《在中国独立数字纪录片中体现的酷儿主体》

《在中国独立数字纪录片中体现的酷儿主体》

陆克

 

Embodying the Queer Subject in Independent Chinese Digital Documentary

Luke Robinson

 

作者介绍:

陆克Luke Robinson

苏塞克斯大学媒体与电影系电影研究专业讲师。主要著述有专著《从摄影棚到街头:中国独立纪录片研究》((Palgrave Macmillan出版社,2013), )以及有关华语故事片、动画片、纪录片和电影节的论文若干。

Luke Robinson is Lecturer in Film Studies in the Department of Media and Film at the University of Sussex, UK. He is the author of Independent Chinese Documentary: From the Studio to the Street (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), and various book chapters and articles on Chinese-language feature film, animation, documentary and film festivals.

 

本文先从杜海滨2005年的作品《人面桃花》(Beautiful Men)中的两个片段说起。影片在开始的大约20分钟内就带我们进入到成都的一个因其变装表演而出名的“同志吧”的舞台后场。画面聚焦在那些作为纪录片主角的反串舞蹈演员们身上。伴随着演出者们陆续从化妆室出来准备登台,一个叫Shu Qi的演员单独留了下来。尽管Shu Qi已经明显注意到正在拍摄他的摄像机,但他仍然非常专注地沉浸在自己舞台形象的装扮上,并且对着化妆室的镜子上下打量精心调整着。他裸露着的大腿从裙子的侧缝中依稀可见。接着,他便转身通过后台的一个门帘然后就消失了。摄像机在简短地中止后,也跟随他穿过门帘进入到一片漆黑之中。然后,摄像机便在舞台两边的一个过道空隙处窥视着舞台上的一切,在这里它可以毫无障碍地观察到所有反串角色们在舞台上的表演。大约10分钟后,画面又回到了化妆室,此刻,我们看到的是脱了演出服装的反串角色们。摄像机聚焦在一个男孩身上。坐在镜头前的他,脸上仍然打着粉底,头上戴着假发,而且还戴着一个内置软垫的加厚胸罩。他脱掉假发,瞥了摄像机一眼,上身摆弄出一种时尚的姿势,嘴里还一边伴随着舞台那边传来的歌声而哼唱着。接着,他匆匆地脱掉胸罩,然后就突然站了起来。胸罩的垫片从他裸露的躯干上滑了下来。他穿上了牛仔裤。随着镜头拉回放低,反串角色说道:“结束了,完工了,我们终于可以回家做回男人了。现在,我又要变回男人了,每一天我们不得不既要扮演男人又要扮演女人。”

《人面桃花》是20世纪初中国很多关注室内同性恋场景的独立电影之一。这些独立电影尤其将反串作为它们主要的研究对象。这些独立电影包括了:张元的《金星小姐》(Miss Jin Xing)(2000),陈苗(Michelle Chen)的《上海男孩》(The Snake Boy) (2002),韩涛的《宝宝》(Baobao)(2004),张涵子的《唐唐的故事》(Tangtang)(2004),高天的《美美》(Meimei)(2005),蒋志的《香平丽》(Xiang Pingli)(2005)。这些纪录片都体现出一种关怀社会底层群体(subaltern communities)的趋势。而这种趋势完全得益于上世纪90年代末数码摄影设备的发展和大量使用。然而,我认为,这两个片段之所以特别值得我们关注是出于两个方面的原因。首先,它们视觉化了数字视频的一个特质,即中国独立电影人经常强调的纪录片创作的意义在于其轻巧性(lightness)的特质。第二,与这些纪录片的视觉语言相关的轻巧性[的特质也产生了一系列]的问题化后果(problematic consequences)。[而这些问题化后果在这两个片段中同样]表现了出来。

