srijeda, 30. svibnja 2012.

Wang Bing - Tie Xi Qu: devetosatni kineski dokumentarac

Ruševine budućnosti. Skupljanje ostataka utopije koja se nasukala. Recikliranje krhotina strojeva, konstrukcija i prostora. Raspadanje kao ontologija. Golemi otpad povijesti. Ljudi kao ravnodušni dijelovi rđajućih megastruktura. Sebald i industrijski Satantango u Kini. 

West of the Tracks (Tiexi Qu) 2003, 9 hours in 3 parts, by Wang Bing
Awarded at Yamagata International Documentary Festival, the Festival 3 Continents.....

"Tiexi Qu is a surprising documentary as it lasts 9 hours and the question of time, the perception of time flowing, in the film and beyond the film, are interesting to examine.
The Tiexi district is a gigantic industrial complex in Shenyang in China's north-east. It was established during the Japanese occupation in the 20s and transformed into a highly populated industrial area. From the Nineties, the Tiexi Qu district which received support from the State before gradually dismantles to become a forgotten zone where the factories are closing down one by one and where the working class area must be demolished, thus, dislodging its inhabitants.
This long documentary takes us away to this now decaying area and is divided into three parts entitled “Rust”, “Remnants” and “Rails”. They are independent of each other and were shot in DV between 1999 and 2001. Wang Bing stayed over there during these years while living near these workers and inhabitants.
In the three films, the camera does not imposed itself and Wang Bing does not use interviews nor the voice over; he rarely directly intrudes himself.
The camera is thus present and absent at the same time because it keeps a certain distance and seems to be forgotten by the people who are being filmed.
Sometimes they tell a story describing a period of their life or show their worries, questionings and anguish concerning their dubious future.
Each part constitutes a film to itself and develops a well defined subject in a specific and different place.
In the first part, entitled Rust, Wang Bing sticks to the every day life of the last workers of the last factories and in particular of the copper foundries and the last blast furnaces. The second part, Remnants follows the inhabitants of the working area, the Rainbow Row, while in the third part, Tracks, Wang Bing accompanies the employees of the railways company which ensures the transport of the raw materials and of the manufactured goods out of Shenyang.
Each part is also conceived and structured differently.
Thus, if the first part offers a linear approach by showing the daily life of several workers in these factories, the second is more detached in a sense that it displays several stories which could almost become a fiction, finally, the third returns even more closely and more psychologically in the people's personal life and centers on the Old Du and his son.
Each one borrows a singular story, and yet, the stories are intersected in the real time, so that the same time or the same period of time can be found in another part but at a different place. That was possible, technically, thanks to the result of the work of the editing, and, physically and in real time, thanks to the rail network which, thus, enabled him to move more easily.
This conception to undertake a cubist form of time results also from the choice of a slow but never long pace. The seasons ravel in front of our eyes but they are elastic since some seem to stretch themselves such as winter whereas others are curtailed such as spring or are simply hardly seen, even almost non-existent such as the warmer seasons. However the years are passing away and we go from one year to another knowing that we had already seen the year that has just disappeared and will see it again later in another part.
Tiexi Qu : West of tracks is a monumental film and whose three parts are equally well made, each one with their unique strength.
Wang Bing succeeds in erasing the duration of this (or these) floating film(s) and in restructuring the time by several manners also :
- the fact of dividing the film into three independent parts (with 3 subtitles evoking the notion of time), each one focusing on a specific theme
- adopting a cinematic and narrative structure which is suitable for each part (the two longer parts that last over three hours are divided into two parts and the last part is centered on a character)
- the insertion of the travelings along the railways which gives a certain pace to the film (as time is motion)
- the real filmed like a fiction, the gap between fiction and documentary has become more blur.
The nine hours which summarize not only two years lived in Tiexi, but, which also wrap up several human lives, and more generally, a whole past full of History, become necessary and finally inevitable in order to seize, through this slow process of dismantlement and decay, the repercussions from the economic changes in China, but also the decline and the end of an era of the Chinese History. - Unspoken Cinema

"In the long opening shot of West of the Tracks, the camera stares from the cabin of a small goods train moving slowly through snow-muffled, abandoned factories. A few ghostly figures flit under a gloomy sky. The only sound in a silent landscape is the creak of its wheels. These three minutes are like a rite of passage into history. We are entering another world, one that has already been destroyed: a ruin of industrial civilization." - New Left Review

"Tie Xi is a massive industrial complex in northeastern China's Shenyang province. Built during the Japanese occupation of China and restructured with Soviet support after World War II, it is the country's oldest and largest manufacturing center. From the postwar period to the 1980s, the thriving factories employed more than a million workers, but like other state-run industries they began their collapse in the early 1990s.
In West of the Tracks, filmmaker Wang Bing documents the slow, inevitable death of an obsolete manufacturing system. Between 1999 and 2001 he meticulously filmed the lives of the last factory workers, a class of people once promised glory during the Chinese revolution. Now trapped by economic change, the workers become deeply moving film heroes in this modern epic. The film is an engrossing portrait of Chinese society in transition. Cahiers du Cinema compares Wang Bing to the great Russian writers and calls his film "a masterful production, an open file on realism." West of the Tracks "opens up a new and radical era in cinematography."

"Without question the greatest work to have come out of the Chinese documentary movement, and must be ranked among the most extraordinary achievements of world cinema in the new century." — Lu Xinyu, New Left Review

"Capturing moments both large and small...this profoundly empathetic and humanist work bears witness to a vanished way of life and the real cost of progress." — Jeanette Catsoulis, The New York Times

"A transfixing experience - if an undeniably demanding one - Wang Bing's nine-hour documentary on Chinese industrial decay should take its place as a key work of socially minded vérité" — Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York

D.E.R. is proud to announce the North American distribution of West of the Tracks. The film has three parts - Rust, Remnants, and Rails - which may be viewed and purchased separately.

