Category Archives: Film

“THE GREAT MUSEUM” (“Das Grosse Museum”)— The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna

the great museum“THE GREAT MUSEUM” (“Das Grosse Museum”)   

The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna

Amos Lassen

Kunsthistorisches Museum (literally translated as ‘Museum of Art History’) in Vienna was opened in 1891 by Franz Joseph I in order to find a grand home for the Habsburgs’ formidable art collection. “The Great Museum” is an unprecedented look at what makes one of the largest museums in the world work and it touches on everything from restoration and visitor services to font choices for marketing materials and budget wrangling. Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum is home to masterpieces by Raphael, Rubens and Vermeer, as well as extensive collections of Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities, arms and armor, and musical instruments. Director Johannes Holzhausen, an art historian, was given seemingly unrestricted access to the museum’s myriad of different departments during 2012 and 2013.

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The film begins as the museum is preparing to close for a facelift – paintings are removed from the walls and packed away into storage, sculptures are dusted down in their most intimate areas, and display cases are meticulously wiped. Work begins to renovate the rooms and the contractors move in. They break up flooring, remove wallpaper and re-plaster. The director of the museum, Sabine Haag, takes Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, on a tour of the work in progress. MacGregor is clearly impressed by Haag’s vision, noting that the British Museum cannot match the Kunsthistorisches Museum for exhibition spaces with a history so closely related to the works they contain.

The film is both a fond and scathing documentary. Along with his camera crew, Holzhausen went behind the scenes to explore one of Vienna’s (and the world’s) leading museums, which manages the cultural legacy of the Habsburg dynasty. It is a difficult legacy, says one of the participants. How can one present this art, largely produced to assert and reinforce the power of the Habsburg dynasty (one of the most important royal houses in Europe from the 11th through the 18th centuries), in a contemporary way? How can it help inspire people today? The cautious response of one museum employee—“Well, the glass cabinets are modern”—points to a real problem.

The Vienna museum complex is not only a site devoted to preserving the past, it is also a business enterprise. It stands in competition with other museums and cultural institutions around the world yet it is subject to a rigid finance plan and has undergone budget cuts.

The workers who are greatly dedicated and they ensure that works of art are available to the public day after day. Again and again, Holzhausen shows artwork in the hands of employees in the process of transportation, examination or restoration. The existence of such works is entirely dependent on the careful attention and respect paid by these workers.

We learn that the priority was the custody and maintenance of the objects for future generations. This was the thinking that lay behind the museums founded in the 19th century. Since the 1990s, museums have increasingly had to fall into line with the priorities dictated by neoliberal economics.

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Until the mid-1990s, Austrian museums were subsidized by the state. Then they were converted into institutions competing on the free market with a basic grant from the state. This grant has not been increased since then, meaning that the museums have to generate more and more income. Holzhausen stripped away the gilded veneer of this Viennese museum to show how it works.

The film shows the opulent galleries, empty save for the cleaning staff, who are removing every last speck of dirt while in adjacent rooms, workers tear off plaster and dig up floors readying the rooms for a total redesign. Then we see the directors of the museum, planning the new advertising and logos, attempting to buy new artworks and organizing events or photo opportunities with government ministers upon whose subsidies the museum depends. Every aspect of what it takes to establish and run a major museum is given a brief spotlight, collecting a series of small episodes within the context of this major project.

These day-to-day activities are captured using the approach of direct cinema. By presenting things as they happen without any framing or bias allows the events to just be without interference. Whether the viewer enjoys the film or not depends upon his/her appreciation for direct cinema or an acceptance of non-narrative driven film. The images are the real strength here, with Holzhausen’s background in art history suiting the subject matter perfectly. There really are some incredibly well framed shots and intricate moves that show the director’s familiarity with the camera and an ability to provoke an emotion or a thought through interesting framing or a smooth dolly shot. There is something wonderfully fascinating about being invited behind the scenes of a particular world to see what makes it tick, to see the lives of people whom were previously unknown yet whose work can be witnessed in all its lavish glory.

