24 August 2010

Old Places

I spent alot of last night tucked up in bed, with a cup of rose tea, watching the re-telecast of Royston Tan's (executive producer) feature-length documentary Old Places on TV. It's been ages since I've sat through any TV programme, and I think it commendable and elegantly made, if ever too slightly glossy for my taste.
"I think I’m better at telling Singapore stories. I feel for all the little things and that kind of feelings you cannot have in any other place. I try and shoot in other countries, and I don’t have that kind of connection. For example, we had a project in China. I realised whatever I was absorbing, I was always the third party. So you are almost seeing things from out of the picture. But when I’m shooting in Singapore, I’m inside the picture. There’s a lot of attachment." - Royston Tan

With background commentary featuring the voices of Singaporeans recalling their memories of the disappearing places in Singapore as the scenes of 46 locations unfold and track in composedly, it records, in oral history tradition, a lost Singapore. The voices were, literally, phoned-in. It's a laudable effort, intelligent and thoughtful; It's a record that someone had to make, and I'm glad that it's Royston Tan. I've long admired Mr Tan's work for capturing, and romanticising, the idea of Singapore (in a few interesting films), as no Singaporean director has been able (or perhaps, been willing) to do. This documentary fits his ouevre perfectly and has a special 'rightness'. It's like a Dick Lee pop song made lushly visual, isn't it?And yet, I wasn't moved. It feels controlled, and cool, and art directed to whithin an inch of its life. All the unruly things, the unpretty, the conflicting, the dark depths have been cropped and scripted out, and so all that makes a landmark meaningful are missing. It's picture postcard perfect.
I like postcards; But they too, are a thing of the past.
Directed by Royston Tan, Victric Thng and Eva Tang.


  1. Hi DG
    I agree that the film is beautiful and very well shot. I especially like the rainbow flats that u feature here. It piques my interest and makes me want to wander around the Old estates in singapore. I suppose at that level "old places" succeeds.

    It is interesting that at the end of it, the film left you cold. Perhaps, like Dick Lee's songs, the technique used here is a borrowed one? It would be interesting to see your reaction on another documentary about early Singapore seen through the eyes of our 'colonial masters' called Lost Images. Strangely, I feel lost images had a heart which is missing in old places. :)


  2. Dear Rossie: Now I want to see 'Lost Places'. Thanks for highlighting the film to me; it sounds interesting.
    As you rightly pointed out, i agree that the problem with 'old places' has to do with technique. the documentary just felt like a series of postcards, very pretty postcards, but postcards nevertheless.