Daily Archives: December 11, 1987

The Last Emperor

Bernardo Bertolucci’s visually ravishing spectacle about the life of Pu Yi (1905-1967), the last Chinese emperor, is a genuine rarity: a blockbuster that manages to be historically instructive and intensely personal at the same time. Pu Yi (played by three children at ages 3, 8, and 15, and by John Lone as an adult) remained an outsider to contemporary Chinese history for most of his life, being confined to the Forbidden City for 12 years, seeking assistance from the Japanese after he was ousted in 1924, and winding up as the puppet ruler of the new state of Manchukuo in the early 30s; after Japan’s surrender in 1945, he spent five years in a Siberian prison camp and nine more as a political prisoner of the People’s Republic of China before he was released as an ordinary Chinese citizen in 1959, ending his days happily as a gardener and researcher. Interestingly, Bertolucci uses Pu Yi’s remoteness from China as an objective correlative of our own cultural distance as Westerners (virtually all of the dialogue is rendered in English), and, with scriptwriter Mark Peploe, brilliantly employs a dialectical flashback structure that shows Pu Yi’s life from the vantage point of his “reeducation” in the 50s. Read more

Here and Elsewhere

Jean-Luc Godard’s short feature about the PLO was initially shot with Jean-Pierre Gorin in the Middle East in 1970, but when he edited the footage with Anne-Marie Mieville several years later, many of the soldiers that had been filmed were dead. Reflecting on this fact, as well as on the problems of recording history and of making political statements on film, Godard and Mieville produced a thoughtful and provocative essay on the subject. Coming after the mainly and reaches of Godard’s “Dziga Vertov Group” period (roughly 1968-1973), when his efforts were largely directed toward severing his relation with commercial filmmaking and toward forging new ways to “make films politically,” this film assimilates many of the lessons he learned without the posturing and masochism that marred much of his earlier work. The results are a rare form of lucidity and purity. All proportions guarded, it is a little bit like hearing John Coltrane’s “Blues for Bessie” after the preceding explorations of “Crescent” and “Wise One” on his Crescent album. This film, which will be projected in a video copy, will be accompanied by a lecture by Dr. Julia Lesage. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Tuesday, December 15, 6:00, 443-3737) Read more