Colonialism and Postcolonialism

Among the films that Auguste (1862–1954) and Louis Lumière (1864–1948) screened for rapt audiences at the Paris World's Fair of 1900 was Indochina: Namo Village, Panorama Taken from a Rickshaw . Shot by Gabriel Veyre (1871–1936) from the back of a rickshaw as it made its way through an Indochinese village, the film captured what the vehicle left in its wake: a dirt road, thatched structures of varying sizes, and a crowd of gleeful children who, in their erratic pursuit of the rickshaw, run in and out of frame repeatedly. As an advertisement for the technology of light and shadows that the Lumière Brothers had first made public over four years earlier, Indochina could not have been more effective. By representing its dynamic subject matter in a likewise dynamic manner, the film allowed audiences not only to witness, but also to participate in the seemingly spontaneous yet perfectly choreographed activity on screen. In the process, it produced a colonial encounter of the most reassuring kind. Presenting a slice of life from a distant land that most French citizens knew only by reputation, Indochina allowed its viewers to assume the role of colonial adventurers without ever losing their bearings and to come into contact with a culture different enough to have exotic appeal, but fluent in a language understood universally: a smile. In short, being promoted with this film was not only the developing art and science of motion pictures, but also the fully entrenched institution of colonialism.

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