Posts Tagged ‘film’
A rendering of Jack Flowers, from Yvonne’s Film Diary.
Actor Ben Gazzara is dead at 81.
Gazzara is best remembered for his participation in several John Cassavetes’ films, like The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, but he was also the star of one of Peter Bogdanovich’s lesser known outings, Saint Jack, from 1979.
And that is noteworthy here why ?
To this day, Saint Jack remains the only Hollywood film shot entirely on location in Singapore.
Based on a novel by Paul Theroux, written during the author’s stint here in the early ’70s, the film managed to capture a side of our island nation – seedy, run-down, generally insalubrious – that even then was already rapidly vanishing under the onslaught of the PAP govt.’s vigorous remaking of the post-independence landscape, both materially and economically.
Bogdanovich’s film was itself the subject of an intensive recounting by expat author Ben Slater, published under the title Kinda Hot: The Making of Saint Jack in Singapore. It’s a fascinating read – go pick up a copy. Or have a look at the author’s blog here, which includes a recent interview with Gazzara on his experiences working on Saint Jack.
Or take a peek at a trailer of the film here.
Or, better yet, read an essay on the significance of the film for the local imagination – some three decades after the fact - here. Penned by a pal, in the interest of full disclosure, but important for its articulation of a stance caught somewhere between the white man’s gaze of the filmic diegesis, and a more populist, localized discourse. The sort of third text that the author is attempting to negotiate here – an oscillation between the two positions of insurmountable alterity (the quasi-colonial experience of yesteryear) and an alienation from the post-modern, post-colonial condition (contemporary Singapore as a dystopia of “shopping malls and chain stores”) – is, in my opinion, becoming the dominant voice of desire, of what the author characterizes as the longing for the autochthonous “authentic” in the land of ceaseless, air-conditioned consumption, an increasingly conjunctive terrain.
With good reason.
Gazzara’s NYT obit below.
Ben Gazzara on the set of Saint Jack. Image from Blue Sunshine.
BEN GAZZARA, RISK-TAKING ACTOR, IS DEAD AT 81
By Nick Genzlinger. Published: February 3, 2012.
Ben Gazzara, an intense actor whose long career included playing Brick in the original “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” on Broadway, roles in influential films by John Cassavetes and work with several generations of top Hollywood directors, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 81.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, his lawyer, Jay Julien, said. Mr. Gazzara lived in Manhattan.
Mr. Gazzara studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in Manhattan, where the careers of stars like Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger were shaped, and like them he had a visceral presence. It earned him regular work across half a century, not only onstage — his last Broadway appearance was in the revival of “Awake and Sing!” in 2006 — but in dozens of movies and all sorts of television shows, including the starring role in the 1960s series “Run for Your Life.”
If Mr. Gazzara never achieved Brando’s stature, that was partly because of a certain laissez-faire approach to his career: an early suspicion of film, a reluctance to go after desirable roles.
“When I became hot, so to speak, in the theater, I got a lot of offers,” he said in a 1998 interview on “Charlie Rose.” “I won’t tell you the pictures I turned down because you would say, ‘You are a fool.’ And I was a fool.”
And yet Mr. Gazzara’s enduring reputation may well rest on his film work, specifically the movies he made with Mr. Cassavetes, the actor and director revered by cinephiles for his risk-taking independent projects and a directorial style that encouraged spontaneity.
The two had had bit parts in the 1969 comedy “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium,” but it was in“Husbands” (1970), directed by Mr. Cassavetes, that they, along with Peter Falk, really made an impression as unhappily married men out for a drunken night on the town together. As Mr. Gazzara wrote in his autobiography, “In the Moment” (2004), the on-camera camaraderie was so convincing that people assumed the three men had been lifelong friends; in fact they had barely known one another when the filming began, though they became friends during it.
Mr. Gazzara’s most important role for Mr. Cassavetes was in “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” (1976), in which he played a strip club owner in debt to the mob. “It’s a thoughtful, intelligent interpretation of a role that just may not have as much depth to it as he’s ready to give it,” Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote of Mr. Gazzara’s performance.
In 1977 Mr. Gazzara had a supporting role behind Mr. Cassavetes and his wife, Gena Rowlands, in the backstage story “Opening Night,” with Mr. Cassavetes again directing. Speaking of Mr. Cassavetes recently, Mr. Gazzara said, “He set the climate for an actor to feel free to give whatever, and if it didn’t work, it didn’t work.” Mr. Cassavetes died in 1989.
Two years after making “Opening Night,” Mr. Gazzara joined forces with another important director, Peter Bogdanovich, who gave him a rare leading role in “Saint Jack,” an adaptation of Paul Theroux’s novel about an American who operates a brothel in Singapore. He worked again for Mr. Bogdanovich in “They All Laughed” (1981), as a private detective who falls in love with the woman he is assigned to follow. The woman was played by Audrey Hepburn, with whom Mr. Gazzara had a brief romance after they met on the set of the 1979 film “Bloodline.”
Mr. Gazzara worked with numerous other notable directors, among them Otto Preminger, whose courtroom drama “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959) featured Mr. Gazzara as a military man who is tried for killing his wife’s rapist and defended by James Stewart’s small-town lawyer. In David Mamet’s 1997 film, “The Spanish Prisoner,” he played the possibly duplicitous boss of an inventor who has come up with a valuable idea. Wearing a slick white suit, he was a producer of pornographic movies in the Coen brothers’ “Big Lebowski” in 1998. In Spike Lee’s “Summer of Sam” in 1999, he was a mobster.
Beginning in the early 1980s Mr. Gazzara spent substantial stretches of time acting in movies in Italy, where he had a villa in Umbria. He appeared in Marco Ferreri’s 1981 adaptation of Charles Bukowski’s “Tales of Ordinary Madness”; “Il Camorrista” (1986), directed by Giuseppe Tornatore; and Stefano Mignucci’s “Bandits” (1995).
