In a couple of days The Emperor's Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City will debut at Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. For those just tuning in, the exhibition highlights ninety pieces from the garden compound of the Qianlong Emperor -- objects that had been basically collecting dust since the last emperor of China, Pu Yi, left the forbidden city in 1924. Until now, the public has never been invited to view the contents of an Emperor’s private retreat.
In the 1980s, director Bernardo Bertolucci was given unprecedented access to film The Last Emperor inside the Forbidden City. It's an Oscar-winning movie that's popped up on this blog before; many designers say the breathtakingly beautiful visual elements make it a must-see for inspiration.
Over the weekend, in anticipation of the PEM exhibition, I revisited Bertolucci's picture and looked up some old reviews. Here's what Roger Ebert had to say in December 1987:
It probably is unforgivably bourgeois to admire a film because of its locations, but in the case of "The Last Emperor" the narrative cannot be separated from the awesome presence of the Forbidden City, and from Bertolucci's astonishing use of locations, authentic costumes and thousands of extras to create the everyday reality of this strange little boy.
And Godfrey Cheshire writing about the Director's Cut edition for Variety in November 1998:
As before, the film is most captivating in its first hour, when the experiences of childhood and the beauty of life in the Forbidden City make for an intoxicating, dreamlike display.
Related reading: The Odyssey of China's Imperial Art Treasures. In terms of lighter but nonetheless smart reading, I still love Vivienne Tam's China Chic. Also check out the Pagoda Red Blog and here's Pu Yi in pop culture.