by Sue Beeton
Film and literature have the power to create our imagination of places, which are more than simple “˜photographic’ “” they are often imbued with an emotional meaning, which by its very nature is highly personal.
A movie may remind one of when they experienced it, where and who with as well as the elements actually in the storyline.
A movie seen on the first date with one’s future partner will have a very different emotional meaning than if seen with a parent or friend. This makes the effect often highly individual, creating a unique feeling for a place.
If tourism wishes to capitalize on this in terms of encouraging visitation, and if film producers wish to capitalize on the tourism potential to assist them in funding and distribution, we all need to be aware of these personal responses.
People rarely visit a site featured in a film simply because the “˜view is nice’, in spite of what they may believe “” most of us have an emotional response to the film which is played out when we visit the site/s.
In particular, when we visit cities, identifying one single stimulus for our emotional response to the experience of being there is virtually impossible.
Cities are complex, multi-faceted beings and, in terms of media influences, our image of such places comes from not one movie, but numerous sources including many movies,
TV series, news items, documentaries, literature, art and music. Our response is nearly always personal and emotional, appealing to our sub-conscious, creative egos.
A selection of experiences and my emotional response to them on my recent visit to Venice illuminates this.
I travelled to Venice during the International Film Festival to address a small group at the festival and had the fortune to spend a few more days there, wandering around on my own.
I find that, when travelling solo, I am not distracted by a travelling companion, spending much of my time reflecting on my responses to the place I am experiencing.
When travelling with others, we rarely have the luxury to study our personal emotional responses towards travel in such depth.
My response to Venice has been shaped by movies, music, TV news, other places and literature, some not even directly about Venice itself.
My Venice experience began at the airport, where I arrived late at night and took a vaporetto to the Lido.
However, it was not the vaporetto that I reacted to, but the beautiful water taxis with their wooden paneling and sleek design “” I immediately felt I was participating in a James Bond action film; it did not matter which one, but the primary image was one of him either being chased or cruising around with “˜the girl’.
This feeling increased the following night when we took a water taxi from the Lido to the Casino “” it was dark and wet and as we set off, the lights of a larger boat shone behind us, making it easy for me to fantasize that we were being pursued by one of Bond’s enemies (didn’t matter which one!).
Once we got to the smaller canals, we were alone “” “˜safe’ from our pursuers and cruised silently along the dark, quiet waterways of Venice.
The Casino was pure Bond, with security guards dressed in their ubiquitous suits and communication equipment, luxurious décor and dazzling food.
Getting back to the circumstances of my arrival, as we passed Venice in the dark, I saw a city skyline that I recognized, yet had never seen before.
The dark waters lapped the buildings and it all confirmed the romantic notion of Venice that is so powerfully represented through literature and films.
Interestingly, the tourism literature (guidebooks and advertisements) hardly featured in this recognition.
Then my perspective shifted “” I have been in England during the recent flooding and while I did not experience this myself, I saw hours of news footage on the television.
Suddenly Venice looked like a flooded town, which was no longer romantic, but tragic.
This sensation was reinforced by my visit in June to New Orleans where I visited the worst affected areas from Hurricane Katrina “” ruined houses still waiting to be demolished and rubble on the rooftops where the floodwater levels had been.
This image would recur at various odd times during my stay in Venice, and created a sense of sorrow, confusion and loss.
At the film festival there were many movie and filmic images and people who were undeniably in the film industry.
(What is it that creates this? There was a definite casual-chic clothing style, but also a sense of confidence that was not evident in the tourists.)
The main festival stage presented a stunning site with a wrecking ball from a Fellini film coming through its side “” I haven’t seen the film, but felt a very strong sense of meaning in terms of destruction and re-creation, most likely precipitated by my discomfort with my own flooded perception of Venice.
I will now search out the movie, which I am sure will provide me with different emotional perspectives of this sight.
After a few days at the festival, I moved across to the San Marco region of Venice and, along with every other tourist, went to San Marco Piazza, where I was immediately immersed in the Hitchcock movie, The Birds.
The chaotic scene that met me was of rampant pigeons that even outnumbered the many tourists feeding them, often being “˜attacked’ by low flying birds.
While not a movie filmed in Venice, the behavior of these birds was completely reminiscent of that famous horror film “” one that influenced me in my childhood and was quite disconcerting; I was not going to feed those birds, or stand still long enough for them to think I might!
I also visited the Jewish quarter, Il Ghetto, where I was immediately reminded of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.
Until then I was not consciously aware of the extent of Jewish settlement in Venice, so found that the play made even more sense by giving me a backdrop from which to view the place, which included memories of studying the play at school where I felt this portrayal of the Jewish character was quite flawed.
I did not see any money-lending, but it was easy to imagine the “˜action’ in the play taking place at the piazza surrounded by the Museo Ebraco, the synagogue and various small shops that could have been trading in Shakespeare’s time.
When reading this recollection of my emotional responses to Venice, once may be tempted to interpret my response as one of confusion and sadness, yet the opposite is true.
This emotional backdrop gave me a “˜sense of place’ in a city that is overloaded with sensory experiences that can overwhelm the casual tourist, requiring one to make some sense of the experience by viewing it through one’s own sensibilities.
Consequently, I felt connected in a very personal way, which does not always occur in a few short days.
Venice, for me, is more than gondolas, canals and buildings “” it is a place that produces deep emotions, culminating in my own personal “˜love’ for this beautiful city.
So, what does all this “˜mean’? When we look at film and tourism, we need to be aware that individuals will respond quite differently, and that it is rare for one piece of media to control these responses.
This does not mean that we can’t increase visitor numbers or tourism opportunities through television and movies, nor that film can’t use the potential of tourism to leverage access, support and even distribution, however the actual relationship is extremely personalized and, at times, surprising.
Without further research to understand the internal links between the motives and responses of film-goers, TV viewers and tourists, we may actually miss out on opportunities or even totally miss meeting the visitor’s emotional interests.
By understanding these personal responses, each place has the opportunity to find a “˜unique selling point’ and market hitherto unconsidered.
Sitting here in my room in England listening to Rossini while reminiscing on my personal, emotional responses to Venice, I am transported back there in a way that no amount of photos or souvenirs can do.
I, for one, cannot wait to return to Venice and find out what else it will reveal to me about itself and myself.
Film, music and literature have played their part in my tourist experience.
Cinema&Video International n. 10-11 October/November 2007