Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Goddess


The Goddess represents the future of Shanghai. While the city lights are shining and prosperity is abound, Ruan Lingyu's character walks the street attempting to capture some of this prosperity, for her and her baby son. The past is represented by gossipers who have her son kicked out of school, because of his mother's 'alternative' lifestyle. Ruan Lingyu's character, the implied goddess of the intertitles, depicts the future through her steadfast love for her son, which unfortunately leads her to prositution and murder.

What the silent aspect of the film does so well is to create a situation that is not so melodramatic, but tragic. Through facial expressions, the silent monologue of the silver screen, we see the goddess cry and suffer, without feeling she is overacting. The absence of words also remind us that this is a film, but also that these situations are true because of the depiction of the city lights.

The Goddess represents not only the cultural future of Shanghai, but also the future of film in general. Ruan Lingyu's character is shown as a positive force in her son's life, despite being a prositute. Hollywood films until about the 1960s always depicted prostitutes in a negative light. The future of film is in this film, because it moves towards a positive portrait of a desperate lifestyle.

--Gillian Adler

(The Goddess 神女, dir. Wu Yonggang 吳永剛, 1934)

72 comments:

Alecs said...

"The Goddess" has in fact become a sort of starting point for analysis of Chinese language films. In analyzing the sixth generation urban generation, critics point back to the era in which "The Goddess" was produced. They say things like 'there has not been this kind of productivity since the 1930s". Melodramatic and realist modes do seems to flow continuously through the history of Chinese language film. This can be seen in films such as "Comrades Almost a Love Story", "Little Cheung" as well as in more contemporary films like "Suzhou River". I wonder though how much criticism has been affected by the chosen starting point. Are there not many more threads that can tie the history together? And weren't there perhaps many films which have not survived the process of writing history?

Rob said...

this film seems to made to last the times even today it seems relavant because some of the same issues are abundant today. R

Anonymous said...

I think the timelessness of the film, which Rob mentions in his comment, is partly because of its subject matter and partly because of its historic placement in the development of Chinese film. The Goddess continues to provide a critical look at the marginalized, oft considered underbelly, of (Shanghai) society. The film acts as a socio-historic comparison marker by which contemporary audiences can engage with the still relevant issues addressed in the film. At the same time as a piece of black and white, silent film it offers a nostalgic cinematic experience, while at the same time challenging the viewer to engage with film in a way we aren't as familiar with anymore.

-Cody

Anonymous said...

I must agree that the absent of sounds seem to made the characters in the film somewhat overacting, especially the Goddess. Whenever the Goddess get angry we can see that extreme look in her face and so as her body gesture. The expression are different than that of the later version played by Maggie Cheung.

Thien

Anonymous said...

I like your points on the performances in a silent film as so many come across as overly melodramatic and over the top. The lead performance was so subtle it is so memorable for the silent era. Her performance likewise contributed to the nuanced nature of her character as a prostitute which seems ahead of it's time.
C.McChane

Jon said...

The way the cameras were placed and the length of the takes made this feel like I was watching a documentary. The only artistry I, as an American with an attention span of nine seconds, in a film like this takes place in the acting. The acting was good though, such that I felt like was I watching a...you guessed it...documentary.

Anonymous said...

Interesting reading, though i do not know if i would classify the goddess as the future of Shanghai so much as the unfortunate present. To me, she becomes a personification of the duality of modernity. On the one hand many people are doing betting in life because of the economic prosperity. On the other, many people are being pushed further in desperate situations. This mirrors the duality of the goddess/woman. Woman are praised for their pure and motherly qualities, but men demand that they "debase" themselves as sexual figures at the same time.

-Joel

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