“You go where they love you,” he said in a 1994 interview with Cigar Aficionado, explaining his work in Italy.
Mr. Gazzara had parallel careers on the stage and in television. His first significant stage role was as a two-faced bully named Jocko in “End as a Man,” about life in a Southern military academy. Developed at the Actors Studio, it opened on Broadway in 1953. “Jocko is attractive, clever and alert on the surface, but evil at the core,” Brooks Atkinson wrote in The Times, “and Mr. Gazzara’s acting perfectly expresses this ambivalence.”
Then, in March 1955, came “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” in which he played the alcoholic son Brick to Burl Ives’s Big Daddy in the Tennessee Williams classic, with Barbara Bel Geddes as Maggie. Elia Kazan directed. The play ran till November 1956, but Mr. Gazzara left the cast early to take another Broadway role, in “A Hatful of Rain,” which opened in the fall of 1955. He played a dope addict named Johnny Pope, and the performance earned him a Tony Award nomination.
But his next Broadway venture, “The Night Circus,” closed in less than a week in 1958, and he did not return to Broadway until a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Strange Interlude”in 1963. His other Broadway work included a 1976 production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” opposite Colleen Dewhurst, which earned him another Tony nomination, as did his dual roles in a 1975 double bill of O’Neill’s “Hughie” and David Scott Milton’s “Duet.”
Mr. Gazzara also acted in Off Broadway and regional productions, among them “Nobody Don’t Like Yogi,” a one-man show about Yogi Berra, which Mr. Gazzara began performing in 2003 and took all over the country for two years.
He was a familiar presence on television. “Run for Your Life,” in which he played a terminally ill man, was seen on NBC from 1965 to 1968, earning him two Emmy nominations. He was nominated again for his role as the father of a young man with AIDS in the 1985 television movie “An Early Frost”; his old friend Ms. Rowlands played his wife. He won a supporting-actor Emmy for his work in the 2002 HBO film“Hysterical Blindness,” playing the romantic interest of a character again played by Ms. Rowlands.
Mr. Gazzara was born Biagio Anthony Gazzara on the East Side of Manhattan on Aug. 28, 1930, the son of Antonio Gazzara, a laborer who did carpentry and laid bricks, and the former Angela Cusumano. Both his parents had immigrated from Italy, and they often spoke Italian at home, giving Mr. Gazzara a language skill that served him well when he began making films there. He grew up in a building at 29th Street and First Avenue, where, he wrote in his autobiography, he slept on the fire escape in summer and occasionally heard screams from the patients at Bellevue psychiatric hospital.
When he was about 11, he saw a friend act in a play at the Madison Square Boys Club and was bitten by the acting bug himself. He performed in shows there and, when he was older, found his way to the Dramatic Workshop in Midtown. A radio actress he met there, Louise Erickson, who would become his first wife, told him about the Actors Studio, and in 1951 he successfully auditioned for it.
That marriage ended in 1957. In 1961 he married the actress Janice Rule, whom he had met in 1958 when they appeared in a short-lived production of “The Night Circus.” They had a daughter, Elizabeth. That marriage, too, ended in divorce, not long after Mr. Gazzara met a German model, the former Elke Stuckmann, while filming the war movie “Inchon” in Seoul in 1979.
They were married in 1982; she and his daughter survive him, as does another daughter, Danja, his wife’s child from a previous relationship, whom Mr. Gazzara adopted. A brother, Anthony, also survives.
Mr. Gazzara was treated for oral cancer in 1999, but he said his bigger health battle was against depression, lasting on and off for decades. In a 2005 appearance before a group of mental health professionals, he recalled dealing with the condition 25 years earlier while shooting “They All Laughed.”
“I was in a depression during the whole shooting, and I was terrific in that film,” he said. “And I don’t remember doing it.”
Aren’t these just f*cking amazing ?
These drawings are the latest from Filipino artist Victor Balanon.
Balanon had a solo show at the Artesan Gallery (run by the charming Roberta Dans) in Singapore last year, which is where I met him. His practice is informed by a keen interest in film – clearly – and the Italians in particular. (We bonded over a mutual love for Antonioni.)
December 12th is Yasujiro Ozu Day.
Unofficially, that is.
The Japanese director was born on this day in 1903 – and passed away on his 60th birthday, in 1963. He is buried on the grounds of the Engaku Temple (or Engaku-ji 円覚寺) in Kamakura, an old, historic city some 50 km south of Tokyo. (Read an appropriately spare yet stirring account of visiting Ozu’s grave here.) The character carved on his headstone is mu – wu in Mandarin - which translates into a number of related concepts: nothing, without, lacking.
Famous last words.
Happy birthday, Mr. Ozu, and R.I.P.
My sincerest congratulations to Ann Hui and the cast of her latest film, A Simple Life 桃姐, for their wins at the 48th Golden Horse Awards on Saturday. The film netted Hui the Best Director award, while her leads, Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau and veteran actress Deanie Ip, were named Best Leading Actor and Actress respectively, representing a near-sweep of the top prizes between them.
For her role in A Simple Life, Ip also won the Volpi Cup for best actress at the Venice Film Festival this year; the Hong Kong media had a field day hooting about the territory’s “first movie queen crowned at Venice” – “香港第一威尼斯影后.”
There’s a very special place in my heart for Hui’s work – she’s right there behind Antonioni, Ozu and Bong Joon-ho.
I can’t wait for the film to arrive in Singapore.
While A Simple Life lost out in the Best Film category to the 4-hour long Taiwanese epic, Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, two of Hui’s films have previously had the honour: Summer Snow 女人四十 in 1995, and Ordinary Heroes 千言萬語 in 1999. The latter, in fact, reaped an even bigger haul back then – it took five Golden Horse awards, including those for best film, director and actress.
