alternative cinema

‘Sleep cinema’: Why Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul wants his films to put you in a slumber

At the Rotterdam film festival, the director opened the Sleepcinemahotel, where guests were treated to hypnagogic images through the day.

This year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam had a rich selection of filmic fare, as world renowned directors such as Guillermo del Toro appeared alongside lesser-known filmmakers. Yet, the most interesting aspect of the festival wasn’t actually a film.

During the first week of the festival, the Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, opened a hotel, Sleepcinemahotel. This one-off project was a fully functioning hotel, with an open-space dormitory that had beds, hammocks and showers. For €75 you got a place to lay your head, with breakfast included. Nothing out of the ordinary you might think.

Yet, 24 hours a day, hypnagogic images – the sort of thing you see in your mind as you drift off to sleep – were projected onto the hotel’s walls. There were no loops, so the same image was never projected twice during the five days that the hotel was open. Images were of sleeping animals, sleeping humans, clouds and water. When asked why he had chosen this selection of images, Weerasethakul said: “The sea is a place that inspires you to think, to align various thoughts. The horizon is the border between day and night. It evokes contradictions, such as death and life, consciousness and dreams.”

In an interview with Film Comment magazine Weerasethakul said that he wanted the guests of the hotel to create new images in their minds, as the ones projected on to the hotel walls infiltrated and affected their unconscious.

In the morning the guests were encouraged to write these dream images down in the “Dream Book”.

Dream sequence

This film-dream experiment calls into question the purpose of cinema and its function as a medium built on a clear narrative. Dreams and the unconsciousness are key components of the director’s productions. He is deeply embedded in the art house and film festival circuit – and the Rotterdam film festival has had a pivotal impact on his career. He received financial support from the Hubert Bals Fund in 1998, and ever since then, his films have been consistently screened or have been in competition there.

Photo credit: 自由馴鹿 (ZiYouXunLu)/Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC BY 3.0]
Photo credit: 自由馴鹿 (ZiYouXunLu)/Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC BY 3.0]

Weerasethakul is also known for his art installations and short films. In April 2016 he presented an all-night screening at the Tate Modern in London, consisting of four feature films and 28 shorts. During a preceding Q&A, Weerasethakul actively encouraged audience members to sleep during the screening in the hope that the images would affect their dreams. With the opening of the hotel in Rotterdam, Weerasethakul’s project, which aims to blur the boundaries between film viewing and dreaming, reached its apex.

Weerasethakul’s films have consistently had an ethereal, dreamlike quality. His loosely constructed narratives allow for moments of quietude and reflection. As such, his work is associated with the “slow cinema” aesthetic. The hallmarks of this particular style are the use of extremely long takes, static images, moments of quietness and contemplation, along with an absence of action-packed narrative – instead favouring the visualisation of the everyday existence of his characters.

But is it art?

Clearly, this can be seen as the polar opposite of much of the mainstream market. This aesthetic has received much criticism, most famously by Nick James in his editorial for the April 2010 edition of Sight & Sound (not available online).

Yet, to some degree, it has also been present in mainstream fare. One of the most celebrated sequences in cinema is the extreme long shot of Omar Sharif as he rides a camel over the crests of monolithic sand dunes in Lawrence of Arabia. This pertains to some of the hallmarks of slow cinema, yet a narrative is still present after this seminal sequence.

Play
I Escape Into the Movies.

If cinema is considered an art form as well as a commercial medium, audience expectations are going to dictate the pleasure derived from films from specific market sectors. Weerasethakul’s films can be considered a hybrid form, situated between cinema, art and dreams – outside of the mainstream. So new thinking is required to assess its value.

An art gallery allows people to meander through various artworks: paintings, sculptures and moving images. Some works may construct a narrative of sorts, drawing links with the art around them – whether that be thematic or based on the creators. Others are individual pieces that require time to absorb their beauty. Some create a sense of pace and urgency, others a sense of calm.

If all of these diverse styles, emotions and themes can be placed under one roof, why can’t they be seen on screen at the same time? Why not allow for still images within a film that are there for aesthetic beauty rather than narrative fulfilment? Sleepcinemahotel is Weerasethakul’s most direct culmination of art and cinema: the moving image, with the static.

Given that most people have a camera phone, there is a concern that the currency of the still image is becoming debased. But the moving image is alive and well. Weerasethakul shows us how to present the two forms in the same filmic text, allowing us to appreciate the moving image as well as the still frame, not just as narrative entertainment – but as art forms.

Andrew Russell, Lecturer in Film Studies, University of Portsmouth.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Can a colour encourage creativity and innovation?

The story behind the universally favoured colour - blue.

It was sought after by many artists. It was searched for in the skies and deep oceans. It was the colour blue. Found rarely as a pigment in nature, it was once more precious than gold. It was only after the discovery of a semi-precious rock, lapis lazuli, that Egyptians could extract this rare pigment.

For centuries, lapis lazuli was the only source of Ultramarine, a colour whose name translated to ‘beyond the sea’. The challenges associated with importing the stone made it exclusive to the Egyptian kingdom. The colour became commonly available only after the invention of a synthetic alternative known as ‘French Ultramarine’.

It’s no surprise that this rare colour that inspired artists in the 1900s, is still regarded as the as the colour of innovation in the 21st century. The story of discovery and creation of blue symbolizes attaining the unattainable.

It took scientists decades of trying to create the elusive ‘Blue Rose’. And the fascination with blue didn’t end there. When Sir John Herschel, the famous scientist and astronomer, tried to create copies of his notes; he discovered ‘Cyanotype’ or ‘Blueprints’, an invention that revolutionized architecture. The story of how a rugged, indigo fabric called ‘Denim’ became the choice for workmen in newly formed America and then a fashion sensation, is known to all. In each of these instances of breakthrough and innovation, the colour blue has had a significant influence.

In 2009, the University of British Columbia, conducted tests with 600 participants to see how cognitive performance varies when people see red or blue. While the red groups did better on recall and attention to detail, blue groups did better on tests requiring invention and imagination. The study proved that the colour blue boosts our ability to think creatively; reaffirming the notion that blue is the colour of innovation.

When we talk about innovation and exclusivity, the brand that takes us by surprise is NEXA. Since its inception, the brand has left no stone unturned to create exclusive experiences for its audience. In the search for a colour that represents its spirit of innovation and communicates its determination to constantly evolve, NEXA created its own signature blue: NEXA Blue. The creation of a signature color was an endeavor to bring something exclusive and innovative to NEXA customers. This is the story of the creation, inspiration and passion behind NEXA:

Play

To know more about NEXA, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of NEXA and not by the Scroll editorial team.