Pan Am’s 1960s and 70s Travel Films: Visit 11 Places, in 7 Languages

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),

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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