This is a static page that is no longer maintained

Remembering St. Louis, 1904:

A World on Display and Bontoc Eulogy

Reviewed by Jim Zwick, Syracuse University, for H-AmStdy

(Originally published by the H-Net Review Project,
used by the UC Berkeley Media Resource Center web site with permission)

March 2, 1996

A World on Display. Written and directed by Eric Breitbart. Produced by Eric Breitbart and Mary Lance. Narrated by Leona Luba. Copyright 1994, New Deal Films, Inc. (Video released February 1996). 53 min. VHS video.

Bontoc Eulogy. Produced, written, directed and narrated by Marlon Fuentes. Copyright 1995, Marlon Fuentes. 57 min. VHS video.

For purchase or rental information for both videos, contact The Cinema Guild, 1697 Broadway, Suite 506, New York, NY 10019, USA; phone: 800-723-5522; fax: 212-246-5525; e-mail:; World Wide Web:

Two documentaries recently released on video by theCinema Guild present contrasting views of the 1904 St. Louis world's fair. Focusing on the experiences of white American fair-goers who marveled at the architecture, technology, and peoples exhibited at the fair, A World on Display takes a nostalgic look back at a time when motion pictures, airplanes, automobiles, and ice cream cones were new inventions and "when going to a world's fair in St. Louis was like a voyage to a far-off universe." In a story of displacement and remembrance spanning four generations of Filipinos, Bontoc Eulogy uses the experiences of the largest group displayed at the fair to examine its continuing relevance as a defin ing moment in Philippine-American relations and Filipino American history. Both documentaries use contemporary photographs and motion pictures extensively, but they examinethe fair from entirely different perspectives and there is very little overlap between them. Both will be useful in the classroom.

A World on Display begins with excerpts from interviews with several people who visited the fair almost 90 years before when they were young children. Here and elsewhere throughout the video, fair-goers testify to the profound effect it had upontheir lives. One person describes it as "one of the turning points in my life." Another says that it introduced "things we never thought of before. We became acquainted with the world of people.... It was truly an education that I don't think we could have gotten any other way." The narrator makes the point that fair-goers "saw how hard it was to tell the difference between what was real and what was an illusion. They learned what it meant to be an American at the beginning of the Twentieth Century." Possibly because they were very young when they visited the fair, none of the fair-goers interviewed differentiated between reality and illusion in the interview excerpts included in the video. The impressions they formed as childrenseem to have stayed with them throughout their lives. One remembered the Igorots brought to the United States as part of the Philippine exhibition because his uncle had been a missionary in the Philippines and knew their language. "My father said it was just a lot of clicking noises. It wasn't really words expressed, but that was their language, and he [the uncle] knew it!" It is easy to imagine this story being told inthe same words, with the same paternal authority cited, 90 years before when this person retur ned home from the fair. Such impressions were disseminated far beyond the fairgrounds. "I was constantly talking with people ... about the fair," another relates, adding: "It was a great institution for the spread of knowledge."

A more critical perspective on the fair is provided by historians Neil Harris, Zeynep Celik, and Robert W. Rydell, and anthropologist Ted S. Jojola. The architecture and the dual structure of the fair -- modern structures showcasing new technologies surrounded by representations of "primitive peoples" -- are discussed from severalperspectives. Harris notes that the fair represented a "purified, refined version of what [people of the time] hoped their cities would become." Film footageof formally dressed women strolling through the fair with their parasols underscores Harris' point that the grounds were purposefully laid out, well-ordered and well-maintained. It was a place where people always had something to do and felt safe. Celik highlights the duality carried over to the St. Louis fair from the previous international exhibitions in Paris. The Street of Cairo exhibition was created for the 1889 exposition in Paris by a French designer who claimed that it was more authentic than Cairo itself because it included none of the modern influences already present in the realcity. Described by the narrator as "a lasting reminder of a Cairo that never existed," this exhibit was later included in the St. Louis fair. Rydell argues that the "overriding purpose of the fair really centered on an effort to promote America's new role as an overseas imperial power."(1) Whilethe juxtaposition of "modern" and "primitive" buttressed assumptions of racial superiority, representations of Native American and Filipino life created an impression of continuity between westward expansion across the continent and the new overseas empire. Jojola notes that the educational priorities of the fair's organizers werefrequently overridden as ethnographic displays were choreographed to appeal to visitors. Within the dual structure of the fair, the large Japanese exhibit, staged during the Russo-Japanese War, was an anomaly that did not fit the stereotypes advanced by the fair. Ha rris notes that it presented a modern country that had fundamentally different traditions and concepts than the Western (and Christian) countries fair-goers identified with modernity.(2)

