Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang [2014)

I bet you thought I stopped writing about film, right?

ūüôā

Me too.

Sometimes.

I think…

“Am I still a film critic?”

With all this Trump this and Trump that.

With these tableaux.

This lazy poetry.

But I am back with an actual film.

And it is a masterpiece.

But I don’t know what to call it!!!

It’s a Chinese film.

Sort of.

But not really.

Because it’s by a Brazilian film director.

But not just any Brazilian film director.

Someday I will get around to reviewing one of the best exemplars of¬†na√Įvet√© ever made.

Yes, one of the best FILMS ever made.

Central do Brasil.

Central Station.

A formative episode in my filmic life.

But back to this Chinese film directed by a Brazilian.

I didn’t even get to his name yet ūüôā

Walter Salles!

Yes…two masterpieces are enough to make an auteur!!

But we can’t use the Chinese title here.

For the film.

Under consideration.

Because that would be disingenuous (and we will get to Trump).

[Or we will try.]

{so much…stuff…in the world}

Let’s paint the picture…

Three Gorges…no.

We must wait.

Central Station was a fiction film.

A beautiful masterpiece which stretches even up into the sert√£o.

But¬†Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang¬†is a documentary…about a guy from Fenyang…named Jia Zhangke.

Messrs. Baggini and Fosl (Julian and Peter) would call that a “spectacularly uninformative sentence”.

And Kant, the less-colorful–less-candid “analytic proposition”.

But we hit an impasse.

The film I am reviewing is so little-known (apparently) that it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.

Worse, it has a strange, butchered title on iMDB.

There it is called Jia Zhang-ke by Walter Salles.

Hmmm…

I must admit:  it appears some people in marketing over at Kino Lorber are dicking around.

But we press on…

Just who the fuck is Jia Zhangke?  And why should you care about him?

Well, first: ¬†he’s a film director.

And second: ¬†he’s as good as Jean-Luc Godard.

Did I just say that???

Yes.

I just put someone on an equal level with my favorite director of all time.

What’s more, a Chinese guy you’ve probably never heard of.

Of whom.

And what about this Fenyang business?

Well, let’s get out our maps.

First, we must find Shaanxi Province.

Northern China.

The capital is Xi’an.

But we must get to the more obscure.

Fenyang.

Home of our subject auteur:  Jia Zhangke.

So we don’t exactly know the title…here to there…from this platform to the next.

But we will say this.

If you are in the U.S., this film is currently streaming on Netflix under the title Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang.

Or something like that.

This is the confusion of a lack of standardization.

Where’s ISO when you need them…or Zamenhof!

Ok…so why should you watch a 105 minute documentary about a filmmaker of whom you have likely never heard?

Because Walter Salles compels you.

He says, “Watch my story… ¬†Pay attention to this little self-deprecating Chinese man. ¬†He’s a cinematic genius.”

Wouldn’t it be great if all artisans and artists helped each other out in such a way?

A filmmaker, age 57, decides to make a film about another filmmaker, age 46.

Actually, that is quite an honor.

That an older filmmaker would help in the career of the younger one.

So we heartily praise Salles for his mise-en-scène as well as his morals.

But then we hit another impasse.

Because words cannot express the brilliance of Jia Zhangke’s grasp on cinematic language.

And so, why should you watch this film?  I ask again.

Because it gives you an introduction (not dumbed down in any way) to the works of a contemporary film artist who is leading the cinematic medium into this new century.

Likewise, it gives you an introduction to Chinese film at the same time.

These aren’t kung fu flicks (for the most part).

These are art films.

Similar to Breathless

Born of the French New Wave.

But also born of Raj Kapoor.

Indeed, as a young boy…Jia Zhangke remembered an early film which extolled thieves. ¬†And it was this Indian film shown in China. ¬†And the Chinese kids remembered the melismatic melodies for decades…to rip off a shred and a few threads of a melody which bound them as enfants terribles.

Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang is a bit like Cinema Paradiso.

The big director returns home.

And there’s a sadness.

Maybe you can see your childhood home.

And hit the wall one more time.

You can imagine the family bed and the father’s desk was there.

And the books on shelves along here.

So many books.

That there is a sadness of being from Fenyang.

I feel it being from San Antonio.

And Jia Zhangke, all throughout this film, ideates thoughts which have now and then wisped in and out of my dreams.

Jia is very calm.  Thoughtful.  Serene.

A true artist.

And as he talks about the process of creation, I find him to be an exceptionally dedicated artist.

We hear about Xiao Wu (1997).

Pickpocket.  Starring Wang Hongwei.

I mean, this bloke…Wang… ¬†His clothes hang on him in almost a magical way.

He’s a good-for-nothing bum in the Chaplin mold, but still puffing away like Belmondo in¬†Breathless.

But Jia was right.

It’s the gait.

The way Wang Hongwei walks.

Body language.

Brilliant!

And the shots we see of Platform are really moving.