Rust (244 minutes)
With his DV camera, Wang Bing accompanies the few remaining foundry employees at the last furnace as they go about their working activities. Bankruptcy appears inevitable, and from the internal workings of the factory to the employee's lounge, Wang Bing traces a fascinating portrait of a dying way of life.

Remnants (178 minutes)
Rainbow Row is shantytown that was constructed in 1930 to house the laborers of the Tie Xi district. The area used to be known as Handmaiden's Grave, and now its residents are faced with unemployment and unpaid salaries. A young man scours the local fairgrounds after a lottery event, looking for discarded winning tickets. In the Winter, trash and snow pile up in the streets. 17-year-old Bobo and his friends spend their time at the Lucky Swan market, thinking up schemes to get dates, and money. Young children collect cans while an old woman hawks tofu. On Summer evenings, men gather outside of their houses to play cards and mahjong.
It is announced that Rainbow Row will be demolished to make way for a private development. Everyone has to leave within the month. Residents are angry and confused. The streets are filled with possessions for sale as most people prepare to move, salvaging whatever they can take with them. The proprietor of the Lucky Swan Market watches as city workers cut the power lines for good. The bustling neighborhood gradually empties, until Rainbow Row is a ghost town, covered in snow and empty of all but a few families.

Rails (132 minutes)
A system of freight railways carries raw materials and finished goods in and out of Shenyang. Lingering snow and smoke create an oppressive atmosphere, and there are few signs of life as the trains make their way through the maze of nearly-abandoned factories. Workers do their jobs mechanically, passing the time with gossip, cards, and cigarettes. Gathering coal to heat the freezing break room is a major concern. Like many others, Old Du is concerned about his family's future. He and his teenaged son live uneasily, afraid of being evicted from their tiny apartment.
Spring brings a short relief from the harsh weather, and now instead of snow, weeds cover the tracks. Rail workers relax in shorts. An argument flares up between a worker and one of the bosses, but things settle down into the regular rhythm of running the trains. Autumn comes around, and searching for scrap metal in the freight yards is a popular way to earn extra money. Old Du and his son have moved. For the 2001 Chinese New Year, he lights a single firework in the field next to his house. Friends come for drinks and a steaming hot meal, and the conversation turns to cynicism about love and marriage, as everyone helps make a batch of dumplings.

Tiexi District in Shenyang in Northeast China.

Part I: Rust

Part II: Remnants

Part III: Rails

Images from part one: Rust

Establishing shot

Montage sequence from Walter Ruttman’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1928).
West of the Tracks
salvaging the rubble of utopia

by Jie Li
In 1999, Wang Bing, a young film graduate in his early thirties, began wandering alone through the Teixi District of Shenyang, China’s oldest and largest industrial base, with a small rented DV camera.  A palimpsest of not only Chinese but also world history, the first factories of this place were built in 1934 by the Japanese to produce war goods for the Imperial Army and nationalized after World War II.  After the Communist takeover in 1949, the Soviet Union supplied additional machinery, dismantled from Germany after the war.  As late as the early 1980s, the factories here employed about one million workers, themselves migrants swung by historical upheavals from wars to the Cultural Revolution.  As China made the transition from a planned to a market economy, however, these state-owned factories operated at a loss and closed down one by one, while the workers lost their jobs, or “iron rice bowls,” along with their homes and social networks. 

Director Wang Bing, with his 2006 French DVD release of ...

West of the Tracks, a nine-hour documentary epic.
By 2001, Wang Bing had shot about 300 hours of footage about the remnant factories and the people who worked and lived in the area, which he spent another two years editing into a nine-hour trilogy, Tiexi Qu or West of the Tracks, with the support of local and foreign friends, ranging from other Chinese avant-garde artists to assistance from the Rotterdam Film Festival.  From 2003 to 2005, various versions and parts of this film trilogy circulated at international film festivals to high critical acclaim, especially in France, where it was released in the cinemas and, in 2006, on DVD.  Dominique Païni, director of the “Cinéma-Paroles-Spectacles” of Centre Pompidou, introduced the DVD-release, calling West of the Tracks “the most surprising thing” he has seen in the cinematic world “after Godard and David Lynch.”[1]   Patient without redundancy, intimate without sentimentality, this film preserves the integrity of its disintegrating subject's time and space, has stunning cinematography, and is edited into a narrative that maintains a humility of perspective rare in documentary treatments of the working class.  
This article seeks to undertake an extensive study of the film’s style, inseparable from its subject matter, and questions how this documentary might constitute an “event” in the development of Chinese or even world cinema.  I shall proceed with my analysis in the order of Wang Bing’s own arrangement of the trilogy, poetically translated into Rust, Remnants, and Rails. These titles indicate not only their subjects—factory, neighborhood, and the network of tracks linking them to each other and to the world beyond—but also Wang Bing’s tactics as a filmmaker.  The order of the trilogy also reflects a certain progression from the fixity of a place to the increasingly vagabond human beings who are at once trapped in and driven from it. The overall narrative gradually shifts its emphasis from the area's general and monumental decline to the individuals trying to survive in this place's crevices.
Penetrating a ruin: three establishing units
The opening, a static, high-angle shot of Tiexi District shows a complex of factories covered by thick layers of snow. Below lies an immense ruin, amidst which the high chimneys, once virtual icons of the Northeast, stand like obelisks to China’s industrial revolution.  The distant but diegetic lull of machinery in the initial shot continues over a sound bridge throughout the scrolling text that informs the audience about the area's history.
The four shots are taken from a camera mounted on the front of a small goods train as it traverses and penetrates Tiexi District's factories and residential areas.  Snowflakes stick to the lens as if to one’s eyelashes, and this snow sticking, along with the occasional small jerk given to the camera by the old railroad tracks, serves to make the cinematography tangible, vulnerable, almost human.  Thus the camera does not just observe or record; it stares, it braves, it searches, and it salvages. Mediated by the camera, the train passes through endless, giant complexes of steel and iron, structures of pure function and mysterious anonymity, and through mushroom clusters of dwarf-like shacks, just as functional and anonymous.  Hardly ever displaying the inexorable velocity that characterizes early filmic representations of train travel and the locomotive, the train here insinuates itself into the languid traffic of the city.  This section has four separate takes, all with the same framing, so that montage here does not seem to have any function except, as André Bazin puts it, “the negative one of inevitable elimination where reality super-abounds.”[2]

Long tracking shots from a freight train begin and end the film ...

