as profoundly traumatic as the Cultural Revolution cannot simply be papered
over. It hangs over the national psyche,
like a malevolent ghost. As much as it
embraces globalism and crony capitalism, the excesses of the Mao years still
have a bearing on the present day China.
Indeed, it is part of the internal contradictions Bo Wang analyzes in
his documentary-essay China Concerto (trailer here), which screens as
part of MoMA’s 2013 Documentary Fortnight.
film of observation and rumination, Concerto
has a pseudo-epistolary structure, featuring a woman’s disembodied voice reading
a man’s dispatches from China. The
writer is not a passive viewer, having trained himself to dissect imagery and
look for the telling details nobody is supposed to notice. He is in the right place for it. Aside from the movie clips and newscast excerpts
incorporated for illustrative purposes, Concerto
was almost entirely shot in Chongqing, the China’s version of Chicago. While Bo Wang was shooting, Bo Xilai’s
neo-Maoist “Red Culture” campaign was in full swing, but the Chongqing party
secretary would soon be removed after the Wang Lijun scandal brought
international media attention to rumors of extensive corruption.
He certainly captured images that are both
striking and ironic. Perhaps his richest
vein of material is the park where viewers witness couples dancing under a
model of Mount Rushmore and an elderly man reclining near a Statue of
Liberty. Yet, tucked away, there is also
a cemetery dedicated exclusively to Red Guards that remains padlocked and
shunned. According to the woman’s
tantalizingly vague narration, it seems many of those interned were involved in
an incident of cannibalism, which has since been consigned to the memory hole. One suspects this park could easily be the
subject of an entire documentary feature.
is absolutely fascinating to watch Concerto
apply the techniques of deconstruction to official state propaganda. The stand-in for the filmmaker’s stand-in
explicitly argues China’s obsession with spectacle is intended to mask and
empower it Communist rulers. It also
offers trenchant analysis of the capitalism promoted by the state, a mutation
described as “collective capitalism,” in contrast to the western
individualistic variety. The
implications for the individual in Chinese society are obvious. That is one reason the correspondent always
focuses on a single individual when watching sprawling propaganda pageants.
Concerto’s concern for the overwhelmed
individual is rather noble, in a genuinely subversive way. As if its indie bona fides needed more
burnishing, China Concerto holds the
distinction of being a selection of the 2012 Beijing Independent Film Festival,
which was shutdown not once, but three times by the government. This is a film that simply encourages
audiences to think, but some might find that threatening. Highly recommended for sophisticated viewers,
China Concerto screens during MoMA’s Documentary
Fortnight this Wednesday (2/20) and Thursday (2/21), with the director present
for Q&A both nights. For Georgians,
it also screens March 27th at Kennesaw State and March 28th
at Emory, as part of the well curated Independent Chinese Film Series.
Labels: Cultural Revolution, DF '13, Documentary, Propaganda films