TO TASTE BOTH SWEET AND DRY
The following was written in an e-mail to Christopher about movies I watched this weekend, and since I liked what I had to say but am too lazy to retype it, I will just cut-and-paste (with a few minor tweakage):
I rounded out the marathon weekend viewing with The World of Suzie Wong, a kind of perplexing love story with William Holden as a man pursuing art in Hong Kong who falls in love with a Chinese bar girl. There are things that our modern eyes react to with a knee-jerk "this is so racist," yet at the same time, it is also fairly progressive for 1960, with Holden fighting people's racism and coming to love Suzie and care for her. I nosed around online, and all I could really find were the thematic arguments about the white-knight nature of the story and the broken English of Suzie and her friends (all of which I get). But nothing to actually say the material was historically inaccurate. Like, would uneducated prostitutes speak perfect English? Is the life shown accurate, if maybe a limited view? Or even an acknowledgement that, for the time, the smart way to go to get a white audience interested was to have a major white actor like Holden be the doorway in. The most I see is that it does get credit for being a trailblazer for having an Asian American actress share the lead billing, but then it usually gets blamed that Hollywood followed that success with imitations that relegated Asian women to exoticized, sexualized roles. Not that it's a great movie by any means, more of a curiosity, but it seems that there is a more rounded approach to looking at these things in context. The director, Robert Quine, even shot the film on location in Hong Kong, so clearly there was at least an attempt to capture life (the scenery is amazing). And for that reason alone, I'd like to know if any of the film is reliable.
In some ways, my next choice, I Am Cuba, fits right in with Suzie Wong in that it is once again an outsider looking in, though this time just the filmmaker, Mikhail Kalatozov, who inserts himself into Cuban life. It was certainly heavy-handed agitprop, but the gold standard for how such a thing could be done. It could get criticized for its black-and-white portraits of the downtrodden and the oppressors (though, frankly, the white capitalist invaders get off easy), and Castro is romanticized, but the film is so lyrical and poetic, they hardly seem worthy complaints. Even the choice of the Russian interpretation for the audience adds a sense of surreal poetry to the film, the duelling audio of Spanish and Russian, one folloing the other. And the camera work, the long tracking shots, are amazing. In the second scene, where we go off the balcony and down into the pool was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen.
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2004 Jamie S. Rich