ABC’s period drama Pan Am may have come to an end two weeks ago, but if you look hard enough, you can still find a few Pan American World Airways-inspired media. Back in the sixties and seventies, at the height of the long heyday that would cement its place in the lore of Cold War American culture, the airline commissioned New Horizons, a series of ten- to fifteen-minute documentaries on their various exotic destinations. Eleven of these short subjects have surfaced on YouTube, so you, too, can feel the midcentury aspirational thrill of motoring across the rolling Irish countryside in a powder-blue Austin-Healey, handling creatures snatched fresh from the sea floor by a Fijan diver, or gazing upon Sydney‘s imposing new modernist apartment complexes.
Maybe I’ve made these sound like glorified commercials pitched toward newly affluent Americans in need of a charming corner of the Earth to loaf their two weeks away. But in that era of stoically authoritative voiceovers, ethnomusicologically-spiced orchestral scores, and colors vividly saturated enough to approach fantasy, weren’t commercials sometimes glorious? And as even this small archive reveals, the New Horizons films had audiences well outside the United States, the Anglosphere, and even the West. The production company Pan Am engaged to make these, a certain Movietonews, Inc., assembled the footage and audio in such a separate way as to allow for both easy narration and easy translation into other languages.
Forty or fifty years on, this gives us the opportunity to enjoy such simultaneously cross-temporal and cross-cultural experiences as New York in Italian, Hawaii in Portuguese, America’s national parks in Japanese, and the Philippines in German. If you happen to get as excited about midcentury advertising, documentary film, language-learning, and multi-national media as I do, these New Horizons will make for rich Friday viewing indeed.
Complete list of New Horizons films: Fiji and New Caledonia (English), Ireland (English), Thailand (English), India (French), Japan (German), Philippines (German), New York (Italian), America’s national parks (Japanese), Pakistan (Japanese), Hawaii (Portuguese), Australia and New Zealand (Spanish),