Occasional Evenings: The Last Emperor

BISR Central
68 Jay Street, #425
Brooklyn, NY 11201

At first glance, Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1987 masterpiece The Last Emperor seems little more than another in a long line of sweeping historical epics celebrating a bygone (and in this case, to Western audiences, exotic) era. Yet, politically and aesthetically, The Last Emperor breaks and critiques period nostalgia at every turn. Its nominal focus, Pu Yi—appointed as a child to be the titular last emperor of China—is a largely passive, unimportant creature, constantly upstaged by forces of history far beyond his control or comprehension. Although gorgeously filmed, in lush color and vivid, almost palpable detail, The Last Emperor refuses aristocratic romance. In its depiction of imperial China’s final decline, the past is democratized historically and literally; the rarified pleasures of the few become possibilities for the many. And although it plays with an Orientalist lens, The Last Emperor openly embraces the outsider’s view, working with considerable Chinese artistic and historical input and the assistance of no less than the People’s Liberation Army, to turn what might be cast as Chinese particularity into political generality.

Join us Wednesday, July 6th, at BISR Central, for our latest Occasional Evening: a screening and discussion, with BISR’s Ajay Singh Chaudhary and Rebecca Ariel Porte and guest Isabella Litke, of The Last Emperor. How does a film embrace the beauty of an aristocracy it views as rightly overcome by history? How does a film hold a firm political view without descending into simple propaganda or apology? How was such an improbable film—based on Pu Yi’s autobiography and Twilight in the Forbidden City by Pu Yi’s British tutor Reginald Johnston (played by Peter O’Toole of Laurence of Arabia fame)—not only possible, but also successful? Why was such an unabashedly Marxist film so celebrated in capitalist Hollywood? What can The Last Emperor teach us about the interplay of aesthetics, politics, and history? How do these elements come together in a story about a man, born into a world of extraordinary privilege, learning, harshly, that he’s just like everyone else? 

Beer, wine, seltzer, and snacks will be served. Attendance is free (with $8 suggested donation). Please RSVP below.

Event Schedule

Wednesday, 7:00pm ET
July 06, 2022


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