Saturday, April 28, 2012

Early Beijing & London on film

Back to UCCA for another dose of silent movies - this time a fascinating compilation of 'home movies' and early newsreel footage of (because we wanted an Olympic theme) mostly London and Beijing from 1896 to 1937. The Chinese content found its way into the BFI's Collection from various sources but they've sat idly in cannisters for years until we gave them a bit of money to digitise a selection. 

Watching them made me realise how political film often ends up being. Not in the obvious way - they're mostly just street scenes - but simply the fact that the 'Chinese' films were all shot by Europeans. Also, the footage shot in London showed a sophisticated (for the time) metropolis with men in top hats, omnibuses and an incredibly busy Thames, contrasting with, in Beijing, 'backward' looking cobblers and men with hair in queues (mandatory until 1910). There were even captions referring to 'natives'. I must admit to feeling slightly uncomfortable watching them. We hired a Chinese jazz pianist who improvised along. It was packed-out by the way.

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