THAI cinema (was which came first, benshi/colour)

Bernardi-Buralli dburall1
Fri Oct 31 20:16:42 EST 2003


This is just a quick addition to the previous comments on silent Thai
cinema, and silent period Thai/Japanese connections--

The Pordenone Silent Film Festival's been featuring silent Asian cinema
increasingly during the last dozen or so years, with main programs focusing
on the cinema of China, India, and Japan (another Japanese program is on the
horizon). As of this year, the festival will also feature a program of films
from one country within the SEAPAVAA (South East Asia Pacific Visual Archive
Associate), and this first year's SEAPAVAA focus was on Thai cinema, a
program from the National Film Archive of Thailand titled "East of the Sun
West of the Moon."  Program notes, including an interesting general
introduction by SEAPAVAA director Ray Edmunson, can be found on the Festival
website (URL below).  According to Edmunson, the earliest film screening in
Thailand was 1897, promoted as "the wonderful Parisian cinematograph"
(probably Lumi?re films); also in 1897 two (extant) film records were made
by European cameramen of the Thai ruling monarch's and his brother, Prince
Sanbassatra's trip to Europe. The prince brought cinema equipment  acquired
in  Paris back with him to Bangkok and became a "prolific filmmaker,"
beginning what was to become a tradition of fascination and active
involvement with filmmaking by several subsequent members of the royal
family (several such films by royal family members were screened in the
program). Edmunson writes that the first permanent cinema in Thailand, "The
Japanese Cinematograph", was opened in 1905 by Japanese entrepreneurs, and
became so popular that "nang yipun" ("Japanese film" became a generic term
for all moving pictures.

It was a fascinating program, between the "amateur films" of royal family
members, scraps of the earliest indigenous features (dating from 1927), one
longish tourist film, and actualities that show an extremely cosmopolitan
royal family--an ion-popping vision of an uncolonized corner of Asia.
("Le Giornate del Cinema Muto")

Program 2003:
("East of the Sun, West of the Moon")

Joanne Bernardi

It doesn?t seem so strange to hear that a benshi-equivalent figure was
present in screenings in countries colonised Japan. Donald Richie points out
the tremendous influence that the Japanese had on the early developments in
cinema in these nation?s. I need to take a closer look at the emerging
cinemas of other countries.

And I Sawato Midori also backed up Aaron?s point, that though other
countries had their own tradition of film narration, Japan?s was unique in
terms of the status the benshi enjoyed, and the actual manner of delivery of
the commentary, and that the tradition is still being carried on to this

Fascinating to hear that the film narrator was such an enduring fixture in
Thai cinema, William. Is there anything  more written on this subject?

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