'Earth' by Ho Tzu Nyen - some views from the ground
In the blackness of the screen, little specks of light begin to fade in, like what you would see out of your plane window as you are approaching land. As more specks become visible, it builds to a kind of pay-off to the title of the film and a rather symbolic opening... until it is punctuated by the visual distortion caused by rippling of the water, whose surface produced a reflection that we have in fact been gazing at.
These first few minutes of the film 'Earth' epitomise what the film's aesthetic genius rests on - calculation. It is artificial in its intent and inorganic in its approach and it brings it to a deliberate extreme. In doing so, Tzu Nyen reminds me of what artists are meant to do - have a stubborn vision and flesh it out concertedly. 'Earth' is a lot of wilful indulgence but yet it is executed with so much discipline that how the film is being made is a good enough reason to watch it. In fact, it becomes the more important question in our heads and drives our continued curiosity in, even when it gets challenging.
Speaking of content, a blunt and gut-driven summary sounds like this - 'Earth' is a green film that shows how interconnected we are, reeking with overtones of the warnings of environmental destruction. How true is this? I would bet Tzu Nyen to say yes but without any weight of caring too much about what our interpretations are. It is evident from the film that what he cares about are reinventing the ways of representing a universal and common topic.
'Earth' is shot in a theatre set and everything is staged to create the image of an apocalypse. Visually, the organised 'mess;' is a sight to behold - both in its claustrophobic close-ups and the painting-like wide-shots.
But even more gratifying are little moments, driven by sound, that delighted me. There was a shot a man seemingly injured coupled with the siren of the ambulance echoing in the distance and the flashing of red light thrown onto his face. There was another moment where a man seated up is blind-folded and peacefully oblivious to the madness around him. Throughout the film, there is also a plethora of ethnic sound-bites, reflecting a mixed kind of consciousness among these 'earthly' inhabitants.
Watching 'Earth' is not without pain too. In fact, watching it is like going through a dual experience of being tortured and yet discovering something new or even brilliant in the torture. It uses constant disorientation to break down what you might try to make of it, so you are never too comfortable watching from a single angle. But ultimately, I feel the film is not trying too hard to control its outcomes. Save for that tableau, it is simply a very pure attempt to achieve a certain physical and experimental process. But of course, in Tzu Nyen's case, he's seasoned enough as a visual artist to safeguard the aesthetics of the film even when his 'experiment' veers off the the time-precise track.
Here what some members of the audience had to say about 'Earth' at the screening last Sunday (23 May) at the Substation.
Chee Seng, a year-3 English Literature student at NTU talks about how sound's made the film.
Beng Kheng, the Experimental Film Forum Programme Manager, shares his deep thoughts on his last day with the Substation. We will miss your quirky introductions, BK!