The video presents a wide range of the fair's attractions in short segments devoted to the carnival-like entertainment available on the Pike, the wonderment of fair-goers at the new technologies introduced, and domestic displays such as an exhibit recreating the Galveston Flood and Westinghouse's films showing its Pittsburgh foundry and assembly rooms. Commenting on the displays of new technologies, Rydell points out that the fair transformed "customers" into "consumers" by creating "wish lists" of new products.

There is an incongruity throughout much of the video between what seems to havebeen a desire on the filmmaker's part to romanticize the fair and the information supplied by the scholars interviewed who often present it in a much less appealing light. This is especially evident at the beginning and close of the video. At the beginning, the historical context of the fair is presented by asking, "Can we imagine what it was like to be a child of seven, ten, or thirteen at the turn of the century" when many of the technologies we now take for granted were brand new? This "age of innocence" approach is perhaps appropriate to set up the interviews with fair-goers who were in that age range in 1904, but it does not anticipate a large portion of the film's commentary. Despite the lasting impressions expressed by the fair-goers interviewed and the enduring cultural and political impacts of the fair highlighted bythe historians, the video ends on a nostalgic note that seems to deny any importance beyond the fair's short run: "The fair was not intended to last.... A world had been put on display in St. Louis, and it was gone forever."

A World on Display demonstrates the role played by the St. Louis world's fair in defining "what it meant to be an American at the beginning of the Twentieth Century" and, though probably not by design, the survival of some of those beliefs nearly a century after the fair. Bontoc Eulogy demonstrates its role in shaping Filipino and, especially, Filipino American identity. While A World on Display shows signs of an unstated conflict between the filmmaker's perspective and some of the information presented in the documentary, in Bontoc Eulogy the story of the Filipinos displayed at the fair is told within a fictional framework that allows the filmmaker's perspective of its relevance to be more fully developed.

At the end of Bontoc Eulogy, there is a standard disclaimer seen more commonly in made-for-television dramas than historical documentaries: "This story is inspired by actual events. Any similarities to persons living or dead is purely coincidental." The film's interweaving of fiction and nonfiction is unusual in historical documentaries, but not unlike such books commonly used in the classroom as Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior and Chinamen. Like those books, Bontoc Eulogy deals with relationships between historical and familial events, myth, memories, interpretations and identity. It addresses these not as artifacts of a world "gone forever" but as personal history that must now be uncovered to answer a series of questions raised at the beginning of the film that are important for understanding the Filipino American experience: "Why did we leave our home? Why did wecome to America? Why have we chosen to stay? What are the stories that defineus as a people ?"

Bontoc Eulogy tells one of those stories from the perspective of a first generation Filipino American who tries to trace what happened to his grandfather, a Bontoc Igorot warrior, who was brought from the Philippines to be displayed at the St. Louis fair and who never returned to his native village. This narrative structure allows the film to deal with four generations of displacement. The grandfather is brought from his tribal homeland to the exposition in St. Louis. The narrator grew up in Manila with his parents. There he is questioned by schoolmates about his Igorot roots -- did he ever wear a g-string? did he eat dog? -- but having grown up in the city, "as far removed from tribal life as one could imagine," he never met a n Igorot. As a young man he leaves Manila for the United States. "In the beginning I lived in two worlds: the sights and sounds of my new life and then the flickering after-images of the place I once called home," but these are forgotten as the events of day-to-day life take precedence. His two children, born in the United States, have never been to the Philippines and might not recognize their great-grandfather if they were ever able to learn what happened to him. This family history, told in the first few minutes of the video, serves to situate the Filipino experience at the St. Louis fair within a context that highlights its importance as a pivotal event in Filipino American history. Family history is also used to briefly contextualize the fair within the broader historical events of the turn of the century. Another grandfather is said to have fought and died in the Philippine Revolution against Spain and, after the beginning of the Philippine-American War in February of 1899, its continuation fought against the United States.

