Powered by Google
Editors' Picks
Arts + Books
Rec Room
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Adult Personals
Adult Classifieds
- - - - - - - - - - - -
FNX Radio
Band Guide
MassWeb Printing
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise With Us
Work For Us
RSS Feeds
- - - - - - - - - - - -

sponsored links
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sex Toys - Adult  DVDs - Sexy  Lingerie

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

‘China Girls’
Fleeting fame at Harvard's Sert Gallery

You may have sighted one of them and giggled after a projectionist forgot to wind a film past the opening leader. Who is that attractive lady popping up before the credits of a vintage-movie print? She’s a "China Girl," in the lingo of the film-lab business. What you’re seeing is a 16mm or 35 mm color-timing strip that juxtaposes a color bar and a female visage. From 1928 to 1992, film laboratories around the globe used women’s faces, ostensibly because of a woman’s smooth skin, for color balance and tonal density. Digital technology made these tests obsolete.

Who were these woman? Many were secretaries or lab technicians filmed informally by their colleagues. Some were professional models shot in lavish settings. But wherever the "China Girl" appeared — the US, Sweden, Germany, France, Japan, China, India — it was a no-name profession. Julie Buck and Karin Segal, conservationists at the Harvard Film Archive, have mounted a 70-piece show of "China Girl" images at the Carpenter Center’s Sert Gallery, and they’re hoping that a real-life "China Girl" will recognize her image on the wall and come forward. "Girls on Film" opens this Saturday, July 16, and runs through September 18.

"We found most of the images while inspecting Harvard Film Archive prints," Segal explains. "We got images contributed to us from other archives, like the George Eastman House. When you see all these girls, and only for two to four frames each, you can’t ignore them. There are so many of them, some so made up, some within a set design."

"Why such energy, for just two seconds?" adds Buck. She has her own notion about the term "China Girl." "It could be a racist idea, because usually the hair is pulled back so hard that perhaps the women ‘looked Chinese.’ "

The Asian women in "Girls on Film" were photographed in Asian countries. The American "China Girls" located by Buck and Segal all have been Caucasian. Buck: "We have yet to see a black girl. The whole venture was a sort of sexist thing, pretty women in pictures, for a hundred color timers to see."

In other words, geek technicians at Kodak and other labs got their chance to pose lovely women and photograph them. The images are not exactly cheesecake: most of the women are fully dressed, though there are a few bathing suits. One woman might be nude, but you can’t be sure since she’s hiding behind the color bar.

All the "China Girl" images went through a major rehab. Buck: "Much of it was discarded material, in garbage cans, significantly damaged." Segal: "Some pictures took more than a week to restore, pixel by pixel." What’s on display? Buck: "We both like the idea of repetition. All the images have been made the exact same size, yet every piece is different, showing how images changed in time, from the 1930s to the 1990s."

Segal: "Sometimes the difference is the posing, where the model stands in relation to the color bar and frame. At times that was manipulated by us to make things more intense, more claustrophobic." Buck: "There’s a tension. We wanted to free these women, but we realize they’re still trapped in their images."

A July 17 double feature at the Harvard Film Archive couples 1930s works written by Lillian Hellman (involved then with Dashiell Hammett) and directed by William Wyler, the Goldwyn Studio’s "prestige" cineaste. For These Three (1936), Hellman appeased the Hays Office, excising the juicy lesbian references in adapting her stage play The Children’s Hour to the screen. The declawed result is still fun, because of the flamboyant, bitchy hysteria of the teenagers at the repressed girls’ school where the story takes place. Dead End (1937) boasts the ruffian Dead End Kids ensemble, but the adult story of East Side New Yorkers stuck in the slums is leaden and phony, Hellman herself being stuck with Sidney Kingsley’s gassy Broadway drama.

Issue Date: July 15 - 21, 2005
Click here for the Film Culture archives
Back to the Movies table of contents
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

about the phoenix |  advertising info |  Webmaster |  work for us
Copyright © 2005 Phoenix Media/Communications Group