SCA Galleries Sydney College of the Arts University of Sydney, AUSTRALIA
Production Company: Strange Cities Productions Director/Producer: Geoffrey Weary Produced in association with Screen Australia (AFC)
Cast: Tatiana Pentes, Leakhena Sy, Rose Tang
PORTRAITS is an experimental digital work that explores three contrasting experiences of war and conflict in the middle and late 20th century. A woman living in Shanghai is expelled from China after the Communist Revolution in 1949. The ghosts of the Cold War appear and disappear in the crumbling ruins of the Berlin Wall in 1990. A young woman suffers a crisis of identity around the circumstances of her birth at the end of the war in Cambodia in 1978
SCENES FROM A SHANGHAI HOTEL
An experimental film by Geoffrey Weary
A Russian woman living in Shanghai is expelled from China after the Communist Revolution in 1949. Her story begins in a hotel room in Shanghai and ends on a suburban street in Sydney, Australia. Performative, fictional, and documentary elements are blended into a work that is suggestive and open to multiple readings. Extensive use of film leader and scratchy film surfaces add to the sense that what we are seeing resembles something that is illusive, dream-like, just beyond grasp…..or is it just a newsreel playing in someone’s head? Cast: Rose Tang and Tatiana Pentes
An experimental film by Geoffrey Weary
CAPTIVE explores the themes of repression, confinement and escape. These themes are expressed through the incorporation of grainy VHS footage shot in Berlin at the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, hand-held camera sequences shot in a maze-like forest and slices of footage composited out of archival Cold War films. As the real historical Wall crumbles under the blows of street hawkers and souvenir hunters, ghostly specters from the past appear then dissolve back into the scratchy surface of a long forgotten newsreel.
A young woman tells the story of her family’s destruction during the war in Cambodia, 1975-1978. Later as a refugee living with her mother in Sydney, Australia she suffers an identity crisis that is linked to the unexplained circumstances of her birth and the mystery of the father that she has never known. Cast: Leakhena Sy
This work is the transformation of a chapter my doctoral thesis, UTS, BLACK BOX www.strangecities.net. This interactive paper, an ensemble of image, sound, and textual research emerges from the ChineseBOX passage in BLACK BOX, exploring my hybrid cultural origins through discovery of the Russian jazz music culture from pre-revolutionary Shanghai and the Japanese occupation in China.
An examination of the documents left to me by my grandfather Sergei Lukyanovich Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll) born 2 June 1908, Harbin Manchuria, reveals a rich insight into the cultural milieu of the Russians in Shanghai, (see V. D. Zhiganov Russians in Shanghai (1936), in particular the Chinese jazz world. Prior to his death, Sergei recorded an historical list of many significant acts (Russian, Chinese, Philippino, Japanese, American etc.) that performed in the nightclubs, cabarets, and ballrooms of quasi-colonial Shanghai.
Like Chinese cinema, Chinese jazz was a hybrid form. “Chinese cinema of the 1930s is believed to be a synthesis of indigenous art and foreign modes of production. (1) This point is best demonstrated by Ma Ning’s influential piece on a famous leftist classic, Street Angel (1937). (2) Ma argues that Street Angel exemplifies the practice of sinification among Chinese leftist filmmakers. During this period, Chinese filmmakers tended to view cinema as a specifically Western invention, yet they also felt compelled to incorporate indigenous forms appropriate for Chinese audiences.”
Yeh Yueh-yu , “Historiography and Sinification: Music in Chinese Cinema of the 1930s”, Cinema Journal, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Spring, 2002), pp. 78-97
SHANGHAI: Eastern Hollywood ?
Serge Ermoll Сергей Ермолаев and His Orchestra, the Astor House 礼查饭店 Hotel Ballroom/ Bandstand with peacock fan half shell and Pathe label collage – Peacock Hall the cities first ballroom, Shanghai, China,1930.
Serge Ermoll and His Music Masters was managed by Dick Hamilton-Mills Vaudeville Entertainments, Shanghai located in Hamilton House and enjoyed residencies at establishments such as the Tower Nightclub in The Cathay Hotel with trio,The Paramount Ballroom (1934-36), Ladlows Casanova, Lido (1936) Astor House Hotel (1930), the big band at Cercle Sportif Français (1938-1943 French Club) and signed with Dick Hamilton for exclusice cabaret the Arcadia club in the French Concession. It is at the Arcadia club (1937) that Sergei met the celebrated crooner, poet and singer/ composer Alexander Vertinsky, during his Shanghai sojourn. The collision produced the immortal A and B side of a record – Чужие города Strange Cities (Chuzie Goroda) – music and words by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and Ira Bloch, and Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea – (Nad Rosavuim Morem), music and words by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and George Ivanoff, [Registered Copyright Agency USSR & APRA]. Sergei claimed to have played with Whitey Smith’s band at Chiang Kai Chek’s wedding to Mei-Lie Soong, and held a residency at the Majestic Hotel.
Charlie Chaplin’s sojourn in Shanghai visiting the Paramount Ballroom pictured with Russian jazz orchestra leader Sergei Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll) c.1936 Paulette Goddard & mother in background.
Vertinsky was the originator of black Russian cabaret, where he embodied the figure of a dark Pierrot. His sojourn in Shanghai 1935 – 1943 via Harbin, China, before his return to soviet Russia (USSR) was a fertile ground. Vertinsky published in the Russian journal RUBEZH рубеж News of the frontier, Harbin, Manchuria, 1939, his great poem ‘Shanghai’.
Чужие города Strange Cities a portrait of Xenia Vladimirovna (Ermolaeff) by Josepho Schick 1935.
