National Cinema

Is the label “national cinema” still a useful one? Critically evaluate the usefulness of the term in relation to at least two films from this course.

1. floating life 2. chunking express 3. my blueberry night

Like different countries have different culture, customs and give people different feeling, as an important part of one’s culture industry, movies from different places gives people different sense of feeling. That’s the magic of National cinema. But under the big trend of globalisation, we now can find movies made by multiple countries. In this essay, I will discuss if the label is still useful or not and evaluate the usefulness of this term through two films.

The term ‘National Cinema’ is often used to describe simply the films produced within a particular nation state. ()When taking up the notion of `national cinema' once more, it may be worth reflecting a moment on the question whether the cinema can and does function as an expression of national identity at all. Might the cinema not, rather, be valued and understood as the opposite of the national: a non-language-bound, trans-national cultural manifestation? ()

Talking about national cinema, we must look at the contemporary cinema.

Contemporary cinema, like other types of visual mass communication, is increasingly embedded in discourses of globalisation. However, as is the case with globalisation generally, its discrete manifestations are fu of paradox and tension. They are complex, heterogeneous phenomena, caught between their national or local origin, the homogenizing tendencies represented by the global village and its inroads on the particularities of the national, and the tendency for those at the receiving end of transnational cultural processes to reinterpret and reinvent extraneous cultural influences within their own field of mental vision, their own interpretive and behavioral currency.()

To talk about a 'national cinema' is always to conjure up a certain coherence, that of the Nation. In this respect, it is quite clearly an idea with much historical and even more ideological ballast. A nation, especially when it claims cultural identity, must repress differences -of class, gender, race, religion and history- in order to assert its coherence. Does this not make the very term 'national identity' merely another name for internal colonization? Nation-hood and identity are not given, but gained, not inherited, but paid for. They exist in a field of force of inclusion and exclusion, as well as resistance and appropriation.()

Why, then, apply it at all to the cinema? The simple fact is that it works: if not in theory, then in practice. For if we leave aside the term's mythologizing and mystifying element, we can see that it allows one to scoop up quite handily an otherwise unwieldy bulk: all the different films made by very different people in a given country over a not inconsiderable period of time. We can take this notion of a second skin quite literally. The history of cinema is deeply involved in the history of fashion and clothes, of interior design and outdoor hobbies, of taste and of tourism, depicting the objects we surround ourselves with, and in short, shaping and mirroring our life-styles (or those that our parents or grandparents used to aspire to).

The cinema, for most of this century an integral part of a nation's commodity and consumer culture (which thanks to advertising is itself largely shaped by photography and the electronic image culture), is thus an almost inexhaustible record and database when searching for what Arthur Marwick calls 'witting or unwitting evidence of how people looked, lived, or behaved in the 20th century: the very fact hat so much audio-visual material exists has changed the way we think about history. In this sense, a national cinema is like the limbo in Dante's Divine Comedy - the realm of shadows, parading past in murmuring procession, close enough to touch and yet so far removed; always in motion and thus never laid to rest, neither in hell nor in heaven.()

To give just a brief idea of the social and historical function occupied by these various national cinemas of the post-war years, here are a few examples: In Italy, neo-realism became within Italy a 'national cinema' because it could reconcile and heal the nation after fascism, not only by looking, after the high society white telephone films, at how ordinary people live and love, but by preparing the post-war historical compromise of Italian society, namely the coalition between Christian democrats and socialists, united in the struggle to defeat the common enemy, fascism. The most famous example is Rossellini's ROME OPEN CITY (It, 1945).

Let me remind you of the scene in which the communist resistance fighter is arrested by the Gestapo, and Anna Magnani, his fiancé runs after him. In France, the nouvelle vague was in the first instance a Parisian affair, led by a group of charismatic individuals with a gift for media promotion: Jean Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer.

While with the hindsight of their later films, it is difficult to imagine what these very distinct individuals might have had in common (except a pas-sionate love of the American cinema), their first films (A BOUT DE SOUFFLE, LES 400 COUPS, PARIS NOUS APPARTIENT) gave the world a new image of Paris, no longer the Folies Bergeres, the Moulin Rouge, or the Place Pigalle and Montmartre which had held sway in the films featuring Paris from the 1920s to the 1950s,but the Boulevard St Michel, the Rue St Jacques and the cafés of the Rive Gauche. The nouvelle vague was an international success when young men and women from the American midwest or the English Midlands could fancy themselves as Jean Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, or Jean Claude Brialy and Anna Karina, when walking down those very streets in Paris.