... braving the snow and traversing the industrial landscape.
Contrast this with the opening of, say, Walter Ruttman’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1928), where montage serves to enhance the train's kinetic energy as it travels in an unidirectional passage from countryside to cityscape, also marked by factory complexes.  If Ruttman’s train signals the advent of modernity, the making of history, then Wang Bing’s train is a retrogressive “rite of passage into history,” bringing us into a “world already destroyed.”[3]   If Ruttman’s train stops when it has arrived at its destination, then Wang Bing’s train stops because it has run out of energy and has no choice but to stagnate, left in its place of origin. 
The third establishing shot, a copper smelting site at Shenyang Foundry, is a handheld tracking shot along a platform with railings. The shot heads toward a whirlwind of rising white smoke that assailing and eventually envelops the lens in its foggy mystery.  François Bégaudeau, whose review in Cahiers du Cinéma is entitled “Après le siècle, en marche (After the century, on foot),”calls Wang Bing’s walking cinematography an “invisible line that traverses a shot,” which brings a place “into existence.”[4] Wang Bing does not, however, walk on a flat surface, but a layered ruin.[5]   In this sense, as a filmmaker-archeologist, he's trying to salvage the scattered rubble of a socialist utopia that never was.  The fragments of the past he'll pick up along the way remain unsorted into chronology, narrative, or any other imposed hierarchy of meaning.  

As a filmmaker-archeologist, Wang Bing walks...

... through factories turning into ruins.
In cinematic terms, it is perhaps useful to recall Bazin’s metaphor of the stone bridge of narrative arcs vs. the “big rocks that lie scattered in a ford,” whose “reality as rocks” are preserved even if one uses them to cross the river and arrive at meaning.[6] More than rocks in a ford, Wang Bing’s shots seem like bits of rubble in the ruin itself, not yet pieces in a museum nor incorporated into a new structure of meaning.  Rather, the images invite us to explore and excavate along with the filmmaker, whose presence, though never directly on camera, is always unmistakably felt.  In this work the camera does not just objectively record what stands in front of its lens, but it also traces the imprint of its own experience, synonymous with that of the director not just in optical or auditory terms, but also in the sense that it goes through the same trials by cold, heat, and dust as do the director and the subjects he films.

Patient recordings of the glare and tedium of work ...

... and relaxation.

Machines and bodies: workers unloading sacks of raw materials ...

... and hauling coal.

A worker confides that face masks cannot stop the toxic air.

1960s Communist propaganda posters on industrialization ...

... when workers dominated machines.

Images from part two, Remnants

A lottery in Tiexi district ...

... with hopeful and envious onlookers.
Enunciation and tact in
Wang Bing’s cinematography

Keeping up a solidarity with its subjects, Wang Bing’s narrative never flaunts cinematic editing's own superhuman technological resources. He eschews extra-diegetic music, commentary, or any additional source of illumination other than what there is on location, be it flat, overhead, fluorescent lighting or a flickering candle.  He does not spare us the monotone dullness or clamor of machine sounds, nor their blinding glare or darkness.  He takes his camera angles largely from the real or potential perspectives of his subjects, except in the case of interviews, where he often shoots from a low angle, perhaps out of humility and respect.  His small DV camera is often placed on the table along with thermos and rags so that the camera seems a banal object stripped of its powers of surveillance.  Or if Wang Bing holds it, then it is perceived as just another familiar pair of eyes, neither confronted nor averted by the other eyes in the room.  Wang Bing’s subjects are at such ease that they are even ready to walk naked in the presence of his camera. 
The shots thus have neither a performance's exhibitionist staginess, nor a hidden camera's voyeurism.  Nor is the camera fixed to one place only to record everything that comes into the frame, as one might have it in direct cinema.  As Bégaudeau describes this kind of cinematography:
A factory closed down? What to do? Above all not the machine guns of fixed shots, which, redoubling the immobility of the place, would kill it a second time and set a distance, even if it is that of art.”[7]
Wang Bing operates with what André Bazin calls cinematic “tact,” where “the camera must be equally as ready to move as to remain still.”[8]   Instead of narratively concentrating on a few characters, Wang Bing allows his camera to be “distracted” if a more striking subject walks into his frame, perhaps even following the latter over a long walk through some slippery or rough passage into a different space. As a result, this kind of cinematography allows the workers' collective movements, so intimate with these inhuman structures of metal and concrete, to sketch out their contours in the workers' habitual arabesques.

Wang Bing listens humbly to workers' musings and grumbles.

