First, I am a layperson when it comes to my analysis of this film and second, it is the product of my elder son (yet trying to remain objective), but this is a brief overview of the film and its meanings and symbolism. It is important to note that some might interpret this film differently and might say that I am completely off-base.
The collaborator is musician Danny Cohen (and Easton Gruber), from Chicago who developed a score for the film based on a summary of what the film was about and the proposed direction for the narrative. The score was to be reminiscent of the Chinese culture, yet modern in instrumentation. There were many versions of the film (shorter versions and trailers), but the film and soundtrack are inseparable and they tell a common story. There are many parts to the film, overlapping themes, overtones, political commentary and film theory that I cannot begin to understand. Color also has symbolism. In the broadest sense, this film has three parts: meditation, transition (with free-style voiceover) and a lucid dream.
shangrila link (video below): https://vimeo.com/36822506
I encourage viewing in full screen mode with headphones or higher quality speakers.
Rather than a scene by scene description, I’ll offer an overview. Red represents China, Communism and deaths caused at the hands of Chinese Government either through oppression of minority cultures (such as the Uyghr culture), population displacement, and the rise of the China as an industrial power. Orange represents Chinese culture and religious heritage. Green is the environment, which is at risk due to industrialization and development (government and private), yet still has a strong presence and importance thanks to its foundations in ancient Chinese culture and identity. Blue is the coming of the darkness, and the transition from natural to artificial. It is a lucid dream of a trip through China and the people and sights encountered (and note how people look away from cameras, as a reaction to the feeling of their being watched by their own government–surveillance). Yet, there is strength in anonymity and hope that it will champion over authoritarianism.
Throughout the film, in particular during the meditation portion, as with Kubrick’s work, central light and symmetry are strong. Various points in the meditation scenes serve as focal points for meditation, such as a blue dot on a shoe or an orange carp in a pond. During the meditation scenes, in many shots, there were thousands of people present, yet from the camera’s point of view, one is alone in the contemplation of the view. Some of the views are memories of other places and the familiarity of a mountainscape in China resembling the Adirondack Mountains in New York State, in America.
Some might note the homage to Apocalypse Now and the wasteland of the riverscape that has been greatly affected by industrialization and pollution from enormous factories–the travesty of the results, yet the beauty of the silence (as it passes from right to left). Also of note is the massive change in the land and rivers as a result of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam (note the drop of the water in the high-walled scene as entire land areas are altered by this project). The water is a river of blood, the blood of millions of Chinese who have given their lives through revolution, relocation, destruction and ethnic oppression.
Throughout the dream there is a mix of visual memories of the Chinese people living in their society, developing an identity, yet remaining anonymous due to their authoritarian surroundings. Gradually the lucid dream of the massive cities, people and surroundings dissolves from reality (with an homage to the film Taxi Driver) into a trip between the Earth (Solaris – Tarkovsky 1972) and the Universe (2001 – Kubrick 1968) as the images of humanity dissolve and fade to white.
I am interested in your interpretations too and hope you enjoy it.
Various albums are in rotation here at the moment, with some “classical” recordings (Bernard Herrmann, Aaron Copland and a Karajan rehearsal) on the way from an auction I recently bid on at Polyphony:
Printed and online catalogs become available (every two or three months) and Lawrence Jones (the proprietor of Polyphony) conducts auctions as he has since 1978 (reel-to-reel tapes, LPs, books and other items). The recordings are each graded for condition (as well as the covers) and auditioned by Larry, so one can rest assured that they arrive as described and carefully packaged. Larry has many rare items and often entire recording collections become available, like a recent, almost complete collection of Camden label LPs, here:
Before anyone thinks I’m listening only to ambient music these days, here’s a brief overview of things moving between turntables and CD players:
Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood – In Case The World Changes Its Mind (Live) – fabulous recording!
Van Der Graaf Generator – A Grounding In Numbers – It’s surprisingly good…and gritty.
Drums Between The Bells – Brian Eno and Rick Holland – The piece “Glitch” is remarkable, among others.
Nicholas Szczepanik – Ante Algo Azul – A twelve part suite of recordings along with artwork, custom sleeves and poetry that I am delving into now, fascinating.
Steve Wilson – Grace For Drowning – Excellent
Carolina Chocolate Drops – Luminescent Orchestrii (10″ 4 song vinyl EP)
Elizabeth Fraser – Moses (12″ vinyl EP) – I miss her voice from the days of Cocteau Twins
James Blake – his first eponymous double vinyl LP–really interesting and a (dynamically) challenging recording of great depth. With thanks to my son for getting this for me.
The Black Keys – El Camino – kicking some rock and roll and blues butt.
Yellow Birds – The Color
Fountains of Wayne – Sky Full of Holes – More finely crafted songs.
Tom Waits – Bad As Me – This album just rips.
Wire – Chairs Missing (revisiting a great album from 1978)
Montt Mardie – Skaizerkite – Really energetic songs (AKA David Olof Peter Pagmar) from Sweden.
The Bruford Tapes – From 1979, a reissued 2 channel FM broadcast by Bill Bruford and band.
Long Way Down – Soundtrack to the African motorcycle adventure taken by Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman.
Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas – His 12th studio album…I’ve only heard excerpts and so far and I’m looking forward to this.
Michael Franks – Time Together (released in the summer of 2011) – some great songs from the humorous “Mice” to the heartfelt farewell to his family’s pup, Flora. Gil Goldstein’s arrangements on this are absolutely magical.
Trombone Shorty – For True – Get your funk on!
Taylor Deupree – his albums Shoals and Northern (on his 12K label), electronic/acoustic explorations, beautifully packaged.
Tomas Phillips + Mari Hiko – Prosa (on M. Ostermeier’s Tench label) – Dynamic recording and imagery.
John Zorn – The Gates of Paradise – inspired by the works of William Blake with John Medeski, Kenny Wollesen, Trevor Dunn and Joey Baron – A really beautiful, lyrical and mysterious work inspired by the mystic.
Martin Schulte (Marat Shibaev) – Silent Stars, Odysseia and Treasure – Atmospheric Techno
bvdub – Then – House, Techno, experimental and ambient
There just isn’t enough time in the day (nor money in the music budget). Anyone else have suggestions?
“Winter Garden”, the new instrumental CD by Eraldo Bernocchi, Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie on the RareNoiseRecords label: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/ The album is also available at Darla Records: http://darla.com/ This IS a solicited review, but I already owned the recording.
“Beyond the Shrouded Horizon”, Steve Hackett’s new album available on the InsideOut label and through the artist’s website: http://www.hackettsongs.com/
Monty Adkins – Fragile.Flicker.Fragment
In my review below of M. Ostermeier’s latest album, I didn’t note that Marc referred me to the work of Monty Adkins and specifically his recent CD “Fragile.Flicker.Fragment.” This album is a real gem, beautiful electric and acoustic pieces and wonderfully produced and it has been nominated for a Qwartz8 award in the album category in France: http://qwartz.fr/2012/01/24/qwartz-8-categorie-album-cat/ It’s available at Audiobulb Records: http://www.audiobulb.com/
The track “Remnant” has an accompanying video, which is here:
Marcus Fischer – Collected Dust
Also, I recently became aware of the work of Marcus Fischer (why do I miss all these great artists?). He has a just released CD entitled “Collected Dust”. Please read more about Marcus’s work at his website: http://dust.unrecnow.com/ as well as at Tench Records (sound files here): http://www.tenchrec.com/TCH05.html The CD just arrived yesterday and it’s playing now. A splendid work (also electric and acoustic in a similar vein to Monty Adkins’s work).
Tench Records – TCH04 – 37:11
1) Micro Forest Updraft, 2) Streambed Arrangement, 3) Sunlight on My Desk, 4) I Took Out Your Picture, 5) Floorboards, Well-worn, 6) Trickle Down, 7) Fast Darters, 8) Underwater Drifting, 9) Retreating Night, 10) Suspicions, 11) Ngth
I’ll admit it; I was first intrigued with this album because of its cover, images of an abandoned sci-fi pod-style housing project in northern San-Zhr, Taiwan taken by photographer Craig Ferguson. Coincidentally, I had recently purchased the band Should’s sharply crafted album “Like A Fire Without Sound” on the Words on Music label. Little did I realize, but M. (Marc) Ostermeier is also part of Should, along with Tanya Maus & Marc’s brother, Eric. Marc is also co-owner of the Words on Music label. After rather experimental sampled-guitar beginnings in Austin, Texas, Should’s music has evolved into rather direct (and often very catchy), yet introspective, post-rock works sometimes classified as the “shoegazer” genre.
“The Rules of Another Small World” certainly takes some cues from Brian Eno and Harold Budd’s ambient works together and it sounds as if one is exploring the environs of what is depicted on the album’s cover. In contrast to Should’s directness, this is music-on-the-edges of consciousness or the fringe of a dream, with great depth. It evokes, for me, a feeling of having vivid memories without remembering all of the details, yet still being left with strong images, sounds and colors. The album has an almost early-era Kraftwerk beginning, similar to “Kling Klang” from the 1972 album “Kraftwerk 2”. In that work, bells, gongs and chimes of various types start and then drift into a muffled drone of flute, guitar and electric piano.
Audio Tracks “Micro Forest Updraft” & “Underwater Drifting”: the-rules-of-another-small
Ostermeier uses electronic and acoustic instruments (piano and possibly a vibraphone) effectively and melodically throughout with various treatments. There are ambient sounds, real and electronically created. The recording is penetratingly clear and broad, but not overpowering, so the result is a very relaxing and sensuous exploration of an ethereal musical realm. This is music with a direction, not free-form ambient sounds, at all. With each subsequent listen, I hear new things and focus on different parts and counterpoints in the recordings. Marc previously released an equally intriguing album “Chance Reconstruction” TCH01, with another beautifully decorated sleeve of black and white forest images.
TCH01 Chance Reconstruction
http://affordableaudio.org/Affordable$$Audio/Current_Issue.html and http://www.hifizine.com/ Stay tuned for additional online locations.
My latest music review is here at Affordable Audio (scroll to the bottom of the page): http://affordableaudio.org/Affordable$$Audio/Current_Issue.html