Here’s my favourite Ann Hui moment though: The Way We Are 天水围的日与夜, from 2008, which I consider her crowning achievement. It’s a quiet little film, where nothing much happens. A young boy waits for his final-year grades; his mother works in a supermarket; she befriends a co-worker, an elderly woman who lives alone; they interact; some family drama unfolds; the kid does ok in his exams; son, mother and friend sit down to a home-cooked meal. That’s it. The lack of plot development or narratorial excitement is the film’s greatest strength – in the manner of an Ozu film, it simply ambles from one small scene to another, the emotional punch delivered as cumulative affect. As a review on HK Cinemagic sums it up: “The way we are, the way we live; an ode to the salt of the earth.”
Click on the link below to watch it in full. (Cantonese dialogue and Chinese subs only though, sorry.)
Image of the day: a still from the recent documentary, The Universe of Keith Haring (2008). I find the picture hilarious. The awkward angle; the dorky pose; the silly expression; the Buddy Holly-esque glasses; the reflective sparkle ..
Haring succumbed to AIDS in 1990 – preceding another famous victim, Freddie Mercury.
World AIDS Day happens in slightly more than week (Dec 1); this one’s for you, Keith.
A French poster for Days of Being Wild. Image from Not Just Movies.
Its yesterday once more, once more.
A while ago I held forth on the phenomenon of nostalgia for the recent past.
More recently, while doing research for another piece, I chanced upon a Straits Times article I remembered reading years ago — 1992, to be precise.
Days of Being Wild is an all-time fav. This brought me right back …
If you represent Richard Carpenter or his sister’s estate, don’t sue me.
YESTERDAY ONCE MORE, BEFORE 1997
Many Hongkong movies have a sepia hue these days. Jittery citizens of the British colony want a last look back at the good old days as the return to mainland Chinese rule draws near. WONG KIM HOH reports.
Crumbling mansions with secret chambers. Love duets sung on balconies. Masked female crusaders. All these cinematic clichés from the 60s are parodied in the comedy, ’92 The Legendary La Rose Noire, directed by Joseph Chan.
Another Hongkong director, Lawrence Ah Mon, also reconstructs the British colony of yore in Arrest the Restless. In this big-time crime story, homage is paid to a famous law enforcer and the “teddy” boys and girls who painted the streets of Hongkong red, more than three decades ago.
Now showing here, these movies were directed by just two of a growing number of film-makers who wax nostalgic about the colony’s past.
In the past two years, the Hollywood of the East has produced at least a dozen movies where the guys sport sideburns and wear drainpipe trousers, while the girls have beehive hairdos and carry Grace Kelly handbags.
These include Wong Kar Wai’s critically-acclaimed Days of Being Wild and Poon Man Kit’s To Be Number One. Also in this sepia genre are Wu Ma’s Story Of Kennedy Town and Wong Ching’s Casino Tycoon.
Why are so many harking back to the past?
The answer apparently points to 1997, when the British colony reverts to Chinese rule.
To Hongkongers, the year signifies the end of a chapter in history.
They fear that their capitalist legacy, which has shaped their identity, will eb erased once the Communists take over in 1997.
Movies which reconstruct the past are a means of helping Hongkongers preserve this vital history.
Reliving the past also helps them forget the uncertainties of the future.
Director Wong Kar Wai explains why he made Days of Being Wild, about the lives of six Hongkong youths, in an interview: “1960 was a good year, the beginning of a decade, the prelude to the 60s.
“Back in those days, the sun was brighter, the air was fresher. The sound of wireless sets flowed down the streets from a distance … it felt so good.
“It was like a dream. Of course, it could easily have been a dream. With memories, one simply cannot avoid the rosy tinge setting in. bad memories will fade out. What we want to remember will be remembered lovingly.”
Wong’s sentimentality and nostalgia show in the loving attention he pays to details. Days of Being Wild remembers Hongkong’s past by aestheticising it. Other movies which express the same whimsy include Anthony Chan’s A Fishy Story and Stanley Kwan’s Rouge, one of the first nostalgic trips on celluloid.
A more strident and political tone is adopted by John Woo in Bullet In The Head. The film deals with the trials and tribulations of three childhood buddies in Saigon.
Using the Vietnam War as a backdrop, his movie makes a point about the present and future of Hongkong. It also expresses his distrust of the Chinese government, especially after the bloodbath in Tiananmen.
He tells The Sunday Times: “We had so many beautiful things in the 60s but we have lost them. I want them back. I want people to rediscover lost values like friendship, warmth and compassion.
“I want to remind them that violence and war only distort humanity and turn the Chinese into wandering people. That’s why in the film, I talked time and again about going home, going back to Hongkong.”
Indeed the date June 4, 1989, has left many of the colony’s residents with a deep sense of misgiving. Like Woo, they suspect ruthlessness, lawlessness and corruption will reign supreme.
That perhaps explains the sudden popularity of “big-timer” movies. These are movies which deal with the lives of famous crooks and corrupt law enforcers. All these movies share several characteristics: their heroes are “real people” and they are set in the post-war Hongkong of the 50s and 60s.
The progenitor of such movies, of course, is the very successful To Be Number One, the story of drug kingpin Limpy Ho. He apparently amassed a personal fortune worth hundreds of millions in Hongkong dollars by being one of the colony’s most notorious drug dealers.
Other glorified film accounts of big-timers followed. These include Lawrence Ah Mon’s Lee Rock (based on the life of Lui Lok, probably the colony’s most celebrated corrupt policeman) and Wong Ching’s Casino Tycoon. The last is reportedly based on the life of Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho, nicknamed Macau Inc.
Hongkong film critic Li Cheuk-to, who is also the programme co-ordinator for the Hongkong International Film Festival, explains the appeal of these big-timer films: “They endow the ruthless with historical significance and play up their myth and stature.
