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10th Orphan Film Symposium (April 6-9, 2016): Travel Lecture Films

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The Packard Campus is excited to host to the tenth edition of the Orphan Film Symposium, April 6-9, 2016; the theme is “Sound,” both with and without moving images. “Orphans X” is presented in conjunction with New York University Cinema Studies and its Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program.

You can register for Orphans X here.

The Orphan Film Symposium is truly an international affair and Orphans X is no different. One panel to which I’m looking forward features a neglected kind of film: the travel lecture. Nico de Klerk, Joachim Schätz, and Katalin Teller of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for History and Society in Vienna, Austria, will present a 1930 travel lecture film made by Colin Ross, Achtung Australien! Achtung Asien! Das Doppelkontinent Des Ostens [Attention Australia! Attention Asia! The Twin Continents of the East]. They will be joined by Paula Félix-Didier, Andrés Levinson, and Leandro Listorti from the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with several selections from that amazing archive.

Travel lecture films were quite popular in the first several decades of cinema and are still occasionally presented today as a nostalgic form of entertainment. They’re very much in the illustrated lecture tradition; typically the filmmaker/presenter would show a silent film he had shot featuring the glories of some exotic destination, keeping up a steady stream of patter as the film was projected. Some lecturers were so well known they became names above the title. Chicago-born Burton Holmes (1870-1958) was best known of the breed; during a 50+ year career he gave more than 8000 presentations, showing films he shot in every conceivable corner of the planet. The Library has several Holmes travelogues in the collection, including some shorts he made for Paramount, mostly from the silent era, but a few sound titles as well.

Colin Ross and son

Colin Ross is an especially interesting subject for study. Born in Vienna in 1885, Ross was a very popular travel writer/lecturer whose reputation was based on a stream of books about every continent save Antarctica. Much like Burton Holmes, his name was marketed as a brand, a brand that included his family (whom he invariably included in books, films, and photographs) and his geopolitical perspective. It’s this latter aspect—Ross was a committed Nazi who committed suicide in 1945 rather than face Germany’s defeat—that has essentially erased him from film history. DeKlerk, Schätz, and Teller will situate Ross in a broader (and pre-Nazi) context, looking at Achtung Australien! Achtung Asien! as an example of the confluence between Germany’s publishing and filmmaking industries.

In our collection, we have a great many more purely “travel” films than those intended to be accompanied by a lecture. These are ubiquitous and are the direct forerunner of the kind of shows you can watch 24 hours a day on the Travel Channel. I found one in the J. Fred and Leslie W. MacDonald Collection called A Day in Vienna (1936). It’s very typical—a series of charming images of the beautiful city, featuring the Imperial Palace, the Schloss Schönbrunn, and, of course, the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions.

A Day in Vienna was produced by Selenophon, the major Austrian distributor of newsreels and educational films. It was quite the active company, at least until the German annexation of Austria in March 1938. The sense of finality is clear from the 4 June 1938 Motion Picture Herald in which it’s reported, “Selenophon, maker of official Austrian newsreels and educationals, was active until May 1st, but now is being liquidated, and all its employees discharged.”

See you at Orphans X!

A Day in Vienna (Selenophon Talking Inc., 1936)

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