Invisible City // minding the gaps

Tan Pin Pin's "Invisible City" (blogger screening) - 1

Take a look at the chalk logotype for a moment… What do you not see?

While I immediately noticed the intentional stencil gaps within English letters, I did miss out on the missing strokes on the Chinese characters.

As Shaun and KK of mindwasabi enlightened me, this fascinating insignia emerged after carefully re-watching Tan Pin Pin’s film several times. When I asked how they came up with it, Shaun noted that they weren’t being creative (i.e. fancy), but rather logical in their approach in that they were trying to find the simplest way to convey the meaning of the film. And that’s from a guy who has a Doctorate in Mathematics from Oxford. I personally think that this branding scenario for Invisible City isn’t just great… it’s symbiotic.

Tan Pin Pin's "Invisible City" (blogger screening) - 9
warning: kk and shawn = highly intelligent beings. Read their heavyweight bios on their mindwasabi website.

I saw these bilingual markings at the entrance of The Art House, where Tan Pin Pin’s latest documentary was being screened exclusively for bloggers that day. That’s also where I spotted Shaun trying to observe visitor behavior at the event, and since they were wearing invisible city t-shirts, they naturally became my first contact at the event.

Tan Pin Pin's "Invisible City" (blogger screening) - 2
Notice how the right-most print says “newest” instead of “latest” documentary?

Once inside and safely air-conditioned from Singapore’s muggy weather, a lady in similar t-shirt presented me with an invisible city press kit as seen above. This reminded me of the present situation of media preference: Should bloggers be treated in the same manner as journalists?

To me, having a physical press kit definitely helps all of us, though I’ve noticed that some of us already uploaded materials on Youtube and Flickr (thanks Kenneth) just to save everyone the trouble. That should have been the way to go for us… maybe not for traditional journalists, but for bloggers, whose existence is entirely online. Yes, we’re cheap and we save the environment too.

Tan Pin Pin's "Invisible City" (blogger screening) - 3

Mind you I’ve never been to a local independent film screening before, so I didn’t know who to talk to nor what to talk about. Fortunately, a lady in a white top came up to me and introduced herself as Tan Pin Pin. First, I was humbled by her presence as an established documentary filmmaker. On second take, I realized that she actually knew my name without having met me before! She thanked me for coming and wanted to introduce me to the other bloggers around the screening room, none of whom I had met before. Different circles, different bloggers.

Tan Pin Pin's "Invisible City" (blogger screening) - 8

These must be the more elusive artsy bloggers and though I didn’t get a chance to meet them all, I did spot Alex Au in the middle with a pinkish shirt. He’s better known as Yawning Bread, an openly activist Singaporean blogger, which is an oxymoron in itself. Other words that come to mind include confident, heroic and suicidal. Kudos for his infamous Hougang rally photos!

Tan Pin Pin's "Invisible City" (blogger screening) - 7
Han Tan Juan giving his side of the story with Tan Pin Pin as interpreter

When the screening of the Invisible City ended, the “mostly blogger” audience seemed split into three camps, interestingly by the room’s geography. Hence, I’ll go from the back to the front of the screening room:

1. the technical (back)
Questions related to why the film was cut and blacked out at certain portions came from the rear, where I believe a regular mainstream media film critic resided. While a documentary, the film was a form of art, and while it might not work for all, Tan Pin Pin wanted to make viewers think while watching certain parts of the film (you’ll see what I mean if you watch it).

2. the post-modernists (center)
In the row with Yawning Bread, debate was raised as to whether Invisible City was a political film. Many like myself didn’t think so. Granted, there were parts which might have raised eyebrows, such as where Han Tan Juan gave his own account of political unrest back in the 1960s. However, the larger picture of the film seemed to be aimed at providing a glance at the people who devoted part of the lives in sharing and/or documenting Singapore’s history. Do note that the documentary is partly artistic, so this would be subject to interpretation. The main intention seemed more benign, which is probably why it safely passed the film censors.

3. the pragmatics (front)
As futurist as I’d like to be (as Nic Fillingham decreed upon me at ReMIX), I’d like to think that I am a pragmatic idealist. I was more straightforward in my comments of the film, expressing how this emotional work could inspire future historians, who could come in the form of filmmakers, photographers or even archaeologists (as seen in the film). The trouble is, even as Han Tan Juan gave a public talk at the National Library about the other side of history, where history has always been interpreted from those in power, he knew that it had little effect over the young students who were present there. There’s too big a disconnect for them to make sense of the past. I felt that the value in Tan Pin Pin’s latest work translated to not just inspiring the young, but encouraging them with the “how-tos” on collecting history which defines us, as scattered throughout the film.

Tan Pin Pin's "Invisible City" (blogger screening) - 13
Asking if Han Tan Juan would mind sharing his valuable photos on…

On the whole it was an enjoyable film, in it’s quirky yet serious undertones about the missing knowledge bits of our small but remarkably old nation. I say old because the speed of progress is quite dramatic in this country. There’s so much we don’t know, and it’s the simplest things that we leave behind (e.g. rubbish, personal blog posts) which will clue our future generations on how we once used to live.

Also, do check out the other film interpretations:
Tan Pin Pin’s invisiblecity blog (official details of film screenings)
Invisible histories of our city by Yawning Bread (includes spoilers!)
Yesterday’s rubbish on by Coleman
One man’s trash is another man’s artifact by Kenneth Pinto

Finally, here are the upcoming screenings (Note: Three FREE screenings!):

Invisible City opens at The Arts House on 22 July-12 August 2007. Call 6332 6919 for tickets now. Tickets at $8 (Adults) and $6 (Students with ID). Pin Pin will be present to take Q&A on 22-24 July.

The three screenings are at different venues and open to public. Tickets are free by registration.

The World Premiere: Thurs, 19 July 2007, 8pm, University Cultural Centre Theatre.
To register for tickets for this screening, email your full name and mobile no. to or contact 6516 4229.

Friday, 20 July 2007, 8pm, Theatreworks 72-13.
To register for tickets, email or contact 6737 7213 (pay-as-you-wish, proceeds go to 72-13)

Saturday, 21 July 2007, 8pm, The Substation.
To register for tickets, email or contact 6337 7800 (pay-as-you-wish, all proceeds go to Substation)

Thurs, 26 July, 7pm, Theatreworks 72-13.
Pin Pin will be giving a ‘making-of’ Invisible City talk. No registration required.

4 thoughts on “Invisible City // minding the gaps

  1. I was the person from the rear making criticism and no i’m not a “mainstream media film critic”. Please do not jump to conclusions. I just feel that the arthouse inclination did not work effectively in this documentary, which by itself is disappointing.

  2. Sojourner: Thanks for dropping by and clarifying. I mentioned in my statement that it was my belief, not a fact, that people at the back were mainstream media film critics. 🙂

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