Ok, Let’s Go!
people have kicked the bucket recently: Ingmar Bergman,
many people kicked the bucket: Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni,
Yang Dechang, Hou Yaowen, Wen Xingyu, Jorg Immendorff, and others.
Please forgive my blunt choice of words: I use these words when my own
kith and kin died as well.
In general, I
try to avoid euphemisms like “pass away” for the dead, or “immortal” for
the gone, unless someone pushes a gun against my throat. If someone
dies, then they are merely dead. And no matter how terrific the bloody
wording is, you can’t bring a dead man back to life.
Ingmar Bergman for the master film director that he was. It is he who
brought the rational ideas of philosophy into his works, using a free
and unbridled style when shooting his films just as if he were writing a
book. Yang Dechang was also a famous film director, who believed that
wonderful films could be completed by a small team, without tremendous
investment behind them.
Legal Report, the only TV show I can watch is the sit-com where I came
to know Wen Xingyu, an actor who played the role of an awkward cadre to
perfection. His character was recently retired from a leading post; not
content with the ongoing status quo, they continue to push to make a
contribution that is nevertheless misunderstood by other people.
my old neighbor, was a very kind person. He would routinely crack daily
jokes during the SARS crisis in 2003, and when people dare not go out,
he stayed at home in his courtyard drinking. My liking for him doubled
when I discovered that he had been Guo Degang’s teacher.
asked me to give him a catalogue of mine. That evening, I sought out a
nice thick volume, signed it, and put it out to send to him. To my
eternal shame, I then drank too much, and forgot to send it across to
him. Now, the album still lies on the shelf, bearing the inscription:
“In great appreciation of Mr. Hou Yaowen’s comments, May 5, 2003”.
Immendorff was a famous German painter who held a successful exhibition
in China. It is said that he not only painted very well, but was
respected among Germany’s political elite, and even had a knack for
It was on the
pages of the People’s Daily newspaper that decorated the walls of my
grandmother’s house that I first saw the name of Antonioni. I was in
primary school, and the yellowed papers were filled with critical
articles. There was not one advertisement. Banner headlines to the left
proclaimed: “Down With the Russian Revisionist Socialist Imperialism and
its Running Dogs”. On the right, “Down with the US Imperialists and
their Running Dogs”. In the middle sat an article criticizing Antonioni.
I remember wondering at the time why the entire newspaper was concerned
with running dogs, and the only person written about in the center still
It was many
years later, as a college student, that I started to watch Antonioni’s
films, and began to understand that he was one of the “three -ini’s” of
Italian neo-realist films (namely, Roberto Rossellini, Frederico Fellini,
and Michelangelo Antonioni). Antonioni’s film Red Desertwas reputed to
be the first real color film in the history of motion pictures. The film
Blowup still stands as representative of art house excellence. He won
awards at all the major international film festivals, including sweeping
the Venice Film Festival title on five occasions. He was awarded an
Honorary Oscar and Honorary Venice prize in 1995 and 2000 respectively.
films were characterized by few words, long scenes, and implied
narrative, from which China’s six generation of film makers learned a
lot. In addition, the influence of France’s New Wave upon young Chinese
film directors is responsible for their success at various European film
say that Antonioni was down on his luck in that he came to China at just
the wrong time. Just look at how cocky Bernardo Brtolucci was when he
arrived here to shoot the film The Last Emperor. He was raised high to
the sky by everyone who could speak. The Summer Palace and Great Wall
were offered to him. He could shoot anywhere he wanted to. Actor Ying
Ruocheng had a glass fo the finest wine placed by his bed every day.
artistic creator, I think Antonioni should have chosen that moment to
come to China. I also think that it was right that the Chinese people
should criticize him. Over the century following the birth of motion
pictures in 1895, there have been many genres and styles in the world’s
film industry: Italian Poetic Realism of the ‘30s, Neo-Realism of
1945-50, French New wave of 1958-62, new German film of the early 1960s,
new Hollywood film of the 1970s, globalization of the Hollywood studios
in the 1980s, followed by the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski and Abbas
Kiarostami in the 90s and the EDV and digitalized films in the 21st
Chinese directors have not directly involved themselves in the major
genres and movements, and no world class film directing masters or
decent films with international appeal have emerged from China.
all the world class film directors, Anonioni was the only one who came
to China to shoot a film. He is also the only one whose film - a
three-hour documentary called China - was criticized and condemned by
nearly a billion Chinese people in theaters around the country for
defacing the New China.
200 pages of critical articles about China were generated in the first
two months of 1974, as published by the People’s Literature Press.
Authors came from all walks of life, including many revolutionary
cadres, as well as ordinary folk from the places where Antonioni shot
There is no
prior precedent in the history of motion pictures around the world that
such a large scale critical movement can be triggered by film. This
neo-realistic film abandoned all luxury and glamour, emphasizing a
reflection of social reality. An artistic choice to focus on the working
people, and offer no easy answers to the audiences was a familiar mark
of Antonioni’s work. The closed, culturally destitute monotony of China
in the later years of the Cultural Revolution therefore provided
excellent shooting conditions for Antonioni in his ongoing search to
“reveal the potential meanings with implied and empty visual effects”.
released at the 37th Venice Biennale in 1974, and the sensation spread
across Europe, bringing Antonioni greater degrees of fame. Chinese
people had never imagined that an exchange of thoughts and ideas with
the Italian master director could become a shared memory of a generation
in an isolated era. The death of Antonioni spurred many people -
especially those who had suffered most in the Cultural Revolution - to
remember that time. Some scene continued to be vivid in their memories,
and the name of Antonioni was not unfamiliar to them.
Antonioni was paralyzed, and lost the ability to speak. He suffered an
added loss of his vision in September 2006. Despite this, Antonioni
maintained an affection for China, and never believed that his film had
besmirched the nation. In his later years, friends would suggest a
repeat visit to China, to which he would answer “OK, lets go!” Ill
health stopped him repeating his 1972 journey to China. Many Chinese
people, however, hoped to see him return. If he had done, they would
have asked just one question: “How did you feel to suffer the
condemnation of the Chinese nation all those years ago?”
August 15, 2007