Colonizing Europe: Widescreen aesthetics in the 1950s’ American travel film

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This article uses textual methodologies adapted from postcolonial studies to explore the colonialist aesthetics of mid-century American cinema. It focuses on This is Cinerama (Merian C. Cooper, independent, 1952) and Three Coins in the Fountain (Jean Negulesco, Fox, 1954)-two films with early widescreen formats that engage with the technoaesthetic tradition of the silent film travelogue, and that depict European space. These films confer power and metropole status not simply on the West but specifically on America, performing an imaginative act of appropriation of European space and culture. This is Cinerama engages with the long tradition of ethnographic cinema, mobilizing tropes of the racialized other in representing Europeans and constructing a mapping of European space that centres on the controlling gaze of the white American man. Three Coins deploys the colonial aesthetic tradition of the picturesque and its haptic corollary, the stroll, as a mode for managing the Italian landscape. It depicts a colonized Italian society in which both the white American woman’s sexual purity or ‘safety’ and her liberation from patriarchal constraints are paradoxically used to justify a ‘benevolent’ American imperialism. Because these films mobilize these colonial aesthetics in favour of a specifically American metropole, they trouble the notion that America and Europe constitute a single entity (‘the West’) within colonial discourse, manifesting rather the complicated and fraught power dynamics between the two that arose in the post-war period. The article thus makes a case for the centrality of the American film text both to studies of American imperialism and to studies of colonial aesthetics more generally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-33
Number of pages13
JournalTransnational Cinemas
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 15 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • American imperialism
  • Ethnographic
  • Picturesque
  • Postcolonial studies
  • Travel cinema
  • Widescreen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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