Paola Voci于2010年最先提出“轻巧性”(lightness)的概念来描述当代中国视频生产的许多特性。1 需要强调的是,这个概念可能在其他的情境中被称作数字的“低阻抗”因素(“low impedance”factor):无论线上线下,都能够被容易地复制和传播,而且轻量级DV摄影机体现出极其灵活性和便捷性的特点。而后者正是一些中国纪录片电影导演所强调的二十世纪九十年代以来改变电影实践的重要特性。吴文光(2001)认为DV摄影机的尺寸[的变小]促进了个体或个人电影制作实践,同时也改变了电影制作者和被拍摄主体之间的关系。2 吴文光还认为,DV摄影机尺寸已经小到一个人就可以进行操作。这种操作的灵活性和可移动性使纪录片主体能够很好地适应拍摄装备的在场(presence),从而不自觉地打破了拍摄者和被拍摄者之间的边界。吕新雨(2005)等学者则认为DV摄影机进入了以前无法进入的空间,因此,摄像的个人空间和公共空间之间的关系被打破了。3这个过程更是受到了图像的电子化传播的影响而加速进行,因为电子化的传播让图像的线上和线下流通变得更加快捷。因此,潜在的偷窥(voyeurism)成倍的增长。如果DV摄影机尤其擅长进入私人空间,或者是那些以前不可进入空间,那么它们也能够呈现那些仍然应该保持私密的事件——诸如太过直接和令人尴尬的照片——也能够让那些不愿公开的纪录片主体被迫[曝露在公众的视野中]。

而上述所有的争议点都可以在先前我所描绘的两个片段中找到。第一,我们看到摄影机出现在化妆室,接着移动到后台区域,窥视着舞台上的表演。DV摄像机可以进入那些不寻常的空间,同时,它对于各种不同的空间的侵入能力使人担忧。第二,在第一个片段中,反串角色离开化妆间,然后在门关掉的最后一个镜头处暂停,并且在镜子中看着自己。在那个时候,让观众感觉表演者已经忘记段锦川仍在拍摄。换言之,那个瞬间不是为公众记录的,而是纯私人的影像。这再次涉及到了窥视的问题。尽管这个问题在第一个片段中没有很好的呈现出来,因为最后我们还是从表演者的背后观看了表演。但我认为,在第二个展现演员脱衣过程的片段中,[拍摄者]对那些反串角色的身体的兴趣直指[对偷窥问题]的担忧。[在第二个片段中,]摄像机对于表演者生理特征的过度迷恋,以及段锦川为观众寻找那些可以表明表演者们故意模糊的性和性别身份的符号变得非常明显。在这个过程中,反串的身体成为了Bill Nichols(1992)所说的“求知窥视”(“epistophilic voyeurism”)的中心,即一种为获得知识而进行的观看行为。4

我认为这种对身体的关注表明,尽管数码摄影机帮助生产了这样的影像,但它并不能决定它们的形式。相反,正是其轻巧性让那些与独立纪录片生产相关的问题更加显现。对酷儿身体的迷恋可以被看作是九十年代初期以来对独立电影、纪录片和表演艺术中对于身体在场(physical presence)的担忧。这和“现场”的实践相关——在某个情景或地点。而这个实践是被当时很多的从事各种媒体工作的艺术家和电影人所发展出来的。涉身经验的核心其实就是作为一种实践的现场的显著部分: 艺术者或者导演,在某种意义上,是表演或是被记录的事件的一个组成部分,也是关于世界的知识生产的一个组成部分。然而,在《人面桃花》和所有这个时期关于反串角色的纪录片作品中[所呈现的]身体都不是导演的身体,而是被拍摄的纪录片主体的身体。正是纪录片主体的身体而不是导演的身体成为了通向关于世界的知识的渠道。我认为这是因为杜海滨和大多数这个时期拍摄关于反串纪录片的导演一样,[他们]并非来自于[他们所拍摄的主体]的群体。他们用局外人的身份来看待[这些纪录片主体]。因此,他们对于表演者的身体的关注是因为他们[将拍摄主体]作为一种景观(spectacle),并将他们的身体看成是进入一种异样的亚文化的切入点。这种亚文化里充斥着有关摄像机前和摄像机后的人们之间的有关责任、认同、参与和权力差异的动量关系。

