Ying Ji – Prisoner of Childhood (2013)
Clichés are such because they manage to articulate the sense of an otherwise difficult concept with simplicity.
It’s become a cliche to explain cinema in terms of dreams. It is absolutely true that cinema leans heavily upon the grammar of dreaming: locations shift in the blink of an eye, time passes seemingly unmarked–you can even have dreams with in dreams (dream sequences).
In fact, I remember reading an essay as an undergrad which repeatedly referred to the fact that the screen in a cinema sweats. In that same essay, the writer commented on how it was either Godard or Dalí, who noted that the audience even approaches cinema in much the same was as they approach dreams: by descending into the darkened theater and staring upward at the flickering images.
If they are so effective at communicating a complicated idea in a simple fashion, why then are writers so aggressively admonished against their use? Well, to employ a ready cliché: there’s more than one way to skin a cat. In other words, only looking at a complex notion from one angle predisposes the interrogator to seeing said complex notion in only one way.
That’s where I think understanding cinema as founded open a language that closely parallels dreams serves, but at a cost.
The question that best illustrates the problem is: who is dreaming? One character, each and every characters, the audience, all of the above? However, we frequently see the dreamer in the dream and when was the last time you saw yourself in a dream. (And in dreams mirrors do not function normally.)
We term dreamlike elements in cinema oneiric. However, that ignores the previous question and reduces the surreal or fantastic to subconscious phantasm.
I don’t have an answer to the questions I’ve raised. I just know that with forms like establishing shot, shot reverse shot… we’ve slowly moved away from an unconscious awareness of a single, discrete perspective monitoring the action to this sort of quantum deity that is capable of being everywhere all at once. This is decidedly not how dreams function–even when you die and manage to stay in your dream, your perspective remains constant until you inhabit another body.
This is one of the reasons I am so totally enamored with Tarkovsky. His perspective is infallibly consistent–with the exception of Ivan’s Childhood and that ever so-slight frame rate ramp in Mirror.
There’s also Parajanov. Whose Color of Pomegranates is beyond dispute as one of the all-time greatest masterpieces of the cinema. It’s not just that I suspect that the objects by the woman’s feet are pomegranates, Ji’s work is certainly less compositionally formal but there is absolutely an overlap in the use of symbolism, as well as the carefully crafted perspective.
Also, although I haven’t studied Parajanov as extensively as other filmmakers–honestly, I find his pastoral musicals unwatchable–I somehow feel that Ji’s clumsily earnest but surprisingly unselfconscious and thoughtful artist’s statement would’ve appealed to him.
If nothing else, her ability to talk about what she is doing with her work and what her work actually represents show a great deal more alignment than most artist’s her age.