China as documentary: Some basic questions (inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni and Jia Zhangke)
Juxtaposing Antonioni's Chung Kuo/Cina with discussions on photographic realism by Sontag, Bourdieu and Barthes, this article delineates the aesthetic, epistemic and cross-cultural problems that emerge when China is captured and viewed in the documentary mode. If the most acute of such problems is the gap between 'foreign observer' and 'native informant', whose claims to the reality in question tend to be incommensurable, would things be different if and when the filmmaker is Chinese? The work of Jia Zhangke offers an interesting provocation: as well as subjectivity and time, he makes mediality part of a consciously stylised gesture of documentary-making, turning the notion of 'China as documentary' into a new kind of conceptual project. © The Author(s) 2013.
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