04 December 2003

With Apologies...

Because our national arts council chairman recently gave a speech denouncing "avant garde art", and any art that was too deep for the public and the market, this is my reply to him.

High art isn't inaccessible, you moron.

Today, I will take a break with the politics. Instead I will take three very difficult artistic texts - a very surreal tale from a Czech writer, a very postmodern collection of interconnected short stories from an Italian novelist, and a campy, sardonic stage remake of an old Hollywood movie - and re-interpret them, make them understandable, and speak out to any Singaporean reader.

I. "This is Not Kafka"

How would we tell Metamorphosis without turning K. into a cockroach? I don't believe we've seen a version of the story that's stripped away of its fantastical elements. Can audiences connect with a socially realist and bleak drama?

This phenomenon happens frequently in Japan: a young man, bothered by either work, depression, or even lack of work, will lock himself in the bedroom for years, sometimes more than a decade. Hikikomori is the name given to this affliction of self-isolation.

That's K. Passive, unwilling to become a burden to his family, he enters seclusion in his bedroom one morning. Because he has lost his job, he considerately removes himself from life in the family. He will not be a burden to them as he searches for a job from his room...

After all, Kafka wrote and set Metamorphosis in a turn-of-century Prague, where an earlier economic miracle had turned into a distant dream very suddenly. And instead of a bright future, a bleak desolation lies ahead for everyone. A bleak desolation that will drive young men to despair, seclusion, and self-negation.

II. "This is not Italo Calvino"

This is not "If on a Winter's Night A Traveler..." But something of conspiratorial proportions has been stifling the development of art in this small city for the past 30 years. An art historian, a student, takes up a research project on "the great unfinished works" of a small circle of artists, now dead and forgotten.

In the forest of images, where a painting tells the story of a book about a film documentary on musicians, can the student find the key to the mystery of the disappearance of artists in the city?

III. This is not Sunset Boulevard

Lydia is an aging comedian. An old pal who got invited to take over a TV station in a foreign land gives her a chance to resurrect a career on its last legs.

Reality-TV style, an expose on the disaster follows. The megalomaniacal diva who doesn't realise her star has faded. The lame jokes from the uninspired scriptwriters who would rather work on something else, except they're TV station employees. A series that is watched by very few, yet qualifies as a "hit" only because Lydia has sufficient clout to demand/bargain for more seasons.

And the final insult? When the scriptwriters finally walk off the set, a completely unknown bunch of maverick writers going by the name of "The Video Renegades", with a secret plan to take over the world beginning with the TV station, con themselves into the job. And perhaps, just perhaps... their offbeat humour might work.

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