By The Special Bunch
This monthly column brings you news of arts happenings around the world. We called it ‘Cool Stuff last month. This month we are trying out ‘Arts Worldwide’. Let us know what you think.
Long and Uncut
by Amir Muhammad
The longest feature film ever made might just be Evolution of a Filipino Family which clocks in at 10 hours. Some festivals list it as 10-and-a-half or even 11 hours but I think this factors in the intermissions. The director initially wanted it to be shown without a break!
I saw most of it in January at Rotterdam. The director Lav Diaz is a quietly smouldering type, famous for his battles against producers who ‘just don’t get it.’ A previous film of his, Batang West Side docked in at a mere 5 hours, which I managed to catch in its entirety at Singapore.
Batang West Side sounds like a cruel joke: It’s a 5-hour murder mystery which ends before you find out the killer. But the murder plot is just the excuse for an extended investigation into the Filipino diaspora of the American East Coast. Made for less than RM1 million, on 35mm film but with mostly natural lighting, this was an epic story about small people and did not shy away from occasional melodrama. The most astonishing sequences involve the dead teenager’s mother, trapped in the luxury of her home with her paralysed (white) husband and her malevolent (Filipino) lover.
Evolution of a Filipino Family is even more ambitious because it critiques melodrama, the staple of the Pinoy film industry. In black and white and shot on a mixture of video and 16mm film, it follows a (you guessed it) Filipino family, during the years of the Marcos dictatorship. So in theme it is close to the pretty good The Seventies by Chito S. Rono (director of the standard horror flick Feng Shui, currently showing in Malaysia).
Realist yet effortlessly metaphorical, Evolution counterpoints the experiences of the rural extended Gallardo family with the making of a long-running Manila radio soap opera. There are also documentary elements such as an interview with the most celebrated Filipino filmmaker, Lino Brocka… which ends when a character, twiddling with the dial on her radio, exclaims “Oh, it’s only Lino Brocka!” before continuing to look for soapy escapism. The documentary feel is evident also in the long takes of farming and mining rituals undergone by the Gallardos, interspersed with entire folk songs (live rather than pre-recorded Bollywood style). The songs are when most of the walk-outs in Rotterdam occurred.
I managed to catch only 6 hours so some parts are tantalizingly incomplete but aim to complete my viewing in Hong Kong. A good long interview with Lav Diaz is conducted by Singaporean writer Brandon Wee here. Wee is quite right that the film “excludes reactionary editing strategies.” And Diaz is quite inspirational when he says that the film will always be there, waiting for its local audience to be ready to look at their own lives rather than just change the dial.
Large and Unhinged
by Sharon Chin
On February 12 this year, New York’s largest public artwork to date was unveiled, or rather, unfurled. 7500 individual ‘gates’, each 16 ft high with saffron colored fabric hanging from it 7ft above the ground, placed throughout 23 miles of footpath in Central Park, NY.
The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979 – 2005 is the work of husband-wife artist collaborators Christo and Jeanne-Claude. And yes, the dates attributed in the title are correct – this baby has been 26 years in gestation.
What is immediately amazing about the work is the numbers. 26 years of virtuoso political, bureaucratic and monetary negotiation before the work was approved. A budget of $20 million, entirely financed by the artists themselves through sales of studies, preparatory drawings and collages, scale models and original lithographs (they do not accept sponsorship of any kind). 1,067,330 square feet of recyclable, rip-stop fabric. 5,290 US Tons of steel (equal to 2/3 the steel in the Eiffel Tower) for 15,000 specially designed steel footing weights.
But it is the intangible that has allowed these monumental numbers to come into existence. The sustaining passion of the artists showing us how art is indeed something that encompasses all of life – from the joy of creation to the mundane slavish steps that must be made to see it realized. The generosity of New Yorkers, those people famous for being brusque and rude, who have allowed one of their most beloved places to be possessed by the artistic vision of two immigrant artists. Wow.
by Deng Fuquan
Besides the otaku, the flâneur.
Well-elaborated by philosophers Walter Benjamin and Michel de Certeau, the concept of the ‘flâneur’ is also echoed in the familiar local term: ‘jalan-jalan’. To walk/ stroll/ roam the street/ town/ city, so as to absorb the local scenery/ going-ons/ gossip.
But the urban flâneur is unlikely to relax: it takes skill to be saturated by – yet keen to – the sense-specificities of the city. If the metropolis’ most creative artists are possibly its best flâneurs, they are not necessarily native – as Daniel Ziv (from Canada) and Guy Sharett (from Israel) prove in their more-than-another-tourist-guide-book, Bangkok Inside Out.
The Israeli-Canadian duo have paced the City of Angels, exalting endearing actions, enigmatic personas and enduring icons that define Thai-ness. The quasi-ethnographers then artfully applied Geertz’s “thick description” – with wee academic tenor but copious copywriter’s charm – to produce an alphabetical compendium of Bangkok’s fiction-like facts and ever-thrilling trivia, seen through farang eyes.
If the above pop-portrait is seemingly uncritical of the city’s historical development and cultural formation, we might also ask why if the effort was undertaken by a local author, would the account be more legitimized, less subjective, more authentic?
We risk assuming wrong associations by pitting the native (local, in-situ, responsible, wise) against the flâneur (foreign, mobile, free, foolish). Yet, the politics of representation is not less complex for the native artist who chooses to jalan-jalan and be a local flâneur.
Hence continual discourse is necessary to unpack the easy and errant assumptions we have. Hence the recent debate amongst Malaysian indie film-makers and pundits, on constructions of local reality, racial sensitivities and nationalist truisms, must deepen.
First Published: 10.03.2005 on Kakiseni