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updated: 8/2/2012 6:25 AM

'Never Sorry' paints nuanced portrait of dissident artist

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  • Alison Klayman's "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" sheds light on the political fight of openly brash Chinese artist, blogger and dissident Ai Weiwei.

      Alison Klayman's "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" sheds light on the political fight of openly brash Chinese artist, blogger and dissident Ai Weiwei.

  • Video: Ai Wei Wei Never Sorry Trailer

 
 

Reel Life mini-review: "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry"

The movie poster for Alison Klayman's documentary on China's most infamous artist, political dissident and social networking madman sums it all up: it's a picture of artist Ai Weiwei's hand with its middle finger extended to China.

Yep, he's feisty, smart, influential, tech-savvy and assertive. How he managed to be so openly brash and critical of the Chinese government for as long as he was is one of the mysteries in Klayman's doc "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry."

Klayman, a radio journalist who took up a camera and shotgun mic, gets unbelievable access to the artist and tails him through his rebellious odyssey while Chinese authorities block his popular blog, bulldoze his studio and even arrange to have the artist severely beaten.

Klayman becomes a virtual fly on the park bench in some scenes, gathering footage and sound bites with real political bite. Accompanied by Llan Isakov's lively score, "Never Sorry" paints its own nuanced portrait of a dissident artist who, like Ryan O'Neal, never had to say he was sorry. At least not in public.

"Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" plays at the Century Centre in Chicago. Rated R for language. 91 minutes. ★ ★ ★

Too much film violence

Dear Dann: On Saturday night I attended a movie at the Century 16 Deer Park. Prior to the show four previews were shown. Three of the four previews ("Looper," "Dredd," "Bourne Legacy") were extremely violent. I'm sure I saw well over 100 people killed with firearms in that brief period of time.

I can't conceive why the fourth preview, "The Odd Life of Timothy Green," was grouped with these other disgusting previews and additionally why they all were selected to precede the movie "Ted," a clever, amusing, crass, but touching comedy.

Today, apparently violence and killing are perceived as meaningless but entertaining actions that are appropriate in most all venues. No wonder Americans love to buy guns and kill people! -- Jan Ahrensfeld

Dear Jan: I won't bore you with statistics about the millions of guns purchased every year by Americans, or the 30,000-plus people killed by guns.

But it's a mistake to make the quantum leap that three movie trailers with fake gun violence explain why Americans buy guns and kill people with them.

Violence, with guns and without, is part of the human condition and has been with us slightly longer than the motion picture art form.

Great films that employ scenes of killing -- even with guns -- are not meaningless. They have purpose, such as in war films ("Platoon" and "All Quiet on the Western Front" come to mind), gangster films ("The Godfather"), horror tales ("Silence of the Lambs") and others.

Inept filmmakers who don't know how to handle violence as part of a narrative might be guilty of meaningless killing, but even those cases can supply some Aristotelian catharsis by draining away malevolent tendencies through the vicarious experience of movies.

The relationship between entertainment and real-life violence is far more complex and contextual than the simple-minded view that movie patrons subscribe to a "monkey see, monkey do" mentality.

It was unfortunate that the Deer Park theater management didn't have the sensitivity to pull violent trailers in light of the theater massacre in Colorado. Exciting action trailers play much differently on the silver screen in the aftermath of a publicized mass shooting.

But we will get over it and go right back to being entertained by crime thrillers and action pictures spraying more lead than the U.S. Army during marksmanship training.

Yes, just as we got over New York City buildings being demolished in movies after the 9/11 disaster.

The important thing to remember is this, Jan: As long as witnesses keep describing terrible acts of violence as "just like a movie" (as they often do), that's good and healthy, because it reminds us that truly horrific violent acts are still so removed from our day-to-day experience that, for most of us, our only reference for them are make-believe images on a silver screen.

Reel Life film notes:

• Watch me on "The ABC-7 News" during the 11 a.m. hour on Friday, Aug. 3, when I talk to promising teen competitors in the annual Arlington Heights Teen Film Fest, scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5, at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights. Admission is free, but you still need tickets. You can reserve them at (847) 577-2121. ahml.info

• Heads off! I mean, heads up! I'll be serving as the official master of ceremonies at the Flashback Weekend horror convention Aug. 10-12 at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare, 5440 N. River Road, Rosemont. Go to flashbackweekend.com for tickets and schedules.

• AMC Theaters in South Barrington, Lombard and Skokie will offer a special program for moms titled "Bring Your Baby Matinees" this Tuesday. Crying babies are welcome. Moms can park their strollers, breast-feed and socialize with other parents in a theater environment with brighter lights and lower volume than regular movies.

On tap at noon on Tuesday: the PG-13 rated "The Amazing Spider-Man." The program is sponsored by thebump.com, focused on helping out first-time moms. Go to either thebump.com or amctheatres.com.

Reel Life film notes

Radio journalist Alison Klayman shot and edited "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," an amazing documentary about internationally celebrated Chinese artist and political dissident Ai Weiwei. I sat down with Klayman in Chicago about two months ago:

Q. How did you get away with being so inconspicuous when you were shooting your doc in the streets of China?

A. The crew was just me, which I thought was vital. When we had a sit-down interview with Ai Wei-Wei's peers, we could have multiple people there. But if it was just Ai Weiwei, it was more likely he wouldn't mind having me around if it was just me and not plus two.

Q. You got some really good footage considering China's reputation for not embracing outside journalists, especially with cameras.

A. There was the scene where Ai Weiwei was testifying to the police, and I was there, and I was like "I can't believe that nobody's stopping us, yet!" Eventually the cops did bring us out and try to delete the tapes. We did kind of run into problems. But up to that point, they (police) didn't know he had a microphone and he was like my floating sound person.

Q. Ai Weiwei is quite a character and strikes me as someone quite capable of promoting himself. How much of the movie is really him and how much is staged for you?

A. The fact that he was already so used to filming himself, he had his own camera person around, that was a great benefit to me. I very rarely felt like he was presenting something just for the camera. He had already come over that stage.

There might have been a time when he was grandstanding for the camera, but he's come over to the other side of that. So you could wonder if he's on a permanent performance or is not performing? In terms of his personality as a whole, I didn't feel he was that aware of the camera.

Q. I almost laughed at the shot of your camera shooting the cops shooting you while Ai Weiwei's guy is shooting the cops shooting you shooting him.

A. Definitely. I was suppressing laughter. It was a little intimidating at first when the cop started filming me. Am I going to get in trouble? ... What's going to happen? But who's watching that camera? Who's going to see that tape? What are the consequences? It was all kind of like a silly gesture. That one tape isn't going to matter.

Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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