A very good (and relatively brief) discussion of Trinh's film appears in
Paula Rabinowitz' _They Must Be Represented: The Politics of Documentary_
(Verso, 1994), chapter 8. I'll practice my speed typing and excerpt a bit of
it here in case you can't get your hands on it right away:
"...Trinh's film explores post-revolutionary Vietnamese culture through the
memories of five Vienamese immigrants to the US. Surname Viet also relies on
a number of translated and re-enacted interviews. These interviews, first
conducted in Vietnamese by a French woman and translated into French, were
then translated into English to be played by American women born in Vietnam
... the work of translation, transliteration, and re-enactment becomes the
form by which postmodern documentary decodes itself; thus meanings embedded
in language take on great significance, almost eclipsing that of the image.
Still, by interpolating archival materials (footage from teh war,
photographs of the 'informants') with footage Trinh shot in Vienam and San
Jose, the stark images constructed for the 'interviews' reverberate with the
indelible visuals of war's devastation. We know this country and how it
looks; the pictures already implanted take on new dimensions through the words.'
'Like all of Trinh's films, the visuals are carefully composed and
excruciatingly beautiful; color, light, framing, mise en scene evoke a sense
of time that is outside and beyond time, exceeding history and ordered by
ritual, and space, 'an empty subject,' as Trinh says of the Senegalese
village life in her first film, Reassemblage ... The women who have appeared
as the 'interviewed' Vietnamese 'play' themselves at home in their San Jose
immigrant community, and the images of flux -- a nation, women, a film --
return in the dance of teh boat people drifting across the screen. Women's
lives figure both the continuities and ruptures of Vietnamese culture, their
experiences at once tragic and heroic, mythic and mundane, awkward and
graceful, true and false.'
There's more about women and nation, Trinh's use of puns on national naming,
and her interrogation of the authorative, authentic voice of the interview
within documentary. Hope this helps.
>I am showing Minh-Ha's Surname Viet Given Name Nam in my intro to film
>class tomorrow. Bad decision, because I haven't watched the film and am
>curious myself. I am screening it to go with my lecture on non-narrative
>film. Can anyone help me with a brief intro to the film which would be
>better than just screening it without any context.
Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
University of Alabama.