Suzhou River

Sept 6: Lecture: German Expressionism's Long Dark Shadow (Roger Mitchell)

             Film: Suzhou River (Lou Ye) 

In A Long Dark Shadow, Roger Mitchell will consider the widespread impact that German Expressionism has had on a number of cinematic forms and filmmakers. Having established its social, historical and cultural contexts, Roger will trace the influence of German Expressionism through the Hollywood Gothic Horror film, French Poetic Realism and American film noir to the work of Alfred Hitchcock and beyond. Through this it is possible to see that German Expressionism has provided a range of iconic narrative motifs which are widely used by filmmakers to evoke particular psychological states, moods and atmospheres.

Suzhou River, released in 2000, was the second film of controversial director Lou Ye and won the Tiger Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival.  It is a Chinese neo-noir, with familiar noir themes of love, greed and obsession set amidst a seedy background of bars and warehouses in industrial Shanghai. Lou’s vision did not fit in well with the official version of Shanghai: Suzhou River has never been shown in China, and Lou received a 2-year ban from film-making for showing it at Rotterdam without permission.

As well as displaying its noir antecedents, Suzhou River has clear Hitchcockian influences, with its voyeurism echoing Rear Window and its theme of obsession reflecting Vertigo (accentuated by Jorge Lemberg’s Herrmann-esque score). Roger says he chose to show Suzhou River because it uses an  expressionist aesthetic - as filtered through film noir and the work of Alfred Hitchcock - to create a storyworld which reflects upon the bleak, alienating nature of contemporary existence. Whilst this might seem to relate primarily to the effects of the rapid nature of social, economic and cultural change within China, including the potentially disorienting effects of globalisation, it also resonates with a universal sense of the postmodern, particularly issues relating to social deprivation, fragmentation and marginalisation.