Movie Journal
J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

MOVIE JOURNAL: J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

“Golden Slumbers”: Ghost of Cinema Past

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An exotic and elegant meta movie, “Golden Slumbers” shores the fragments of a ruined cinema—namely the 400 or so films made in Cambodia between 1960, when an indigenous movie industry was inspired by king and sometime filmmaker Norodom Sihanouk, and 1975, when that industry was destroyed in the Khmer Rouge bloodbath that murdered over a million people.

Davy Chou, the French-Cambodian grandson of prolific Cambodian producer Vann Chan spins up a gaudy void out of old posters and once popular songs (collected mainly online), interviews old stars and retired filmmakers, visits onetime movie locations and Phnom Penh buildings that once were movie palaces, juxtaposes reconstructions with memories, radio ads and other forms of cinematic residue. Pointedly, Chou eschews film clips. Less than 10% of Cambodian movies today exist, all in fragmentary form or on poor quality VHS tapes. The two most popular genres were romantic melodramas and special-effects driven stories of the supernatural, with titles like “The Screaming Gibbon”, “The Virgin Demon” and “The Snake King’s Wife.”

In a way “Golden Slumbers” blends the two modes. The romance of Cambodian cinema is developed in tales of elaborate or outlandish film productions while that cinema’s uncanny aspect is reinforced by the sense of former matinee idols living out their lives in a fading netherworld. The ghostliest sequence is reserved for the end, when several film fragments are projected directly on the brick walls of what once was a movie palace and is now decrepit squat for Phnom Penh’s poor and homeless.

“Golden Slumbers” has its New York theatrical premiere at Anthology Film Archives, October 31 through November 6.

Image: Icarus Films

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