were the crimes artist and poet Mu Xin was arrested for during his lifetime?
Hardcore offenses, like talking informally about Madame Mao at a social
gathering and making sketches in what became known as Taiwan in the years
before the revolution (that’s right, he did not have the gift of clairvoyance).
Of course, the Red Guards hardly needed a pretext to arrest and torture anyone during
the Cultural Revolution. His secret, nonpolitical art was more than sufficient.
Filmmakers Francesco Bello & Timothy Sternberg coaxed the late artist into
reflecting on his life and work in the elegantly elegiac short documentary Dreaming Against the World (trailer here), a Motion Picture
Institute (MPI) supported film that screens during this year’s DOC NYC.
Xin was born into a well to do family in Wuzhen, so he was doomed to face
hardships during Mao’s various ideological campaigns. However, his early years
were also greatly enriched by the extensive library a local intellectual left
in his family’s care. Frankly, Mu Xin was better read in classic Western
literature than any of us, which would hardly help his case during the Cultural
Revolution, but it gave him perspective.
Mu Xin was a reluctant interview subject, he radiates dignity and erudite
charm. Obviously, the episodes he warily speaks of were difficult to revisit,
but he also seems to experience some cathartic release from the process. Yet, he
is extraordinarily Zen-like referring to the scores of paintings, poems, plays,
and other writings confiscated and destroyed during the collective insanity as mere
those who doubt the Communist experience immeasurably impoverished the world,
Mu Xin’s lost work is conclusive proof. He is now best known for “Tower Within
a Tower” series of landscape paintings and his secretly recorded Prison Notes, sixty six pages of such minute
lettering, they are recognized as a work of art in their own right, as well as
a courageous act of defiance. Still, one has to wonder what treasures would
also be celebrated had they survived.
Bello & Sternberg rightly point out, Mu Xin could have been summarily
executed had his signature works been discovered while he was creating them. It
is an incredible story, told with tremendous sensitivity. The filmmakers add
just enough context to ensure any viewer can appreciate Mu Xin’s life and work,
without getting sidetracked by the nightmarish historical dynamics at play.
Several of the credited translators are also names we recognize and therefore
give us even further confidence in the film’s accuracy and integrity. It is a
film worthy of its accomplished and insightful subject. Very highly
recommended, the thirty-five minute Dreaming Against the World screens
before Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the
Shoah this Thursday (11/19) at the SVA Theatre, as part of DOC NYC 2015.
Labels: Cultural Revolution, DOC NYC '15, Documentary, Mu Xin