Saturday, February 20, 2010
Ghost Town (2008)
These are my thoughts on Ghost Town which I mentioned in the introductory post. This was lifted from a review I posted elsewhere after I saw this at a screening at the 2009 New York Film Festival:
This is a three hour documentary about a small mountain top village near the Myanmar border. The town was abandoned in 1985 by the Chinese government and the surrounding farmers moved in. The film follows the harsh lives of several of the villager over the course of approximately a year. (The details of the preceding were gleaned from a post film discussion with the director , Zhao Dayong, and are not mentioned in the film) The characters include a preacher and his father (the focus of the first third of the film) who keep their Christian faith alive; a truck driver, a divorced farmer who's wife has moved away, a young girl who was swindled into marriage and now has a child, and a drunk in the town (The second part of the film) and a 12 year old boy living alone (focus of the final third). Its a rambling slice of life where the director points his camera and lets things happen, or not happen as the people of the village talk about their lives and nothing important.
At times this is a hypnotic film. One can very easily fall into it. Despite the film feeling about four times its three hour length (I'll get to that in a moment) I was happy to just let the film roll on before my eyes. There is a kind of wisdom and philosophy at times to it all. How do we get by? There is some stunningly beautiful images. This is a town high in the mountains and the views are amazing. You'll want to go just to see this place. There is magic in the small moments, the drunk with his mother, the 12 year old being a boy, the odd image of a giant chicken, the result of mixed perspective; the truck driver dealing with a cop who doesn't want him to have passengers, the father and son debating if one can sing and play the guitar. There is some wonderful things here.
The problem is this is a long 3 hours for no good reason. Shots go on way too long. There seem to be endless shots of the dogs and cats in the town. We watch the boy cook a cake in what seems like real time. Nothing happens frequently. You want real life, here it is, but it makes for a very long film. The screening at the New York Film Festival had a large number of walk outs I'm guessing from people who just didn't have the patience (and don't know what some Chinese films can be like).This can be like watching paint dry. I was kind of prepared for what I saw and went with it. Honestly as it stands now this is one of the longest feeling films I've seen. Its seems much longer than its three hours because the pacing is so leisurely.
I'm not crazy in love with the film but I am a fan of the core film. I really hope that the director will go back to the editing suite and make two changes. First the film needs some sort of explanation at the start. Where are we and what are we seeing. I've read numerous reviews that mentioned details that aren't in the film and which I only learned when the film was over and the director spoke. Give us some sort of introduction of where we are and what this place is, and maybe fill in some of the details of who these people are. The other thing this film need is trimming. Trim the animals. Trim the scenes where nothing happens. I understand this is the pace of life, but people will walk out if it stays like this. (Oh and something should also be done to the sound mix because the high end sound the clanging pots and shrill noises, at least as heard in Alice Tully Hall was often piercing.)
This is a really good movie. Its not the great film that the Village Voice and Time Out New York have suggested it is, but it is very good, though it does need work. I recommend it with reservations. If there is a later cut I'm hoping not to have any.
This film is not currently being distributed. Its producer dGenerate Films has links about the film, including a link to an article on this film being one of the top undistributed films of the year.