因此,《人面桃花》中的影像想告诉人们的是技术、电影实践和社会关系之间的互动关系。轻便的数码摄影机的在19世纪90年代末期的大量使用使电影人能够进入底层民众的空间。而在此之前,局外人进入这样的底层空间是非常难的。但由于电影人通常是局外人,他们通常将他们的拍摄主体看成知识的客体,或者作为景观,而不是主动生产知识的主体。结果,当在拍摄酷儿主体的时候,[电影人]尤其关注反串的身体,[并总是将这种身体]与一种偷窥的视角相联。而这种偷窥的视角正是被数字摄像机自身的方便性所强化的。我认为这种偷窥视角在拍摄经历手术——通常是变性手术——的酷儿身体的时候达到了顶峰。人们可以找到当时的相关电影,比如张元的《金星小姐》和蒋志的《香平丽》。

如果上述这组关系是20世纪初期的有关同性恋主体的数字纪录片的主要特点,那么最近的数字纪录片在很大程度上开始打破这种范式。早期的纪录片太过于关注反串,或者常常将在“同志吧”等场景所进行的拍摄融入到[拍摄者]的叙事之中,而新近的作品则突破了这些界限。近期的一些纪录片关注的主题包括了“出柜”的故事(“coming out” stories)(范坡坡,《柜族》(Chinese Closet)(2009));中国酷儿的历史和经验(崔子恩,《志同志》(Queer China, ‘Comrade’ China)(2008);赤裸裸的性描写(周鸣,《Gay那活儿》(All About Gay Sex)(2010));当今中国同性恋的平凡的每日生活经验(“同志亦凡人”网站的视频(the webcast Queer Comrades)(2007-))。也许这种多元化是不可避免的。如果“轻巧性”是数字生产技术的一个特性,那么“民主性”便是其另外一个特性。随着业余[影像]生产的增长,更加易得和更加廉价的软件和硬件让那些非专业的媒介从业人员参与到了影像生产的过程中来。而这个过程也正是“民主化”的过程。但我这么说是有特定的[影像]生产的语境的:人们开始认同由酷儿导演(queer-identified director)所拍摄的关于酷儿主体的影像。这些电影再也不是由局外人从外部的视角看待[圈内的事情]。取而代之的是,人们开始看到一些[关于酷儿主体的]自我民族志(auto-ethnographic)的影像作品。也许这解释了为什么当下的酷儿纪录片呈现出多样的叙述,并与21世纪早期的电影作品逐渐不同。

接下来我的问题便是:这种民主化的生产会对独立纪录片对于酷儿主体的呈现(representations)带来什么样的影响?在这里我并不是指题材或叙事,而是指视觉形式(visual form)。那些原来在镜头前的人现今成为了摄像机的操作者,而这种变化正是中国酷儿媒介生产[所经历的]。正如Wang Yiman(2010)指出,这成为了一种被广泛接受的中国独立纪录片的实践形式。5你可以从目前大量的正式的参与性纪录片(participatory documentary projects)中看到[这种实践形式],比如吴文光的“村民影像计划”(Village Video Project)(2005-)。专业人员和非专业人员合作生产了一系列的电影。接着便出现了农民工和乡村电视录像制作人通过在地的非正式的媒介机制所生产的更加业余的[纪录片]。最后,你可以看到很多围绕着具有潜在政治影响的事件而展开的各种由行动主义者们所拍摄的影像,比如电影人艾晓明关于北川地震的作品。而这些作品所面临的最严峻的问题就是[电影]作者身份及主体性:究竟在何种程度上“村民影像计划”让那些个体的村民的声音被真正听见?那些由农民工和为农民工所生产的非正式的影像与国家电视台[所拍摄的类似题材的]影像有何不同?前者与那些由受过很好教育的、中产阶级的电影人所制作的独立影像又有何不同?为了将这些问题融入我对酷儿媒体生产的思考,我现在将转向分析范坡坡和郑凯贵的(David Cheng)《新前门大街》(New Beijing, New Marriage)(2009)。

