Wednesday, April 26, 2006

On The Soapbox: Stray Thoughts On The Malaysian Film Industry

I went into town last weekend looking for either a paperback edition of Christopher Rice’s most recent book ,“Light Before Day”, or the 2-CD original movie soundtrack to “Rent” (or both). Unfortunately the book was out of stock and they only had the single CD package for the soundtrack CD at the Borders bookstore that I went to. I still want to try to get them locally so this means that I would have to make another trip into town in the near future. Normally I would order them online but ordering either books or audio CDs from Amazon.com is surprisingly a more expansive affair (shipping cost-wise) than ordering DVDs from them. I have yet to find any other online retailer who has better shipping rates and product discounts than Amazon.com so if it is too expansive for me to get them from Amazon.com then I doubt I could get it cheaper on the other online sites. Trying to source the book and the CDs locally makes more cost sense to me at this juncture.

Having read about the Movie Carnival 2006 happening last weekend at Berjaya Times Square from SultanMuzzafar’s blog, I decide to drop in to see what it was all about. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed at the layout of the booths that they had since it was a bit too close together and there it was fairly clear to me that little thought about crowd flow went into the arrangement. More than half of the booths there were more focused on promoting movie tie-in merchandises rather than the movies themselves. The worst example of this has to be the “Superman Returns” booth where they were just signing up people for credit cards. They did have caps with the Superman shield on them but I think you only get them if you sign-up for their credit card. They should have at least some other promotional material and a screen running the teaser/trailer for the movie there.

There were a few large screen displays scattered all over the area showing some trailers of the movies that they were promoting at the event but most of them had their volumes turned down to next to nothing. I would think that it would defeat the purpose of promotion if the viewers can’t hear anything from the trailers being shown. They also grouped all the trailers together with little consideration where it would play so that you would see a trailer for say “Garfield 2” at the “X-Men : The Last Stand” booth which I thought defeated the purpose of having a big name film singled out for a booth. It would have been better if they packaged a trailer package for the specific movie to play at the film’s booth and leave the rest to play at screens in the more general areas. I think they only did the trailers package right for the booth setup for the upcoming “Poseidon” remake.

After looking that the day’s listing of events, I decided to stick around for a bit for the “Gubra” cast appearance later that day. They also had the GSC Movie Forum set up before the cast appearance so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to stay around to listen to the panel for a bit. They set up they had on stage was simple for a non-formal discussion and there were no seats for the audience to sit down to listen to what was being discussed. I’m fairly certain that the topic discussed in that forum session was about the future direction of the local film industry which by the way were prominently absent among the films being promoted at the event. I would think that this movie carnival would be a good venue for local films to get early exposure by way of showing potential viewers their trailer/teasers but other than “Gubra” the upcoming local film promotional presence was sadly negligible. Don’t our local films make trailers/teasers that can be shown before the film comes out in the cinemas? Based on the films promoted in the event, the answer looked like they don’t or just don’t care about promoting locally produced films.

Sidebar aside, I have to admit to not knowing anyone on the discussion panel that afternoon. Being just the casual movie-goer myself, I would have appreciated that the moderator could have run through the introductions better so that we know who they were and their background as related to the film industry. Having them tell you how many times they watch movies in the cinema doesn’t make them a credible forum participant. This is especially apparent when they started discussing about their views of the local film production and where they think the direction that it would take in the future. As I was sitting there listening to the discussion, I was astounded by their lack of awareness of the local film industry other than the old P Ramlee films and Yasmin Ahmad’s films. I didn’t really know if I should be insulted or sad to find out that most on the panel have not watch any locally produced films other than the ones they highlighted.

There is such a wealth of films between P Ramlee and Yasmin’s films that they totally ignored in their discussion. The local film industry was not always sappy love stories and happy endings. We had notable horror movies like the “Pontianak” series long before the horror movie influx from Thailand and East Asia. Our local film industry have deftly tackled social issues resulting from the mass urbanization and modernization of the country back in the days in films such as “Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan”, “Matinya Seorang Patriot”, “Setinggan”, “Langit Petang” and “Dia Ibuku”. The cast of the locally produced films were more multicultural back then as evident in the “Jefri Zain” and “Nora Zain” spy films compared to most movies now. One can hardly ignore the popularity of Jins Shamsuddin’s “Esok” series of film in terms of melodramatic tear-jerkers that entertained audiences in the late 70’s early 80’s. Even closer to the current time, movie such as “Layar Lara”, “Kaki Bakar”, “Embun”, “Paloh”, “Rahsia”, “Perempuan Melayu Terakhir”, “Spinning Gasing” and “Puteri Gunung Ledang” would stand out as memorable films produced locally to people who know the local film industry.

I can possibly forgive the panelist for not knowing these films as they have long been ignored by those responsible for the preservation and promotion of these films. Other than the P Ramlee films that they show multiple times on local TV, there was little effort made to restore and reshow the other locally produce films from the past. With such lack of interest and exposure, it is no wonder that a lot of people hardly know these films and could not appreciate how much they added to the fabric of the Malaysia film industry history. More than anything, I personally feel that the local film industry as it stands now has regressed to an earlier standard of story-telling due to the lack of imaginative interpretation of what is happening in Malaysia today. With the exception of a few local filmmakers, most are content to churn out movies that are blind to the reality of what is happening outside of the confines of their camera viewfinder.

