Friday, July 06, 2007

A Silhouette of an Invisible City

"Once I heard someone say that if you have to lose something, the best way is to keep it in your memory." -- Ouyang Feng, from Ashes of Time

The above line is from a Wong Kar Wai movie, Ashes of Time, which is not very well known even though it is probably his most complex film. Its a revisionist rendition of a classic martial arts novel by Jin Yong, The Legend of the Condor Heroes. The making of the film was so exhaustive that WKW took time off to make another film, ChungKing Express, which ironically became his most recognised work.

Ashes of Time revolves around the themes of memory and forgetting. The very fine thread that runs through this film is a bottle of forgetting wine (wang qing jiu) that the characters imbibe. And as one drinks, thinking that in forgetting her past, her pain is erased, her forgetting tragically moves the pain to another character who ends up drinking the same wine to forget his past, to erase his pain. And this tragic chain of forgetting result in the characters evolving into empty, elegaic husks, feeling loss, feeling lost. But not knowing what they have lost because they have forgotten. And this feeling of loss is no different from pain, perhaps even stronger.

There is a new film by Singaporean film-maker Tan Pin Pin. It is titled Invisible City. Unfortunately, I could not attend a preview screening of this documentary. Based on the website notes and the trailer, I have an inkling that it is an important film. Because it deals with this tussle between remembering and forgetting of a place or a space called Singapore. The Chinese title of the documentary translates as a record against forgetting. In her own words, the film is "less about Singapore and more about people who looked for Singapore, people who were propelled by curiosity to find a Singapore for themselves, on their own terms".

The film trailer has the director with two interviewees who remember another Singapore, a different Singapore. They have evidence and relics from their city of the past, in the form of pictures, of film, of audio recordings. But they display some hesitation to share their memories of Singapore. They caution, they advise the director to "censor", to ask in a correct manner. They remember a different Singapore, from one where most of us are persuaded to remember.

What the director has done is to remember those who remembered a different Singapore. An invisible city. Perhaps the director in this remembering, will have etched a silhouette of a different city, possible memories which we have forgotten or for the younger, never there. At the same time, the film is edged by a shadow of hesitancy and a little underlying fear of remembering another Singapore, another city. That somehow this memory is not right. Because it does not fit the Singapore Story. That we cannot remember this.

But sometimes we do. We do remember a different city. And why not?

If so, this documentary is a brave piece of art. Because it shares memories which would otherwise have been silent. Stories which would have remained untold. Because this film is about people who "find a Singapore for themselves, on their own terms".

In a previous post, I mentioned this moment of remembering Singapore, 70s Singapore, while in another city in the cusp of a gathering typhoon. Trying to reconstruct a memory I do not possess. Trying to feel for another Singapore, another remembrance that somehow, intuitively and disloyally, overtakes me in another city, another place, another space. Maybe I will be able to find that history, that city when I watch this film.

From her blog, I understand that Invisible City has no marketing budget. So I would appeal to my kind readers to help spread word on this film which premieres next week at the Arts House.

Because she has coaxed into existence, memories to be shared. Memories, which if kept, may otherwise have been lost.

Quote of the Day --

"I decided to seek out people who like me, choose Singapore as the topic of their work. I don’t mean where Singapore is the setting for their work, but where Singapore is the main subject. I was curious about whether I was the only person who found this country so interesting, enough to spend most of my professional life to date making films about its blind spots. I also wanted to thank and show my appreciation to those whose work on Singapore I admired and have benefited from. I sought out photographers, journalists, film directors, archaeologists who were observers and documenteurs of this city, past and present. The result of our interactions is Invisible City. It is a documentary less about Singapore and more about people who looked for Singapore, people who were propelled by curiosity to find a Singapore for themselves, on their own terms. So Invisible City is really about the basic human need to search, to question, to preserve evidence and to share one’s discoveries with others. It is about the need to be remembered for what one has seen and experienced, about the fear of being forgotten and unaccounted for." -- Tan Pin Pin, notes on the making of Invisible City


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happiness was the main pursuit in life before the Seventies. Money was just as essential as it is today but most people then were not very materialistic. Most lived simply, humbly and much joy came from so called 'kampong spirits' meaning camaraderie amongst the settlements. Sharing the goods and the woes together was natural within most communities. If there are any record to remind Singaporeans of that past, I am not sure the younger generations could feel'the happiness of the good old days'. The highly artificial standard of livings today are not worthy of comparisons.

6:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this country nid ppl like you and tan pin pin

1:05 PM  

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