Thu, Mar 25, 2010 - Page 13 News List

INTERVIEW: Film’s death and resurrection

Taipei Fine Arts Museum recently added Tsai Ming-liang’s ‘It’s a Dream’ to its permanent collection. Noah Buchan asks the director why museums offer an ideal space to house and view his films

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

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Few film directors of Tsai Ming-liang’s (蔡明亮) caliber would be willing to wait around while a reporter watches one of his movies. But such is his dedication to cinema.

Unlike conventional Hollywood flicks, Tsai’s films, which often perplex Taiwanese audiences, require considerable intellectual effort on behalf of the viewer, and have made him a hero for film students the world over.

A current installation of Tsai’s work shows his oeuvre within a context that is, perhaps, more suited to his style of filmmaking: the museum.

The Taipei Fine Arts Museum recently added It’s a Dream (是夢), a nostalgic and autobiographical meditation about cinema, to its permanent collection — the first museum in Taiwan to do so. It is currently on view as part of the group exhibit Memory of a Journey (旅人•記憶).

Taipei Times: How do audiences in Taiwan generally respond to your movies?

Tsai Ming-liang: Audiences in Taiwan see my movies and leave the cinema and say they are not touched by the movie because they didn’t see a story. But I think it’s because they lack the kind of training necessary to watch my movies. Why do they have to be touched by a movie? Why are movies only for entertainment purposes? If movies are solely for entertainment, it really is a waste of this art form.

Movies have at least 100 years of history, but few look at their function beyond entertainment. Today, movies are pretty much a business. My kind of film has little marketing value. When I first started making films there was a big concern that my viewing audience was limited — and not just in terms of box office receipts. In today’s environment where Hollywood remains the mainstream, my movies remain marginalized.

TT: You first collaborated with a museum, the Louvre, to make Face (臉), which became part of its permanent collection. How did that, and your current installation at TFAM, come about?

TM: I think [the Louvre] wanted to work with me because of my movie Goodbye, Dragon Inn (不散). And even before that, I made I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (黑眼圈), a movie commissioned for Vienna for their 250th anniversary of [Wolfgang Amadeus] Mozart. So I have all these opportunities that don’t come from conventional movie studios. I think that’s because these people look at my movies from the perspective of movies, rather than a marketing perspective. So gradually my movies find a home, and that is the museum.

I seriously believe that movies are on the decline. Every year I go to the Cannes Film Festival, I see that the films there aren’t that powerful. People care more about the stars than the movies. Increasingly, I feel that my work is no longer fit for the cinema. But I don’t know what to do [laughs].

About two months ago TFAM started to talk to me about the possibility of adding It’s a Dream to its permanent collection. This is the first time that I sold a video installation to a museum and this is the first time for a Taiwanese museum to buy a film as part of its collection. The Louvre was the first in the world to collect film. These events signal that we are now looking at film as a form of art.

TT: You mentioned Goodbye, Dragon Inn, which for me contains similar themes to It’s a Dream in that it examines the nature of cinema.

TM: Goodbye, Dragon Inn was a very special milestone in my history of moviemaking. It was a very personal movie. It was filmed in a cinema in Yonghe (永和), which used to be popular but later declined and became an underground cinema for homosexuals. It declined further and eventually closed. I wanted to do a film there and I rented that cinema for one year and that was when I did Goodbye Dragon Inn.

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