In Germany, the 'young' German cinema had to reach its second generation and become the 'New' German cinema of the 1970s, before it attracted international attention. But to become recognized as a 'national cinema' it had to discover as its subject matter a particular topic in German history. In fact, it had to reply to what everyone else OUTSIDE Germany wanted to know about Germany -how the post-war generation of Germans was coming to terms with fascism and its legacy, after the generation that had lives through the Nazi period had singularly failed to do so, either in politics or in the cinema, where Heimatfilms, Karl May adventures, and Hapsburg historical romances like the SISSI film showed Germans turning a resolute back towards their recent past.

What inferences can we draw from these examples of European national cinemas? It would appear that a national cinema stands in a field of force more complex than that of, say, a national literature. A phenomenon of the 19th century, but carrying powerfully into the 20th century, we will find that a national literature is usually defined retrospectively: as the common stylistic, thematic or generic denominator of a number of prominent, prolific and occasionally popular writers.

Often, critics battle over precisely which writers embody the ideals of a national literature: Tolstoi or Dostoevsky; Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James or Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy; Virginia Woolf or D.H. Lawrence? More rarely, it is the work of a single writer -Goethe, Balzac, Thomas Mann, James Joyce- who for a country or an epoch redefines the core concerns of a national literature.

By contrast, for there to be a national cinema, it seems that a dialectic of national-international needs always to be present, which merely underscores the other dialectic .Between what filmmakers think they are doing and what spectators recognize the films as doing. National cinema is thus not so much the expression of the national soul, as it is a complex negotiation of cultural meanings, of ideological intervention, and the struggle of who speaks to whom, and on whose behalf.

National cinema seems always to be an effect of miscognition, of a peculiar kind of two-way mirror: more simply put, national audiences rarely like to recognize themselves in their national films (although they do like national actors when they have become stars, preferably international stars), while the reasons for which individual films become part of a national cinema are often due to characteristics that only the outside, only other spectators, other critics can recognize and thereby validate.

This is an important factor, since it suggests that the cinema can act as the nation's self-image only when it has been confirmed and approved by a significant other... It shows that the national cinema is still a useful label for most of the films, and of course, Hollywood films are a kind of national identity of America.

Now I’m going to talk about the usefulness of the term ‘national cinema’ through two specific films. First one is Chinese film ‘Raise the Red Lantern’. In this film, the term ‘national cinema’ shows typically. This is a typical Chinese film which full of Chinese traditional symbolic. The film tells a story in the old China: The life of a nineteen year old girl, Songlian, after she was forced married to a rich landowner.

The difference between Songlian (Gong Li), the fourth wife of a rich landowner, and the other three spouses, is that she is educated, and has been married (by her mother) against her will. Now, her whole world is reduced to one small compound, and the only people she sees are her husband, his family, and their servants. She is given a maid (Kong Lin) with whom she doesn't get along, and finds her new home to be a cheerless place, despite all the bright colors that adorn the inside walls. Much like the quote stated, Raise the Red Lantern is set in Northern China in the 1920s. For thousands of years the people of China have formed family life around patrilineal decent. The assessment of traditional China life was patriarchal. A basis of this set up would be from Confucius.

In childhood, Before marriage, Obey your father. In adulthood, During marriage, Obey your husband. In widowhood, After marriage, Obey your son.

In traditional Chinese customs, red lantern always hangs under the roof and shows the harmony and happiness of the family. But in this film, every evening, a red lantern is lit in front of the courtyard of the wife the master chooses to sleep with. Contrary to it, the traditional symbolism red is anything but festive. This, as I mentioned in the first part of the essay, each country has got unique culture and its’ own symbol. There’s some more hints:

1.The third wife used to be a Peking opera singer who performs Peking opera every Morning. 2. The use of the image of the dragon. 3. The servant Yan’er , who covets the status of becoming on of the master’s wife, hangs a lot of red lanterns is her room, but finally punished by the first wife as she says‘according to the old rules.’ Red lantern, dragon patterns, the old-style houses and the old rules of this family shows the national feature of china in the 1920s, is one of the most properly representation of Chinese cinema

. The Chinese government didn't approve of Raise the Red Lantern, and, if you look just below the simple-yet-effective surface story, it's easy to understand why. As structured, this film can be seen as a parable for the corruption of modern society in China. Songlian is the individual, the master is the government, and the customs of the house are the laws of the country. It's an archaic system that rewards those who play within the rules and destroys those who violate them.

