Beyond Saint Jack:
The strange cinematic visitors of Singapore and Malaya
The archetypal ‘White Man In Asia’ has long-since left the pages of colonial literature and transitioned into ‘the movies’. Paul Theroux’s Jack Flowers, an American drifter exiled in Singapore was memorably incarnated by Ben Gazzara as a droll, world-weary dreamer in Peter Bogdanovich’s adapation of Saint Jack in 1979, and he was neither the first or last foreign adventurer to fall under the spell of old Malaya and new Singapore. This season of 10 screenings explores a line-up of these strange cinematic visitors, Jack’s predecessors and descendants: old hands, good men, legal aliens, rugged individualists, ex-soldiers, detectives, has-beens and rock stars, who have found themselves ensnared in traps beyond their control, stumbled across exotic, bewildering cultures, or entered zones of erotic possibility.
Unlike other Asian countries, which have been the location of arguably ‘classic’ films (sometimes when standing in for another place), Singapore/Malaya’s heyday of foreign production (from the mid 1960s to the early 1980s) led to a motley filmography of B-movies, commercial disasters, miscellaneous TV episodes, lost films and bizarre curios. While they might resist canonisation, these films are a fascinating portal into how the region is/was perceived by the rest of the world both before and after the end of the colonial era; and the local reception (and often-times, production support) they received demonstrates an eagerness for Singapore and Malaysia to be represented and acknowledged by the West. And now, after decades have passed, the films have fossilised into objects of nostalgia – unwittingly authentic documents of a disappeared heritage – even while their fictions, and their melancholy characters, tell another story.
Beyond Saint Jack is guest-curated by author and critic Ben Slater, who will be present to introduce and discuss each film during the screenings.
About Ben Slater
Ben Slater is the author of Kinda Hot: The Making of Saint Jack in Singapore (2006), a major contributor to World Film Locations: Singapore (2014) and the editor of 25: Histories and Memories of the Singapore International Film Festival (2014). He’s also the co-screenwriter of the feature film Camera (2014) and a Lecturer at the School of Art, Media and Design, Nanyang Technological University.