There is no central theme to this issue – but it does take up several themes that have appeared in earlier issues.
One of the original purposes of this journal was to invite a dialogue between archivists and their customers among the community of screen scholars. In our very first issue we published Ray Edmonsden’s article about the problems and possibilities of film archiving in Asia, and also Bill Routt’s article about the dangers for film scholars in assuming that there is an original text about which they can speak with authority. In this issue we take up the latter point from the perspective of an archivist, who has taken part in the reconstruction of one of the classic films that we have all seen and read about – The Joyless Street (Germany 1925). Chris Horak describes the detective work involved in tracing the extant copies of this film, examining their provenance and the differences between them, and coming up with something new – not the original, which is now completely impossible and may even never have existed, but something which invites scholars to rethink the film. We would be particularly interested to hear the response of those film scholars twho have seen this new version: what did you think of it as a reconstruction, and has it made you reconsider your earlier interpretations?
Another issue which is of central concern to us is the historicity of film: how, and how effectively, does film represent the past? In issue 3, we published Arthur Lindley’s article on the a-historicism of mediaeval film, and in our next issue we will be publishing the responses of several eminent scholars to the tenth anniversary of the American Historical Review’s issue on this subject (American Historical Review 93, no 5 (December 1998). In our current issue, Hannu Salmi uses the example of Hollywood spectacles – the epics of Greece and Rome and early Christianity, which were so popular with audiences in the fifties and sixties – to examine how the studios used music to establish an effect of historical authenticity in such films, at least as far as the popular audience was concerned. Some composers, like Miklos Rózsa, specialised in such composition, and developed very specific responses to the problems of representing the ancient world aurally.
Finally, we present three papers on Asian cinema, which has been one of our central concerns from the beginning, too. Our reprint in the ‘Revivals’ section is the programme notes and an essay on the screening of some very early films in Korea. The occupation of Korea by Japan had resulted in the loss of all the early films made by Koreans about their own country, so Korean historians and film scholars were delighted when a few films about early Korea were found in collections and archives in other countries, and the first public presentation of these was a momentous occasion.
More Asian films are finding their way onto screens in other parts of the world, and there is an increasing interest in the film industries of this region. Jeannette Delamoir reads Zhang Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern (1991) through feminist lenses, considering issues of spectacle and power. Bret Sutcliffe is interested in similar issues concerning the earlier film A Spring River Flows East(1947). However, he is also able, using extensive research into the production history of the film, to link the film’s narrative to Chinese social history as well as to the history of the film industry there.
The very differences in the subject matter and the approaches taken in this collection of articles is also something we wish to encourage. This journal does not have an editorial ‘position’, but wishes to make available the widest possible range of material across the very broad canvas we have selected for ourselves. We welcome unsolicited contributions, and debate about anything published here, and we hope our readers will let us know how far we meet the expectations they bring to our site.
15 December 1998