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The Adventure of Rediscovering Pansidong from the Film Archivist’s Perspective | 电影档案员的视角:重逢《盘丝洞》之奇遇 – Mulan International Film Festival

The Adventure of Rediscovering Pansidong from the Film Archivist’s Perspective | 电影档案员的视角:重逢《盘丝洞》之奇遇

 In Review

The film collection at the National Library of Norway holds more than 200,000 reels of film. The main task for the film archive is to preserve and restore the national film collection.

The roles of the film archivist are many. Not only do we try to arrange a big archive containing hundreds of thousands of film reels by registering and cataloging the collections, we also initiate, plan and follow up preservation projects. When planning a project, we consider all available methods. The choice depends on features of the material we are looking to preserve and its condition. To ensure that the material gets restored as closely as possible to the original film and how it was presented at the premiere, many choices must be made, sometimes difficult when the options are many and they all seem plausible.

Being a national film archive, naturally the Norwegian film productions are prioritized when it comes to picking and selecting film titles for our laboratories to work on. We try to cover all types of film, regardless of genres or importance of the film title. Some material groups are given a high priority due to the instability of the film stock itself. The nitrate, for example, is decomposing fast and threatens to end up out of reach for recovery if we don’t act promptly when signs of decomposing are noticed.

But film history is not only about film production; it is also about screenings. What was the setting at the theatres, and what was on their program? The films, other than Norwegian movies, that were available at the theatres as Norwegian language versions of foreign films, are also part of the Norwegian film history. Therefore, we sometimes pick foreign films to be preserved and/or restored.

But what good is all that work if we only put the restored films back on the shelf again? The purpose of preservation is to be able to disseminate the cultural heritage. And when we for different reasons do give the viewers, be it an audience at a public theatre or a visitor at the library watching a small screen, access to the collections, the archivist’s task is to present it in a correct context. This requires some knowledge about the film. When and where was the film produced? Who participated? What was the economic situation? How was the political and cultural situation? What were the influences at the time? The list could be made very long. The more detailed the context gets, the more complete our knowledge.

The rediscovery and restoration of Pansidong was initiated due to happy circumstances and coincidences. I was planning a longer stay at an external lab, Haghefilm in Amsterdam, and was going through our nitrate collection to find material that would travel with me. Wanting to take advantage of the knowledge and the skills at Haghefilm, I was looking for material I thought would benefit from being restored using a method only performed at a few laboratories, Haghefilm being one of them. This method, called the Desmet method, allows you to preserve tinted colours by flashing light during printing. Tinting was a common method used to colour films before the coloured film stock was introduced. The black and white film strip was either dipped in a colour bath after being printed and developed, or the stock was pre-coloured.

Pansidong met our general requirements for preservation: a foreign feature film with Norwegian intertitles on tinted nitrate stock. On top of this, some reels showed signs that indicated a decomposing process had begun. The fact that it was the first Chinese movie ever screened at a Norwegian movie theatre added importance and excitement to the project.

As a child, I saw an animated series broadcast on Swedish national TV. The show was called “Kung Markatta” (Monkey King), and I was deeply fascinated by it. The Scandinavian fairy tales I had grown up with didn’t have any of that mystery. Kung Markatta was unpredictable and heroic, and the drawings were enchanting. Already as a child, I knew the fairy tale about “Kung Markatta” was a very old Chinese legend, but when I first started to work on Pansidong, it didn’t strike me that it was the same story. The Norwegian title of Pansidong was “Edderkoppene”, in English “The Spiders”. I soon found out it was an adaptation of one of the sagas told in The Journey to the West. But it was not until I got in contact with film archivists in China that I understood Pansidong’s importance and its place in Chinese film history. And it was only then I realized that our Norwegian print of this enormously popular Shanghai-produced film is the only surviving copy from the late 1920s. The news about our find in the vaults of the National Library and the restoration spread quickly among film enthusiasts. Since the restoration, the Pansidong or “Edderkoppene” has been screened more than 20 times from Beijing to Los Angeles.

