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Facing the Pacific

Jeffrey Geiger

Publication Year: 2007

The enduring popularity of Polynesia in western literature, art, and film attests to the pleasures that Pacific islands have, over the centuries, afforded the consuming gaze of the west—connoting solitude, release from cares, and, more recently, self-renewal away from urbanized modern life. Facing the Pacific is the first study to offer a detailed look at the United States’ intense engagement with the myth of the South Seas just after the First World War, when, at home, a popular vogue for all things Polynesian seemed to echo the expansion of U.S. imperialist activities abroad. Jeffrey Geiger looks at a variety of texts that helped to invent a vision of Polynesia for U.S. audiences, focusing on a group of writers and filmmakers whose mutual fascination with the South Pacific drew them together—and would eventually drive some of them apart. Key figures discussed in this volume are Frederick O’Brien, author of the bestseller White Shadows in the South Seas; filmmaker Robert Flaherty and his wife, Frances Hubbard Flaherty, who collaborated on Moana; director W. S. Van Dyke, who worked with Robert Flaherty on MGM’s adaptation of White Shadows; and Expressionist director F. W. Murnau, whose last film, Tabu, was co-directed with Flaherty.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. v


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-17

In the late 1990s, an advertisement for Fortunoff jewelers ran in upscale publications such as the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine: it depicted a windswept beach and the blue waters of the Pacific; a miniature rowboat and a string of black pearls rested on the sand. ...

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1. The Garden and the Wilderness: Tropes of Order and Disorder

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pp. 18-73

It has often been observed that a key moment in history haunts almost all subsequent representations of Polynesia: the Enlightenment evocation of Polynesian islands—in particular Tahiti—as the embodiment of both Christian and neoclassical pastoral myths. ...

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2. Idylls and Ruins: Frederick O'Brien in the Marquesas

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pp. 74-117

Shortly after the unexpected success of Nanook of the North, Robert and Frances Flaherty met with Frederick O’Brien at the Coffee House Club near Times Square with the painter George Biddle, who had lived in Tahiti, and the singer Grace Moore. ...

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3. Searching for Moana: Frances Hubbard and Robert J. Flaherty in Samoa

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pp. 118-159

The day after Nanook of the North’s premiere (11 June 1922), the New York Times could barely contain its excitement about the film’s previously unknown director. Through the dynamism and immediacy of his images, Flaherty had managed to bring “life itself ” from far-off Hudson Bay in Canada directly into New York’s Capitol Theatre: “Beside this film...

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4. The Front and Back of Paradise: W.S. Van Dyke and MGM in Tahiti

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pp. 160-191

As suggested in chapter 2, Frederick O’Brien’s White Shadows in the South Seas presented US audiences a largely critical account of imperialist hegemony in the South Pacific that consolidated and expanded on the skeptical perspectives of earlier works, notably Typee. ...

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5. The Homoerotic Exotic: From C.W. Stoddard to Tabu

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pp. 192-226

By the end of the 1920s, the revitalization that film had for some time injected into the well-worn themes of the Polynesian fantasy seemed to be on the wane. O’Brien’s popularity—and that of the group of writers that followed him such as Nordhoff and Hall and Robert Dean Frisbie—had dovetailed with an array of films such as A Virgin Paradise (1921),...

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pp. 227-232

For K. R. Howe, the renewed preoccupation in the early twentieth century with the Pacific island paradise can be attributed to increasing tourism, which helped to demystify and reshape some of the largely hostile images of Oceania produced throughout the nineteenth century.1 ...


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pp. 233-272


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pp. 273-296

Index [Includes About the Author]

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pp. 297-303

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862459
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824830663

Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 256470546
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Facing the Pacific

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Oceania -- Foreign public opinion, American.
  • Public opinion -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Oceania -- In literature.
  • Literature, Modern ‡x History and criticism.
  • Oceania -- Relations -- United States.
  • United States -- Relations -- Oceania.
  • Imperialism -- History -- 20th century.
  • Oceania -- In motion pictures.
  • Imperialism in motion pictures.
  • Popular culture -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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