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Operatic modes in Chinese cinema: forms and functions of the imagined civilization

Grant number: 15/20043-1
Support type:Regular Research Grants
Duration: February 01, 2016 - January 31, 2018
Field of knowledge:Linguistics, Literature and Arts - Arts - Cinema
Principal researcher:Cecilia Antakly de Mello
Grantee:Cecilia Antakly de Mello
Home Institution: Escola de Comunicações e Artes (ECA). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil


The proposed research aims to discuss the notions of alienation and spectatorial identification deriving from the operatic modes of the cinema of mainland China. From the first film shot in Beijing in 1905 to the work of China's most important contemporary film director, Jia Zhangke, Chinese cinema has shown a privileged affinity with Chinese opera, in its different manifestations. This research aims to analyse, from a historical, aesthetic and political point of view, ten examples of this interaction, from Chinese early cinema to film production in the 1930s and 1940s, through to the first 17 years of the PRC (1949-1965), the model-operas of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and finally the cinema of the Fifth and Sixth Generations, with a special emphasis on Farewell My Concubine (霸王别姬 Bawang Bie Ji, Chen Kaige, 1993) and A Touch of Sin (天注定 Tian Zhuding, Jia Zhangke, 2013). The first hypothesis suggests that the relationship between cinema and opera promotes, in lieu of an alienation effect, a heightened form of spectatorial identification, thus revoking the Brechtian proposition, in part inspired by the operatic performances of Mei Lanfang, that tends to equate the anti-naturalism of this form of art with reflexivity. The second hypothesis expands this reflection in order to suggest that operatic films, given their impure essence, function as allegories not of the nation as an "imagined community" but of an "imagined civilization". (AU)