Borderland Legend, Carnival Fetes and Cinematic Opera

All of which I think plays out in the design of plot and scene in a highly experimental Chinese sub-genre of first generation filmed operas – in effect ghost or metamomorphic stories – , and explains why all three were instant (and still surviving) successes d’estime outside of as will as within the control-zone of its originators. These being, in in order of filmic release, White Haired Girl (1950), Liu Sanjie (1959?) and (my favorite)m, Ashima (1964).

It is for the forementioned reasons – their sotto voce probing of paganist rite, shamanic communion, and orally transmitted ancient legend- that the three most enduring /best folk-operas to enter the Chinese repertory are all built on ancient religious (shamanic/archaic) structures/foundations so prominent in pre-monotheistic communal ritual. (esp the Mulan operas: also niulang yv zhinv and tianxianpei ).

What is also worth noting and pertinent is that all 3 are tales of metamorphosis going well beyond childish fantasy. The transformation comes as the end-game in a narrative sequence of malfeasances which are somehow escaped by a feminine victim (or pair of doomed lovers), who, when no longer able to escape, turn upon her tormentors by a mystery-evocative kind of suicide: one that literally embeds her/their “spirit” (ling) in an imagined numenal object (planet, geomorph, etc): one which which, while a prison (a grave of sorts), a place from which movement is not possible, at the same time, because known and within (imagined) sight of mortals, provides a mystery-enshrouded platform from which she/they will eternally confront their her now terrified tormenters, her/their resurrected form thus embedding an eternal warning to those who we would repeat the crime.

All three sharing, as well, a similar geological/geographic background. These stories of miraculous transform all unfold against or, better, within or under the spell of gothic landscsapes (mountainscapes) which both embed expectations of miracle, and enfold their telling with a sense of the mystery of the truly “unknown”: All are/were extracted from inhabited but remote mortal spaces whence they had not ever before sortied in printed form, or perhaps even in oral. All three are culled from “beyond-the-horizon” as ritual all to be found in the folklore of culturally disattached, cut off, even non-Sinitic enclaves hidden by/behind forbidding looking, erosion prone mountain chains: the Qinling W to E) and (NE to Pingding) in the North and the Dabie in the south.

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