Tuesday, January 30, 2007

blogathon - Tiexi Qu

Before posting my (little) contribution (also on Chinese documentary) on this blogathon organized by Harry on Unspoken Cinema, here is an extract of a text I wrote a few years ago and that I readjusted and which I thought would fit with the subject.

Tiexi Qu is a surprising documentary as it lasts 9 hours and the question of time, the perception of time flowing, in the film and beyond the film, are interesting to examine.

West of the Tracks (Tiexi Qu) 2003, 9 hours in 3 parts, by Wang Bing
Awarded at Yamagata International Documentary Festival, the Festival 3 Continents.....

The Tiexi district is a gigantic industrial complex in Shenyang in China's north-east. It was established during the Japanese occupation in the 20s and transformed into a highly populated industrial area. From the Nineties, the Tiexi Qu district which received support from the State before gradually dismantles to become a forgotten zone where the factories are closing down one by one and where the working class area must be demolished, thus, dislodging its inhabitants.

This long documentary takes us away to this now decaying area and is divided into three parts entitled “Rust”, “Remnants” and “Rails”. They are independent of each other and were shot in DV between 1999 and 2001. Wang Bing stayed over there during these years while living near these workers and inhabitants.
In the three films, the camera does not imposed itself and Wang Bing does not use interviews nor the voice over; he rarely directly intrudes himself.
The camera is thus present and absent at the same time because it keeps a certain distance and seems to be forgotten by the people who are being filmed.
Sometimes they tell a story describing a period of their life or show their worries, questionings and anguish concerning their dubious future.

Each part constitutes a film to itself and develops a well defined subject in a specific and different place.
In the first part, entitled Rust, Wang Bing sticks to the every day life of the last workers of the last factories and in particular of the copper foundries and the last blast furnaces. The second part, Remnants follows the inhabitants of the working area, the Rainbow Row, while in the third part, Tracks, Wang Bing accompanies the employees of the railways company which ensures the transport of the raw materials and of the manufactured goods out of Shenyang.

Each part is also conceived and structured differently.
Thus, if the first part offers a linear approach by showing the daily life of several workers in these factories, the second is more detached in a sense that it displays several stories which could almost become a fiction, finally, the third returns even more closely and more psychologically in the people's personal life and centers on the Old Du and his son.

Each one borrows a singular story, and yet, the stories are intersected in the real time, so that the same time or the same period of time can be found in another part but at a different place. That was possible, technically, thanks to the result of the work of the editing, and, physically and in real time, thanks to the rail network which, thus, enabled him to move more easily.
This conception to undertake a cubist form of time results also from the choice of a slow but never long pace. The seasons ravel in front of our eyes but they are elastic since some seem to stretch themselves such as winter whereas others are curtailed such as spring or are simply hardly seen, even almost non-existent such as the warmer seasons. However the years are passing away and we go from one year to another knowing that we had already seen the year that has just disappeared and will see it again later in another part.

Tiexi Qu : West of tracks is a monumental film and whose three parts are equally well made, each one with their unique strength.
Wang Bing succeeds in erasing the duration of this (or these) floating film(s) and in restructuring the time by several manners also :
- the fact of dividing the film into three independent parts (with 3 subtitles evoking the notion of time), each one focusing on a specific theme
- adopting a cinematic and narrative structure which is suitable for each part (the two longer parts that last over three hours are divided into two parts and the last part is centered on a character)
- the insertion of the travelings along the railways which gives a certain pace to the film (as time is motion)
- the real filmed like a fiction, the gap between fiction and documentary has become more blur.

The nine hours which summarize not only two years lived in Tiexi, but, which also wrap up several human lives, and more generally, a whole past full of History, become necessary and finally inevitable in order to seize, through this slow process of dismantlement and decay, the repercussions from the economic changes in China, but also the decline and the end of an era of the Chinese History.



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