Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Invisible City


I must confess I had eagerly anticipated Tan Pin Pin's latest work Invisible City since I caught wind of its production. Given that I had enjoyed Singapore GaGa tremendously, and having had the opportunity to view Invisible City in a special bloggers' screening, I just can't contain my glee enough. But the mood I experienced when watching the movie was somewhat sombre if compared to GaGa, which had lovely tunes sprinkled around.

If I could use a word to describe Invisible City, it will be 'Important'; an aptly timed wake up call. Given the recent (coincidental) slew of news on conserving aged architectural beauties, I thought the documentary touched upon issues of importance vis-a-vis those articles, that as material things get demolished and destroyed, what's left are the memories of what once were. And when memories fade, become faulty, not get recorded in some medium as evidence of its existence, what then? It is as if what was had fused into a part of our current Internet world, of being something virtual and intangible from a long time ago, and sadly unrecognizable.

Like how Invisible City was consciously made to just scratch the surface of its deep undertones, forgive me if I do not manage to encompass succintly all the emotions I felt when watching this documentary. Rather, I'd prefer to touch upon what intrigued me, and hope that after watching it, you'll feel something stirring inside, and be interested enough to want to talk about it too.

What I enjoyed about Invisible City, are the moments where it inevitably made you think, about existentialism, about memories, about immortality. The quest of some to want to leave their own mark in the vast world we live in, to make that drop of proclamation - "I was here!" - heard.

If I can so boldly intrude on Pin Pin's important piece of work with a reference to geeky pop culture, there are approximately 4 million of us on this tiny island, each shaping our own experience, grappling with own own issues, and our own interpretation of what makes our country. Unlike the Borg Collective where everyone can understand, feel and experience what our fellow men had gone through just because, we realize that while each of us have pertinent, interesting things to share, it doesn't get any easier getting that audience. What's recorded in the annals of history, as the cynical saying goes, are done by the victors. But there are always two sides to a coin, and what about the views of those on the flip side, aren't their experiences worthy enough to make the coin complete, and in turn, our understanding whole?

I don't deny that it's not an easy movie to sit through despite its 60 minute runtime, not because it is boring, but because by the time the documentary ends, you're likely to be overwhelmed by concurrent thoughts of what went on, and be bursting to share and discuss the many intricate subtexts that present themselves in the different narrative threads.

There are plenty of visible gems in the documentary, the tangible ones are the photographs, and colour films of Early Singapore that get shared with the audience, of a world no longer in existence. While Eng Yee Peng's excellent Diminishing Memories dealt with change from within her hometown, Invisible City dealt with the similar subject albeit on a larger scale. Real life on the streets of old captured candidly for posterity, colonial styled buildings forming part of our skyline, yet all are unlabelled until the end credits - it does make you pause and wonder if knowing them didn't matter because they are no longer there.

Do we need artifacts to convince us of something, of time capsules, buried treasures that need to be dug out, something to hold and feel, versus something more abstract, like memories, experiences, that are more difficult to preserve. As Pin Pin shared, this is like a documentary on documenting, which I thought was like art imitating life. And in a skillfully shrewd manner, I thought one of the best moments was the presentation of a Japanese reporter's finding out more about those recollections on WWII, and the eventual outcome of her article, bringing about almost an unavoidable comparison with Mr Han's experience with the clampdown on student activists in the days before our independence, that while the Japanese were shameful about their war past and having them adjusted for the history books, here too is a small account from a point of view rarely seen and heard, if at all. by a contemporary generation.

What makes history? I think history is made up of emotions. Emotions that are universal, emotions each of us are capable of feeling, that Invisible City is able to elicit. Invisible City is indeed a gem in itself, open your eyes, think, experience and feel.

Keen to watch Invisible City and watch for free? Click here to find out how - from the 19th-21st July 07! Tan Pin Pin herself will be present for a Q&A session after the screenings!

Otherwise, Invisible City will screen exclusively at The Arts House

Tickets at $8 (Adults) and $6 (Students with ID)

Available from The Arts House Box Office, 1 Old Parliament Lane, Singapore 179429.

Ticketing hotline: +65 6332 6919 (Mon-Fri 10am-8pm, Sat 11am-8pm)

Screenings at The Arts House (Afternoon and Evening Shows)

22 Jul 4:30 6:00

23 Jul to 25 Jul 7:30 9:00

31 Jul to 3 Aug 7:30

4 Aug 4:30 6:00 7:30

5 Aug 4:30 6:00

7 Aug to 10 Aug 7:30

11 Aug 4:30 6:00 7:30

12 Aug 4:30 6:00

There was a Q&A with director Tan Pin Pin after the screening, and here are some points which I managed to pick up. Any errors here are mine alone of couse, and there are spoilers, so tread carefully if you choose to proceed. You have been warned!

1. There was a portion of recollection where the screen turns black. Just a voiceover and nothing else. Naturally this was space for you to let go and allow your imagination to run loose.

2. There was no listing of names during the documentary, though interviewees were credited in the end credits. This was deliberate so that the audience does not get distracted, nor start to box in their views and perceptions of who the person might or could be.

3. The documentary was unscripted and was made during the editing phase. It was a ground up, organic approach to filmmaking.

4. Mr Han Tan Juan himself was present for today's screening and sitting through the Q&A, he shared that he can feel that the audience and himself are from a vastly different generation, of different eras and experiences. He found it difficult to talk to his own daughters about what he went through, and thought more so for other people to understand. After all, he had his citizenship revoked, and had been in jail.

5. This film is more emotional than political (given some subject matter touched upon), which I agree.

6. On whether Pin Pin herself would consider donating her own films to the National Archives - there are good and bad points, on accessibility and non-accessibility of material in there.

7. The ratio of film shot and the final cut was 50:1. A full transcript of the scenes and dialogue was made available so that Pin Pin can randomly access scenes and footage during editing, rather than to sit through everything again.

8. Pin Pin had wanted to seek out and share what she found, rather than to seek out, and keep these to herself.

9. The Chinese title is rich in word play (sorry, my Chinese is a bit weak to fully appreciate, and translate it into its various English equivalent)

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