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Stein, H.H. (1999). Bertolucci's The Last Emperor: Multiple Takes: Bruce H. Sklarew, Bonnie S. Kaufman, Ellen Handler Spitz, and Diane Borden. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998, 272 pp., $19.95.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(4):1444-1446.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(4):1444-1446

Bertolucci's The Last Emperor: Multiple Takes: Bruce H. Sklarew, Bonnie S. Kaufman, Ellen Handler Spitz, and Diane Borden. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998, 272 pp., $19.95.

Review by:
Herbert H. Stein

This book examines an Oscar-winning feature film, Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, from the points of view of filmmakers, psychoanalysts, film scholars, and historians. Born of a conference on the film, the idea of the book is that these “multiple takes” will complement one another with both convergence and contrast. The book demonstrates the advantages and pitfalls of such an ambitious task.

Unless the reader knows the film particularly well, I would recommend seeing it shortly before reading the book in order to benefit from the focus on detail that is important for many of the essays. The film is the story of the last emperor of China, Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, who was taken from his natural mother at the age of two to live as emperor and virtual captive in the ceremonially bound “Forbidden City.” His story is told in flashback form from the vantage point of Pu Yi's “rehabilitation” in Communist China in the 1950s, through which he was able to rejoin society as an ordinary citizen.

After a foreword by Bertolucci and an introduction by Kaufman, the book is divided into four sections: Filmcraft, Psychoanalysis, Film Scholarship, and Cultural History. Bertolucci's foreword demonstrates an awareness of issues of deprivation and narcissistic defense that play an important part in a number of the following essays, and brings in one intriguing psychoanalytic insight that I did not see elsewhere—the yellow cloth surrounding the young emperor and his retinue at the coronation ceremony is compared with a placenta.

I found the opening section on filmcraft very interesting as a peek into the world of filmmaking, although I did not feel that it illuminated the essays in the succeeding sections.

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