The European Rest Cure (1904)

The above is the US director Edwin S. Porter’s  The European Rest Cure (1904), a satire on the tourist industry. The film can also be taken as a play on the highly popular cinematic genre of the travelogue, just as can Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902.)

Anne Friedberg offers a good discussion of this film in her book Window Shopping, which I reprint below:

In Edwin S. Porter’s half-reel comedy, The European Rest Cure (1904), the narrative makes a simple point: the “rest cure” of a European “grand tour” proves to be far from restful; the “foreign” is dangerous, the familiar benign. In addition to this narrative content, the form of the film illustrates the similarities between the narrative conventions of early cinema and tourist operations.

The European Rest Cure is a thirteen-shot film that mixes actuality footage with acted fictional setups. It was a common trope for Porter to mix actuality footage with contrived narrative; of the film’s thirteen shots, six are exterior (five introductory and one concluding shot), and seven are studio tableaux. The story is designed to dissuade the traveler from exotic locales; the natural beauty of home is presented in the photographic fluidity of the exterior shots of the harbor and pier.

The tour itself is a series of claustrophobically circumscribed studio tableaux. Each shot is a stop on the “grand tour” (Kissing the Blarney Stone, Doing Paris, Climbing the Alps, Hold Up in Italy, Climbing the Pyramids of Egypt, The Mudbaths of Germany). The narrative is told as a series of “foreign” spaces, each made static and confined. The characters move left to right or right to left through interior spaces with painted backdrops. In each tableau, our tourist is thrown off balance, or falls off frame, or cowers at the center of the shot. For the spectator of the film the foreign is presented in very clumsy faux-virtual landscapes, coded in a set of familiar xenophobic clichés. Paradoxically, “home” is represented with more realistic detail – actual footage of the harbor and port and with more camera mobility. As a film that professes an antitravel message, it asserts the beauty of cinematic spectatorship as a more spectacular and fluid form of virtual mobility.

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