July 19, 2005: Headlines: Figures: COS - Malawi: Writing - Malawi: Channel News Asia: Book to detail the story behind Paul Theroux's "Saint Jack"

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Book to detail the story behind Paul Theroux's "Saint Jack"

Book to detail the story behind Paul Theroux's Saint Jack

Saint Jack explored the seamier side of Singapore, offering a perspective into the flesh trade and gangsterism. The film cast the state as a rest-and-relax spot for American GIs involved in the Vietnam War. Author Paul Theroux served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi in the 1960's. Theroux next taught at the University of Singapore. It was during this job that Theroux decided to be a full time writer. Theroux wrote Saint Jack after leaving Singapore while living in the English countryside of Dorset.

Book to detail the story behind Paul Theroux's "Saint Jack"

What's the story behind Bogdanovich's Saint Jack?
By Yong Shu Chiang, TODAY

At the time the first edition of Star Wars was playing in Singapore cinemas, a Hollywood crew headed by a noted American film-maker was in town to shoot a movie.

The working title of the film, shot in 1978, was Jack of Hearts.

Now, 27 years on, the Star Wars circle has run its course ¡ª twice, if you include the reissues. And film aficionados would know that noted director Peter Bogdanovich's film wasn't released as Jack of Hearts but was instead titled Saint Jack, the story based on Paul Theroux's novel about an American pimp hustling for a living in Singapore.

Hence the subterfuge.

To this day, the film is still rather obscure and is banned in Singapore, although it did play once at the Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF) in 1997.

And to this day, Bogdanovich, who rose to fame with The Last Picture Show in 1977, and who discovered and romanced actress Cybil Shepherd, still regrets having had to deceive the local authorities.

So, he's told the story of the making of Saint Jack to locally-based British author Ben Slater.

With the book, Slater aims to discover why the production, bankrolled by king of United States B-grade movies Roger Corman, was "a life-altering experience" for Bogdanovich. That's how the director has described his time in Singapore in interviews over the years.

Expected to be out at the end of this year, the as-yet-unnamed book is the first for Slater, an expatriate who has been involved with local theatre group Spell#7 since 1998. He made his move here permanent in 2002.

Slater, formerly a film curator in England, had originally intended to make a documentary on the subject matter. He said he was fascinated with the movie and the stories behind it because of its many connections to the history, and indeed the film history, of Singapore.

"I think Singapore has a really rich and interesting recent history. What I found researching the book is that it's not easy to get in touch with that history," he said.

"Saint Jack represented the ends of two eras really. It was the end of the era of Singapore as an exciting, vibrant old port - the ex-colony that was a kind of Wild West town."

Saint Jack explored the seamier side of Singapore, offering a perspective into the flesh trade and gangsterism. The film cast the state as a rest-and-relax spot for American GIs involved in the Vietnam War.

"It also marked the end of Hollywood film-making in the 1970s," he added, referring to the marginalisation of auteurism with the subsequent advent of teen-oriented blockbusters, such as Star Wars.

Another significant tidbit about the film was that it starred George Lazenby - the actor who was briefly Bond, James Bond. Lazenby was in Singapore at the time to film an episode of Hawaii Five-O.

And, despite being a critical if not commercial hit, the film revived the careers of Bogdanovich - who'd suffered a series of flops leading up to Saint Jack - and lead actor Ben Gazzara, who's still acting today at 75.

It also featured many local actors, many making their screen debut, including the girl who played Gazzara's love interest, Monika Subramaniam.

She famously turned down an offer from Playboy to pose nude.

Thus far, Slater has been able to track down many of those who formed the Hollywood crew - including Bogdanovich, Gazzara, cinematographer Robby Muller, producer George Morfogen and gaffer Jacques Steyn.

He's also spoken to Subramaniam, who's now living in the US with her American businessman husband.

However, Slater has had a harder time finding many of the locals involved in the production, as most used screen names or neglected to include their full names in the cast credits.

"The local angle is going to be fascinating," Slater said.

"Even if they don't remember that much (about the making of the movie), what's happened to them since, who they are now - all that is interesting to me."

Slater, who curated a programme at the 2003 SIFF that included a film about decaying movie stock, said he was writing the book, to be published by a "major regional publisher", to bring to attention the number of movie gems that fade into obscurity over time.

"I guess I really want to revive interest in the film, because a lot of really great films have been lost over the years.

"Saint Jack is an excellent and unusual film." - TODAY/jt

Copyright © 2005 MCN International Pte Ltd

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Story Source: Channel News Asia

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Figures; COS - Malawi; Writing - Malawi


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