With host Stephanie MacDonell
Stephanie: Hi Qian!
Qian: Hi Stephanie!
Stephanie: Let’s dive right in, what’s your research? Where are you interests at right now? I know you are still in your first year of the program.
Qian: Right now I’m doing a continuation of projects from last semester. One is on Chantel Akerman’s films. Louis was just discussing Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels in Film Aesthetics, which was really awesome! It inspires me a lot and I will think more about the film and my argument. Another is on Robert Egger’s The Witch (2016). I always want to work on horror films. What I learned in my first year makes me think a lot. So, I’m trying to incorporate what I’m learning into these papers.
Stephanie: What horror films are you interested in?
Qian: I like a lot of horror films. I like Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day (2001), Ana Lily Amirpour A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), The Babadook (2014), of course, The Witch, it could be a horror for me. I also like those more “popular” horror movies, which I watched when I was young, such as The Shining (1980), Ringu (1998), Alien (1979), Rosemary’s Baby(1968), etc.
If the question is what’s my favorite horror film (laughs) it will be really hard to answer! Each film has its shining elements that I like and it can’t really be compared to one another. So for me it’s hard to find a single film that is my favorite. I like Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, you wrote on that one, that could be one of my favorites; I like tone and the rhythm. I’m really interested in the way in which the female protagonist has been represented as well as the relation of her to the others. I also like the generic horror films, both the slow paced haunted story in Asian films or Western ones with explicit monsters. I audited a horror class before and that class opened my eyes. It broads me the way to analyze horror films. That horror could reveal our fear for the outsider of the dominant ideology. There was one article written by Robin Wood that theorized figures as monsters/the Other: like other people, woman, the proletariat, children, and the like. Anyway, those readings assigned in the class really made me rethink the images in horror films.
Stephanie: From what I’ve seen in your work you seem very interested in the way the female body is portrayed onscreen and of course feminist film theory.
Qian: Actually, I hadn’t really worked on feminist theory before I got here. I had written essays about horror, about French cinema, which is another huge interest, but never really focus primarily on feminist film theories. However, this has always been a territory that I wanted to touch on. I feel like my relationship to film comes from a personal experience. My slightly shifting interest actually mirrors my current thinking, which is about the relationship between myself and the world. When I am pursuing graduate education, I got tons of negative comments. I can feel many people judge me and my decision based on my gender, based on their understanding of female role. At a moment, I felt a lot of pressure. The pressure is not from that people can stop you doing something, but from that the repeated questioning make I repeatedly question myself. So, I started thinking more theoretically about the female position in the society and in the daily life. Another interesting example I want to add here. The other day, when I watch a popular Chinese television show, I found it is really interesting for me that many young women would have a “reproduction” plan even they have not gotten a boyfriend. This also will make me think about many things, such as reproduction, feminine, female subjectivity, etc.
For me, it’s not just because I’m a woman so I want to study feminist film theory. I feel like the pressure to be the woman as other people expected is really what makes me want to think about female subjectivity and to what extent I can have my own space to speak and behave the way I want to behave. I also think that part of reason for me to think about feminist film theory comes from experimental films I’ve seen by female directors. Chantal Akerman, Carolee Schneemann, Yoko Ono, Maya Deren, Gunvor Nelson, and many others.
So for me, I can tell..maybe I’m being too confident in saying this…but I always play with myself by guessing whether the filmmaker is female. Most time I am right. I can feel something different and it’s not just about the topic…because the topic is something easy to capture…The overall expression is different so I want to theorize my feelings about my film viewing experience.
Stephanie: That’s really interesting; can you think of an example from a film you’ve recently seen?
Qian: I watched Bette Gordon’s Variety, but not recently, it’s long time ago. The female protagonist works in a ticket booth at a theater. And the theater only shows pornography. The story focuses on her relationship to her male customers and her boyfriend. In the film, the woman is no longer followed by man but following man. So you get a lot of reversal, its now the woman following the man and watching him. In the film, she always talks about her sexual desire and fantasy to her boyfriend, however, her boyfriend feels really annoyed. Perhaps because she always talks this in public space, but it is also perhaps because women cannot talk about their sexual desire. Many things you can argue here.
So with that film as an example: the color, the frame, the soundtrack and the slow and quiet pace of this whole film makes me feel a sense of feminine.
Stephanie: What did you do for your undergraduate?
Qian: I did Journalism and Mass Communications. I was looking at more Mass Media theory but I’ve moved on to film.
Stephanie: Are you are teaching any classes over the summer?
Qian: Yeah, I’m teaching two classes. One is about recent Chinese cinema, so I called it “China” in Recent Chinese Cinema. It will include Jia Zhangke, Jiang Wen, and other filmmakers. Some people think documentary is the only genre to deal with the reality but I want to emphasize the blurred boundaries between the nonfiction and the fiction.
The other class is about cross cultural film remakes. Not just Chinese film remakes but other countries. I’m looking at more cross-cultural remakes. I have my own list and most of them are horror or thrillers (laughs). I don’t know why but that seems to be one connection of the remake. It will include the film like Infernal Affairs and its American version, A tale of two sisters and the American remake The Uninvited, etc…
Stephanie: Yeah! I find all kinds of connects with courses I develop. Have you seen anything recently in the theaters? What have you been watching on your own?
Qian: I saw Park Chan-wook The Handmaiden, I saw it in New York at the Lincoln Center Film Society. It was different from Park’s early films! I just rewatched Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin (director). I need to rewatch all his films before I start to write or teach them. I’ve also been watching films about the witch. I was amazed by Egger’s The Witch. I found out that the earliest film about witches was Benjamin Christensen’s Haxan (1922), that shocked me, it was a whole long feature film.
Stephanie: What classes are you taking this semester?
Qian: I’m taking Film Aesthetics with Louis and Erin’s Film History I. Actually, Louis shocked me in our first class, Film Study I. He spent almost two hours just to analyze one single shot. I was fucking shocked by that! I was assuming I’m the kind of person who has a good eye for details, but compared to Louis, I am nothing…
Stephanie: You are also taking Video Game Image with me!
Qian: Yeah! I also want to think about my thesis, I hope I can at least find a topic and start to write at the beginning of the fall semester.
Stephanie: Do you have any ideas yet?
Qian: No but I have so many interests and I’m trying to figure out a way to combine them together. I still have trouble with that, combining them within a historic context. Watch and learn, ING.