KINDA HOT: A book about Saint Jack

Info, news and a kind of diary covering the publication of a book about the making of the film Saint Jack in Singapore...

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Location: Bedok, The East, Singapore

Author, Lecturer, Screenwriter, Film Critic & Historian... Email me!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The book is out!

The old crew and me - from left to right - Noel Joseph (Gopi), Tan Yan Meng (Little Hing), Teo Bee Hui (Jimmy) and Peter Teh (Mike), not in the photo is Tony Yeow, the film's unit manager.

Yesterday we had our launch event at Borders, which I had originally intended to be a 'soft launch', and not to be such A Big Deal, but over the last 2 weeks it seemed to gather momentum with all my friends promising to be there, and then after the 'unbanning' of Saint Jack last week, it seemed to become even more important to mark the event properly. So, most of the local cast and crew who I had interviewed showed up - which was a huge thrill for me, and I think the crowd that came to watch loved meeting them.

We almost sold out of books in the shop - which I'm told is pretty rare - but I have to thank all the good, good friends who showed up and supported me, and I hope you enjoy the book.

I'm off to the UK on wednesday for 2 and half weeks - so don't expect too much blogging from me. But hopefully press and publicity will continue to unfold. I'll try and get links up when I can.

Latest links.
Full version of the 'unbanned' scoop and feature all on one page.
The New Paper's take on it - very tabloidy.
Mr Miyagi, top blogger and Saint Jack fan previews.
And, Amazon US finally has the book for sale - still no picture. Grrrr.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Saint Jack is unbanned!!!

(Double page spread from Singapore newspaper TODAY, on the 16th March 2006)

Last night I got a call from a reporter from TODAY newspaper telling me that the Media Development Authority Of Singapore had issued a statement to them explaining that Saint Jack was no longer banned... and that it is now possible to import and sell the DVDs, watch the DVDs (or any other format), and to screen the film in cinemas, either as a one-off or as part of a commercial release.

This is obviously fantastic news. I've been doing some research into getting a screening of the film for a while, and also the possibility of the DVD being in the shops is very exciting. The film will be rated M18, which is not the highest rating (thats R21), so it can be sold in stores!

The MDA say that the film could have been passed anytime since the last change is censorship regulations (around 2003), and they do suggest that the film was only banned originally because of the lack of classification ratings in the past - an excuse which I don't buy. If Saint Jack was banned because of one or two moments, they could have suggested they be cut - which they never did - the film was banned outright for the reason outlined by an anonymous censor who I quote in my book (read it and find out!).

Anyway, enough quibbling. We have a big reason to celebrate.

Read the article online here. And if you are willing to click through the pages you will be able to find the full pdf of the article, but there's no direct link - sorry...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Tracking them down

(Peter Bogdanovich, Monika Subramaniam, Robby Mueller and Ben Gazzara hanging out at a now-obliterated eating spot along the Singapore river - this was actually a scene in Saint Jack, and Bogdanovich got so ill from the shrimp in this photo that the film had to shut-down for a day.)

Getting press for an upcoming book is no easy task, even in a place as close-knit as Singapore... and since nothing has actually been published yet, I'm not going to hex myself by announcing anything, but a few journalists have read the book now and I've been feeling the faint trickle of positive feedback. And more importantly no one has hauled me up on anything erroneous, but all in good time!

The book should have been in the shops by now, but it isn't, so if you are in Singapore and want to buy a copy as soon as you can, all I can do is say - Come to Borders on Saturday at 2pm, you can buy the book and get a look at me. As an extra incentive: at least two major crew members from Saint Jack will be around as well, one of them had a largish speaking role in the film. I'm calling some more of them up today, so there may be a bit of a reunion.

The question I get asked quite a lot is about the 'research' - did it go as well as I expected? Did I find all the things I wanted to find? And this leads back into the story of writing the book. Well, after I spoke to Bogdanovich I felt that the whole episode had a bit more flesh, but Bogdanovich had also repeated a fair few anecdotes I'd already read in other interviews. He gave me some great detail about the origins of the project - Orson Welles, casting, the Playboy case with Cybill Shepherd, etc, but of the period in Singapore he was much more sketchy.

My search for other crew members was crude and simple - checking their subsequent credits on IMDB, and Googling them for personal websites. And suprisingly this gave me a few immediate results. Jacques Steyn, the chief lighting guy on Saint Jack, and now a cinematographer in his own right, has his own website, and was really quick to respond to my email. We arranged a time to speak, and I remember Jacques telling me that thinking about that time after my email had brought back "a million memories"... some of which he shared with me in vivid and animated detail. This confirmed to me that Saint Jack was an amazing experience not just for the main players, but for all the foreign crew, most of whom were very young... and Jacques's description of life on the set was enormously compelling - it was hard work but also pretty fantastic. I was getting more than a little seduced by the world of Saint Jack.

Not long after Jacques, I interviewed Gregg Barbanell, who had worked on the film doing post-production sound. Gregg's name isn't on the film, rather the company Mag City is, but miraculously, IMDB listed Gregg by name, and also had his email address. Gregg replied within hours, and a few days later we were talking. Gregg's memories were most specifically of Bogdanovich, and they were mostly negative... Gregg tells these stories with incredulity even today which made them pretty funny. Mostly it was PB's cigar-waving arrogance, something that's well documented all over. Looking at Gregg's credits, which are pretty awesome, I realised that the process of talking to all of these crew members and technicians was opening up my naive eyes to the massively collaborative enterprise of filmmaking... for the first time I was really getting a sense of how all of these people function together in making a film, and how little recognition they get.

