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China Film
Sep 14, 2020

‘Kill Bill’ at the Beijing Film Studio  

In 2002, Quentin Tarantino filmed parts of Kill Bill at the historic Beijing Film Studio. The House of Blue Leaves, where Beatrix “The Bride” Kiddo (Uma Thurman) has a blood-splattering showdown with the Crazy 88, was constructed on a soundstage here. But the only scene to use exterior sets on the studio’s back lot was cut from the final edit. In this now infamous scene, Michael Jai White (with fake New Zealand accent) and his gang confront Bill (David Carradine) while he is out for a casual stroll with his disciple. Bill begrudgingly accepts the challenge while Kiddo watches from […]

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China Film
Sep 9, 2020

Book Video: Once Upon a Time in Shanghai  

When the Capitol Hill Book Fair was moved virtual this spring, I put together this 5 minute video to present my latest book ‘Once Upon a Time in Shanghai: Behind the Scenes of the Chinese Movie Industry’ (Daylight Books, 2019). I wanted to share what I find so fascinating about the mainland China film industry, as well as the process and thought that went into making the photographs. Understanding the oversized movie production infrastructure in China seems even more relevant now, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down movie production and theaters across the US. PEN America released a report […]

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Candice Bergen on Almería: “It was the most romantic location of my life.”  

Candice Bergen was unfortunate enough to be kidnapped not once but twice along the southern coast of Spain in Almeria. It first happened in the 19th Century Old West (The Hunting Party, 1971). An outlaw (Oliver Reed) abducted her outside the schoolhouse, unaware she was the wife of a powerful cattle baron. Then, in 1904, while living in Morocco as an American expat, she was taken with her two children by the Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli (Sean Connery) and his band of Berber insurrectionists (The Wind and the Lion, 1975). She shows herself to be fearless, outsmarting and provoking her […]

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The Summer of 1970: Almeria becomes a global movie hub  

The summer of 1970 was a boom season for international movie productions in Spain. A long list of stars passed through Madrid and, of course, Almeria. Yul Brynner was here in June for Adios Sabata, then off to Yugoslavia for another production, before returning to Spain for The Light at the Edge of the World with Kirk Douglas. Omar Sharif and Jack Palance appeared in The Horsemen, Rod Steiger and James Coburn in Duck, You Sucker (Sergio Leone’s final Western), Robert Shaw and Martin Landau in A Town Called Hell, Oliver Reed and Candice Bergen in The Hunting Party, Faye […]

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Then and Now: The Attack on Aqaba  

Compare the beach at Algarrobico on the southern coast of Spain then and now in the video clip above. The city of Aqaba was reconstructed here in 1962 for the filming of this classic scene from Lawrence of Arabia. Though nothing remains of the set today, just the hulk of an abandoned hotel project. I previously wrote about the history of this spot on this blog here.

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Nelson Algren and Simone De Beauvoir’s Road Trip Through Franco’s Spain  

Only a handful of photographs exist of Simone de Beauvoir and Nelson Algren together from a love affair that persisted, mostly across the Atlantic ocean, for over a decade. Possibly the last photograph of them together is from a visit to Spain in May 1960. In the photograph, they stand with Catalan writer Juan Goytisolo to their right along the wall of the Alcazaba, an old Moorish palace, in Almería. A glimpse of the mountainous landscape beyond can be seen over Goytisolo’s shoulder. Beauvoir, in the middle, looks intently into the camera with the air of a school teacher, while […]

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China Film
May 16, 2020

Changchun Film Studio  

The Changchun Film Studio was the first official state-run film studio recognized in the People’s Republic of China. It was created through merging multiple existing film production facilities and, in 1955, was given a permanent home in Changchun. For several decades, the studio occupied a cluster of buildings which had been constructed under the Japanese occupation to imitate the German Ufa Film Studio. The studio reportedly produced over 1000 feature films over the years. The film Bridge was made here in 1949, the PRC’s first feature film, which told the story of a worker who inspires his comrades to finish […]

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China Film
May 9, 2020

Hengdian: The World’s Largest Film Studio  

Xie Jin was one of the most important film directors of the Communist cinema generation working in the 1950s and early 1960s. His 1965 film Two Stage Sisters would later go on to receive international acclaim, but at the time, at the start of the Cultural Revolution, it was attacked for purportedly promoting bourgeois values. Xie was eventually rehabilitated and went on to make other important films, including Legend of Tianyun Mountain and Hibiscus Town. In 1995, Xie, now in his 70s, was scouting locations for a State-supported historical epic titled The Opium War. With a budget of $15 million, […]

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Spartacus: Between Spain and Hollywood  

Spartacus was supposed to be filmed entirely in California. By 1960 there was growing alarm about the impact of “runaway” productions, which sought to cut costs by filming overseas, on Hollywood. Edward Muhl, longtime production director for Universal Studios, which was financing Spartacus, sought to demonstrate that an epic film could be made entirely in the US. Kirk Douglas, both producer and star, brought on a young Stanley Kubrick to direct (after firing Anthony Mann from the job). Kubrick, however, wanted to film in Europe. In the end, while the interiors and much of the first half of the film […]

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China Film
Mar 1, 2020

Republic of China on Taihu Lake  

The awkwardly named ‘Jiangsu West Taihu Lake Film and Television Industry Base‘ in Changzhou, northwest of Shanghai, is relatively new, established in 2015. It reportedly cost over $110 million to build and includes 7 indoor sound stages and 150 acres of outdoor sets and other facilities. The site is especially known for its use in Republic of China era TV series, and most of the outdoor lot consists of streets of early 20th century urban streetscapes. The 2019 film Liberation, which received a very limited US release in January 2020, was made there, along with TV dramas Detective Ke Chen […]

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