Motion Pictures

Travel Ideals in Film

by Gemma Blackwood (Volume editor) Andrew McGregor (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection 238 Pages
Series: Film Cultures, Volume 8


This volume examines representations and explorations of travel ideals in contemporary international cinema. It assembles work from a diverse range of academic fields including anthropology, sociology, ethnography, cinema, culture, tourism, communication and language studies, with contributions from international experts such as Mary Louise Pratt of New York University, whose work on ‘contact zones’ continues to provide the framework for scholarship on travel writing around the world. The volume explores the link between filmed spaces and real locations, with one of the fundamental dynamics being the investigation of filmmaking itself, and in particular the notion that cultural authenticity may be sought and found by filming ‘on location’. Also examined are the notions of fantasy and exoticism that arise through an idealisation of the locations themselves and their transformational impact on the protagonists who travel there. Such is the impact of motion pictures on contemporary culture that these travel ideals in film will inevitably influence our understanding of cities, regions, nations and cultures; indeed, the world around us and our role in it.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • In Motion and On Location: Representing Travel Ideals in Film
  • Chapter One: On Location: White SUVs, Moral High Ground, and the Politics of Re-enactment in Icíar Bollaín’s También la lluvia / Even the Rain
  • Chapter Two: Barcelona’s Cinematic Image: Negotiating Place in Mainstream International Cinema
  • Chapter Three: Not Another Road Movie: Alternative Utopias of Travel in Sans soleil (1982) and Sansa (2003)
  • Chapter Four: Road Movie in Reverse or Perpetual Exile? The Mirage of the ‘Return’ in Tony Gatlif’s Exils (2004)
  • Chapter Five: ‘The Film of a Provincial’: The Artist Traveller in Fellini’s La dolce vita (1959)
  • Chapter Six: Freedom and Belonging Up in the Air: Reconsidering the Travel Ideal with Jean-Luc Nancy
  • Chapter Seven: Paradise Glossed: The Representation of Backpacker Ideals in The Beach
  • Chapter Eight: Scenes of Black Masculinity and Wanderlust: Gendered Mobility and Film Diaspora in The Emperor Jones
  • Chapter Nine: Travel Ideals in Food: Cooking up an Ideal(ised) Italy in Contemporary American ‘Middlebrow’ Films
  • Chapter Ten: Coming to the Reel Australia: North American Exchange Student Perceptions of Australia
  • Chapter Eleven: Farewell to Journeying: Dennis O’Rourke’s Cannibal Tours
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index


In Motion and On Location: Representing Travel Ideals in Film

The connection between travel and cinema is profound. Emerging from an era in which photographic and visual image culture was transforming the epistemologic structures of modern society, cinematic technologies originate from the last decade of the nineteenth century. Although there are competing versions as to the first instance of a cinematic screening event, cited most frequently is the Lumière brothers’ first public screening of a short film, L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station) in 1895. Many of the early short films developed and projected in Europe and America were documentaries that emphasised movement and novelty. These early images and the technology used to produce them represented both a realism and an exoticism that were also characteristic of the burgeoning industry of mass travel.

Cinema developed in an era in which the industry of mass travel was also beginning to emerge and prosper. From its earliest days, cinema was often, as Vivian Bickford-Smith notes, used to “attempt to capture the wonders of urban modernity”.1 Early films often had ethnographic impulses – like photography, cinema could be used to capture important places in new colonies and ancient cultures.2 Ellen Strain, in her comprehensive account of ethnography, travel and visual culture notes “during the first years of cinema’s history, cameramen deployed across the globe captured on film the contrast between privileged travellers who left home via luxurious ships or newly built railroads and non-Western peoples who awaited their guests with empty rowboats ← 7 | 8 → and unsaddled donkeys.”3 Cinema captured sights and locations film spectators could watch in their home cities and fantasise about visiting; in other words, it promoted a form of armchair travel. Like literature, cinema was undoubtedly an important force in helping to strengthen and shape the twentieth-century traveller’s gaze – and this importantly includes the simple desire to visit filmed locations. John Urry has famously proposed that cinema, alongside other cultural forms such as literature, television and advertising, has long been one of the major influences on the touristic fantasy throughout the twentieth century.4 We might go further here to say that cinema helps to influence ideals about travel.

As mass tourism and cinematic technologies have developed across the twentieth century and beyond, so too have the possibilities to travel to film sites increased. While cinema was initially considered to benefit spectators by creating a vicarious type of “armchair travel”; so too has cinema been considered more of an impetus for travel rather than a replacement for it.5 Particularly since the end of World War II, the shooting locations of films have become increasingly accessible and known. The sites have become more accessible as travel has become more flexible and mobile for greater numbers of people on a global level.

