June 5, 2007
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Unknown Forces
I visited the REDCAT gallery this evening, where Apichatpong 'Joe' Weerasethakul's first solo US exhibition will be running until June 17th (right up to the premiere of Syndromes And A Century at LAIFF). It's accompanied this week by a nightly screening of Joe's feature films and, on Friday, a collection of rarely seen short films (including his 2006 piece FAITH, which I'm dying to see - so of course, it just has to be the same night that I've got tickets to see Brand Upon The Brain).
The exhibit is a four-channel video installation, entitled Unknown Forces. The first two channels depict matching closeups of a man and a woman riding in the back of a pickup truck, each smiling and talking (telling stories) as the Thai landscape rolls by behind them. The third features the same truck, on what appears to be the same stretch of highway; it's a wide shot this time, trailing behind the truck, in the bed of which is a young man dancing ecstatically.
It's the fourth channel that bears the most direct aesthetic link to Joe's other work (the image above is a behind-the-scenes still from this scenario). It depicts a large tent-like construction staked down in the middle of a clearing, billowing against the elements, surrounded and illuminated by motion picture lighting equipment. As a typhonic wind stirs up a storm of swirling dirt and dust, the camera makes a slow, slow dolly from left to right, around the encampment; it's the same sort of move we've seen in Tropical Malady and Syndromes, in which Joe's camera transgresses against time and space. Once it completes this move, the camera moves back again, past where it originally started; it's just beginning a third trip forward when a series of candy colored neon tubes ignite and a club beat strikes up on the soundtrack, tying this channel to the third, in which the young man in the truck now appears to be dancing to the music.
In the program notes, Joe explains the political implications of the piece. He views it as a narrative comedy, caustically celebrating the almost blind optimism of Thai citizens against the backdrop of their political history. "It operates," he suggests, "like a discothéque - to dance, to forget."
I stayed for the evening screening of Weerasethakul's millenial documentary Mysterious Object At Noon. In the film, Joe travels across Thailand, inviting the people he met to contribute, in the fashion of the Exquisite Corpse, to a mythical story. Re-enactments of this story are interspersed with footage of the people who tell it, but because everything is shot on the same grainy black and white film stock, it's hard to differentiate between reality and folklore. It's an endearing ode to a country and to oral tradition, and it ties in beautifully both to Unknown Forces - in that, inasmuch as it is a travelogue, it is about Thailand as a physical place - and to the mythical qualities that would be featured so prominently in Tropical Malady.
I bought a cup of coffee before he movie and, as I opened my wallet to pay, the girl behind the bar caught a glimpse of the edge of my driver's license in my wallet. "Are you from Texas?" she asked. It turns out she hailed from Dallas as well. I wish I were that good at making observations.
Posted by David Lowery at June 5, 2007 12:30 AM
I saw Blissfully Yours at the Thesoliniki Film Festival years ago. It was a wonderful experience, surprising and inspiring. His extended shots of people wandering around, sitting in a waiting room, or riding a moped made me reconsider what plot is and what story can be. I haven't seen anything else by him. I didn't know they were playing his stuff at Redcat. Maybe I can sneak away and see some.
Posted by: Jake at June 5, 2007 12:09 PM
I haven't actually seen Blissfully Yours yet (it's next up on my Netflix queue), but I had pretty much the same reaction that you had to it when I watched Tropical Malady (which I believe is playing tomorrow night at Redcat) and, more recently (and more extremely) Syndromes And A Century. I can't wait for that one to open here so I can go see it on the big screen.
Posted by: Ghostboy at June 5, 2007 4:20 PM
Syndromes is lovely and recursive. Thanks for reporting back from the Redcat. I was hoping to make it down to L.A. for this but not sure I'm going to be able to.
Posted by: Maya at June 6, 2007 8:25 AM
Michael, your interview with Apichatpong was instrumental in helping me come to an understanding of Syndromes And A Century. Very good stuff.
Posted by: Ghostboy at June 6, 2007 12:57 PM
Thanks, David, I'm heartened to hear that. I had some issues with the interview. He was so shy and quiet. It was so difficult to draw comments out from him.
Posted by: Maya at June 8, 2007 2:42 AM
i concur. that interview is fantastic. as was your essay, David.
Posted by: tully at June 8, 2007 9:42 AM
Thanks, Michael, nice of you to say. Over my morning cup of coffee here, I took time to peruse your indieWIRE blog Boredom At Its Boredest. Heh. Hardly boring. Your enthusiasm is contagious.
Posted by: Maya at June 8, 2007 12:50 PM