Hou Hsiao-hsien 7: A Time To Live and a Time to Die

 

We continue our discussion of the work of Hou Hsiao-hsien, this time with a focus on The Time to Live and The Time to Die, the second in his cycle of autobiographical films after The Boys from Fenkuei. We discuss what is depth in this film and talk about Hou’s consideration of ‘traces ‘in the surfaces of his films, how the depth is often in the surfaces. We note the structuring of this film, a bildungsroman, around a series of deaths. We talk of how often the key narrative points are obscured, and make sense only in the connections the viewers can make; how Hou often films in fixed positions, so we return to the same scene but across time, and we think about how this might affect all those spaces without faces, the anticipatory space, and the remains after characters have left the scene. We also explore the dual perspective in the film, the filmmaker’s and the protagonist’s, often intersecting, rarely interchangeable. We mention how Hou narrates the beginning of the film and how the drama is filmed in the real places and spaces he grew up in, and the effect of dramatising fictionally, on our speculation of the effects of spaces across time in this narrative….and much more. The podcast can be listened to below:

José did a supercut of places without faces in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s ‘A Time to Live and a Time to Die’ (with added atmosphere by Duke Ellington) that is referred to in the podcast and can be seen below:

 

The clip of the conversation between mother and daughter referred to in the podcast can be seen here:

 

José also did a trailer for the film, which may be found here:

 

Richard has provided the following links:

A fascinating review raising many of the same points we do, and many others:

The source of the “17 fixed camera positions” quote – http://thecinemaarchives.com/2019/07/31/a-time-to-live-and-a-time-to-die-1985-hsiao-hsien-hou/

and he adds an extended interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien and Chu T’ien-wen. Time to Live is not mentioned but they talk about how he became a filmmaker and also the birth of the New Taiwanese Cinema:

-Another interesting article, with a focus on the shooting style http://www.reverseshot.org/symposiums/entry/601/time_live_and_time_die

a good overview of the autobiographical and historical context https://seattlescreenscene.com/2015/03/21/the-time-to-live-the-time-to-die-hou-hsiao-hsien-1985/

A PDF of the Hou Interview:

houHsiao-hsin_zhuTianwen_interview

More Reviews (from Wiki):

  1.  “Review: ‘Tongnian WangshiVariety. December 31, 1984. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  2. ^ Malcolm, Derek. “Hou Hsiao-hsien: The Time to Live and the Time to Die”The Guardian. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  3. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (2013). “A Time to Live and a Time to Die”Chicago Reader. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  4. ^ Andrew, Geoff. “The Time to Live and the Time to Die”Time Out London. Retrieved February 23, 2015.

Josés Scholarly Bibliography on Hou:

 

Andres, Nigel, ‘A Camera Trained on Eternal Truths, Financial Times,  London: 07 June 2005: 13.

Assayas, Olivier, Modern Time, Film Comment; Jan/Feb 2008; 44, p. 48

David Scott Diffrient’s, ‘The Sandwich Man: History, episodicity and serial conditioning in a Taiwanese omnibus film’, Asian Cinema, vol 25, no., pp. 71-92,

Cheshire, Godgrey, ‘Time span: The cinema of Hou Hsio-hsien’, Film Comment; Nov 1993;29, 6, pg. 56.

Ellickson , Lee and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Preparing to Live in the Present; An interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien, Cineaste, Fall 2002, vol 27, no. 4 (Fall 2002), pp. 13-19

 

Hastie, Amelie, ‘Watching Carefully: Hou Hsiao-Hsien and His Audience’, Film Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 3 (Spring 2016), pp. 72-78

Kenigsberg, Ben . ‘Looking for an Introduction to Taiwan’s Greatest Filmmaker? Start Here’. New York Times (Online) , New York: New York Times Company. May 28, 2020.

Lupke, Christopher (The Sinophone Cinea of Hou Shiao-hsien: Culture, Stuyle, Voice and Motion, amherst: Cambria Press.

