Watching TV during the pandemic

The last movie I saw before the pandemic closed New York in March 2020 was by Jia Zhangke Ash is the purest white (2018). Since I discovered Zhangke, I have tried to see all of his films, whether in the cinema or on the computer. Zhangke is one of the sixth generation of Chinese filmmakers. At one point, he and the innovative observational painter Liu Xiaodong, whom I wrote a monograph about, were friends and worked together. His documentary film Dong (2006), following the artist painting workers whose job it was to dismantle a town near the Three Gorges Dam construction site, is another film I watched. While Zhang Yimou, who is part of the fifth generation, made his film debut with the very famous Red sorghum (1988), Zhangke’s first film Xiao wu (1997) (alias The Pickpocket), was released nearly a decade after the debut of Yimou and Tiananmen Square.

Starting with the long-haired pickpocket Xiao Wu, living in the dilapidated town of Fenyang (the filmmaker’s hometown), Zhangke focused on petty thieves, criminals and those left behind or driven out by industrialization. from China. This interest is what led him to work together with Liu Xiaodong. According to Zhangke, seeing the historical fiction of Chen Kaige, Yellow earth (1984), with the powerful cinematography of Zhang Yimou, convinced him to become a filmmaker.

The fifth generation’s interest in historical dramas contrasted with the sixth generation’s scrutiny of everyday life and figures living on the fringes of China’s accelerating modernization. This distinction is in part the result of Tiananmen Square and learning what the government would accept from its citizens.

Before the spread of COVID-19, my favorite movie I watched on the computer was Lamentations (2019), directed by Na Hong-jin. I watched it twice and I will watch it one more time I’m sure. It’s a great supernatural horror film about an unexplained plague and the different religions that have shaped Korea: Christianity, Shamanism, and Buddhism. I had already seen Hong-jin’s first film The hunter (2008) and his second, The Yellow Sea (2010), and was a fan. One of the residual pleasures of watching these films was seeing the scenery and the towns, the passing maps, the people walking the streets, but it was the stories Hong-jin brought up in the film that attracted me. .

Shortly after New York City closed, I started watching TV shows on my computer, usually late at night, after I finished what I was working on. It became a way of leaving the room in which I had spent many hours, on the computer, reading a book, cooking or eating. I started to watch something after walking around my neighborhood. In the first months of lockdowns, with the exception of ambulances, drivers who loved to hurtle down Fifth Avenue in their luxury sports cars and homeless people who didn’t bother to look up roaring, the streets and the sidewalks were empty, especially at night between seven and ten. Often times I felt like I was living in a ghost town and, contrary to what you might expect, I was rather appeased by the void. Many people living in my building have moved elsewhere. The popular hotel opposite has closed its doors and its windows at street level have been boarded up.

As someone who doesn’t like to talk on the phone and rarely answers them, I enjoyed hearing different voices in the movies without having to strike up a conversation, especially after being alone all day.

Before the pandemic I watched two seasons of Kill Eve with the great Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. How can a Chinese-American poet not want to watch a show with a Canadian-born Asian actress playing an MI-5 agent named Eve Polastri and an English actress Jodie Comer playing a psychopathic assassin named Villanelle?

Kill Eve is the first TV show I can remember with an Asian female star, unless you count Agents of SHIELD starring Chloe Bennet, who had to change her name to “Chloe Wang” before she started getting roles. But two seasons of Kill Eve was sufficient and I had no interest in picking up where I left off, anywhere, because I couldn’t remember.

The first TV drama I started watching and kept watching was the Scandinavian crime drama The bridge with Sofia Helin as Saga Norén, an autistic police detective. I read articles on the show while in a rabbit hole on the internet, looking for a show that might interest me. I ended up watching all three seasons in less than two months. Norén, who has no social skills, is based in Malmö, a town where Eve, Cerise and I stayed for ten days, when Eve was performing there. I don’t think I recognized anything from the city on the show and it didn’t matter, as my main interest was the character of Norén, his frankness and his complete disinterest in fitting in or following decorum. social.

In my mind, Norén is the ideal poet. Seeing her every night, obsessed with her work but unable to fit in, was like having a friend I didn’t need to talk to.

After the series ended, I looked for other crime dramas to watch. I watched the police proceedings on Welsh TV, Countryside, with Richard Harrington as DCI Tom Mathias. I can’t stand American police shows, or pretty much anything out of Hollywood, but I’m easily addicted to a police proceeding that takes place in a grim landscape of green hills and snow-covered forests where the characters speak a language that I do not understand.

I loved hearing Welsh. I grew up in a house where my parents spoke a Chinese dialect, and no one in Boston’s Chinatown could understand. Watching Countryside It was almost dinner with my parents, who spoke a language I had never learned to speak and they refused to teach me. In this case, the sound of Welsh in an otherwise empty room was heartwarming, as it was captioned.

After finishing with Countryside, I think the scenery is one of the reasons I started looking Shetland, which was filmed on the North Island of Scotland. I also think that both shows brought back memories of Ireland and Scotland. My family and I spent two weeks on the Irish Dingle Peninsula, one of the most westerly points in Europe.

If you spend time in the Dingle Peninsula, you’ll inevitably hear a story about director David Lean coming to the area to film. Ryan’s daughter (1969), with Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Trevor Howard and Christopher Jones. Its multi-million dollar extravaganza changed the economy of Dingle hardscrabble and made it a tourist destination, which I knew nothing about when I arrived, was not there to write about artist Maria Simonds-Gooding.

As I wrote this I started to think about the cities writing about art has taken me to: Glasgow; Berlin; Paris; Beijing; Malmö, Lund; Barcelona; Madrid; Turin; Milan, and many others.

Watching a show on my computer is a cheaper way to get there, but the trip must be almost as rich in offerings.

I broke down warrior (2019), starring Olivia Cheng, Dianne Doan, Joanna Vanderham, Andrew Koji, which takes place in San Francisco’s Chinatown at the end of the 19th century and the start of the Tongue War. The show is plot driven, and I’m usually bored with such a tightly constructed narrative, where surprises are predictable. That’s why I stopped watching, but will definitely be pressing the “Resume Reading” button in the near future. I think the writing in warrior must improve first.

I guess that’s one of the reasons I watched Blacklist with James Spader as long as me. The surprises were surprising and what’s not to love about Spader when he reviews Roberta Smith’s art critics? Although I don’t remember the episode or what it said, my only child, who is 20, reminded me that this was one of the reasons we started watching him again. when they came home from school. But I also stopped watching this, even though it’s the last season and everything will be revealed and tied. I didn’t watch the show for as long as I did to explain everything to myself.

The two movies I recently watched on my computer were Seraphine (2008), a Franco-Belgian film directed by Marcel Provost and starring Yolande Moreau as Séraphine Louis, housekeeper and self-taught visionary painter, Séraphine Louis, and Ulrich Tukur as Wilhelm Uhde, the critic of German art that discovers it. There are about 20 minutes left to watch, but I haven’t looked back because I know how it’s going to be and I’m not sure I want to watch Seraphine’s suffering.

The other film was the Canadian documentary, Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art (2021), directed by Barry Avrich. This is ostensibly the sale of counterfeit works by Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko, under the direction of Ann Freedman, director of the now closed Knoedler Gallery, who claims she believed they were genuine . I watched this movie from start to finish.

From the fictional pickpocket Xiao Wu trying to avoid being caught, to Ann Freedman claiming she was innocent despite all the evidence against her, it’s possible there is a narrative to what I’m watching; never finish; and stop looking. I just don’t want to step back and tell you what it is.

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