As a film archivist, I many times experienced how the fascination for the film title I currently work on keeps growing as I do the research for the film catalog. This is also my experience working with Pansidong, but it also has its challenges. As in many other cases, there is information missing to complete the full picture, things we will probably never find out about. There are few records, none from the Norwegian distributor. Some film ads and newspaper reviews can still be found and they provide us with information about the screenings. The best source for information is the original footage itself. Moreover, it raises new questions, even more puzzling. The first thing that strikes you when looking at the Norwegian print of Pansidong is the somewhat peculiar intertitling. In the era of silent movies, Norwegian cinemas often screened foreign films. The intertitles, the cards with text telling the story through dialogs or explaining comments in the original foreign language, were translated into Norwegian, and the original intertitles would be replaced with new ones. In the case of Pansidong, however, the original Chinese intertitles have not been replaced. Instead, the Norwegian distributor has chosen another solution, and kept the Chinese script and added the Norwegian texts underneath. This is uncommon in the Norwegian collections of silent movies. This choice would have been unproblematic if the Norwegian translations corresponded to original Chinese texts, but this is not the case. For unknown reasons, the translator or the distributors thought it necessary to change the content. Sometimes the changes are small and the translation close to the content in the Chinese text. But then again, others differ a great deal. Some of the Chinese texts have been mirrored and turned upside down, and used several times. The Chinese letters were probably kept to decorate and to give the intertitles an exotic flavour. The Norwegian “translations” also have added daft comments in parentheses. When restoring the film, these peculiar intertitles have no impact on how the preservation work is carried out. The task of a film archivist and film restorer is to keep the expression as close to the original as it was on opening night. We have good reason to believe the intertitles are the original Norwegian ones, and that the movie was screened with the very same. Therefore, from an ethical point of view, it would have been wrong to correct them in order to make the Chinese letters and the Norwegian texts correspond.

The intertitles being so whimsical, one must ask oneself why the intertitles were changed when Pansidong was brought to Norway? What was the intention when turning the mysterious saga into a fiddly story? Since there are no records from the film distributors, we will probably never get an answer. We can assume most Norwegians in 1929 had no relation to the old Chinese legends in The Journey to the West. The Norwegian distributors might have thought that the viewers, lacking all references to the story about Pansidong, would find the characters and their behaviour strange and incomprehensible, and therefore tried to adjust it to the new audience? But by doing so, they denied the unsuspecting viewer the true experience of the legend? When we see the movie today, ninety years later, with at least a bit wider knowledge about foreign cultures and history, gained from being drowned in waves of information from all kinds of modern media, these adjustments may be more obvious and disturbing, but from a film preservation perspective, this incorrectness is correct.

挪威国家图书馆[1]的电影资料库藏有超过20万盘胶片。而电影资料馆的主要任务,就是保存与修复本国的电影藏品。

电影档案管理员扮演着诸多角色——我们不仅通过登记与编目来整理包含数十万盘电影胶片的大型馆藏,还会发起、计划并跟踪电影保护项目。策划这些项目时,我们会考虑一切可能的方法,至于最终的选择,还将取决于目标素材的特性和状态。为了尽可能地将素材还原至贴近昔日原貌和其首映时的状态,须做出许多选择;有时当选项多、且似乎都有理可循时,做决定甚是艰难。

作为国家级的电影资料馆,挪威的电影作品自然是我们电影实验室挑选电影、开展工作的重点。我们试图涵盖所有种类的电影,无论其类型或重要性。由于胶片本身的不稳定性,我们将某些材料组别归为高优先级。举例来说,硝酸片基[2]的分解速度很快,如果我们发现了其降解的迹象而没有及时采取行动,那么它将可能迎来无法修复的厄运。

电影史不仅仅关乎电影制作,亦关乎电影放映。电影院的设置是怎样的,他们的排片单上都有些什么?挪威电影之外,那些曾在影院上映过的外国译制片,也是挪威电影史的一部分。因此,我们有时也会保存和(或)修复一些外国影片。

但是,如果我们只是把修复好的影片重新束之高阁,我们所做的一切又有什么意义呢?电影保护的目的是能够去传播这些文化遗产。不管是电影院里的观众,还是图书馆里看着小屏幕的来访者,当我们出于不同的原因让他们看到这些馆藏时,档案管理员的任务是在正确的语境中将它们呈现出来。这得具备相应的电影知识——这部电影是在何时何地制作的,谁参与了,当时的经济环境如何,政治和文化环境又是什么样的,在当时造成了怎样的影响……诸如此类,不胜枚举。来龙去脉越是详细,我们的了解也就越全面。

《盘丝洞》的重新发现与修复源于幸运的机缘巧合。当时我打算在馆外的阿姆斯特丹海格电影实验室(Haghefilm)多停留一段时间,于是便在我馆的硝酸片基收藏中搜寻可以带去的素材。抱着充分利用海格实验室的知识和工艺的想法,我在找能够由此焕发新生机的素材——包括海格实验室在内,仅有少数几个实验室掌握着一种修复方法。这种方法叫做戴思梅修复法(Desmet method),它能够在冲印过程中通过闪光来保持原片的着色。在彩色胶片出现之前,染色是一种常用的给胶片上色的方法。黑白底片条要么在洗印后浸入染料浴,要么整卷事先染好色。

