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Thai Fantasy or The Power of a Travel Narrative
For fun: • Been to Thailand? • What images of Thailand do you have in your mind? • Where did they come from? • Best known spot in Bangkok: The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha***
Possible influences • News? • Travel programs? • Tales of friends’ experiences? • No image? • The Beach? (1996 novel by Alex Garland, 2000 Film version directed by Danny Boyle, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tilda Swinton) • Or possibly……
Common intro to Thailand • The King and I (Rogers and Hammerstein) • Dir Walter Lang, script by Ernest Lehman • King portrayed by Yule Brynner • Shall we dance?***
Cultural power • Note: filmed in LA • 5 Oscars (Actor, Costumes, Music, Sound, Art Direction) • 2 Golden Globes (Best Picture, Best Actress (Deborah Kerr)
Yule Brynner • Russian, part Swiss, lived in Paris before coming to US. • Won a Tony for portraying the King of Siam (1952) • Oscar for the same role (1956) • Won a second Tony in 1985 honoring his 5,425 performances of The King and I!
Note: • Film was banned in Thailand • A dancing despot was seen as demeaning
Anna Leonowens • 1831 (India)-1915 (Canada) • Moves with mother and step-father to Arden (Yemen) • Lived with husband in Australia (son and daughter were born) • Family moved to Singapore and Malaysia, where the husband died of apoplexy • Returned to Singapore and resumes teaching
Facts • Asked to go to Siam to teach Western ideas to King Mongkut’s 39 wives and 82 children • Works as a governess in Siam 1862-1868 • While she in England for heath issues, the king dies; the son does not invite her to return to court • Moves to NY and starts writing travel articles for Atlantic Monthly
Leonowens the writer • The English Governess at the Siamese Court, 1870 • The Romance of the Harem, 1872 • Criticism: She was only interesting when talking about the court. Geographical descriptions were disordered and unskillful • Available on line from Project Gutenberg • http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/8678
Margaret Landon (1903-1993) • A friend loans her a copy of the texts • They’ve been out of print but she’s fascinated by them • A friend suggests combining the biographical parts of both books and omitting long discussions and descriptions. “They only bore people who aren’t students of Siamese history. Then fit the various incidents together in sequence.” (Landon ix)
Landon’s project: • She meets someone who knew Anna, so she becomes more vested I her project • Published 1943 • But what is it? • “semi-fictional biographical novel” • She claims it’s 75% fact and 25% fiction based on fact. • But the Thai government bans it
Outcome • New York Times called it "an inviting escape into an unfamiliar, exotic past . . . calculated to transport us instantly.” • How is it labeled? • Amazon: Memoir & Biography • UA: biography • Wikipedia: novel
Alternate versions • Only 3 years after the initial book publication: • 1946 film version • Rex Harrison (first American film) • Irene Dunne • Directed by John Cromwell • Filmed in LA • Oscars for Art Direction, Cinematography • Trailer ***
Leonowens/Landon • How ethical are the authors? • How much of their story can we trust? • His offspring claim it’s mostly false. • (Note that the king trained for a long time as a Buddhist monk, so some plot points seem out of character) • Does the material do a disservice to Thailand? • What’s the result of its popularity? • Continuing influence?
1999 update: Anna and the King • Yun-Fat Chow (Hong Kong) • Jodie Foster • Directed by Andy Tennant • Nominated for 2 Oscars, several other awards • Tennant speaks about the film’s intention***
Changes • More straight-forward • Director has a vision of what he wants to show about east/west divisions • Main actor is Asian, but Anna is not British • Genuine attempt made to recreate buildings from the Grand Palace • Attempt to recreate aspects of daily life in Thailand (many of which are still seen today)
Additional Factors • Film also includes a lot of Thai (?) • Dialogues amongst king and his officials • Townspeople speak Thai • Anna attempts to speak some Thai herself • Result: more authentic eastern quality • Dramatic techniques are in full play, but not as over-the-top as in previous versions
Conclusions • If the 1999 version indeed promotes genuine cultural understanding, the project seems especially worthwhile, but….. • At any rate, the King and Anna live on…. • DR 10