The Orientalist Fantasy – BookF27

The Orientalist Fantasy

The Garden of AllahThe Son of the SheikBlack TentThe Sheik
Old Hollywood movies about the Middle East roared in the early-mid 20th century with the notorious “Lawrence of Arabia”. Today Book f27 focuses on five other remarkable movies and their perception on the region; a perception that still hasn’t evolved till this day and feeds into the stereotype of Western superiority, a fascination of the desert and Oriental mysticism and sensuality. 

First up on our list is “The Sheikh” a 1921 silent movie shot in Hollywood that depicts a love and hate relationship between two Westerners fascinated differently by the Orient. Deceptions, wealth, ruse, customs and virility are all themes portrayed in the movie where the captivation with the desert and the fact that the character is not a simple Bedouin but a wealthy and virile Sheikh plays right into the stereotype of men in the region.

We follow with “The son of the Sheikh” a 1926 American silent movie shot mainly in Hollywood; Yuma in Arizona substituted for the Sahara dunes. It is the sequel to both the movie and book “The Sheikh” and focuses on one of his sons; Ahmed and his love for a French dancer named Yasmine. The plot revolves around love and deception and plays out East versus West in the form of moral integrity and showcases the Sheikh as again a rich exotic lover feeding into the twenties orientalist fantasy.

Up next on our list is “The Garden of Allah” a 1936 American movie also shot in Yuma Arizona, set to happen in the North African desert and involves two lost souls, a monk and an heiress on their quest to hedonistic freedom only to find themselves faced with reality and part their different ways. The film plays around western fascination of the Sahara Desert, and of the amount of freedom it might bring, a freedom from others and from one’s self, to be able to break society’s rule only to discover that a desert is a place that brings you face to face with your deepest anxieties and longings.

Fourth on our list is “Storm over the Nile” a 1955 British movie shot in Sudan, that focuses on bravery versus cowardice when a British captain resigns his commission before a war campaign in Sudan and is labelled a coward only to show his heroism through a ruse by posing as a Bedouin. The film examines imperial masculine codes of honour and most importantly boasts about imperial superiority by showing the locals as backward and cruel and promoting British troops as bringing order to warring tribes.

The lead character’s disguise as a local is another way of showing Western superiority as the locals do not notice the intruder, however, the Western audience can see the ruse and thus share the same perception as the character on the local tribesmen.

Last but not least is “The Black Tent” a 1956 British movie set in North Africa during the Second World War and filmed in Libya. The story is one of a many seen in movies of the 50’s revolving around the Second World War. It focuses on a wounded British army captain that is saved by the Sheikh’s daughter after wandering into her Bedouin tent. He falls in love with her and marries only to die in battle an act of heroism without being able to see his child.

A while later his brother learns about the child and offers him a life in the United Kingdom, a life the boys turns down and decides to stay in the black tents of the Bedouins. The film primarily portrays the seduction that the Orient offers to the West with its charm, hospitality, and settings; Bedouins, desert, tents, camels feed into this idea of a nomadic lifestyle that represents freedom to a highly settled civilization.

The movie pins both worlds against each other in the context of traditions and lifestyle focusing on honour and duty versus customs and wealth.

Text by GD