《新前门大街》是一部三十分钟的短纪录片。该片记录了两对同性恋于2009年情人节在北京前门举行婚礼的故事。影片追踪了两对恋人——一对男性,一对女性——穿上了西式白色婚礼的礼服,坐上开往前门的出租车,然后在公众面前进行了一些诸如合影的婚礼仪式。当时,人群开始聚集在这两对恋人周围,于是[纪录片导演便]直接与那些围观的人进行交流,并探讨他们对同性恋的看法。最后,影片以世界各地的同性恋婚礼的蒙太奇剪辑而结束,并呼吁人们在中国认可这种同性的婚恋。

在观看《新前门大街》的时候,你能直接并强烈地感受到一种全新呈现范式(representational paradigm)。没有赤裸裸的窥视,也没有那种你在《人面桃花》中可以感受到的对作为身体景观的电影主体的身体的强烈兴趣。与《人面桃花》中的化妆室的场景不同,《新前门大街》在呈现新娘和新郎为婚礼而着装打扮的场景时避免了“裸露”的镜头,换之以他们精心化妆和认真整理衣服的镜头。在这部片子的进程中,身体不再作为“求知窥视”的客体,而是作为一种能动[主体](an agent),从而在公众面前建构一种全新的酷儿身份:身体成为了媒介本身。这尤其表现在《人面桃花》中,以及这两对恋人是如何使用婚礼仪式的涉身表演(embodied performance)来向一个外部世界展示一种公共的、明晰的且平常的酷儿身份。他们不再是电影人通向和“理解”某种亚文化,或者阐释某种亚文化的渠道。《新前门大街》和《人面桃花》的关键区别就是范坡坡和郑凯贵探索了数字摄像机的“轻巧性”并将这种“轻巧性”随着电影主体从一种内部的空间(interior space)——即电影开始的那个空间——移向了一个外部的(exterior)、公共的空间——即前门。在这部纪录片中被创造的正是对该事件以及对电影主角们的性的一种明确地、公开的记录。但是范坡坡和郑凯贵同样使用这个过程来公开地表达他们自己作为酷儿电影人的身份。在电影的后半段,镜头从这两对恋人那里移向了观众,访问他们对于他们所看到[的事件]的看法。他们不仅仅呈现了他们自己对[他们所记录的]主体的认同,他们还将身份认同的问题抛给了观众,让观众成为了摄像机的客体,而让自己成为了公共话语的能动[主体](agents of public discourse)。因此,电影拍摄作为一种涉身实践成为了一种新的酷儿身份。这种新的酷儿身份存在于真实的实践和空间中,而不仅仅只是被视频捕捉到的。

我认为这里存在着一种转变,一种Paul Connerton(1989)所形容为从“标记”(“inscription”)到“融入”(“incorporation”)的转变过程。6标记就是一个身体被作为知识的客体而被捕捉或记录的过程——正如《人面桃花》。与此不同的是,涉身实践不仅支持社会知识的形式,同时也产生着新形式的知识。而这个过程正是“融入”的过程。它体现在《新前门大街》的主体们为表达一种新的、公共的酷儿身份而进行的白色婚礼仪式的过程中。同样重要的是,在范坡坡和郑凯贵的纪录片中,电影拍摄的这个过程本身变成了一种可以被融入的过程。当酷儿主体参与到摄纪录片生产过程时,他们已经使用电影实践来融合他们自身的身份,不管他们是在镜头中,还是通过使用摄像机的方式。在这个过程中,他们通过生产反串电影的方式为酷儿身体建立了一种新的、显著的空间。在这个空间中,他们是能动[主体]而不只是客体。

总的来说,这最终让我们回到技术,电影实践和社会关系之间的联系。如果说数字摄像机的“轻巧性”帮助增加了早期反串电影中的电影主体和电影制作者之间的复杂关系,那么它同时也生产了一种不那么具有窥视性的影像的新形式。当酷儿主体拿起了数字摄像机,他们开始探索摄像机的方便性以生产一种新的酷儿主体性。这在《新前门大街》中表现得淋漓尽致:用想象酷儿涉身体验的方式让该片与早先的纪录片截然不同。我认为这个例子正表现了数字生产的冲击对纪录片的形式和语言产生了显著的影响。

 

 

参考文献

 

[1] P. Voci, China on Video: Smaller-screen Realities. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2010.