He films as he follows people through their daily routines.
Allegorical images of machines and bodies
Rust's true protagonist, in the director’s own words, is the factory itself, as industrial reality and social ideal:
the workers appear as mere appendages of this vast complex.”[9]
At this point, I wish to explore the interpenetration of the factory and its workers, of machines and bodies. Their daily rhythms and life cycles intermingle but we also see the final severing of their destinies. 
The machines and factory workers share a common history of migration or refugee status (in the 1930s and 1940s), nationalization and collectivization (1950s and 1960s, when industry and workers became China’s national symbols), and then reform and opening of a new economic era (in the 1980s, when the products of machine processes and their accompanying body gestures became obsolete).  On an everyday level, in the early days the machines’ tireless rhythm necessitated work shifts that subverted natural rhythms of work and rest. The seasons also have little impact on the working environment, since most factory workshops must be kept at a constant temperature.  We see the workers either in uniform or nude, both of which have the same effect of negating any difference among them—or, as Lu puts describes the visual descriptions of the workers in the film:
the human form is reduced to an object of indifference.”[10] 
 Beyond shared rhythms and physical environment, these bodies are intimate with the machines in another sense.  As one of the copper workers confides to Wang Bing’s camera, the facemasks they wear could not stop them from inhaling one hundred times the national standard of lead in the air, which led to dire medical consequences such as infertility.  In the second half of Rust, workers of the bankrupt Lead Foundry receive their last injections to eliminate lead in their blood, a one-month treatment formerly conducted four times a year.  That is, they had rendered up their health to the factory, which had promised to care for them in sickness and old age, but that's now a social contract sealed by the toxin in their blood. For this reason, the sequence has a sad valedictory overtone, a final severing of machine from body, since the hospital becomes the final station of their journey to a common destiny. 

Last injections to rid their blood of lead after the factory’s bankruptcy.

Final bonding between workers in the hospital.
In Wang Bing’s portrayal, machines and bodies bear an altogether different kind of relation to visual representations of factories and workers from China’s early days of industrialization. The earlier aesthetic, derived primarily from Soviet Socialist Realism, depicted workers as paragons of strength, placed in exaggerated heroic postures. In filmic terms, this superhuman strength was presented primarily through montage juxtaposing and conflating the workers with the machines, empowering the former by associating it with the latter and anthropomorphizing the latter with the former.  In Rust, however, the workers appear dwarfed and emasculated by the giant machines they supposedly control.  More slaves than masters, they have to use all their life force and energy to lift a small fraction of a machine’s effortless load, as in sequences where they must transport raw material or finished products at a missing junction of the mechanical assembly line. To keep company with machines also means being constantly poisoned, weakened, and even chemically castrated.
Having found his monumental subject in a place of decline, Wang Bing’s cinematic vision is allegorical rather than symbolic.[11] The workers appearing before his camera by no means resemble the iconic model-worker image one could find in many Chinese public statues or even once on the nation’s currency as symbols of the working class.  Rather, as they scramble together the material remnants of their factory and the narrative scraps of their promised utopia, they are confronted with “objects radiant with a significance not their own but reflected off the face of death.”[[12]   Thus, in the second half of Rust, Wang Bing’s camera returns to haunt the closed factories to memorialize them before they are dismantled piece by piece for scrap to recycle into new private enterprises.  He traces out the same paths where he filmed before, now without the workers. He finds there just one fellow scavenger who digs through the piles of garbage left in the lockers or on floors and who picks up, among other useless things, an workers’ ID, old accounting sheets, and some faded slogans. For Wang Bing, such found objects could be read as allegories for the workers' lost identities and creeds.  
In one exceptional manipulation of cinematic illusion in a film that rarely uses even extra-diegetic sound or montage, the filmmaker walks through a labyrinth of passages in the basement of one factory, where he finds the old workers' bathing room, seen with its big collective bathtub still full of steaming water.  Here, the film fades to black, and then the image slowly fades into one of two men bathing in the same tub, their figures indistinct and dreamlike in the mist.  One sits cross-legged and is scrubbing his feet briskly.  The other is standing in the tub and washing his face with a towel.  As if to confirm that this was indeed an illusion, a ghost image, the film then cuts back to the empty bathtub, now cold and no longer steaming.

In Rust, workers are dwarfed by machines.

After the factory closes down, scavenging through the rubble ...

... finding a worker’s ID and other useless reminders of the past.

Ghost image of workers in the factory bath.
Figure of the recycler
Part II, Remnants, opens with a public raffle in a residential neighborhood of Tiexi District, where the master of ceremony’s appeal to the crowd is a tongue-in-cheek collage of stock propaganda phrases from the Mao era and folk witticisms from the Deng era,
“an approximation of the call to collective Communist discipline and of the liberal incitation to consumerism.”[13]  
Filming the stage in close-up with a telescopic lens and without a tripod, Wang Bing, moreover, seems to be shuddering from the cold.  Yet the shaky view, complemented by the low angle, also recreates the perspective of the masses watching the show.  After the crowd disperses, we see a man picking up discarded raffle tickets from the ground as the wind blows most of them away; they seem like scraps of hope that have nothing to cling to.  A scavenger of fortune, the man checks each ticket, just in case one winner had been thrown away by accident, but in vain. 
Such scavenging continues into the next day. The stage has been dismantled and the raffle site turned into an overnight ruin covered by a new layer of snow.  A lone man hammers the field until he finds a small repository of scrap iron.  Then a scrap iron collector passes by, pays the man, and loads the unwieldy sticks onto his skeletal tricycle.  Another recycler passes through the lens, dragging jagged planks of wood behind him, taking advantage of the path made by the iron collector’s tricycle. 

A scavenger of fortune picks up discarded lottery tickets.

After the lottery, a man recycles the leftover scrap iron and cardboard.
These opening images establish the figure of the recycler, who is already at work by the end of Rust but only gains prominence in this part of the trilogy.  Recycling is, after all, the final means of eking out a living for the unemployed.  Everyone, regardless of age, could find and sell reusable waste for a small profit.  Their labor puts into use not just waste paper, scrap iron, cans and bottles, wood and bricks and other material waste, but also their own physical and mental energy, which would also otherwise go to waste.  Yet their labor is also destructive in that they collaborate with the very same forces of demolition that aim to dismantle their factories and raze their homes to the ground.  In the same way that the workers participate in the laying to ruins of the factory, the inhabitants of the about-to-be demolished neighborhood are the first ones to destroy their own homes, taking or selling their fragments to get the most out of this helpless situation.  They haggle over every cent, even though (or because) they know that with the onslaught of the new capitalist era and changes in the state, no bargain is possible.

