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Like many early forms of cinema, the travelogue film grew out of pre-existing trends in magic lantern picture shows. Performers such as John L. Stoddard and E. Burton Holmes had shown that the travel lecture could prove both entertaining and educational for 19th century audiences. Both made successful and profitable careers from their talks, travelling the globe and inspiring countless imitators. Lantern slides and then moving pictures were a natural addition to the lecture format, but short films about travel also proved a popular addition to commercial cinema programmes.

A notable legacy of this background in largely static lantern slides is apparent in the way that the earliest films often go out of their way to capture some form of movement in every scene. The obvious novelty and attraction of moving pictures for audiences at this time was the lifelike animation of people and scenes. So early travelogues constantly strive to enhance the sensation of motion, whether via the camera, in panoramas and phantom rides, or through its subject in busy street scenes and rushing water.

The travelogue film developed from its roots in simple actuality - perhaps a single take of a scene - to an attempt to provide a more structured analysis and presentation of that scene. While it is not easy to discern a distinct crossover point in this evolution, common characteristics of the form became quickly established. Distribution catalogues, which advertised films to exhibitors, repeatedly emphasise four key elements: movement; the picturesque; the exotic; or conversely, the familiar. Panorama of Calcutta, India, From the River Ganges (1899) already embodies many of these themes, being a single take from a moving vessel that captures the 'foreign' activities of locals and pilgrims on the riverbank.

Another legacy from the illustrated travel lecture is the perception of an educational value associated with the travelogue, and they were often used to bring an air of respectability to the entertainment programme. However, it was rare for such films to step outside of the well-trodden tourist path and offer real insight into other cultures. Even with films closer to home, such as Picturesque North Wales (c.1910), the clearly posed scenes of a young women's tea party in 'traditional' Welsh costume demonstrate the picture-postcard logic of many of these films.

This attitude is best explained through the relationship between the travelogue and commercial sponsorship. The London & North Western Railway Company sponsored films promoting the holiday highlights of Scotland and Wales in 1909, while Thomas Cook backed a film about travelling the Nile (Moonlight Trip on the Nile)in the same year. This trend continued with bodies such as the Travel and Industrial Development Association (TIDA) in the 1930s, and with Tourist Boards from all countries and regions up to the present. The postcard analogy is therefore very apt, with films such as Claude Friese-Greene's The Open Road series (1924-1926) being largely a compilation of beautifully composed, and strangely familiar views, probably informed by a swift visit to the local gift shop. The more serious forms of the travelogue developed into nature, ethnographic or exploration/expedition films, which were open to scientific as well as commercial application.

Early examples of travelogues were often tinted, toned or coloured by stencil to increase the perceived realism of these scenes, as well as their aesthetic appeal. Distributors were prepared to invest in more expensive colour prints as travelogues could remain in catalogues longer than comedies and dramas, which quickly dated as the forms evolved. This also helps explain why the form was popular with film companies who wanted showcase the potential of new colour film systems. The Open Road series was a platform for the experimental 'New All British Friese-Greene Natural Colour Process', and the cinematographer Jack Cardiff filmed a series of travelogues for the World Window company, which were some of the earliest British Technicolor films.

The travelogue continued to find a place on the cinema screen into the 1970s, until programming trends changed and the practice of pairing a feature film with supplementary shorts items ended. Television absorbed some of the legacy of the travelogue form in series such as Whicker's World (BBC/ITV 1959-), and other series led by as the likes of Clive James and Michael Palin. These programmes were often able to find a balance between travel, social commentary and entertainment in a way that their forebears in the cinema could rarely achieve. The more commercial side of the travelogue continued in series such as Passport (BBC, 1958-1960), Holiday (BBC, 1969-), and Wish You Were Here...? (ITV, 1974-2003) which advised on holiday destinations.

Some modern filmmakers have been able to use aspects of the travelogue to create more personal, artistic works. Patrick Keiller's London (1994) and Robinson in Space (1996) mix urban British landscapes with the more internal journey of the narrator. Andrew Kötting's Gallivant (1996) shows the filmmaker travelling the coastline of Britain with his 85-year-old grandmother, Gladys, and his disabled daughter, Eden. This warm and engaging film mixes experimental cinema with an investigative spirit to create a charming portrait of Britain. It is in all too rare examples such as this that the adage 'travel broadens the mind' continues to come to life in cinematic form through the travelogue.

Jez Stewart

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