This is a portrait of my grandmother Xenia Vladimirovna Ermolaeff. Xenia was a Russian émigré in China. She arrived with her mother Evgenia and sisters in Harbin after the Boshevik revolution in Russia. There are family stories that she met my grandfather Sergei in the Hotel Modern, or was it the Fantasie cabaret, Harbin where she was performing as a singer and dancer, early 1930s. The portrait was taken later in Shanghai by Josepho Schick, a photographic studio that documented many in the Russian émigré community living in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
In 1996-97 I won a development grant to produce a script Чужие города Strange Cities, from Screen Australia, the Australian Film Commission (AFC). I traveled to Shanghai and Tokyo to conduct research and write an interactive script. In search of Xenia’s Shanghai, I became a voyeur, walking the city, writing and shooting photographs/film with Geoffrey Weary. We stayed in the Peace Fairmont Hotel, the former Cathay Hotel, Room 314, I was searching for traces of the old decadent jazz culture. The Чужие города Strange Cities digital media documentary work, was based on a tune by by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and Ira Bloch, a musical illustration, an imaginary vision of old Shanghai (looking back to motherland Russia – St Petersberg), composed and played in the old cabaret’s of 1930s Shanghai. I had found a vinyl record in Sergei’s music collection and the original musical score.
In 1999 with funding from Screen Australia, the Australian Film Commission (AFC), our team photographed the interior of the Peace Fairmont Hotel, the former Cathay Hotel, interior and architecture. We photographed the sound stage, Level 7, where Serge Ermoll and His Orchestra had played as resident band leader and many photographs were taken, the golden dragons & pheonix design haunting the interiors. Looking out of the exquisitely ornamented window panes onto the Bund and across to the Pudong district and the oriental Pearl Tower, I imagined James Ballard’s bloody descriptions of the Battle of Shanghai or Battle of Songhu 淞滬會戰 the Japanese war ships in the harbour. A decade later these audiovisual fragments were shaped into a film Scenes From A Shanghai Hotel, 2008.
The interactive work would ultimately be Чужие города Strange Cities , as reviewed in Asiaweekbased on the tune composed by Alexander Vertinsky, Ira Bloch and Serge Ermoll. Independent radio broadcaster Eurydice Aroney produced the work and Roi Huberman created the interactive sound design. This song and the lyrics, which spoke of the longing for motherland St Petersberg (Russia), encapsulated my search for origins. Later, another film score composed by the Vertinsky/Ermoll would be the signature tune in the Merchant Ivory Hollywood classic The White Countess, 2005. The strange music Serge played, a mix of Russian cabaret, Chinese pop, and American jazz, I would later understand to be the treasured hybrid genre of trans-pacific contemporary music, the renaissance of which is making many a million.(1) and (2) Whitey Smith and L. McDermott, I Didn’t Make a Million, Manila, 1956.
In my grandmother Xenia and the portraits she would show me, I saw a cosmopolitan Eastern woman of urban sophistication, paradoxically at odds with the Australian life we were surrounded by in the Sydney suburbs. Her black coiffured hair and gold jewelery provided endless fascination, she looked so different from the ladies at the local RSL. I wanted to be like her.
“The favoured past of shanghai is that of the ‘modern girl’ in a qipao, the feminine city of exquisite Russian refugees, decadent European expatriates, Chinese gangsters and marlene dietrich in Shanghai Express (dir. Joseph von Sternberg, 1932). These are clichéd character sketches of the city, but they resonate powerfully with the international imagination. Dietrich, in the person of Shanghai Lil, continues to produce affect in cinema-goers worldwide as a persona for shanghai…. if cinema has done nothing else for shanghai, it has convinced the world and the city itself that they are, simply and utterly, superior to any others. Shanghai woman is the epitome of modern China, and the image of 1930s is the enduring foundation of the magnetism of shanghai’s identity. [sic] ” (2)
(1) Donald, Stephanie and Gammack, John G. Tourism and the Branded City: Film and Identity on the Pacific Rim, London: Ashgate, 2007. http://www.iis.uts.edu.au/research/Shanghai_Ch6_Extract.pdf(2) Whitey Smith and .L. McDermott, I Didn’t Make a Million, Manila, 1956. SHANGHAI NOSTALGIA: Old Shanghai Mood Board
Film star & songstress Li Xianglan (李香蘭) a hybrid matrix of Japanese and Chinese modern girl. Born Yamaguchi Yoshiko (山口 淑子) to Japanese parents in Manchuria, Remembered for 1940s film Shanghai Nights 上海の夜), the tune The Evening Primrose 夜來香
MECCA cosmetics corporation has recently launched its “Shanghai Lil” make-up range, a homage to the high fashion (haute couture) & make-up used in Von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932). Image source http://www.meccacosmetica.com.au/
Hui Fei (Anna May Wong) and Marlene Dietrich (Shanghai Lily) in Jospeh Von Sternberg’s SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932).
Image source MOTO Nostalgia campaign 2004
The Parisian wave (coiffure) and the fur coat over the shoulder evoke the Shanghai gesture, a powerful imaging (and re-imagining) of the Shanghai advertising lady, her urban face charmed the packaging of a plethora of mass products from face powders to cigarettes. She is the face of Motorola’s 2004 mobile phone campaign. These evoke director Josef von Sternberg’s The Shanghai Gesture, 1941 an American film noir starring Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Victor Mature, and Ona Munson. It is based on a Broadway play of the same name by John Colton.
