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Book Talk: Silver Screens and Golden Dreams: A Social History of Burmese Cinema

The world tends to see Myanmar (Burma) as an ancient, idyllic land of emerald-green rice paddies dotted with golden pagodas, yet sadly tarnished by a contemporary reality of grinding poverty, a decades-long civil war, and the most enduring military dictatorship in modern history. Burmese society is frequently stereotyped as isolated, hidebound to Buddhist cultural foundations, or embroiled in military rule and civil strife. Its thriving, cosmopolitan film industry not only questions such orientalist archetypes but also provides an incisive lens to explore social history through everyday popular practices. Emerging from a vibrant literary and performing arts scene, Burmese talent and ingenuity spurred a century of near-continuous motion picture production. Dozens of local film companies have churned out thousands of films, bringing to life popular folk tales, tear-jerking dramas, and epic adventures for millions of adoring fans. Even during the purportedly isolated Burmese Way to Socialism years, local movie production continued, and ticket sales even increased. Glamorous stars adopted international fashions, yet inspired Burmese cultural pride in the face of foreign economic and political domination. From silent films depicting moral perils, to Hollywood remakes, to socialist realism and ethnic unity films, locally made motion pictures have captured the imaginations of Burmese people for over a century.

In a tour-de-force study of sixty years of cinematic entertainment, Silver Screens and Golden Dreams traces the veins of Burmese popular movies across three periods in history: the colonial era, the parliamentary democracy period, and the Ne Win Socialist years. Author Jane M. Ferguson engages cinema as an interrogator of mainstream cultural values, providing political and cultural context to situate the films as artistic endeavors and capitalist products. Exploring how filmmakers eschewed colonial control and later selectively toed the ideological lines of the Burmese way to socialism, Silver Screens and Golden Dreams, offers a serious yet enjoyable investigation of leisure during difficult times of transition and political upheaval. By skillfully blending historical and anthropological approaches, Ferguson shows how Burmese cinema presents a lively, unique take on the country’s social history.

March 4, 2024 from 3:00-4:30pm HST

Hamilton Library: Room 306

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