“In doing so, they legitimise the naked utilitarianism that is so prevalent in Hongkong, in this post-June 4 era. Values which do not serve utilitarian purposes are no match for a harsh reality.”
Mr Li, in his 30s, also adds, however, that the average Hongkong movie-goer has always been partial to celluloid exploits revolving around fame and fortune. He cites the popularity of gambling films. Both genres are products of the spirit of the times.
“As time is running out, to “get rich quick” is the psychology many Hongkong people subscribe to. That’s why these movies are popular,” he says.
It does not matter that fact is liberally fictionalised in most of these movies.
“Hongkong audiences are not simplistic. They know when to suspend disbelief.”
However, the big-timer movies will probably wane, because they are showing signs of repetition.
Instead, film-makers are feeding the Hongkong movie-goers’ penchant for nostalgia by reviving the film genres that filled up cinema halls a few decades ago.
Watch out for the return of flying swordsmen, “tornado” palms (a pugilistic move), masked crime-fighters, sacred manuals and court intrigues. Ah, the stuff of nostalgia.
No art here. Word to the wise: as the title suggests, this post is a pretty random synthesis of inconsequential facts.
Now that that’s done with …
The date: 19 October, 1973.
The place: London’s Marquee Club.
The event: The taping of David Bowie’s The 1980 Floor Show concert, where he is to perform for the very last time as Ziggy Stardust.
The controversy: A duet, “I’ve Got You Babe”, with guest Marianne Faithfull, the latter dressed in a nun’s habit. Faithfull’s solo rendition of her biggest hit, As Tears Go By, also shocks some: the singer is clearly drugged out, completely wasted, blankly and badly singing along, with half-closed lids, to an old recording. The entire performance is shot through with a mocking irony. Looking almost angelic in a long white gown of satin and tulle, her hair cropped to a pageboy’s cut which shows off her bones to great effect, the contrast between her appearance and her stupefied demeanour is disconcerting. The tragedy is only compounded by the fact that she is crooning to her younger, sober self on a ballad of lost youth and regrets.
♪ “It is the evening of the day, I sit and watch the children play, doing things I used to do, they think are new …” ♪
Judge for yourself.
Marianne Faithfull performing As Tears Go By at the Marquee Club in 1973.
The emcee who introduces Faithfull, by the way, is Amanda Lear, who famously appeared in skin-tight black leather on the cover of Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure album (below) — about whose original gender there have long been rumours …
I love Marianne Faithfull.
Every gay man has a fantasy — secret, not so secret — of his ideal image as a woman.
I guess you could say she’s mine.
I’m a huge fan of the doe-eyed, waifish ingenue aesthetic. You know, fragile features; dewy expression; soft bangs; a lilting susurrus of a voice, a repertoire full of songs about melancholy and youthful world-weariness. (Francoise Hardy would be someone else who fits the bill marvellously.)
Faithfull’s struggles with drug addiction — and for a time, homelessness — are the stuff of rock legend. While she eventually beat her demons to come out on top, as her revitalized career the last couple of decades is wonderful testament to, the 1970s marked a pretty bleak period in her life. I won’t bore you with google-able details. Interestingly enough, though, in the latest volume of her memoirs, titled Memories, Dreams & Reflections, she recounts an otherwise little-known, drug-related episode that happened to her in – wait for it – ……
…… Singapore !
Of all places. God only knows what she was doing in this part of the world in 1974 (the year after her doped-up display above). In her own words:
Incident on Boogie Street
In 1974 Oliver Musker and I were staying at Raffles in Singapore – the old Raffles Hotel – it’s now quite ghastly, but back then it still reeked of faded colonial splendour. Oliver is the knight in shining armour who came and rescued me at my darkest hour, swept me away from all my demons and off to exotic locations. One evening Oliver and I decided to seek out an opium den on Bugis Street, affectionately known as Boogie Street, in the red-light district. We were both rather foolishly dressed as if we’d just stepped out of A Passage to India. Oliver in his white suit and panama hat, and I in a topi with a veil and a long grey suit with grosgrain on the collar and hem.
Unbelievably stupid to go down to Boogie Street looking like a couple of twits from the British Raj. Darling Oliver, who really is such a sweet guy. He eventually married an Indian girl and now lives in India, so he’s mellowed a lot, but in those days he had an unfortunate habit of going, “Come along now, chop chop!’ to natives who understandably did not take his supercilious attitude too well. Suddenly we were surrounded by a gang of Chinese felons and I heard this terrifying sound – swishhhhhhh-hhhh-eeeeee – as they brought their knives out.
And I thought, “Right, that’s it! We’re going to die – and in this incredibly stupid way!’ And then out of the blue who should appear but Roderick O’Connor, younger son of a good Irish family, on his way to Australia to try to pick up an inheritance, which he did not manage to do (he subsequently went to India to do a bit of grave-robbing). He’s a chancer but a really good friend of mine. Brave, quick-witted Roderick just stepped into this situation and addressed these vicious thugs in Chinese – obviously telling them something like, ‘Don’t bother with these two; they’re completely stupid!’ – and made them fall over laughing. He got rid of them just like that and we walked away.
Then Roderick took us to an opium den. It is the only opium den I’ve ever been to and it was as sublime as I’d always imagined it to be. A lot of people lying around on couches in deep dream states. You lay your head on a wooden pillow, servants prepare your opium pipe, and you fall into the most blissful reverie, for I
On honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
But, you know, even without Oliver’s colonial condescension we might well have stirred up the Boogie-dwellers’ wrath because we looked so mad. Of all the things to wear when you go to Boogie Street ! it’s the sort of rough, criminal place you should go to wearing a leather jacket and jeans. And here we were, blithely ambling through Boogie Street’s nightly transgender sex bazaar of ‘Billy boys’, freaks, drug thugs, and cutthroats, dressed up like Algernon Montcrief and Cecily Cardew in a revival of The Importance of Being Earnest. We were mad, mad in the way of characters who wander into the wrong movie, forget their lines and lose their lives.
