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

Hardback: $70.00
ISBN-13: 9780824895679
Published: March 2024
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284 pages | 9 b&w photos
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  • About the Book
  • 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, Siiver 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.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Jane M. Ferguson, Author

      Jane M. Ferguson is associate professor of anthropology and Southeast Asian history at the Australian National University.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Silver Screens and Golden Dreams reflects the author’s passion for the country and for this art form. Based on copious original research over a number of years, this social history is both informed and peppered with lively narratives about the many charismatic figures that have populated Burmese cinema on both sides of the camera. Her examination of the role of cinema as the natural heir to performative arts in Myanmar such as puppetry, zat, and anyeint theater, and the relationship between film and cultural identity reveals her intimate knowledge of the country and its ethnically diverse population.
      —Lindsey Merrison, filmmaker and founder of the Yangon Film School in Myanmar
    • It is hard to imagine a more delightful introduction to the wonderful world of Burmese moviedom than this groundbreaking survey of the histories, technologies, and ideologies of a film industry as unique as it is unknown beyond Burmese borders. Encyclopedic in scope, effervescent in spirit, Silver Screens and Golden Dreams captures the power of Burmese popular culture—cinema, theatre, musical performance—to beguile and endure through six decades of profound political, economic, and social challenges. Movie buffs the world over, no matter how unfamiliar with Burmese movies, will surely be enlightened, charmed, and moved by this pioneering work.
      —Wendy Law-Yone, author of A Daughter’s Memoir of Burma
    • Jane Ferguson’s book about [Myanmar’s lively and vibrant movie industry] is brilliantly researched and elegantly written. . . . Ferguson has broken new ground in the writing of Myanmar history in this excellent book, which deserves a wide audience. As she so brilliantly describes, politics and social developments are not always about so-called ‘real people’; actors and their exploits on the silver screen can also have a profound impact on people’s perceptions of the society they live in, and social history is shaped by factors we too often neglect. The movie industry is such a factor, and seen in the context of Myanmar’s modern history, it has actually always been a very powerful one.
      —Bertil Lintner, The Irrawaddy