Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Scriptwriting for Film seminar yesterday was mostly quite basic and rushed, as expected. No surprises, and a lot of handouts and worksheets. For my part I was hyped up on caffeine most of the time, thanks to periodic infusions of the instant coffee provided. However, as Justin stoically and sensibly pointed out, the trick was staying hyped up in the days-weeks-months after the seminar.

Watched The Ronggeng Dancer (Nji Ronggeng) and Magnifico in the evening.

The Ronggeng Dancer, made in 1969, is one of the first colour films made in Indonesia. I'd let the writeup provided by the Arts House describe the remarkable nature of the film:

... the film reconstructs performances of the ronggeng dance as they are supposed to have occured in village squares and carnivals in West Java in the 1930s.

The ronggeng dance, similar to the Balinese joget, is a subtle and sensuous dance performed in public spaces by both paid and unpaid female dancers. In these dances -- which duly provides an erotic spectacle as the woman, usually a professional dancer, invites men from the crowd to dance with her -- the woman sometimes has the power to dismiss their partners if their dancing is not satisfactory to her. In the film, the form of ronggeng dance is one wherein male partners are invited to try to touch the woman's hair, and where, through her dancing, she tries to evade them and even deflect their attempts to touch her hair by using defensive hand movements used in silat (a traditional Indonesian form of self-defence). Hence, the dance, as depicted in the film, is more than simply an erotic spectacle. Like the Balinese joget it is a highly structured social ritual in which the male partner's attitude to the woman, his exhibitionism, his pride and his capacity for self-control, also become part of the public spectacle. This, in fact, becomes the dramtic subject of the film Nji Ronggeng.
The blurred distinctions between martial art/combat and dance was particularly interesting imho, and this is clearly shown throughout the film. The opening credits of the film are imposed upon a ronggeng performance, and halfway through the dancer begins going through silat patterns -- first barehanded, then with small parangs in each hand. In another instance, young men take part in a kind of sparring contest with short bamboo cudgels, while music plays in the background. The men approach each other using dance and react accordingly as the music changes tempo. In another instance, when the villain's henchmen attempt to kidnap the "damsel" in the dance troupe, combat comes easily (if not too effectively) to the troupe members -- including the "damsel" herself.

The lush music was also a joy to listen too. Alas, the acting wasn't too good, and the plot was very simple with erratic pacing. An interesting ending with a political moral. All the same, Ronggeng is a visual and aural feast -- if you have the patience.

I liked Magnifico as well, even if everything fell into place in that movie a little too neatly. The soundtrack was hideously overbearing and stagnant -- out-Glassing Philip Glass even. I wanted to rip my ears out halfway through. The acting in that film was quite competent -- the child actors deserve the most praise. Solid direction and visuals; solid crowd-pleaser

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