Thursday, 16 December 2010

[413] Revolutionary Film Criticism

A close friend of mine recently went on a tour around East Asia (with short stops in New York and Toronto, naturally). As he was updating us with his progress through Korea, China and Japan, I felt immensely jealous stuck here in anxiety-ridden London. But some of those negative feelings were alleviated when he handed me this.

Wowzer. Kim Jong Il's On The Art Of The Cinema! I'd read about Kim's film writing, and his general love of film, before. But none of that can prepare you for holding this weighty, pea-green tome in your hands.

I think I will be picking this apart for months to come, but a brief scan has already revealed its central conceit, which can be related as: basic film theory/practice + heavy ideological statement + insane contradictions + endless repetition. Buzzwords pop up: life, realism, truth, and other terms related to veracity, naturalism, and so on. All of these are warped through the lens of Juche. And at the heart of each statement is the doublethink that while seeking to socially condition the masses through propagandistic fantasy, you are still representing 'real life'.

For now, three quotes to illustrate this logical chaos at the book's core. The first is from his mini-treatise on Life and Literature, in the chapter 'LIFE IS STRUGGLE AND STRUGGLE IS LIFE':

'The intrinsic nature of art and literature requires that they should describe life fully and accurately. Only by presenting a true and full picture of life can art and literature give people a correct understanding of the law of historical progress and show them the way to a sincere life of work and struggle. And only by describing life accurately and from various angles, can art and literature solve important and urgent problems and express great ideas in a moving and artistic fashion (...) Our art and literature must create rich and detailed pictures of the fine life of our people who are battling heroically for socialism and communism.'

Second is from his section on directing, specifically the chapter 'IN CREATIVE WORK ONE MUST AIM HIGH' (each chapter starts with an aphoristic statement, laid out as a commandment, each section is graced by a suitably Biblical quotation from Kim Il Sung). It relates to the director's role in crafting an original film:

'A bold new creative idea can only come to fruition if it is based on real life. However talented a director may be, he cannot conceive a new and audacious cinematic work if he lacks a thorough knowledge of the Party's policies and a rich experience of life.'

And after a relatively wordy, simplified (and dare I say deeply ignorant) section on cinematography ('FILMING SHOULD BE REALISTIC'), which repeats the order that cameramen must be consistent, natural and 'concise' in their representation of life, the following conclusion hits with not an insignificant amount of discomfort:

'In depicting people and their lives the cameraman should be strong in his determination to safeguard the interests of the masses, from the ideological viewpoint of the working class. The cameraman who speaks for the ideas and feelings of the people should film with passion; when the hero is celebrating victory over the enemy in battle, the cameraman should share his elation, hugging his camera in his joy, and when the hero is struggling in a difficult situation, he should help him through his ordeal.'

Astonishing. For the time being, I can do little more than let the words speak for themselves - this strange conflicted style which preaches progress, originality, freedom and both emotional and historical truth, while never daring to hide the ideological impetus behind every thought process.

I'll report back with more findings, if I can stomach analysing it any further.

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