A quick return to China with an opportunity to hear Ruth Chan’s score live and to see how everything works: matching tones to instruments and players to parts.
No matter how big your home cinema, you can’t really beat seeing this film projected onto a cinema screen to better feel the press outside the Forbidden City, see the full sweep of the Great Wall or marvel at the ambition and grandeur of Shanghai’s Bund. You see a lot more of the Cormorant fishing too: pity the poor terrapin that gets plucked out first.
Presented in association with the Chinese Visual Festival and as part of the BFI’s ongoing sonic cinema strand, Around China was introduced by Edward Anderson who had co-edited the film with Douglas Weir. The project had enabled the BFI to digitise over 100 non-fiction films made in pre-communist China: 20 hours of film covering 50 years and thousands of miles.
|Hangzhou’s Gong Chen Bridge (1925)|
Tonight it was also the music’s turn to assume greater prominence as the live performance moved it literally to the forefront … well, being precise, to the left and right in NFT 3’s constrained space. Seeing a score played is always fascinating as you not only understand more technically but also connect more with the players on an instinctive emotional level: they don’t just express through instruments.
Mengmeng Wu played on guzheng, a type of zither that sent shivers down the spine and conveyed so much of the sound of place whilst Maurizio Pala’s accordion added some western flavours – a combination that reflected the cultural mix on screen. Ms Chan says in her notes to the DVD that she wanted her music to help make the images more relevant to modern audience and therefore opted for “a marriage of Chinese classical and Western contemporary music”.
|A balanced view at Qianmen Gate, Beijing (1939|
The oldest film, known as Chinese Men from 1900 – or thereabouts – was found amongst the rediscovered Mitchell and Kenyon films in a Blackburn basement in 1995. It’s the only one off those films to have been shot on a Lumiere camera but not by M & K possibly the Conservative MP, Ernest FG Hatch. But, summing up all that had gone before, it’s truth is hidden in the watching: a shadowy world of the long disappeared.
|Smokers in Yunnan province (1902)|