Optical De-dramatization Engine (O.D.E.) applied in 15-hour cycles to Ma-Xu Weibang's "Yeban gesheng" (Song At Midnight), 1937

This work of cinema-software is an adaptation of the 1937 film, "Yeban gesheng", also known as "Song At Midnight", by Ma-Xu Weibang.

For this O.D.E., 900 frames were sampled from Ma-Xu Weibang's 113-minute film. The software takes 450 pairs of sampled frames and dynamically extends each pair to two minutes. The sequence of 450 pairs programmatically change in appearance across 15 hours. At the end of 15 hours, the cycle repeats.

"Yeban gesheng" was partly inspired by the Hollywood feature, "The Phantom of the Opera", starring Lon Chaney, that was released twelve years prior. Shanghai of the 1920s and early 1930s, was a vibrant nexus of cultural influences from all over the world - a hybridity that manifested itself in Shanghai's film industry of that era. The period also saw the emergence of a movement of intellectuals and radical thinkers known as the "New Culture". This milieu allowed ideas associated with modernity and ideals of democracy to briefly flourish. However, the political antagonisms of the 1920s were eventually reflected in the immense brutality that accompanied internal struggles for power (thousands of Chinese Communists massacred by Nationalists led by Chiang Kaishek in Shanghai, 1927). Outside encroachments included Japanese bombing of Shanghai, 1932, that all but destroyed much of the film industry there. In 1937, the year of "Yeban gesheng", the invasion of China by Japan was fully underway.

What are the subtexts (produced during the twin catastrophes of invasion and impending civil war) encoded in the frames gathered from this 1937 film? What did the audience of 1937 see that we cannot, except through techniques of digital dissection? What is the ritual of singing at midnight (the "eternal return") against a backdrop of invasion and of the cultural repression that ensued?

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This project was made possible in part by a grant from The Experimental Television Center (ETC). The ETC's Finishing Funds Program is supported by the Electronic Media and Film Program at the New York State Council on the Arts.