Guo Xizhi’s 2009 documentary “Mouthpiece” would seem to be a sort of repayment of a debt. Guo turned his lens on an organization in which he himself had worked — Shenzhen TV. We see modern, gleaming glass towers and wide, brightly-lit corridors, public spaces where people meet up and go their separate ways, and in particular Guo’s state media colleagues who put together the Shenzhen TV news program “First Spot”, from station executives to front-line reporters.
Apart from the show’s presenters, these men and women work behind the scenes, and normally do not seek to appear before the viewers. But every day, they direct their cameras at people of all walks of life in the community, and thereby obtain the material for their program. It’s only reasonable to expect that, once in a while, they would be willing to allow someone else to come and film them as they go about their work. If they didn’t agree to an outsider setting up a camera to record their activities, how could they justify doing that themselves to others? On a daily basis, they intrude into other people’s lives. They could hardly complain if occasionally someone were to intrude in theirs.
Although Guo constantly buzzes around the Shenzhen TV staff like some persistent fly, they show no inclination to shoo him away, and it was probably a wise move on their part to decide to cooperate with him. If the Shenzhen TV news crews behave like paparazzi, then by the same token you could say that Guo himself is a paparazzo’s paparazzo. In this case, the rationale of the observer and the observed is the same. No doubt, considerations of this sort played a part in the decision to agree to Guo’s project. It worked in Guo’s favour that the film-maker and his subjects are kindred spirits.
Bearing this in mind, there is no need to ask why these smartly-dressed individuals perpetually look so dispirited and run-down, or why, during meetings, they all stagger about as if half-asleep. In the presence of someone as familiar to them as Guo, it just isn’t possible to maintain a facade of professional composure. Even the presenter having her makeup done before going live does not escape Guo’s lens. But when these people open their mouths to speak, they make cutting remarks, ridicule each other, and make shocking pronouncements. In idle moments, we see them leaning by a window making a few remarks, or waiting in a corridor for a job interview. These scenes have a strange vibe, as if they were part of the development of some big plot. It reminds one of a television drama.
Emotions are raised to a fever pitch, only to become subdued just as quickly. Stories start off this way: “Looks like a hot lead — let’s go!” Facing an angry crowd accusing local government officers of unlawful confiscation, they listen patiently; with striking workers who are standing up to their detestable Japanese factory manager by setting up a picket line, they sympathize. In another scene, they make their way through a condemned building in a back alley in an old part of town. The people there have had their water and electricity cut off. Both the news team and the local people alike grow anxious when they find themselves completely surrounded by a contingent of security officers. But often enough the story ends with the words “We can’t put this to air.” Again and again, partly-formed news stories are aborted, so that the audience gets the feeling that they have walked into a “family planning office” for news reports.
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