Borderland Legend, Carnival Fetes and Cinematic Opera

The other being (2) the inclusion or nesting of operatic show (especially “spectacle” elements of dance and costume, with minimal “storying”) into a kind of fantastic travelogue , transiting mysterious unknown, exotic spaces and “overhearing” their collective “opera” as if in remote or magical time (with the traveller disappearing, lulled in or under by the power of fantasy.) (One immediately thinks of Tales of Hoffman, Nutcracker (though properly a ballet), …). The reinstallation or ex-installation of the “where” falls in China under the category of metamorphic or ghostly tale-telling (mainly about women: fox-fairies and the like): it is there originally more often a literary than operatic form, but there ARE a number of film version of the exercise that work very well, even (most of all?) when the Shangri-la is a Red (Soviet) Base area, as in White Haired Girl Jiang, or Red Sisters’ Brigade (in the film the camera returns obsessively to the “Drainage Basin Line” understood to demarcate the 5 Finger Mountains fantasy-landscape.: the magical from the un-; just as in Red Sorghum, the chuanqi film-opera par excellence, it is (both) the red sorghum throughpass (“Killer’s Gulch”) and the the collapsed bridge-like passover that seems to alert us that the story even though cast in film takes us beyond that genre’s literalism.

Religion and Opera

If the travelogue-into–mystery like version of film-opera seems viable across cultures (I think it is), and certainly good cinema, there lies behind the genre (is elaborated within) a empowering linkage with folk-ritual religion, and in particular with the universalized template of calendaring “carnival”. A platform and occasion for the germination of chthnonic/folk operaticity almost universally discoverable as well, and certainly of ancient lineage.

“Folk” being the important qualifier, and the precipitant of opera as show – if (when) we understand it to mean any and all performances truly “owned” by its cast of enactors, thus “self-performed, self-circulated, by us for us”, which is what minjian (alt. to minzu) conveys. Self-encoded so as to speak first to the performers, last (if at all) to the outside witness. Attaching to the ceremony as a whole the “spectacle” aspect of carnival celebration – the presentation of larger- or more grotesque – than life anthropomorphic beings, in a sense, puppets.

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