《盘丝洞》符合我们保藏电影的一般要求:一部配有挪威语字幕的外国长片、染色的硝酸片基拷贝。除此之外,部分胶片显示出降解已经开始的迹象。再加上《盘丝洞》是史上第一部在挪威的电影院上映的中国电影,这更是增加了此次修复工作的重要性和兴奋感。

我记得我小时候在瑞典国家电视台看过一部动画片,叫作《美猴王》(Kung Markatta),当时我就被它深深地吸引住了。陪伴我成长的斯堪的纳维亚童话故事没有半点那种神秘意味——《美猴王》总是出人意料、充满英雄色彩,且画面迷人极了。我还是个孩子的时候,就已经清楚美猴王的故事是一个非常古老的中国传说,然而当初次着手《盘丝洞》的工作时,我并未触悟到它与美猴王是同一个故事。《盘丝洞》的挪威语片名“Edderkoppene”,在英语中是“蜘蛛”的意思。我很快发现它改编自《西游记》中的一个传说。直到我接触到中国的电影档案工作者,我才了解到《盘丝洞》在中国电影史上的重要性和地位。也是那时我才意识到,我们挪威语版本的拷贝,竟是这部上海制作的流行大片从上个世纪20年代末流传下来的唯一拷贝。我们从国家图书馆的地下室找到并修复了它的消息在电影爱好者当中迅速传开了。自修复以来,从北京到洛杉矶,《盘丝洞》或“蜘蛛精”已经在世界各地放映了二十多次。

作为电影档案管理员,我多次体会到,随着电影编目研究的深入,我对工作对象的着迷与日俱增。这也正是我修复《盘丝洞》时的经历,但它也蕴藏着挑战。和其他许多类似的情况一样,我们也许永远都找不到丢失的信息来补足作品的全貌了——几乎没有记录,一点来自挪威发行商的都没有。一些电影广告和报纸评论留存了下来,给我们提供了一些关于放映的信息。最好的信息来源就是原始素材本身。此外,又出现了新的问题,甚至更加令人困惑。当你看到挪威版的《盘丝洞》时,你首先会注意到字幕有些古怪。在默片时代,挪威电影院经常放映外国电影。带有对白和注解、作叙述故事用的原语言字幕卡会翻译成挪威语,然后由新的(挪威语)字幕卡所取代。然而,《盘丝洞》的中文字幕并没有被替换掉;挪威发行商选择了另一个方式——保留中文文本,并在下方添加挪威语字幕。这在挪威收藏的无声电影中并不常见。如果挪威语译文与中文原文对应,那么这种方式并没有什么问题,可事实并非如此。由于未知的原因,翻译人员或发行商认为有必要做一些内容更改。有些改动很小,翻译接近中文原文的内容;但有些改动非常大,一些中文文本被镜像翻转、颠倒并多次使用。中文字或许是为了装饰影片、赋予其异域风情而得以保留,而挪威语的“译文”还在括号里加注了一些滑稽的观点。在修复影片的时候,这些奇怪的字幕并没有对修复工作产生影响。电影档案管理员和电影修复师的工作是让电影的面貌尽量贴近首映之夜的原貌。我们有充分的理由相信这些字幕是原版的挪威语字幕,并且也是这部电影当初放映时采用的字幕。因此,从伦理的角度来看,为了使中文字幕与挪威语字幕能够对应而对其进行纠正是不恰当的。

对于如此异想天开的字幕,人们不禁要问,为什么《盘丝洞》远渡重洋来到挪威后,字幕会改成这样?把这个神秘的冒险传奇变成一个玄妙繁杂的故事是出于怎样的意图?由于没有电影发行商的记录,我们也许永远得不到答案。我们可以设想,1929年的大多数挪威人对《西游记》中的古老传说一无所知。挪威的发行商也许认为,由于缺乏对《盘丝洞》的故事的了解,观众会觉得之中的角色及其行为怪异而难以理解,因此试图做出调整、让它适应新的观众?但这样做也剥夺了不明真相的观众去真正体验这个传说的机会?九十年后的今天,淹没在各种现代媒体的信息浪潮中的我们,在收获了至少更广泛一点儿的对外国文化与历史的知识后,再来看这部电影,这些改动可能更加明显和恼人;但从电影保藏的角度而言,这种不恰当无疑是正确的。

[1] 为国际电影资料馆联盟(法语Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film,简称FIAF)的成员之一

[2] 注:主要原料为硝酸纤维素酯,在光、热和氧气的作用下容易老化、变脆,并发生裂解,非常易燃、甚至会自燃。(彭先高《影像档案中硝酸片基的分解及其影响》)

Tina Anckarman
Film Archivist at National Library of Norway
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