How to write a script for an essay film that is a montage of fragments, the mixing of pieces of documentary with fiction? How to create an atmosphere of dream and science fiction?

A Pile of Ghosts (2021)

The narrative of this film combines acting and re-enactments in between the real and the fictional to show the social spectacle in a reflexive mode. Protagonists perform as fictitious characters and narrate as a poetic device. This is relevant as reality is more than ever created through image culture, and politics of fantasy. Interviews are conducted and arranged, not for their value as direct quotations but for augmenting the performative acts. In the format of a Chinese ghost story, the protagonists appear ghost-like, but the true ghost is capitalism itself in the perverted form of empty cities. The aim is to create a ‘wandering viewpoint’, which triggers thought more than fact does. The characters are all involved in the real estate market as construction workers, agents, investors, and architects or in advertising. Their roles are created and scripted by real life and performed by actors in an attempt to reflect the working conditions within the global economy.


Ghost City as a Staging Ground

The intention is to use the ghost city as a staging ground for the film. One reference is Jacques Tati’s Play Time (1967), in which he built a whole city as a film studio with movable architectural elements to express the architectural spaces and living conditions of modernity. The staged scene is by no means a non-site, and he shoots with choreographed actors and actresses, staging urban scenes with his own distinctive character and almost no dialogue. Play Time becomes an icon for how the world has changed and captures the moment of urbanization and modernity, always in transition, more precisely than any documented record can achieve. The empty ghost cities might look like a film set, they might not be changeable like in Tati’s Play Time, but they are set-ups created for a possible future. I use these abandoned sites to inscribe a narrative coming from real life by doubly referencing the making of film and capitalism.


The Protagonists

The female protagonist is like Alice, a reference to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Cheng Songwen’s (沈從文, 1902-1988) adaption Ya-li-si in China. Her dreamland is China’s real estate market. The allegorical character has several roles, such as a ‘wandering’ actress who is visiting and discovering the haunted spaces, which are cause and effect of modernization under global capitalism. The acting of the main protagonist creates the narratives interwoven into these sites, combined with footage of the real estate companies and consumer behaviour, the living and working conditions. By using the roaming wanderer as a Chinese Alice, different perspectives are created and performed by a single actor in an attempt to reflect the working conditions within the global economy.

Charles is a fictive character, although his personality and background are real. He runs a hotel in Chongqing that is a ruin and decorates his house with furs and antique furniture. On a monitor he displays the old Hollywood movie The Waterloo Bridge (1940) nonstop, which he has watched over 2000 times. It is as if this film was a hint to a mystery. He dresses up in luxury brands which stylize him as an aristocrat of his own ruin. Alice and Charles have strange encounters and meet in different roles and settings.


Ghost story of urbanization. The last hotel, which was condemned to demolition like the rest of the town, is still standing. The owner Charles imagines himself in the scenes of a Hollywood classic with a female visitor. The distorting mirror play of documentary and fiction, in which construction workers, investors, and real estate agents appear, takes place in contemporary China, where cities are built entirely based on speculation, dictated by the fictions of capitalism.


Music and References to The Waterloo Bridge (1940)

The music functions like reminders, and synapses of a memory. The sound bridges these memories and creates transitions from the film to the outside realities and landscapes. In The Waterloo Bridge (1940) Vivian Leigh and Robert Taylor are dancing on their last evening to a goodbye melody; it is an orchestral interpretation of the old Scottish song Auld Lang Syne. The song becomes iconic for the generation of China’s opening-up reform led by Deng Xiaoping. Hollywood classics were released, such as Gone With The Wind (1939), Casablanca (1942), and The Waterloo Bridge (1940), which is the most popular film and considered the most romantic. The screenplay of the film was used as a textbook for learning English. Charles, the hotel owner, lives near the Yangtze bridge which underlines the reference to the Hollywood film.

A still from A Pile of Ghosts (2021)

A Pile of Ghosts (2021), Film stills