It’s like being from a place like Kiruna, Sweden.

Gotta get there by train.

Up past the Arctic Circle.

And the kids…they don’t have a lot of entertainment.

Maybe even the sight of a train.

But in China…………….far more vast.

These remote places.

Like the Three Gorges area where Jia made Dong and also Still Life.

But the joke’s on me.

Because the whole world knows Jia Zhangke.

The whole world of cinema.

And me, with my insular approach, not so much.

Because Jia won the Palme d’Or in both…wait.

We have the wrong envelope.

Ok…so maybe he’s not that well know.

His films have been screened in competition at Cannes, but no hardware yet.

With the exception of his Golden Lion from Venice.

But none of that matters.

What matters is that he’s making great films.

What matters is that he has the potential to best us all.

This was a very moving film for me.

Because it speaks to the obstacles of life.

Of the unhappiness.

Of the solitude which must be for creations to ferment properly.

To mix metaphors, we need the darkness in which to screen our masterpieces of light.

We cannot screen them in a glass house…at 2:30 p.m.

Finally, this film will give you invaluable insights into the recent history and current state of China.

All the people on Weibo (like Twitter).

The market system which has been kicking ass since the 1990s.

And crucial periods such as 1976-1989.

The restructuring period right after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

WE NOW JOIN PAULY DEATHWISH NEWS NETWORK…IN PROGRESS: “…

Xi Jinping.  His father purged in 1963.  His father jailed in 1968.  Xi was sent without his father to work in Shaanxi Province in 1969.  [The remote province from which film director Jia Zhangke hails.]

This was a time of immense violence in China.  Being purged.  Being jailed.  Being sent to the countryside to work and be re-educated.  All of this was suffused with violence.

So when President Xi got the message from President Trump himself that the U.S. had just launched 60 Tomahawk missiles into Syria minutes earlier, President Xi was met with the shock of surrealism…a perfect steak…beautiful ladies…the glitz and glamour of Mar-a-Lago…and the throat punch of an actual tiger. ¬†No paper.

“Get North Korea in line, and fast!” ¬†Would have been the message.

So that, in these times, to truly appreciate that which is unfolding around us, we need directors like Jia Zhangke.

These are our new philosophers.  Our new poets.

Thinking about social media.

Fooling around with it.

Inventing new artistic forms.

And finding new types of loneliness.

And desperation.

Jia came from a very poor area.

He loved his family very much.

The Chinese don’t like violence.

We Americans don’t like violence.

See this film.

Then get back to me on¬†Dereliction of Duty¬†ūüôā

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 24 [1976)

Good God…I made it to the end!

Of Season 1…

Why?

Why do we have this completist urge?

I could proffer myself as a communications historian.

A sociologist.

The anthropology of television.

But really the truth is that I needed something to watch…to take my mind off things.

And so it’s been a good ride.¬† Season 1 in the bag.

And it ends on a high note.

Kris Kristofferson.

I had seen him in a dismal picture called Chelsea Walls.

Good God…Ethan Hawke really bungled that offering.

And so for the longest time I thought Kristofferson was merely a hack “character actor”.

I knew his history.

Brownsville boy…Rhodes Scholar.

I’d even heard some of his music.

Always struck me as third-rate outlaw country.

But this episode of Saturday Night Lives changes my opinion of him forever.

The show starts with a song/skit.

Kristofferson sings “Help Me Make It Through the Night”.

As Chevy Chase fumbles with the ribbon in the hair of his lover, Kris just keeps on singing right through.

I’ve rarely heard a more soulful rendition of a song.

Later, Kristofferson sings “I’ve Got a Life of My Own”.

It is a revelation!

Looking for a way to lose these lonesome blues now that Neil Young quit Spotify?

Well, look no further than ol’ Kris.

The band…(not The Band, but close)…¬† Kris’ band here.¬† So good!!!

“I’ve Got a Life of My Own” is a glory cry.¬† I may not have a great life, but I have a life.

I have a beard and long hair.  Or I have a mustache and a buzz cut.

Life ain’t glamorous down on the Rio Grande border.¬† Nor in San Antonio.

Doug Sahm is dead.

But Kris lives on.

What a great injection of American music here.¬† You think you don’t like country music?

Give this chap a try.  And when I say he was a Rhodes Scholar, I am dead serious.

This, of course, gives him an intellect to pair with his easiness at being on stage (from his performing career).

What I mean to say is that Kris Kristofferson is a better host than just about anybody on the first season of Saturday Night Live.

You need him to be a gynecologist opposite Jane Curtin?  No problem.

Need him to be John Belushi’s foil in “Samurai General Practitioner”?¬† Done!

[That skit, by the way, is the comedic highlight of the show.  Belushi was beginning to approach godlike stature with his samurai character.]

Rita Coolidge is generally stiff on her one solo number (“Hula Hoop”), but having Kristofferson’s band makes the song persuasive.¬† And the closing surprise is indescribably cute (thanks to Gilda Radner and Laraine Newman).

