"We' re not tourists, we're travellers ... tourists are someone(sic) who thinks about going home the moment they arrive ... whereas a traveller might not come back at all ..."
B. Bertolucci's "The Sheltering Sky" (1990)
Film historians have been preoccupied with motion pictures that travelled - British and French to America, Italian to Germany, Danish perhaps to Russia, etc., and with the influence of all that travel, whatever that influence might have been.
My concern is with films about travelers, which is to say with tourism and the making of movie goers out of tourists and vice versa.
Tourism, travel for travel's sake, was and in some ways still is a marker of status and success. In the period under consideration, 1896 -1918, military tourism was, generally speaking, the only form of travel available to ordinary people. Travel was otherwise undertaken of necessity by businessmen, immigrants, refugees, itinerant laborers, commuters and nomads.
It is the purpose of this paper to consider the representation of the tourist in the American cinema,1903-04, to reflect on the evident popularity of some kinds of travelogue in an entertainment milieu that marked by a variety of ethnic and national stereotypes, and finally to point out what appears to have been a correspondence of sorts between the rising tourist industry and an emerging continuous action film narrative, a correspondence in which the image of Thomas Cook begins to merge with that of Adolph Zukor. To do this I will examine, from a loosely comparative perspective, Edwin Porter's European Rest Cure (1904) and a series of short subjects filmed by Edison studio employee Alfred C. Abadie in March, April and May, 1903, on a Thomas Cook tour of Italy, Syria, Egypt and other territories under the control of the Ottoman Empire.
Modern tourism began with the invention of conveyances that could be operated to a fixed timetable, the train, and for overseas travel, the steamship. It is no coincidence that Thomas Cook opened for business in England in 1841, just three years after the first trans-Atlantic steamship crossing. As conceived by Thomas and his son John, tourism involved the marketing of a complete package that included transportation, accommodation and diversion. With the rise of industrialized travel in Victorian England, pioneered by the Cooks, women now felt, for the first time, free to travel, thus ending the genderization of travel, what Eric Leed has termed the "masculinization of mobility."
The standard Cook's tour and the post-vaudeville house film narrative, as they evolved within different though not entirely unrelated industrial practices, seem to have had this in common: the displacement of certain harsh and unpredictable qualities by an intricate formalism.
Some attention has been paid to the influence of the travelogue on the early development of the film narrative. Fruitful questions about the role of the travelogue in the elaboration of early fiction film have, as we know, been posed by Charles Musser and Philip Rosen, among others, questions about the narrative values of canvas versus actual sets, p o v structures, procedures of closure absorbed into the fictional narrative from screen travelogue exhibition practice, etc. But we should as well begin to look beyond the transformation of travelogue narrative into fictional narrative to the underlying sources of appeal of certain views of foreign places to turn-of-the century American film audiences, to men and women, laborers and professionals, to people of different races and backgrounds.
The International Zeitgeist
The internationalism that distinguished this period took different forms. There were the novels of Joseph Conrad, who employed the conventions of the romantic adventure story to explore the meeting of cultures, the encounter between the so-called primitive and the civilized. On another level, that encounter was represented by the putative "wild man" of Borneo, put on view in a cage of the Barnum and Bailey Circus.
International expositions, dating from the 1883 exposition in Amsterdam, generally included ethnographic installations - an Egyptian street, an African village, an arctic igloo. Wild-west shows staged elaborate scenes based on events drawn from the immediate American past, e.g. Custer's Last Stand, that for east-coast audiences would have had a distant frontier aura. Turn of the century impresarios like Buffalo Bill Cody sought to keep those entertainments current by organizing cast-of-hundreds spectacles based topical events that included the Spanish-American War, the Boer War, and the Boxer Rebellion in China.
Much of the allure of cinema in its first half decade lay in the replication of those kinds of shows for the screen in reduced scale. Otherwise less dramatic material, such as George Melies's footage of the Exposition international in Paris in 1900, and the quantities of footage from abroad in the Lumiere and Edison company catalogues nevertheless drew their share of paying customers. The 1906 Edison catalogue listing the Abadie footage, included scenes from Russia, Japan, China, Ireland, England, Germany and Mexico.
Curiously, or not, that same catalogue contained numerous examples of undisguised xenophobia: Cohen's Advertising Sale (1904), What Happened in the Tunnel (1903) and Peeping Frenchman at the German Bathhouse (1904) to cite just three. Unfriendly images of Italians, Gypsies, Mexicans and Chinese were likewise not in short supply. In the period, ethnic disapprobation even extended to the handicapped. In The Deaf Mutes Ball, a 1907 Biograph subject, "two deaf-mutes attended a masquerade ball, one made up as a polar bear, the other as an Italian bear trainer" the deaf received the sort of roughhouse screen treatment more typically reserved for Gypsies, Jews and Blacks.
