TWO STARS

between East and West

The silent film concerts of the Prima Vista Quartet

 

Yan, a well-known actor, meets Li, a pretty singer who is to play with him in a film adaptation of an old Chinese play. The film is a success for both actors who soon become an ideal couple in real life, too. But Yan forgot to mention he was married. A disillusioned Li abandons the film world and returns to the countryside to live with her father.

This film is notable for several reasons: a beautiful classic melodrama served by no less charismatic performers (Wang Renmei alias Violet Wong Yun and Yang Yi aka Raymond King), it is also an amazing and rare immersion behind the scenes of the mythical era of Chinese cinema, and a beautiful Art Deco manifest of Shanghai in the 1920s, along with a reflection in the form of variations on the themes of tradition and modernity, and Chinese and Western cultures that coexist constantly over the story under the sign of duality between rurality and urbanity, real-world and cinematic fiction, lies and truth. Even the two lead actors’ names have their western double.

As for the title, it refers to a Chinese legend («The Cowherd and the Weaver girl») : two lovers separated by fate meet in the Milky Way in the form of two stars.

We thus find in this new score the duality of the film that sometimes opposes and sometimes marries Western and Chinese aesthetics (the father’s house is decorated both with traditional Chinese instruments and a bust of Beethoven displayed on a piano). Between Eastern contemplation and petulance of the Roaring Twenties, classical drama and Chinese comedy, the score follows each outline of a multiple scenario. For the occasion, a flute, an instrument common to both cultures, joins the Prima Vista Quartet to add colors to the range of those of the strings. This is the flautist Pierre-Simon Chevry who has been entrusted this creation.

At the time it was released, this movie did not benefit from an original composed soundtrack : as was customary, a group of «musical arrangers» compiled excerpts, mostly songs, as an accompaniment. The fact that this musical montage was done by four arrangers (namely Y. M. Siao, K. Y. King, Li Junhuei and A. Richter) leaves no doubt that it must have lacked the solid coherence which a score requires. No trace remains of this musical collage used for the movie in 1931, but we shall not regret it as it had no more aesthetic legitimacy than the other collages used during the silent era when the productions could not afford an original composed score but only a series of musical pieces assembled from a generic catalog. Instead of mere diegetic songs, designed for marketing rather than artistic purposes, this cine-concert offers for the first time the opportunity to experience «Two Stars» with a genuine soundtrack performed on stage.

 

A classic melodrama of the Chinese silent cinema

in the Milky Way

the film

DIRECTOR  Shi Dongshan (Tomsie Sze)

YEAR  1931

DURATION  1h26

COMPOSER  Baudime Jam (2012)

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