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Abstract

ABSTRACT My dissertation, entitled Sound Images, Acoustic Culture and Transmediality in 1920s-1940s Chinese Cinema, explores film sound aesthetics and aural culture in 1920s-1940s China, and will contribute to Cinema and Media Studies, Chinese Studies, and Sound Studies. I provide a thorough account and theorization of soundscape in Chinese context with the aim of bringing into sharper focus the interdisciplinary potential of scholarship on film sound and acoustic culture, offering new insights that push beyond assumptions based solely on European and American examples. Through case studies of early Chinese film of diverse genres and modes (e.g., musicals, amateur travelogues, urban comedies, and opera films), I demonstrate how the heterogeneous cinematic soundscape engaged and resonated with other modern audiovisual media and art/mass cultural forms, including the phonograph, radio, modernist literature, popular music, oral storytelling, and traditional Chinese opera. The first chapter, “Sound in Transition and Transmission: The Evocation and Mediation of Acoustic Experience in Two Stars in the Milky Way (1931),” investigates the evocation and transmission of sound and music mediated by modern sonic media such as the phonograph and radio in Chinese silent and partial sound films, particularly in Two Stars in a Milky Way (Shi Dongshan, 1931). I argue that the technological belatedness of film sound gave rise to a distinctive Chinese cinematic style and audiovisual culture permeating Shanghai urban space and popular consciousness. In the second chapter, “Metaphoric Sound, Rhythmic Movement, and Transcultural Transmediality: Liu Na’ou and The Man Who Has a Camera (1933),” I examine how the Taiwanese/Japanese/Shanghainese writer and filmmaker Liu Na’ou’s silent amateur travel film and theoretical writings incorporate features of the “city symphony” film mode and “metaphoric sound.” I investigate how camera movement and bodily movement, rhythm and musicality intermingle with the concept of transmediality, creating a vivid sense of “metaphorical sound.” Furthermore, I explore how these intertwined concepts and practices created new aesthetic possibilities in 1930s Shanghai and contributed to a distinctively cosmopolitan vision. Chapter three examines Chinese filmmaker Yuan Muzhi’s incorporation and reinvention of Hollywood and Soviet influence (in terms of film sound technique and musical concepts) in the musical-comedy City Scenes (1935). I consider how the experimental deployment of sound elements in City Scenes obscures and defies the conventionally conceived boundaries between the human voice, sound effects, and music, articulating a sort of “auditory grotesque.”  I also discuss how the interactions between the acoustic and the visual enhance the material heterogeneity in the film and create a sort of cinematic fantasia, which corresponds to the spontaneous film score and the implications of the musical form, fantasia, thereby strengthening the satirical social critique and unruly energy. In the fourth chapter, I explore how the female voice-over in Fei Mu’s Spring in a Small Town (1948) draws inspiration from Beijing opera and traditional landscape painting, imbuing the film with a theatrical tinge and poetic atmosphere, accentuating a fluid female subjectivity and transmedial audiovisual aesthetic. It highlights how “audiovisual redundancy” and gender discourse draw parallels between the human body, landscape, and nation in the ruins during the 1940s Civil War. Overall, my project traces the emergence of a modern audiovisual culture as it intersected with new understandings of the urban mediasphere and transmedial practice in Republican China. I explore the dynamic interplay between sound, visuality and sensuous experience, and between cinema’s specificity as a medium and its circulation in the media ecology and global media culture.

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