Children bargain with a recycler of cans.

Firewood from the rubble of abandoned houses.

An old resident worries about the imminent demolition of her home.

Residents bargain over compensation with the authorities...

When electricity is cut off ...

... tweaking an old gas lamp.

Images from part three: Rails.

A locomotive named “East is Red”...

Old Du and his son Du Yang.

Unaestheticized despair: Du Yang’s breakdown after Old Du’s release.

A cinema of vanishing rubble: Jia Zhangke’s Still Life (2006).
Facing demolition: from tact to tactics
In a rare use of extra-diegetic sound, Wang Bing superimposes an announcement about the neighborhood’s imminent “resettlement” over images shot on the street of residents reading the announcement on electricity poles.  Using extra-diegetic sound creates an effect of a panoptic authority's omnipresence. It seems that a state force is about to seize possession of this neighborhood, so that its inhabitants discover, all of a sudden, that they are no longer standing in their own territory. 
As their homes are suddenly transformed into “the space of the other,” the inhabitants have no choice but respond to state and real estate developers' “strategies” with guerrilla “tactics.”[14]   With decades of experience telling them that there is little use resisting any state-sponsored action, they break down into small groups to discuss the exact measurements of their homes in order to get the most reimbursement available through laws made without their input. The residents make calculations often directed not just at the state but also at their neighbors or even their own family members.  Those with means move out and take the best offers, while those without means try to exclude elder generations or orphans from receiving resettlement claims, all the while negotiating with the authorities.  Those who remain understand that every day they stick it out entails a financial loss for the developer, so that staying on becomes their way of manipulating the latter’s impatience, which can then either turn into grudging generosity or reckless cruelty.

... take what they can from their old houses ...

... and burn useless souvenirs.
When the state and developers impose more punitive strategies by cutting off the neighborhood's water and electricity, the residents simply revert to earlier, more primitive ways of existence, not yet entirely forgotten because living simply is just one generation away. As Bégaudeau writes of this section,
“Every change signifies for the working class, once locomotive, the downgrading to a world before steam, the return to an existence of odds and ends, to dirt roads, which the progress had pretended to have covered.”[15]  
Without electricity, the women try to prepare meals before night falls or rely on candles and gas lamps, which illuminate not only their houses in the dark winter night but also their images as recorded by Wang Bing’s camera.  Some of them also steal electricity. After all, having been masters of this territory for so many years, they know exactly how to tap secretly into its network of wires and pipes.
As a one-man documentarist who cannot be in several places at once, Wang Bing chooses to stay with the last residents as the neighborhood empties itself out—staying, as the title Remnants tells us, with these remnants, who are not just scrap metal but also “leftovers of human life.”[16]   Such a “cinematic being-with,” in Wang Bing’s case, is also a “walking-with.” The trajectories of footsteps through the vast and dense place that is his subject are an essential part of his cinematic tact or tactic.  Walking with the inhabitants through their dispossessed neighborhood, Wang Bing adopts their tactic of moving spontaneously, as opposed to a common filmmaking strategy of planned shots with careful framing and smooth movements.  For the most part, he follows people rather than anticipate them walking into the frame. And his persistence as a cinematographer eliminates any need to make up metaphors with words or montage. When we see a man selling his books as waste paper and then haggling over a few dimes, we can infer the total inversion of values that has taken place with the changing times.  Toward the end of Remnants, one of the last families left in the neighborhood gather together all its members to burn “hell money” to pacify the soul of their dead mother so that she might help them get a decent apartment.  In the wake of failed promises of a socialist utopia and in a new vacuum of faith, the people revert to time-honored ancestral veneration and tokens of respect. 

Making do with external water pipes.

Wang Bing follows the last resilient residents.
Apart from spontaneous movements and the recycling of found objects/allegories, Wang Bing may identify with the tactics of the Tiexi residents in one more way.  As an underground filmmaker, severed from his earlier association with an official system of media production, he must also scramble to gather all his meager resources to make a film at all.  In making this film he never had enough money to buy his own camera, and he did his editing initially at night in local television facilities, to which a friend helped him gain unofficial access.[17] His own precarious status as an underground filmmaker may well account for his sympathy for the people of Tiexi District and, in turn, their trust in him not to abuse their images and stories. 
Rails and the archetype of the survivor
Rails, the third and shortest part of the trilogy, follows a small team of railway men responsible for transporting raw materials and finished products in and out of Tiexi district.  Their locomotive is named “East is Red,” after a hosanna to Chairman Mao, a name pregnant with the empty grandeur of history.  As factories close down, the men also have little to do and are often filmed sleeping in the driver’s cabin as the locomotive drones through the increasingly deserted landscape across the changing seasons. Tracking shots from the trains, on a much grander scale than those filmed walking, serve to map and multiply the ruins portrayed in detail in the first two parts.  If we might call the earlier two parts a “cinema of excavation,” here is a “cinema of accumulation” in a more horizontal sense. The tracking shot from a train is the only way to capture the monumental skeletons of old factories, their windows of broken glass like empty eye sockets, and their last recyclable remnants being carried away by human scavengers.

... with dozing conductors ...

