Listening to Singapore

Full disclaimer: I saw Singapore GaGa on Monday night in a blogger-only private screening (first time in Singapore media history!). However, it's not like they're paying me to say nice things or anything. I liked the film and I'm going to bring my parents to see it. You should too.

Watching Tan Pin Pin's Singapore GaGa is like tuning in momentarily to all the background noises of the city that we seasoned urbanites are used to ignoring or blocking out altogether in our daily lives. For 55 minutes, the frequency changes, and all those things at the edge of our aural awareness swell into focus: from street buskers and racuous children, to musicians and music-makers that perhaps the ordinary Singaporean wouldn't encounter up close.

Pin Pin calls it a documentary, but this one doesn't need a narrator; the city narrates itself. Happily, it's not a production that sets out to define Singapore, and happily it evades all the definitions that would be imposed on it by The Powers That Be. You won't find cultural tokenism here, or jingoistic tableaux --- except for, well, see it for yourself.

No, relying on her own musings and observations, Pin Pin's woven together a soundscape that's at once so familiar, yet tells you something you didn't quite expect about the city. And always softly, subtly, respectfully.

I last saw Pin Pin at a NUS forum (webcast available) in December on the veracity of the Discovery Channel's three-hour pseudo-epic The History of Singapore. I remember thinking then, after I'd seen some of that programme, that for all that it aspired to be The Definitive Documentary About Singapore, the Singaporean was strangly absent from it.

In Singapore GaGa, the Singaporean is everywhere, and the Singaporean voice that Pin Pin's found chatters disarmingly from start to finish. "Singapore as you've never heard it before," I chimed glibly at the film's conclusion, but that's not it either. More like, Singapore as you've maybe not paused to notice it before.

Teng Qian Xi, the film's publicist, describes it as at once avant-garde, yet family-friendly and accessible. The word "charming" also seems to have cropped up frequently. Maybe they're trying to say it's unpretentious and sincere (both of which it is). But I don't know about "charming" because that seems to dangerously pigeonhole the film, potentially in the Uniquely Singapore mould, when what it does it is more than charm.

It engages. It finds a story and tells it. If you live here, maybe it makes you feel just that little bit guilty for being constantly jacked into your iPod or cellphone, and not letting the city speak to you. And in the end, it's neither more nor less than what it claims to be --- that is to say, one person's story of this city.

Which is why, I think, it works. Listen for yourself.


Technorati Tags: ,

Labels: ,


At 3/08/2006 5:18 am , Blogger Olorin said...

Say, thanks for the review.

There's some interest in Singapore GaGa at From A Singapore Angle as well as you can see from here:


I still don't know how to use the trackback function like huichieh does so am posting here instead.

At 3/08/2006 5:36 am , Blogger NARDAC said...

hmmm... I remember seeing "Moving House," also by Tan Pin Pin, the last time I was over in Singapore, at a screening+talk at Nanyang (I think that's it?). It was so incredibly Singaporean, but from another generation... like the one before us maybe... It seemed to be the generation just after our parents, lamenting the past and morally criticising our need for change and progress as somehow inhumane, albeit couched in some touching moments. I find it funny, sometimes, how this generation criticises the effects of change when change and modernisation was what it sought. But, sometimes I think nostalgia is a lighter form of guilt.

Anyways... that was a tangent.

At 3/08/2006 5:29 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched it and loved it. And i watched it twice, which says alot.
My 3 years old son loves singing and he would spontaneously sing the "1 dollar" jingle.
It is one show that any singaporean can identify with and you do not need to speak any particular language to appreciate it. If you bring your grannies or kids, they will enjoy it too.
People who could identify the show in depth would be those who:
1) are singaporean,
2) lived in singapore before,
3) lived overseas before,
4) participated in NDP before,
5) saw artists performing outside MRT before,
6) sat at the void deck of HDB before,
7) did cheering at sporting events before,
8) played the 'di-zhi' (flute) or harmonica before,
9) felt 'abondoned' by the nation and left, or
10) is a conscious, aware, present person.

At 3/09/2007 9:59 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Singapore GaGa is available on DVD, so I've put in my order. Thankfully it can be shipped overseas.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]