No Rest Cure
Edwin Porter's European Rest Cure (1904) was a film that owed most of its inspiration to the forms and attitudes of that genre of vaudeville screen comedy rather than to the realities of the early century pleasure travel. Here an "old gentleman," in need of respite from "business cares" is packed off by wife and daughter on a tour abroad. Pummeled without mercy in a sequence of pasteboard settings, the fellow gets little repose. Made ill by a storm at sea, he arrives on dry steady land only to take a fall from the battlement of an Irish castle while attempting to kiss the Blarney Stone. That credential of Gaelic provenance is apparently what qualified the character for the travel abuse that follows: He is accosted by hookers in Paris, tumbles down the Alps, is subjected to a mugging in Italy, plunges from a pyramid in Egypt, and is finally slapped around in a German mud bath before arriving back on the docks of New York City, a battered wreck. One is left today, probably no less than in 1904, to marvel at the vaudeville house geography that located Egypt in Europe.
European Rest Cure is not atypical of Porter's Edison Company output which for the most part represented a fair reflection of the prejudices and social fantasies that bubbled in the minds of that large segment of the population trapped at the bottom end of early twentieth-century American society.
To the Dreamy and Voluptuous East The Mediterranean tour Abadie filmed sailed out of the port of New York on 3 February 1903 aboard the Auguste Victoria, a ship of the Hamburg American Line chartered by the "Thomas Cook Company". At that time Cook held the monopoly on all Nile mail and passenger traffic.
For two years, 1901-1903, Abadie had been Edison's man on the continent, based in Paris. That job ended with the arrival in Europe of James White in March 1903. It appears to have been at this point, mid-March, that Abadie left France to join Cook's Mediterranean tour, in progress, in Syria. The tour had already passed through Madeira, Gibraltar, Algiers, Malta, Athens, Constantinople and Smyrna, Turkey.
The circumstances in which Abadie attached himself to the tour are unclear. It is known that the Cook company did not employ photographic material to appeal to potential clients. That being the case, it was unlikely for there to have been any sort of commercial arrangement between Cook and Edison, and in fact Edison catalogue copy makes no reference to Cook, only to the line that operated the ships.
The views Abadie brought back to New Jersey were shot in Beyrouth (Beirut), Jerusalem, Jaffa, Cairo, Venice, Naples and Sicily. For whatever reason, the Edison company's motion picture catalogues of 1904, 1906 and 1907 only offered for sale about a dozen of those scenes out of a total of 29 registered for copyright.
The cost of the seventy-seven day tour was $400 per person, this at a time when an unskilled American laborer was paid a wage unlikely to exceed $500 per annum. The Cook company coyly chose, however, to focus on the bargain value of the package rather than on its exclusivity. "Never before in the history of pleasure travel," declared the advertising department," has so extensive, varied, and generally attractive a trip been offered to the public for the prices quoted." Evidence that the deal was an attractive one for an elite with the means is to be found in the fact that the Auguste Victoria was a back-up. All the places had been booked on the S.S. Moltke, the original ship chartered for the tour.
Predicable, Pleasant and Safe Before Cook travelers to Egypt and the Levant made their way with the help of guidebooks, Murray's and Baedeker. But as informative as those manuals were, innocents were still left unprotected from the abusive and predatory practices of the region's dragomen, not to say the dangerously bad food and the menaces of theft, kidnapping and occasional murder.
What Cook sought to offer the traveler when in 1869 the company organized its first Egyptian tour was the elimination of the horrors and dangers visits to that part of the world had traditionally involved. Cook's goal was to make such travel predictable, pleasant and safe. Joining his tour would, Cook claimed, allow one to "escape the Winter," to view "the dreamy and voluptuous life of the Mohammedan East," to visit "patriarchal Palestine, and the scenes of the Sacred Story," and finally, the chance to see "Egypt with its many centuries old Pyramids, Temples and Pictorial Tombs."
Tours to the Middle East did not originate with the Thomas Cook company. Egypt had been a favored holiday spot for Roman soldiers on leave. No country, it was said in Roman times, had more to show the tourist than had Egypt. The Arizona of antiquity, Egypt was recommended by Roman doctors to victims of T.B. and other ailments.
Nineteenth century travel to Egypt dated from the opening of the overland trade route to India in the 1840's that passed through Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.
Roughly a decade later some Victorians had their travel appetites whetted by viewing scenic panoramas depicting those locations.
For the male traveler, then as before, there was the opportunity for sexual adventure. One finds this example in the journals of a British officer who went up the Nile with Cook in 1884.
"I bought a very lady-like little girl for £16. I kept her in a pension and gave her the best of everything ... I wept over her on leaving and sold her for £10."
The net loss of £6, one presumes, having inspired the tears.
Abadie's Mediterranean footage combined the elements of two genres of established success: the travelogue and the biblical subject. Moreover, the material had the cachet of authenticity, on the spot records captured by what Edison publicists called their "artists." The Egyptian material enabled the Edison Company to beat out the competition from Pathe by two years, Kalem by eight.
