Documentaries about urban environments involve challenging decisions regarding selection and editing. Historical contents further increases this complexity. In I Wish I Knew Jia Zhangke assembles interviews, location sequences, archival stills, intertitles, scripted passages and filmic intertexts to explore the historical palimpsests of Shanghai's culture as well as its current social ferment and commercial vigor. By analogy to music discourse, his film can be regarded as a compositional documentary that orchestrates numerous details with the theme of change and transformation as tonal center.

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