Exhibition celebrates 120th anniversary of Chinese cinema

AN exhibition featuring historical records, posters and props used in early filmmaking and screening at cinemas in northeast Shanghai’s Hongkou District has recently opened to the public.

The show, underway at the Haipai Culture Center of the North Sichuan Road Park, is commemorating the 120th anniversary of the first recorded motion picture screening in China at the Astor House Hotel, or the Pujiang Hotel in Chinese, on the north side of Shanghai Waibaidu Bridge.

One highlight of the exhibition is a newspaper report dated on May 24, 1897, in the North China Daily News, an English-language newspaper in Shanghai, which stated “in the Astor Hall on Saturday night, residents were afforded the first opportunity in Shanghai of witnessing the demonstration of the wonderful machine, which under a variety of names has become so popular at home.”

“The animatoscope, as it is called, in the present instance,” the report continues, “is a marvelous advance upon the familiar optical lantern … But this high praise must not be taken to mean that the machine — at least the one now being shown in Shanghai — is mechanically perfect.”

There were also three clips advertising the Saturday screening at the Astor Hall in the newspaper the week before. The films advertised included “The Waves Breaking on the Beach,” “A Church parade of British Soldiers,” “Bicyclists in Hyde Park” and “The Czar in Paris.”

Visitors can get a feel of the grand opening for the “first time in China” of the animatoscope at a restored model of the Astor Hall in the 19th century.

Another highlight is a bust of Antonio Ramos, a Spaniard who moved to China in 1898. Regarded as one of the pioneers in popularizing motion pictures among the Chinese in Shanghai, Ramos bought a roller rink at a busy Shanghai intersection and converted it into a movie house with a seating capacity of 250.

He renamed it the Hongkew Motion Picture Theater which opened for business on December 22, 1908.

His Ramos Amusement Corporation became China’s first well-established film enterprise and was the dominant force in Shanghai film exhibition for the next 20 years.

Historical records on display also show Shanghai witness the construction of theaters specially designed for movies in the 1920s, and that’s where most of the major Chinese flicks premiered.

By the 1930s, there had been more than 30 cinemas and 46 film studios scattered around Sichan Rd N. Many directors, producers, actors and actresses lived and worked in Hongkou District, making it an important base for the birth and early development of the film industry in China.

Date: Through September 3, 9am-4:30pm

Tel: 6082-1097

Venue: Haipai Culture Center (inside North Sichuan Road Park)

Address: 1468 Sichuan Rd N.