The first Abadie sequence, shot on 7 March, was of a party of tourists riding donkeys in Syria; the final one was taken on 10 May with the tour heading back to New York. Included were unexceptional postcard views of lakes and waterfalls, Lake Lucerne, Switzerland, and Panorama of Tivoli, showing the Seven Falls, as well as staged events that merely attempted to replay vaudeville house ethnographic clichés, Eating Macaroni in the Streets of Naples, Arabian Jewish Dance and A Jewish Dance in Jerusalem. Shearing a Donkey in Egypt, Fording the River on Donkeys, which shows a great deal of unnecessary cruelty being meted out to these unfortunate creatures, Egyptian Boys in a Swimming Race, Egyptian Fakir with Dancing Monkey. Herd of Sheep on the Road to Jerusalem and Washing Clothes in Sicily depict what appear routine activities reenacted for the camera. Both the river and the dance subjects captured the arm-waving antics of locals hired to choreograph those scenes.
Nine of the film subjects, almost a third of them, featured members of the tour party, men and women, attempting to maintain their overdressed dignity, the men in long coats and top hats, the women in wide-brimmed headwear and long dresses, while conveying the impression of relaxed enjoyment as members of the party are rowed to share, scoop water out of the Jordan River, and are mounted on donkeys: Tourists Returning on Donkeys from Mizpah (Syria), Passengers Embarking at Beyrouth, Tourists Taking Water from the River Jordan, Tourists Embarking at Jaffa, Tourists Starting on Donkeys for the Pyramids of Sakkarah, Feeding Pigeons in Front of St. Mark's Cathedral, Venice Italy, and Tourists Landing at (the) Island of Capri, Italy, Crossing the Atlantic.
The distinction between the tourists and local inhabitants is always clear. The dress of the natives, the caps and fezes, baggy pantaloons and djalabas, is not the only thing that distinguishes them from the visitors. There are, too, their darker visages and physical agility. The "Cook Company" sought a further distinction, between their representatives, who wore uniforms with golden buttons, and locals employed as crew and company tour party aides who wore shirts with the name Cook plainly visible on the front.
Out in the streets and market places, traditional male territory, there are few, if any, women to be seen. These views, reverse angle shots of the preceding ones, reveal sights the tourists might actually have seen: Panoramic View of Beyrouth, Syria Showing Holiday Festivities, Jerusalem's Busiest Street Showing Mt. Zion, Street Scene at Jaffa, Panoramic View of an Egyptian Cattle Market, Egyptian Market Scene, Going to Market, Luxor, Egypt, Primitive Irrigation in Egypt, Excavating Scene at the Pyramids of Sakkarah and Market Scene in Old Cairo, Egypt.
There was the occasion in those distant settings for members of the Cook party to experience the frisson of the tourist, which is to say that special giddiness that is a consequence of the meeting of the imagined and the real triggered in the presence of familiar icons of place, such as the Pyramids. The tour structure held other travel realities at arm's length, as it promised to. There was virtually no interaction between the tourists and the men and boys who turn to stare into Abadie's lens, nor much if any reciprocal excursionist interest in them. Chances were that few if any of the visitors spoke the languages of the areas they visited. What they sought were portable souvenirs, like the Jordan River water. The travel experience desired and the one apparently delivered by Cook was the limited experience of place.
Exhibited as vaudeville house entertainment, the Abadie footage with its revelations of alien fabric patterns, exotic street traffic and dark afro-arabic countenances, aided perhaps by a Manhattan benshi, would have been re-fashioned into an idealized continuous narrative, a sentimental movie journey across an imaginary landscape, which is to say an inducement for those with the means to book passage with Thomas Cook and for everybody to return for another film show.
It is probably an error to protest too strongly the staged ethnographic of portions of Abadie's material. More likely to mislead were the scenes taken as they were found of routine Holy Land existence. The superficial impression of those street and market views is of a visit to the edge of humanity with a safe return home guaranteed, an encounter that replayed certain familiar features of world's fair displays and Coney Island amusements. Egypt had become an area to which one might travel and return all to the same merry-go-round timetable regulating the business affairs that paid the travel bills.
Paradoxically, perhaps, that deliberately organized structure of industrial mobility brought the movie goer, if not the traveler, into contact with a pre-industrial biblical world of camels, sheep and donkeys: Jerusalem's "busiest street" contained just enough camel traffic to underwrite its reputation of a world seemingly at peace, without the violent labor unrest and ideological agitation that gripped early twentieth-century America. Moreover, it might not be unreasonable to speculate that the popularity of biblical epics, like The Passion Play, had less to do with their spiritual associations than their meaning as socio-economic models in a time of uncertainty that saw rural values rapidly giving away to urban conditions.
Edwin Porter may or may not have been nudged by a viewing of Abadie's work to turn out European Rest Cure. The film scenes Abadie brought home were hardly more enlightening than the Porter one-reeler, though probably better understood at the social stratum of the passengers aboard the Auguste Victoria.
Those passengers, members of a new affluent class, were people who if short on sophistication, could not only ante up the hefty price of the tour but also afford to be away for the two and a half months it lasted. If they were not part of the crowd that flocked to vaudeville house screen shows in 1903, they were quite likely the kind of people a man like Adolph Zukor, whose concept of the movies as an industry bore a striking resemblance to Thomas Cook's tourism vision, would be eager to attract to the picture palaces of America a decade hence.