Wednesday 9 August 2017

On Blu-ray - David Hare is adulatory about the restoration of Edward Yang's TAIPEI STORY (Taiwan, 1985)

Screens are from the superb, 2016 4K restoration of Edward Yang's Taipei Story from 1985. The restoration was performed by the Film Foundation in association with Cineteca Bologna and I understand had its premiere at last year's Cinema Ritrovato. At least two other Yang pictures also have undergone substantial restorations for Criterion Blu-ray in the last couple of years, Yi Yi (2000) and A Brighter Summer Day (1991.) The 2016 restoration of Taipei Story has been a long time coming for Yang's fans but the wait was well worth it after decades of poor quality dupes and inferior TV broadcasts..

While the first two aforementioned Yangs have been released in Criterion's main Blu-ray line, Taipei is part of the label's ongoing World CInema multi-disc boxset series curated and with intros by Scorsese, from Film Foundation. Taipei Story Blu-ray was released this year in Volume 2 of the series and includes the 1965 Turkish film Lutfi Akad's Law of the Border with Yilmaz Guney, a seminal Turkish picture long thought missing and finally rescued from a dupe 35mm print and 16mm backups . Other titles in the set: Mario Peixoto's Limite (1931), Lino Brocka's Insiang (1976), Weerasathakul's Mysterious Object at Noon (2000) and Ermek Shimabaev's Revenge (1989). All I can say is rush out there and buy this. Everything on it is essential.

Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taipei Story
But most essential to me was Yang's second feature, and the first (to my knowledge) appearance of his friend Hou Hsaio-hsien, later to become perhaps the most eminent current Taiwanese director, as the male lead. Hou was also a co-writer of the screeenplay. I wish he'd done more movies as an actor, he reminds me in many ways, physically especially of Fassbinder in his own performances. (I keep imagining him doing his own nude scenes.)

Yang's film is the most astute and the first recognizable salute to Antonioni by a major new director in what would later become post Antonioni cinema (MA left us in 2007.). In the year the master died Nuri Bilge Ceylan also adopted the Antonioni mantle in his second film ClImates (2007) delivering a comparable influence and a seamless assimilation of tone. These two directors seem to be the only artists who have done so in a way that amplifies their individual concerns and styles.

Tsai Chin, Taipei Story
Thus Taipei Story opens with a girl, Chin wandering into an empty apartment to inspect for rent, then a boy, Hou ("Lung' in the movie). The figures part and barely look at each other, chat idly and meaninglessly and for the first of many times in the movie Chin "arrives"at the centre of the frame and looks out directly to the camera to close the opening sequence. Yang has taken the end of Antonioni's masterpiece L'Eclisse as the starting point for his "new cinema" of the same empty spaces and environments that MA montages in that film, but he now returns characters to these empty spaces as the new world of Taipei is undergoing its by now god knows how many umpteenth metamorphoses into a constantly "renewing" city that keeps leaving its inhabitants behind, lost, adrift.

The genius of Yang's film in particular is both the specificity of its protagonists' estrangement from their earlier world, which is concomitantly even more profoundly universal, and at heart the disease of our age, existential and physical. For years, like most everyone, I would try to wrestle with the movie in a rough, blurry ex VHS from Brit TV but the sheer fogginess and weak detail of the lousy limage was a real barrier to its meanings, to say nothing of its considerable formal beauty. I feel ashamed to admit but I had not been looking closely at these Criterion Film Foundation Boxsets until the Yang this year impelled me to break out of my lazy comfort zone. At the moment these boxsets are selling at under $US80 and I cannot recommend them highly enough. 

Hopefully a few congnoscenti picked them up in the last Barnes and Noble Half-Pricer. It's a bit like having Bologna at home, literally, although nothing can quite match those great audiences and the fondly remembered, if gruelling, steam bath syndrome.

French Poster, Taipei Story

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