“THE IMPOSTER”— Missing Three Years

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“The Imposter”

Missing for Three Years

Amos Lassen

“The Imposter” is one of the most fascinating films I have ever seen and to make it even more interesting is that it is a true story and a documentary. It is centered on a young Frenchman who claims to a grieving Texas family that he is their 16-year-old son who has been missing for 3 years. Director Bart Layton uses present day interviews as well as dramatized recreations as he hopes to give the story of a 13-year-old boy who disappeared from San Antonio, Texas in 1994. Years later the boy turns up in a telephone booth in a small village in southern Spain. He tells a very ambiguously spun tale of being kidnapped and tortured. The authorities (in both Spain and the United States) get so caught up in the desire to return the boy to his family that they overlook the basic facts that this boy is actually a man who speaks with a French accent and his hair and eye colors do not match the descriptions of the missing boy. Even stranger is that the boy’s family does not appear to take notice of these facts either; they accept the boy as their own welcoming him into their home and family. A lone San Antonio-based private investigator stumbles his way into the case and starts asking questions and a mystery that seems too absurd to be true begins to unravel.

If this film was shown to be a fiction film, no one would believe that it was based on facts. Other than its heavy-handed presentation, the film actually causes more questions than answers and this is what made it so interesting for me. Then there is also the will of the family to cling on to any shred of hope, regardless how ridiculous, that will bring their missing son home.

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By maintaining a detached just-the-facts approach together with the director’s decision to give equal time and weight to his various subjects’ perspectives, the themes are more obvious and heightened. heightens rather than dispels his central themes. Nicholas Gibson, a 13-year-old San Antonio, Texas resident whose family’s misery was seemingly eased by the news that in 1997, he had been found in Spain. Director Layton does not waste revealing none of this was true and that it had been perpetrated by Frédéric Bourdin, a 23-year-old orphan and grifter, who tells in detail how about his lifelong desire for family and acceptance and this was what brought led him to first impersonate a missing child and, once he had access to a police phone and a U.S. directory to call various American police stations posing as a cop until he obtained information about Nicholas, whose lost-boy identity seemed like the perfect one to use. As if this was not enough the fact that Bourdin got as far as he did is uncanny. Layton’s film has the added suspense as Bourdin is forced to pass himself off as Nicholas to family members, authorities, and then, upon making it back to the U.S. as a citizen.

No matter Bourdin’s horrific childhood, which he describes as being marked by a racist grandfather who didn’t accept his half-Arab identity, his actions were unquestionably horrible and disgusting. Then there is the fact that the Gibsons welcomed into their home a man whose stubbly face, bleached hair, and brown eyes and unmistakable French accent was nothing like their young, naturally blond, blue-eyed Nicholas. they. Was their grief so strong that they believed the story because they wanted to believe it even with all of the evidence that did not match? Maybe it was something else that we do not know about.

 The film gives no supposition or hypothesis about why the Gibson family bought the story. Instead it lets all of the knock into each other. There is a scene when the missing boy’s younger sister describes the gap in her brother’s front teeth and then Bourdin smiles and has a gap that is similar (a coincidence).

Even today, the story has mysteries and Layton micros-analyzes every step. One question is surely how Bourdin managed to pull off his masquerade but then there is also the question of how the family that was already so deeply wounded becomes a victim to the hoax. And then there is the larger question—what really happened to Nicholas Gibson?

 

 

“LIVING IS EASY WITH EYES CLOSED”— Teaching via the Beatles’ Lyrics

living is easy with eyes closed

“Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed”

Teaching Via The Beatles’ Lyrics

Amos Lassen

Set in Spain in 1966, “Living in Easy with Eyes Closed” is the story of Antonio, a high-school English/Latin teacher whose hero is John Lennon. He decides to drive to Almeria to meet Lennon who is there working on a film. On his way there he picks up two runaways. David Trueba directed this delightful comedy that is based on a true story, Javier Camera with whom I was completely in the dark about, gives a brilliant performance.