Modern tourism, which first developed in tandem with the industrialisation of Europe and America, became a major mass industry in the 1950s with the development of commercial jet travel capable of trans-oceanic transit.6 At the same time, a trend towards mass-suburbanisation introduced mass car ownership and increases in ← 8 | 9 → disposable income, as well as available leisure time.7 The tourism industry moved toward more flexible tours over this period rather than the older prescribed tours of early mass tourism.8 Partly as a result of this global mobilisation and flexibility, the introduction of budget international carriers has meant that long-distance travel has become available to broader sections of society in the industrialised world. The ongoing canonisation of cinema and screen entertainment as a “high art form” has also meant that there is an accumulation of film sites as historical heritage sites. A globalised economy led to major US-financed films being made in many locations around the world.9

Shooting locations for Hollywood films have also become more publicised since the 1950s in a variety of ways. A number of factors have contributed to this knowledge, including first of all the standardisation of location shooting. Contemporaneous with the large-scale travel and leisure movement in the wake of the Second World War, cinema needed to compete with the rise of real tourism and other leisure forms by offering more realistic and spectacular effects. Hollywood began to shoot on location because it was cheaper to do so than in the old studio backlots. These days, international on-location shooting has become a standard of Hollywood film production and not, as in the “classic” phase of cinema, its exception.

In Hollywood cinema, the representation of life-like images of global tourist destinations began to occur with more frequency in the post-war period of the late 1940s and early 1950s, when the growing prevalence of real travel meant that it suddenly became more naturalistic to represent real-life locations with verisimilitude. Hollywood, which relies upon the use of a kind of reality effect, attempted to imitate life. Robert Ray argues in his ideological analysis of Hollywood cinema between 1930 and 1980, that this American form of visual media also ← 9 | 10 → acted to promote the supposed everyday values and consumer desires of the American way of life. Ray asserts this was achieved through a kind of mimicry or semblance of real life: as he put it, “by helping to create desires, by reinforcing ideological proclivities, by encouraging certain forms of political action (or inaction), the movies worked to create the very reality they then ‘reflected.’ ”10 Charles Eckert, citing a former industry analyst James True, records how profoundly this reality effect worked on international spectators, inspiring hordes of overseas spectators impeded only by the inability to move to the United States:

The peoples of many countries now consider America as the arbiter of manners, fashions, sports, customs and standards of living. If it were not for the barrier we have established, there is no doubt that the American movies would be bringing us a flood of immigrants. As it is, in a vast number of instances, the desire to come to this country is thwarted, and the longing to emigrate is changed into a desire to imitate.11

Therefore, travel-focussed movies started to appear with more rapidity when mass tourism itself had become an important part of the American lifestyle, causing a symbiotic relationship between the two forms. Hollywood film studios made use of travel ideals and desires and actually perpetuated them through the experience at the cinema. Recognising the similarity of cultural forms such as tourism, cinema, television and shopping, Anne Friedberg’s sensitive analysis of post-war media and transportational technologies reveals the extent to which cinema and travel were linked, even through mundane everyday experiences such as trips to the shopping mall. The ability to purchase products was reiterated through the experience at the mall cinema: a strong visual media culture led to, as she called it, a process of “window shopping.”12 So too can the moviegoer’s gaze be thought to have been inspired by the process of “window shopping” made available by cinema.

At the same moment as the mass tourist boom at the end of World War II was underway, American cinema was beginning to suffer at the ← 10 | 11 → box office. John Belton points out audience attendance in the United States dropped from 90 million per week in the late 1940s, to 60 million per week in 1950, to 40 million by 1960.13 Reasons for this include the increased leisure opportunities available to most Americans – sports, travel and television were beginning to compete with older pastimes such as cinema viewing – and therefore Hollywood cinema attempted to distinguish itself from television as a grander and much more spectacular viewing format to solve its problem. As Belton notes, the extreme widescreen cinema also used luxurious stereo sound to achieve a greater sense of realism for its audiences.14 The introduction of specialist widescreen cinematic technologies such as Cinerama, Todd A-O and CinemaScope in the 1960s were introduced to combat this drop in box office. The unexpected success of Mike Todd’s Around the World in 80 Days is an illuminating case study of this new way by which films aimed to show off spectacular worlds and geographical locations – in other words, it was an updated form of cinematically-inspired armchair travel. In effect, cinema had reinvigorated itself by absorbing into its narrative the touristic desires that had fed its competitor in the tourist industry. In a continuation of this style or genre of the new “tourism movie”, the James Bond movies (from 1962 to the present) are good examples of expensive films that serve as promotional opportunities for glamourous international destinations. While such films show off luxurious locations, somewhat incidentally they have also inspired subsequent touristic urges. It is perhaps unsurprising that many of the James Bond films, partly due to the high profile nature of the film series to this day, are now known to have created active film tourism locations around the world, from Spain to Thailand.15 But what of travel ideals in relation to this connection to film and cinema?

