Ling Zhang


Friday, January 15, 3:00-5:00 PM in CEAS 319 (1155 E 60th St.)

Ling Zhang, “When the Left Eye Meets the Right Ear: Cinematic Fantasia and Comic Soundscape in City Scenes (1935)

Please join us this Friday, January 15, as we welcome Ling Zhang (Cinema and Media Studies, University of Chicago).  Ling will be presenting a mock job talk, so no paper will be pre-circulated for this meeting.  She summarizes her talk as follows:

Uchiyama Kanzo (內山完造, 1885-1959), a renowned Japanese bookstore owner in Republican Shanghai, published an essay, Shanghai Soundscape (上海的聲音), in 1939. In this article, Uchiyama vividly depicts a motley mix of mundane sounds in Shanghai, including ambient sounds (birds calling and cicadas chirping) and human voices (peddlers and vendors shouting). This literary rendition of Shanghai sounds corresponds to the 1930s Shanghai sound culture and cinematic soundscape. This paper examines Chinese filmmaker Yuan Muzhi袁牧之 (1909-1978)’s musical-comedy City Scenes (都市風光, 1935)’s incorporation and reinvention of Hollywood and Soviet influence in terms of film sound technique and musical concepts. The film was hailed as “the first Chinese musical comedy” and praised for its audiovisual experimentations, as it was the first Chinese film to commission composers to create musical scores according to the cinematic style and thematic concerns. The film score created by three composers is a mixture of Western classical, Chinese folk, and popular musical genres that reflects the hodgepodge soundscape in semi-colonial Shanghai. These included Fantasia of City Scenes (都市風光幻想曲) by Huang Zi 黃自 (1904-1938), who studied composition at Yale University and was a respected composer in the European classical music tradition, and Song of the Peep-Show (西洋鏡歌) by Zhao Yuanren 趙元任 (1892-1982), who was a famed linguist and musician, versed in local dialects and folk tunes. The remaining music was arranged by He Luting賀綠汀, who composed numerous theme songs for 1930s and 1940s Chinese films, and whose music falls between classical and popular music conventions, with a Soviet-Russian tinge.

The comic and tumultuous soundscape in City Scenes corresponds to the popular sound culture in modern cityscape of Shanghai, which was permeated by popular songs, oral story-telling conventions, street performance and urban noises. I explore how the ingeniously 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”, comprised of unruly ironic reverberations and a dynamic soundscape. Moreover, these convoluted sound elements connect different narrative layers within the structure, and are associated with and comment on different characters, frequently through the form of Wagnerian leitmotif and a widely practiced sound technique in 1930s Hollywood animations and films with live actors, Mickey Mousing. Finally, I explore how the interactions between the acoustic and the visual enhance the textual and 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. Consequently, the film’s playful yet rather bleak audiovisual rendition of city life in 1930s Shanghai foregrounds its pungent register as satirical social critique of hegemonic capitalism and consumerism.

If you have concerns about accessibility for this meeting, please do not hesitate to contact David Krolikoski at davidkroli at or Brian White at bmwhite at