Germany / Israel 1997
Dir: Ulrike Ottinger
275 min., 16mm, 1:1.37, Color, WP
Produktion: Ulrike Ottinger Filmproduktion in Zusammenarbeit mit Transfax Film Productions, Marek Rozenbaum, Tel Aviv. Buch, Kamera: Ulrike Ottinger. Musik: Originalmusik der 20er und 30er Jahre aus der Sammlung Raymond Wolff.
Team San Francisco - Produktions-/Aufnahmeleitung: Erica Marcus. Ton: Sara Chin. Kamera-Assistenz: Caitlin Manning.
Team Shanghai - Recherche: Katharina Sykora. Kamera-Assistenz: Bernd Balaschus. bersetzer: Ting I Li. Team des Shanghai-Filmstudios: Bao Qicheng, Catherine Fu, David Su, Benny Zhu, Chen Yong, Shao Zhiyu, Xu Chengshi, Ni Zheng, Xu Xiushan, Yi Akou.
Team Israel - Rostrum Kamera: Yossi Zicherman. Produktionsleitung: Uzi Cohen. Aufnahmeleitung: Madeleine Ali.
Team Berlin - Produktionsleitung: Ulrich Ströhle. Vertonung: Bettina Böhler. Tonmischung: Hartmut Eichgrün.
Die Interviewten: Rena Krasno (Mountain View, Kalifornien, November 1995), Rabbi Theodore Alexander und Gertrude Alexander (Danville, Kalifornien, November 1995), Inna Mink (Kentfield, Kalifornien, November 1995), Georges Spunt 1923-1996 (San Francisco, November 1995), Geoffrey Heller (Berkeley, Kalifornien, Dezember 1995).
Uraufführung: 18.2.97, Internationales Forum des jungen Films.
Weltvertrieb: Ulrike Ottinger Filmproduktion, Hasenheide 92, D-10967 Berlin. Tel.: (49-30) 692 9394. Fax: (49-30) 691 3330.
Transfax Film Productions, Marek Rozenbaum, 7 Aharonson Street, 68102 Tel Aviv, Israel. Tel.: (97-23) 516 2746. Fax: (97-23) 516 2744.
Mit Unterstützung der Medien- und Filmgesellschaft Baden-Württemberg, der Filmförderungsanstalt Berlin, The New Foundation For Cinema & Television Tel Aviv, dem Israeli Film Center, dem Ministry of Industry and Trade, Tel Aviv.
Tue 18.02. 11:00 Kino 7 im Zoo Palast Tue 18.02. 14:00 Delphi Wed 19.02. 20:00 Arsenal Thu 20.02. 17:00 Akademie der Künste
Sissi Tax: Ulrike, what was Shanghai like in the late 30's, early 40's?
Ulrike Ottinger: Shanghai was an entirely artificial entity. It was exterritorial. Everyone who was involved in World War II and who had political power in the years before, was in Shanghai: the British, the Americans, the French, that is, not only followers of De Gaulle but also the Pétainists, there was an Avenue Pétain, the Germans were there - including lots of Nazis - and the Italians. Shanghai was a free trading zone. Each nation took a slice of this cake, each one maintained their own police force, their own jurisdiction.
And then there were the Chinese who had very different political views, i.e. the communists, the nationalists, the followers of Chiang Kai-shek and many others who followed different reform movements. These were the last days of colonialism.
Many Japanese lived in Shanghai, first as business men, then as conquerors. Sephardic Jews had lived in the city for more than one hundred years. They belonged to the colonial world. Russians, white Russians, but especially Jewish Russians who had come to Shanghai much earlier, fleeing from pogroms, as a rule belonged to the poorer section of late colonial society. There was no other place in the world with as many contradictory interest groups as Shanghai. Shanghai itself was a mise-en-scène.
S.T.: How did Jewish immigrants from different backgrounds live in this city conglomerate? What did they bring to the community? How did they deal with life in Shanghai?
U.O.: When Jewish emigrants from Germany and Austria arrived here they only owned ten Reichsmark. They had not been allowed to take along more. Jewelry and valuables had to be handed in to the authorities before departure. Unless they had relatives abroad who sent money they were dependent on local help and were sent to live in the poor city district of Hongkew. Those who still owned extra money, like the Alexanders whose resolute mother had smuggled a few shares to Shanghai, were able to live in the 'French Concession' or the 'International Settlement' where they tried to establish new businesses. It is interesting to see how newspaper ads from this time refer to the emigrants' country of origin. Mr. Heinemann, for example, referred to his newly opened 'Western Art Gallery' on elegant Avenue Joffre as 'formerly book shop Olivaer Platz Berlin'. There is an address book for emigrants from 1939 with a section of yellow pages. One of the first entries says: 'Bread, cakes, chocolate candies, our speciality: German black bread'.
