New Year in
I think I met Apichatpong Weerasetthakul at the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival back in Dec. 1999. I’m not sure because we were never really introduced and the meeting wasn’t all that memorable, not because he wasn’t the hottest thing in foreign indie films at the time- which he WASN’T- but because the guy is so quiet and low-key. In fact, when I first became aware of Apichatpong’s work in 1994 with the release of Sut Pralat (which does NOT translate to ‘Tropical Malady’ btw) and read that he was one of the honchos of BEFF, I assumed he was the gregarious and outspoken character that I remembered most distinctly, until I googled his picture a couple weeks ago and had a little aha moment, i.e. aha! That’s the other guy! If I remember correctly, Apichatpong was maybe more interested in me, in fact, than I in him, simply because I was the only- ONLY- farang (westerner) who showed up at the temple of experimental film every day, living and breathing it, just like religion. He seemed quite taken by that fact. I’d like to think that I shot up a little flag that influenced his career right then and there, that instead of busting his hump to make lame-ass ghost films that might appeal to a few million Thais, he could make some really good artsy ghost films that might appeal to a few million farangs- like me- around the world. If you were an artist, which would YOU rather do, make good films or bad ones?
With all due respect to J. Hoberman and his characterization of Apichatpong as “the acme of no-budget, Buddhist-animist, faux-naïve, avant-pop, magic neorealism” (whew!), I’d like to propose maybe a minor correction or two. Apichatpong IS an artist, a consummate one, but he’s NOT naïve, not at all, and he’s definitely not faux. He’s Thai. Though he was educated at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago - and so knows exactly what is good art and what is not- he is still quintessentially Thai. He is quintessentially Thai in the same way that Fellini is quintessentially Italian or Eastwood is quintessentially American (and yes, Clint Eastwood is a great director, one of
This is the dark side, and that’s not bad. The dark side is beautiful, alluring, irrational, and superstitious- especially superstitious- but not bad. On the dark side everything is the opposite of the ‘real’ world. Our Christian democratic proactive cost-effective positive-thinking fashion-forward work-ethic equation (cause 1+ cause 2= effect) falls flat on its face in this dimension, not for any special reason, but for the absolute lack of it. That’s the equation, get it? Hang that ‘=’ anywhere you like and it’s all the same, i.e. sh*ts happen. Whether this is due to the ultimate passivity of Buddhism or not is not important. In this dimension the fact that anybody accomplishes anything, is not only NOT a miracle, it’s a lie. Things are accomplished, present passive reflective, but the who what why are frequently murky. Save those w’s for your URL. The only truth is in your belief, not the chronology of occurrences. And it ain’t faux. It’s real.
When two hundred aerobicists dance to pop music in the park in Syndromes and a Century (or whatever they called it), that is not magico-realistic staging, that’s
Apichatpong’s new movie is called ‘Uncle Boonmee Remembers His Past Lives’. It won Palm d’Or at