Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Salaya Doc 2012: More thoughts on Golden Slumbers

Chou Davy at the post-screening Q&A of Golden Slumbers with Kong Rithdee at Salaya Doc, March 25, 2012.

I saw Golden Slumbers, a documentary on the lost films of Cambodia's golden age of cinema, for the second time at Salaya Doc over the weekend, and I was glad I did.

The experience was enriched this time by the presence of director Chou Davy, who I missed seeing at the Lifescapes festival in Chiang Mai. A switched-on and articulate young man, he gave a post-screening Q&A that increased my appreciation of the film.

One viewer brought up the parallels Golden Slumbers has with Martin Scorsese's Hugo. Although one is fiction and the other is documentary, both deal with lost cinema and the magic of film.

And Golden Slumbers is perhaps more magical than Hugo because it doesn't rely on CGI or swooping virtual-camera trickery to dazzle the eye.

Take the interview with the avuncular but cagey director Ly Bun Yim – representing the playful, trickster side of Scorsese's Georges Méliès. He disappears from the screen as his disembodied voice continues to describe his special effects. And then multiple versions of him pop back up in the same frame. In the epilogue, a special effect that Ly Bun Yim earlier described but didn't show is actually shown. And, hilariously, Ly Bun Yim keeps telling a story even after he says he's going to stop.

As a coincidence, Davy says his first film was a remake of one of Scorsese's early shorts, 1967's The Big Shave, in which man keeps shaving his face until it's a bloody mess.

Another interview in Golden Slumbers represents the sad, embittered side of Méliès, with Ly You Sreang, who tearfully pours out his life story after he fled from Cambodia after the fall of Phnom Penh. It's a moving tale that could well form the basis for an entire biopic, as could many of the Khmer Rouge survivor stories.

Davy actually had more footage of the other figures in the film telling their stories of survival – screen siren Dy Saveth for example, who worked as a nanny in France – but those weren't included out of consideration for the film's running time. So it was Ly You Sreang's story that was chosen to represent them all.

Another audience member wondered why there weren't more clips of the old films, and Davy said the reason for that is because at the time he made Golden Slumbers, the films were indeed lost. But just like in Hugo, once interest in the old films was revitalized, then clips and videotapes began to resurface. Anyway, Golden Slumbers works the way it does because it doesn't show things directly, just like a magic trick or illusion.

Golden Slumbers screens again on Saturday at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center. Check the Salaya Doc blog for the schedule.

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