The account of the fair itself covers some of the same ground as A World on D isplay, but from a different perspective, and it begins in the Philippines w ith the grandfather's decision to make the trip to St. Louis with other members of his tribe. Historical photographs and film footage of the Philippines as well as of the fair are used, and these are supplemented with dramatizations of the grandfather's and narrator's experiences and of the research conducted to produce the video. Side trips through the entertainment pavilions at the fair are presented as these might have been viewed by an Igorot who finds little that would be useful in the mountains at home. The anthropological studies made of the Igorots and other Filipinos at the fair are used as clues to the grandfather's experiences and fate. The choreography of native customs by fair officials, noted in A World on Display as undermining the authenticity of the displays, here leads the grandfather to lose all sense of time as rituals normally performed to mark events are monotonously repeated day after day. There are also poignant accounts of Filipinos who froze in a box car while being transported to the fair, and of others who died during the fair and whose bodies were immediately taken away. Mourning rituals had to be performed without access to the bodies as oblivious white fair-goers watched as if it were any other performance a t the fair. The more than 700 Filipino Scouts and constabulary included among the 1,102 Filipinos displayed at the fair are presented here as a force for controlling the Filipinos when conflicts arose between tribal groups or between the fair's organizers and the people on display. Unable to determine what happened to his grandfather after the after the fair, the narrator takes us to museums, where the skeletons of Filipinos who died at the fair might still be displayed, and to the Smithsonian Institute where he finds the carefully preserved brains of three Igorots. There he muses, "I am still not sure of my grandfather's whereabouts. Perhaps his brain lies hidden in a museum somewhere, tucked away on some musty shelf, waiting all these years to be discovered."

Bontoc Eulogy does not attempt to draw conclusions from the story of the Filipino experience at St. Louis. At its beginning, the narrator states that "to survive in this new land we had to forget.... Now we must remember in order to survive." It performs this act of remembering very well and, in doing so, provides a unique perspective of the 1904 world's fair.

Both A World on Display and Bontoc Eulogy will be useful in the classroom. A World on Display is strongest in its discussion of the architecture and dual structure of the fair, and the interviews with fair-goers clearly demonstrate the sense of awe and amazement the fair generated. Although it discusses the representations of "primitive" peoples displayed at the fair, another recent video, Savage Acts: Wars, Fairs and Empire, by the American Social History Project, does a much better job of presenting how the world's fairs helped to shape American definitions of "the other" and of framing that with detailed background on the domestic and international contexts in which the fairs were created. (3) Besides its obvious appeal for classes dealing with the Asian American experience, Bontoc Eulogy will undoubtedly make an interesting complement to either A World on Display or Savage Acts, neither of which address what it was like to be displayed at the fair or the consequences of that experience for those who were defined as "the other". Its mixture of fact and fiction may also make it an appropriate choice for classes on documentary film, biography, and narrative.


1. See also Robert W. Rydell, All the World's A Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984). [go back]

2. See also Neil Harris, "All the World a Melting Pot? Japan at American Fairs, 1876-1904," in Akira Iriye, ed., Mutual Images: Essays in American Japanese Relations (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975), 24-54. [go back]

3. Pennee Bender, Joshua Brown and Andrea Ades Vasquez, directors, Savage Acts: Wars, Fairs and Empire (New York: American Social History Project, 1995), 30 min. VHS video. See my "Video Review: Savage Acts: Wars, Fairs and Empire,", Nov. 7, 1995.
Reviewer: Jim Zwick is a doctoral candidate in the Interdisciplinary Social Science Program at Syracuse University where he is working on a dissertationabout the Anti-Imperialist League. He is also the editor of Mark Twain's Weapons of Satire: Anti-Imperialist Writings on the Philippine-American War (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1992; Manila: Popular Book Store, 1994).

Jim Zwick, Syracuse University

Savage Acts: Wars, Fairs and Empire

Reviewed by Jim Zwick, Syracuse University, for H-AmStdy

November 7, 1995

Savage Acts: Wars, Fairs and Empire. New York: American Social History Project, 1995. 30 min. VHS video. $75.00 ea. Pennee Bender, Joshua Brown and Andrea Ades Vasquez, directors. Pennee Bender, Joshua Brown, Andrea Ades Vasquez, and StephenBrier, producers. Oscar Campomanes, Amy Kaplan, Roy Rosenzweig, Robert Rydell and Marilyn Young, historical advisors.

