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December 1, 2008 8:20 AM   Subscribe

They were originally created to maintain consistency in color, greyscale, and fleshtones. Lab technicians posed them, projectionists collected them, and the general public wasn't supposed to see them. After they were consigned to obsolescence by digital technology, they became a found object for artists and filmmakers. What no one can agree on is how they got their names. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you China Girls.
posted by pxe2000 (44 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
You learn something new every day. Monday... check.
posted by pixlboi at 8:36 AM on December 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


Maybe I'm slow, but I don't understand how it's known the name is racist if the origin is unknown. An assumption based on the time of origin? Because that would be prejudiced...
posted by DU at 8:38 AM on December 1, 2008


DU: I suspect the term is considered antiquated and PI today because the vast majority of women in those images are Caucasian. Additionally, the speculation about whether the name came as the result of women wearing their hair tied back so tightly that they "looked Chinese" is a bit hinky as well. YMMV.
posted by pxe2000 at 8:51 AM on December 1, 2008


An interesting sidelight of film history. Thanks for the info-snack.
posted by Miko at 8:51 AM on December 1, 2008


so is that why she says "ssssssssssshhh"?
posted by eustatic at 8:58 AM on December 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


I really love terms that have an ambiguous or nebulous origin, and which no longer literally describe that which they refer to (when it's assumed they once did literally describe the object...)

Also, I seem to have Bowie now in my head and I can't figure it out.
posted by Spatch at 8:59 AM on December 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


How do you adjust color with a film projector? Gels in the lens system? Voltage through the bulb?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:15 AM on December 1, 2008


Well, that explains the Death Proof credits, anyway.
posted by aliceinreality at 9:24 AM on December 1, 2008


> How do you adjust color with a film projector? Gels in the lens system? Voltage through the bulb?

Projectionists might have used them for brightness control (so regulating the light passing through the film) to prevent blowing out the colors in the process, but I would assume really these were attached as leaders to the final prints for the lab techs who were developing them.

The film was still being run through various vats of chemicals and a standard frame attached to the beginning with color bars on it that you knew were calibrated to a specific standard, one could easily use a spot check to ensure that the film was developed / copied / processed correctly, without having to check the other thousand cells.
posted by mrzarquon at 9:28 AM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sure, it's possibly to construct a theory where the name "china girls" is racist but it is also possible to construct theories where it is not. For instance, what if at one time (in the B&W period) the color samples were porcelain because it didn't fade as much and was cheap to make? Then the women holding up the samples would be china (as in dishes) girls. (Just noticed that one of those theories was that the women themselves were porcelain. Basically the same idea.)

The women in the links do not have their hair pulled back at all, let alone in a way that would resemble a Chinese stereotype. Nor is "china" an adjective, although it was sometimes used that way in a prefix such as in "chinamen".

Anyway, interesting.
posted by DU at 9:30 AM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Lets just assume everything is racist, just in case.
posted by Artw at 9:51 AM on December 1, 2008 [20 favorites]


Can I choose to be offended just for the heck of it?
posted by Joe Beese at 9:52 AM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is the internet, that should be the default.
posted by Artw at 9:53 AM on December 1, 2008


Maybe in many cases the film needed to be re-calibrated an hour later.
posted by bondcliff at 10:00 AM on December 1, 2008 [7 favorites]


Viking Girls.
posted by Artw at 10:04 AM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


This China girls thing reminds me of Lenna, the Playmate whose picture is used to test image processing algoritgms. It's fascinating to see how in both cases male technicians turn a routine part of their jobs into an excuse to look at hot babes. But then (according to Bill Bailey at least) Louis Daguerre himself, only a few days after inventing his photographic process, was already photographing some barmaid's hooters.
posted by ShameSpiral at 10:12 AM on December 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


The China Girls always remind me of the women who recite letters, words, and numerals for Numbers Stations. (See also the Conet Project.) Therefore, they always send a shiver up my spine. Thanks for the background!
posted by not_on_display at 10:22 AM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Lipstick cherry all over the lens as she's falling
And miles of sharp blue water coming in
Where she lies
The diving man comes up for air
'Cause the crowd all love pulling Dolly by the hair
By the hair
And she wonders how she ever got here
As she goes under again
posted by mandal at 10:27 AM on December 1, 2008


These are sort of still used. There's the Kodak "LAD girl" (Laboratory Aim Density), which is sort of a standardized version of this. It's a picture of a blonde girl with a lot of backlight on her hair, and a standard gray patch on the side. Basically, only the gray patch is used to measure density, but the photo of the girl provides a nice visual reference, since it has so much range.

I tried to find an example online, but it seemed to be more difficult than I thought, possibly because the image is copyrighted by Kodak (I think).
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:47 AM on December 1, 2008


If this is the Kodak LAD girl, then the very first link in this post is to her.
posted by DU at 11:04 AM on December 1, 2008


Joakim: Is this your card?
posted by pxe2000 at 11:05 AM on December 1, 2008


Oh, you said blonde. Why is Kodak using China girls rather than their own copyrighted image?
posted by DU at 11:05 AM on December 1, 2008


DU: JINX.
posted by pxe2000 at 11:06 AM on December 1, 2008


Tyler Durden: Like splicing single frames of pornography into family films.