... traverses the bleak landscape.
At the same time that Rails multiplies the spaces explored in the first two parts, it also contains a story that synthesizes their various loose strands of human destinies into two individual archetypes of the Chinese survivor. Old Du, who is not an employee of the railroad, lives with his 17-year-old son Du Yang in a makeshift shack of sheet iron built adjacent to a factory storehouse.  They make a living by doing menial chores for the railwaymen who have come to tolerate them and who take Old Du on trains from factory to factory so that he might gather (or steal) coal for sale.  One day, Old Du is arrested, and Wang Bing’s camera stays with Du Yang through the youth's anxious waiting period. During that time, the lad receives an ultimatum about their imminent eviction from the shack, and then his father is released a week later.  Wang films their reunion dinner when Du Yang finally breaks down from the pent-up pressure of the past few days.  This scene, one of the film’s most heartrending, ends with Old Du carrying his son home on his back. 
In an interview with Cahiers du Cinema, Wang Bing is asked if this final focus on Old Du and his son may be a gesture towards narrative.  His reply:
"No, my concern was to show a personality representative of the society, more human.  He is representative of the people who work at the factory, which are what I wanted to show.  Those are 'typical Chinese,' of the low [social] level, but who carry themselves with dignity.  He can survive in whatever situation."[18]
Old Du seems more an archetype or “everyman” than a character or personality, and his life a parable for the common destiny of the millions of workers to whom West of the Tracks is dedicated. He is a commoner, not distinguished from the masses by any unique ability or extraordinary experience, but epitomizes their ability to survive and absorb suffering.  In addition, his theft of coal, indispensable household fuel in the severe winters of Northeast China, is a modern Promethean act of stealing light and warmth from an authoritarian and corrupt state where big thieves never get caught.  Old Du came to clashes with the system before, in the late stages of the Cultural Revolution, when his father had tried to teach him an “honest trade” of pot-stewing meat. Since private business, however small, was considered illegal, all their tools were confiscated and his father thrown into a makeshift jail.  The story seems to repeat itself in the next generation with Old Du and Du Yang.  The lad, though much more delicate than his father, nevertheless understands the fundamental necessity of his father’s theft.  On the night after his father’s arrest, he sits in a dark room with a single candle.  For a good while we see nothing but the tiny light of his cigarette swinging up and down through the darkness, a meager but unmistakable light testifying to his existence and that of the filmmaker-witness.  The next morning, when Du Yang waits for his father to come home from jail, he comes into the shack from the desolate landscape outside and fills a stove with coal, rhyming with an earlier gesture of his father’s. In the film, this practical act of keeping warm is at the same time an allegorical act of keeping the fire going, of staying alive.

Du Yang’s cigarette after his father is arrested for stealing coal.

Trying to keep warm ...

... and looking at family photographs ...

... Du Yang awaits his father’s return.
In filming Du Yang, Wang Bing incorporates composed close-ups, something quite sparingly used in other parts of the film.  The images of the lad are among the film's very few emotionly charged facial close-ups.  Perhaps it is because this young face, expressive despite its apparent numbness, is cast out of the same mold as those of his father and grandfather and all the generations before them, thus functioning as a palimpsest of their suffering and resilience.  The lad also serves as the guardian of his family history, as he digs out from a flour sack, between nervous puffs of his cigarette, a stack of family photographs wrapped inside layers of plastic.  The photographs have the quality of relic, since we know that his mother had abandoned him and his brother at a young age.  The electronic clock on the wall now strikes, its flat and cheerful melody here an eerie accompaniment to the large tears welling up in the boy’s eyes.  This scene, along with the youth's later breakdown, where he keeps blowing his nose and flinging about on the dirty floor, lets us witness the full extent of his adolescent despair—absurd, grotesque but genuine, unaestheticized by music or soft lighting. Seeing his breakdown leaves us with sharp embarrassment and pain without catharsis. 
While introducing the DVD of West of the Tracks, Dominique Païni expressed his belief that “this is not an isolated work,” though “it is the first of its kind,” referring to the film’s special plasticity as a realization of Bazin’s “luminous mold of reality.”[19]   In the context of turn-of-the-century China, this film has yet another dimension of significance: it has captured and preserved on video a vanishing (and by now, vanished) world.  There are similar cinematic endeavors, notably around the urban ruins of Beijing and the areas to be flooded by the building of the Three Gorges Dam.[20]   These films come into existence as their subjects—places, communities, and ways of life—disappear, so that the films already have the quality of relic as they are first released.  To watch nine hours without narrative is trying for any audience, but as Païni observes, the work conveys the sense that things break down more rapidly than Wang Bing can film, that 24 frames per second are not quick enough to compete with the rust that encloses the world we see.  The filmmakers’ impossible effort at preservation is thus reminiscent of Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History:
“His face is turned toward the past.  Where we perceive a chain of events he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet.  The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.  But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them.  This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward.  The storm is what we call progress.”[21]
So all they could do is to film the mountainous strata of ruins with DV cameras. -West of the Tracks — salvaging the rubble of utopia by Jie Li

Na YouTubeu možete u cjelini vidjeti i Wang Bingovove filmove Le Fosse (francuski titlovi):