Reminiscent of a 1930s Shanghai calendar girl, an evocation of the legendary film star Ruan Lingyu (阮玲玉), or perhaps Hollywood’s Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai or Anna May Wong in Josef Von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932) or Street Angel 馬路天使 (1937) starring Shanghai songstress Zhou Xuan (the “golden voice”) and pre-revolutionary film star. Perhaps Motorola’s Shanghai lady resembles the famous Li Xianglan 李香蘭 a hybrid matrix of Japanese and Chinese modern (modeng) girl (!) She was born Yamaguchi Yoshiko 山口 淑子 to Japanese parents in Manchuria, and became a famous Chinese and Japanese film star. She is remembered for 1940s film Shanghai Nights 上海の夜, made by Manchuria Film Productions and singer of the immortal tune The Evening Primrose 夜來香. Nostalgia for decadent old Shanghai and its hybrid brand of quasi-colonial East meets West is articulated in the plethora of contemporary Hollywood, Hong Kong and Chinese films devoted to the Shanghai gesture. Academy Award winning director Ang Lee’s offering Lust Caution (2007), a case in point, Merchant Ivory’s The White Countess (2005), to touch the tip of the iceberg.
The “Motorola advertisement appearing on billboards and in glossy magazines… means ‘MOTO nostalgia’ or ‘MOTO era’, highlighting the Shanghai 1930s feel of the image.” The evocation of the Shanghai lady in this MOTO campaign contains echoes of a contemporary Ballardian neo-landscape, the Bladerunner megalopolis that is Shanghai. This kitsch, pastiched, noirish sophistication is a parody without the humour and articulates Jameson’s postmodern and consummerist project of futuristic nostalgia (Jameson, 1985, p116).
Frederic Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumerist Society”, in (Ed) Hal Foster, Postmodern Culture, Pluto Press, Great Britain, 1985.
Another confirmation of the currency and commodification of the old Shanghai lady as an aesthetic still capable of marketing a dream about a city that has entered into the postmodern vernacular in “Selling Cosmetics by vending machine ?”, Hong Kong Hustle: Hong Kong nightlife, streetculture, and cool www.hongkonghustle.com/shopping/389/cosmetics-vending-machine/#more-389.
Shanghai! …during the 1930s and 1940s was referred to internationally as the “jazz mecca” (1) of Asia, the Paris of the East, conjuring in the Western imagination a romanticised landscape of coolies, opium, and spies. In reality Shanghai was the pearl of China’s orient, occupying a unique political and cultural place as China’s modern Metropolis. Historically, China had granted concessions to the international powers in Shanghai, British, French, and Americans occupying colonial settlements in the treaty port.
At the level of representation, Shanghai was an appropriated “exotic” location, an orientalist back-drop, and the subject of a plethora of Western novels, literary and cinematic creations. The allure of Shanghai as a mysterious cultural locale wove its way into American Hollywood cinema and popular song as an orientalist fantasy and landscape upon which the West imagination could play out illusions. Shanghai as a colonial International settlement was inhabited and visited by passing Western entrepreneurs, government officials, tourists, traders, and entertainers. American actor Charlie Chaplin’s tour in Shanghai 1936 with actress Paulette Goddard and stay in the Fairmont Peace Hotel (Cathay Hotel) in Shanghai is well documented. He visited the famous Paramount Ballroom where Serge Ermoll and His Orchestra were the resident Russian jazz orchestra. A personal collection of family photographs pictures band leader Ermoll with Chaplin and Goddard. The first exhibition of cinema in China occurred in the Yu Yuan teahouse in Shanghai (2) , eight months after the “…Lumiere brother’s epochal unveiling of their new Cinematographe…December 28, 1895, in the basement of the Grand Cafe in Paris.” (3) The Yu Gardens was a place that I wanted to visit, and would take many photographs.
The black American jazz trumpet player Buck Clayton’s legendary journey to Shanghai was “precipitated by brisk trans-Pacific traffic in record music. Gramaphone records of the music of Duke Ellington and other artists had already reached Chinese shores, spurring a rage for black bands in the city’s nightclubs and dancehalls.”(4) The playing of this black American jazz and its local idiom performed by Russian, Filippino émigré and Chinese bands heralded the circulation of a hybrid trans-Pacific culture. Until very recently, the Chinese academies viewed “yellow music” and its Russian, black American and colonial precursors as not worthy of scholarship. Colonial modernity as articulated in pre-revolutionary Chinese film with its jazzy Chinese popular screen music was understood by its leftist critics as “decadent sound” (mimi zhi yin) (5) and opposed to the modern Republican ideology.
Sergei Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll) Russian Jazz Orchestra leader on the cover of RUBEZ News of Harbin, Manchuria, 1937
In the contemporary context, this trans-Pacific culture and music is experiencing considerable attention and re-discovery by the Chinese government and international community, as Shanghai overtakes Hong Kong as China’s major trading port city. The cover of the American Time magazine proclaimed “Shanghai! Inside the most happening city in the world” and the accompanying article “Shanghai Swings! The long slumber is over, and Shanghai is grooving to an exuberant beat”(6) Hannah Beech, “Shanghai! Inside the most happening city in the world” and the accompanying article “Shanghai Swings!”, in Time magazine, September 20, 2004. The image of the contemporary Shanghai Bund skyline glittering with electric lights evokes the former glory of Shanghai’s jazz age when the colonial façade of the Bund housed China’s wealthiest banks and trading houses. Indeed it is no mystery a musical metaphor has been woven to paint a picture of the re-emergence of Shanghai as a global destination. The article chronicles the restoration and the re-opening of Shanghai’s most legendary nightclub the Paramount Ballroom. Another Time magazine article “Cholera, Cables, Piano’s”(7), alludes to a Chinese symphony of chaos to evoke the human crisis of colonial modernity in Shanghai. The dischord between images of extreme opulence and wealth, manifest in the architectural spaces of the colonial dance-halls at their zenith: the Paramount Ballroom, Majestic Hotel, the French Club, the Cathay Hotel, Astor House, the Canidrome, Ladlow’s Casa Nova et al – juxtaposed with the struggle of the underclass of Russian émigrés working inside these spaces and the exclusion from these spaces of the desperate and displaced Chinese refugees, reveal the economic, class, and gendered dimensions of Shanghai’s urban metropolis, a cultural entrepot forming the ‘modern’ Chinese man and woman.