A rare image of an opium den in Singapore, c. 1965. Photograph by Burt Glinn, from Magnum Photos.
Hmm. I’m not sure if I want to take her word for much in that little anecdote — I mean, c’mon, the woman calls a dope hole “sublime” (?!) — but it’s a fascinating nugget about local history nonetheless, if only for the revelation that opium dens persisted in Singapore right into the 1970s (and probably beyond).
Sure, the ladyboys of Bugis were infamous, but opium ? Kinda passé for the ’70s, ain’t it ?
Elsewhere, I’ve remarked that my own grandfather enjoyed chasing the dragon; I guess now it seems less strange that he was able to indulge the habit right up to his death sometime mid-decade. It’s not something the government enjoys discussing. I think they’d prefer it if we all just assumed that opium addiction went the way of the leftist movement, a dirty fact conveniently swept under the rug of historical amnesia … Which is our cue to segue into a brief mention of the remarkable Saint Jack. If you’re savvy enough, you’d have seen/heard of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1979 film, which to this day remains the only Hollywood movie to be shot entirely in Singapore. If you’re out of the loop, just head out to the HMV store at 313@Somerset; they had shelf-loads of copies the last time I was there. It’s not for those seeking celluloid thrills. The film is a pretty slow, meandering character study, but interest in Bogdanovich’s otherwise little-seen gem has been on the rise here, mostly because he managed to capture a seedy, seamy side of sunny Singapore that, even in 1979, as the director himself puts it, was on the way out. (Well, there’s still Geylang, I guess …) A significant portion of the film’s first half actually takes place on Bugis Street — the real Bugis Street of yore that is, the one inhabited by ladyboys, ang moh johns, hustlers, hoodlums, junkies, and other denizens of the dark, the Bugis Street where Marianne Faithfull, dressed like a “twit”, nearly met her end before that last toke on a joint. <lol> Oh, yeah, a long-ish trailer is available on Youtube for those of you who haven’t had the chance to see the film. When you get to the 2:26 mark, a brief clip of an erotic (supposedly) dance routine by two Bugis St. girls happens; in the film itself, if one looks very closely, there’s visible evidence that the long-haired chick is quite definitely pre-op …
Oh, and one other thing. Saint Jack also commemorates another seldom-discussed slice of Singapore’s past: back in the bad ol’ days, before the economy took dizzying flight and we morphed into one giant, hyper-glitzy, micro-managed megamall, the island used to be a regular stop for American GIs on R & R breaks from Vietnam. And apparently there were whole institutions, housed in their own buildings, that er, catered for this crowd — in existence thanks to tacit official approbation. Again, not something that makes it into the history books much. Westsiders familiar with Bukit Timah will know where Serene Center is; for the rest, it’s a teeny mall that sits at the junction of Bukit Timah and Farrer Roads (across the street from the Adam Rd. food centre).
Well, guess what dear ol’ Serene started life as ?
Um hmmm. A brothel.
Across the road from Coronation Plaza, Serene Centre is today a family-oriented shopping centre frequented by students in the area. However, during the Vietnam War (1959-1975), the building was known as Serene House and used for servicing US Army soldiers on rest leave in Singapore until 1968. Many residents of the area recall prostitutes being specially recruited and freely entering and leaving the building. There were also other such facilities off Bukit Timah Road for US Army soldiers at Shelford Road, across the road from Coronation Plaza, and Newton Road during that period.
(Blurb courtesy of Heritage Trails.)
Ben Slater has written a riveting, exhaustively researched book on the making of Saint Jack, called Kinda Hot. It’s a total page-turner. Among the many entertaining bits of trivia he dishes up — and the whole book’s full of ‘em, in between lots of solid detective work — is the fact that Peter Bogdanovich’s infamous Hollywood romance with Cybill Shepherd finally unravelled in Singapore, when she visited him on the Saint Jack set. (He’d been carrying on with one of the local extras, Monika Subramaniam, a Tamilian nymphet; Shepherd knew it was over.) Slater also has a blog which details his experience writing the book, and trying to track down the various local cast and crew members who worked on the film all those years ago.
One more of Marianne for the road:
[This post is the first part of a two-part review.]
Trying to review an exhibition of video art is pretty insane.
It took me three separate visits to the SAM – which worked out to a total of five and a half hours, not including a curator’s tour – just to finish seeing all the stuff in their latest show, Video, an Art, a History 1965-2010: a Selection from the Centre Pompidou and Singapore Art Museum Collections.
Towards the end, the galleristas were beginning to look at me funny.
Anyways. First, a personal caveat: I’m pretty ambivalent about video as an art form. I’m not saying it can’t be art, but so much of what I see these days isn’t all that different from traditional narrative cinema, or are simply documentary components of larger multi-media projects. Then there are the ones which capture performative works for posterity. This may all perhaps be a bit of a moot point, seeing as how certain art historians and academic departments – not to mention practicing artists – are increasingly situating their work in the space between art and film, under the broad aegis of the visual culture paradigm, but take, say, Chinese artist and filmmaker Liu Wei’s A Day to Remember (below), for instance, which was included in the show. Liu walked around Tiananmen Sq. and the Beijing University campus on June 4th, 2005, asking random strangers on the street if they knew what day it was, and those recorded responses became A Day to Remember. Most of the replies were unsurprising, given the general self-censorship which ordinary Chinese citizens still practice as a means of negotiating socio-political minefields, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the piece, sitting through most of its short runtime of thirteen or so minutes there in the darkened gallery, I couldn’t for the life of me explain to myself why this should be in a museum – as opposed to being aired on TV, say. Because if I didn’t know better, I’d have said it was a clip from some documentary program. Yes, museums regularly play host to film screenings, and, yes, video art and film are perfectly legit subjects of academic inquiry by art historians, but museum programming and the shifting inclinations of academia still don’t explain why some televisual works should be screened on their own in museum galleries as art, when they they might make just as much sense – if not more – when viewed in a theatre or on an educational or arts channel. Which is not to say that video art, especially in it’s early, experimental days, did not attempt to insinuate itself into the realm of mass media, but these days it seems almost as if the mass media has staged some sneaky counter-colonization, asserting its own aesthetics as art …
A Day to Remember 忘卻的一天, Liu Wei (2005). Caution: Unreadable subs, and a minute-long commercial in front.
