29.7.05

Viva Cinema

In Singapore, censorship by the film & publications department (now under the Media Development Authority) is something most of us have given up singing/shouting/making a movie about. But two evenings ago, I was reminded that censors are not the only ones in charge of what we should or should not see.

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"Audiences, use your brain please!" - Tsai at the talk, with a cleaned-up version of the poster for Singapore.

Though half asleep, I had dragged myself to listen to a Taiwanese director Tsai Ming Liang supposedly speak on "The Body, Love and Metropolis: An Affair with the Cinema of Tsai Ming Liang" at the Singapore History Museum on Thursday. It ended up that Tsai spoke instead on what cinema means to him and how audiences should learn to think.

Despite his ignoring the topic, I was duly rewarded (no lah, there were no freebies, not even a sneak preview of his latest film The Wayward Cloud) with this anecdote about his early movie Viva L'Amour. Viva is (in)famous for its concluding scene where a character sits in a park and wails, cries - stops - then begins to sob for some 7 minutes. All this while, the camera watches from a distance, still. In another more recent movie, the camera turns to watch the rows of empty seats in a soon-to-be demolished cinema (a grand dame like our Majestic or Capitol) for 5 mins -a long goodbye indeed. But back to Viva. Tsai said that when Viva was screened in Singapore, the last scene was cut by the cinema operators themselves from 7 to 2 mins.

I remember watching the movie in the very dodgy Yangtze cinema (frequently by the old men at Chinatown) and after 1 full minute of sobbing, some of the ah peks had started to laugh and walk out. One of them said loudly, "aiyah, yi shu pian (i.e. Art film)!" Maybe after several of such screenings, the cinema folks decided that there was not really any point shopwing all 7mins of a woman crying - fully-clothed and puffy-eyed (unattractive, even from a distance) after any promise of sex is long over in the film. Ah, so it is not the state's scissors we should fear.

But I was left wondering after Tsai's long gripe about unthinking audiences and his frustrated attempts answering the many silly questions my fellow islanders asked (most of the questions, I simplfy, are in the vein of "why should I think? why do you want to make audiences think?"), that watching a film - or experiencing any other art, aiyah, life itself - is not merely a cerebral activity. So when all you see for 7mins on the cinema screen is the image of rows of empty cinema seats or a woman sobbing uncontrollably for the longest time possible, there really is no big riddle or puzzle to crack. And in all our human-ness, we may doze off during those 7mins, our minds may start to wander, some of us may learn to see for the first time the colours around us, and some of us may begin to feel a nostalgia for a time past, a love lost, a life that could have been. And all that is a bit of cinema.

6 comments:

fortycalibernap said...

yes, amp -- you've done it again. really got me thinking.

it's so rare to find a moment of quiet, a space that can open up to become something unexpected. . . the blank canvas of life is disappearing fast under the onslaught of entertainment and distraction.

i also think there's a little synchronicity in the air right now, judging by the most recent posts on our two blogs.

. . . different perspectives though, which i'll leave with as my concluding thought.

wheyface said...

The long takes remind me that aura, whether of works of art or of things in life, calls for contemplation. And yet we are such creatures of distraction.

ampulets said...

you both got me thinking too...

but I do like to be distracted, anyway.

wheyface said...

I like distraction too! It's hard not to. I suspect that Tsai is preying on and playing up this aspect of our sensibility with his long takes.

ampulets said...

Yah, Tsai is very manipulative though he claims that only Hollywood does that. He is contradictory - for eg. he disses the business of Hollywood, but goes on at length about how in recent years he has had to tie his appearances for talks at Taiwan universities to them buying his tickets! Now that's a shrewd businessman at work!

Actually, Hou Hsiao Hsien's long takes do the same, but are far more effective in inviting "contemplation" - because HHH's approach is always more natural/realistic than Tsai's staged city farce. Tsai actively invites dialogue, HHH lulls you to listen first.

This is the key difference HHH, between the Hakka gangster, the true romantic child of farmosa and Tsai, who is the sly Kuching Boy (Tsai), a tropical monkey...like us.

wheyface said...

Being able to call ourselves tropical monkeys, or tropical anything, is probably the only good thing about being in the tropics.
Ok, maybe I exaggerate, but this heat! This humidity! No wonder most of us are surly.

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