Seminar: Ironies of Theory and Practice: Singapore New Wave Cinema
REGIONAL SOCIAL AND CULTURAL STUDIES PROGRAMME
Arts in Southeast Asia Seminar Series
About the Seminar
With its film production revival of the mid-1990s, Singapore’s national cinema introduced itself to festival audiences with stylistically opaque art films favoring visual and narrative abstractions, and borrowing freely from European New Wave movements of the 60s and 70s. These works feature downcast, disaffected denizens marginalised by the economic miracle – socially immobile, alienated, devoid of hope, agency, and will to live. Characters teeter on the edge of sanity, mired in vast, impersonal seas of concrete, and suspended in time as they trudge along endless hallways. Film scholars have questioned whether the film language used here, originally fashioned to represent the alienation of Western subjects from modernity, is congruent with an Asian negotiation of postmodernity. Many also wonder if this undermines the authenticity of local voices. These critiques evince key ideas from postcolonial theory regarding mimicry, ambivalence, and subaltern subjectivity. I examine two contradictions. First, the films’ attempts to convey social immobility and spatial alienation are thwarted by the acutely cartographical nature of Singapore’s national imagination. Its spatial preoccupations muddle the message. Second, whereas theoretical tropes such as mimicry and ambivalence harbor subversive strategies to deconstruct and undermine colonial hegemony, these films deploy Western conventions without irony or cynicism. My bid to resolve these paradoxes turns to Gilles Deleuze’s writing on philosophy and cinema. Running the Singapore “new wave” through his ruminations on the “movement-image” and “time-image”, I recalibrate our understanding of film history and world history, retheorise local film aesthetics, and proffer an understanding of Singapore’s spatial imagination.
About the Speaker
Gerald Sim is the Lee Kong Chian NUS-Stanford Distinguished Fellow on Contemporary Southeast Asia for 2016-17, and a Visiting Scholar at Stanford’s Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center in Autumn 2016. He is associate professor of film and media studies at Florida Atlantic University, and the author of The Subject of Film and Race: Retheorizing Politics, Ideology, and Cinema (Bloomsbury Academic, 2014). This presentation springs from a manuscript-in-progress tentatively titled, Besides Hybridity: Postcolonial Poetics of Southeast Asian Cinema, contracted with Indiana University Press. His essays have appeared in Discourse, the Quarterly Review of Film and Video, Projections, Rethinking Marxism, Film Quarterly, Asian Cinema, and Inter-Asia Cultural Studies. He was a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute in 2013 and 2016.
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