Seeing American Films

Source: ‘Seeing American Films’, Yo-shi Bao [The Amusement Paper], September 1897, quoted in Jay Leyda, Dianying / Electric Shadows: An Account of Films and the Film Audience in China (London/Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1972), p. 2

Text: Last night, in the cool of the evening following a shower of rain, my friends took me to the Chi Gardens to see a show. After the audience gathered, the lights were put out and the performance began. On the screen before us we saw a picture – two occidental girls dancing, with puffed-up yellow hair, looking rather silly. Then another scene, two occidentals boxing. Then a woman bathing in a tub … In another scene a man puts out the light and goes to bed, but he is disturbed by a bedbug. To catch it he throws off all the bedding, and when he finally puts it in the chamber pot he looks very funny …

Comment: The first projected film show in China was on 11 August 1896. The American photographer James Ricalton brought Edison films to Shanghai from June 1897 and according to Jay Leyda this is a review of a Ricalton show, but the films described appear to be Georges Méliès productions (and hence French films): Après le bal le tub (1897), Une nuit terrible (1896), and possibly Match de boxe (1897). The dancers with yellow hair suggests that the films had hand-painted colour.

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