Monday, February 21, 2011

Cina Chung Kuo

Finally got around to watching Antonioni's film about China, shot in 1972, the height of the Cultural Revolution, at the invitation of the Chinese government. It's a very slow, very long (three & a half hours) documentary in three parts, filmed in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Suzhou and Henan. The camera roams around capturing children in school, farmers in fields, an operation in a hospital, markets, workers, people cooking etc. There's nothing particularly controversial in it; it's quite borng actually, in an arty Italian way. In any case, Mao didn't like it and it was not shown in China until 2004, and little seen elsewhere. To be fair, I didn't get much of the narrative as the audio was in Italian and the subtitles in Chinese. Perhaps the most interesting thing about it was that it got made at all. Oh, and that Luciano Berio was 'music consultant' for a largely silent film.

Much better was the 12-part Heart of the Dragon series on Channel 4, made in 1984 when China was beginning to open up. I remember watching that at the time and being very impressed by the detailed analysis of ordinary people's lives, the thematic approach (Trading, Marrying, Working, Caring etc), the photography and the level of access they must have fought tooth & nail for. To the best of my knowledge I don't think it was ever repeated nor made available on DVD.


  1. The short answer is no on the DVD front. It was issued on VHS in 1991!

  2. Shame. I suppose such a lot has happened in the intervening years that it would come across as totally outdated and a quaint historical curiosity.