Ho Tzu Nyen about Bohemian Rhapsody
wall-text accompanying the work for the biennale:
"Over the months of June and July 2006, four rounds of auditions were
held for the role of the protagonist in a film based on the lyrics of
Queen's 1975 hit Bohemian Rhapsody, a song that replaces the formulaic
verse-chorus-verse structure of the average pop song with multiple
role-playing and an almost schizophrenic mesh of multiple musical
Of the many professional and non-professional auditionees who turned
up, 22 of them were invited to a final round of auditions that was
held in a former courtroom at the City Hall. This audition was held
in the presence of specially invited spectators, 18 other specially
rehearsed cast members, as well as a film crew. Of these 22
auditionees, 21 were selected for the final 'film', which is composed
solely of these 'audition' footages.
The resulting film, cut to the original duration of Bohemian Rhapsody
(5 mins 52 secs), simultaneously functions as a record of this
'audition'. Just as importantly, the film, which oscillates between
spoken text and occasional musical cues, is a vehicle that solicits
the viewers' recollection of the song and encourages their
participation in an exercise of mental karaoke."
I'll elaborate here a little more about my intentions with regards to
I wanted to try to make a film whereby its process of production could
be folded inside the image - so the entire film was shot with 3
cameras, arranged in a straightline, so that they are almost always
filming each other - yet this is not so much a self-reflexive gesture
as a way to roll this self-reflexivity within the bigger rhythm of the
film and the song.
The entire film is also shot with The City Hall, the former Supreme
Court of Singapore, which played its horrid part in putting many
people to death (we have one of the heaviest death penalty system in
Singapore). The City Hall, and The Supreme Court is one of the
Singapore Biennale's exhibition site. So this video, which is
presented also on that site folds in the surrounding space (and the
memory of the space's former use) into the image.
The lead role - of the protagonist (the boy defendant) is the one role
open to an audition system. On the one hand this conflates the theme
of legal judgement (which briefly escalates into spiritual judgement
with the Velasquez/Bacon Cardinal) and judgement of Director in the
process of audition. On the other hand, by training all the other
crew and cast members to repeat their actions before an unsuspecting
auditionee, the entire film shoot becomes an assembly line that
processes all these young hopeful actors, in an analogy with the way
that bio-matter is processed impersonally by the legal machinery.
As a narrative is often centered around a main protagonist, I wanted
to experiment with a narrativity where the main protagonist is no
longer embodied by an individual actor. But rather the thread of the
narrative, which is the lyrics of an old song, passes through him.
Moreover the story is not that of an individual, but rather numerous
lives ended by the iron hand of the law.
More importantly, I wanted this thread to be spun by the spectators
themselves - it is the spectator's memory of the lyrics and melody of
The Bohemian Rhapsody that I wanted to solicit - so that the
spectator's own projection could be overlaid onto the projected image
- this is what I meant in the wall-text by mental karaoke.
And because the song is old, recollection of its melody inevitably
will bring about some form of emotions, and I wondered if these
emotions could be harnessed into a kind of plea for all the young boys
pleading for their lives.
Slowly too, I see my engagements with video/film as attempts to repeat
and misuse readymade cultural objects - either national history
(Utama), art history (4 x 4) and now pop cultural history.I was also
hoping to compress all these above intentions into a very short work
(in contrast to my older, longer, more pedagogic productions) - so it
was useful to use a song, and stick to its readymade durational
framework (5 mins 52 secs). I guess I was hoping the video could work
like a song - it could be short and sweet, but with repeated
listenings, its implications could be explicated, folded out...
And this process of compression and folding is something that I feel
to be very closely tied up with how I think about time - I hope that
the presentness of watching the film is constantly opened up to
recollection (memories of the song, the courtroom that the spectators
had visited, memories of those of lost their lives there), and maybe,
hopefully a kind of futurity - because right after the film, the
spectators would emerge from the screening to walk the very same
corridors and same staircases, and exit via the same iron doors as
those with which I ended the film.
I guess this sums up a large part of my intentions. I have no
illusions about fulfilling all or most of them...