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When Antonio teachers English he uses the Beatles sons in class. When he learned that Lennon was making “How I Won the War” with director Richard Lester in Spain he decides to drive there in hopes of meeting him. As he traveled he picked up two hitchhikers. Belen (Natalia de Molina) is a pregnant 20-year-old who is reluctantly returning home to her family, and Juanjo (Francesc Colomer), a teenage boy who has run away from his bullying father after he disapproved of his Beatles haircut. Once they get to Almeria, the trio lives together in a local farmhouse and become close. However, Antonio knows why he has come to Almeria and he is determined to meet John Lennon.

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As Antonio, Camera gives a fabulous performance. He is a man full of warmth and has great chemistry with his young costars. The three trust each other totally but Antonio finds Juanjo’s preference to the Rolling Stones over the Beatles to be almost sinful. I did say that this is based on a true story but a lot of liberties have been taken. It is, indeed, true that Lester made “How I Won the War” with John Lennon in Spain and in Spain is where Lennon wrote, “Strawberry Fields Forever”. The title of the film is taken from that very song.

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Antonio is based on Juan Carrion Ganan who is now 90 years old. We see Antonio trying to get the Beatles to include the lyrics to their songs with the recordings and in fact, the Beatles began doing so when John returned from Spain. Antonio, Belen and Juanjo form an intriguing surrogate family. They share the usual personality conflicts including some interesting thoughts about living in an oppressive environment.

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 The script is well written and well performed. It is fun to hear Antonio seriously muse about the meanings of the Beatles’ lyrics. There are also some dark moments like meeting with the locals who could care less about the Beatles. We also get a peek at what it was like to live in the Spain of Franco. Visually, the film is gorgeous thanks to the wonderful cinematography of Daniel Vilar. This is one of those movies that you smile through and to me that is very important.

“TOM AND VIV”— A Thirty-Year First Marriage

tom and viv

“Tom & Viv”

A Thirty-Year First Marriage

Amos Lassen

Set in1915, T.S. (Tom) Eliot (Willem Dafoe) and Vivienne Haigh-Wood (Miranda Richardson) elope, but her longstanding gynecological and emotional problems disrupt their planned honeymoon. Her father is angry because Tom’s poetry doesn’t bring in enough to live on, but her mother is happy Viv has found a tender and discreet husband. “Tom and Viv” is an examination of T.S. Eliot’s tragic first marriage. It attempts to chronicle the thirty-plus year marriage and begins with their 1915 courtship, when both were in their twenties. Tom and Viv’s courtship was a whirlwind affair— the pair eloped before Tom learns his wife’s “dark secret.” She is the victim of a misdiagnosed hormonal imbalance which causes wild mood swings. The a supposed treatment — which includes massive doses of alcohol and morphine-based medications — serves only to further destabilize Vivienne. Nevertheless, despite his obvious distress, Tom sticks by his wife although few aspects of there are disastrous.

There are times when the film is over melodramatic and it drags a good bit of the way. Miranda Richardson brings a relish to her acting and this brought her an Oscar nomination. She is filled vigor, panache and nervous intelligence. She is perfect to play Viv.

 Tom & Viv are two mismatched people: one, disciplined and brilliant, who achieves great distinction as a writer; the other, mercurial and tortured, who struggles to define herself in her husband’s shadow. It didn’t take long for the lovers to see the flaws in each other. Tom is a virgin with no taste for sex. Vivienne is addicted to a number of wrongly prescribed medicines that throw her emotions out of whack.

At first, Vivienne’s father is appalled with her choice of Tom, a poet that has no prospects for suitable employment or income and has sold only 200 copies of his published poetry. His manners are so impeccable, however, that he charms Vivienne’s mother, who believes that “Tom” loves her daughter, demons and all.

Indeed, the real T.S. Eliot was so effective at impersonating a real Brit — at dressing and speaking in the British style that he fooled people into thinking he was British by birth. Brian Gilbert, directed the film with a certain chasteness and formality that is a hallmark of British biographical drama. Like Eliot, he is fastidious, refined, and a bit bloodless with a juicy story to tell and a tremendous cast to act it out. The film shows how Vivienne’s “madness” is exacerbated by medicine and defined not only by the times she lived in but by the tight, meticulous man to whom she was married.

