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Envisioning Asia

On Location, Travel, and the Cinematic Geography of U.S. Orientalism

Jeanette Roan

Publication Year: 2010

Whereas some other scholars read selected films mainly to illustrate political arguments, Roan never loses sight of the particularities of film as a distinctive cultural form and practice. Her drive to see 'cinema as a mechanism of American orientalism' results in not just a textual analysis of these films, but also a history of their material production and distribution. ---Josephine Lee, University of Minnesota "Envisioning Asia offers an exciting new contribution to our understandings of the historical developments of American Orientalism. Jeannette Roan deftly situates changing cinematic technologies within the context of U.S. imperial agendas in this richly nuanced analysis of 'shooting on location' in Asia in early 20th century American cinema." ---Wendy Kozol, Oberlin College "Through her vivid illustration of the role of American cinema in the material, visual, and ideological production of Asia, Jeanette Roan takes the reader on a journey to Asia through a very different route from the virtual travel taken by the viewers of the films she discusses." ---Mari Yoshihara, University of Hawai'i at Manoa The birth of cinema coincides with the beginnings of U.S. expansion overseas, and the classic Hollywood era coincides with the rise of the United States as a global superpower. In Envisioning Asia, Jeanette Roan argues that throughout this period, the cinema's function as a form of virtual travel, coupled with its purported "authenticity," served to advance America's shifting interests in Asia. Its ability to fulfill this imperial role depended, however, not only on the cinematic representations themselves but on the marketing of the films' production histories---and, in particular, their use of Asian locations. Roan demonstrates this point in relation to a wide range of productions, offering an engaging and useful survey of a largely neglected body of film. Not only that, by focusing on the material practices involved in shooting films on location---that is, the actual travels, negotiations, and labor of making a film---she moves beyond formal analysis to produce a richly detailed history of American interests, attitudes, and cultural practices during the first half of the twentieth century. Jeanette Roan is Adjunct Professor of Visual Studies at California College of the Arts and author of "Exotic Explorations: Travels to Asia and the Pacific in Early Cinema" in Re/collecting Early Asian America: Essays in Cultural History (2002). Cover art: Publicity still, Tokyo File 212 (Dorrell McGowan and Stuart McGowan, 1951). The accompanying text reads: "Hundreds of spectators gather on the sidelines as technicians prepare to photograph a parade scene in 'Tokyo File 212,' a Breakston-McGowan Production filmed in Japan for RKO Radio distribution." Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Contents

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pp. xi-

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Introduction: On Location and the Production of Place

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pp. 1-26

The Good Earth (Sidney Franklin, 1937) opens with an onscreen preface that frames the film as representing the essence of China: “The soul of a great nation is expressed in the life of its humblest people. In this simple story of a Chinese farmer may be found something of the soul of China—its humility, its courage, its deep heritage from the past and its vast promise for the future.” This representation was reinforced by texts...

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CHAPTER ONE. "To travel is to possess the world": The Illustrated Travel Lectures of E. Burton Holmes

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pp. 27-68

The illustrated travel lecturer Elias Burton Holmes began his 1953 autobiography The World Is Mine with his motto, “To travel is to possess the world.” He intended the phrase metaphorically: “I know that through travel I have possessed the world more completely, more satisfyingly than if I had acquired the whole earth by purchase or conquest.” Yet despite...

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CHAPTER TWO. Asia in Early American Cinema: From Street Scenes to War Stories

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pp. 69-111

The title “SHANGHAI STREET SCENE, No. 2” appears first, as white lettering on a black background, along with a name, “Thomas A. Edison,” the date of the film, “1898,” and a control number, “38218.” After a few seconds, we see a black-and-white image of a broad street lined with trees. Our attention is immediately drawn to two rickshaws and a vehicle...

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CHAPTER THREE. Knowing China: Accuracy, Authenticity, and The Good Earth

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pp. 113-155

Pearl Sydenstricker was born in Hillsboro, West Virginia, in 1892 while her American missionary parents were home on leave from China. At the age of three months, she accompanied her parents on their return to China, where she would spend much of the first half of her life. While other Americans read or heard about the violence of the Boxer Uprising,...

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CHAPTER FOUR. At Home in the World: Occupied Japan and the American Century

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pp. 157-200

In James Michener’s autobiography, The World Is My Home: A Memoir, he attributes his success as a writer in part to fortuitous timing: I published my books at the precise time when Americans were beginning to look outward at the entire world rather than inward at themselves. They were spiritually and intellectually ready and even eager to read the exploring...

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Conclusion

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pp. 201-213

Despite all of the information about geisha that My Geisha shares with its audiences, the film clearly was not the last word on the subject. Popular interest in and curiosity about geisha has continued unabated to the present day, as is evidenced by the 2005 film Memoirs of a Geisha (Rob Marshall), based on the 1997 novel by Arthur Golden...

Notes

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pp. 215-244

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 245-260

Index

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pp. 261-266


E-ISBN-13: 9780472027064
E-ISBN-10: 0472027069
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472050833
Print-ISBN-10: 0472050834

Page Count: 278
Illustrations: 8 B&W photographs
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Asians in motion pictures.
  • Asia -- In motion pictures.
  • Culture in motion pictures.
  • Motion pictures -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Documentary films -- United States -- History and criticism.
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