A very good film, maybe better, and a great one, at Lincoln Center. Both were digital projections. The restored Mizoguchi was difficult to watch (there are no previews on youtube). I was shocked to find out The Assassin was shot in film, given the extreme difference in texture between the interior and bright exterior shots. The framing and pacing of Hou's film owes a lot to video art. Video art, coming out of fine art, began as a struggle to come to terms with narrative by opposing it, as in Warhol or Wilson, or by trying to see motion as another physical formalism: the equivalent of Balanchine and Cunningham in dance, or Stella, from the 70's on. Warhol and Wilson work out of a fear, of time and death, things the others simply ignore.
Painting even at it's most dynamic in appearance is still static in fact: self-contained. A film is a series of images defined by their incompletion. The perfection is in the whole. Video art began as a kind of non-narrative art within implicitly narrative form, taken by its makers and audience to be more serious than movies as "performance art" was considered more serious than theater. But as time passed video and film have merged as visual arts, as visual poetry, while television has taken on the role of visual prose.
Hou a follower of Ozu; his film is arty in a sense Ozu's films weren't. A few of his shots are so strong on their own that they overwhelm the narrative. They were intended to, but they're in conflict with the ephemeral nature of projected light and time: they linger, like photographs.
Mizoguchi's films are tougher than Ozu's. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums is comfortably between so many categories -entertainment, melodrama, tragedy- as to be beyond them. It's a movie that's so good, so specific in the placement and timing of actors and camera and edits, and with that specificity feeding the engagement of the audience with the story and the form, that it deserves to be called art. Hou's film was made as art, and it is. It's a subtle difference at the highest level, the difference between being serious and wanting to be.
Hou uses digital technologies; Tarantino opposes them, while being equally academic in his relation to film and history. The only thing that bothers me is that the distinction is being forgotten. I've read nothing but praise for the Mizoguchi restoration; the only negative comment was from the man taking my ticket. He was right. A lot's been lost.
Not done with this.
New tags for old topics: Video Art/Gallery Film, Frank Stella
related: The Pictures Generation, Baldessari