Dafoe, who uses his mysterious, reptilian face to good advantage to give us an Eliot who comes across as shrewd and highly controlled, a man hungry for social status and career recognition, and pained by his wife’s troubles. But Eliot is ultimately willing to sacrifice her for the sake of his reputation. When Vivienne acts out in public and humiliates Tom, we see grave, inconvenienced look on his face. It’s a look that has less to do with his concern for Vivienne and more with the threat she poses to his professional standing.

The story of Eliot’s first marriage was unspoken about for years. Viv remained in the sanitarium for 11 years, even after she had recovered from her ailments, and Eliot never tried to have her released.

Eliot’s greatest work, “The Waste Land,” was largely inspired by their marriage. Vivienne remained faithful to Eliot and is always ready to defend her husband as the greatest poet in the English language. She once described him as do fine a person that “he should be living among kings, covered in raiment.” Richardson understands her character almost implicitly, and captures the complex, sad truth of Vivienne’s need to believe in her husband’s goodness so that she could survive.

 

“NERDGASM”— A Nerd on Stage

Nerdgasm

“NERDGASM”

A Nerd on Stage

Amos Lassen

Actor/comedian Tom Lenk says that he has been a nerd all his life— whether on stage, on screen, and in reality. He is best known for his comedic roles in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Cabin in the Woods,” “Transformers,” and “Much Ado About Nothing” . Lenk has dreamed about taking his story as a s live solo comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, the largest and most famous theater festival in the world. Now that show is a “dorkumentary,” as well as, in part, a concert film. We go behind the scenes of this unusual, exciting and sometimes lazy approach to creating a non-traditional “one man show”. We see practice shows in L.A.’s low-rent Theater Row as well as in some of the grand and historic British venues. Throughout the film, Lenk tries to satisfy his own personal Scotland-centric geeky cravings for Harry Potter, underground cities, Loch Ness Mythology and delicious sausage rolls. Lenk is a fun loving and neurotic persona and he is puts this the test on stage, “in the Scottish Highland wilderness and in the “Buffy” themed memorabilia room at the home of his biggest local Edinburgh fan.”

Lenk has some wonderful one-liners such as “Don’t you hate when you pay $150 for a Madonna ticket and she doesn’t sing ‘Like a Virgin’?” and then goes on to tell his audience stories from his days on cult television classic ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’.

Lenk has now moved on to other things, but for those people who have come to see this performance, he will always remain the “dorky Andrew” from a television show role that ended in 2003. He is completely aware of this, and shows no signs of resentment.

Many find it both interesting and gratifying that Lenk himself does not seem vastly different from the small screen character he portrayed. He has, he tells us, spent his career playing nerds in theatre, film and reality. He then supports this statement by showing a selection of photos, artwork, etc from his own high school years. 

The film contains a lot of storytelling, quite a few laughs, some musical interludes and projections and there is rather innovative segment in which audience members contribute illustrations, created in secret, to a song Lenk performs. Not everything works but the audience does not care. What Lenk wants to achieve here is time at the theater with people having fun with a nerd like him. He succeeds wonderfully.

I could not find a trailer.

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“HE LOVES ME… HE LOVES ME NOT”— In Love with the Doctor

he loves me

“He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not” ( “À la folie… pas du tout”)

In Love with the Doctor

Amos Lassen

Angelique (Audrey Tautou) is a young female student who is in love with a married cardiologist (Samuel Le Bihan). He does not appear for meetings or for a booked journey to Florence. Up to this point we see the situation as Angelique perceives it but then the movie turns back on itself and we see things from the doctor’s point of view.

At first, we see Angelique as a woman scorned and abandoned by her lover until she attempts suicide. The second part of the film follows the doctor and we realize that all is not as earlier seen. This is not a new story or a new idea.

The only difference between “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” and other films is its storytelling, which employs the use of different perspectives to unfold the plot. But this too has been done before.

Ultimately, the storytelling is the film’s downfall. The film relies too heavily on its presumed cleverness to make up for its weak story and rather than unveiling an intriguing mystery, it creates blanks and, upon retelling the story from another perspective, fills them in. The result is a thin plot stretched beyond capacity. When it is all over we are left with considerably less than the sum of its parts.

