By L.S. Klepp
June 23, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-la From the Himalayas to Hollywood

B+
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  • Book
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”Dirt, dirt, grease, smoke. Misery but good mutton.” Such was the revelation that one British traveler experienced when he reached the mysterious, forbidden land of Tibet in 1811. Later, more romantic adventurers didn’t mention the mutton and were often even more overwhelmed by the filthy streets of Lhasa and the strict Buddhist monks who ran the place. That didn’t stop the burgeoning Tibet mystique, which the travelers’ dramatic accounts tended to feed. As Orville Schell, author of several books on Asian subjects, demonstrates in Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-la From the Himalayas to Hollywood, Westerners disillusioned with their own industrialized, materialistic civilizations had a desperate need to believe in a simple, happy, devoutly spiritual place hidden away behind soaring mountains — an ideal amplified both by Hollywood and by the brutal Chinese Communist occupation of the country after 1950. Schell dissects Hollywood’s Buddhist chic, visits the Argentine set of the 1997 Brad Pitt film Seven Years in Tibet, and traces the emergence of the Shangri-La myth through memoirs and earlier movies. Like Tibet itself, the result is fascinating: half-myth, half-all too real. B+

Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-la From the Himalayas to Hollywood

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