In most historical and popular accounts of Shanghai nightlife (post 1930s) the White Russian émigrés, who fled the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, are notoriously depicted as desperate refugees finding work in the bars, clubs, and nightclubs Shanghai as either “taxi-dancers”, “body-guards”, or prostitutes. The project argues that the affinity between “yellow music”, foreign jazz, specifically the Russian émigré jazz and its interpretation as “pornographic” and decadent evolved from the social spaces where this music was performed. The contribution of Russian émigrés to the cultural modernity of Shanghai is considerable. The Russians, many stateless and without citizenship, occupied a liminal place in the city below the oppressed and poor Chinese. The construction of the “White Russian” refugee stereotype founds its way into trans-Pacific popular media culture and has long been associated with “Sinified jazz music”.(8)
This brief account of Shanghai’s history and the role of Russian émigré jazz shows that this underclass of refugees were central to modern notions of urban Chinese identity. Scholarship in the field of musicology, ethnomusicology, media, history and sociology in China, America, Britain, and in Europe has not previously focused on the remarkable contribution made by Russian émigré jazz during the pre-revolutionary period in China, precisely because this cultural history was erased with the formation communist Republic in China.
The recuperation of this history through Russian émigré sources abroad, Chinese scholarship, archives that were moved from mainland China to Taiwan, Hong Kong, France, England, Russia and the United States and an existing archive of material in the possession of this project could recover an inform through interdisciplinary, cultural studies method a new historical case study. (9)
(1) Andrew F. Jones, Yellow music : media culture and colonial modernity in the Chinese jazz age, Durham [N.C.] : Duke University Press, 2001, p1.
(2) Yingjin Zhang, “Teahouse, Shadowplay, Bricolage: ‘Laborer’s Love’ and the Question of Early Chinese Cinema”, in Zhen Zhang (Ed), Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, Stanford University Press, USA, 1999.
(3) Jones “Listening to the Chinese Jazz Age”, op cit p11.
(4) Jones “Listening to the Chinese Jazz Age”, op cit p1.
(5) Jones “Listening to the Chinese Jazz Age”, op cit p8.
(6) Hannah Beech, “Shanghai! Inside the most happening city in the world” and the accompanying article “Shanghai Swings!”, in Time magazine, September 20, 2004.
(7) Foreign News, “Cholera, Cables, Pianos” in Time magazine, September 27, 1937.
(8) Jones op cit p73.
(9) Andrew Field, “Chapter 5: Selling Souls in Sin City: Shanghai Singing and Dancing Hostesses in Print, Film, and Politics, 1920-49 inZhen Zhang (Ed), Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, Stanford University Press, USA, 1999. See forthcoming publication Andrew Field, Shanghai’s Dancing World: Cabaret Culture and Urban Politics, 1919–1954.
The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu presented/exhibition by Prof Andrew Jakubowicz, China Cultural Centre Sydney http://www.cccsydney.org 2015 in association with Jewish Refugees and Shanghai Exhibition. Curated as an installation in Crossroads: Shanghai and the Jews of China, Curator Jane Wesley, Sydney Jewish Museum, and, Carnivale, Performance Space, 2001. Creative Director, Tatiana Pentes and multimedia designer. Reviewed by Keth Gallasch RealTime issue #46 Dec-Jan 2001. Read online
“What can a single artifact tell us about history? For an archaeologist schooled in deciphering subtle traces, a lone relic can speak volumes. So it is with the 19th century brass menorah at the center of Andrew Jakubowicz’s The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu. Serving as a metaphor for the intertwining stories of four Jewish families living in Shanghai in the late 19th and early 20thcenturies, this object also provides evidence of a community that has since disappeared from the city, having joined the worldwide Jewish diaspora during World War II, only to make their way to Australia. Their stories are told and this history is pieced together through interviews with surviving family members and collections of photographs, documents and testimonies that describe a strikingly similar set of experiences. Jakubowicz’s exhaustively documented site offers a model for constructing a multi-perspectival portrait of a moment from the past that cannot be otherwise reconstituted. The family stories that constellate around the image of the menorah describe a set of common themes emerging from individual experiences with immigration, community and participation in an economic system. At the same time, the stories remain separate and distinct, a subtle evocation of the fact that none of the families knew each other when living in Shanghai; it is only through this reconstruction after the fact that their lives have been woven into a larger historical narrative. As a piece of historical evidence whose origins can only be conjectured, the menorah also functions as a metaphor for Jakubowicz’s investigation. The graceful folk tune that emanates from the music box in the base of the menorah is at once familiar and indecipherable, some of the notes having been long since worn away, but leaving enough of the tune intact to provide a suggestive starting point for historical enquiry. Like the films of Hungarian Peter Forgacs, who constructs historical narratives out of home movies shot by WWII era European Jewish families, Jakubowicz’s work resonates with traditions of oral history and history-from-below, implicitly arguing that the stories of “ordinary” people should not be excluded from the historical record.”
— Professor Tara McPherson and Steve Anderson Division of Critical Studies, School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Interface still: The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu online documentary
SYNOPSIS “The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu is a brass menorah (a Jewish religious candelabra), probably dating from the late nineteenth century. It was found on a second hand stall in a Shanghai antique market, in October 2000, more than forty years after the last Jews had left Shanghai. In its base is a wind-up music box, playing out a tune that has yet to be identified. Its simple chords evoke the many cultures of Jewish China. The antique market stands near the main entrance gate to Fang Bang Lu (or Fong Pang Road as it was known when there was a Jewish community in Shanghai from the 1840s to the 1950s). Fang Bang Lu is the main street in the old Chinese city (just south of the former French Concession and International Settlement), and leads to a tea house the original that has haunted western fantasies of China since the eighteenth century.