[2] 吴文光:《镜头像自己的眼睛一样》,上海:上海文艺出版社,2001年。[W. G. Wu, Jingtou Xiang Ziji de Yanjing Yiyang: Jilupian yu Ren, Shanghai: Shanghai Wenyi Chubanshe, 2001.]

[3] 吕新雨:《后记:中国纪录片的力与痛》,载郭净编:《云之南记录影像论坛》,昆明:云之南纪录片库系列, 第166-168页,2005 年。[X. Y. Lü, “Houji: Zhongguo Jilupian de Li yu Tong” (“Afterword: The Power and the Pain of Chinese Documentary”), in Guo Jing (ed.), Yun zhi Nan Jilu Yingxiang Luntan (Yunnan Multi Culture Visual Festival Catalogue). Kunming: Yunfest Documentary Archives Series, 2005, pp. 166-168.]

[4] B. Nichols, Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1992.

[5] Y. M. Wang, “‘I Am One of Them’ and ‘They Are My Actors’: Performing, Witnessing, and DV Image-Making in Plebian China”, in Lü Xinyu, Lisa Rofel and Chris Berry (eds) The New Chinese Documentary Movement: For the Public Record. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010, pp. 217-236.

[6] P. Connerton, How Societies Remember. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

 

Embodying the Queer Subject in Independent Chinese Digital Documentary

Luke Robinson

 

 

《在中国独立数字纪录片中体现的酷儿主体》

陆克

 

My point of departure for this essay is two short sequences from Du Haibin’s documentary Beautiful Men (2005). About twenty minutes into the film, which is set in a Chengdu gay bar famous for its drag shows, a scene occurs backstage among the fanchuan who are the documentary’s main subjects. As these performers file out of their dressing room in preparation for going onstage, one, named Shu Qi, lingers. Apparently half aware of the camera, but also absorbed in his stage persona, he looks over his shoulder into the dressing room mirror and poses slightly, exposing his thigh through a slit at the top of his skirt, before turning and disappearing backstage through a curtain. The camera pauses briefly, then follows him. It passes through the curtain, into darkness, before peeking through a gap in the stage wings. Here, the director has an unobstructed and unobserved view of the fanchuan performing. Ten minutes later, we are back in the dressing room. In this sequence, the fanchuan are undressing. The camera focuses on one boy, sitting at front of shot, still wearing makeup, a wig and a padded bra. He takes the wig off, glances at the camera, and strikes a stylized pose with his upper body, singing along with the music we can hear coming from the stage. Then, throwing off his bra, he stands up abruptly, sliding the padding down his naked torso and over the jeans that he is now shown to be wearing on his lower body. As the camera draws back and down, the fanchuan says: “Finished. Work’s over. At last we can go home and be men. I’m also going to be a man. Every day, we have to play at being men and women.”

 

Beautiful Men is one of a number of independent documentaries made in China in the early 2000s that took the domestic gay scene in general, and the fanchuan in particular, as their object of investigation: other examples would include Zhang Yuan’s Miss Jin Xing (2000), Michelle Chen’s The Snake Boy (2002), Han Tao’s Baobao (2004), Zhang Hanzi’s Tangtang (2004), Gao Tian’s Meimei (2005), and Jiang Zhi’s Xiang Pingli (2005). These films in turn were part of a broader trend towards shooting documentaries about subaltern communities that took off with the popular dissemination of digital video equipment at the end of the 1990s. I think, however, that these two brief sequences are particularly interesting for two reasons. First, because they help visualise one of the qualities of the digital camera that independent Chinese filmmakers have often emphasised as particularly significant for their documentary practice: its lightness. Second, because they capture some of the problematic consequences of this lightness in relation to the visual language of these documentaries.

