Americans in a earlier Singapore - Production Talk on 'Wit's End'


Marvin Farkas circa 1969, at Jefferson Quay during the shoot of Wit's End.

As you would have already read, the well publicised “Made-in-Singapore American film” “Wit’s End” will commence screening in The Arts House tomorrow, 23 Jan - 30 Jan 2013. 

Well, Sindie managed to gain privy with with the director, Joel Reed (responses in dark blue) and Markin Farkas (orange), the producer on their experience filming in Singapore in the 1960s.

Read on..

Singapore in simpler times, when a film set could pull in the entire neighbourhood

What inspired you to write the script?

MF: I didn't write the script.  It was originally written by Ian Ward and Keith
Lorenze but we threw their version out because it was junk and we hired New Yorker Joel Reed because of his experience as the script writer. We also hired him as the
director.

JR: I didn’t write the script and story. It was written by David X. Young and was a weak copy of Casablanca. I did try to make it more original although I was totally misinformed about Singapore. Everyone gave me the impression that it was as mysterious and seedy as the old Hollywood movies depicted it. I think I may have seen “Virgin Soldiers” but that gave a narrow view of the Lion City. If I had the opportunity to sample a month or two of the real Singapore before writing or shooting, an entire new project would have developed. Tom Keena, whom I just spoke to said back then, “Let’s throw the script away and shoot a whole new movie. I should have listened to him. I would like to do the definitive Singapore movie one day to show the city as it was then and now.

Not sure about you but the old one is prettier

What was your impression of Singapore before you came and after you arrived? What about your impression of Singapore now?

MF: Singapore was a totally different place in 1969.  Lee Kwan Yieu (Lee Kuan Yew) wanted a clean up and he got it..  But I still hark back to the old days when Singapore had unforgettable color to it.   Those were the days.

JR: Before I came I was told that it was a sin full, brothel loaded darkly romantic and dreary place. When I arrived found a vibrant, growing metropolis with a few gems of nostalgia that could have been capitalized on. (Compared to present day, I..) Haven’t been recently but it seems like a more powerful city with some of those gems in dark corners.

What appeal did Singapore have to the west or Hollywood at that time?

MF: Hollywood had real style in those days, although that style has
gone.  But we were correspondents and most of our time on the road in Asia.  I
wanted to film a feature and I had my wish.

JR: The romance of the older films and fiction.

Back alleys in 'Reel-Singapore' past and present: Top: still from 'Wit's End' (1969); Bottom: still from 'Hsien of the dead' (2012)

What was the state of film production in Singapore at that time? Or were you insulated because you were using American crew?

MF: We were free to film anywhere and felt welcomed everywhere we went by the Singapore people..  We suffered no discrimination as Americans. We could move around freely, with no interference from any government body.  Our crew was mostly Chinese or Malay.

JR: The production, crew, and ease of shooting were excellent. Especially with the help of Kathy Keris St (Sindie: Which we presume would be the Cathay Keris, present day Cathay-Keris Films, the film distribution arm of Cathay)


A more recent picture of producer Markin Farkas

Markin as a Vietnam war correspondent

Was it legal to do soft porn like this?

MF: I wasn’t aware that we were breaking any laws. We had policeman monitoring us every the step of the way. They kept an eye on everything we did.  They were present for the shooting of all the scenes. We did not think of our picture as pornographic.  It was simply a lot of fun.

JR: The Government at the time said do what you want but don’t show it in Singapore. The sex now is greater on daytime TV in the states.

What was the weirdest thing you saw then in Singapore then?

MF: We had policeman who saw everything we did, including the nude scenes!.  It wasn't hard core. It was light-hearted, nothing to take too seriously.

JR: The day I arrive they were removing a head from the flagpole in front of Some hotel that a tong had stuck up as a lesson. The Monkey in the botanical gardens that was mugging visitors.


Was it difficult getting permission to shoot in the different locations?

MF: Singapore reminded me very much of my adopted home. In those days, it was so like Hong Kong.  We never felt like strangers, we were taken into the hearts of Singaporeans.  We hated to leave.

JR: I don’t recall difficulty shooting anyplace. We had a police officer with us at all times.

Is that part of a prop or is her hair really that big?

Are you still in contact with some of the local people involved in the film?

JR: Some have visited me in New York years ago. The only one I remember was Elizabeth Gay Hebridge. (He husband was head of the stock exchange.) We shot in her house. I recall talking to her here about twenty years ago. Then there was our casting director-Turkey farmer Mark Louis but I never spoke to him again.

Any interesting anecdotes of production?

MF - The anecdotes are all in the book!

JR: So many it would take a book. We did have an officer assigned to us by the Singapore Government call Fu Jock Ann. I used to call her fu on yu. I used to complain about how much I wanted a New York Deli. She finally said, “Go to the Kosher Department of the Cold Storage Supermarket.” In actuality, Singapore had all the comforts of home. I did date a girl here and I wanted to eat exotic foods so she suggested the A&W Root beer on Dunearn Road.

A whiff of Hollywood gunfire in placid Singapore

Intrigued to know more?

Go to these 4 activities The Arts House have organised for all to nosedive into a madcap adventure with "Wit's End" and also, an otherwise well kept nostalgia on how Singapore was like back in the 1960s-1970s through the film, all held within the compounds of The Arts House.

Venue: Screening Room 
Event Timing: 
Various Timings Starting Date: 23 Jan 2013 
End Date: 30 Jan 2013 
Weekdays: 7.30pm Sat: 3pm & 730pm Sun: 3pm

Venue: Screening Room 
Event Timing: 5pm 
Date: 26 Jan 2013 
Free admission
*Marvin Farkas, film historian Ben Slater to grace the book launch & a live Skype session with the director Joel Reed.
** For more information on the book, head on to: 
http://makedopublishing.com/witsend/

Venue: Film Gallery 
Event Timing: 10am – 10pm 
Starting Date: 14 Jan 2013 
End Date: 31 Jan 2013

Venue: Main Entrance of The Arts House
Event Timing: 10am – 11.30am 
Starting Date: 27 Jan 2013 
End Date: 27 Jan 2013 $15
Cost: $10



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