Nicholas Quirke was delving further into the cinematic history of China on 5 November 2020 and was going to the China Film Archive to see one of the country’s most luminous and iconic performers, Zhou Xuan, in a 1948 musical ‘Song Of a Songstress’. Her career as a singer and actress had peaked in the 1940’s and by her death in 1957 she was one on China’s most beloved stars of the screen with over 40 films to her credit. The archive were holding a retrospective of her career and as he had not heard of the ‘Golden Voice’ he though he would take advantage of the screenings. Firstly though he had agreed to burrow deeply into his own uncertain steps into the Chinese film making industry with another script meeting with Lun. He cycled 5 miles north to a coffee shop in an art gallery, in the vicinity of the cinema. Lun had bought the story with him and they sat down and started to talk about the beginning of the film. Once again there was some misunderstandings using ‘Translate’ so it was a relative relief when Ausslyn joined them again to act as translator. It was a fascinating process and he realised that he could not be ’kind’ if he felt there was something wrong and he must not be shy in offering his own ideas which, Lun seemed to welcome. Amazingly 6 hours passed swiftly and the rough outline was beginning to take more shape with Nicholas initiating a move away from linear story telling. He still had 3 km to ride to the cinema and in the chilly night air he made his way to Beijing’s equivalent of the BFI. He had chosen to see a musical as he suspected that as the films did not have English subtitles he would be able to follow the more frothy storyline easily. He was, of course, the only Laowai in the cinema and there were some surprised, startled looks from his fellow audience members but once the lights had gone down the attention was solely on the film. The print was not great and the sound was really hollow and he realised that the technology at that time in China was not great but he was completely engaged by the look and the story line of the amours of a glamorous nightclub singer who settled for a flashy wealthy man over the integrity of an artist and his son only to have her heart broken when she discovers he is married. At this point a vagrant the audience see at the start of the movie turns out to be the father she thinks is dead and he avenges her by murdering the adulterer. The songs and the singing were lovely and he came away from the cinema glowing with satisfaction. It was his mother’s birthday and when he was home they had a video conversation. It was good to have news from home and it was on that happy note that he went too bed.
You really are getting immersed. Great stuff, Nick.
Thanks Mike. It is continually fascinating here.
The cinema looks so small! Sounds like you enjoyed the film x
It was a real treat to see something from the early days of China’s cinema.