One point that I agreed with the panel was that of the need to pull in more audience to watch locally produced film and help generate a more profitable return so that in turn will generate more locally produced movies. I do not agree with the panelist contention that the reason this is not happening is due to the restrictions placed on the local filmmakers when making their films. An imaginative director/writer could find balanced ways to tell their story in subtext if required to circumvent they restrictions without degenerating to a pretentious artsy mess. I truly, hopefully not naively, want to believe that the local movie-goer today would be able to pickup on subtle subtext if done properly. My own personal view is that the reason why most non-Malays don’t come to watch most locally produced films and by extension contribute to the bottom-line ticket returns is because they do not see themselves in these films. For the longest time, there has been no positive representation of the Chinese, Indian and other races including the indigenous Orang Asli in our films. They do not see themselves and their aspirations reflected in what is being shown in local films and that makes the film more like a foreign film than one produced by their fellow countryman. As long as local filmmakers continue to ignore the other half of the population and continue to represent them in less than appealing unrealistic portrayals, they will never get them to watch local films.

I am not a filmmaker by trade or training. Neither am I a person with links to the film industry. What I am is a concerned movie-goer wishing for better and more honest locally produced films. If the panel on that particular day at the Movie Carnival 2006 proved anything to me, it was that we don’t know our own local films well enough to envision how we can produced better films. In the current atmosphere where some (OK .. one in particular) films being blamed for polluting the national culture and impinging on moral sensibilities, are they conveniently forgetting the past films that have more controversial images and subject matter that could have easily be worse than what we see today just for the sake of condemnation? If so then it is surely a sad and despairing time for our local film industry because we have these small-minded individuals trying to tell the whole country what to watch. If we let them dictate what gets produced locally, we will only get locally films that appeal to only half of the population and ignores the reality of what is happening outside of their narrow world view.

Local films would be really boring then.

3 comments:

Mrs Giggles said...

I got my Rent 2-CD soundtrack in Singapore. If you happen to go down there, you know what to do! I got mine when I was living in Singapore, about SGD50.

Seriously though, have you tried the order-on-demand option from Borders or Tower Records around the Bukit Bintang area? I understand that you can request them to locate/import a CD for you and I'm always curious as to whether they will go that far for a customer.

Mrs G said...

Me again!

You said:

"One point that I agreed with the panel was that of the need to pull in more audience to watch locally produced film and help generate a more profitable return so that in turn will generate more locally produced movies. I do not agree with the panelist contention that the reason this is not happening is due to the restrictions placed on the local filmmakers when making their films. An imaginative director/writer could find balanced ways to tell their story in subtext if required to circumvent they restrictions without degenerating to a pretentious artsy mess. I truly, hopefully not naively, want to believe that the local movie-goer today would be able to pickup on subtle subtext if done properly. My own personal view is that the reason why most non-Malays don’t come to watch most locally produced films and by extension contribute to the bottom-line ticket returns is because they do not see themselves in these films. For the longest time, there has been no positive representation of the Chinese, Indian and other races including the indigenous Orang Asli in our films. They do not see themselves and their aspirations reflected in what is being shown in local films and that makes the film more like a foreign film than one produced by their fellow countryman. As long as local filmmakers continue to ignore the other half of the population and continue to represent them in less than appealing unrealistic portrayals, they will never get them to watch local films."

Actually, I understand from some aspiring filmmakers I've met that the local policies are one of the major factors hampering creativity. There is a double standard at work: nearly everything goes in foreign (US) movies but local movies are subject to arbitary rules. Does anyone know why they banned Puteri Gunung Ledang in its original version? And then there's this "fuss" over Sepet which had to undergo several cuts just to satisfy the local FINAS idiots. You'd think Sepet is some controversial I-hate-BN movie judging from how much nonsense it went through on its road to publication.

And delays in all this cause the filmmakers, many of who are very dependent on investors or who used their own money to make those films, $$$.

The safest movies that can be released without hassle are those instant-noodle romantic comedies.

Other than that, I agree with your reasons and raise you the following:

- Condenscending and often insulting pandering "moral" messages in movies
- Stilted dialogues and poor acting
- Comedy overly reliant on slapstick and stupidity, often with screaming at the top of one's voice being assumed as some kind of top comedy

Why would any non-Malay watch a mediocre movie that they cannot relate to when there are so many better US and East Asian movies to choose from?

Nickxandar said...

Mrs G ...

I haven't tried Towers yet. I went to KL Plaza thinking that it was still there and found out that they moved. It was only later that I found out that they moved to Lot 10 and opened a new store in MidValley. Might try to find it there this weekend if nothing comes up.

As for the movies, I agree with your point that there seems to be double-standards being applied on local production vs imported features which is mind-boggling to try to understand why. I, for one, am sick of those "instant-noodle romantic comedies" as you aptly put it.

All 3 reasons that you listed are so true for the majority of the local productions out there. It is unfortunate that people still waste their money on them which encourage the producers/directors/writers continue to produce such rubbish. I'm hopefully waiting that the movie going public will wakeup and finally realise how banal these movies are :)