THE EYEBALL: The Thief of Baghdad

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The Eyeball is currently teaching creative writing in a decommissioned military base on the Olympic Peninsula, which means late-night DVD watching in the officers quarters. Last night I watched The Thief of Baghdad, a 1940 film directed by a hodgepodge of Brits: Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, and Tim Whelan. From what I’ve gleaned from the booklet that came with this Criterion Collection release, it’s more of a producer’s film, created under the auspices of Alexander Korda. Fans of Technicolor and actors with wispy mustaches, you’re going to want to check this out.

Maybe it was the word “Baghdad” that got me, but I couldn’t watch this film outside the frame of all the bad shit that’s gone down in that part of the world, etc. etc. I wanted to enjoy this film more than I actually did. Watching Anglo actors play the parts of sultans and princesses amid splendidly designed sets kinda nauseated me, to tell you the truth. It wasn’t quite a musical, but there were occasional weird bursts of song. If you’ve read this blog before, you know I’m charitable toward lousy special effects, but there were scenes of a flying genie that looked like something I shot in my bedroom with a Mr. T action figure in 1983.

What would be really interesting would be to see the reverse, a Middle Eastern film from the same era about, say, the early days of America or the UK. Do such films exist? Has Bollywood ever made a biopic about Queen Elizabeth or the travels of Lewis and Clark? Or does the process of cultural reapropriation move in only one direction, with the West plundering the East? If you know of any examples of films from Asia or the Middle East that try to depict life in the West, do let me know.


Ryan Boudinot is the author of the short story collection The Littlest Hitler (2006) and the novel Misconception. He was a DVD Editor at Amazon.com from 2003 to 2007. His work has appeared in McSweeney's, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, and other journals and anthologies. He lives in Seattle and teaches creative writing at Goddard College's Port Townsend MFA program. More from this author →