Interface still: The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu online documentary
This computer based project explores the patterns that seven Australian families to Shanghai, families whose paths crossed many times, but who never met there. These four families will be joined by three more over the coming months – their lives entered through the flames of the Menorah. Through common themes of arrival, community, economy, place, interactions with China and the Japanese occupiers, and then the tenuous journeys to Australia, we begin to sense the intertwining of serendipity and design that mark their pathways. From the Moalems, key figures in the Sephardic (Babylonian/Spanish) religious community, to the Krouks, active participants in the vibrant Russian Jewish community, the Gunsbergers, surprising survivors of Kristallnacht and an escape across Europe to Manchuria, to the Weyland Jakubowicz family in their arduous struggle through the USSR and Japan, we begin to understand the rich fabric of cultural heritage of these diasporic people, who came at last as refugees to Australia. We discover the stories of Leisl Rosner (Gerber), a girl from Vienna who became a woman in Shanghai, Rachel Kofman, a Russian woman from Harbin who returned to China from her studies in California, and settled in Shanghai, and the Szekeres, mathematicians living in limbo on the edge of the world. The arrival of all these families in Australia from 1946 was in circumstances of hostility that are not overwhelmingly different from those facing today’s refugees and tells us much about not only where they came from but what they found in the new land.
Writer/ Producer: Andrew Jakubowicz is Professor of Sociology at the University of Technology Sydney; his parents arrived in Australia via Shanghai in 1946 most of their families had perished in the Holocaust. He now works in the area of multicultural affairs, and was the executive producer of Making Multicultural Australia a multimedia documentary (1999).
Creative Director: Tatiana Pentes, a multimedia designer who created the AMY award winner (2000) Strange Cities, an interactive digital work built around memories of Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s, and the music of her grandfather, Shanghai orchestra leader Sergei Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll), a Harbin born Manchurian Russian.”
“It is inscribed as on Pandora’s Box…do not open…passions…escape in all directions from a box that lies open…” from Bruno Latour’s “Opening Pandora’s Box”, in Science in Action: How To Follow Scientists & Engineers Through Society, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1987, p1-17.
This work investigates and records the production of a digital media artwork blackBOX: Painting A Digital Picture of Documented Memory, generated through the media technologies of interactive multimedia, exploiting the creative potentials of digitally produced music, sound, image and text relationships in a disc based & online (Internet) environment. The artwork evolves from an imaginary electronic landscape that can be uniquely explored/ played in a non-sequential manner. The artwork/ game is a search for the protagonists hybrid cultural identity. This is mirrored in the exploration of random, fragmentary and non-linear experiences designed for the player engaged with the artwork. The subjective intervention of the player/ participant in the electronic artwork is metaphoric of the improvisational tendencies that have evolved in the Greek Blues (Rembetika), Jazz, and Hindustani musical and performative dance forms. The protagonist Nina’s discovery of these musical forms reveal her cultural/ spiritual origins. As a musical composer arranges notes, melodies and harmonies, and sections of instruments, so too, the multimedia producer designs a ensemble of audio-visual fragments to be navigated.
Dance also becomes a driving metaphor, analogous to the players movement in and through these passages of image/ sound/ text and as a movement between theories and ideas explored in the content of the program. The central concern is to playfully reverse, obscure, distort the look of the dominating/colonialist gaze, in the production of an interactive game and allow the girl to picture herself.
One of my objectives is to explore the ways in which social research can be undertaken by the creation of an interactive program in the computer environment utilizing interactive digital media technologies. The study reveals that, through the subjective intervention of the player/ participant (user)* with the digital artefact, a unique experience and responsiveness is produced with the open-ended text. The work is comprised of a website http://www.strangecities.net; an interactive CD-ROM; a gallery installation; digital photomedia images: and a written thesis documenting and theorising the production.
Classical Indian dance music: Bharata Natyam
Nirmal Jena & Odissi Dance Co.
* The term player/participant (user), while widely debated has been in usage from the 1980s to refer to the unique human interaction with the digital artefact, electronic screen work, and computer interface.
CosmoShanghai is a growing online portal that launches digital research projects exploring Shanghai’s re-emergence as the cosmopolitan metropolis from its glorified memorial status in the 1930s – part entrepot, part settlement, part escape- that finds expression in the multiple contradictions of the struggle over the preservation and development of Hongkou and other districts of the cosmopolis.
In one online documentary projects The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu – Dee Lay Jao Police district, becomes the focus for the local and international and diasporic forces seeking to define what the Jewish heritage of the city means in the current era. Set against an examination of a number of preservation and renewal zones, current Chinese modernity encompasses an historicised cosmopolitanism that accounts for the variegated social histories of the city and its global positioning as part of the New China on the one hand, and as a city state on the other. However to be effective this will require cross-cultural collaboration over the meanings of cities’ pasts and futures.
In another interactive BlackBox: Painting a Digital Picture of Documented Memory the artwork evolves from an imaginary electronic landscape that can be uniquely explored/ played. The artwork/ game is a search for the protagonists hybrid cultural identity. This is mirrored in the exploration of random, fragmentary and non-linear experiences, where the protagonist Nina’s discovery of musical forms reveal her cultural/ spiritual origins. As a musical composer arranges notes, melodies and harmonies, and sections of instruments, so too, the multimedia producer designs a ensemble of audio-visual fragments to be navigated. Dance also becomes a driving metaphor, analogous to the players movement in and through these passages of image/ sound/ text and as a movement between theories and ideas explored in the content of the program. The central concern is to playfully reverse, obscure, distort the look of the dominating/colonialist gaze, in the production of an interactive game and allow the girl to picture herself.
