March 10, 2011

Life in a Ghost Town

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Documentaries are often made with specific goals in mind. Some, like the stuff you see on the History Channel, are instructional — they furnish viewers with general knowledge and bits of trivia. Others, like the entirety of Michael Moore’s output, are expository — they argue for a point, and often do so in highly polemical fashion. Yet others are emotional — human interest stories, invested in bringing out emotional responses from viewers and evoking reactions of catharsis. Then there are those documentaries that are purely documentary — they merely document, without padding, without explanation, without exposition, facets of everyday human experience. Ghost Town is one of these — a three-hour long account of the everyday lives of villagers in the remote Chinese town of Zhiziluo. Slow and ponderous, it is a lovingly fashioned portrait of the lives of people in places normally out of sight of the public eye. That being said, however, its glacial pace requires an inhuman amount of patience to sit through without wishing at some point that the movie would end faster. In a way it feels like staring at a Norman Rockwell painting for two hours — after a while you’d rather move on and do something else than stare at some pastoral scene all day.

Original Author: Colin Chan