Angelique’s monomaniacal stalking of her cardiologist could have been a rewarding experience but director, Laetitia Colombani’s just does not do the trick. There are some witty remarks and the ending is a surprise but the film just did not do it for me.

“POPULATION BOOM”— Seeing the Future

population boom

“Population Boom”

Seeing the Future

Amos Lassen

“Population Boom” is a by filmmaker Werner Boote in which he travels the globe and examines a stubborn view of the world that has existed for decades. But he sees a completely different question: Who or what is driving this catastrophic vision? The film deals with the questions of “How many people are too many? And who’s one too many? Is this even the right question to ask?” Just 25 years ago, there were five billion people living on earth. Today there are some seven billion. Resources are dwindling, toxic waste is growing, hunger and climate change are prevalent as a result of the growing number of people on earth or is it? Boote travels all over the world to look at the myths and facts about overpopulation.

Boote questions the conventional wisdom. From Kenya’s slums to Dhaka in Bangladesh to New York City, China, Japan and elsewhere, he speaks with everyone from demographic researchers to environmental activists, and arrives at a surprising conclusion. It is not overpopulation that threatens humanity’s existence… it is the developed world’s patterns of over-consumption and constant pursuit of immediate profit that looms over our future. So now we can only wonder if overpopulation is a myth with the sole purpose of covering up larger and far more important problems, and making the world’s population the scapegoat of a far more complex issue. “It is not about how many of us there are, but about how we treat each other,” Boote states. “Population Boom” starts with this as the basis for a debate, and becomes a cinematic journey with the masses between myth, facts and politics.

“THE DOVEKEEPERS” by Alice Hoffman is a New Miniseries— Women at Masada

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“THE DOVEKEEPERS”

A New Miniseries on TV–Women at Masada

“The Dovekeepers”, based on Alice Hoffman’s 2011 novel about three women during the ancient siege and fall of Masada, will premiere over two nights on CBS. Its producers are the same people who brought you The Bible (including Touched By an Angel star Roma Downey). What could go wrong?
The trailer is out, and it’s action packed. There’s sex! White people (and a few Latinos) portraying Middle Eastern Jews! Asking “Yahweh” for rain! Women disguising themselves as men! More sex! Josephus Flavius as played by Sam Neill! Even more sex!

The first part premieres March 31. 

CLASSICS COMING FROM FILM MOVEMENT

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FILM MOVEMENT LAUNCHES CLASSICS LABEL WITH
ERIC ROHMER RE-RELEASE AT FILM SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTER

March 19, 2015 (New York, NY) – Film Movement (www.filmmovement.com), the New York-based film distribution company, announces today the launch of Film Movement Classics, a new label the company will use to restore and re-release out of print but highly sought-after films from the recent and distant past alike. The first two films to see theatrical re-releases in vibrant HD restorations are Eric Rohmer’s acclaimed FULL MOON IN PARIS, screening at Film Society of Lincoln Center, and THE MARQUISE OF O, which will see a theatrical release in select cities alongside Jessica Hausner’s AMOUR FOU.
The new label, launching with four titles scheduled for release in 2015, is the latest evolution for Film Movement since Michael E. Rosenberg joined the company in 2014. “There are so many wonderful, important films that are not available in the US,” Rosenberg said. “Launching our Classics label allows us to expand how we can serve our audience. Our core business will remain with highly-acclaimed new independent films, but now we can also bring back favorite titles from decades ago, newly restored.”
FULL MOON IN PARIS is the 1984 relationship drama about a young woman balancing several romantic interests; called “the very best of Eric Rohmer” by the New York Times on its original release, the film opens April 17 at Film Society of Lincoln Center, part of the complete Comedies and Proverbs series – six films Rohmer made between 1980 and 1987, each based on a proverb of Rohmer’s own creation. Pascale Ogier, who would die tragically young just months after the film’s U.S. release, won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival that year. Film Movement also premieres a brand new U.S. poster and trailer for the film Time Out London calls “elegant and incisive.” See both here.
With the March 18 theatrical release in New York (March 20 in Los Angeles) of Cannes Film Festival darling AMOUR FOU, Jessica Hausner’s meticulously executed observation of the love and death of writer Heinrich von Kleist, Film Movement also announces the release of Rohmer’s 1976 adaptation of von Kleist’s THE MARQUISE OF O, winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival that year. This classic period piece starring Bruno Ganz, called “witty, joyous and so beautiful to look at” by Vincent Canby of the New York Times, will screen in select arthouse theaters across the country alongside AMOUR FOU’s modern retelling of the end of von Kleist’s life. It will also stream on Fandor before releasing to wider On Demand platforms.
Other Film Movement Classics titles will include THE TALL BLOND MAN WITH ONE BLACK SHOE, Yves Robert’s 1972 blockbuster French comedy about a bumbling violinist mistaken for a secret agent, and Peter Greenaway’s THE PILLOW BOOK, the 1996 erotically-charged homage to calligraphy starring Vivian Wu and Ewan McGregor. Film Movement will release each restored title on DVD an Bluray, as well as include exclusive bonus content on each; THE PILLOW BOOK includes a newly-recorded director’s commentary from Greenaway. Home video release dates and additional special features for each titles will be announced as each release approaches.
“We are proud of the first several films we are able to restore and make available again, and we look forward to many more to come,” said Rosenberg.

