Singapore sling: O anthropos pou agapise ena ptoma
AKA Singapore Sling: The Man Who Loved a Corpse
“You know the feeling of something half remembered,
Of something that never happened, yet you recall it well;
You know the feeling of recognizing someone
That you’ve never met as far as you could tell…”–Johnny Mercer, “Laura”
DIRECTED BY: Nikos Nikolaidis
FEATURING: Meredyth Herold, Panos Thanassoulis, Michele Valley
PLOT: A detective is searching for a missing girl, Laura, a supposed murder victim with whom he was in love and who he believes is still alive. Suffering from an unexplained bullet wound, he follows the trail to a villa where a psychotic “Daughter” and an equally insane “Mother” live in a sick relationship, hiring servants whom they later kill. When the enfeebled detective stumbles to their door, the two women capture him, dub him “Singapore Sling” after a cocktail recipe they find in his pocket, and use him in their sadomasochistic sex games.
- Much of the plot references Otto Preminger‘s classic thriller/film noir, Laura, including prominent use of the famous theme song.
- Director Nikos Nikolaidis is well-known in Greece and is sometimes considered the godfather of the “Greek Weird Wave” films (best known in the work of Yorgos Lanthimos). Singapore Sling is his only work that is widely available outside of Greece.
- Singapore Sling was one of the top three vote getters in 366 Weird Movies first Apocryphally Weird movie poll, making it one of the most popular weird movies left off the 366 Weird Movies canon.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Warning: there are a lot of images in Singapore Sling which you would probably like to forget, but will be unable to. Among the least objectionable (believe it or not) is Daughter’s memory (?) of losing her virginity to “Father”: he appears as a bandage-swathed mummy.
TWO WEIRD THINGS: Earrings on organs; mummy incest
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Imagine a cross between Laura and Salo, as directed by a young Luis Buñuel dabbling in pornography, and you’ll have some idea of what you’re in for—but it’s slightly weirder than that.
Short clip from Singapore Sling (1990) (in Greek)
COMMENTS: Singapore Sling blatantly references Otto Preminger’s
Laura, to the point where it could almost be accused of being an uncredited Surrealist remake of the 1944 classic film noir. The tribute extends to the name of the murder victim who may not be dead. It’s possible, however, that Laura’s famous, haunting theme song was an even bigger influence on Singapore Sling than the movie it came from. We hear the plaintive tune in two versions: Glenn Miller’s Mancini-esque instrumental arrangement from Laura, and Julie London’s ghostly half-a capella rendition, recorded at a teasingly slow tempo from within an echo chamber. And even more significant than the tune are Johnny Mercer’s song lyrics, which he wrote before he had seen the movie. Daughter recites them to Singapore Sling while she rides him during their first (conscious) sex scene: “Laura is the face in the misty light… That was Laura, but she’s only a dream…”
Then Daughter vomits on Singapore Sling’s face… but that’s getting ahead of the story. Mercer’s lyrics set a mysterious mood of longing for an indistinct romantic ideal, a lingering memory so distant that it has become indistinguishable from a dream. In the hard-boiled opening monologue, spoken over Miller’s mournful trombone, the nameless detective who will become our Singapore Sling delivers exposition that suggests Laura‘s plot, but also recalls the song lyrics. He recounts how catching a scent on a passing woman will set him to thinking of Laura again (much as the narrator in Mercer’s lyrics suggests that glimpsing a woman on a passing train sparks memories of his lost ideal). In the closing monologue, he laments that he’s the type of guy who “chases a dream with a female name” (recalling the momentous line “That was Laura, but she’s only a dream.”) In the song, Laura has faded, become an emotion rather than a person, and the uncertainty of Singapore Sling‘s “Laura” reflects this phantasmal quality. Daughter, by her own unreliable admission, killed Laura. But she also masquerades as Laura, both in a role-playing game with Mother and in order to milk information from Singapore Sling. At other times, she tells him “This Laura you’re looking for is only an illusion.” But she could actually be Laura, because, as we will see, people who cross the threshold and enter this house lose their identities, along with their minds. At times, Singapore Sling thinks Daughter really is Laura—although he is in a delirium from hunger, pain and dehydration. At times, Daughter acts as if she really thinks she is Laura—although she’s been stone cold crazy from the start. The whole crazy scenario recalls not only the misdirection of Laura but the Carlotta/Madeleine/Judy confusion of Vertigo.
In its best moments, Singapore Sling is about capturing that wistful mood of longing for an idealized, unobtainable romance—and the beautiful pain that it brings. The amazing black and white cinematography (which really should have been lensed in Academy ratio) conjures imagery much like the song’s “face in the misty light”: rain pounding on the sidewalk, curtains billowing in corridors, lovely cameos from the past. The costuming is sumptuous and recalls the elegance of classic Hollywood : Michele Valley’s headdress would fit perfectly on Mata Hari’s head. The Greek mansion where the action takes place could have been a summer home for Sunset Boulevard‘s Nora Desmond.
