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Past perfect

By Chen Nan (China Daily)

08:55, May 07, 2012

The films made more than 80 years ago help audiences create a real connection with the past. Scenes from Peking and Its Environs (1910) (top) and Old London Street Scenes (1903) (above). Provided to China Daily

A series of films focusing on both Beijing and London, made from 1896 to 1939, reveal what's gone and what's come. Chen Nan reports.

In front of Beijing's Forbidden City is the city gate tower and tall trees. People wear black robes, and vendors are on the sides of the streets. It's a scene from 1900, screened in a 35-minute silent, black-and-white documentary.

Beijing reveals itself in 10 short films, part of Beijing-London Twin Cities, screened at Ullens Center For Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing on April 28.

London, meanwhile, is revealed in 12 films - both complete and edited works - for a total of 22 rare silent films, made from 1896 to 1939. They include travelogues, short documentaries and home movies.

"I have shown the films of London a number of times in the United Kingdom, but this was the first time that anyone anywhere has seen the early films of China for more than 80 years," says Robin Baker, head curator at the BFI (British Film Institute) National Archive, who provided all the films.

Baker says both professional production companies and amateur filmmakers made the movies. His favorite is Modern China, also known as In Quaint Pekin! It was made in 1910 by the Charles Urban Trading Company, one of Britain's most important early film production companies.

At that time major British production companies sent filmmakers across the world to capture scenes that would then be shown back home.

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