About Film Movement:
Launched in 2002, Film Movement is a full-service North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films, based in New York City. Film Movement has released more than 250 feature films and shorts from 50 countries on six continents, including top prize winners from Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Berlin, Tribeca and other prestigious festivals. Film Movement releases its films through numerous distribution channels, including thousands of art-house cinemas, universities and libraries; home video; television outlets; Cable Video on Demand (including its very own branded cable VOD platform—Film Festival on Demand—available in over 40 million US homes); In-flight Entertainment, and broadband outlets. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com.

“THE KING OF MASKS”— Like a Fable


the king of masks

“The King of Masks”

Like a Fable

Amos Lassen

 Wang Bianlian (Zhu Xu), an aging street performer is known as the King of Masks. This is his story. His wife left him with and infant son over 30 years ago. When his son died at just 10 years old. Wang was terribly depressed and hoped for a son who would learn art. When a famous master performer of the Sichuan Opera offered to bring him into his act, Wang jumped at the chance fame and a possible fortune, but he decided to stay a simple street performer. One night, he buys a young boy from a slave trader posing as the boy’s parent. He thus found joy in life as he makes plans to teach “Doggie” (an affectionate nickname often used for young children in China) his art. But then he discovered that Doggie (Zhou Ren-ying) is really a girl.

Wu Tianming directs this film about an old man who opens his heart to an orphan. As much as he tries, Wang can’t stop loving the kid, even with all the trouble she stirs up. The story is reminiscent of Charles Dickens in the treatment of the father and child. Despite the humiliations Doggie has to endure, she is resilient girl and stays on as Wang’s cook and apprentice acrobat.We see what Doggie is willing to go to demonstrate her love and loyalty to the man she cherishes. In one of the film’s most poignant moments, she picks up a goddess statue on his boat and points out that he worships her.

When Doggie is kidnapped by a band of street thugs, presumably intent on selling the child into slavery, Wang is inconsolable, though when she returns with a real male heir in tow, he finds his fortunes looking up. But things get bad again. Wang needs love and affection and this story is told to us with beautiful direction and excellent performances. This becomes a story of redemption that shows us the alleyways and snaking trails of turn-of-the-century China, where child slavery was commonplace as starving families. Families often regarded daughters not so much as family members but as family members but as meal tickets.

“The King of Masks” pulls us into its simplicity, beauty and surprising emotional power. It benefits by the survival of ancient ways into modern times. Today a street performer might be scorned, but in the 1930s, he was seen as a member of an elite fraternity. Wang has a certain fame in the cities where he appears and gains respect from his colleagues–even the female impersonator who is a great opera star, doted on by army generals.. The story is something of a fable (the changeling, ancient secrets), but gains weight because we know that to Wang it makes a great difference whether Doggie is a boy or a girl.