Monday, May 20, 2013

Hot Docs 2013 Film Review - As Time Goes By In Shanghai

Meet the world's oldest Jazz band.  Shanghai's Peace Old Jazz band is based out of the Peace Hotel in Shanghai, China. The band members range in age from 65 to 87. Many of the members have seen several changes in China starting from the World War Two, running through the Cultural Revolution and into modern day Shanghai.

The documentary follow the group as they prepare for a spot in the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam the focal point of a 7 day tour of the Netherlands. The film opens with the group at the Jazz festival looking at the stage and commenting on how big the venue is for their group that is used to playing in a small room in Shanghai.

The film flashes back three months to the preparation of the group for the event. The viewer first gets an in depth look at each band member starting with the leader of the band Old Bao who is an accomplished musician in his eighties that plays drums, clarinet and saxophone. He recounts the visits of the U.S navy band in the 40's and how Jazz was flowing in the ballrooms all around Shanghai.  The clubs all closed in 1953 with the early signs of the Cultural Revolution. Musicians had to then play in secret muffling the sounds of their instruments.

As part of their preparation the group decide to hire a female singer to augment their stage presence. They are looking for someone that can sing the Standards such as In the Mood, As Time Goes By and Sinatra's Fly Me To The Moon along with the Chinese traditional songs. The audition process provides the films best comic moments as the band members openly criticize the short comings of the candidates and each others musical styles plus despite their advanced age show that they are still men as they attempt to impress and chat up the women during their auditions.  The other source of comedy is the banter between the band mates and their manager. Despite booking the concert in Rotterdam the band members act as if he is not needed and eventually do not allow him on the trip opting instead for a local guide in the Netherlands.

The story of band member Old Sun is the most compelling. In his eighties like Old Bao, Sun will not talk much about his past. His musician days date back to the post war era but unlike Bao he was deported during the Cultural Revolution for anti government activities. He also lost the love of his life during this time  a National Party supporter that begged Sun to come with her and her family to Taiwan but he instead chose to stay on the mainland and they never saw each other again.

As Time Goes by In Shanghai is a strong narrative and living historical document of China and Shanghai spanning 70 years. The music is a great mix of Jazz and Chinese traditional songs. However the highlight of the film is the interplay, banter bickering and true friend ship between the band members themselves.  This is a film that I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4

As Time Goes By in Shanghai | Uli Gaulke | Germany/ Netherlands | 2013 | 90 Minutes. 

2013 Hot Docs Film Festival. 

Tags: Shanghai, Jazz, The Peace Hotel, North Sea Jazz Festival, Seniors, Chinese Cultural Revolution, The National Party.

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