Thursday, February 25, 2021

Between Books - Polishing the Dragons


Book cover for Polishing the Dragons with a large ornate golden dragon


Mistakes were made.

And I made a giant one when reading Polishing the Dragons.

Polishing the Dragons: Making Epcot’s “Wonders of China” by Jeff Blyth recounts Blyth’s roll in directing, writing and leading the team in creating the Circle-Vision 360 films which was displayed for over 20 years.  Blyth provides a detailed account of the production of the film based on notes he kept when making the film in the 1980s.  Blyth discusses how the film came to be, his pre-production scouting and the actual filming in China.  He also discusses his contributions to the refreshing of the film to become “Reflections of China” which replaced it.  Along with Blyth’s text, he includes numerous color photos of locations, scenes and the crew working to create this long-lasting Epcot production.

Did I mention I made a mistake?  Okay, maybe I made at least two. 

Mistake number one, in all my trips to Disney I have never watched a Circle-Vision 360 film.  I can give excuses, but in the end it is just true.   To me the novice, Blyth demonstrated to me that these productions are complex and challenging.  Blyth takes his readers through site selection, how can one get a strong 360 degree shot and hide the crew?  He shows how hard actual filming can be, as one has to keep 9 cameras level with clean lenses and enough film to capture the moment.  Oh and for Blyth’s adventure, how do you explain how this process works to an inexperienced crew who has never seen a 360 degree film through a language barrier.  And maybe the American crew members are not overly excited with all the country has to offer.  The reader is left with an understanding of the complexity of these productions and the dedication of the crew to complete the process and meet their deadlines.  I will make sure that next time I am at Epcot I will see a 360 film.

Blyth’s writing also gives us insight into a time in China’s history largely hidden from the West.  Blyth was an American in China during a time where the country was largely closed.  So his experiences were often unique with him visiting areas largely unseen by other Westerners.  We also get a window to negotiations with the People’s Republic of China who in the 1980s were using this film to help introduce the world to their nation.  But at times, it is clear they very much wished to control that introduction.  And yet Blyth may have been the one Westerner to claim a victory over the People’s Liberation Army at this time with him getting some filming concessions.  For those interested in Chinese history, this is an enjoyable and informative first-person narrative of this time period.

Mistake number two, I read this as a Kindle book on Kindle Unlimited.  Now I love seeing a Disney history title in the service but I should have paid for the physical book.  The Kindle really does not highlight the images and for me they were to small to explore.  The page also makes it clear that this is not printed on normal paper but has a stylized layout and mood that screams personal journal to me.  Bamboo Forest Publishing put considerable design effort into this production.  Despite generally being happy with reading Kindle books, I just wish I had read it as a physical book.

Mistakes were made in reading Polishing the Dragons.  I really enjoyed this text which allowed me to travel to a part of the world that currently is barred to me due to global travel restrictions at a time in history where it was largely hidden to the West.  And I learned about both film production and the specialized Circle-Vision process.  This text is one that I highly recommend to Disney fans and even non-Disney fans interested in China or film production. 

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