Shanghai is the only city in China where I saw bakeries. Interestingly enough, many of these bakeries today are considered typically Chinese. It's because the Chinese know very little about their own history, only the Party does. People have no access to original sources.
S.T.: You talked about newspapers and magazines. There was one publication called 'The Yellow Post', brought out by a certain Mr. Storfer.
O.U.: Mr. Storfer is a fascinating personality. He was the publisher of the psychoanalytical publishing house in Vienna which brought out the work of Sigmund Freud. He emigrated after the 'Anschluß'. Later he founded a newspaper in Shanghai, the 'The Yellow Post - a bi-weekly East Asian magazine'. Let me quote something from page one which has a kind of expressionist impetus: 'Hundred essays and hundred-fifty depictions of institutions, events, customs, habits, individual personalities and general types', and in brackets: 'statesmen, generals, revolutionaries and gamblers, boys, coolies and beggars, poets and street girls.' It was an unusual magazine with an unusual mix of topics: an essay by Freud about anti-semitism in Europe, another one about psychoanalysis in Japan, then an article about the Jews of Kai-Feng, a very early Jewish settlement in China. Furthermore there are some rather pragmatic texts by physicians about, for example, the timing for cholera injections; another wonderful article is called 'Strolling Through a Chinese Department Store', the KaDeO (Department Store of the East, a take on the Berlin KaDeWe, Department Store of the West, ed.note). There are a lot of articles about the cinema, especially about Chinese cinema. Chinese history. Also a kind of introduction to Chinese culture - which was unusual and new for the colonial world. Articles about the Chinese script: 'The Four Treasures of the Writing Room'. Then there are photo reports similar to those in Berlin magazines, an article about beggars, 'Beggars Elect their King', a photoreport about street people in Shanghai, a report not unlike those written in Berlin in the 20's and 30's. Storfer himself wrote many articles for the paper. He was a linguist. He published a few books, brought a number of these from Vienna, advertised and sold them, for example, 'Words and Their Fate' and 'In the Language Labyrinth'.
Mr. Storfer took great pains to spread the magazine's reputation beyond China's borders. The journal's sales price for the U.S., Great Britain and Switzerland is printed here. In the article 'Hats Off to the Coolie' he describes how he arrived in China in a state of depression, nevertheless becoming immediately fascinated by what he saw, i.e. coolies loaded down with heavy burdens. I think that Storfer's attitude has a lot to do with the style of my film. I tried to bring together these different, contradictory issue about Shanghai. It was important to me to find parallels and images in contemporary Shanghai to illustrate the stories the interviewees told me about the old Shanghai. The city is once again going through radical changes. Shanghai was always a link between the old and the new China as well as the place where China encountered foreign countries. (...)
S.T.: A place of myths and legends. Your film tries to show history and the present as something interconnected.
U.O.: In some way the emigrants fit well into this crazy scene, at the same time they were totally at odds with it. Naturally, emigrants had internalized the European legend of 'Shanghai as the hotbed of vice'. This notion was at the same time confirmed and proved wrong. Storfer describes it as follows: "Massive banking palaces, apartments growing into the sky, streets vibrating with multi-coloured neon lights, pagoda-style villas surrounded by greenery, department stores crammed full with customers, impressive Chinese book and magazine stores, restaurants decorated with Chinese lanterns, with windows full of roasted golden brown ducks in long, tightly packed rows, gleaming mirror-like dance floors and hundreds of 'slant-eyed' taxigirls clad in colourful silks, all that and much more is worth seeing and recording. But these images cannot compensate for our first impression: the image of sweating coolies who carry enormous loads on their backs. (...)".
S.T.: What language did emigrants speak?
U.O.: Most of them spoke German; in order to do business they had to speak English. Many languages were spoken simultaneously. And there was 'Pidgin English'. It was discussed in the 'Yellow Post' whether 'Pidgin English' shouldn't be taught in school. For foreigners this language was the only way of communicating with the Chinese.
You have to imagine people from Vienna, Frankfurt, Berlin or Breslau, stripped of their German citizenship, arriving in Shanghai and reproducing precisely what was typical for Vienna, Frankfurt or Berlin. They created the specialties of their home countries - that's something unbelievable. They lived in the midst of these Chinese quarters, in tiny rooms without running water, without toilets, in short: in very difficult circumstances which Europeans are not used to. After a short while they had appropriated their new surroundings, turned it into a small European town. On an old photo you can still recognize the advertisement on a shop window: 'To the Sausage Tenor', speciality: 'Sausage in Bread'. But I also heard of families who had lived a bourgeois life back in Germany and who changed their lives in Shanghai radically. For many emigrants this new situation resulted in total disorientation. Human networks collapsed, European values no longer mattered here.
