Begleitend zur aktuellen Retrospektive im Arsenal ein Gespräch mit Apichatpong Weerasethakul über die Form seiner Filme, die Zusammenhänge von Kinolangfilm und Arbeiten für Galerie und Museum, die Entwicklung eines radikal zeitgenössischen Oeuvres. Text in english language.
Ü: Your feature films BLISSFULLY YOURS, TROPICAL MALADY and SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY are all structured like diptychs. How did you develop this form of narrative, or, to start at the beginning, why did you place the opening credits at the center of the film in BLISSFULLY YOURS?
W: It was a learning experience, actually starting with MYSTERIOUS OBJECT AT NOON, trying to structure my movies. It happened in terms of finding a balance, how to tell a story and depict certain circumstances in Thailand. The credits in the middle of BLISSFULLY YOURS were not initially planned. While editing, we realized that the first part of the movie works like an exposition of the characters, that it is not really going into the heart of the idea of how to find hapiness. So it made sense to put the credits in the middle, following a long introduction.
For TROPICAL MALADY I found that diptychal form worth exploring. I wanted to describe certain ideas of difference, of contrast, of darkness and light, of suffering and love, and so on. The film should show how such a thing as the love of two human beings is transformed and shaped not only by society, but also by the way films tend to stereotype homosexuality. It became clear for me, that I as a filmmaker would have to break this mode. And by consequence, break this film in two parts, physically. Thailand has got this extreme contrast about it. In the past years since I started making movies, our country has heavily changend, with new technologies, architecture and the initiation of democracy, which means materialism and capitalism, coming up. At the same time we are still deeply rooted in animist, hinduist, buddhist or fake-buddhist beliefs and practices. In Thailand it has become a habit to drive a european car to your temple in order to pray for money.
Ü: Do you see SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY as your most radical statement to both society and filmmaking?
W: Maybe one could think so, because it is a feature film shot on 35mm being screenend in regular cinemas. As far as formal radicality is concerned, compared to experimental filmmakers, who in fact break the rules of narrative, because there is no narrative at all, or to the impact of Godards or Rivettes rulebreaking (they where good at that), what I am doing is nothing, or not radical at all. I do not see the film as revolutionary. For me, the form is a tool to come across with my ideas, my concepts. I think there is a danger in breaking the rules for the sake of rulebreaking, to a point where a representation of life becomes impossible. Especially in my youngest films I always developed the projects out of personal stories and the question how to express them rather than starting with formal aspects or the creation of something new. I want to tell stories, if they break rules, that is cool with me. Like a bonus. Since I explored the possibilities of this diptych form since the beginning, I do not know what will happen next. Especially with the crossover of cinema and the visual arts.
Ü: The german techno-legend Westbam once claimed in an interview (with Rainald Goetz, MIX, CUTS, AND SCRATCHES, d.Rd.) that technomusic would be advancing faster than literature, philosophy and film because techno-records have a b-side, as a playground for expansion and experiment. This was of course before the internet and digital media popularized, and with your work being distributed in galleries, cinema and internet, you might have your b-sides as well, granting you various platforms of experimentation.
W: I love the idea to be benificiant of a cross-platforming, to have each work speak to one another. When you see a film of mine in the cinema, the viewing experience is not totally completed. You might be asscociating what you saw with other work of mine you see in different contexts. Cinema can not exist by itself, regardless of the other media surrounding us. Still the association with other media should create a whole. That is the modell I find worth exploring, in fact what I try to do right now with PRIMITIVE PROJECTS. PRIMITIVE PROJECTS is about extinction, extinction of belief, of ideology, of species. Besides the installation and the artist book there will also be a feature film coming up. Or something more than a feature film. I am working on the idea of how to overcome the limitations, the frame of my „paintings“, for example by placing elements related to the film in the world or on the internet, not to be confined to the restrictions of one specific space.
Ü: Would you agree that your diptychs also distinguish a rather rational, analytical style that is keeping the viewer distanced, from a somewhat utopian project, realized in the jungle? As for TROPICAL MALADY, being kept out in the first part, I later come to talk to an ape.
W: What I want is not distinction, but integration. When you immerse into the jungle you should ask yourself: „Wait a minute, what did I see just an hour ago?“ While watching, you already have to deal with your memory. Both parts complete each other, you are aware of your immersion because you experienced the first part, where you did not immerse at all. Thats my idea. If I had begun the film with the jungle, it would have become BLAIR WITH PROJECT, which is all about immersion. For TROPICAL MALADY you resist in the beginning and you have to submit in the end, like the main character himself.
Ü: In that sense one could say that you explore two maybe ontological qualitys of cinema, one being to screen a world, to which the spectator is absent, the latter being an immersive strategy that profits from the viewers viewing condition or his wish to submit.
W: I am interested in how people react to this experimentation. Of course some part of the audience does not want to accept that, but there is beauty in this resistance too. If you divide the audience it means that you accomplish something. Trying to please everyone is an extremely suspicious kind of filmmaking. You than should rather go to Hollywood.
Ü: Still your immersive approach shows a great openness to immersive forms of cinema. It is not meant as an opposition against, for example, Hollywood.
W: It rather aims at the public, especially the thai audiences. They are used to onedimensional narratives where everything is being made clear and explained over and over. The questioning or the will to find ones own path inside these narratives is not being practiced.
I want to throw a piece of a puzzle into society to activate it, to cause some turbulence in the water. Otherwise it becomes stagnant and rotten. When the water calms it spoils.
Ü: Last question. Since this an interview for a cinephile blog: how do films reach you? What is your practice of seeing films? Are you a regular moviegoer?
W: When I studied experimental film in Chicago I spent almost every evening in cinema, often saw two movies in a row. I tried to absorb something that was lacking when I grew up. Since I began making my own films I certainly have lesser chance to see films on a regular basis, now I watch the majority in the festivals. Other than the festivals I go to the movies for Hollywood products, which I really enjoy, especially for their craftmanship. I think Hollywood is the only place on earth where the craftmanship is perfect in terms of both entertainment and technology. Sometimes you can see the future in Hollywood cinema. The pace of films, their tempo is constantly increasing. A movie like Hitchcocks PSYCHO, that scared people at the time through its tempo, today is a slow film. Other than festivals or Hollywood, if I do not have the opportunity to watch artfilms in arthouse-cinemas, I also download them.
Ü: Thank you very much for talking to us, Apichatpong.
(Stills from top to bottom: TROPICAL MALADY, SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY, VAMPIRE, MOBILE MEN and PHANTOMS OF NABUA, all courtesy of Kick the Machine)
Die Filme von Apichatpong Weerasethakul,
01.04.2009 - 15.04.2009
Termine der Retrospektive im Kino Arsenal
Interview: Maximilian Linz