Colonial Imaging: Early Films From the Netherlands Film Museum

Imagine you’re an American (or Dutch or French) tourist or explorer during the 1910s or 20s, visiting Africa, Indochina, the Dutch East Indies, and other remote places, gawking at the natives and their everyday lives and customs. At once fascinating and unnerving, this two-day, five-part program of silent films documents that experience. Having previewed about half of these intrusive travelogues on video, minus music and in some cases the early color processes some of them employed, I still found this a dazzling–and troubling–basket of riches. The filmmakers and their presuppositions are as clearly inscribed in the footage as their subjects, whether the spectacle happens to be Egyptians praying in 1920, the remarkable (and racist) animated interludes in a 1918 item about an American national park, extended looks at life in the Dutch East Indies in the teens, or 1928 glimpses of the American south (which imperialistically includes Cuba and Panama). When Martin and Osa Johnson, filming “Australian cannibals” in 1917, implicitly contrast their own “precautionary” rifles with those of the “bloodthirsty tribes” armed by “unscrupulous traders,” the duplicity becomes transparent. Saturday’s programs will include symposia at which an impressive array of local and visiting scholars (among them the University of Chicago’s Tom Gunning, Miriam Hansen, and Yuri Tsivian, three of the most sophisticated silent film specialists to be found anywhere) will delve into the meanings and implications of this rare material. Univ. of Chicago, 1212 E. 59th St., Friday, November 21, 7:00 (Looking Back, featuring original piano accompaniment by Sebastian Huydts, and The Work of J.C. Lamster, accompanied by Friends of the Gamelan), and Saturday, November 22, 9:00 AM (The Colonial Gaze at Home: Nonurban Scenes From Europe and the United States, accompanied by Huydts, and films by Martin and Osa Johnson), 773-702-8575; also Univ. of Chicago Film Studies Center, 5811 S. Ellis, Saturday, November 22, 2:00 (home movies from the Dutch East Indies), 773-702-8596. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Simba: King of the Beasts film still.