An interactive digital work/ Musical CD-Rom by Tatiana Pentes (Writer/Director) & Geoffrey Weary (Co-Development/ Cinematography & Photography), Eurydice Aroney (Producer), Roi Huberman (Sound Design), Glenn Remington (Interface Design). Produced in association with Screen Australia (AFC). Online exhibition Australia-Japan New Media Gallery, Australian Embassy, JAPAN http://newmedia.australia.or.jp/artist/info.php?name=tatiana
Strange Cities CD-ROM has been exhibited inter/nationally & winner of Best Arts/Cultural Title/Site, AIMIA Awards, 2000, and Most Innovative/Creative Multimedia Title, ATOM Awards, 2000, Australia. Acquired by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) Multimedia Collection, Australian Film & Television School Library, University of Hawaii, University of Sydney, UTS, the National Library Australia and many inter/national archives.
Strange Cities was selected for Dart 99 dLux Media Arts in partnership with Sydney Film Festival, the 1999 Experimenta Media national travelling Exhibition, The Red Room, & promoted New Talent Pavilion, MILIA Games, Cannes, France in February 1999
Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)
Strange Cities is an experimental interactive multimedia work authored for CD-Rom release and exhibition. Through the disclosure of evidence, Sasha dreams, discovers and remembers the exotic identity of her grandparents Xenia and Sergei Ermolaeff (a composer and orchestra leader) in fragments and traces of their music and struggle to survive the Russian and Chinese Communist Revolutions. The dulcet tones of the legendary voice of ABC Radio – Tony Baldwin as Newsreader deepen the nostalgia of this interactive drama/history.
The inspiration for the work is a tune of the same name – a musical illustration, an imaginary vision of old Shanghai, Chinese metropolis and international settlement which conjures mythic, filmic, musical and personal images of the city port.
Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)
Coined capital of the international underworld, the city of Shanghai became a seductively strange locale symbolized in the Western imagination. In reality however the city was most often the final port of call for political refugees. The visual imagery for the project was shot in St Petersberg, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Sydney and involves found photographs, film footage, simulated radio archives, and original musical compositions.
Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)
Strange Cities experiments with performance, sound, image and text and their dramatic representation in the interactive environment. Providing a challenging approach to traditional modes of story-telling and music in the interface design, the user is provoked to discover the Strange Cities tune in the graphic portrayal of its musical script, sonic perception of its vocal lyric, and orchestration through user interactivity.
In the exploration of Strange Cities the user will experience a questioning of the relationship between fictional, biographical, historical and musical narrative possibilities produced through the slippage between and across a series of interactive screens. Participation with the interface provides for the user an experience which challenges traditional modes of narrative in audiovisual presentation, the perception of musical structure, storytelling and in historical, biographical and fictional texts in the multimedia environment.
Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)
Strange Cities was selected for the 1999 Experimenta Media Art CD-Rom Exhibition and has been promoted at the New Talent Pavilion, MILIA Games, Cannes, France in February 1999.
NEW MEDIA AWARDS FESTIVALS
Best Arts/Cultural Title/ Site, Australian Interactive Multimedia Industry Association (AIMIA) Awards November 2000, AUSTRALIA
Most Innovative/Creative Multimedia Production, Australian Teachers of Media, (ATOM) Awards May 2000, AUSTRALIA
This project has been produced in association with Screen Australia (Australian Film Commission)
Shanghai Nostalgia” as a Cultural Industry by Pan Tianshu
Shanghai Nostalgia: Historical Memory, Community-Building, and Place-making in a late Socialist City
Pan, Tianshu. “Historical Memory, Community-Building and Place-Making in
Neighborhood Shanghai.” in Restructuring the Chinese City: Changing Society, Economy, and Space, ed. Laurence J. C. Ma and Fulong Wu, 122–37. London: Routledge 2005.
“For the first time in post-Mao Shanghai, the local people found their colonial past was no longer baggage to carry but a rich resource to be fully utilized. “Shanghai nostalgia” thus “became entangled with a (dys)utopian fervor to embrace global capital and its ideology, the appearances and normalcy of the Shanghai modern entered intellectual and commercial circulation at the standard version of historical memory” (Zhang 2000: 354). Shanghai quickly became a “re-colonized” site for various kinds of joint ventures in film production. Old buildings in the Municipal Concession and small villas in the west end were renovated in order to attract more Spielbergs and boost the tourist industry. Those sinified cafes and European restaurants that somehow managed to survive communism changed their names back to their original western names. The famous Red Mansion Coffee House, for example, was once again Chez Louis. So did the theaters, movie houses, department stores, and dance halls. The Old Man Jazz Band, who had a brief appearance in Spielberg’s movie, started to perform all year around in the Peace Hotel (Sasson House, previously owned by a famous Jewish billionaire). Colonial Shanghai rekindled collective memory and in the process of remembering, itself was re-invented. With its success in the colonial past in setting trends, finding opportunities, and witnessing miracles, Shanghai provided a somewhat “infectiously decadent, but alluring background and setting” (Dai 1997: 158) especially for those working in the film industry.”
Zhang, Xudong. 2000. “Shanghai Nostalgia: Postrevolutionary Allegories in Wang Anyi’s Literary Production in the 1990s”, in Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique, pp. 348-387. Duke University Press.
“Selling cosmetics by vending machine?”
April 19th, 2008 “In Japan you can find all sorts of things for sale in vending machines. Since I’ve lived in Hong Kong however, I’ve never seen an explosion of this sort of retailing in the city. So it came as a surprise to encounter a lonely looking vending machine while walking through Silvercord shopping center last week. The vending machine had a traditional 1920’s era graphic of two girls covering the outside.
“The image looked like a cigarette ad from old Shanghai, the type that tourists purchase on “antique” posters featuring beauties from the time period. On closer inspection, the image actually represented the logo of a brand of cosmetics, Two Girls.
“This sort of vintage look doesn’t really match a vending machine. Vending machines typically denote a sort of modern, mechanized and impersonal shopping experience. You don’t normally associate this type of experience with female shoppers. Further, a product like cosmetics would usually require the purchaser to read the labels and check the ingredients, which isn’t possible from inside a machine. Typical products that are sold in this way are ultra well known products. Perhaps the cosmetics are well known, however if I were a shopper unfamiliar with the brand, not being able to read the label and study the product would be a major impediment to sale.
