Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wit's End: Updated

From L-R: Marvin Farkas, Harvey from Make-Do, Joel Reed on Skype and Martin Merz at the Arts House for the Wit's End Book Launch, The Arts House, Singapore, January 2013.

Towards the end of 2012, which is when I wrote about Wit's End for the blog, I began to hear rumours that Marvin Farkas, the producer/ cameraman behind the film, who'd ignored my earlier attempts to interview him was publishing his own book on the experience of making Wit's End in Singapore. Frankly, I didn't believe it. The idea that a first-hand account of the making of a film that nobody had every heard of would ever make it into print seemed very unlikely. But I was, not for the first time, completely wrong. Some folk I know at The Arts House, an 'arts' venue in Singapore based in the old and surprisingly dainty parliament building, confirmed that they were hosting a week or two of screenings of Wit's End that was pinned to a book launch. Then, I got an email from Harvey from Make-Do, a Hong Kong based publisher who had put out Marvin's original memoir, An Eastern Saga (which has nary a mention of the Wit's End adventure). Indeed, Marvin had written about Wit's End, and it was going out as a book, and Harvey wanted to republish some version of my blog as an afterword. Chancing my hand, I asked to read the manuscript so I could better understand what the book might require, and without any hesitation Harvey sent it over to me. 

Marvin's account is, as you'd expect, highly subjective, and certainly differs from the stories I heard from Keith Lorenz and Joel Reed. There's a lot of detail about the nightmarish process of finding funding for the film, and the consequence that Marvin found himself essentially trapped into making a low-budget film in a hurry under far less than ideal circumstances. Keith Lorenz, who by all accounts was pretty instrumental in coming up with the idea of the film along with Ian Ward, is largely ignored, and a great deal of space is spent dealing with the highs and lows of Marvin's love life during the production, including a torrid affair with the (English) teenage daughter of the then managing editor of The Straits Times. Much of tone of the book is along the lines of "Hey it was the 60s", and Marvin was certainly under no illusions that Wit's End made a lick of sense or would even be a half-decent film, but as he notes the final version was worse than anticipated, it was "slow and drab". 

I reworked my blog into a short piece called 'No Regrets for Singapore: The Extraordinary Story of Wit's End', which I'll post at some point, although much of the material can be read in my earlier Wit's End post. Then, I was invited to speak at the launch of the book at the Arts House, which was a fun, chaotic event, pleasantly derailed by the presence of Joel Reed on a screen above us, who was happy to talk at length about both Wit's End and Joel Reed. Having been indelibly marked as a youth by reading a lurid description of Bloodsucking Freaks in the Joe Bob Briggs collection that Faber put out in the late 80s, it was surreal to be virtually sharing a stage with him, in Singapore of all places. The enigmatic Robin Steinberg recorded the whole thing and you can watch it on YouTube (see above). The Arts House, it should be noted, made a big effort to enhance the screenings, not only with our event, but a great display of photos and stills and even a guided tour of the locations. Proving that the heritage machinery of Singapore can embrace even the most dubious and bizarre cultural products. And I also discovered an earlier article about the locations that had been published in 2009, and realised that some of the scenes shot on Upper East Coast road are a couple of bus stops away from the building where I write these words.

If you want to buy Marvin's book, with my afterword and a foreword from Joel, click here.