“Red Sister’s Brigade” Film (1960): Ideology Trumps Psychology

Wu Jinghua- From Indigene Slave to Jungle Warrior-
An “Act” of Change, not a “Study” of Change

As with most novelties of or in stagecraft (including its documenting in film), new things seem to arrive in competitive pairs. The success acclaim) of the first prompts a rival effort in the second. But for the same reason, “B” needs to find a different (if subtly so) design for telling the same story than did “A”. Else it will get no enduring attention, or even vanish.

Such was the case with the rival film-operas WHITE haired girl (1950) vs. RED Sister’s Detachment (Hongse nuangzi jun, film 1960). As also with their derived ballets (wuju): the White came first (1955, Tokyo) but second in Shanghai (those ballet company staged it: while the second (Red) actually debuted first in Beijing, the inevitable guardpost of Red (and thus Jiang Qing’s favorite yangbanxi). A reversal then again reversed as the White girl claimed the huge Nat. Threatre twice (2010, 2011) as grand-scale live opera, while the Red Sisters had to make do with yet more global touring of their by now exhausted ballet. (Not just past its prime politically, but even from the first a subject of sotto voce critical scorn: Alicia Alonzo, maestro of the Ballet de Cuba (f. 1955), is reported to have ridiculed (“was surprised that ballerinas could execute grand jetes while lifting rifles over their shoulders…:).

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