Hou Baolin and Xiangsheng Dianying in Mid-1950s China*
The first wave of film comedy in socialist China enjoyed only an ephemeral presence amidst the Hundred Flowers Campaign. This chapter turns attention to the intersection of and interaction between cinema and the traditional Chinese performing art of xiangsheng in the mid-1950s, seeking to tease out an innovative strand of comic filmmaking in the Mao era. Specifically, it takes as its case study the xiangsheng dianying (crosstalk film) of 1956, Wandering in the Zoo, Awaking from a Dream (Youyuan jingmeng), starring the well-known xiangsheng duo of Hou Baolin and Guo Qiru. Through an introduction of xin xiangsheng, a new type of xiangsheng created for the new Chinese society and a careful textual analysis of this particular xiangsheng dianying, the chapter illustrates that the interplay of xiangsheng and film, as seen in Wandering in the Zoo, Awaking from a Dream, transfigured each of the two media, increased much of the viewing pleasure of this film, and provided an understanding of the specificities of both xiangsheng and film. This rather ingenious experimentation of dynamical intermediality demonstrates that laughter under Mao could be innovative and experimental.
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