Savage Acts is an important and timely addition to the educational multimedia resources available for classes in American Studies, Ethnic Studies, and U.S. history. In a quick 30 minutes, it demonstrates the interaction between the United States' creation of an overseas empire at the turn of the century and the accompanying changes in domestic culture expressed in the major world's fairs held from 1893 to 1904. The video is part of a series building on the American Social History Project's earlier two-volume textbook (New York: Pantheon, 1989, 1992) and CD-ROM (Irvington, N.Y.: The Voyager Co., 1993), both entitled Who Built America?

The video tells the story of the country's shift from expansion across the continent justified by a sense of manifest destiny to the creation of an overseas empire and the new concepts of national and racial mission that supported it. Responding to both a new wave of European imperialism and domestic problems cause by rapid industrialization, the United States declared war on Spain after the explosion on the battleship "Maine" in Havana Harbor. Although the war was ostensibly fought to "free Cuba", the first battle took place in Manila Bay. The decision to annex the Philippines and the resulting three-year Philippine-American War (1899-1902) is given more attention than the three-month "splendid little war" with Spain. The war with Spain created heroes and symbols of national power and greatness, the war in the Philippines divided the nation as the new policy of "imperialism" was debated by citizens' groups, politicians, and soldiers.

Beginning with the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893, the world's fairs promoted globalization, world trade, and a national identity that supported overseas expansion. They highlighted the country's industrial growth at a time when the frontier was declared closed, and drew a sharp contrast between the "progress" and "civilization" of the United States and the "savage" and "primitive" peoples from other countries who were classified into racial "types" and put on display in midway exhibits of "Darkest Africa" and "Mysterious Asia." At the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, the Philippines exhibit was the largest and most popular midway attraction. Decorated with American flags, it celebrated the newly consolida ted empire, displaying, in the words of a contemporary review, "savages made by American methods into civilized workers."

Of course a 30-minute format does not allow the full stories of the wars or thefairs to be told, but the film makes the connections between the two remarkably clear. It does this by shifting back and forth between the war in the Philippines, domestic reaction to it, and the fairs. The contrasts presented are striking. For example, quotations from Philippine President Emilio Aguinaldo's plan for the establishment of an independent Philippine government are followed by McKinley's famous account of his decision to annex the Philippines to "educate, uplift and Christianize" the Filipinos. Photographs of Filipino leaders and of Filipino citizens reading newspapers in Manila cafes are contrasted with contemporary editorial cartoons publish ed in the United States that consistently portrayed the Filipinos as children needing guidance from a benevolent Uncle Sam. Similar images of the Filipinos were presented at the world's fairs. Using archival film, photographs, and images from contemporary publications such as the Chicago Times Portfolio of Midway Types, the video examines the use of contemporary views of racial hierarchy to establish new concepts of national identity and mission. "Viewing man in his primitive state -- black, half-clad -- it occurs to you why you are the only race not on exhibition," one visitor relates. "The exhibit is for you and you are the crowning glory of it all." Another visitor realizes that "if you were not an American you would be a savage of that type."

The video makes clear, though, that the United States was not as white, homogenous, and trouble-free as the fairs seemed to indicate. African American and Native American groups protested their exclusion from the 1893 Chicago fair. Frederick Douglas spoke at the fair to address the issue of racism. Racism within the United States also affected the war in the Philippines. Filipinos made appeals for racial solidarity, calling for African American soldiers to desert the U.S. army. The story of David Fagen, an African American who became a successful general in the Filipino army a nd whose capture became an obsession to the U.S. military and the press at home, is told briefly here.(1) Within the United States, the African American Press also divided on the issues of imperialism and the war. Some opposed the war on the grounds of racial solidarity while others argued that patriotism to the country should come first.