But although the film’s look and sound deliberately evoke Hollywood classicism, the film’s action violently and obscenely undermines it. An early scene hints at the transgressions to come: after the opening credits play over a tranquil garden soaked by a steady rainfall, we see two woman in lingerie digging a grave, and a flash of pubic hair under one’s gown. Once the detective enters the women’s lair, he is immediately seized, bound, used for sex, and warned that he will be subjected to torture. The scenes that follow are intense and repulsive; they are best not described, but be assured that even the most jaded viewers will find something here that will tempt them to turn away from the screen. Sexual torture, fetishistic bondage, bodily fluids, and a vomitous feast or two where the two women greedily devour a luscious smorgasbord of organ meats are all on the menu. Excess is the strategy here, but an intoxicated Nikolaidis overplays it, frequently leaving the camera on too long, turning some of the scenes from mere shocks into endurance tests. The debaucheries could have been expressed more economically and hit just as hard (as was the case in the necrophiliac incest scene, which is brief but incredibly effective). If he had toned the S&M and grossout marathons down, Singapore Sling may have been a stronger film—though a less notorious one.
The perversion breaks the mood, yet perversely also reinforces it. The tone shift suggests that Singapore Sling‘s film noir trappings are an outdated, artificial romanticism that is counterbalanced by gritty, visceral realities. The detective is dangerously out of touch, because outsiders do not live by his code of honor or respect the nobility of his ardor. The two women quickly turn on him, use him, and torment him for their own selfish desires. Their lives revolve around brutal bodily realities: viscera, blood, gorging and puking. He comes from a 1940s Hollywood dream world, where people symbolize emotional states, while they exist in a universe of torture porn. But their world, while physical rather than spiritual, is not depicted as more real than his; when they take the organs out of their prey and throw them in the sink, the heart still beats. He speaks only in cliché voiceovers, but the women break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience. Both sides are deranged, but on opposite ends of the spectrum; normality is nowhere to be found. None of our usual narrative expectations work to guide us through this story. Yet, true to genre, by the end we genuinely want Singapore Sling to recover his mind, kill the two psychopathic women, end the insanity, and escape from this house of horrors. The operatic finale is upholds the film’s depravity, but is also legitimately cathartic. It restores the sense of romantic noir longing that we started with—we have traveled through the perversion and come out the other side, a little queasy, but re-enchanted by the tragic poetry.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“All the ambiguity and weirdness only serves as a hypocritical facade for what is, ultimately, a rather revolting exercise in cinematic shock… this is not to suggest that Singapore Sling is without merit, however. While the film definitely suffers from an overdose of avant-garde superficiality, one is left admiring the sheer skill and artistry of its execution… Even so, one is left wishing that the director had used his obvious technical expertise to better ends.”–Troy Howarth, Eccentric Cinema (DVD)
“…a bizarre film to try and get a grip on… Trying to follow the plot is like trying to get a grip on an oiled fish.”–Richard Schieb, Moria: Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review
SINGAPORE SLING – nikos nikolaidis – A large gallery of stills and the director’s comments highlight the Singapore Sling page at what appears to be the late director’s official site. Poke around the site for further interviews and articles.
IMDB LINK: Singapore Sling (1990)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
SINGAPORE SLING HD TRAILER – The NSFW trailer
Singapore sling (1990) – Trailer – A longer and even more NSFW trailer
Singapore Sling: Postmodern Noir, Narrative, and Destructive Desire – David Church examines Singapore Sling as a postmodern noir for “Off Screen” magazine
RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SINGAPORE SLING [O ANTHROPOS POU AGAPISE ENA PTOMA] (1990): Eric Gabbard‘s original recommendation for this site
HOME VIDEO INFO: Synapse Films released Singapore Sling on DVD sometime in 2006, but all traces of that edition seem to have vanished; perhaps it was only a dream. There are plenty of options to purchase the film in Region2/B (Europe), but for North Americans the best (and maybe only) choice is the German Blu-ray issued by Bildstörung (buy). It has German language packaging and menus and no extra features, but the film looks and sounds terrific (aside from being cropped from its original dimensions). Most importantly, it will play on standard North American players.
Singapore Sling is not available on streaming services, and due to its specialized appeal, it’s not likely to ever be picked up. It remains a true underground cult film in an era when any property that can make a copyright holder at least $5 has been monetized to death.
4 thoughts on “3*. SINGAPORE SLING (1990)”
Finally! Thanks for considering this little gem! To me it’s the perfect example for exploitation cinema going arthouse and swiftly back again. Best pornography mixed with a noir-twisted plot and feverish atmospheres.
The blu-ray release should include the documentary RAISING HELL. And for the hardcore, there is a DVD boxset of all of Nikolaidis’ feature films, available for purchase via the director’s website.
The Bildstörung Blu-ray doesn’t have the documentary, unless it’s a well-hidden Easter egg. Some of the other European releases might have it.