This chapter examines the critical discourse on acting in early Chinese cinema, and particularly the ways in which the contrast of film acting with stage acting exemplified broader rhetorics of realism, modernity, and scientism in semicolonial China following the May Fourth Movement. An emphasis on realism and mimesis in cinema rather than the formalism and semiosis of traditional Chinese art forms was part of a broader contemporary interest in the idea of objective representation. At the same time, the close-up in particular was thought to demand a new style of “interior performance” in which character emotions were felt by the actor and conveyed through the eyes and face with the purpose of “moving” modern audiences with authenticity. Nonetheless, claims for the unique realism of the film medium must be viewed in light of the growing dominance of realism in all the arts, including theater.
This essay focuses on the topic of “adaptation” to argue that Japanese cinema has been less bound by traditional culture than by low culture in general, and Hollywood film in particular. Focusing on the 1930s, it shows Japanese studios shamelessly imitating Hollywood technologies and Japanese filmmakers (most prominently Ozu Yasujiro) shamelessly appropriating Hollywood genres as part of an ambivalent project of “transcultural mimesis.” As the geopolitical incline between the United States and the rest of the world levels out, the concept of transcultural mimesis draws more broadly on contemporary critical discourse than on Miriam Hansen’s text-based “vernacular modernism” to remind us that cinema on the margins of the world film system has always been a form of adaptation, from something closely identified with the West into something more ambiguous that could split the difference between homage and parody, and sometimes even become an instrument of reflexive understanding.
Tsai Ming-liang’s 1997 film The River features one of the most challenging scenes in contemporary Chinese cinema: a graphically sexual encounter in a dark bathhouse between two men who belatedly recognize each other as father and son. This chapter uses an analysis of the dialectics of desire and alienation that drives this scene to reexamine some of the implications of cinematic suture—both as it is deployed in this particular film, and also more broadly as a metaphor for the relationship between viewers and a general field of cinematic production.
One of the major expressions of American literary naturalism occurred in the cycle of Hollywood films made during the 1940s and 1950s commonly referred to as film noir. These films revisit and adapt nineteenth-century naturalist narratives via characters constrained by the forces of material environments, past experiences, instinctual urges, and mysterious fates. This article presents a close analysis of two of the most central and critically acclaimed films noirs, The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Double Indemnity (1944). These films blend naturalist narrative conventions with key cinematic devices: environmental constraints, emphasized through staging, high-contrast lighting, and low-angle cinematography; instinctual urges, emphasized through dialogue, costuming, blocking, and close-ups; and fate as a determining force, emphasized through dialogue, voiceover, and flashbacks. These conventions and devices find concrete expression in the thoughts and actions of the films' protagonists, who negotiate their desires for money and sex in the contexts of harsh environments, such as the criminal underworld, the private-detective business, an unsatisfying job, or a failed marriage. These negotiations often conclude with the characters succumbing to their greed and sinking into depravity or death; on rare occasions, however, these negotiations end with a hazy yet significant glimmer of hope. In each case, these movies attest not only to the power of film noir but also to the richness of cinematic naturalism.
This chapter is a chronological overview of some of the key developments in science fiction animated films, using the concept of the “thick text” as a way of understanding how the specific language of animation facilitates the metaphysical and metaphorical address of the genre. The discussion suggests that SF animation speaks to significant moments in the advances in technology and film form, while also referring to the rich tradition of SF literature and illustration. This enables such films to operate as modernist texts in times of social and cultural transition, and to explore notions of “space” and “time” as literal, aesthetic, and analogous phenomena. SF animation allows for a “scripted space” that nevertheless reimagines the world and self-reflexively foregrounds the relationship between scientific and technological interfaces and human creativity, consistently offering key insights about late-capitalist, postindustrial society and the human condition.
Focusing on two Korean War films, this chapter traces the development of aesthetic forms in relation to geopolitics and revolutionary ideology from the 1950s through the eve of the Cultural Revolution. Although Chinese films of the Korean War depict dramatic scenes of battlefields and intriguing strategies, they seek to offer an ideological exemplar rather than exciting stories. The war film articulates a politics of spirit and expresses Mao’s military romanticism. Against the Cold War geopolitics and the fetishism of weapons and through aesthetic, operatic elaboration, the war film holds up heroic, self-sacrificing figures of idealism for the whole society to emulate so as to empower the population. The politics of spirit also projects a cultural internationalism that aligns with third-world nations in the common struggle against imperialism.
This article looks at how the digital culture has transformed Asian films and the Asian film industry. It shows that the Asian connections with the digital have been slowly changing the global film culture, such as the increase in video piracy and the arrival of the inferior VCD. It then looks at how the processes of digital technologies, globalization, and consumer capitalism, have transformed the cinema culture of Asia. It notes that the impact of digital technologies on Asian film culture varies, and that the state of cinema culture differs dramatically across the entire continent. This article concludes that the digital revolution has helped make Asian films more readily available to global audiences, such as through sales, fan culture, and online advertising.
Between Will and Negotiation: Film Policy in the First Three Years of the People’s Republic of China
This chapter investigates the development, institutions, and specificities of the PRC’s film policy and related actions in the period of 1949 to 1951, a period when a new socialist cinema was developed to replace the existing capitalist one. This chapter demonstrates that the new state, in spite of its dedication to ultimately nationalize the industry, took a multifaceted mechanism in shaping the film community. On the one hand, the party worked to build an egalitarian and idealist culture, encouraging policymakers and filmmakers, who often belonged to the same community, to discuss and develop a new cinema together. On the other hand, the state was committed in putting together a new infrastructure of production, distribution, reception, and, most importantly, criticism, which could bring about a propaganda machine. Instead of assuming socialist film policy as necessarily coercive, this chapter identifies the complexity of cultural governance in the first years of the PRC, exploring how cinema was important to the state in many, sometimes contradictory, ways.
After distinguishing propaganda as a pedagogical practice with roots in religious proselytizing from agitation as directed at immediate mobilization, this article discusses the militantly atheistic Bolshevik propaganda films made during the Russian Civil War. These films, one of which was made by filmmakers Dziga Vertov and Lev Kuleshov, depicted the forcible exposure of the relics of Russian Orthodox saints, whose remains were held by the faithful to be incorruptible. This article argues that the desire of film propagandists to demonstrate both the truth and the persuasiveness of their lesson led them to fabricate a representation of spectator response, through the montage device later called the “Kuleshov Effect,” that ironically commits the visual falsification of which the Bolsheviks accused Orthodox clerics.
This article traces the development of intermedia art in Japan from early proto-intermedial work by Matsumoto Toshio, Yamaguchi Katsuhiro, and Jikken kōbō (Experimental Workshop) in the 1950s through the rise of intermedia with the exhibition From Space to Environment in 1966, experiments in multi-projection and expanded cinema in the late 1960s, and the transnational event known as “CROSS TALK Intermedia” in 1969. In an era of rapid technological and media change, intermedia art attempts to contend with the situation of the subject’s failure in the face of larger systems and structures beyond any individual’s grasp. Artworks and theoretical writings by Tōno Yoshiaki, collaborations with sound engineer Okuyama Jūnosuke, and elements of infrastructure “behind the scenes” take on a key role in understanding intermedia artists’ response to the overwhelming environment of images and information in 1960s Japan.