CHUNG KUO – CHINA (dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, 1972), 208 min.

Introduced by Angela Zito

WHEN: Tuesday 24 April 2012, 6:30pm
WHERE: Room 471, 20 Cooper Square [East 5th and Bowery]

In 1972, Michelangelo Antonioni, director of L’avventura (1960), Blow-Up (1966) and Zabriskie Point (1970), took advantage of the recent relaxation in diplomatic relations between Italy and China to travel to Beijing where he began shooting a documentary about a country still in the throes of Cultural Revolution. Not unsympathetic to Mao’s project, he also visited Suzhou, Nanjing and Shanghai, trying all the while to capture the texture of everyday life in a nation that was largely invisible and inaudible to the West.

However, whether for aesthetic reasons (something debated at the time by Umberto Eco and Susan Sontag) or because of political intrigues, his finished film was widely denounced as imperialist slander, a vile portrait of a China characterized by “unfruitful lands, lonely old people, tired animals and ugly houses”. Antonioni himself was labelled “a worm who speaks for the Russians”. The Chinese diplomats in Italy who had facilitated production were recalled and forced to attend a study group and write self-criticisms. The film was taken out of circulation, existing primarily as a fuzzy and poorly subtitled bootleg.

Presenting this rare screening will be ANGELA ZITO. In 1979, just as the Cultural Revolution was ending, she spent three years at Beijing University doing historical research on the social and political importance of rituals performed by the emperor. During that time, she also worked as dayside copy editor for The China Daily, China’s English-language newspaper, and then as a “newstaster” for the Reuters bureau. Having received a PhD from the University of Chicago in 1989, she is now an Associate Professor in anthropology at NYU, where she has directed the Religious Studies Program for the past nine years, and co-founded and co-directs with Faye Ginsburg the Center for Religion and Media. She co-curates the Reel China Documentary Biennial with Zhang Zhen and is an affiliate faculty of Cinema Studies at NYU.