Rayns, Tony, Esprit de corp, Film Comment; Nov. Dec. 2007, 43, 6, p. 14

Rayns, Tony, ‘Tongnian Wangshi (The Time To Live and The Tine to Die), Monthly Film Bulletin; Jun 1, 1988; 55, 653

Stanbrook, Alan, The Worlds of Hou Hsiao-hsien’, Sight and Sound, Spring 1990; 59, 2, Rayns, Tony, ‘Auteur in the Making’, Sight and Sound; July 2016;26, 9; p. 98

Sklar, Robert, ‘Hidden History, Modern Hedeonism; The films of Hou Hsia-hsien’,  Cineaste, Fall 2002; 27, 4, pg. 11.

Udden, James, ‘Taiwanese Popular Cinema and the Strage Apprenticeship of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Spring, 2003, vol. 15, no. Special Issue on Taiwan Film Spring, 2003), pp. 120-145.

Xia Cai, Chapter 1: Hou Hisao-Hsien Films and Readings, The Ethics of Witness: Dailiness and History in Hou Hsia-hsien’s Films, Springer: Singapore, 2019, pp. 1-3

Yueh-yu, Yeh. Post Script – Essays in Film and the Humanities; Commerce, Tex, Vol 20, Iss 2-3 (Winter 2000) 61-76.

Yip, June, \the Oxford History of World Cinema, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith ed. New York, United States, Oxford University Press, 1996)

 

Wen, Tien-Hsiang (trans by GAN Sheuo Hui), ‘Hou Hsiao-Hsien: a standard for evaluating Taiwan’s cinema), Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol 9, number 2, 2008.

 

Trailer for podcast on Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Time to Live and The Time to Die (1985)

Our next podcast will be on THE TIME TO LIVE AND THE TIME TO DIE. The trailer below will hopefully give a taster of the film for those who might not yet have seen it:
<iframe src=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/549874059&#8243; width=”640″ height=”346″ frameborder=”0″ allow=”autoplay; fullscreen; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen></iframe>

There’s Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk, 1955)

I re-watched There’s Always Tomorrow again last night and was left with a renewed appreciation:

The mise-en-scene is as expressive as you’d expect, the themes an inverse of the typical representation of the family in films of the time. Here family life is lit as a noir, with all the trauma, blockages, frustrated desires evoked by the lighting (the cinematography is by the great Russell Metty)>

The house is a prison

Screens, mesh, darkness, depth. Longing in the depths, out of reach, but framed for us.

Family gets in the way:

Children are frightful:

..and there are so many barriers to the fulfilment of one’s hopes even the light cries:

William Reynolds basically plays the same role he will do later in All That Heaven Allows: the stuffy, priggish, selfish, son who can’t conceive of a parent having an interest other than their children and makes sure to block it.

It was wonderful.

José Arroyo

Hou Hsiao-hsien 6: A Summer at Grandpa’s (1983)

 

 

We delve further into the cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien. We discuss the narrative structure, how various plots unfold and deepen what seems initially a light story where not much seems to happen. We discuss the continuing interest in differences between the country and the city, the use of trains, how the kids develop an understanding of the adult world by what happens on the margins of the story, and how the story itself is told in long takes, in the middle plane of the frame, with elegant compositions that reframe our view through character placement and movement. We discuss the context of production, the connection with Hong Kong, the limitations of government policy, how little film filmmakers were allowed to use, and how this affected the films’ aesthetic. We also discuss the improvisational style of acting and the performances Hou manages to extract from the children, who are wonderful. We talk of how he uses corridors and stairs to create depth, how light and oblique angles create the feeling of a child hearing things they might not be understanding. We also discuss Hou’s use of empty space (which is what most likely lead to comparisons with Ozu). We end with a discussion of the music, very different this time, and composed by Edward Yang, who also plays the father in the film, appearing briefly at the beginning and the end….oh and the continuing use of toilet gags.

The podcast can be listened to here;

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

 

Richard Layne found the following links which you might find useful:

 

  • An interview with Hou where he discusses plot

The scenes without humans video Richard mentions in the podcast:

A good review (and another source for the story about improvisation starting with Green Green Grass) http://www.reverseshot.org/archive/entry/450/summer_grandpas

Article on the early films and this trilogy, source for my comment on this being based on the writer’s childhood https://cine-scope.com/2018/02/19/masters-of-modern-world-cinema-hou-hsiao-hsien-part-1/

On sound recording …. “A City of Sadness was the first feature-length movie made in Taiwan to use sound recorded throughout filming instead of relying on the dubbing of actors’ voices and the addition of sound effects in postproduction. ” https://taiwantoday.tw/news.php?unit=20,29,35,45&post=25014

This is probably more for the Boys from Fengkuei blog – an interesting article on the early films that were on Mubi. http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2016/06/06/hou-hsiao-hsien-film-culture-finally-comes-through/

 

Jose’s Bibliography on Hou:

Andres, Nigel, ‘A Camera Trained on Eternal Truths, Financial Times,  London: 07 June 2005: 13.

