Ai Weiwei has a more nuanced take

August 25, 2008

Having been brutalized by the Beijing Olympics’ opening and closing ceremonies:

A still from Hero (2002), a film by Zhang Yimou

(From Zhang’s Hero, rather birds’-nesty)

First, I’m not surprised that Zhang Yimou, long past his rebellious youth, has turned out closer to Busby Berkeley than the Neorealists. Zhang’s films have always tended to spectacle, if just for starring Gong Li, despite naturalistic acting and sets. His ceremonies recalled his films’ use of color. And the spectacle shows how far the (barely) commie musical has come since the days of films like Volga! Volga!, which so distrusted dancing they showed noble workers singing and pitching hay in time. (A documentary, East Side Story, showcases these films. It’s a hoot.)

A still from The Swineherd and the Sherherd, 1941

The running of the pigs, no dancing allowed

Second, the whole thing will send me off to watch one of the three Olympics shaped by a major director’s vision, Tokyo ’64. Actually, Ichikawa Kon’s Tokyo Olympiad. If Zhang’s Olympics was theatrical-spectacular, Ichikawa’s was particular, a great example of Susan Sontag’s “photographic seeing.” His crew shot the Games with 150+ cameras, seeing what eyes can’t. Slow-motion, odd angles, and closer to the experience of sport than ten thousand stringbeans in blinking jumpsuits, pretending to be the building that overshadows them all.

A still from Tokyo Olympiad, 1965

Tokyo Olympiad, not quite as busy

Still, Zhang’s op & ed were quite an achievement, on a par with the Babylonian sequence of Intolerance. (But among the 5th Generation films, I still perfer Tian’s The Horse Thief. And among the 6th, anything makes a nice riposte, especially, oh, Tie Xi Qu, about which– if anyone has a copy, drop me a line.)

I was just going to file the whole thing under “kitsch,” but the Ancient of Page on an astroturf bus set me straight. At least Becks remembered his lines.

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