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May 18, 2024

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Shanghai Film Museum projects the golden past of China’s silver screen

SHANGHAI, once known as the “cradle of the Chinese film industry,” delivered many “firsts” in China — the first public film projection, the first professional cinema and the first movie production company.

And Xujiahui has been a pivotal part of this legacy. The place helped launch the careers of many influential filmmakers and actors/actresses who shaped the narrative of Chinese cinematic history.

Shanghai Film Museum, located in Xujiahui, captures it all. As the repository of China’s century-old filmmaking history, it displays some 3,000 historical items and more than 70 interactive installations guaranteed to revive a golden past for modern audiences.

A journey through the museum begins in a dazzling spectacle on the fourth floor, and works its way down. What greets visitors first is the Avenue of the Stars, surrounded by vintage photographs of luminaries who pioneered China’s silver screen.

Film paraphernalia on display includes the watch used in “My Memories of Old Beijing,” directed by Wu Yigong; a fan letter to Shi Shujun, who directed “Death of a College Girl;” and the manuscript for “The True Story of Ah Q,” directed by Cen Fan.

All the items — many yellowing, dog-eared or partly broken — take visitors back to the old days when production techniques were rudimentary but Chinese filmmakers tried their best to build an industry.

Just a turn away, a bronze miniature scene from “Street Angel” perfectly encapsulates the charm of old Shanghai, while a recreated Café Federal on Nanjing Road during the 1930s beckons with echoes of Eileen Chang, penning her next screenplay there.

Many older Shanghai residents who visit the museum and see photos and replicas of old cinemas they once patronized find the experience a happy trip down memory lane.

Colorful movie posters and magazines are also displayed in the museum. It surprises many people to see cover girls in bikinis from decades ago.

The third floor of the museum focuses more on the techniques of filmmaking. A wide range of cameras are exhibited, including one that was used to shoot Zhang Yimou’s directorial debut, “Red Sorghum.”

Lighting equipment is also exhibited. One highlight is a lamp, which was used to shoot a news documentary of US President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972.

From sound and editing machines to projectors, visitors can get a quick glimpse of how Chinese filmmaking evolved over 100 years.

Children might find their niche on the third floor. A long corridor displays some of China’s most famous animated films, such as “Havoc in Heaven,” a master hand-drawn animation film made in the 1960s, and “Nezha Conquers the Dragon King.”

For the more elderly, long-lost memories of the days of film dubbing days are revived. The charming voice-overs from the Shanghai Film Dubbing Studio, spanning six decades, include classic foreign-language films.

The museum displays old-fashioned recording microphones used in dubbing as well as old photos of the artists behind the voices. Visitors can select a film and try their hand at dubbing in a small booth.

The second floor, mainly involved with post-production aspects of the film industry, is filled with interactive sites. In a sound effects room, visitors can create the sound of thunder by striking a rough iron sheet, or the sound of heavy rain by rocking a metal barrel loaded with sand. The sound of horses’ hooves is produced by beating two wooden sticks wrapped in sponge.

The techniques of different make-up styles is a big highlight. It’s not only how faces are made beautiful, menacing or comical, but also how hands are altered to look slashed and faces changed to show bruises.

A few steps away from the make-up zone is the film costume exhibition window. Old costumes are preserved there, including the qipao actress Gong Li wore in “Shanghai Triad” and the brown jacket actor Zhao Dan wore in “Nie Er.”

On the first floor, trophies won by Shanghai filmmakers and stars over the years are displayed.

What makes this floor remarkable is a group of lights from the 1940s. They include glare lights, fluorescent lights and twin-head arc lights, all used in classic Shanghai films such as “Crows and Sparrows” and “The Spring River Flows East.”


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