Throughout most of the video, contemporary texts, still graphics and contemporary film clips are allowed to tell the story, with narration and occasional headlines used primarily for transitions and to mark significant historical events. The debate about imperialism in the United States is told with quotes from an AF of L Trade Union Delegate, Susan B. Anthony, a resolution by the Colored Citizens of Boston, and William Jennings Bryan representing anti-imperialist thought, and by Theodore Roosevelt, Senator Albert J. Beveridge and General Frederick Funston representing the imperialists. The debate about the war within army ranks is demonstrated with powerful quotes from letters written home by soldiers in the field expressing either sympathy for the Filipinos and opposition to the government's policy or racist sentiments about the "hot game" of "killing niggers." The Philippine side of the war is presented with quotations from Aguinaldo, Philippine Envoy to the United States Felipe Agoncillo, and t he Filipino Central Committee that operated throughout the war from offices in Hong Kong and Toronto. The impact of the fairs is presented with quotes from contemporary guidebooks and letters written by visitors to the fairs.

The historical advisors for the video have produced some of the most important works related to its subject. Among these are Robert W. Rydell, All the World's a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984); Amy Kaplan and Donald E. Pease, eds., Cultures of United States Imperialism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993); and Marilyn B. Young, The Rhetoric of Empire: American China Policy, 1895-1901 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968). Oscar V. Campomanes co-edited and contributed the "Afterward" to the special Spring 1995 issue of Critical Mass: A Journal of Asian American Cultural Criticism on U.S. Filipino Literature and Culture; and Roy Rosenzweig co-authored the American Social History Project's CD-ROM. Pennee Bender, who wrote the script, and the other directors of Savage Acts are to be congratulated for producing a video that makes its own contribution within this field by combining the wars and fairs more closely and thereby bringing the interaction between foreign policy and domestic culture into sharper focus.

Unlike the American Social History Project's earlier textbook and CD-ROM that were designed for individual use, this video is ideal for in-class use. Its 30-minute format provides plenty of time for discussion, and its attention to both the wars and the fairs will undoubtedly make it a useful supplement to assigned readings in classes dealing with U.S. culture, U.S. history, race and ethnicity, and nationalism. People looking for diplomatic history will not find it here, but that is the easiest resource to find on this era. Instead, Savage Acts focuses on the cultural ramifications of turn-of-the-century foreign policy, a subject that is rarely represented even in specialized studies.

Philippine Commissioner Vicente Nepomuceno is allowed to give the last statement of the film, and it highlights what may be an unintentional benefit of the video. Commenting on the portrayal of Filipinos as savages at the 1904 fair, he says: "It was never intended that the true advancement be disclosed. The impression has gone abroad that we are barbarians . . . and no matter how long we stay here we cannot convince the public to the contrary." Today, this statement has a more profound meaning than it did in 1904. Filipinos are now the seventh-largest racial or national group in the United States, ranking just behind Chinese in the 1990 census as the second-largest Asian American group. They are also the fastest growing Asian group and are expecte d to outnumber Chinese before the next full census is taken. While the video is an important resource for understanding the creation of racial stereotypes within the United States more generally, it is especially useful for understanding the social history of white American-Filipino American relations. Those relations essentially began in 1898 when, as Finley Peter Dunne's "Mr. Dooley" put it, the people of the United States first learned whether the Philippines "were islands or canned goods." Numerous recent studies have argued that "whiteness" and "blackness" are inextricably connected in American culture.(2) This video argues that the concept of U.S. national mission developed at the turn of the century (an "imperial whiteness") was inextricably connected to how Filipinos were defined. Both the increasing prominence of Filipinos in American society and the approaching centennials of the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American War make this aspect of the video especially timely.


1. See "David Fagen: An Afro-American Rebel in the Philippines,1899-1901," Pacific Historical Review 44 (Feb. 1975): 68-83. [Back]

2. See especially Shelley Fisher Fishkin's review, "Interrogating 'Whiteness,' Complicating 'Blackness': Remapping American Culture," American Quarterly 47 (Sept. 1995): 428-466. [Back]

Reviewer: Jim Zwick is a doctoral candidate in the Interdisciplinary Social Science Program at Syracuse University where he is working on a dissertation about the Anti-Imperialist League. He is also the editor of Mark Twain's Weapons of Satire: Anti-Imperialist Writings on the Philippine-American War (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1992; Manila: Popular Book Store, 1994).

Jim Zwick

For more information, contact:

American Social History Productions, Inc.
99 Hudson Street, Third Floor
New York, NY 10013, U.S.A.
Phone: (212) 966-4248
Fax: (212) 966-4589
E-mail: pbender@shiva.hunter.cuny .edu

(Copyright H-Net 1996, used with permission)