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.
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.
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
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 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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.