Perhaps the advent of twentieth-century strategies like abstraction and conceptualism opened a whole stinky can of worms as far as aesthetics are concerned. British artist Ceal Floyer’s Construction, which appeared in the recent Singapore Biennale, pretty much consisted of an empty room with four white walls … and a soundtrack of construction noises that periodically played overhead. When I described it to a friend, all I got was a rolling of the eyeballs. Ok, so it isn’t everyone’s idea of art. If any vaguely aesthetic experience may fall under that label, then why not televisual works like Liu Wei’s as well ? But here’s where a large part of my discomfort stems from, I think: something like Floyer’s piece can only be dubbed (conceptual) art, and very little else. In the manner of John Cage’s pioneering 4’33″, a three-act symphony of utter silence, works based on an aesthetics of absence which explicitly challenge the limits of the experiential categories they operate within – like composed music and ambient urban soundscapes, for instance, or even <gasp> Art – are founded on an interrogation of those boundaries, and thus, while perhaps unfamiliar on a formal basis, nonetheless are works calling themselves art and attempting to do what postwar art does best (at least since the prescriptions that Clement Greenberg laid out in Modernist Painting*): challenging it’s own physical and discursive limits. Liu’s video piece, on the other hand, could be contextualized as art – mostly from being included in an art exhibition – but when something looks like an elephant and behaves like an elephant, housing it in, oh, the aviary, doesn’t exactly make it a cockatoo, does it ? Why call A Day to Remember video art, when it doesn’t a. stage a critical intervention of some sort, b. challenge the parameters of its particular medium, c. function within a larger artistic program, or d. present an aesthetic experience, as opposed to serving a straightforwardly documentary purpose ?
To put it another way, is anything televisual or even filmic a priori admissible as video art these days ?
* To wit: “The essence of modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence.”
Having said that though, I have to admit, I loved the show. (The five and a half hours speak for themselves. Plus the extra hour and ten bucks for the guided tour.) As SAM exhibitions go, Video, an Art is massive, ambitious and – in a local climate of continuing conservatism in the sphere of the arts, just look at the dismal response to this year’s Arts Fest. – real ballsy. It was co-curated by the Pompidou’s Christine van Assche (big name, by the way) and the SAM’s Patricia Levasseur de la Motte. Hats off to these girls. I may not agree with every single inclusion, but in terms of it’s depth, daring and breadth of vision, the show is a major step forward for the local visual arts scene – we can’t always be looking at Nanyang school stuff or contemporary reformulations of traditional Chinese ink painting, no offence to partisans of those genres. Quibbles aside, Video, an Art makes a definite attempt to be conceptually coherent: it is divvied into six different categories, starting with “Utopia and Critique of Television”, which looks at the emergence of video art in the ’60s, both as a critique of the totalitarian aspects of network TV and as a new aesthetic medium in its own right. Next is “Identity Issues”, a rather amorphous grabbag of various pieces, some of which seem to me to be pretty tangential to the theme; “From Videotape to Interactive Installation” includes participatory video works, and “Landscape Dreams” – probably my least favourite of the lot, art-wise – feature pieces which reimagine the role of the environment, both natural and built, in our lives. Over at 8Q, “Memory: Between Myth and Reality” offers a take on the role of the media in our personal and collective mental lives, and, finally, “Deconstruction and Reconstruction of Narratives” is pretty self-explanatory.
One of the highlights for me was finally getting to see Pierre Huyghe’s The Third Memory (above), a multimedia installation which excavates the sedimented layers of personal narrative behind the notorious 1972 holdup of a Chase Manhattan bank in Brooklyn by John Wojtowicz and Sal Naturile. A simple bankjacking soon turned into a day-long media circus; it was later immortalized in the critically acclaimed Sidney Lumet film, Dog Day Afternoon, which starred Al Pacino as the Wojtowicz character and the enormously talented but short-lived John Cazale as Naturile. I’ve always been curious about the events behind the film. The bare bones of the story are well-known: Wojtowicz was a man with an ex-wife, two kids and a male lover desperate for a sex change, and it was to bankroll the latter’s surgery that he decided that sultry summer day on his outrageous course of action. The holdup soon became a standoff, and in the ensuing melee the teenaged Naturile was shot and killed, and Wojtowicz landed himself a twenty-year jail term, of which he eventually served ten. He also sold his story – the result was Lumet’s 1975 film – and a portion of the proceeds was used to transform his erstwhile squeeze, Ernest Aron, into Liz Eden.
That’s it though. I never knew much else about either Wojtowicz’s or Eden’s personal histories, and Huyghe’s work goes a long way towards putting together a narrative that positions itself somewhere between real-life occurrence and Hollywood flick, hence The Third Memory. Its centerpiece is a reenactment of the crime with Wojtowicz as director, and juxtaposed against this is actual footage from the film – or at least that’s what I’ve read about it. I sat in the gallery for almost ten minutes, and didn’t see anything of Dog Day Afternoon; mostly it seemed to be a staging by the now rotund, geriatric Wojtowicz of what is presumably his hazy recollections of that fateful day, a performative hybrid of personal reminiscence inextricably fused with cinematic imaginary, and while the gusto he put into it was certainly admirable (cancer was to claim his life several years after this), what little I saw didn’t quite measure up to the work’s reputation. Pity … The rest of the installation was great though. In an adjoining room were reproductions of contemporary newspaper coverage and a Life magazine article just chock-a-block full of details about the crime and its protagonists, as well as a recording of an episode from The Jeanne Parr Show* on which Liz Eden appeared. Wojtowicz was also interviewed from jail, and the breakdown of the relationship between him and Eden gets rolled out and dissected in pretty stark detail.