Assayas, Olivier, Modern Time, Film Comment; Jan/Feb 2008; 44, p. 48

David Scott Diffrient’s, ‘The Sandwich Man: History, episodicity and serial conditioning in a Taiwanese omnibus film’, Asian Cinema, vol 25, no., pp. 71-92,

Cheshire, Godgrey, ‘Time span: The cinema of Hou Hsio-hsien’, Film Comment; Nov 1993;29, 6, pg. 56.

Ellickson , Lee and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Preparing to Live in the Present; An interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien, Cineaste, Fall 2002, vol 27, no. 4 (Fall 2002), pp. 13-19

 

Hastie, Amelie, ‘Watching Carefully: Hou Hsiao-Hsien and His Audience’, Film Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 3 (Spring 2016), pp. 72-78

Kenigsberg, Ben . ‘Looking for an Introduction to Taiwan’s Greatest Filmmaker? Start Here’. New York Times (Online) , New York: New York Times Company. May 28, 2020.

Lupke, Christopher (The Sinophone Cinea of Hou Shiao-hsien: Culture, Stuyle, Voice and Motion, amherst: Cambria Press.

Rayns, Tony, Esprit de corp, Film Comment; Nov. Dec. 2007, 43, 6, p. 14

 

Stanbrook, Alan, The Worlds of Hou Hsiao-hsien’, Sight and Sound, Spring 1990; 59, 2, Rayns, Tony, ‘Auteur in the Making’, Sight and Sound; July 2016;26, 9; p. 98

Sklar, Robert, ‘Hidden History, Modern Hedeonism; The films of Hou Hsia-hsien’,  Cineaste, Fall 2002; 27, 4, pg. 11.

Udden, James, ‘Taiwanese Popular Cinema and the Strage Apprenticeship of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Spring, 2003, vol. 15, no. Special Issue on Taiwan Film Spring, 2003), pp. 120-145.

Xia Cai, Chapter 1: Hou Hisao-Hsien Films and Readings, The Ethics of Witness: Dailiness and History in Hou Hsia-hsien’s Films, Springer: Singapore, 2019, pp. 1-3

Yueh-yu, Yeh. Post Script – Essays in Film and the Humanities; Commerce, Tex, Vol 20, Iss 2-3 (Winter 2000) 61-76.

Yip, June, \the Oxford History of World Cinema, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith ed. New York, United States, Oxford University Press, 1996)

 

Wen, Tien-Hsiang (trans by GAN Sheuo Hui), ‘Hou Hsiao-Hsien: a standard for evaluating Taiwan’s cinema), Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol 9, number 2, 2008.

The trailer José made for the podcast may be seen here:

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 295 – Suspiria (1977) and Suspiria (2018)

We explore Dario Argento’s Suspiria, his 1977 horror classic, and its loose remake by Luca Guadagnino, from 2018. We’ve never seen either, although Argento’s film casts a long shadow – those who’ve seen it never forget it, and it’s easy to see why. Its visual design is bold, imaginative and beautiful, the images it creates extraordinary, its violence heightened and wild. José loves it, literally wowed by it, captivated by its cinematic flair and interesting casting. But, Mike argues, it’s a film that offers nothing beyond the aesthetic, uninterested in its own characters or story, which leaves him cold.

Our responses to Guadagnino’s remake are reversed entirely. For Mike, it’s superior: ambitious, keen to mine the threadbare original for thematic depth, and laudably attempting to weave together generational guilt, dance, institutional corruption and women’s bodies into a complex tapestry, although one which requires too much audience participation to complete. José thinks he’s giving a pretentious work of ego far too much credit, is turned off by the dance scenes, annoyed at the lack of connection he finds between its wider themes and central coven, angered by its grey, wintry colour palette and dry cinematography… in fact, he’s angered by all of it! Now he knows how his friends felt as he valiantly tried to argue them into appreciating Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, which he loved, but which many of them greeted with similar hostility.

