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The Significance of Island of Demons and Kriss: The Bali Sub-genre of the South-Seas Films, Their Primitivist Discourse and Tropicalist Fantasy

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This paper explores the articulation of Dutch East Indies colonial ideology through the two "Bali Films' strongly influenced by Walter Spies and wider colonial and primitivist discourses provided by contemporary reviews of the films. I discuss the reception of the films in the arena of visual-linguistic exchange, interpretation and contestation in the "contact zone. " In doing so, I examine the relationship between documentary, ethnography, and fictional narrative and analyze examples of ethnocentricity in terms of reference when viewing and evaluating visual material. This is done through an analysis of the discourse in reviews of the films and includes the subjects of landscape as an arena of visual linguistic contestation, the spurious interpretation of Otherness as "authenticity, " and the discourse of colonial possession and desire, which in turn, I equate with the development of sexual tourism in Bali.

In analyzing the films themselves, I examine some early characteristics of the film documentary genre, relationships between colonial novels, tourist paintings, and "ethnographic" narrative film in the colonial context of the Dutch East Indies. This includes discussion of displacement of native exploitation onto the ethnic Chinese. More specifically, I scrutinize audience, identification, and interrelationships between colonial narrative forms.

From my exploration of the film texts in relation to their reception in the form of the reviews, I highlight the concrete manifestation of primitivist views allowing the construction of Orientalist fantasy by filmmakers and viewers. This is based on misapprehended notions of authenticity amounting to the creation and perpetuation of a varied range of views about the films, all of which coalesce around a condescending apology of colonialism and over-simplified misunderstanding of Other cultures.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2012-05-26

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  • Asian Cinema is a seminal journal, which has been published since 1995 by the Asian Cinema Studies Society under the stewardship of Professor John Lent. From 2012 Asian Cinema will be published by Intellect as part of our Film Studies journal portfolio. The journal currently publishes a variety of scholarly material - including research articles, interviews, book and film reviews and bibliographies - on all forms and aspects of Asian cinema. The journal's broad aim is to advance understanding and knowledge of the rich traditions of the various Asian cinemas, thereby making an invaluable contribution to the field of Film Studies in general.
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