|Sunday, Novemeber 15,1998
Sunday Plus: Page 4
Goodnight Irin, while I think of New Orleans
Remains Of The Day
It's been a hard day's night, and I've been watching TV instead of working
IT IS almost dawn, and I have given up trying to sleep.
Last night I was listless, too tired to work, and had watched TV instead.
On Channel 5, I caught an episode of The Big Easy, a spin-off of that successful 1986 movie starring Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin.
Then after eating a chocolate roll and washing it down with a cup of instant coffee, I flipped to Premiere 12, just in time to catch David Letterman teasing British singer George Michael about his episode in a Beverly Hills public toilet in June.
Afterwards, although sleepy, I stayed up to watch a movie on Cinemax called Heaven's Prisoners, which stars Alec Baldwin as a burnt-out New Orleans cop who has turned in his badge and gone to the Louisiana bayou to dry out, with his wife providing loving tender care.
Trouble comes knocking on his door, his wife is murdered brutally and he goes back to New Orleans to hunt down the murderers.
By the time the movie ended, it was past three. I tried to sleep, but I was bugged by the fact that I had not written the column. I was already a day late.
Earlier in the evening, I had made a start with it. I had wanted to write about Growing Up, after having toured the sets in TCS' Studio One in the morning with colleague Sumiko Tan.
Tan Tarn How, the head writer of Channel 5's drama unit, and Sylvia Toh, the dialogue editor, showed us around. We met the ensemble cast -- Irin Gan and Andrew Seow are so much slimmer than they look on TV, but both are as attractive -- and then watched them rehearse a breakfast scene from the control room.
There were chwee kuay and chee jong fun on the table, and Andrew was eating them, even though the cameras had not rolled.
The show's executive producer Emida Natalaray told us that the actors often gobbled up the food during rehearsals and the early takes, so that when it came time for the cameras to roll, they were too full to really eat.
On the way out of the studio, I told Tarn How and Slyvia, both former colleagues in Times House, that I thought the family drama series is a "glue".
It is the most authentic production that Channel 5 has done, and I am sure many of its 240,000 viewers, like myself, can relate to it.
Tarn How told me that more PMEBs (professionals, managers, executives and businessmen) watch it than kids. The 35-44 and 45-and-above age groups form the bulk of the viewership.
I pronounced that a TV series like Growing Up is more effective in binding the people than stage plays, although Singapore theatre, because it has experimented boldly in the last two decades, has laid the groundwork for the TV show. It is a long way from Masters Of The Sea.
I did not say so, but Tarn How, who made his mark as a playwright before he joined TV, has obviously contributed to the show's success. Its ratings are as high as the Hollywood blockbusters'.
Sylvia is more than a dialogue editor, she is also the valuable resource person in the drama unit for all things '60s and '70s. Now that is something I could be too -- a resource person.
"You should write about it," Tarn How said excitedly about my remarks on glue and TV versus theatre.
Ya, ya, I spluttered, I am going to do it for this week's column.
But it was bravado, because when I tried to work on it last evening, I realised I did not have enough related material. So here I am in front of the computer screen, and it's already past six in the morning.
BLAME IT on New Awlens. The movie Heaven's Prisoners kept me away from work because it evoked so much of that city -- the scenes in the French Quarter, and the jazz and blues on the soundtrack.
I thought about my brief stay there, and realised, with a pang, that it was 10 years ago. I stayed at the low-budget Chateau Motor Hotel on Chartres, in a room by the small pool whose water had turned muddy.
There was a patio outside the room, and it was there, in the shade of a large tree, that I reread some Tennessee Williams and Carson McCullers in the mornings. In the afternoons, I walked to the Cafe du Monde at the uptown end of the French Market to have square doughnuts called beignets, dusted with powdered sugar, which tasted heavenly.
In the evenings, it was the busy Bourbon Street, lined on both sides by jazz bars and strip joints. Suzie Tan's Bogart's Seafood Restaurant in Clarke Quay reminds me of the oyster bars there, although I did not go into any of them, because they looked expensive. Trust me to find a Chinese restaurant where I went for wanton soup.
The five-day stay in New Orleans was part of the Jefferson Fellowship programme. I was thrown together with a group of American and Asian journalists for a month in the East-West Center in Hawaii, where we attended talks and seminars. In the second month, the American journalists came to Asia, while the Asians went to the mainland of the United States.
We travelled as a group for a week, taking the "Desert Wind" Amtrak from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Denver in Colorado, then Omaha in Nebraska and finally in a car to Shendandoah, where we stayed with host families for the weekend.
The train journey was arranged so that we could see the vastness of America.
Afterwards, we flew to Washington where we visited the White House and the awesome Pentagon, followed by New York.
The next two weeks, we split up to go on individual itineraries which we had mapped out ourselves. I chose to travel to Chicago and New Orleans. In Chicago, besides the blues clubs, I got to see the Georgia O'Keefe Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.
A few years afterwards, I would actually get to see the late O'Keefe's home in Sante Fe, New Mexico, where she painted all those sun-bleached buffalo skulls and tumbleweed. Pianist Margaret Leng-Tan had been invited to perform in a restored church in the city and was put up in the adobe mansion, together with some other visiting artistes.
I attended her performance art event where she played prepared piano to a hushed audience, and the next day, visited her at the mansion, which had sprawling grounds planted with Tibetan prayer flags, among the cacti. Margaret practised on a white Steinway by the edge of an indoor swimming pool. What a thrill it was.
Incidentally, she is performing on her toy pianos at the Botanic Gardens this afternoon as part of the Environment concert, so check her out.
IN LINCOLIN HALL, the East-West Center's guest house, I hired a TV set for the month that I was there, and watched David Letterman in my room every night. It did not occur to me that the talk show would ever be shown on Singapore TV, because it was anti-establishment and it had the licence to be bad.
But it has been on Premiere 12 for a couple of years.
Yet, I seldom watch it now. It was forbidden pleasure when I lapped it up every night in Hawaii.
Here, the show loses much of its context, and because it is shown a day or two late, much of its piquant currency as well.
Still, I am glad we have it. Letterman is good for a laugh when there is nothing else at midnight.
I said in this column some time back that I hoped Gurmit Singh would not be made a David Letterman. Well, he now hosts a show on Saturday night that mimics Letterman's.
Since I toil on Saturday nights, I have the TV set on with the sound off, just to keep an eye on the celebrity guests while I juggle stories around. Hongkong actress Christy Chung was a delight, so unself-conscious she was of her "celebrity skin", and, oh, I mustn't forget Power 98 deejay Suzanne Walker's miles of legs.
But the show is mimicry. So much of what we used to do on TV was mimicry, and almost 30 years on, there is still a fair bit of it.
But because there is Growing Up, I guess there is less to fret about.
If you have not watched it, or don't deign to, do try to catch it tonight, after you have come back from the Botanic Gardens, and find out for yourself if it is the genuine article.
Let me go get my breakfast now. I can almost smell Cafe du Monde's strong cafe au lait. I'll get my fix at Starbucks in Holland Village. If the recession continues, I may just have to go back to kopi-o at Ghim Moh hawker centre. The chwee kuay there is wonderful, Andrew.
15/11/98 Goodnight Irin, while I think of New Orleans