Narrator: So when the snooty cat and the courageous dog with the celebrity voices meet for the first time in reel three, that's when you'll catch a flash of Tyler's contribution to the film.

Narrator: Nobody knows that they saw it, but they did.

Tyler Durden: A nice, big cock …

Narrator: Even a hummingbird couldn't catch Tyler at work.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:10 AM on December 1, 2008


Oh my GOD thank you.

Of course it's girls. Jeebus, cinema, you're obSESSED.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:11 AM on December 1, 2008


How do you adjust color with a film projector? Gels in the lens system? Voltage through the bulb?

The china girl was used by the color timer in the lab, not the projectionist.
posted by scarello at 11:29 AM on December 1, 2008


China girls aren't just used for projectionists. I'm far more familiar with them in telecine and color timing, where they are used by the colorist, either in an analog situation, or currently with digital media, to use as a reference when doing shot-to-shot color correction.

They're still used. I've seen colorists glance at them from time to time just to clear the eye palette, if you will. If you have a face that's calibrated as being correctly exposed, it is helpful to reference what you're doing to that face.

And I've always heard them called China girls.
posted by MythMaker at 11:35 AM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is fascinating.

Are we supposed to be able to open the photos on Julie Buck's page? Those teeny little pictures aren't all there is there, are they?
posted by winna at 11:47 AM on December 1, 2008


winna: If you mouseover some of the pics, they link to larger images. (Some, sadly, not all.)
posted by pxe2000 at 12:04 PM on December 1, 2008


Lets just assume everything is racist, just in case.

Yes, best to be on the safe side. A few false positives is the price we pay for purity of spirit.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:11 PM on December 1, 2008


And when I get excited
My little China girl
she says
Yankee hotel foxtrot
Yankee hotel foxtrot
Yankee hotel foxtrot

My God, not_on_display, what have you done to me?
posted by owtytrof at 12:21 PM on December 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Is it not possible that China girls is a back formation form China dolls? They were just supposed to pose like dolls, but they were alive.
posted by Cranberry at 12:42 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


form=from, at least for me
posted by Cranberry at 12:42 PM on December 1, 2008


How do you adjust color with a film projector?

Nothing to do with china girls, but professional projectionists are concerned with color.

The lamps in arc projectors are brighter and appear bluish when new and lose some brightness and look comparatively yellowish as they age.

If the lamps are different ages, this can be distracting at change-over, so you try to replace all three at the same time.

projectionists collected them

In the aggregate, miles and miles of individual frames are probably clipped for personal use from exhibition reels of films by the various people who handle them. A certain amount of shortage is expected due to breakage and such, but the distributors run each reel through a meter upon return to make sure they're not too much shorter than they went out.
posted by Herodios at 12:44 PM on December 1, 2008


These are sort of still used. There's the Kodak "LAD girl" (Laboratory Aim Density), which is sort of a standardized version of this. It's a picture of a blonde girl with a lot of backlight on her hair, and a standard gray patch on the side.

From the "posed them" link I think it's second from the left in the bottom row. At least that's the Kodak one we sometimes use outside of our custom one.

These are definitely still in use, but more for internal calibration tests, and are not anywhere near being attached to anything that could possibly be seen by general audiences.
posted by dogwalker at 1:46 PM on December 1, 2008


I'm going to have to mock up some zombie versions of this for a project I'm working on. I'll go for a radioactive ghoul look and call them "China Syndrome Girls".

Nobody but me will find this funny, but I don't care.
posted by quin at 2:16 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's also a PDF from Kodak that has the picture in it if you search for "Kodak LAD example". Maybe they just want to avoid mentioning girls in a professional context? PDF
posted by rubah at 2:46 PM on December 1, 2008


dogwalker/rubah: Yeah, that's the one. It seems to be fairly standard now, I've seen it show up on film recording leaders both here in Mexico City and in Los Angeles, and from several different providers.

But yeah, even as someone who's borderline obsessive about film, I'd never seen one until I actually started doing post for a living. I think the days when the general audience could get a glimpse are far gone.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:52 PM on December 1, 2008


Interesting post. Can I ask though, why did you include "Hua Yang De Nian Hua" (your 'to see them' link)? I've watched it several times and fail to see the connection other than the fact that it features Chinese girls.
posted by tellurian at 6:33 PM on December 1, 2008


tellurian: I had read in one of the blog entries that "Hua Yang De Nian Hua" featured China Girls who were from China and appeared on headers for Chinese movies. Was this not correct?
posted by pxe2000 at 3:17 AM on December 2, 2008


The BBC had a less sexy version
posted by mippy at 3:05 PM on December 2, 2008


Ah! On searching, but if it was this blog entry then no, "This 2 1/2-minute film, "Hua Yang De Nian Hua" (2000) is, like Heyn's film, an edited collage of images of "China Girls," only in his case these really are women from China, being images of long-gone Hong Kong actresses preserved in the Hong Kong Film Archives."
posted by tellurian at 5:42 PM on December 2, 2008


Thank you. My reading comprehension skills are not always what they should be.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:55 PM on December 2, 2008


Heh! No foul, it's only because I watched it so many times trying to spot the screen test. I'm also a big fan of 'In the Mood for Love' – I adore that movie.
posted by tellurian at 3:54 PM on December 4, 2008


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