The original a cult classic, its remake a very different take on the core premise – both are worth watching. But if our responses are anything to go by, your mileage may vary considerably.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Fredric March whips some Christians

C.B. De Mille sure knew how to make everything exciting. The Christians in the area sequence at the end of The Sign of the Cross is extraordinarily fetishistic and exciting. This is Fredric March’s introduction in the film, abridged and in gif form:

Camping it Up as Nero: Charles Laughton in The Sign of the Cross (De Mille, 19320

As you can see  below from the dark muscleman by his side and the peeling of he flower petals, Nero is coded as homosexual in De Mille’s Sign of the Cross.  Charles Laughton gives an extraordinary performance which is at once restrained AND floridly camp. Out of relative stillness blooms just the right ‘too-much’ gesture and then it settles as if in a photograph. It’s quite extraordinary to see.

Some more frame enlargements below:

José Arroyo

Thinking Aloud About Film: Hou Hsiao-hsieng 5 – The Boys From Fengkuei aka All The Youthful Days (1983)

Hou has described this as the favourite amongst his films. Richard and José discuss why this might be so: the compositions; the long takes that allow for action vertically, horizontally, and on different planes of the image. The juxtaposition between the rowdy teenage delinquency we see with the classical musical. The easy ellipsis into memory. The evident influence of Italian neo-realism, particularly Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers, which is explicitly referenced and Fellini’s I Vitelloni, which has a similar set-up. We discuss the falling into place of a particular style that would come to be associated with the director and why we think the film ends up being so beautiful and moving.

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

I’ve enclosed seven clips which I hope illustrate his style. The camera placed inside to allow for framings within framings, to bring the outside in, the lingering between foreground and background.

 

The scene where they go see a porno and end up watching Rocco and His Brothers:

The incredible composition of this long take  that begins with the camera backtracking, then panning on the man and the boy, then following them u,. The action takes place mid-frame, the fight goes off space only to return. Hou is not afraid to let the frame wait as policemen go in one direction, motorists on the other, and the gang of boys runs towards the camera. It’s brilliant. And typical of this film.

The iconic scene with the boys teasing the girl, the beginning full frame, the re-framing from the inside, the young girl’s acid commentary on it, and then the elegiac long-shot that follows.

The beautiful shot of the first visit to the house, notice the action, the re-framings through windows and corridors. The way it rhymes with all of the scenes in the house.

Note again, the reframing through balconies and windows, the use of corridors, the way these techniques rhyme and when.

Verité CinemaScope below:

José made a trailer for the podcast:

 

…and Richard has provided the following links:

this is the interview where Hou talks about the use of “Rocco and his Brothers” https://lwlies.com/interviews/hou-hsiao-hsien-the-assassin/

A good article which puts it in the context of the first three films – https://seattlescreenscene.com/2015/03/20/the-boys-from-fengkuei-hou-hsiao-hsien-1983/

and another good review: https://www.sensesofcinema.com/2003/cteq/boys_from_fengkuei/

Transcript of the BFI interview with Tony Rayns, he talks about the genesis of the film https://www.thelondontree.com/interviews/hou-hsiao-hsien-a-rare-conversation-at-the-bfi-london/

An interesting article on the early films that were on Mubi. http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2016/06/06/hou-hsiao-hsien-film-culture-finally-comes-through/

Jose’s suggestions for further reading:

David Scott Diffrient’s, ‘The Sandwich Man: History, episodicity and serial conditioning in a Taiwanese omnibus film’, Asian Cinema, vol 25, no., pp. 71-92,

Cheshire, Godgrey, ‘Time span: The cinema of Hou Hsio-hsien’, Film Comment; Nov 1993;29, 6, pg. 56.

Stanbrook, Alan, The Worlds of Hou Hsiao-hsien’, Sight and Sound, Spring 1990; 59, 2, Rayns, Tony, ‘Auteur in the Making’, Sight and Sound; July 2016;26, 9; p. 98

Sklar, Robert, ‘Hidden History, Modern Hedeonism; The films of Hou Hsia-hsien’,  Cineaste, Fall 2002; 27, 4, pg. 11.