“The location of the machine was also somewhat off. It was buried near the side of an escalator in an alternative entrance to the shopping center…”
“Yet another factor to consider, does the product match the target consumer of the youth-oriented Silvercord mall?
“So in essence, the product, the brand image, the target consumer, the location of the machine and the technology all need to be considered when selling a product by vending machine. In this case, the factors appear to be a bad match.”
“Darcy took me out to see Australia last night – and boy, what an epic! Sweeping scenery, soaring soundtrack, cattle drives, the Stolen Generations, World War II, and a reprehensible villain to top it off…But what really caught my eye were the costumes, created by Baz Luhrmann’s wife Catherine Martin. When Nicole Kidman’s character had to dress more elegantly, her costumes often had a distinct “1930s Shanghai” aesthetic to them that is discussed in this slideshow.
“The basic lines and structure of the cheongsam, also called a qipao, have remained essentially unchanged for decades, and for good reason. There is just something about a high collar, princess seams, and curve-skimming tailoring that oozes class, taste and glamour regardless of the decade. But there are some tricks to making sure you do end up looking glamourous in a dress like this:
“*Perfect fit is crucial. It should be body-skimming, but not so tight that you bust your seams when you sit down. If there is too much loose fabric around the waist, the curvy silhouette will be ruined. Conversely, if the dress is too tight across the bust, it will flatten you out and again – ruin the silhouette. Bottom line: if the dress does not fit perfectly off the peg, have it tailored.
“*Make sure the collar is neither too tight nor too loose. If you find yourself perpetually tugging at the collar to loosen it, of have to wear it unfastened, it is too tight.
“*Side slits can be tricky – sometimes there is only one, sometimes there are two, and sometimes there are none at all. Make sure that when you sit, you smooth your dress down over your hips to make sure you don’t reveal too much thigh. Go barelegged if possible to avoid showing off the tops of your stockings below the slits. If you are uncomfortable with the height of the slits, again – take your dress to a tailor and have them stitched together an inch or two to boost your confidence.
“*If your dress is made from a bold, eye-catching color or fabric, limit your jewelry to just simple stud earrings. Long earrings do not pair well with a high-collared dress. If your dress is a solid color, you can add a sparkly brooch for some visual interest, but keep the earrings minimal to highlight the collar area of the dress. Avoid necklaces – they distract from the dress, and can get tangled on the closures.
“*Don’t theme your entire outfit as “Chinese.” This is not the time to bust out your charm bracelet, handbag and hairclip that all have Chinese characters on them. A little bit of Shanghai style goes a long way, and your dress has just the right amount. Any more would be too much.
“*Keep your hair sleek but soft. If you have long hair, twist it gently back into a low bun or chignon but make sure the front frames your face. If you have short hair, style it simply in a way that suits your profile. The idea is not to distract from your dress, but to treat your hair as a key accessory.
“*Makeup should be simple and clean, but without sacrificing glamour. Classic bold matte lips, the tiniest brush of rouge, and minimal eye makeup is ideal – the same Hollywood classic look
“*The key words to remember when trying to create 1930s Shanghai glamour with a cheongsam or qipao are fit and simplicity. If your dress does not fit properly or if your makeup or hair are too distracting, then the entire effect will be ruined. Take the time and plan well in advance to ensure your dress has the perfect fit. Don’t fuss too much over your hair and makeup. Less is truly more! that is now in fashion. Avoid heavy eyeliner and blush, and overly glossy or frosty lips.”
One could not go without mentioning that cinematic blunder Shanghai Surprise (1986) panned by critics. The film had a solid producer in ex-beatle George Harrision and his Handmade Films company and acclaimed director Jim Goddard. It was based on an adaptation of Tony Kendrick’s literary novel Faraday’s Flowers (1978). However the ill-fated stars (newly weds) Madonna Ciccone and Sean Penn ensured a box-office failure. The film popularised the Shanghai 1930’s opium, coolies, and spies narrative once more. Shot in Hong Kong the film was set in Shangha, China 1938 – Maddona played Gloria Tatlock a US Missionary to Penn’s Occidental tourist adventurer. According to Paul Katz (posted 6 April 2007) “…Some bad films become kitschy-cool with age, but Shanghai Surprise continues to rot. Penn teams up with then wife Madonna as a ’30s rapscallion charged with helping the Material Girl’s missionary/nurse…we lost you at ”missionary/nurse,” didn’t we? While the tabloids claimed that the duo had chemistry in real life, those sparks never showed up on the screen. EXTRAS D-list celebs like Melissa Rivers riff on fave scenes; and in a doc, supporting players dish about paparazzi and Madonna’s prima donna antics.” http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20033920,00.html [Accessed 10 February 2009]
The legacy Shanghai gesture in theatre, cinema, literature, photography and music is an elegant motif and contested space – a dialectic between East & West (Chinglish, Chinoiserie, Europeanoiserie et al) and not only a reminder of Shanghai between the Wars, but so too a powerful evocation of the Japanese occupation.