S.T.: How important was Shanghai in the late 30's as a last possible refuge?
U.O.: Shanghai was really the last place where you could go without a visa, without being sponsored, or paying a large fee for the obligatory affidavit for the USA. Even that was difficult, because there were few spaces for passengers on ships leaving Europe. There were two ways to get to Shanghai: by ship at first via the Suez canal and when this route was closed during the war around Africa, prolonging the journey from three to twelve weeks. The second route was via the Transsiberian Railway which was not possible for very long. Mr. Heller's parents, for example, had taken the Transsiberian route very late, in 1940, to get to Japan via Russia. He considered this escape almost a miracle.
S.T.: EXIL SHANGHAI is not a feature film like The Lady from Shanghai or Shanghai Express. It is based on different materials.
U.O.: The basis of the film are the interviews which I filmed in San Francisco where many of Shanghai's Jews emigrated. I don't give a commentary in the film, but I make room for different points of view with the result that the interviewees deliver a very precise and complex picture. Some of the Russians had been born into the colonial world, into wealth and had a very different view of the city than the German and Austrian Emigrants who came much later and were mostly quite poor. Six different points of view and experiences: Rena Krasno who comes from a Russian family, her father was a publisher, he brought out a newspaper, worked as a writer and journalist. Due to the father's low income they lived rather modestly. In contrast, Georges Spunt and Inna Mink's families were very wealthy. The arrival of German and Austrian Jews brought a new aspect to life in Shanghai: not only did they introduce European flair, but also a different attitude towards the Chinese. When Americans bombed the Ghetto in 1945, for example, where Jews and Chinese people lived side by side, Jewish physicians took care of the wounded Chinese population. This had never happened during colonial times.
At first I looked up the old places. I bought an old map of Shanghai where every street had French, English or Chinese names according to their location in a settlement. Then I bought a contemporary map with current street names and realized that house numbers had remained consistent. So I could reconstruct where 'Zum weißen Rössel', the 'Eldorado Café', the lending library Nathan or the tobacconist Weinberg had been located. And then there were the 'homes', emergency housing for poorer emigrants.
The interviewees all have wonderful private archives with photos and newspapers. But I also talked to people in Shanghai who remember these times. I conducted one interview with the owners of the former laundry 'Schneeweiß/Snow White' who could still remember the previous Jewish owners from whom they had taken over the business. Unfortunately, much had also been forgotten.
The mosaic of 'yesterday and today', of Europe and Asia is also reflected on the level of music and sound. All the songs we consider typically Viennese, for example, 'Sag beim Abschied leise Servus' or the well-known Berlin 'Sportpalastwalzer' were composed by Jewish composers and songwriters. Popular music of that time, such as 'Ein Lied geht um die Welt' sung by Joseph Schmidt, which accompanied the emigrants abroad, is featured in my film, but only played off the old shellac records, which are in themselves documents of time. On the other hand, I also used Chinese adaptations of European music from the 30's.
The interview was conducted by Sissi Tax on February 1st, 1997.
Ulrike Ottinger lived in Paris from 1962 to 1968, working as a painter and photographer. In 1966 she wrote her first animation film in realist style. In 1969, in cooperation with the film seminar of the University of Konstanz and 'galeriepress' (Gallery and Edition) she founded the film club 'Visuell' which she headed until 1972. Since 1973 she has been living in Berlin where she also directs stage plays.
1972/73: Laokoon & Söhne / Lacoon And Sons. 1973: Berlinfieber / Berlin Fever. 1975: Die Betörung der blauen Matrosen / The Enchantment of the Blue Sailors (Forum 1976). 1977: Madame X - eine absolute Herrscherin / Madame X - An Absolute Ruler (Forum 1978). 1979: Bildnis einer Trinkerin / Ticket of No Return. 1981: Freak Orlando. 1984: Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse / The Image of Dorian Gray in the Yellow Press (Forum 1984). 1985: China. Die Künste - der Alltag. Eine filmische Reisebeschreibung / China. The Arts - The People, A Travel Log (Forum 1986). 1986: Superbia - der Stolz / Superbia - Pride. 1987: Usinimage. 1989: Johanna d'Arc of Mongolia. 1990: Countdown (Forum 1991). 1991/92: Taiga. 1996: EXIL SHANGHAI.
© 1997 by International Forum of New Cinema. All rights reserved.