Theme Month! July 2016: Arabian Nights

The summer is heating up and so it’s time to explore entertainment set in sunnier climes and to dig into a fascinating topic: Orientalism in silent film.

Orientalism is the exoticization of Asia and Asian culture as seen through the lens of colonialism. This is a massive subject and so for this month, I will be limiting myself to films set in the Islamic world and Indian subcontinent (of course, there is overlap).

I realize that there is a lot of hot rhetoric around this topic but I ask everyone to avoid politics in their discussion. This month is all about examining the ways Hollywood and European film studios viewed and portrayed Asia and Northern Africa in their films. It’s all about the culture and the movies.

We’re going to be discussing the disconnect between fantasy and reality this month and we’re going to do it by watching films from the biggest stars and directors of the silent era. I hope you find the topic as interesting as I do.

In the meantime, here are some of the films I have already covered:

Kismet (1920)

The Indian Tomb (1921)

The Sheik (1921)

The Sea Hawk (1924)

Waxworks (1924)

The Thief of Bagdad (1925)

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

Son of the Sheik (1926)

Two Arabian Knights (1927)



  1. T.M. Rezzek

    How about ‘Chang’? (1927) Waaayyyy back when Thailand was still Siam and before ‘King Kong,’ Schoedsack and Cooper filmed this on location, though it’s not a documentary. According to Schoedsack, the story was planned in advance.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Great suggestion! I will likely cover Chang when I find time for a Southeast/East Asia theme month. As it stands, I have a nice selection of films set in India, Tunisia, the Mughal empire and some more generic Arabian Nights settings.

  2. Birgit

    This will be interesting to read your reviews since there is always something embarrassing Hollywood does. My eyes will now bug out and roll in a swoon worthy homage to an Arab Valentino

  3. Ross

    Anyone interested in authenticity re “The Arabian Nights” may like the recent Malcolm & Ursula Lyons translation.

    But absolutely not the awful Burton one, although I fear a few of the Orientalist films our friend Fritzi will cover have some commonality with him.

    The 3 volume luxury Lyons edition is a prized possession of mine, but there are Penguin paperback ones:

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Thanks for the link! Yes, the original version is definitely a more *ahem* adult bit of entertainment. Andrew Lang’s fairy tale edition includes a foreword that pretty much sums up the European attitude toward the tales:

      “In this book “The Arabian Nights” are translated from the French version of Monsieur Galland, who dropped out the poetry and a great deal of what the Arabian authors thought funny, though it seems wearisome to us. In this book the stories are shortened here and there, and omissions are made of pieces only suitable for Arabs and old gentlemen.”

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Films like The Sheik and The Thief of Bagdad certainly gave extra oomph to the fad but Orientalism was pretty firmly established even in the nineteenth century.

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