Though I am Gone
English Title: Though I am Gone
Country of Origin: China
Studio: Visible Record
Director: Hu Jie
Producer(s): Hu Jie
Cinematographer: Hu Jie
Runtime: 68 minutes
Though I Am Gone is a documentary produced by Hu Jie in 2006. Hu was originally a painter, but shifted to video as his main medium in order to document different social issues in China. His focus on social issues has attracted unwelcome attention from Chinese officials. The Yunnan Multi Culture Visual Festival (Yunfest) in 2007, for example, was interrupted because of the inclusion of the film.
Though I am Gone tells the story of how the vice principal of a school, Bian Zhongyun, was beaten to death by her students at the very beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China. The woman’s husband, Wang Jingyao, a scholar of Modern History, survived. But Bian’s death left him struggling to deal with almost unbearable grief. In front of the camera, he begins to relive the traumatic events, and, it would seem, to transfer the burden of memory to the film-maker and viewers. In the film’s final sequence, Wang shares the contents of a chest with the film-maker. These include the bloodied clothes worn by Bian the day she was beaten to death, and her watch, which had stopped at some point during the beating. The film concludes with a long list of names of victims of the Cultural Revolution. This visual element is contrasted with the soundtrack that accompanies it: a propagandistic radio broadcast from the time of the Cultural Revolution.
In terms of documentary types, Hu’s Though I Am Gone can be said to deploy a range of strategies that go well beyond those associated with an expository mode. As a result of the film-maker’s use of different types of materials and a variety of audiovisual methods, Though I Am Gone becomes a formally and aesthetically compelling collage consisting of facts, memories and associations.
The film opens with an image of a clock, in colour. This image fades to black-and-white and is followed by another black-and-white image of a vintage folding camera. The ticking sound of the clock and the clicking sound of the camera’s shutter produce a hypnotic atmosphere that sets the stage for Wang’s recollection of his painful memories of the past. The image of the vintage camera recurs at various points throughout the film, a reminder of Wang’s own documentary efforts. As he himself says, with reference to the photographs that he took of the large character posters denouncing his wife and of his wife’s bludgeoned body, ‘I had to document the truth of history.’
The photos taken by Wang provide a deeply personal dimension to the film and stand in contrast to the various elements of the Cultural Revolution’s propagandistic discourse, as depicted through archival footage. Like other films about the Cultural Revolution, the archive footage in Though I am Gone shows the destruction of buildings and slogan shouting by young people waving Mao’s little red book. Archival materials drawn from government sources are clearly identified as such and thus clearly contrasted with other historical footage. As Wang’s intensely personal photos are brought together with archival images from the period, they make their way into the public domain where they begin to provide a record not only of the suffering of Bian and her family, but of the tragedy of the Cultural Revolution. Hu Jie’s Though I am Gone is a deeply moving documentary about a crucial period in China’s history and a stunning example of just how important a role such film-making has to play in contexts marked by personal and collective trauma.
Author of this review: Cheung Tit Leung