Wen, Tien-Hsiang (trans by GAN Sheuo Hui), ‘Hou Hsiao-Hsien: a standard for evaluating Taiwan’s cinema), Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol 9, number 2, 2008.

 

Also the original Variety review may be found here: review

 

José Arroyo

 

Thinking Aloud About Film: Hou Hsiao-hsien 4 – The Sandwich Man (1983)

A discussion of The Sandwich Man, an omnibus film based on the short stories of Hwang Chun-ming, with episodes from Hou Hsiao-hsien (His Son’s Big Doll aka The Sandwich Man), Tseng Shuan-hsiang (Hsiao-ch’i’s Hat/Vick’s Hat) and Wan Jen (The Taste of Apples), that is said to have helped launch New Taiwanese Cinema. We talk about the three different episodes, how so many New Waves incorporated omnibus or portmanteau films as a form of self advertisement, the relationship to The Bicycle Thief, the way it allegorises and comments on conflicts and changes in Taiwanese cinema and society….and much more. It can be listened to below:

 

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

 

Jose’s part of the discussion drew on:

David Scott Diffrient’s, ‘The Sandwich Man: History, episodicity and serial conditioning in a Taiwanese omnibus film’, Asian Cinema, vol 25, no., pp. 71-92,

and:  Wen Tien-Hsiang (Trans .by Gan Sheuo Hui), ‘Hou Hsiao-Hsien: a standard for evaluating Taiwan’s cinema’, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol.9, No. 2, 2008, pp. 211-238.

Readers might also be interested in hearing the programmer of the Venice Film Festival talk about his discovery of this cinema, an excerpt from Chinlin Hsieh’s Flowers of Taipei: Taiwanese New Wave Cinema, 2014.

According to Diffrient, these films were ‘Made for a ‘younger, more educated audience’ than their predecessors of the previous decades, and foregrounding aspects of ‘indigenous Taiwanese life’ that were becoming increasingly visible in ‘language, literature, and rural subjects’, these films are touchstones in contemporary Taiwanese cinema, together representing ‘major changes in style, theme, and audience’ that reflected larger social and political transformations at the time of their release (Yeh and Davis 2005: 56).

The Sandwich Man is a foundational text in the history of New Taiwanese Cinema, which launched in 1982, and which ended four years later with the 1986 signing of the Taiwan Cinema Manifesto.

Diffrient argues that Hou’s cinema, shares with the mainland’s Fifth Generation, ‘

‘a penchant for long takes, long shots, composition-in-depth, self-reflexivity, sparse dialogue, subtle gestures, and a suppression of the shot- reverse-shot, utilizes a quasi-episodic, elliptical editing style that recalls Frantz Fanon’s emphasis on mobilizing the discontinuous, fragmentary and image-based history of the colonized to enunciate a postcolonial imaginary’.

Richard adds:

Note, we should clarify that there’s some confusion regarding the names on the titles. The ones given on screen were Hou Hsiao-hsien – “His Son’s Big Doll” (some sources refer to this story as “The Sandwich Man”), Tseng Shuan-hsiang – “Vick’s Hat” (I can see references to “Hsiao-ch’i’s Hat” in a couple of articles and also “Xiao qi’s Hat” and “Vicki’s Hat” – perhaps Vicki is an anglicisation of Xiao qi).  I suspect some of this comes from the English translation of the book. To add to the confusion the book of short stories is called “The Taste of Apples” and in that one the story is called “Xiaoqi’s Cap”

We will continue these discussions in further episodes.

The book is available in English from Columbia University Press

a couple of reviews Richard enjoyed from a screening at the UK Taiwan Film Festival online last year
All these reviews call the first segment “The Sandwich Man” so Richard  wonders if that is how it is named on screen in current English sub-titiled prints.
José did a trailer for the podcast which can be seen below:

We will continue to add links as we find them.

