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.






《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。


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。



[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
Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt

Start typing and press Enter to search