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Yang Fudong's Cinematic Influences

August 22, 2013 - October 6, 2013

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A leading figure in China’s contemporary art and film worlds, Yang Fudong creates photographs, films, and film installations inspired as much by China’s rich cinema history as by ancient scroll paintings and modern society. A companion to the midcareer survey presented in the BAM/PFA galleries, this film series—curated by the artist himself—showcases some of the major cinematic influences on his work, ranging from the decadent aura and black-and-white exquisiteness of Shanghai’s Golden Age of Cinema to the realism and historical investigations of Fifth Generation classics.

In films such as Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest, The Nightman Cometh, The Fifth Night, and the Prada-commissioned First Spring, Yang channels the hypnotic, languorous beauty and romance of Shanghai cinema of the 1930s and 1940s, the so-called Golden Age of Chinese cinema. The brilliant black-and-white, high-contrast lighting and glamorously illicit realms of Yuan Muzhi’s Street Angel (or those films starring legendary actress Ruan Lingyu) inspire Yang’s similarly noirish, gemlike images of city life, while the lingering melancholy and slow-burning pace of Fei Mu’s Spring in a Small Town (named the Best Chinese Film of All Time by Chinese critics) seems to haunt every step that his characters take. Yang also draws inspiration from China’s groundbreaking mid-1980s Fifth Generation movement, when films such as Chen Kaige’s Yellow Earth and Zhang Nuanxin’s Sacrificed Youth opened up new ways of seeing (and hearing) China’s landscape and history, and presented intellectual protagonists uncertain of how to live in their rapidly changing world, a dilemma that finds its echoes in Yang’s more contemporary subjects. A more recent piece, Lou Ye’s noirish, Shanghai-set Suzhou River, forms a perfect connection; like Yang’s films, it is haunted by—and pays tribute to—the ghosts of characters from films long ago. Cinema is the modern world’s myth, its way of seeing itself; to recall cinema’s motifs is to enter into a dialogue with not only a national cinema, but a national past, and to interrogate or reveal the hidden narratives within.

“What makes me happiest,” muses Yang of his work, “is people’s acceptance and understanding of films with unlimited formal possibilities. My films are open to interpretation.”

We kick of the series with his first film, An Estranged Paradise, and are delighted to welcome Yang in person at the PFA Theater along with exhibition curator Philippe Pirotte.

Jason Sanders, Film Note Writer

Thursday, August 22, 2013
7:00 p.m. An Estranged Paradise
Yang Fudong (China, 2002). Yang Fudong and Philippe Pirotte in conversation. Yang Fudong’s first film is a poignant psychological drama shot in lustrous black and white. (74 mins)

Thursday, September 5, 2013
7:00 p.m. Sacrificed Youth
Zhang Nuanxin (China, 1985). (Qingchunji). A young Beijing woman is “sent down” to live among the Dai minority of Yunnan Province during the Cultural Revolution in this key work from one of China’s few Fifth Generation female filmmakers. With Yang Fudong's 2011 short, The Nightman Cometh. (90 mins)

Saturday, September 7, 2013
6:30 p.m. Yellow Earth
Chen Kaige (China, 1984). (Huang Tudi). Sound, landscape, and political history are transformed into blistering poetry in the film that launched China’s Fifth Generation and introduced two major voices to world cinema, director Chen Kaige and cinematographer Zhang Yimou. (89 mins)

Saturday, September 14, 2013
6:30 p.m. Spring in a Small Town
Fei Mu (China, 1948). (Xiao Cheng Zhi Chun). Imported Print! With a visual panache often compared to Ophuls, Antonioni, and Welles, Fei Mu’s 1948 gem possesses a melancholy beauty all its own. Voted the Best Chinese Film of All Time in a poll of Chinese critics. (85 mins)

Sunday, September 29, 2013
5:30 p.m. Street Angel
Yuan Muzhi (China, 1937). (Malu Tianshi). Arguably the finest example of Shanghai’s Golden Age, Street Angel is an intoxicating blend of Chinese leftist populism, Hollywood pizzazz, song numbers, French poetic-realist doom, comedic slapstick, and city symphony. (94 mins)

Sunday, October 6, 2013
5:30 p.m. Suzhou River
Lou Ye (China, 2000). (Suzhou He). In this atmospheric noir thriller, which doubles as a city symphony to Shanghai’s eternal mysteries, a videographer searches for work, and for a lost love. (83 mins)

Yang Fudong’s Cinematic Influences is made possible in part by The W.L.S. Spencer Foundation. Series curated by Adjunct Senior Curator Philippe Pirotte in collaboration with Yang Fudong and organized by Senior Film Curator Susan Oxtoby. With thanks to Sun Xianghui and Zhao Jing, China Film Archive; Noah Cowan, TIFF Cinematheque; Weihong Bao, East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley; Brian Loftus, Marian Goodman Gallery.