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  Publicity Stills of "Invisible City"


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)

Genre: Documentary
Director: Tan Pin Pin
RunTime: 1 hr
Rating: PG
Official Website: http://invisiblecity.sg

Opening Day: Screenings at The Arts House
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


The latest work from Tan Pin Pin Invisible City opens 19 July 2007 with free screenings at NUS followed by a commercial run at The Arts House. Tan Pin Pin, one of Singapore’s best known filmmakers, directed the critically and commercially acclaimed Singapore GaGa as well as the multi award-winning Moving House. She now turns her camera to the subject of memory.

Invisible City chronicles the ways people attempt to leave a mark before they and their histories disappear. From an avid amateur film director trying to preserve his decaying trove of Singapore footage to an intrepid Japanese journalist hunting down Singaporean war veterans, Tan Pin Pin draws out doubts, regrets and the poignantly ordinary moments of these protagonists who attempt immortality. Through their footage and photos rarely seen until now, we begin to perceive faint silhouettes of a City that could have been.

Movie Review:

I somehow get the feeling that I’m not quite the best choice writing a review of Tan Pin Pin’s Invisible City. My experience of local independent filmmaking has always been one of tepid, love-hate support. My last local film was MCP documentary I Love Malaya (which I truly enjoyed); Invisible City possessed a markedly less blatant direction in its presentation. Having not caught Singapore GaGa, whom many I know lauded and enjoyed, I experienced Invisible City without a prior predisposition towards Tan Pin Pin’s directorial style. As it is, my opinions were most influenced by my mood while watching it: that of a relatively representative, tertiary-education youth swimming for direction within our patently apolitical society.

Invisible City needs you to think. A shallow and perhaps foolish statement, but Invisible City, with its editing, presentation and direction, travels to a point where I began to feel I was doing more work than I felt was best and it was subtly frustrating. Tan Pin Pin, with a shots to final cut ratio of 50:1, as well as her evidently perceptive and insightful intellect, has surprisingly moulded an Invisible City that to me possibly falls into the typical monotony of a shot after shot, clip after clip of chic indie documentary noiselessness.

Pin Pin sources out people who like her “choose Singapore as the topic of their work” and created a work that was “about the basic human need to search, to question, to preserve evidence…” in the Invisible City. We see marvellous footage of Marjorie Doggette’s photography as well as, more poignantly, Ivan Polunin’s footage of early 1950s Singapore. Modern representations include Lim Chen Sian, one of four archaeologists in Singapore.

A large part of the movie was devoted to the clips, stills and works, which allowed a slow, tranquil pace of appreciation along with Pin Pin’s desire for the audience to shape their interpretations of the subjects and their work. In the process of Pin Pin’s freehanded approach, Invisible City throws up perhaps too many points to ponder for its runtime. What exactly is Singapore history? How and why are we perceiving and undervaluing both our history and its documentation and preservation? Do we have apathetic teenagers and a new generation that doesn’t recognise the vastness of our political past?

Perhaps Pin Pin had her limitations due to time, technicalities, resources or artistic direction. More often than not, under appreciation of the film-makers opinions, takes and perceptions contribute to the slow maturity of our local film making industry. I wish Pin Pin wanted to inject more of her personal take and judgement of the situation alongside the countless footage that swaps the film. Unaltered portrayal of discussion material doesn’t stimulate thought the way informed and insightful understanding of the subject matter will through a film-maker’s take. Pin Pin clearly has so much to offer I almost wished there was a audio commentary track to go with this film!

At the post screening Q and A, questions were raised over a segment where Polunin eoncounters recording difficulties with his equipment and subsequently Polunin’s narration of 1950s Singapore footage took place with a blacked out screen. Along with the questioner, I had thought it was a recording failure that spoke of the decrepit nature of our historical documentation, yet it was Pin Pin’s desire to stimulate the audience to imagine the lost images of Singapore long gone. It was to me perhaps the clearest example of the flitting between many lines of thought and themes that could lose the audience. Especially with a film that dealt so much with the historians of our country, I’m not quite sure worrying about the lost images of past Singapore was a line of thought many would have foremostly connected. The lack of a more heavy-handed directorial style also left me worrying about the many thoughts and insights of Pin Pin’s that I may have missed.

If I’d wanted to form my own thoughts and opinions, I’d go to a Marjorie Doggette exhibition, visit the library, find old materials. I’d believe the most valuable bit of a documentary is the handling, interpretation and acuity of the film-maker’s take and offering, which I did not find at all. Perhaps I was missing the point: Pin Pin had purely wanted to bring these up for awareness and discussion. Yet, I’m not quite sure a sufficiently tangible mass of the young generation will catch it.

One most poignant point I’d felt during the movie was the clip of a former Communist student activist that spoke of his true take on Singapore’s volatile history in the lead up to our independence though markedly abstaining from patently personal takes and opinions on his direction and purpose besides to inform and to educate. After a talk to the young students at a library, he expressed disappointment and acceptance that the young generation heard but didn’t listen, knew but did not care and understood the situation.

To me this captured the same problem I faced with Invisible City: wherein lies the purpose? For the students treated him like a human documentation of history, observed and noted. They didn’t catch a lasting value in a man laying out the story of a lost past like they would of a man who would speak of what he would do, how he saw it and what he hopes for the future. Invisible City throws up yet another catalogue of clips, photographs and indie-styled shots and interviews that felt like an audio-visual mini museum of historical footage. A lasting value in the work is absent; it is distinctively contemporary.

I would love to see the day where local film-makers expounded upon and harness the value of both their intellectual perspicacity and artistic talent and shape documentaries in a more vocal and opinionated form, for the value of any artist’s work lies in the sum of his skill of interpretation and not of the subject alone.

Movie Rating:

Review by Daniel Lim


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