December 5, 2005

In China, When Things Were Golden

On Friday night, Cinecultist dragged our tired butt* up town to the Museum of Modern Art to see the opening screening in a series of Chinese films to celebrate the centenary of Chinese cinema, Bright Lights, Big City. We also had a ulterior personal motivation for attending, as well as of course our love for movies from China, our dear friend William who works for Asian Cinevision curated the series along with our former NYU professor Zhang Zhen and a curator from MoMA Jytte Jensen. It may seem sort of odd to attend a film to cheer on the programmer but that’s the rarified and super film geeky world the Cinecultist lives in.

Anyhow, Wild Rose the film that kicked of the series is from 1932 and is a part of this group of “golden age” films from Chinese cinema, before the advent of sound in their industry but when acting, composition and theme were really flowering. Like American movies from the ‘20s and early ‘30s, the Chinese had their own star system and movies grouped around particular stars’ personas except they also throw in either good Socialist values or good Confucian values into the plot. In other words, just when you think the movie is going to be about the love relationship between the country girl who fell in love with the bourgeois painter boy, it’s actually about the painter boy’s awakening to his duty for his country and its poor people. Except for our slight cultural disconnect on what made for a happy ending to this movie (seeing our protagonist march with the people is supposed to put a lump in our throat, right?), it was actually a fun little rom com. There’s banter (as much as you can banter via Chinese intertitles) and slapstick (the country girl took off her shoes at the fancy party and then knocked over the tea cart), it was a good time. Also, MoMA has employed an accompanist for the films so what you may think of as “silent film” isn’t really quite so quiet.

The series runs through Dec. 22 so if you get a chance to head uptown you really ought to catch some of this group, they all look really interesting. In particular, we’d recommend catching The Goddess this Saturday, Dec. 10 at 4:30 pm or Monday, Dec. 19 at 6 pm. If you’ve seen Maggie Cheung’s brilliant performance in Center Stage, Stanley Kwan’s paean to the silent star Ruan Lingyu who killed herself at the age of 25, this is one of the roles Maggie reenacts to such great affect. In this one Ruan Lingyu plays a prostitute driven to murder for the sake of her son and we’ve heard it’s a really five hanky affair. Isn’t women’s melodrama grand?

*Which is our excuse for that very brief, 10 minute nap in the middle. That the Cinecultist -- trying to get a nap in at every major reperatory screening space in the five boroughs.

Posted by karen at December 5, 2005 9:04 AM