Netflix: Shirkers

April 04, 2019

Heya

I watched this fascinating documentary on Netflix last night! Pretty late to the party, but at least I'm not 25 years late, lol.




Shirkers
Duration:  1h 36min

What's it about:
It is 1992 and Sandi Tan, an 18-year-old in Singapore, embarks on a movie making journey with her friends and trusted mentor, Georges Cardona. After shooting the film about a teenage serial killer called S, Georges absconds with all 70 reels of it. The reels have only recently been recovered by his wife after he died, and it has since been made into a documentary detailing what happened and the mystery that surrounds it.

BTW, THIS IS A TRUE STORY.

Thoughts:
I've heard of the movie maybe last year, but have only got down to watching it yesterday haha. Thanks Bolong for the recc!

On Old Singapore

I've been rolling my eyes each time some movie or show employs nostalgia in their movie (see: Transformers, Stranger Things, retro music etc). It just seems so convenient to tap the past and use its aesthetics and sounds for your own commercial purpose.

However, I guess I've been missing the point. The nostalgia was probably lost on me because they were all from Western perspectives. When shown scenes of old Singapore, I felt so moved. I loved how old Singapore was captured in her film. It's a complete treasure trove and I feel lucky to be able to experience it. Nostalgia is a strong emotion indeed. It makes one curious, and also kind of cheerful, viewing the past as kooky and strange.

If anything, do view the film to see Old Singapore! It's beautiful, and somewhat sad because these times and scapes are truly over. Thanks for giving us such a snapshot back to the past!

Omg that phone booth. HOW'S THIS FOR HIPSTER VISUALS? I can't believe Singapore film has such a gem like this.

I love the scene with Singapore's old railway tracks and all the greenery. It was so beautiful (and so lost to us.) 

I guess we do not notice the beauty around us, until maybe we view it on hindsight? The beauty increases tenfold when you know you can't experience it anymore.

Aesthetics

Tell me, have you ever seen such wonderful visuals from an old Singaporean film before the 2000s? (We are not counting the new stuff say from Royston)




This dog is awesome.

Playing with whimsy and symmetry

So ahead of it's time lol. I laughed at this.






Punks

Can I also say how Sandi Tan, Jasmine Ng and Sharon Siddique are so COOL? They listened to stuff liek The Velvet Underground, watched alternative films, made zines and strange shrines in their rooms (God of scriptwriting etc lol). They wore nurse costumes to school lol.

They were so different from the typical teen then! In today's words they may be called 'hipsters', but I find this word showy and without substance, and more concerned about visual aesthetics. So 'punk spirit' is a much better choice.

Despite the lack of experience, they went all in. They secured free camera equipment, wrote to important people, held auditions etc. The chutzpah is commendable and they really got things done.

Sharon and Jasmine on set
Also, how bro are Sharon and Jasmine to Sandi?!  They are key players in making the movie happen. Sharon even pretended to have a crazy fit on the road so as to attract a crowd. She was the 'crowd wrangler' as she remarked. Tell me how many friends will be willing to do that for you.

Sharon also coughed up money and helped contribute to the 10k Georges claimed he needed to continue the project. Screw you leh Georges, taking money from teens, spinning thousands of lies and messing with people.

On Teen Passion

Listening to the story of how Sandi was so dedicated to making her movie, I can't help but to marvel at her energy. It's not every day that you get to throw yourself so completely into a project that you make, live, and breathe. I really admire that. That crazy unstoppable passion to complete something, to express yourself. To create something. To do things with gusto. To Just Do It. What more, to do it with friends you love! The youthful zest and energy truly shines bright, and I think that's what fuels artists. It's an amazing feeling. It can feel like a calling sometimes.


Big ideas can come to life if you insist that they do.

I've only experienced this maybe a few times in my life - this strong sense of throwing myself into a project. It's so all-consuming and can be rather scary, but you just have to let go and dive in deep. (Guess it's worse when nobody understands what you are trying to do.) Nowadays it's harder to do so when you have temporal limits such as going to work and other responsibilities, but I guess I'll just daydream about a time and space where I can pour my whole self into creating something. (This sounds like an excuse I know lol.)

