From The Guardian (June 6, 2003). Happily, Fei Mu’s 1948 masterpiece is now available on a decent DVD with English subtitles from the BFI, released three years ago.– J.R.
If I had to pinpoint what makes so much of contemporary life intolerable, something I’d call remake mentality might head the top of the list. The mindset that dictates that anything new has to be a recycling of something familiar — that old markets be exhausted before any new ones are contemplated, and that viewers be regarded as mindless brats demanding only more of the same — is so common by now that it has become fully internalised, and not only within the film industry.
The fact that we’re supposed to be looking forward to two sequels to The Matrix in the same year implies that we are fixed marketing units, programmed to relish staying in our well-appointed ruts. But there are just as many spinoffs predicated on our ignorance of the originals, suggesting that the avoidance of fresh thinking may not simply be our own. So I had my share of worries when I first heard that one of my favourite Chinese film-makers, Tian Zhuangzhuang, the director of The Horse Thief (1985) and The Blue Kite (1992), was remaking a Chinese classic.… Read more »
From The Guardian (May 30, 2003). –J.R.
For roughly two decades, my three favourite dramatic features have all been the work of the same man — and my favourite among these depends almost entirely on which one I’ve seen most recently. I came to know and love them in reverse order: first the incandescent and subtly erotic Gertrud (1964), discovered in my early 20s shortly after it premiered; then the gut-wrenching Ordet (1955), which I initially hated when I first saw it in my teens, misconstruing its climactic miracle as a tool of religious propaganda; and finally the voluptuous and mysterious Day of Wrath (1943), which I didn’t appreciate or understand until my 40s, when I finally saw it in a decent 35mm print.
Like all the greatest artists, Carl Theodor Dreyer demands to be taken as a figure whose work continues to grow and change, quite irrespective of the fact that he died in 1968 at the age of 79, with many of his most cherished projects (most notably, a film about Jesus) unrealised. Fresh insights about his life and career keep coming to light: not only through biographical research; the emergence of new prints (such as the remarkable 1981 rediscovery of the original 1927 version of The Passion of Joan of Arc in an Oslo mental hospital); but also through the uncanny fact that his films seem to grow more multilayered, ambiguous, and complex over time.… Read more »