& Seules dans les montagnes du Yunnan / Three Sisters

three sisters_04

Fire in Every Shot: Wang Bing’s Three Sisters

By Thom Andersen
“Films have no interest unless one finds something that burns somewhere within the shot.”—Jean-Marie Straub, Cahiers du Cinéma, October 1984, p. 34
Wang Bing’s Three Sisters (2012) tells a simple story. Three sisters, aged four, six, and ten, live like orphans in Yunnan province, in the village of Xiyangtang (elevation: 3,500 feet; population: 80 families). Their mother has abandoned the family. The father, Sun Shunbao, has gone to the city to work. So they fend for themselves, cadging meals from their aunt, who tolerates them so long as they work. The father returns, but only briefly, bringing new shoes but taking the two younger sisters to live with him in the city and leaving the eldest, Yingying, to stay with her grandfather, Sun Xinliang. He tends his sheep, and she is left alone, and lonely. She even turns a sheet of cellophane into a toy. She asks a friend, “Can I come to your house to play?” He responds, “Why?” The grandfather takes her to an autumn feast in a nearby village. Afterward there is a town meeting. The mayor tells the assembled villagers that the government is intent on collecting the health insurance fees they can’t afford to pay. The people also complain about the government’s “rural revival” program: “They’re building these fancy new houses, and meanwhile the villagers can hardly afford to eat.”
Some months later, the father returns again, this time to stay. He was unable to support his family in the city. The family is reunited, except for the mother. In her place, Sun brings a “babysitter” and her daughter Yanyan. The final words belong to Zhenzhen, the six year-old sister: “Kids who have a mommy are the happiest in the world.” Then the final shot: a long tracking shot, without words, follows the babysitter and her daughter as they walk through the snow-pocketed mountains. There is no title at the end to relate the subsequent fortunes of the family.
This is direct cinema, and so there are some gaps in the narrative. The “city” is unnamed, and the father’s struggles there unspecified. The story begins sometime in 2010 and ends sometime in the winter of 2011, but its precise duration is uncertain. The fields are green at the beginning. Is it spring, perhaps? Or summer? How long is Yingying left alone between the father’s two visits? What is the reason for her persistent coughing? What happened to her studies at the village elementary school we see her attend with great enthusiasm for at least one day in November 2010? Did her work in the fields take precedence?
A simple story, but as Straub demands, there is fire in every shot. In many shots, this is true in the most literal sense. All the huts have open fires at the centre for cooking, for heat, and for light. Wang keeps these fires at the bottom margin of the frame just as he places the open doorways that blast a white light into the shots of dark interiors and the unshaded light bulbs that emit an intense yellow light at the top edge or side of the frame. These literal and metaphorical fires must not dominate the frame; otherwise their intensity would be diminished.
But fire also burns in the face of Yingying, the dutiful, stoic eldest daughter who yearns to read and write and study, to discover something unattainable in this tiny, remote village. There is fire even in her dirty, white-hooded jacket with the words “Lovely Diary” on the back, a jacket she never takes off throughout the film. She never demands anything, and she barely speaks, yet she is one of the most compelling, most affecting figures in all of documentary cinema.
It burns in the division between land and sky, which is particularly stark here. The horizons are always placed high in the frame. The earth has been graded into simple terraces, turning it into an almost abstract landscape. Wang further emphasizes these horizontal divisions by making startling cuts between extremely dark interior shots and extremely bright landscape shots, or between day and night. Even the grey skies have a penumbra of blue and violet along the horizon, separating them from the fields below. A hard life, but a big sky.
Straub’s admonition was inspired not only by Cezanne, who famously said of Mt. Sainte-Victoire, “Look at this mountain, once it was fire,” but also by Giotto, the Giotto of the Scrovegni Chapel frescos, which Straub discovered by chance when he was 18. There it is the blue that burns, that penetrates. Wang’s colours are closer to Giotto than to Cezanne: the blues of the sky and the smoke, the golds and reds of the fires in the huts that are like the halos and the crimson robes in the frescos. Like Giotto, Wang finds a clear, almost transparent skin colour, and he sets off the faces of the sisters against the darkness that envelops their hut outside the vicinity of the central fire.
But they are not “Straubian” shots. Wang’s camera is always handheld. (It should be noted that there are two other names in the camera credits, Huang Wenhai and Lei Peifeng; I don’t know the division of labour among them, but I have assumed that Wang directed the camerawork.) The camera height must be low so that he doesn’t look down on the three young girls. When Wang follows them as they walk through the village and the surrounding fields, the camera must be behind them. Consequently we see the vistas before them, but I found myself more engaged by their work, whether it be herding sheep or collecting dung. Sometimes the camera wavers violently as the land becomes particularly uneven; apparently Wang made do without a Steadicam.
But like the Straubs, Wang searches for the “strategic point,” the single position from which all the action of the scene can be recorded. Caroline Champetier, who worked with the Straubs on Class Relations, has aptly expressed what is at stake in this search: “All the work comes in attempting to respect the existing space, as intelligently as possible, to render account of its lines of force; it is important not to falsify the lines.” The difficulty for Wang was discovering this point in the cramped rooms of a small hut. What are the lines of force? They are defined, first of all, by sources of light, the fires, and the doorways, the television set in the aunt’s house. Beyond these, the camera finds slight diagonals that emphasize the same few possessions, bowls, a stool, or a basket. Outside it is a matter of finding the right distance from the people and knowing when to stop to let them move off into the distance. For Wang, the camera must not be too close: the people are always shown full figure. Only when they stop will he sometimes move in for a closer shot, and these shots provide the strongest sense of exhilaration in the film.
I’ve tried to praise some aspects of Three Sisters, but for all that I’ve thought and written about it, I still can’t explain why I have the feeling that I could watch these people forever, although the more I watch the film, the more Yingying breaks my heart.

The Epic and the Everyday – The Films of Wang Bing

Wang Bing is a leading figure of the exciting and unprecedented documentary movement that has been gathering vital momentum within the Chinese cinema over the last decade. Wang’s epic documentaries West of the Tracks, Fengming: A Chinese Memoir and Crude Oil define the brave political outspokenness, tenacity and artistic sophistication that continues to inspire a new and ambitious generation of young Chinese filmmakers. From the vast, nine-hour panorama of a dying factory town meticulously crafted by West of the Tracks to Fengming’s transformation of the Cultural Revolution into a gripping first person narration and Crude Oil’s real time portrait of the grueling fourteen hour working day of oil workers, Wang’s formally daring films offer profound meditations on history and the paradox of the industrial ruin and human suffering caused by the inexorable “progress” of modern China. A different, more dedicated, mode of spectatorship is required and infinitely rewarded by the awesome scale and sheer length of Wang’s features, which treat time as almost a sculptural element, using their intense duration to give a solidity and presence to the crumbling factories, shantytowns and lonely rooms that they explore and cohabit. Forging a rare intimacy with the workers, widows and chronically unemployed whose voices and struggles are made poignantly real within his films, Wang takes the observational ideal championed by cinema verité to a radical and important new level. Using no-frills digital video equipment, Wang creates intensely cinematic films that draw a raw, tragic beauty and power from the world of slow time defined by decaying industrial infrastructure and landscapes imploded by the steady exploitation of their resources. In his latest, shorter documentaries, Happy Valley and Coal Money, Wang has embraced a more essayistic mode of inquiry that condenses the hierarchy of labor and regulated capitalism into stubborn and fascinating riddles. Wang’s contribution to the omnibus film State of the World marks his first foray into fiction filmmaking and points towards his greatly anticipated narrative feature, The Ditch (2010).
The Harvard Film Archive is proud to welcome Wang Bing on the occasion of his first complete U.S. retrospective.