How I miss Jerry Springer … You’d think I’m kidding, but I’m not.
*A bit of trivia: Parr (above) is a former CBS reporter – who apparently had her own talk show in the ‘70s – and, more pertinently, the mother of actor Chris Noth, a.k.a. Mr. Big from Sex and the City. Is it just me, or does she resemble a younger version of her son in drag ?
[To be continued.]
Recently spotted on Buzzfeed, courtesy of user Mathieu S. – a bunch of polaroids snapped by actress Sean Young on the set of the 1982 hit, Blade Runner.
The ones of her and co-stars Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer are especially winsome I think.
This was Young at the peak of her Hollywood hawtness. Boy, was she gorgeous … svelte, radiant, an absolutely commanding presence in front of the camera. By the ’90s though, her career as an A-lister was all but over, dogged by widespread rumours of erratic, attention-seeking behaviour and, of course, the notorious James Woods affair. (An EW interview with Young from a couple of years back recaps a lot of that ignominious history.)
More recently, the actress was back in the headlines for yet another embarrassing public outburst: during the DGA (Directors’ Guild of America) Awards in 2008, an apparently intoxicated Young heckled director Julian Schnabel, who was up on stage to acknowledge his nomination for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, yelling at the man to “Get to it !” Schnabel didn’t take it too well: after telling whoever it was to “have another cocktail”, he left the podium without giving his intended speech, or making the remarks that he clearly wanted to. (Watch a clip of his reaction.)
The end result of all this was voluntary admission to a rehab program on her part.
But its nice to remember Young in her heyday … which these snaps are a wonderful, candid testament to.
I blogged about vegetables last week. Here’s the flip side.
SPH (that’s the Singapore Press Holdings) recently ran a series of rather er, visceral ads in the Straits Times promoting The Pitch – which is what they’re calling their new “reality contest” for ad agencies to “come up with their strategic and creative best.” And if the promotional campaign for the event itself is any yardstick, the creativity bar sure is being set pretty high. The series of ads (below) feature that mainstay of the dinner table, meat, in all its red, raw, bloody glory, ranging from gruesome slaughterhouse scenes to neatly laid out cuts of flesh all ready for the pan or pot. The creative team behind these carnivore-canny visuals, the local firm Wild Advertising & Marketing, explains their otherwise inscrutable choice thus: “Our business is already fraught with macabre language such as ‘deadlines’, ‘executions’ and having ads ‘butchered’ by clients. Which ad exec hasn’t felt like a lamb being led slaughter – walking into a client presentation being less than prepared.” (See here.)
The maternal unit, who’s spent a lifetime reading the ST and looking at their parade of otherwise uninspired ads, made a point of calling my attention to these novel, if rather grim, eye-catchers.
You can read more about The Pitch at SPH’s website.
As a subject of anthropological and semiotic interrogation, meat has aroused interest since the ’60s at least, when French thinker Claude Lévi-Strauss published his seminal (if a trifle far-fetched) piece, The Culinary Triangle, in the Partisan Review quarterly in 1966. He posited that different methods of cooking meat form a triangulated model, along the three connected pathways of which these various culinary modes could be located, and said to approach either “natural” or “cultural” processes. Umm, right …
The essay in its entirety is available on Google Books.
Even earlier though, French filmmaker Georges Franju chronicled first-hand the harrowing goings-on at a Parisian abattoir in his short documentary, Le Sang des Bêtes (Blood of the Beasts). That’s no misnomer, I assure you. One of the initial scenes shows a horse being knocked out by a captive bolt* before having its neck sliced open, bled – a seemingly endless river of dark blood swirling out onto the dirty cement floor – and then gutted, severed and carved up. As for the rest of it, you’ll have to watch it for yourself (see below), because that’s about as far as I got before my insides started feeling real funny. And I certainly haven’t tried getting any further since. Le Sang is quite enough to make a vegetarian out of anyone who isn’t a trigger-happy hunting enthusiast; a shoutout to my friend, AH, who long ago made the decision to give up meat, and hasn’t wavered, or at least not to my knowledge. These days the film attracts a cult audience primarily from having been made available on the Criterion Collection’s DVD of Franju’s 1960 horror classic, Les Yeux sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face), which is worth a look.
* And any talk of cattle guns is just pointless without at least a nod to the Coens’ No Country For Old Men (2007). I managed to sit through this one only because I’d already shelled out 10 USD for a ticket. Still one of the creepiest, stomach-churning-iest movies I’ve ever seen, bar none.
Le Sang des Bêtes, part 1 of 3. [Caution: very explicit, and not in a titillating way.]
Meanwhile, Franju’s documentary interests were transposed into the realm of deliciously nasty satire by fellow Frenchmen Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro in their wicked 1991 début, Delicatessen. It tells the tale of a charcuterie owner who, in a post-apocalyptic world afflicted by an acute shortage of food, begins to butcher the tenants in his building instead, serving up his neighbours bit by paper-wrapped bit over the counter. The concern for how the human race treats its animalian fellows seems to have been overtaken by cannibalistic complexes, a trend that has persisted in the last two decades. While the specter of cannibalism has been explored in film since the notorious D-grade gore-fest, Blood Feast, appeared in 1963, and in the sci-fi dystopia flick Soylent Green (1973) – not to mention providing a gimmicky edge to The Silence of the Lambs and its sequel – movies like Deli and the Dutch black comedy The Green Butchers leave the horror and sci-fi genres behind to take a droll jibe at our most cherished dietary practices. TGB stars the ever Skeletor-ish Mads Mikkelsen (you can practically see the guy’s skull beneath his skin), who has lots of diabolical fun with meathooks and grinders and marinades, becoming a hit among the grocery-shopping housewives of his tiny town for those oh-so-tasty “Chickadees.” Even more than Jeunet and Caro’s work, TGB lifts the food film to surreal heights as a tongue-in-cheek <lol> investigation of the implications of meat-eating.
