Since a new year deserves an honest beginning, let me plainly state that I do not like my colleague John Lui. This is partly because he is far funnier than anyone in this newspaper. Mostly it is because he doesn’t know it but he has my job. John is our fine film critic and informs me he watched roughly 150 films in 2013.
Admittedly, many are execrable and have led to his premature ageing. Yet it is worth it, for he is living the life that the German writer Goethe ordered: “A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry and see a fine picture every day of his life in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
Goethe possibly meant picture as painting but we can interpret it as film. Either way, he was advocating that we should frequently take creative journeys that astonish and inform. We can do some of this at home, but such adventuring is best done in the art gallery, the museum, the opera house or cinemas for these are the grand transporters to the world of wonder.
Wonder – and its cousins incredulity and marvel – needs the appropriate canvas, and in cinema, it is the big screen. When helicopters clatter across the screen in Apocalypse Now amid napalmed trees to the mournful tune of The Doors singing about a “wilderness of pain”, every sense seems inflamed. To see it on a television is to see art reduced and awe diminished.
Our viewing options have become greater – iPad, TV, computer – but it is wonder in miniature. Rembrandt’s works can be seen on a phone screen, but truly they should hang on museum walls, intimidating and grand.
It is why the movie hall, where the unlimited scale of a craftsman’s imagination is revealed, cannot be allowed to die as an artistic platform. In July, this paper quietly noted that attendance in cinemas in Singapore fell by 5 per cent from 2011 to 2012. It may just be a blip, a reflection of an inadequate year of cinema, but I still go, I will always go.
The hall has been my release from the humdrum since I was 12 and walked crooked streets to cinemas in Kolkata. In the dark, I took magical flight, my boyish mind racing as fast as a camera across a landscape. Here it was as if I was within the film. I fought with true grit alongside John Wayne and asked my mother, De Niro style, “You talkin’ to me?” Turns out she had a meaner squint than Clint Eastwood.