José Arroyo

Saboteur (Alfred Hitchcock, 1942) and Foul Play (Colin Higgins, 1978): A Connection

Watching Saboteur, I also observed that the whole concept of the scene at Radio City Music Hall is pretty much lifted whole-hog but played more for laughs in Foul Play. I’ve put the scenes one after the other here, for those who might be interested:

 

 

Two quick observations on Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942)

Two observations on Hitchcock’s Saboteur: it seems a main root of much 80s Action/Spectacle cinema: stereotypical characters in one high concept set-piece after another, the main purpose of each to convey humour, suspense, excitement and/or surprise. One is left without much at the end but has had great fun getting there. I loved the theatricality of the opening doors at the factory, like a curtain at the start of a play. My other observation is that Robert Cummings’ eyelashes are filmed so as to rival Tyrone Power’s.

Thinking Aloud About Film: Hou Hsiao-hsien 3 – The Green, Green Grass of Home (1982)

 

In this podcast, Richard and I discuss how much we both like this film, an early one of Hou’s that we argue continues to be largely dismissed in accounts of his work. Here we admire what we see as his growth as a filmmaker: the increasing use of expressive long-takes, the filming from the inside of trains, the imaginative compositions, the handling of many people in the frame whilst still keeping dramatic focus, the deft control over various narrative threads. We notice that this is the third time in three fllms that we get scatalogical jokes but how now they’re not used as superficial toppers but instead evoke character and feeling as well as laughs. There are songs and there is romance but we discuss how there is also much more than that: a highly skilled and enjoyable work. The podcast can be listened to below:

 

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

Some of the shots or filmic practices we detected in the film are illustrated below:

THE IMAGINATIVE AND EXPRESSIVE FRAMINGS AND COMPOSITIONS:

Interesting, never quite head-on and always at a slight angle:

The centering of the children in their environment:

The elegant use of foregrounds in relation to backgrounds, carefully framed so as to enable us to see

A still from the magnificent shot where the child starts at the top of the stair on the bottom right of the frame, he disappears from view…and then rejoins the rest of the schoolchildren on the bottom left of the frame.

THE HANDLING OF CONSIDERABLE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WITHIN THE FRAME:

…always attentive to the relationship between foreground and background but also elegantly visualised such as below;

in this riverside frolic all of the protagonists, each with their own particular problem is on view, as is their relationship to each other:

note again the relationship between foreground and background here: the children are bearing witness:

note here he door ajar on the left hand of the frame, brining the outside in (as well as the reverse)

The poetic letter to mom:

Kaosiung Station is appearing in many of his films, the destination point to the city from the country:

the emphasis on the green and the rural:

 

and lastly, the brilliant last shots:

The following quotes, cited in the podcast, are from:

Xia Cai, Chapter 1: Hou Hisao-Hsien Films and Readings, The Ethics of Witness: Dailiness and History in Hou Hsia-hsien’s Films, Springer: Singapore, 2019, pp. 1-3

“Hou Hsiao-Hsien was born in Mei County, Guangdong province (China) in 1947.He and his family fled the Chinese Civil War to Taiwan in the following year. Houis a waishengren and his family is Hakka, the peripatetic Chinese minority whowere often persecuted by the Han majority in Taiwan before 1895. Hou, whose father died when he was young, grew up in southern Taiwan where, without a father,he wandered outside more than was the norm for children of the time. These self-guided wanderings, at a young age, brought him into contact with many of the realities of everyday life, especially the underground gangs, which proved to be definitive influences on his films.

In 1973, Hou started as a continuity person, but soon became an assistant director, and finally a screenwriter, first writing three works with his closest associate during the 1970s, the director Lai Cheng-ying. In Taiwan, directors rarely did the actual directing; it was the assistant directors who actually faced the day-to-day problems on the set, and they were in charge of keeping film stock use to a bare minimum. Hou is listed as the assistant director for at least 11 films in the 1970s, and that experience drove home for him the limitations of current filmmaking practices. All of these limiting practices – functional editing, functional lighting, compositional gimmicks, minimal shooting ratios, start and stop performance and so on – Hou would one day reject, arguing that these stifled creativity and the freedom of art, although for years

Hou would bear some responsibility for perpetuating these practices (it was his
livelihood after all). Yet as strange as it may seem, his experience with these practices would have a profound and lasting impact on him even after he would no longer rely on them in his work. He would learn many things from this largely negative experience, but two invaluable lessons stand out: the importance of lighting and the importance of performance, two areas today that form the cornerstones of his own aesthetic (see Udden 45).

