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Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-La from the Himalayas to Hollywood Hardcover – May 17, 2000
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From Publishers Weekly
The Dalai Lama! The Beastie Boys! Prayer wheels! Lost Horizon! Brad Pitt! Schell (Mandate of Heaven), a prolific China expert and the dean of UC-Berkeley's journalism school, has produced a fluent, enlightening, well-researched and often disillusioning chronicle of Tibet and "Tibet"--the first a real place of high mountains and Buddhist tradition, the second a Western image of the place, presented in memoirs, films, T-shirts and benefit concerts from Marco Polo to Kundun and beyond. Schell begins with his first visit to the real Tibet in 1981, fills in his readers with relevant history and belief, then moves to Hollywood, where the Dalai Lama has become "a warmhearted, even cuddly religious icon." Schell meets and evaluates "self-styled Tibetan Buddhist[s] in the Hollywood pantheon," from Richard Gere, who appears impressively dedicated, to Steven Seagal, who comes off here as secretive and egomaniacal and who claims to be a reincarnated lama. The author travels to Austria to interview former SS member Heinrich Harrer, who wrote the book Seven Years in Tibet. And--after much effort--he reaches the Argentinean location where the Brad Pitt vehicle based on Harrer's book is being shot: there he finds a dedicated director, fake lamas, real llamas and quite real, somewhat disoriented, Tibetans. After neat historical digressions, Schell returns to the present-day triangle of Hollywood-China-Tibet: noting that neither Tibet movie made much money, Schell concludes that both China and Hollywood "had occupied Tibet [and] found it disappointingly indigestible. Unfortunately, only Hollywood showed signs of... retreat." (May.-- found it disappointingly indigestible. Unfortunately, only Hollywood showed signs of... retreat." (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Tibet has a mysterious aura, as remote to Western thought and culture as its location. Schell, dean of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of 14 previous books and numerous magazine articles, writes about the mystery of Tibet, interweaving an account of the filming of Seven Years in Tibet (which starred Brad Pitt and was based on Heinrich Harrer's book of the same title). Consequently, Schell's focus is dual: he simultaneously discusses Tibetan culture, religion, history, and geography and the filming of the movie, including casting and the building of the set for the holy city of Lhasa. (Ironically, the movie was filmed in the Argentine Andes and Hollywood, not Tibet.) Schell's account is, much like his previous books and articles, well written, well researched, and engaging. He has visited Tibet on many occasions and has served as an adviser on Asian affairs to President Clinton. A thorough bibliography accompanies the text. Highly recommended.
-Thomas K. Fry, Univ. of Denver Penrose Lib.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
Meanwhile, back in Hollywood----the Dalai Lama became a cult figure for many of the figures of Filmistan. The cultural destruction of Tibet under Chinese rule came to the attention of many who previously could not have found Tibet on a map. In the 1990s, not one, but two movies were produced about Tibet----the film version of Heinrich Harrer's "Seven Years in Tibet" and "Kundun", more the story of the Dalai Lama. Since filming on site was out of the question due to politics, the former was filmed in Argentina starring Brad Pitt. Schell weaves an interesting tale, alternating between the story of Tibetan travellers and the production of the film. In the end, it seems that the film and real Tibet merged because the film brought the extinct version of Tibet back to life for Tibetan actors and film audiences everywhere. "...in the popular imagination of the West, the plight of the Tibetans....occupied against their will....has been added to the lure of Tibet as a mystical place of physical beauty and spiritual refinement." But haven't Westerners created "virtual Tibet" in order to improve the quality of our lives, to give hope that somewhere out there Shangri La really exists? Wasn't Heinrich Harrer an unreconstructed Nazi? Do we know much about real Tibet? These are very interesting questions because Tibet is not the only place, nor Tibetans the only people, to suffer "virtualization". I recommend this book if any of this interests you.
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