Chevy Chase is great as always as Gerald Ford.

And Dan Aykroyd was starting to come along by this point as Jimmy Carter.

Though Garrett Morris only gets a few spots, he’s awesome as Jesse Owens and Andrew Young.

Don Pardo (the announcer of the show) gets a more “visible” role in this episode by way of the Samuel Beckett spoof “Waiting for Pardo”.¬† It is a masterpiece!¬† [And it makes me wonder whether Kristofferson was allowed to do some writing…perhaps this skit?]

Immanuel Kant, watchmaker.  Spinoza luggage.  All of the Price Is Right interjections by Pardo are for products ostensibly produced by famous philosophers.  Pretty witty stuff!

So there you have it…

I highly recommend this episode!

 

-PD

2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle [1967)

I am at a loss for words.¬† But through your peripheral vision you can tell that I didn’t stop writing after that statement.¬† No, in fact…you can tell that I conversely became quite verbose.¬† So therefore the figure of speech was misleading.¬† Perhaps that is why Godard came to distrust language.¬† Who is Jean-Luc Godard?

And what does it matter?  This rhetorical device propels my analysis, yet the reader is more or less free to comment at the end of the article.  More or less.  Derrida.  Deconstruct at the weakest link in the logical chain.  Find where the text contradicts itself.  It is like a pivot chord in a musical modulation.  Napoleon would charge with all of his forces.  More or less.

The reason I express myself in this way is because, for me, film criticism is akin to ekphrasis.  Therefore, poetry.  As much as we want to be historians or scholars or social scientists, we must accept that we are really just poets.  Just.

Finally a title which meshes with my theme.¬† It’s not my theme, yet I have chosen it.¬† Vertigo.¬† It rejects diacritical marks…just as Shirley cards rejected the negro.¬† Godard realized this in Africa.¬† Filming.¬† The film had been optimized for white actors.

With all of these tangents it is a wonder that anyone makes it to the end of these ekphrastic rants.  Rambling rants.  Off-topic.  Hot topic.  Napalm.  Curtis LeMay.  Stone Age.

It occurs to me that I could very well play the reactionary, yet conscience intercedes.¬† Pax Americana.¬† No.¬† I cannot justify it.¬† I will leave it to the Navy…”a global force for good.”

It was wise that they finally discarded such a ridiculous motto.  Perhaps no one was buying it.  Sell war.  Buy war.

It is easy to get caught up in all of the James Bond gadgetry and thereby forget Vietnam..  Forget Iraq.  Forget Afghanistan.  Libya.  Syria.

For me there is no difference between the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute.  Pepsi and Coke.  Perhaps one is a little worse than the other.  They fundamentally define one another.  A dialectic.  Hegel.  Kant.  Fichte.

If I know one thing, it’s…a thesis.¬† If you knew better, you’d…antithesis.¬† Bon.¬† C’est tout.¬† …ou 3:¬† synthesis.

Jean-Luc Godard dropped out of the University of Paris.  It is credited as his alma mater on Wikipedia.  The Sorbonne.

This was before Hanne Karin Bayer became Anna Karina:¬† Godard’s first wife and leading lady.¬† But now we have Marina Vlady.¬† Made in Russia.

I get a text.  Putin missing.  I had seen.  DEBKAfile.  Approximately one million spots lower than my website on Alexa.

No, they will never give up on trying to impose order on the chaos of Finnegans Wake.  It is sheer egotism.  And I am the antithesis:  no plot, no characters.

And what of the synthesis?¬† Yes, you must reread and rewatch to uncover the nuances.¬† Godard’s oeuvre is one long statement.¬† Miss a film and you’ve missed a chapter of his life–a phrase in his grand statement.¬† Certainly.¬† Certainly.¬† Maybe.

“The comic book and me, just us, we caught the bus.”¬† From the basement Bob Dylan nailed it:¬† modern life as comic book.¬† Obverse and reverse.¬† Godard and Dylan.

All I have is cat food.  You have seven minutes left.  Three left.

Anny Duperey looks perfect…perfectly empty…staring off into space…smoking the ubiquitous cigarette.¬† The Shirley card loves her.¬† She shines.¬† She is radiance.¬† Might she be the next! big! thing?

It is with a heavy heart…that I relate that no, indeed, rather, Juliet Berto…for some time.

And thus our grand unstated theme:¬† cancer.¬† Like the hideous sound of jungle helicopters–desert jets.¬† Division.¬† Long division.

Juliet Berto won’t be reading this in any traditional manner.¬† She passed away in 1990 at the age of 42.

In 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle, she made her screen debut.

Tristesse.¬† Sadness.¬† Yes, Godard was right.¬† It is undeniable.¬† Things have not gone well for capitalism.¬† He says neo-capitalism, but I say neoconservatism.¬† It is not quite antithesis.¬† It is already synthesis.¬† Beginning, middle, end.¬† [Not necessarily in that order…]

-PD