Cui Jian makes an appearance in a short film shown during JUE Film Day's panel discussion. Photo taken March 21, 2015. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com]
By William Wang
Travelers in China don't tend to hit the movie theaters, but last Saturday it was worth ducking into the Ullens Center of Contemporary Arts to dig into an exploration of music and culture. People gathered to witness Beijing's first experience of live western pop, to contemplate on how slippery a thing culture is, or to squirm through a reflection on music, drugs and desperation in Cold War Berlin.
It was the JUE festival's Film Day. JUE seeks to bring creative communities together create dialogue, and the three films screened at UCCA that day served their purpose. The films were selected by event host Liu Fei from the Popular Music Study Group, as well as a panel discussion including several music intellectuals.
Foreign Skies: Wham! In China follows 1980s pop duo Wham! through their pioneering government sanctioned trip through China, where they played to audiences in Beijing and Guangzhou. It was fascinating for Beijingers to see their city circa 1985, a landscape barely recognizable as the city that Beijing is today. Pop stars George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley visit the Great Wall and other sites, while constantly swarmed by a crew of photographers. They pose politely with kids, as curious onlookers watch with blank, confused stares. Then they play their victorious shows at the Beijing Workers' Gymnasium, and in Canton.
Next was The Stuart Hall Project, a documentary that follows the life and work of cultural theorist Stuart Hall. Hall's descriptions of his own youth are particularly interesting. He was a Jamaican raised within a certain cultural (and racist) ideology, who later moved to London to deal with the discrimination faced by many immigrants. His work is noted for underlining the need to view cultural studies through the lenses of culture and gender.
After these two movies, there was a panel discussion which offered analysis of the movies and links between them. Panel member Jeroen Groenewegen-Lau offered some explanation: ¡§In the first film you have a lot of the 'foreign gaze' on China, this idea that China is just opening up, it's quite backward, and Wham! is bringing a new kind of western culture that is more modern and more advanced, thereby helping China's culture to improve. So there's some of this cultural superiority like in the way the film looks at the faces of the people. And in the second film, that is clearly what Stuart Hall criticizes.¡¨
Discussions and audience questions explored issues around colonialism, how societies are or strive to become cosmopolitan, our biased perspectives, the politicization of pop music, and of course the father of Chinese rock, Cui Jian.
The day wrapped up with cult movie Christiane F. ¡V We Children from Bahnhof Zoo about an underage girl who got wrapped up in Berlin's heroin scene. The movie got a huge boost from David Bowie's support and the soundtrack he provided. The movie itself is a perfect example of music influencing life influencing art.
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