Sunday, April 17, 2016

My China doll

China Girl (filmmaking)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A China Girl image, with explanatory labels.

In the motion picture industry a China Girl is an image of a woman accompanied by color bars that appears for a few frames (typically one to four) in the reel leader. A "China Girl" was used by the lab technician for calibration purposes when processing the film (with the still photography equivalent being a "Shirley Card").[1] The origin of the term is a matter of some dispute[2] but is usually accepted to be a reference to the models used to create the frames - either they were actually china (porcelain) mannequins, or the make-up worn by the live models made them appear to be mannequins.

Originally the "China Girl" frames were created in-house by laboratories to varying standards, but in the mid-1970s engineers from the Eastman Kodak Company developed the Laboratory Aim Density system as a means of simplifying the production of motion picture prints. Under the LAD system, Kodak created many duplicate negatives of a single China Girl and provided them to laboratories to include in their standard leaders. These LAD frames were exposed to specific guidelines and allowed a laboratory technician to quickly make a subjective evaluation of a print's exposure and colour tone by looking at the China Girl herself. If a more objective evaluation were required, a densitometer could be used to compare the density of the colour patches in the LAD frame with Kodak's published guidelines.

In keeping with changes to the modern laboratory process, Kodak also provide a "Digital LAD" to be incorporated in the film-out process to check the accuracy of the film printer and processor.

In 2005, "China Girl" images were the subject of an art exhibit by Julie Buck and Karin Segal at the Harvard Film Archive[3]

The "China girl" has occasionally appeared as a visual trope in experimental films over the years. Some experimental films which use "China girls" include Film in Which There Appear Edge Lettering, Sprocket Holes, Dirt Particles, Etc. (1965-66) by Owen Land, New Improved Institutional Quality: In the Environment of Liquids and Nasals a Parasitic Vowel Sometimes Develops (1976) by Owen Land, Girls on Film (2005) by Julie Buck and Karin Segal, MM (1996) by Timoleon Wilkins, Standard Gauge (1984) by Morgan Fisher, To the Happy Few by Thomas Draschan and Stella Friedrichs, China Girls (2006) by Michelle Silva, and Releasing Human Energies (2012) by Mark Toscano.

The narrator and main character in the 2013 novel The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner shared her experience as a China Girl model for a film lab in New York City.

I'm a travelin' man
I've made a lot of stops all over the world
And in every part I own the heart
Of at least one lovely girl

I've a pretty Seniorita waiting for me
Down in old mexico
If you're ever in Alaska stop and see
My cute little Eskimo

Oh my sweet Fraulein down in Berlin town
Makes my heart start to yearn
And my China doll down in old Hong Kong
Waits for my return

Pretty Polynesian baby over the sea
I remember the night
When we walked in the sands of the Waikiki
And I held you oh so tight

------ instrumental break ------

Oh my sweet Fraulien down in Berlin town
Makes my heart start to yearn
And my China doll down in old Hong Kong
Waits for my return

Pretty Polynesian baby over the sea
I remember the night
When we walked in the sands of the Waikiki
And I held you oh so tight

Oh, I'm a travelin' man
Yes, I'm a travelin' man

SUNDAY THOUGHTS. I'm fascinated, if not obsessed by obsolete technology, and my goodness. I keep learning new things. I collect film leaders because they are just so bloody cool, and I am finding out I am not the only one who really really likes them. Film students and amateur filmmakers use them to give their productions a "retro" look and atmosphere.

I remember them from my McKeough School days, because on Friday afternoons when we were about to be released from prison, we'd all be marched downstairs into the dank, dark basement of the school to watch a "fillum". That's what they called it. For a long time I thought that was the right way to say it. Usually it was some edu-ma-cational thing, a National Film Board movie about the Rocky Mountains, or even a hygiene film, though of course we didn't know what hygiene was.

The fillums, which were at least 20 years old, would always start with the countdown, but before the countdown was that explosion of grease-pencil writing and scratches and flashes of "things". It also made - well, that sound, you know what I mean, that snappy, gritchy sound. The picture was pretty gritchy too, and usually black and white. Colour fillum was a very big deal in those days.

We particularly liked it when the countdown was accompanied by beeps. These were more like boops, actually. We were not supposed to count along - no one ever told us this, by the way. We just knew. Our principal was an old army man who kept order; we even marched in to military music in the morning. My God.

I sort of vaguely noticed split-second flashes of human faces (not always girls) in my film leaders, but wasn't sure why they were there. So today (last night, actually, very late, when I do these things) I found out about China Girls. I'm not sure exactly where the name came from. The Wikipedia entry seems embarrassed by it, trying to avoid the possibility that there's something racist about it. If it's a reference to porcelain or even a mannequin, the name would not be capitalized, would it? But here they capitalize BOTH names, just to stay on the safe side.

It brought to mind Ricky Nelson's Travellin' Man, an incredibly racist thing that basically says he fucks them all over the world, assigning them pretty much equal value as far as nooky is concerned. Or is that spelled Nooky?

And there's this, from Moving Image Archive News, in case you'd like to know more (and more, and more, and more).

China Girls, Leading Ladies, Actual Women

Oh, and. . . this, from a Harvard magazine (still trying to find the name). Given my post from a couple of days ago, there are only a few degrees of separation.

"What is striking is how familiar some of the faces seem. When the exhibition was shown in New York, Buck says, visitors would swear that they had seen some of the women in old films, but that is unlikely. As far as Buck and Segal have been able to determine, none of the women in this collection ever made the leap from China Girl to film actress.

Julie Buck and Karin Segal, after an unknown studio cameraman, 2004. 'Girl # 62' image courtesy of the artists. (Test Strip 62)

In the end, the sense of déjà vu probably results from the combination of lighting, makeup, hairstyles, clothes, and facial expressions that suggest film actresses of a particular era. But the resemblance does raise questions about why our response to a famous face is different from our reaction to one that is eerily similar but which lacks the associations acquired through a career as an actress and celebrity.

Rumors persist, however. One that Buck and Segal heard as they were interviewing film technicians is that a teenage Joan Baez once stood in as a test-strip girl when her physicist father was engaged in making an educational film in the Boston area. But so far, the photo has not shown up." (Emphasis mine. This DOES sound like something the adventurous young Joanie would try, looking for her .001 seconds of fame. As it turned out, she had nothing to worry about.)

But there's a kicker. A kicker to the kicker!

My exploration of China Girls led me to something called the Shirley Card. Let me explain. There were pretty "girls" (young women) posing, perhaps professionally, though likely for a pittance, as a standard for colour tones in still photography back in the '50s and '60s. This is where all the aspiring models went, when they weren't out on the town as escorts. Most of this had to do with getting skin tones right - because, as we all know, if we get THOSE right the rest of the picture is OK. Problem is, all of them were young, gorgeous and - of course - Caucasian. Their hopelessly idealized beauty explains why Joan Baez got so depressed back then. But look at her now, eh? - and most of THEM are probably dead, or all wrinkled up. Or dead.

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