new reverse shot

featuring articles and interviews on hou hsiao-hsien, and lots more of interest [link]

If some (i.e. me) find that the modestly scaled, semi-autobiographical quartet of films Hou made between 1983 and 1986—The Boys from Fengkuei, A Summer at Grandpa’s, A Time to Live and a Time to Die and Dust in the Wind—possess more freshness and vigor than the more rarefied works from The Puppetmaster onwards, one can also see in that modesty the progressively expansive nature of Hou’s ambition.

The largely provincial settings of these four films do not translate into a provincial mindset; it is the world, quite literally, that is Hou’s stage. Like Antonioni and Ozu, Hou is one of the great architectural filmmakers, uniquely attuned to how natural and manufactured landscapes—which, despite their radical temporal disparity, are equally antecedent, equally autonomous in relation to those who pass through them—provide the frames through which we view our human subjects. The distance, physical and emotional, which Hou intuitively seeks in these earlier films is a means of placing his characters and the small niches of experience they embody within the immensity that surrounds them, which neither dwarfs nor becomes subservient to their microscopic dramas. Where the pathos of Hou’s later films will increasingly become a matter of visual design, his characters virtually subsumed into the almost imperceptibly changing textures of each successive outing, this earlier quartet—and most prominently their apotheosis, Dust in the Wind—preserves the slight but sharp distinction between the two, allowing the utterly commonplace and utterly heartbreaking plights of their people to resonate against the vast sounding board of the world around them.


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November 2008
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