 

‘Lightness’ is a term proposed by Paola Voci (2010), who uses it to describe many properties of contemporary Chinese video production. I want to concentrate here on what in other contexts might be termed digital’s ‘low impedance’ factor: the ease with which electronic images can be duplicated and distributed, either online or off, but also the flexibility and portability of commercially produced, light-weight DV cameras. It’s this latter quality that certain Chinese documentary directors have highlighted in relation to changes in film practice after the late 1990s. Wu Wenguang (2001) argues that the size of the DV camera has facilitated the growth of an individual or personal filmmaking practice, changing the relationship between filmmaker and filmed subject. Not only is the DV camera small enough to be handled by one person, but, Wu suggests, its consequent flexibility and mobility have encouraged the documentary subject’s acclimatisation to the equipment’s presence, implicitly breaking down the barrier between filmmaker and filmed. Scholars such as Lü Xinyu (2005)talk about the ways in which the DV camera can penetrate spaces that were previously hidden from view, in the process breaking down distinctions between private and public space on camera. This is further exacerbated by the electronic distribution of these images, given the speed with which they might widely circulate both on and offline. As a result, the potential for voyeurism increases exponentially. If DV cameras are particularly adept at entering private or previously inaccessible spaces, they are also capable of capturing events that should perhaps remain private – explicit or embarrassing images, for example – or which the documentary subject may prefer not to be made public.

 

All these issues are easily identifiable in these two short sequences. First, we have the presence of the camera first in the dressing room itself, and then moving into the backstage area, looking out onto the performance space proper. This gives a good sense both of the kinds of unusual spaces that the DV camera can give access to, but also how its ability to trespass between different kinds of spaces might give cause for concern. Second, there’s the moment in the first clip just as the fanchuan leave the dressing room, when the last one out of the door turns, pauses, and looks at himself in the mirror. In that moment, it feels as if the performer might almost have forgotten that Duan Jinchuan was still filming; in other words, that the moment wasn’t really intended for public record, that it’s a private one. This brings us directly to the question of voyeurism. Although this issue is formally shadowed in the first clip, where we end up peeping out onto the performers from behind their backs, I think it’s the interest in the bodies of the fanchuan – particularly in the second clip, where we’re watching them undress – that resonates most directly with this concern. There is a very strong sense here, I think, of how the camera is perhaps overly fascinated with the biology of the performers, of how Duan is looking for signs that will clarify their deliberately ambiguous gender and sexual identities for the viewer. In the process, the bodies of the fanchuan become the focus for what Bill Nichols (1992, 98) terms ‘epistophilic voyeurism’: the act of watching in the service of knowledge.

 

What I think this focus on bodies suggests is that, though the digital camera may facilitate the generation of such images, it doesn’t determine their form. Rather, its lightness helps foreground a number of other issues pertinent to independent documentary production. This fascination with the queer body could be seen as part of a broader concern with physical presence in independent film, documentary and performance art that stretches back to the early 1990s. This is related to the practice of xianchang – being ‘on the scene’, or ‘on location’ – developed during this period by artists and filmmakers working between the various media. The centrality of embodied experience was part of what distinguished xianchang as a practice: the artist or director was, in a sense, an integral part of the work performed or the event documented, and part of how knowledge about the world was generated. But in Beautiful Men, and in all the documentaries from this period about fanchuan, the bodies in question are not those of the director, but of the documentary’s subjects. It is their bodies, not the director’s, that have become the conduit for knowledge about the world. I think this reflects the fact that Du Haibin, and most of the other directors of this period who shot documentaries on fanchuan, were not part of this community. They came to it from the outside, looking in. Consequently, they seem drawn to the body of the performers both as spectacle, but also, I think, as a point of entry into a slightly alien subculture – a dynamic which raises questions around responsibility, consent, participation, and the power differential between those behind the camera, and those in front of it.

