When a historical event is captured in the moment by the photographic image, it leaves an indexical trace which film theorist André Bazin in his essay ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’ (1967) likens to fingerprints, moulds or death masks. This indexical trace provides the structural spine of Chinese artist Hu Jie’s documentary film Though I Am Gone (我虽死去, 2006). By combing individual testimonies, legal documents, newsreel footage and photographs, Hu Jie reconstructs and rearticulates the details surrounding the murder of Vice-Principal Bian Zhongyun by her Beijing-based students during the youth rebellion-led Red Guard Movement in 1966.
This video essay examines how the filmmaker revives, exposes and re-examines Chinese cultural memory through a persistence of subjectivity, brought about by key witness accounts surrounding the event. On the one hand, the film relies heavily on one witness, Bian’s husband Wang Jingyao, a former photojournalist who provides comprehensive photographic archival material for the filmmaker to record. On the other hand, the filmmaker’s aesthetic choices create spatial and visual juxtapositions that unearth historical gaps in cultural memory and the limits of documentary discourse on the theme of death and mourning.