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April 27, 2007


platform 1.jpg

Jia Zhang-Ke - 2000
New Yorker Video Region 1 DVD

What I liked about Platform is the way history unfolded. Jia has most of the action taking place with full shots, almost constantly from a distance. The passage of time is announced through the changes of clothing that the characters wear, and the songs they listen to or sing. The film's title is from a Chinese song about emotional and physical distances.

Taking place between 1980 and 1990, Jia's film is about the cultural changes in China during those years. A group of perfomers, "art workers" go from town to town with a repetoire of songs praising Chairman Mao. As China changes, so does the group, evolving from government sponsored performers to a band performing their own verson of rock music. Platform is a portrait of a country that was as marginally aware of the world outside its borders, as many were unaware of what life was truly like within China.

platform 2.jpg

Even though the Cultural Revolution has been over, the Chinese are shown stumbling over what it means to be a good party member or an artist. Being an artist, even when it is done solely in the name of Mao is suspect. A son tell his mother that her mind should be liberated - the mother's response is that the son should practice self-criticism. A father reads from the introduction of a comic book version of Camille that indicates that Dumas' story was made available as a critique of Western politics and culture, alarmed that his son is reading about Paris and prostitutes.

Simultaneously to the changes in art was the change of the purpose of art, in this case, music. The first song, performed presumably for an audience that was required to be there, was meant to raise nationalistic pride. As the decade progresses, the songs become more personal. Love of the state is replaced by one person's love for another. What links several of the songs is that they are about travel, going to a particular destination, or knowing someone is at a distance, both literally and metaphorically. No longer a government entity, the group finds itself in a quandry of having the benefit of total control of their art, but dependent on needing to sell themselves to an audience that doesn't understand or want them. Platform is about people who are fueled by the dreams of worlds beyond their province, who sing about travel, but ultimately never leave home.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 27, 2007 04:22 PM