1983 was a turning point for Hou, when The Boys from Fengkuei (1983) (also known as All the Youthful Days) won the “Best Film Award” in the Festival of the Three Continents. This is Hou’s beginning in the making of new films, as he said – after The Boys from Fengkuei, “I re-think film and consider it is another language” (8). Since then, he abandoned the pattern of early commercial films, and began a kind of move which was personally-oriented, using the narrative of daily life as the main language for his work. Hou’s process of new cinema can be divided into two stages occurring before and after “A City of Sadness” (1989). There are five films before 1989 – The Boys rom Fengkuei (1983), A Summer at Grandpa’s (1984), A Time to Live, A Time to Die (1985), Dust in the Wind (1986) and Daughter of the Nile (1987) While thestories are different, they have an internal consistency all about the growing experiences and memories of youth, as well as the collision between rural and urban life”.

 

The trailer for the podcast should evoke the flavour of the film:

Richard has provided links you might also find interesting and useful:

trailer for a Taiwanese TV showing of the film:

Full version of the Coca Cola song:

José Arroyo in Conversation with…. Ehsan Khoshbakht on Filmfarsi (2019)

One of the great surprises and pleasures of the Wales One World Film Festival was the opportunity to see Filmfarsi, a great documentary film on the significance of popular Iranian cinema from 1953-1979. Richard Layne and I were so fascinated by the film that we podcast on it . The viewing also encouraged us to see and podcast on other Iranian films in the festival, which, it turned out, were programmed by Ehsan Khoshbakht , the director of Filmfarsi. We managed to see Downpour (Bahram Beyzaie, Iran, 1979) and The Deer/ Gavaznha (Masoud Kimiai, 1974). These films were related to but significantly different from the more art-house Iranian cinema we had experienced before in places like Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato, e.g. Abbas Kiarostami’s First Case, Second Case/ Ghazieh Shekle Aval Shekle Dovom (1979) and Mohammed Rezia Asiani’s Chess of the Wind/ Shatranj-e-Baad (1976).

Aram Reza and Beik Imanverdi

 

This all resulted in many interesting conversations and led me to seek out Ehsan Khoshbakht, the director of Filmfarsi, to find out more about the film and the cinema that is its subject. We discuss the  process that led to the film; the Iranian film industry in this period, the extent to which it is transnational, co-productions, the importance of film festivals such as the Moscow Film Festival to Iranian Cinema; the relationship of Filmfarsi  to the Iranian New Wave; the melodramatic mode of much of this cinema that crosses across various genres (crime films, musicals, domestic melodrama); we discuss how much of this cinema was lost in the aftermath of the revolution and why this was so. We also discuss  the process of recovering the films, which are collectively also a history of Iran and Iranian people in this period. The podcast can be listened to below:

 

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

The Cinema had its own star system:

Nasser Malek-Motii + Fardin + Behrouz Voussoughi

 

Behrooz Voussoughi & Googoosh

 

that crossed over into other areas of popular culture:

Googoosh was also a pop music superstar

had its own magazines and cinematic cultures:

 

 

Fardin and Pouri Banai in a scene from Hell + Me (on the cover of Film & Art magazine)

…was often highly sexualised in ways that would not be acceptable post-Revoultion:

Aram Reza and Beik Imanverdi

..usually urban:

Dancer of the City (d: Shapour Gharib, 1970)

 

José Arroyo

Thinking Aloud About Film: Hou Hsiao-hsien 2 – Cheerful Wind (aka) Play While You Play

Thinking Aloud About Film continues it’s exploration of the cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien with a discussion of Cheerful Wind aka Play While you Play, a charming musical romantic comedy, an exploration of filmmaking itself, and a re-teeming of the cast that made the previous Cute Girl such a success.

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

I made a trailer for the podcast which showcases a funny if crude opening scene and begins to demonstrate how self-reflexive the film is about cinema:

 

In the podcast we also refer to the following, which will give you a visual idea of what we’re talking about

Blind Man With Camera
What’s with the hand holding
Grey mountains

 

Artistry of shots

We have an extended discussion of Kenny Bee’s camping:

Kenny camps it up

 

Kenny speed-walks:

José Arroyo