The celebrated film editor and director takes a break from the editing room to share five pivotal films in his life from five different decades.
1950s HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR
HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR directed in 1959 by Alain Resnais, continues his exploration of memory and forgetfulness through an intimate conversation between a Japanese man and a French woman about the Hiroshima bombing and World War II. Though these themes also resonate in his other films, this film is special for me for its nonlinear narrative and use of flashbacks. Again, it was one of my first experiences of disjunctive narrative and the meanings that are created in those ruptures. The confessional, monologue approach to the dialogue, mostly spoken by the woman with brief interjections by the man, was unique and formative to my writing. I continued to watch and love all of Resnais’ other films but this one always had a special place in my heart.
1960s DIARY OF A SHINJUKU THIEF
DIARY OF A SHINJUKU THIEF was one of three films made by Nagisa Oshima in 1968. It uses a fragmented narrative as a political commentary on sexual and political radicalism in Japan at the time. A cinematic collage composed of the main narrative of our deviant hero, the film is constantly interrupted by a singing troubadour, documentary footage of political protests and a roundtable discussion on sexual politics. More importantly, the film embodies the concepts developed in his writing from Cinema, Censorship and the State that argue that the filmmaker is by nature a criminal, and that criminality can only be reduced through a radical process where control over the medium is excised from the hands of the film-maker. So in all stages–from pre-production, production and post-production–the film-maker must constantly negate himself by throwing out his preconceptions and starting with a fresh slate.
LOVEFILM [aka Szerelmesfilm] is an experimental fragment film directed by István Szabó in 1970 about a young man’s enduring love for his childhood sweetheart. I stumbled across the film by accident in the local video store in the art film section but it stuck with me over the years. I recently went back and watched it again to see if it still held the same magic, and surprisingly it did. It intercuts between a man on a train to see his sweetheart in Paris and flashbacks of their childhood romance. But the film stands out for its more experimental moments. Especially striking is the use of direct address where the man and his lover stare directly into the camera and speak while having a dialogue with each other. Through the fragmentary, handmade nature of the film, Szabó manages to reveal the truth about past love.
1980s SANS SOLEIL
SANS SOLEIL is an essay film by Chris Marker made in 1983. Cutting between 16mm film images of Japan and Africa, the film juxtaposes the primitive and the modern and exposes the existence of the primitive in the modern and vice versa. It is primarily a meditation on memory and how our inability to recall things clouds our perception of history. I was lucky that my college library had a 16mm print of the film available so I would take it out periodically and watch it in our film screening room. The blurring between documentary and fiction and the veracity of history as orally narrated through letters from the cameraman, Sandor, were a big influence on my approach to film-making, especially in Miami Strips, Hollywood Dream.
1990s REBELS OF THE NEON GOD
REBELS OF THE NEON GOD, 1992, is Tsai Ming Liang’s first feature film. It is my favourite film of his because it is the least stylised and contrived of all. Shot in the video game arcades, night clubs and shopping malls of Taipei, the handheld camera follows four wayward youths through the city. Growing up in Bangkok, near the red-light district, I had always been fascinated by street life and shopping malls. Rebels was the first film I watched that documented this life as I experienced it growing up. The enduring image for me from the film is that cliché of the teenage girl riding pillion behind the boy on the motorbike through the city. It was the beginning of my fascination with clichés and their use in the cinematic context, especially through pastiche and collage.