The cinematic and the real in contemporary Chinese cinema

Authored by: Yingjin Zhang

The Routledge Companion to World Cinema

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138918801
eBook ISBN: 9781315688251
Adobe ISBN:


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In the cinematic landscape, the real is never a pure ontological entity transferred directly from the external world. At the birth of cinema, when the Lumière Brothers were thrilled at capturing reality in documentary shorts such as L’Arrivée d’un Train en Gare de La Ciotat (Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, 1895, France), Georges Méliès would soon discover the cinematic capacity for manipulating images and visualising fantasies in fiction films such as Le Voyage dans La Lune (A Trip to the Moon, 1902, France). Méliès’s fantasy and Lumière’s reality were subsequently postulated as two distinct traditions in early cinema, although filmmakers tend to posit reality as their primary end and fiction as the means to that end; indeed, scholars believe the two traditions eventually merged in Hollywood’s classical cinema (Katz 1994: 854, 927). Yet, with the advent of postmodernism, the real is increasingly seen as mediated by technological apparatus and human intervention, and “reality” is claimed as “always-already present in people’s minds as textual fabrication, model, or simulation that in fact precede reality or even generate it” (Shaul 2008: 48). In documentary film studies, the tension between reality and representation is perceived as unresolvable in

the perennial Bazin vs Baudrillard tussle, both of whom—from opposite perspectives—argue for the erosion of any differentiation between the image and reality, Bazin because he believed reality could be recorded, Baudrillard because he believes reality is just another image.

(Bruzzi 2000: 4)

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