 

What these images in Beautiful Men speak to is therefore the interplay of technology, film praxis, and social relations. The proliferation of lightweight digital cameras in the late 1990s enabled filmmakers to enter subaltern space in ways that had previously been much harder to effect. However, since these filmmakers were often outsiders, they approached the people they were filming more as objects of knowledge, or as spectacle, than as active subjects in the creation of such knowledge. The result, in the instances of documentaries on queer subject matter, is a particular focus on the bodies of fanchuan that verges at times on the voyeuristic, a perspective only further exacerbated by the flexibility of the digital camera itself. I think this reaches its zenith in images of the queer body undergoing surgery – gender reassignment surgery, usually – that one can find in certain films from this period, such as Miss Jin Xing or Xiang Pingli.

 

If this particular set of relationships characterized digital documentaries on queer subjects through the early 2000s, what’s striking about more recent digital documentary is the extent to which it breaks with these paradigms. While the earliest documentaries focused overwhelmingly on fanchuan, or often made a point of incorporating similar scenes shot in gay bars into their narratives, more contemporary work has expanded beyond these confines. More recent documentary work addresses ‘coming out’ stories (Fan Popo, Chinese Closet (2009)); considerations of Chinese queer history and experience (Cui Zi’en, Queer China, ‘Comrade’ China (2008)); explicit sexual narratives (Zhou Ming, All About Gay Sex (2010)); and the mundane, everyday existence of gays and lesbians in the contemporary PRC (the webcast Queer Comrades (2007-)). Perhaps this pluralisation is inevitable. If ‘lightness’ is one set of qualities associated with digital production technologies, ‘democratization’ is another. Connected to the growth of amateur production, ‘democratization’ invokes the way in which accessible, affordable digital hardware and software have opened up the means of production to non-professional media workers. In the very specific production context I’m talking about here, however, it has meant that what one can start to identify is work on queer subject matter, by queer-identified directors. No longer are these film being produced from the outside, looking in; instead, we’re starting to see work that’s in some senses auto-ethnographic. This perhaps explains the variety of narratives present in contemporary queer documentary, and the ways in which they diverge from those of the early 2000s.

 

The question I want to finish on, then, is related, but distinct: what impact has this democratization of production had on independent documentary representations of the queer subject? I mean this not in relation to subject matter or narrative, but rather visual form. The kind of transition in which those who were previously in front of the camera have become camera operators is hardly unique to queer media production in China. As Wang Yiman (2010) suggests, it’s become a widely accepted practice in independent Chinese documentary. You can see it in the formal participatory documentary projects that now abound, such as Wu Wenguang’s Village Video Project (2005-), in which professionals and non-professionals collaborate to produce a series of films. Then there are the more strictly amateur productions that migrant workers and rural videographers cameras circulate through local informal media economies. Finally, you have the kinds of activist footage that coagulates around events of potential political significance, such as the Beichuan earthquake, and which in turn gets incorporated into work by, for example, filmmakers such as Ai Xiaoming.   Critical to all these productions have been questions of authorship and subjectivity:to what extent does the Village Video Project actually allow the voice of individual villagers to emerge? How do informally produced productions by migrant workers, for migrant workers, differ in form and subject matter from state television, or indeed from independent productions produced by educated, middle-class filmmakers? As a way of framing these problems in relation to queer media production, though, I want to turn to a documentary by Fan Popo and David Cheng, called New Beijing, New Marriage (2009).

 

New Beijing, New Marriage is a thirty-minute documentary short that chronicles the performance of two gay weddings at Qianmen in Beijing on Valentine’s Day 2009. It tracks two couples – one male, one female – as they get dressed as if for a western-style white wedding; travel in a taxi to Qianmen; and then perform a number of wedding rituals in public, such as having their photos taken together. As this takes place, crowds gather to watch the couples, who then engage directly with the people watching, talking to them about their views on homosexuality. The whole piece concludes with a montage of gay weddings from around the world, and an appeal for the recognition of same-sex partnerships in China.

