All the World’s a Stage: Pop Art as History in a Chinese Epic


One of the richest films of the past decade, Jia Zhangke’s epic Platform spans the 1980s, filtering the period through the mutation of the propaganda-performing Fenyang Peasant Culture Group into the equally cheesy All Star Rock and Breakdance Electronic Band. Jia has a strong visual style (based on long fixed-camera ensemble takes) and a powerful set of concerns (the spiritual confusion of contemporary China, caught between the outmoded materialism of the Maoist era and its market-driven successor). Elliptical yet concrete, Platform is a laconic tale of lackadaisical love and even more haphazard entertainment, as played out in a series of unheated factory halls and outdoor courtyards. The environment is at once prison-like and vast; with its objective viewpoint and lovingly bleak locations, Platform looks like a documentary, but it’s pop art as history. Perhaps influenced by Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Puppetmaster, Jia finds subtle ways to transform the world into a stage. The play of the proscenium against the filmmaker’s taste for unmediated reality is fascinating. The penultimate image, held long enough for the full weight of quotidian despair to infect the audience, epitomizes the odyssey from kindergarten collectivity to failed privatization.

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