Chinese performance artist Zhu Yu shifted the terms of the debate when, as part of a piece simply dubbed Eating People, he staged a series of photographs of himself preparing and consuming what looked to be a human foetus (below). While doubts about the authenticity of his er, meal are rife, Zhu himself is on record as stating: ““Our subconscious tells us that eating babies is not right. But it is not prohibited. No religion forbids cannibalism. Nor can I find any law which prevents us from eating people. So I took advantage of the space between morality and the law and based my work on it.” The piece stirred further controversy when it was shown on BBC’s Channel 4 as part of a program on contemporary Chinese art, Beijing Swings.
What has been termed BioArt deals with living matter and its study, including tissue culture, bioengineering processes, laboratory praxis, and, of course, a whole range of organic substances like meat, animal parts and bodily fluids, representing a new paradigm, beyond the performative, for corporeal engagement in art. Some of it is highly cerebral, literally operating at the interstice between art and lab science, like the SymbioticA collective; others tend toward the deliberately shocking and provocative. The work of female Indian artists Anita Dube and Shilpa Gupta, for instance, were featured at a recent SAM show on contemporary Asian art. Dube’s Silence (Blood Wedding) co-opts actual human bones as part of a series of ornate, florid sculptures, where these remains are transformed through a covering of rich red velvet and fussy beadwork into particularly beguiling, macabre memento mori-s. Gupta, on the other hand, while not actually utilizing biological material, created numerous bottles of simulated blood to stock a grisly pharmacy. Blame (2003) stands as a critique of communal violence in India, as well as global bloodshed such as the war on terror, confronting the viewer with the horrific consequences of these hostilities cloaked in the guise of the everyday, rendering it all the more startling and affective. (Though not without certain misgivings, at least on my part.) Other Asian artists engaged in body art as shock tactics include the infamous Chinese duo Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, whose Body Link and Human Oil utilized actual human foetuses as part of their attempt to highlight the brutality of modern urban life. The artists’ site clearly notes that the materials for Body Link were a “baby cadaver (medical specimen), plastic tubing, needles, and 200 cc of blood”, and Human Oil consisted of “liquefied human fat, one male infant cadaver.” So scandalous, in fact, were the shenanigans of artists like Zhu, Sun and Peng that in 2001 the Chinese authorities banned exhibitions “involving torture, animal abuse, corpses, and overt violence and sexuality”, and any “gallery or alternative space planning to mount a show during the run of the 2002 Shanghai Biennale was required to vet its contents with censors.” (See Richard Vine’s New China, New Art [Prestel USA, 2008], p. 104-5.)
Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Body Link (2000). Images from sunyuanpengu.com.
Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Human Oil (2000). Image from sunyuanpengyu.com.
As a sort of subcategory of BioArt, the visual culture of meat and meat-related products has of late been attracting the attention of artists interested in issues like feminism, animal rights, and foodways. Here’s a wonderful snippet from a review of Meat After Meat Joy, an exhibition which showed at the Mahmood Daneyal Gallery in NYC in 2008, which I think serves well as an articulation of the politics and connotations of representing meat:
I sing the song of meat, of its joys and discontents. For text demanded is now text made manifest. For meat is not only murder but also medium. Not merely the flesh, bone and sinew of corporeal existence but also an aesthetic construct replete with its peculiar and innate ontology. Not just tissue but also a symbolic projection of the impolite body into the rarefied space of the contemporary art world ……
Meat is food. Meat is death. Meat is torture. Meat is production. Meat is raw, although it can be cooked. Meat is dissection, substratum, structure. Meat is the bridge between human and animal, a reminder of where we come from, of our shared morphology, and of our place in the food chain. But meat is, above all, metaphor. It drips with larger aesthetic and political implications. It is laced with the gristle of artistic effort, striated by the tendons of semiotic theory and the ligaments of art school curriculum, greased with the lard of unctuous careerism, inflamed in the rotisserie of the contemporary art market, braised on the skillet of critical acclaim or indifference, its physical wholeness challenged by entropy, time and the maggots of eventual dissolution. It is a pungent medium, and should this not be immediately apparent, just give it a day or two without refrigeration.
(Read the full review at post.thing.net.)
Some of the pieces included in the show were the well-known video work My New York (2002) by Chinese artist Zhang Huan, who wore a meat suit down the streets of the city, having evinced a longstanding concern with the human body and its fleshly constituent, as well as the American Betty Hirst, who has incorporated the motif of meat across a broad spectrum of iconographies.
Stills from Zhang Huan’s My New York (2002). Images from Style Tease.
American Flag, Betty Hirst. Image from a review at Eat Me Daily.
Hommage a Meret Oppenheim, Betty Hirst. Image from a review at Eat Me Daily.
Elsewhere, photographer-artist Dominic Episcopo had a one-man show at the Bambi Gallery in Philadelphia, entitled Meat America. A brief notice at The Urban Grocer remarks: “Through this work, Episcopo intended to celebrate his own unabashed love for meat and “the American appetite for decadent and iconoclastic deliciousness.” And for the artist, delicious it was – word on the street says Episcopo and his wife ate all the meat he photographed. Now that’s dedication.”
All images below from The Coolist.
… It’s the end of the post. There isn’t going to be any mention of Her Gaga-ness.