In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_hercules

Hercules

Dwayne Johnson tries, but he’s surrounded by poor CGI and a terrible adaptation of yet another comic book. Ian McShane steals what little movie there…

Thumb_f8f20egntzlhnjjletts89sx5lt

Magic in the Moonlight

While Allen’s new picture, "Magic In The Moonlight," isn’t even close to being a disaster (for that, see, well, "Scoop"), I don’t think it’s unreasonable…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Life Itself Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Opening Shots: 'Flowers of Shanghai'

shanghai.jpg

From Girish Shambu, Buffalo, NY:

"Flowers of Shanghai" (1998), by Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien, has an opening shot that lasts — I kid you not — eight minutes! Jazz bassist Marcus Miller once said about James Brown’s music that no matter how small a piece of it you took, like DNA, it had the “funk in it." That’s how I feel about this shot: it contains, in its eight minutes, the entire film.

The camera is an observer at a table in a 19th century Shanghai brothel or “flower house," where several clients are playing a drinking game. Most of them are young, dressed in dark and gleaming silk robes. The only light in the shot is provided by a couple of curved lamps. (In fact, we will discover that the film will never venture outdoors.) Next to the patrons, standing, are their “flower girls." Every now and then, promptly but gracefully, they light opium pipes or pour wine for their clients. Like a plaintive sigh, a melancholic melody-drone accompanies the shot.

The players interrupt the game to tell stories and jokes; their courtesans discreetly add details that contradict or modify the stories. Though the women respectfully hover in the background, immaculately dressed and elegantly comported, they are not wallflowers. Their polite retorts and whisperings, and their bemused but respectful give-and-take with their patrons, hint at the play of power relations that will constitute the story. One man — Tony Leung, the protagonist — sits silently and expressionlessly, observing this slice of dinner-table theater.

The camera is not stationary but moves almost imperceptibly, swiveling from side to side, organically and not schematically, the better to catch this nuance of conversation or that movement of figure. Finally, the shot fades slowly to black in mid-action, as if to say “the flux of life will continue here, but let's leave now and return another day just like this one." Fade-in: the film’s title.

JE: Wow, Girish -- beautifully written. I can't wait to catch up with this one!

Popular Blog Posts

Exploring Israel-Palestine through Movies: Part 1

The first part in a four-part series on what film can teach us about the relationship between Israel and Palestine.

Able-Bodied Actors and Disability Drag: Why Disabled Roles are Only for Disabled Performers

Scott Jordan Harris argues that disabled characters should not be played by able-bodied actors.

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Simply Do it: Talking with Woody Allen About Directorial Style

An interview with Woody Allen about his new film, "Magic in the Moonlight."

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus