Friday, June 27, 2008

Mysterious Objects, Exquisite Corpses

Last night I got to see my favorite film from last year on 35mm again. For free! The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts screening room, the same venue at which I first saw Syndromes and a Century over a year ago, unspooled this lovely, entrancing film again as a replacement screening for a set of its Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's short video works, which had been delayed in shipping from the prior venue at which they played.

Michael Guillén was first on the blogosphere to report the switch. I was initially disappointed that the shorts would be delayed a week (they now are set to play July 3rd and July 6th; half on one day and half on the other.) But the opportunity to see a bright, beautiful print of Apichatpong's latest feature film again in a screening room free of the distractions of home (or the multiplex; YBCA audiences are very respectful as a rule) is about as perfect a substitution as could be imagined. And the Syndromes and a Century print is still in town, and plays again on Sunday at 2PM, also for free!

I urge you to attend, especially if you have not seen this film before, but are interested in cinema as memory, as mood, as cultural self-examination, and not necessarily as story. It's true that I can trace my deep admiration for Apichatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul's films back past the screenings at YBCA and the Pacific Film Archive and the local film festivals which have shown his work, to the time I once spent living and working in Thailand itself. But as I commented on Barry Jenkins' blog:

I'm not certain this experience has helped me "understand" Syndromes and a Century any more than anyone else does. Yet I do feel I do understand it, not on the level of analysis or even recognition of Joe's motifs from other films, or of bits and pieces of the Thai culture I was exposed to. It feels like a more universal, more cinematic understanding. And it's combined with a perhaps even more overwhelming lack of understanding, that somehow doesn't get in the way of appreciation at all.
Of course, it was hard for me not to view the film with the censorship it has suffered in its home country near the front of my mind. During one of the censored scenes, the print appeared to have weathered some damage (green outlines of what looked like sprocket holes on the side of the frame- any film projectionists reading this know what that means?) and it served as a reminder that when the film was finally screened in Bangkok, that entire scene was replaced by black leader. Apichatpong himself has called this censored version "a corpse, not a film." I cannot avoid noticing the irony that a film that so gently points out the absurdity of blithely waltzing toward modernity (one theme among many in this rich work) has attracted a decidedly un-gentle smackdown from a censorship system seemingly bent on keeping Thai movies as old-fashioned as possible...

More links well worth reading on Syndromes and a Century: Michael Guillén's interview, Daniel Kasman's review, Peter Nellhaus's comments on the DVD release, and Thai cinephile CelineJulie's report from a Bangkok screening.


  1. So I feel a fool. I got home from work, went on a run, ate a bit, sat on my bed to read, and fell asleep. I would have loved to see it again on 35mm but I _do_ own a DVD of the film so I can't get too mad at myself for missing the screening. Mostly I'm mad I missed the post-screening plans. My bad.

  2. I wish you could have been there, Ryland. But I know the story; I've slept through screenings I intensely wanted to see myself. (occassionaly in the theatre itself!)

    While linking I should not have neglected your insightful remarks, and my favorite of the pro reviewers', by Tony Rayns in Sight and Sound. It's also worth pointing to the most interesting argument against the film I've encountered (though not one I'm swayed by myself), made by the pseudonymous "Nothing" in this thread.