Each time I interviewed someone I added another layer to the tale, a fresh perspective, or a whole load of new facts and info about some aspect of the shoot I hadn't even considered. But, I still hadn't spoken to any of the Singaporeans involved in the film, and it was imperative that I did. It did't matter if I tracked down every single European and American person involved - I had to have that local voice. To be honest, I was worried. I spent hours on the Yellow Pages website, trying to find phone numbers, some looked promising, but led no-where. I realised that because the foreign crew were mostly still working in The Business, they were much easier to track down than the locals. I was wondering whether it was possible to pull this off without the aid of Private Detectives...

To be continued.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Got the book


Yes, I finally got the thing yesterday... and I'm very pleased with it. Makes you remember what delicious objects books are. Sorry for the cheesy picture, but it has to be done.

Next thing: do people actually like it, and did I make any godawful errors...?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Jack Flowers

Jack's tattoos
(Jack, played by Ben Gazzara, getting the bad words on his arms changed into flowers)

If you're following the first post, you'll know I'm trying to recount the story-behind-the-book-behind-the-film, and before I go forward, I should mention that even though I did no real research into Saint Jack when I first arrived in Singapore back in 2002, Jack Flowers (the main character in Saint Jack) continued to haunt me.

As part of theatre group spell#7, I worked with Kaylene Tan on a performance in July 2002 called Kinda Hot (sound familiar?), which was a performed guided tour of the area where the spell#7 office is located, Little India.

The name of the show was clearly a reference to Saint Jack - after the line that Jack uses to open up conversations with strangers - "Kinda hot?" He only uses it once in the book, and once almost imperceptibly in the film, but its a line that stuck out - for it's cheeky innuendo, Singapore-specificity and obvious metaphorical qualities...

I played a character called Jack, who was inspired by Jack Flowers rather than literally based on him. I wore a very cool Batik shirt, and as I introduced myself to the audience I certainly hinted that I might be able to show them where the 'good times' could be had. We took certain aspects of Jack Flowers - that he was a storyteller, an exile who can never leave, an outsider but utterly at home - and heightened them to suit our story about two characters who are in love with each other and the streets where they wander. Kaylene wrote a beautiful line about the character, which kinda gives the game away about the source:

"Jack leaves a scent. A trail of a million flowers. I can smell you 2 miles away."

That show was banned. Sounds melodramatic, but that's what happened, and you can read about that all here.

Next up was a performance called Various Gangsters with spell#7, which was performed at the marvellous Substation as part of their September festival that same year. A criminally underrated show, it was loosely inspired by the idea of gangs and gangsters - and we did some research into triads and secret societies, oaths and tattoos. Which brings us back to Saint Jack. As we were writing the piece we were looking for something for the end of the performance, and there was a line which suddenly connected Saint Jack with the tone and feeling we were after.

"The bad words have been made to look like flowers."

And after that there was list of obscenities followed by the different types of flowers they had been made to look like: "Fuck becomes a chrysanthemum". All of them were written by Kaylene, who takes the speech off from this initial premise into a sublime description of a body as if it were a garden (You can read the whole thing and find out more about the show here).

This began as a response to Jack's tattoos in Saint Jack, the way he brilliantly decides to change the Chinese insults, that have forcibly carved into his arms, into something beautiful.

In 2004, we went back to Kinda Hot and reworked it into an audio tour (people listen to our soundtrack as they are directed around Little India), and the characters remained roughly the same - including Jack. Now, existing only as a voice, he does become spectral, like a ghost of Singapore's past, condemned to endless strolling, chatting with tourists, and Gin and Tonics back at the hotel (The audio tour is called Desire Paths, and you can still come and do it - there is a lovely website for it here, or read a review here).

Jack had now become a persona. I figured I knew who this guy was - his hopes and dreams, a romantically inclined loser. He would always be the popular one, telling jokes, full of life, making people around him feel good. But you could never get too close to Jack - inside he was shutting down, trying to protect himself from pain, panicking about the future. It was a character I couldn't ever get rid of, he kept turning up in the things that I did in Singapore.

Which brings us back to the book.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Event Alert!

Because I'm going away at the end of the month, and in April we'll be deep into the wonderful Singapore International Film Festival, there will only be one chance to hear me talk about the book in public and to say hello.

So, diaries out folks:

It's at Borders on the 18th March, which is a Saturday, at 2pm. I'll be there talking about the genesis of the book, and discussing why the film is worthy of so much of my time, and if people really want to, I can sign your books. I'll add more details of what I'm planning as we get nearer the date.

Now, the book was meant to be printed this week and in my hands (and then shortly after that in the shops), but due to some technical errors, it is not. So, it looks likely that the 18th May be the first chance people have to get their hands on the tome - so it is now literally becoming the First Day of Publication... which is nerve-wracking.

Meanwhile, I discover that Amazon UK is already featuring the book on it's website as an item for future sales. No picture though, which I'm gonna sort out.

And thanks to Greencine Daily for being the first to blog about my blog.

5/3/06 Update:

Thanks also to IFC Blog for blogging about this as well. Mucho grazias!

And - the German Amazon entry has gone up. Still no picture, but it's the first time I've seen the phrase "von Ben Slater" before...