Sunday, April 09, 2006

Singapore GaGa

Singapore GaGa

I should have done this review ages ago, but other commitments denied me the time to watch this last year, and this year in missing out an early exclusive screening. I'm not afraid to describe GaGa in a little bit more detail, as try as I might, this movie still has to be viewed, and more importantly, listened to, in order to appreciate it in its entirety.

Singapore GaGa is a film that had you and I. We're featured in it. No? Well, see that guy walking past so briskly? Or that lady with that skeptical look on her face? Yes? You and I. Unless you're an extremely homey person, you're bound to have bumped into one or more of the colourful characters in GaGa. In the hustle and bustle of our urban life, how often do we stop and smell the roses, as the cliche goes?

I did not know the name Melvyn Cedello, until now. He's been performing under the walkway near the Bedok hawker centre for months. Do I stop to listen? Frankly speaking, not really, even though I use that same walkway to get me home almost everyday. It's like he (and his performance) has become intrinsically part of the landscape, one that has blended in the background as I go about with my life. But I do hear the music. Sometimes folk, sometimes rock, an occassional Elvis or Beatles, sometimes even silence as he takes a smoke break or chat with some passers-by.

You and I are the background people. Have you heard the tissue song? I bet you did before. From the auntie on a wheelchair selling tissue paper for one dollar. Have you bought any from her? Probably, probably not. Why? I don't know. We've become the background people. Those who watch, sometimes stare, most of the time just walking by.

GaGa offers a brief but brilliant 55 minute snapshot of Singapore, from national events like the 9th of August parade, to documenting personalities like homegrown ventriloquist Victor Khoo (with his Charlie puppet. I thought I always saw Khoo moving his lips too obviously when Charlie speaks, in real life performances too), and renowned pianist Margaret Leng Tan. It fills you with so much sights, but in particular, the sounds which we get so comfortably familiar with, so much so that little attention is paid to them, from musical instruments to street buskers, from even radio news bulletins to MRT train announcements (yes, it's a real person, not a synthesized voice, making station stops and various announcements).

Opening and closing with Cedello belting out Freddy Fender's "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights", we are welcomed to Singapore, as do most visitors, through Changi Airport. That's one of the first Singapore icons that visitors come in touch with. Slowly, we're introduced to the little seen and heard elements, like the self-proclaimed National Treasure at Raffles Place MRT station, and even savoured a flavour of some Chinese patriotic songs being sung with gusto.

GaGa might play out as a bit of a rojak, but that essentially what makes Singapore unique - its many facets of everyday life, and its multiracial society. We see the numerous foreign workers thronging the streets of Serangoon, witness a sports day event amongst pupils from a madrasah performing some cheerleading to egg their sportspeople on, and various conversational and discussion pieces like the growing demise of dialects used locally (and you do get a satisfying sample of them as well).

There is a segment in Singapore GaGa famously known as the 4"33' (4 minutes and 33 seconds), a segment in real time which showed Margarat Leng Tan kneeling next to her toy piano at an HDB void deck, preparing to play, but didn't. There is little movement, but it's not completely silent. Singapore GaGa plays like an extrapolated version of 4"33', offering the background people like us, to observe and hear the things that we seldom, or never do.

We are the background people, and for once, we're given ample opportunity to listen to and realize the background music in our lives. Stay until after the end credits roll.

P.S. I urge everyone of you to watch this movie. It's a must-see, must-hear local documentary. And you'd better book early too. I was thrice denied as I thought I could purchase tickets from the Arts House box office just before showtime. And I was so wrong, as it has been selling out since Day 1. Do yourself a favour, be kiasu, get your ticket early, and enjoy the ride.

P.P.S. The screening was preceded by an extremely short local animated flick called the Crocodile Journals. Nothing too fancy, but it tells a quirky tale about a buaya which wants to integrate into human society.

P.P.P.S. Don't be late for the screening, as it starts on time. Can't believe someone actually walked into the hall 30mins into the movie.

Singapore GaGa will still be showing at The Arts House in April. Click here for detailed showtimes and ticketing information.

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