Men at work: Independent documentary and male bodies

Corey Byrnes*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Much has been written about the evolution of the “New Chinese Documentary Film Movement”—its shift from public and implicitly political topics to a more private and politically agnostic position, its embrace of digital video, its relationship with narrative film. Throughout these changes and the academic discourses that interpret them, two themes have remained constant: First, a sense of reality as something occluded and difficult to access. Documentary image making, we are told, cuts through the layers of political and societal mediation that screen everyday life from view. And second, despite a general investment in the possibility of accessing reality or truth among those who practice and write about documentary film in China, the form is generally described in richly metaphorical terms, as an unveiling or laying bare. “Men at Work” explores how the literalization of these corporeal and sartorial metaphors shapes understandings of documentary film. It argues that nudity has become a generic trait in an important subset of documentary films, where it functions as both a figure for documentary practice and a metonym for the filmmaker, while also unlocking unpredictable and heretofore under-theorized desires.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-180
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Chinese Cinemas
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2020


  • Documentary
  • body
  • diceng
  • labor
  • meat shot
  • new documentary film movement
  • nudity
  • xianchang
  • “body genre”

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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