 

Watching New Beijing, New Marriage, one gets a strong and immediatesense of a different representational paradigm emerging. There is no obvious voyeurism, no overt interest in the bodies of the film’s subjects as physical spectacle, of the kind that you get in Beautiful Men. In contrast to the dressing room scenes in the latter film, New Beijing, New Marriage avoids any trace of nudity in the sequences when the brides and grooms dress up for the ceremony, focusing instead on the application of makeup and the careful adjustment of clothing. Over the course of the documentary, the body’s status as the object of epistophilic voyeurism is replaced by its function as an agent through which queer identity can be constructed anew in public: the body as a medium in its own right. This is obvious if we think about the behaviour of the couples, and how they use the embodied performance of wedding rituals to enact queer identity as public, unambiguous and ordinary – bringing it to the outside world – rather than acting as a conduit through which filmmakers can access and ‘understand’ or interpret a subculture. But I’d argue that the filmmakers are doing the same. One of the key differences between New Beijing, New Marriage and Beautiful Men is the way in which Fan and Cheng exploit the lightness of the digital camera to move out from interior space – which is where the documentary starts – into exterior, public space – Qianmen – alongside the subjects themselves. What’s being created in the documentary is therefore an explicitly public record of this event, and of the sexualities of the protagonists. But Fan and Cheng also use this process to publicly articulate their own identity as queer filmmakers. In the second half of the film, they turn the camera away from the couples and onto the viewers, questioning them about their views of what they’ve seen. Not only do they present themselves as identifying with their subjects, they also turn the tables on their audience, making the crowd the object of the camera, and themselves agents of public discourse. Filmmaking as an embodied practice therefore becomes a way in which a new queer identity can actually be enacted in real time and space, and not just captured on video.

 

What I suggest we can identify here is a shift that Paul Connerton (1989) describes as the transition from ‘inscription’ to ‘incorporation’. Inscription is a process whereby the body is captured or recorded as an object of knowledge – as in Beautiful Men. In contrast, incorporation occurs when embodied practice functions to both sustain forms of social knowledge, and to generate new ones. This is what the subjects of New Beijing, New Marriage are doing when they appropriate white wedding rituals to articulate a newly public, queer identity. But what is equally important, however, is that in Fan and Cheng’s documentary, the process of filmmaking has itself become incorporative. As queer subjects have been absorbed into documentary production behind the camera, so they have used the practice of filmmaking to incorporate their own identity on and through the camera. In the process, they have established a new and distinct space for queer bodies in the production of xianchang filmmaking, one in which they are agents, rather than objects, of the praxis.

 

In conclusion, this ultimately returns us to the relationship between technology, film practice and social relations. If the lightness of the digital camera served to exacerbate the complex relationship between subject and filmmaker in the earliest films about fanchuan, it has also enabled new forms of image making to emerge that were less voyeuristic. As queer subjects have picked up the digital camera, they have started to exploit its flexibility to generate a different kind of queer subjectivity. In New Beijing, New Wedding, this is characterised by ways of imagining queer embodiment that diverge quite radically from those of the older documentaries. This, I would suggest, is definitely one example of how the impact of digital production can have a pronounced impact on documentary form and language.

 

References

 

Connerton, Paul. 1989. How Societies Remember. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lü, Xinyu. 2005. “Houji: Zhongguo Jilupian de Li yu Tong” (“Afterword: The Power and the Pain of Chinese Documentary”). In Yun zhi Nan Jilu Yingxiang Luntan (Yunnan Multi Culture Visual Festival Catalogue) edited by Guo Jing, 166-168. Kunming: Yunfest Documentary Archives Series.

Nichols, Bill. 1992. Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Voci, Paola. 2010. China on Video: Smaller-screen Realities. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

Wang, Yiman. 2010. “‘I Am One of Them’ and ‘They Are My Actors’: Performing, Witnessing, and DV Image-Making in Plebian China”. In The New Chinese Documentary Movement: For the Public Record edited by Lü Xinyu, Lisa Rofel and Chris Berry, 217-236. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Wu, Wenguang. 2001. “DV: Yige Ren de Yingxiang”. In Jingtou Xiang Ziji de Yanjing Yiyang: Jilupine yu Ren, 257-263. Shanghai: Shanghai Wenyi Chubanshe.

 

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