Equator),
IMAX productions (Tropical Rainforest, Everest),
and feature films (2001: A Space Odyssey, Lisbon Story).
"Around the World in Eighty Minutes" is an interim report, part
of an ongoing investigation of live travelogues. It 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, 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. I am grateful to Susan Morrison, Tom Doherty, Dirk Eitzen,
and Karel Dibbets for comments on this essay. return
Thayer Soule, On the Road With Travelogues, 1935-1995: A 60-Year
Romp ( Seattle, WA: Peanut Butter Publishing 1997), 136-7.
Gene Wiancko, "40 Years in Travelogues," Travelogue: The International
Film Magazine 19.2 (1996), 21.return
André Gaudreault and Germain Lacasse, eds. The Moving
Picture Lecturer. IRIS: A Journal of Theory on Image and
Sound N. 22 Fall (1996), 15. return
Irving Wallace, "Everybody's Rover Boy" in Genoa Caldwell, ed.
Burton Holmes: The Man Who Photographed the World (New
York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.  1978), 11. 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. return
Annual meetings of the International Travel and Adventure Film
Guild bring together exhibitors, filmmakers, and booking agencies.
INTRAFILM 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 at the INTRAFILM convention,
December 6-8, 1997, in Las Vegas. return
Tom Gunning, "Early American Film" in John Hill and Pamela Church
Gibson, eds. The Oxford Guide to Film Studies (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1998), 258-262. return
Tom Doherty, "The Age of Exploration: The Hollywood Travelogue
Film," Cineaste January (1994), 38. return
Soule, op. cit. 178. return
"Meet Joan Lark," Travelogue: The International Film Magazine
15.2 (1992), 49. return
Bob Willis, "Why the Ukraine?: Filmmaker Accompanies Immigrant
Group to Homeland," Travelogue: The International Film Magazine
20.1 (1997), 16. return
Raphael Green, "Adventures of an Old China Hand," Travelogue:
The International Film Magazine 19.1 (1996), 23. return
Soule, op.cit. 246. return
Don Cooper, "Dear Coop," Travelogue: The International Film
Magazine 19.2 (1996), 36. return
Charles Musser and Carol Nelson, High-Class Moving Pictures:
Lyman H. Howe and the Forgotten Era of Traveling Exhibition, 1880-1920
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 189. return
Soule, op.cit. 119. return
Maureen Ferrante, "Looking Ahead to a New Season," The Performer:
The International Magazine of Stage and Screen 2.2 (1979),
Lucia Perrigo, "Lines by Lucia," Travelogue: The International
Film Magazine 17.2 (1994), 12. return
Perrigo, Lucia, "Lines by Lucia," Travelogue: The International
Film Magazine 18.2 (1995), 21. return
Perrigo, Lucia, "Lines by Lucia," Travelogue: The International
Film Magazine 19.2 (1996), 44. return
William S. Fisher, "Enthusiasm Always Shows Through," Travelogue:
The International Film Magazine 14.1 (1991), 28. return
Hal McClure, "How to Start Travel Film Series," Travelogue:
The International Film Magazine 11.2 (1988), 34. return
"Sponsors, Artists Advise How," The Performer: The International
Magazine for Stage and Screen 4.1 (1981), 6. return
Interestingly, only in-person appearances by directors Michael
Moore and Oliver Stone at the Portland Art Museum this year brought
in audiences comparable with those at the monthly World Cavalcade
travelogue series. return
Miriam Hansen, Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American
Silent Film. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991),
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. return
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. return
Buñuel's Las Hurdes (1932) parodies many aspects
of live travelogues. For a detailed comparison, see my forthcoming
essay, "An Ethnographic Surrealist Film: Luis Buñuel's
Land Without Bread," in Visual Anthropology Review
14.1 (Spring/Summer 1998). return
Mark Roberts, "Dream Factories: A Survey of Travel and Tourism,"
The Economist January 10 (1998), unpaginated supplement.
Lucia Perrigo, "Lines by Lucia," Travelogue: The International
Film Magazine 18.2 (1995), 33. return
Grant Foster, "Adventure in the East Indies, Beyond the Java Sea,"
Travelogue: The International Film Magazine 14.1 (1991),
Lynne Kirby, Parallel Tracks: The Railroad and Silent Cinema.
(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997). return
Jeffrey Ruoff, "Forty Days Across America: Kiyooka Eiichi's 1927
Travelogues," Film History 4.3 (Spring 1991), 243-49. return
John Fell, "Motive, Mischief, and Melodrama: The State of Film
Narrative in 1907" in John Fell, ed. Film Before Griffith.
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 277-8. return
David Bordwell, Janet Staiger and Kristin Thompson, The Classical
Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960.
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 47. return
Willis, op.cit. 9. return
Soule, op.cit. 188. return
Jeffrey Ruoff, "Conventions of Sound in Documentary" in Rick Altman,
ed. Sound Theory/Sound Practice. (New York: Routledge,
Chapman, and Hall, 1992), 222-226. return
X. Theodore Barber, "The Roots of Travel Cinema: John L. Stoddard,
E. Burton Holmes and the Nineteenth-Century Illustrated Travel
Lecture," Film History: An International Journal 5.1 (1993),