Image: Film poster for Strange Cities Чужие города – Russian film poster (AFC) my grandmother Xenia Vladimirovna & Sergei’s musical score
My grandmother Xenia Vladimirovna was born in Russia 1908. Her father was in the Tsarist Russian navy. After the Bolshevik revolution 1917 he did not return from sea. After a brief marriage to a widowed vet surgeon with five sons, Xenia told me, her mother Eugenia and three sisters Helena, Galya, and Marya made the journey by Trans-Siberian railway to Harbin, Manchuria in 1923 to find husbands in China. As a singer and dancer at the Modern Hotel, Harbin across the ballroom she met my grandfather Serge Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll and His Music Masters). “I didn’t think Serge would notice but he did, we Russian girls wore beautiful gowns because at least we got paid, not like my Chinese friend Rose, who had to make money in other ways….” she told me half her life lease later in Sydney. Later in Shanghai she married Serge 1933 where they re-met at the majestic Hotel. My father Serge Jr was born 1943 in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation in China. After a successful career as a jazz orchestra leader in the big clubs and hotels of Shanghai: Paramount, Cathay Hotel, Ladlow’s Cassinova, the French Club, Wagon Lits my grandfather Sergei accepted passage on the Chan Cha ship to Hong Kong and then Sydney Australia 1951. Decadent jazz music became unfashionable with the Chinese Communist revolution, but he managed to continue working at the Russian Club, in Pitt Street Sydney. He brought with him my father Serge, his wife Xenia, his musical scores, and one Trumpet. The Australian government gave them a peppercorn lease on a Deco house on Monterey Street in Sans Souci. My grandmother always told my father a young jazz pianist also……”don’t dream about Melbourne “its such an old fashioned town!”…her sister Galya married a British businessman from the Shanghai Texaco Company and relocated there….Xenia and Sergei made the train trip on the Sydney-Melbourne over night express many times.
Xenia a Russian Lady from Shanghai
This is a portrait of my grandmother Xenia Vladimirovna Ermolaeff
Eugenia and Vladimir an Admiral in Russian Tsarist Navy, c. 1920
This is a portrait of Asja Mercoolova as a girl, my grandmother Xenia’s goddaughter. Xenia wanted me to be a dancer like Asja. She wanted me to be on the stage. She would ask me to sing and perform songs for her in the old fashioned lounge-room with the radio on in the background. They sent me to dance classes – modern, jazz, tap and later I studies Flamenco. I still wear Flamenco shoes every day to work (!) I grew up listening to my grandfather Sergei’s jazz. He would practise in his music room on the trumpet, at the piano and at his vibes. One day in the future I would be packing away his musical scores, piled high on top of his piano, and he would be gone and buried. River Lights club in Sans Souci is a vivid memory, staying up too late, and watching him play. He wore exquisite tailored suits and painted on his eye-brows, cabaret style. The music was a melange of Russian folk ballads, American jazz, and Chinese pop. The compositions were for a famous crooner he remembered, Alexander Vertinsky, writer of the legendary tune “Immortal Road”, that world sings today as “Those Were The Days My Friend!”.
Before my grandmother (Xenia Ermolaeff) died, she gave me a set of hand painted studio portraits she had produced while living in Shanghai (1923-1951). Wrapped in tissue, when she was feeling sentimental, she would produce these from the musty old wardrobe that was filled with beautiful dresses and shoes. When she went out to the club for lunch, I would try these on and pretend I was her, standing in front of the large oval mirror. In the noirish light through the blinds in her bedroom, wearing her oversized patent-leather shoes, I painted on her lipstick. These portraits conjure the decadent life of a a beautiful young Russian woman living in Shanghai at its zenith. The mystery in those eyes reveals suffering a life of extremes. In Sydney, in the Holden, we would sit waiting for Serge, as she sipped sherry from a silver hip flask, telling me about her feelings. As a young girl in Russia, she was the daughter of a wealthy Tsarist naval officer, but was reduced to stateless person seeking refuge in Harbin, Manchuria after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia (1917). Later she married my grandfather Sergei, a wealthy Russian big band leader in Shanghai (husband No#2). The Shanghai sojourn was a wild ride, until she was made refugee once more with the Chinese Revolution. Her life ended in the Sydney suburbs with a three acre block and hills hoist – and a moonshine plum orchard. I was a great joy in her later life – the daughter she longed for. When she pointed to photographs of her god- daughter Asja the ballerina, she told me that she had married a Broadway musical director, and would I be a dancer like her?
Vertinsky:: Serge Ermoll and His Orchestra:: Shanghai
Into the Music this week pays tribute to local jazz pianist Serge Ermoll, who died last October 2010, with a feature that rips open his intense personal and professional life. Also, internationally acclaimed musician and U2 frontman Bono, reading his poetic tribute to his greatest influence, Elvis Presley, as part of an award-winning radio feature.
A HEART RIPPED OPEN: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SERGE ERMOLL
Australian jazz pianist Serge Ermoll died last year, and to acknowledge his contribution to and life in the Australian jazz scene, Into the Music rebroadcasts this feature, first heard in 2004 on Radio National’s Radio Eye program.
For nearly 40 years, pianist Serge Ermoll was the wild man of Australian jazz. His group Free Kata, formed in the 1970s, ‘ripped open the heart of music aesthetics in Australia’ (John Shand, Sydney Morning Herald, August 2003). Ermoll played with some of the greats of the international jazz scene, such as the trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie; but his desire to ‘be free’ — and a chaotic life — has kept him out on the wild frontier of Australian music making.
With a black belt in karate, and a day job as a private eye, Ermoll was always a ‘character’, but years of wild living and a lifetime without any regular income took their toll, both on Serge Ermoll and those closest to him.
In this program, Serge played the piano and talked about his life, while his daughter, the artist Tatiana Pentes, provided candid commentary on a life spent following a madman around the country — from gig to gig, from all-day sessions in a Chinese restaurant to late nights in dim and dank clubs.
‘A Heart Ripped Open’ is a wild ride — the Free Kata gang still used to get together from time to time, Serge didn’t always turn up sober, if he turned up at all; he got into fights; there were tears and rages. Finally, the program ended at Serge’s 60th birthday party, and the gang partied on.
Presenter: Tatiana Pentes
Producers: Eurydice Aroney and Kirsty Lee
Sound Engineer: Steven Tilley
Broadcast on Radio Eye July 8, 2004, 2006, Into the Music 2011