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While filming the Olympics, a filmmaker encounters a Japanese girl. Manchurian born and French educated, she's an intriguing anomaly. He films her around Tokyo, as she speaks of Japan, being Japanese and her unique perspective on life.
"When men die, they become history. Once statues die, they become art. This botany of death is what we call culture."
This smart opening line sets up high expectations for the viewer, and the film succeeds in redeeming all of them. After seven months I saw this film for the second time, this time on the big screen, and therefore decided to write a brief review of the film, I so admire. The film is an intelligent analysis of the cruelty by which imperialism has destroyed the art of the original Africa. It was made by two French masters to come - Alain Resnais (Hiroshima mon amour) and Chris Marker (La jetee). Together they created a masterpiece which changed our way of looking at Africa, due to which the film was instantly banned for four years.
In the late 1940's India became independent and it was just a matter of time when Europeans would get kicked out of Africa. Africa begun to wake up. Before this documentary people had only experienced Africa through imperialistic consciousness - Tarzan films were all the material people had seen of the colony and Africa's own films were still waiting to be made. The film was years ahead of its time, depicting imperialism - the political, economical and cultural exploitation of colonial possessions, and the European feeling of superiority. Just as Jean Rouch's The Mad Masters (1954) so did this documentary, about the art of indigenous peoples, get banned and therefore is still quite unknown compared to another documentary by Alain Resnais, about the legacy of WWII and concentration camps, Night and Fog (1955).
The commentary track by Chris Marker leads us to the sacred world of artifacts. But when they get cataloged and put behind museum showcases, they die too. We are shown how original art gets destroyed, how the old core values vanish. There is no sense in categorizing objects into art in a world where everything is art, a kind of world which Africa here represents. A man of the African community sees so much more in this art - he sees the faces of culture, where all we see is external beauty and picturesqueness.
Statues Also Die is a film about racism and western thoughts of superiority: "We look at Negro art just as it would gain its right to exist after giving the pleasure to us." African art is full of soul and beauty, filled with significance. But as Europeans steal it and take it from their land to the cold museums, the art loses its meaning. Europeans can only enjoy it aesthetically, they only see its external side and not the essence of it. They adore this art and as demand grows it turns into mass-production, trash - bazaar art.
Great art has been bought and spoiled, the black man was paid to sell his soul, to turn his heritage, culture and life into a comedy. Religious needs were replaced by commercial interests; "folklore, sports and music." The black man was able to make fun of the white man in the ring, or in a basketball game but after they won, they got bashed and kicked in the name of racism. The role of the boxer or the drummer, in the ring or in the orchestra, was born from the need to return the strikes their brothers had taken from the white man in the streets. White man enslaves the black man; an illustrating moment is the picture where a white man is guiding a black man to make a bracelet - white man has turned original African art into a portrait of himself.
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