Our conceptualisation of ‘travel ideals’ centres not necessarily on the notion of an idealised or somehow ‘perfect’ envisioning of travel or the filmic representation of it. Rather, the term implies a dynamic ← 11 | 12 → of movement and displacement, departure and arrival that is imagined, mediated and manipulated through the filmmaking process of representation and interpretation. The link with real locations is strong, as we have discussed above and as will be demonstrated in the chapters that follow.

Mary Louise Pratt, one of the key contributors to the volume, offers the illuminating observation in Chapter One that our title, Travel Ideals, “presupposes modernity’s generic idealisation of mobility and motion.” Pratt goes on to suggest that one of the fundamental dynamics of the representation of travel ideals in film is the investigation of filmmaking itself, and in particular the notion that cultural authenticity may be sought and found by filming ‘on location’. At the other end of the spectrum of travel ideals in film, other contributors to the volume examine the notions of fantasy and exoticism that arise through an idealisation of the locations themselves and their transformational impact on the protagonists who travel there. As in all readings of film and literature, the conclusions to be drawn from the interpretation of the primary texts studied in this volume will inevitably influence our understanding of cities, regions, nations and cultures; indeed, the world around us and our role in it.

* * *

This edited collection emerged from the inaugural conference of the Travel Research Network for Travel Writing, Cultural Tourism and Mobility Studies at The University of Melbourne entitled Travel Ideals: Engaging With Spaces of Mobility, convened by Associate Professor Jacqueline Dutton at The University of Melbourne from 8–10 July 2012. The contributors to this volume all presented papers at the conference. The theme of ‘travel ideals’ was broad, but in relation to cinema there were obvious connections, as demonstrated in the chapters that follow. The editors would like to thank the contributors to the volume for agreeing to have their work published here, and also extend their gratitude to those who submitted their work for peer review and whose work does not appear in the volume.

The editors offer their thanks to Associate Professor Jacqueline Dutton of the Faculty of Arts at The University of Melbourne, Convenor of the Travel Research Network, for her encouragement in the ← 12 | 13 → development of this publication project. We are also grateful to Angelica Scholze, Commissioning Editor at Peter Lang Publishing in Bern for her patience and for her professionalism during the editing process.

The editors gratefully acknowledge the support of a grant from The University of Melbourne Faculty of Arts Publication Subsidy Scheme that facilitated the publication of this volume.


Belton, John, Widescreen Cinema, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

— (ed.), Movies and Mass Culture, London: Athlone Press, 1999.

Bickford-Smith, Vivian, “The Fairest Cape of Them All? Capetown in Cinematic Imagination”, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Vol. 34, No. 1, March 2010, pp. 92–114.

Enzensberger, Hans Magnus, “A Theory of Tourism”, New German Critique, Vol. 68, Spring/Summer, 1996, pp. 117–135. Originally published as Enzensberger, „Vergebliche Brandung der Ferne: Eine Theorie des Tourismus“, Merkur, Vol. 126, Aug. 1958, pp. 701–720.

Friedberg, Anne, Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Ray, Robert B., A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930–1980, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Rohdie, Sam, Promised lands: cinema, geography, modernism, London: British Film Institute, 2001.

Strain, Ellen, Private Places, Public Journeys: Ethnography, Entertainment and the Tourist Gaze, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003.

Urry, John, The Tourist Gaze. London: Sage, 1990. ← 13 | 14 → ← 14 | 15 →

1       Vivian Bickford-Smith, “The Fairest Cape of Them All? Capetown in Cinematic Imagination”, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Vol. 34, No. 1, March 2010, p. 93.

2       See Sam Rohdie, Promised lands: cinema, geography, modernism, London: British Film Institute, 2001.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
Traves ideals Filmmaking Film space Mainstream International cinema International cinema
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 238 pp.

Biographical notes

Gemma Blackwood (Volume editor) Andrew McGregor (Volume editor)

Gemma Blackwood is Lecturer in Communication Studies in the School of Creative Arts and Humanities at Charles Darwin University. Andrew McGregor is Lecturer in French Studies in the School of Languages and Linguistics at The University of Melbourne.


Title: Motion Pictures
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