Do you know of this movie, ‘Wait Until Dark’? A 1967 film with Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman who is attacked in her own home. She waits until it’s dark, then breaks all the lamps so that the attacker, like her, will not be able to see. Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar for this role.
And do you know the story of ’The Sitter’, a short film, on which the 1979 ‘When a Stranger Calls’ is based? It is a suspenseful retelling of the classic urban legend of ’The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs’. A babysitter is menaced by mysterious and frightening phone calls telling her to “check the children’. When she seeks help from the police, they finally reveal the calls are coming from inside the house!
Now, ’The Invisible Man’.
When James Wan’s partner in crime, Leigh Whannell, on such blockbuster body-horror franchises like ’Saw’ and ‘Insidious’, decides to update James Whale’s 1933 film based on H.G. Well’s novel, the stage is set for a brand of horror that mixes the unreal with the very real fear of having no where to hide and no one to help you. Whannell made his name as both a writer and actor, fully clued to the open secret of all great horror films – the scariest things are those that you don’t see.
I just received this news notification – ‘Coronavirus: No new confirmed cases in Singapore for a second day. MOH reiterated that there is currently no evidence of community spread of the virus in Singapore. None of the 18 previously announced cases is critically ill. All of them remain in stable condition, and most are improving, the ministry added.’ For the first time since the virus outbreak, I shared this piece of news. How will people respond? Especially those who have been helping create a doomsday end-of-the-world scenario. Those who have been diligently forwarding any and every piece of bad news of the virus spread. There is a rush, almost a delight in updating blow by blow how the spread is worsening, how precarious, how the fatalities are piling up. I don’t quite understand this behaviour. Because collectively it creates paranoia and even panic. I don’t see the good intentions of such news spread anymore. In fact I see an attitude bordering on creating fake news. Especially when some do more than forwarding news, they interpret the news, adding a dimension of alarm, creating more fear.
In show business, a most talented artiste will still need the perfect platform to shine. With a combination of factors, including a big dose of luck, this can happen. And we have seen this happen. How an artiste sparkle, and how a movie for example, can move from good to great to becoming a classic. What if a writer writes a meaty role with a talented artiste in mind? Of course the execution and many other elements that make a movie a movie will influence the final outcome. But the chances of seeing magic on screen is much higher.
Meryl Streep in ’The Devil Wears Prada’ is a classic case in point. Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt (who would have thought?) along with Stanley Tucci are all good. But sometimes a movie just needs a dame. Someone like Streep to play Miranda Priestly, a character widely believed to be Vouge’s editor Anna Wintour. A pillar of strength, that serves both as the friction and resolution, the very reason to watch, to follow and to savour the unraveling of the story of a woman in the acme of her power, who is also human, who is also vulnerable.
I remember there was a night when I was training as a cadet soldier. I thought I could not go on. It was an endless exercise of search and destroy in the mountains of Kaoshiung in Taiwan. Out of the blue, a fellow cadet started to sing. His voice floated through the stillness, penetrated the cold and filled the forest with a melody that was both fitting and out of place. I did not wonder if the cadet would be punished for singing. I longed for home, more. But I also felt a strange peace.
Something brutal can be seen for what it is. Or with poetic irony. Something painful can be bitter. Or bittersweet. We can paint adversity in dark shades. Or bright, even colourful. Sometimes hell can be more hellish, seen through the eyes of an artiste. Watching 1917, the movie that is pulling the rug from under the favourites in this awards season, I see poetry, even beauty in the ravages of war. And it doesn’t make it any less cruel, any less inhuman.
Last week, I pondered over something close to home. The concept of home. A friend based in Los Angeles was back in Singapore for his son’s National Service enlistment. His wife is Taiwanese, his son was born in America. I got to know him last year when I was giving a talk to Singaporeans living and working abroad. Last Friday, I gave the same talk to some members of the Singapore Global Network, the good people who are reaching out to Singaporeans and friends of Singapore outside of Singapore.
I used to take home for granted. When my family members were still together. When nothing shook the foundation. Then circumstances pulled the rug from under me and suddenly there was little or no semblance of the home I knew, the home I grew up with. When some of us are uprooted, we may feel emancipated, freed. We may get married, have children while living and working overseas. We may make new friends, become a part of a community in a foreign land. But after a while, we all long for home.