In this master thesis, I focus on a controversial historical movement—the 1930s’ Chinese Leftist Film Movement (1932-1937) to study its development, function, main characteristics and influence. I argue that in the 1930s because of the serious national crisis, shared circular history of the community and various discussions on cultural values, Chinese intellectuals in the film field transformed their transcendences, which might more or less contain a radical tendency, into a dialogical degree. The dialogical transcendence also contributed to the formation of a public space in the film field. Conversely, the public space promoted the transformation of the transcendence. Thanks to the effect of the dialogical transcendence, discussion and negotiation became an effective method to address social issues. Chinese film production also changed in this situation. More and more filmmakers turned to concentrate on portraying social issues. Cinematic strategies like an open ending, which could encourage and broaden the engagement of discussion, were employed in the 1930s film practice. Accordingly, in the 1930s film texts, various discourses and multiple truths coexisted.
Being a component of the 1930s film practice, the leftist film movement shared a similar tolerance to alien discourses. On the other hand, it also had its specific distinctiveness. Relying on discussion and negotiation, intellectuals achieved a comparative consensus and drew a framework with two core principles for leftist film production: exposing social darkness and looking for an alternative modernity. In this framework, various attitudes and expressing forms were acceptable. The constitution of participants in this movement was complex. Some filmmakers took an active part in it; but some might be passively selected because their particular texts could fit in this framework. In addition to filmmakers, intellectuals in the printing press field were also engaged. Some of their film reviews showed a trend to guide film interpretation to a particular political perspective, even though as cultural texts, leftist films are open to diverse interpretations. In this sense, the leftist film movement actually was in a canonization process
I use two leftist film cases: Street Angel and Big Road to concretely analyze the different cinematic strategies used by filmmakers to expose social issues and express their inclination to an alternative modernity, like using the POV to fix the audiences’ identities and the dynamic object/subject relationship between male and female characters. The two films also construct allegories to educate the masses to be modern subjects.
Although leftists and the members of the Chinese Communist Part (CCP) took part in this movement and worked as influential roles, the CCP’s ideology cannot completely and perfectly explain the whole process and cultural meanings of this movement. Nevertheless, as open texts with a mission to look for an alternative modernity, the leftist film movement leaves enough room for the CCP to modify and re-narrate it in its own ideology after 1949. Actually, the 1930s Leftist Film Movement was reduced in the process of the CCP’s second canonization from the perspectives of film list, textual richness and cultural complexity. It may be a reason why scholars always face contradictions when they study this movement based on the CCP’s film lists and interpretations.