Friday, June 12, 2009

no more than a pretty face

avant garde darling tsai ming-liang is a man of deep reflection. he is also confused. as is some of his audience, that which still remains in the state theatre at sydney film festival [about 50%] after the australian premiere of his theta wave video art ensemble which is “visage” or in english, face. during the Q&A after his highly anticipated film has screened, tsai cites his confusion stems from why so many people do not stay till the end of his films. my confusion is why so many stayed…

art for art's sake and the question of imitation of life and art are old constructs. this film was commissioned by none less than du louvre & consequentially tsai holds a unique position seated amongst the masters who occupy this venerable honour. with great power comes great responsibility and although tsai acknowledges the enormous pressure which this represents as a brief, the end product as a whole fails to deliver. the sum is not greater than the parts.

this film within a film is a retelling of the lurid salome story which i know intimately having researched & built on it for what are two inconsequential experimental short films of my own.

whilst enjoying tsai’s trademark exploration of the unconscious conceptually & the utilisation of mysterious spaces within the deep sanctum of the louvre itself my huge expectations were of a orgasmic visual and aural feast. although there were drop dead gorgeous moments which slid down deliciously, i’m left hungry [but not for more] as if promised tetsuya’s, got to dish two of the fourteen stage degustation menu but was ultimately container shipped to the RSL buffet bar for mains and dessert. what the?

whilst i searched for fibonacci sequences demonstrating golden ratios on a per frame basis in the beautifully shot footage which is reminiscent of a wong kar wai directed chris doyle [visage’s cinematographer is actually award winning pen-jung liao [hei yan quan, bang bang wo ai shen] who demonstrates a similar apparently meditative partnership with tsai as the kar wai/doyle coupling] eventually realising that the pseudo intellectualism and the tangible derivation from the chinese proverb speaking of the flower’s reflection in water was just not going to cut it as a non-narrative stream rerouted by a giant hydro plant. the machine threatens to destroy the sanctity of the quiet waters denying the luminescent lily space to shine.

with a nod to yayoi kusama’s infinite space reflections & tsai’s continued obsession with francois truffaut the stag running wild in the mirrored tuilerie gardens is divine capped with the juxtaposition of the sublimely gorgeous salome [laetitia casta] decked in christian lacroix hewn narnia meets moscow mafia-esque ice princess garb singing chinese [i think] karaoke love songs is to die for gorgeous. archetypes are played out as the dreamlike drama leads us to highpoints which include the eroticism of salome waist-deep in sewers swathed in blood red drapes amongst the filthy water rising above it, singing, caressing the walls and that seductive dance sequence where sheathed in plastic & gauzed opacity she takes john the baptist's head.

sadly for me visage reminded me of this taoist proverb:

"we cannot see our reflection in running water. it is only in still water that we can see."

but not for tsai’s arguable intention which i propose is the illogical connections and shifting paradigms of the dream state set in a template of stillness where we can immerse ourselves in the vibrance. for me that burst tap washer never stopped running which disallows time to see…

perhaps as tsai suggests i need to see it a second time and that i actually understand and appreciate his work more than i consciously realise but with an illogical fear of shrimp cocktail with thousand island dressing will wait for the marinated crystal bay prawns with soy caramel which will most certainly come with his next course.

a surprisingly low 3 stars from me.

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