recent death of Lee Kuan Yew is certainly a logical moment to reflect on
Singapore’s past and speculate about its future. However, this film is probably
not the right vehicle to do either. It is something of a city symphony and an
exploration of the national character, but it views both past and present
through a deliberately distorted dystopian futuristic lens, circa 2066.
Stylistically, Daniel Hui’s Snakeskin (trailer here) is a wholly
fitting selection for the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual Art of the Real series of aesthetically challenging docs.
the narrator is the sole survivor of a doomsday cult led by a messianic
prophet, who claimed to be the descendent and spiritual heir of Stamford
Raffles, Singapore’s British Imperialist founder. This seems like a strange
recruitment strategy, but it offers an opportunity to explore Singapore’s
ambiguous and contradictory collective feelings towards its colonial past.
narrator’s ruminations are heard over and between surviving film footage his
father ostensibly shot of contemporary Singapore, often featuring minority (but
not especially marginalized) voices. It is certainly a timely reminder
Singapore is not and never has been an ethnically homogeneous population.
of its intentions, Snakeskin prompts
us to consider just how remarkable Singapore’s economic growth has been. This
is a small archipelago-state, with little natural resources to speak of, and a
historically fractured and factionalized populace. Race riots were relatively
common place there in the immediate post-colonial years. Yet, it has become one
of Asia’s celebrated “Tigers” solely due to its economic policies.
that as it is, a little of Snakeskin’s impressionistic
reflection goes a long ways. The framing device is always conspicuously
artificial and the images are often rather workaday. It is still a striking
city and Hui gives us a sense there is both celebrated and secret history
associated with nearly every street corner, but his approach is more conceptual
than cinematic (or even installation-ish).
For those who appreciate the self-conscious aloofness
of typical Cinema Guild releases, Snakeskin
should scratch your itch when it screens Saturday (4/18) at the Francesca
Beale, as part this year’s Art of the Real. You should now consider yourself
duly warned or reasonably informed. The less adventurous who are still
intrigued by Singapore’s history might find the HBO Asia miniseries Serangoon Road considerably more
Labels: Art of the Real '15, Documentary, Singaporean Cinema