West of the Tracks, Part I: Rust ( Tie Xi Qu)

Directed by Wang Bing.
China 2003, digital video, color, 224 min. Mandarin with English subtitles
Wang’s astonishing first film is a moving and engrossing chronicle of the slow, sinking death of the factory towns in China’s Northeast Shenyang province as their aging foundries are quietly abandoned by the state and a way of life is extinguished. Armed with only a handheld DV camera, Wang invents remarkable yet understated camera movements and compositions to capture both the grueling factory work and the anxious waiting time that gradually takes over the workers’ lives. Despite its four hour length, Rust somehow remains as gripping from its first to last minute by giving equal space to the vivid dangers of the factory and the quiet moments in the workers’ break rooms – and most notably during a forced hospital retreat – where their fears of unemployment and their suddenly uncertain future begin to cast dark shadows. Rust’s fascination with the choreography of Man and Machine gives way to moments of intense beauty that at times recalls the structural films of sculptor Richard Serra.

West of the Tracks, Part II: Remnants ( Tie Xi Qu)

Directed by Wang Bing.
China 2003, digital video, color, 178 min. Mandarin with English subtitles
Shifting its focus to the vast shantytowns that emerged in the shadow of the factories, the second part of Wang’s trilogy offers a multi-generational portrait of a community faced with the sudden terrible certainty of its own demise. As the factories close, the always unseen and off-camera forces of the state abruptly begin to tear down the homes, giving only perfunctory notice to their inhabitants. As a barometer of the unsettling changes, Wang chooses a group of restlessly drifting adolescents whose band is gradually diminished, one-by-one, often times without saying goodbye to their friends. As winter sets in and the dust of the demolished houses mixes with snow a small group of townsfolk bands together to try and resist the cold and the destruction of their homes.
Kim Novak and Jack Lemmon

Fengming: A Chinese Memoir (He Fengming)

Directed by Wang Bing.
China 2007, digital video, color, 186 min. Mandarin with English subtitles
While researching his planned narrative epic about the formative years of Maoist China, Wang encountered He Fengming, a former journalist who began to recount the gripping and almost unbelievably heartrending story of her troubled experiences as a once-ardent member of the socialist movement. Inspired by Fengming’s startling perspective on the dark turns taken by the Cultural Revolution, Wang fashioned an unusually intimate and revealing encounter with the elderly woman using by dramatically linking a series of extended single shots fixed upon Fengming seated within her modest home and speaking directly to the camera and viewer. As the night gradually falls Fengming’s words gather in force to reveal the power of oral history and the strength of this extraordinary woman, which is intensified further by Wang’s deliberate avoidance of stylistic embellishment.

West of the Tracks, Part III: Rails ( Tie Xi Qu)

Directed by Wang Bing.
China 2003, digital video, color, 132 min. Mandarin with English subtitles
The closing chapter of Wang’s ambitious trilogy is arguably its most poetic and emotionally powerful, a portrait of the last supply trains that continue to deliver ever dwindling quantities of raw stuff to the crumbling factories. Passing through the ruins of abandoned homes and foundries, the conductors reflect with stoic restraint upon the gradual erasure of the world around them. A father-son team of metal scavengers becomes a vivid yet ultimately bleak vision of fragile hope, their daily struggle revealing how very little of value can be extracted from the wasteland left in the name of progress.

Coal Money (Tong Dao)
Directed by Wang Bing.
China 2008, digital video, color, 53 min. Mandarin with English subtitles
Wang’s short documentary follows the trail of improvised commerce and hard cash described by a convoy of trucks carrying coal from the mines into the countryside. The hard, even bitter, bargaining and accusations of thievery that erupt at each juncture suggest the free market system to be based on an ever-sliding scale of distrust and insecurity.

Brutality Factory

Directed by Wang Bing.
With Xu Ning, Wu Gang, Wang Hongwei
Portugal 2007, digital video, color, 16 min.
Wang’s first narrative film reenacts one of the notorious “struggle sessions,” extended show trials to test the loyalty and patriotism of individual party members that were among the more disturbing practices during the early years of the Maoist regime. A segment from the omnibus film The State of the World, Wang’s short returns to the lost world of the factories seen in ruins in West of the Tracks while also channeling the story of a victim of socialist zealotry recounted in Fengming.

Crude Oil (Caiyou Riji)
Directed by Wang Bing.
China 2008, digital video, color, 840 min. Mandarin with English subtitles
Originally intended to be an ambitious seventy hours, Wang’s ultra-epic-length feature uses its fourteen hours to follow the long working day of crude oil extractors in China’s remote eastern Qinghai Province. Crude Oil realizes Cesare Zavattini’s often cited dream of an uncut, unvarnished film about a worker’s daily life, here expanded to include the larger team of laborers who toil and only briefly rest together as well as the haunting almost lunar landscape of the oil fields. In order to intensify the sounds, textures and experience of the oil workers, Wang chose not to subtitle the film’s minimal dialogue and conceived of Crude Oil more as an installation piece, to be shown in gallery or museum settings with the freedom to come and go as one chooses.

We are pleased to present Crude Oil in the CGIS center, together with the Fairbanks Center on October 18 from 9am to 7pm, October 19 from 9am to 5pm and October 20 from 9am to 4pm in the CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Room S030.

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