And, when an atrocity occurs (as it did in Tiannamen Square), not only is culpability denied, but the entire incident is claimed not to have happened. Looking beyond the political meaning, Raise the Red Lantern offers a view of life within a closed, dictatorial social community. Much of the film deals with the ever-shifting balance of power between the various concubines. Beauty and sexual appeal are secondary attributes in a battle of wits that demands guile and duplicity.

Bearing a male child is more critical to each woman's standing than possessing a pleasing countenance. While the master's favor determines which of his wives commands the most power, Zhang illustrates how easily he can be manipulated. Next is the film Chungking Express (1994). It’s a typical movie of Hong Kong’s New wave. Hong Kong New Wave Cinema presents a comprehensive picture of the films made in this vibrant era and the complexity of issues they tackle such as East-West conflict, colonial politics, the struggle of women in a modernizing Asian city and identity crisis, all portrayed in visually striking ways.() In 1994, when the film released, Hong Kong is still the colony of Britain; in Hong Kong you can people with different nationalities.

In this movie, we can see the English Drug smuggler, who finally shot by the blonde woman and those Indian drug smugglers. In the first part of the movie, the multi-cultural aspects of the film are further emphasised by the fact that several different languages are spoken in the film. The Brigitte Lin character uses English to boss around the Indian drug-smugglers and Takeshi Kaneshiro (Cop 223) speaks four languages in the film: his narrations are all in Mandarin, he speaks most of his ‘live’ lines in heavily-accented Cantonese, when he calls one of his ex-girlfriends he speaks to her in Japanese, and he says one line in English when he approaches Brigitte Lin’s blond-wigged character.

And also, in the second part of the movie, the story about cop 633 and the bar assistant Faye, also show the political atmosphere at that time. At the start, Brigitte Lin, the drug smuggler, represents China whilst Takeshi Kaneshiro (Cop223) represents Hong Kong. An English bartender/drug-dealer persuades Lin to cut a deal with some Indians to smuggle drugs. But they cheat her by running away with the drugs. Hong Kong was initially founded because the British East Indian Company wanted the lucrative trade with the Chinese and one of the main items traded was opium.

The girlfriend who has dumped Kaneshiro is called May (Ah Mei) which is a common name for girls in Hong Kong. He makes two phone calls to other girls, one of whom is Japanese; the other girl was a girl he knew from childhood (perhaps in Taiwan). This could mean that Hong Kong tried to make long-term relationships with other countries but failed. Kaneshiro counts the number of pineapple cans that he has, as many Hong Kong residents counted the years, then months and then days to July 1, 1997.

It’s also been suggested that Wong chose pineapple rather than another fruit because pineapple is both sweet and sour and before July 1, Hong Kong will endure both happy and unhappy events. Through those scenes from the film, especially from the first part, it shows the political environment of Hong Kong of that time. Presents a comprehensive picture of the films made in this vibrant era and the complexity of issues they tackle such as East-West conflict, colonial politics, the struggle of women in a modernizing Asian city and identity crisis, all portrayed in visually striking ways.

Chungking Express references American culture through Western images. In this way it could be compared to À Bout de Souffle. McDonald’s and Coca-Cola feature as part of the Hong Kong consumer landscape. American pop music such as the Mamas and the Papas ‘California Dreaming’ provides the cultural backdrop to the film, and Faye’s desire to leave Hong Kong for the supposedly better life offered by California, keeps her in her dead-end job at the café which Cop 663 ultimately takes over. The opening sequence of Chungking Express should be considered in the context of Hong Kong in the early 1990s. It reflects the film’s central themes of separation, uncertainty and reunification.() Notes:

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Filmography