The post modern city in Chungking Express is flowing with images, neon colour, blur and movement shot very brilliantly. When I saw Chungking Express I was very much drawn to this as a cinema language to express urban movement and the dismemberment of people. The cinematographer Christopher Doyle's most recent film Happy Together was also directed by Wang Kar- Wai. I am a great fan of both. Doyle has pioneered a cinematic style which is very expressive. Such energy and movement are the key elements in films I like.
Black Orpheus is set in a mythical present. It takes the Orpheus myth about the god of music going into the underworld to rescue Persephone. In that underworld there is also the underworld of a city; the gangster land and the unconscious come together and we go into the deep motivations of where we are coming from.
Black Orpheus was a pioneering film in terms of black film-making. The director was a Frenchmen and it was done at a time when there was a lot of interest in the new black world. Jean Paul Sartre was discussing negritude - an idea which tries to point to the essence of black-ness in terms of culture and aesthetic. By setting the ancient Greek myth in a black carnival underworld it was taking a very specific and perhaps unusual setting and showing how the archetypal and recurring myth can function in a different place. And, of course, the use of colour for both night-time and carnival costumes is absolutely splendid. There is one amazing scene when Orpheus dies and climbs up a hillside by a shanty town, falls and is impaled on a huge cactus.
It's the idea of ancient timelessness and the Post-Modern clashing together in these films which makes them work well together. There is also a very interesting contrast between the two in the use of colour. Black Orpheus is in Cinemascope with the old Technicolor colour stock look with its contrast of reds and blues. It's acolour quality characteristic of films in the late-Fifties. It contrasts with a modern film stock in Chungking Express which registers colour in a completely different manner. It's more bleached out, a kind of alienated look completely appropriate to the subject.
From different ends of this half of the century, Chungking Express and Black Orpheus capture the world in all its different energies.
Jennifer RodgerReuse content