At the time MGM produced James Fitzpatrick's Traveltalks as pre-feature shorts, the brief documentaries—with titles like "Madeira, A Garden In The Sea" and "Dutch Guiana, Land Of The Djuka"—provided the movie-going public with glimpses of distant parts of the world. While the world itself may seem smaller now than it must have when Fitzpatrick's films were first shown, the passage of time has had the strange effect of making their subjects look all the more exotic and unreachable. Footage from "Romantic Argentina" showing all the male residents of Buenos Aires attired, by law, in button-down coats in the middle of summer seems almost otherworldly, as do images of the virtually traffic-free streets of "Charming Ceylon." This collection of Fitzpatrick's films offers a chance to encounter ways of life now lost to history, including an unknowingly poignant portrait of pre-war Japan. Traveltalks is also revealing when it holds a mirror up to the attitudes of its filmmakers. Fitzpatrick never refrains from praising societies he perceives as free of class distinctions, or those in which women have yet to develop troubling notions of independence. But more often, Fitzpatrick simply explains what's going on, allowing the images to tell most of the story. Some embarrassingly condescending moments aside, Traveltalks most often gives the impression that the director and crew showed up, looked around, and simply began filming what interested them. What interested them then is just as fascinating now.
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