I've said this before and I will repeat it. If you are an artist, SHIP. Make stuff. Don't stop. Let your creations rise from the earth. Lift it from your mind and create it. THE TIME IS NOW!

On Hype

The creepy mystery shrouding the reels definitely benefits the film. You can't help but wonder: could the 25 years be a blessing in disguise? Would the film be as successful as it is now? You could probably argue that Sandi gets to work on her film with new, more experienced eyes, and with techniques she picked up over the years. Plus, the hype from such a crazy story is a total plus for marketing the film.

However, I studied some of Singapore cinema before in a film module in school, and nothing comes close to the indie vibrance that Shirkers offers. I agree with what one of the interviewers says - Shirkers had the great potential to truly influence the Singapore film scene in the 90s, and it's such a shame that it missed its opportunity. It's a massive heartbreak that is hard to recover from.

Perhaps it's not too late to add it back in? I hope the movie gets more attention. Despite picking up awards and nominations, premiering at Sundance and being released on Netflix, there doesn't seem to be much mainstream buzz, at least not to my knowledge. Oh well.

After the movie

I want to check out some of the old Singapore films Sandi mentions, such as Cleopatra Wong (look hilarious and entertaining) and Medium Rare. I think I've already watched Eating Air under a film module in school. I've definitely been watching too much mainstream stuff for way too long. It's time to watch classics and alternatives! I'm sure it will broaden my world view too.

I also felt immensely encouraged after the movie, for some reason. I had tons of ideas swirling in my head as I tried to sleep. It was like the muse of creativity suddenly visited me and told me I could do more. What an interesting effect!

Sociopath?

Some answers we will never get:
  • Why did Georges steal the reels?
  • And leave them untouched?! And maintained?!

    He freaking kept them in air-con rooms to beat the humidity, FOR TWENTY OVER YEARS?!! I'm so thankful the reels were discovered though.

  • And send blank tapes to the girls? WTF is wrong with you lol.
  • WHY DID HE LIE SO MUCH?! Even about his birthday?! 
  • Did he derive joy from impeding/withholding projects that others have shed their blood sweat tears for?
If so, it's really sick, and really sociopathic yeah. He fits the descriptions - charismatic,  manipulative and able to do things without guilt. 

The documentary does a great job of portraying Georges as a sociopath, with several interviews with people closest to him, such as his wife, and people who were his former proteges. It all lends credibility and spooks the viewer. We also hear his voice throughout the film, which can be rather eerie and made my skin crawl especially after we discover his crime (to me it's a crime). I guess I shouldn't have watched this at night. 

(Sidenote: if you want to know more about Sociopaths, may I suggest this book, The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. Thanks Peggs for the recc!)

I get how people felt the pull towards him though. I have seen it at work. This evil x-factor attracts people to you, and makes them beholden to you. And these people throw themselves into doing the bidding of the 'leader'. They may feel disgruntled sometimes but mostly end up being addicted to feeling of 'chosen' to be part of the group, and feeling like they are 'the sole focus' of the 'leader'.

How do you expect cults begin? Cult might be too harsh a word, but I can think of a few people who have such a pull over their 'friends' and should I say 'followers'. Its terrifying but real.

The mystery really unravels and pulls you in. I couldn't stop watching. Sandi Tan certainly succeeds in creating a haunting image of Georges. The film offers a very intimate look into her journey, and you can't help but to feel her pain and sense of betrayal. I feel so emotionally entangled in this nightmarish mess.The soundtrack (some from dot.gif's Weish, great choice of Sg artist) doesn't help too - it adds yet another layer of haunting creepiness. 

Ending off with a pic from this scene.

So creepy pls.

All pix from Google and Shirkers.

If you have any alternative stuff to watch, please recommend me some! Let me know in the comments section! No horror though. 


Enjoy!
Skye

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