Shirkers

A successful novelist rediscovers the film she almost finished in her youth.

It’s been a good year for movies about the making of unfinished films of the same name: Hot on the heels of Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind comes Sandi Tan’s Shirkers. Shirkers was also the name of a film the teenaged Tan, now a novelist, wrote and acted in in early 1990s Singapore along with her friends Sophie and Jasmine. The 1990s Shirkers was directed by an American expatriate who was not only a film teacher, but also said he was the basis for James Spader’s character in sex, lies, and videotape while citing Klaus Kinski in Fitzcarraldo as a personal inspiration. Those red flags would eventually burst into flames when he disappeared with the footage.

Come to think of it, Tan’s 2018 Shirkers is a closer parallel to Wind’s companion documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, since Wind was always intended to be a mock-doc about an unfinished fictional film while Dead and the new Shirkers are both doc-docs about unfinished real films. (Got it?) If it’s problematic to keep comparing Tan’s film to movies by old white men, the 2018 Shirkers itself is ultimately less about the unfinished 1990s film and more about the man who kept it from fruition. Thankfully, that makes it no less welcome an addition to the canon.

Not rated. Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.

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