Past event

Sleepy Cinema, Queer Phenomenology, and Tsai Ming-liang's No No Sleep Film Studies Speaker Series with Nicholas de Villiers

The concept of “sexual disorientation” was first proposed by Michael Moon in an essay on Kenneth Anger and David Lynch, and further elaborated by Sarah Ahmed in Queer Phenomenology (with regard to the experience of migration and queer relations to home). In this presentation, I show how Malaysian-born Taiwan-based filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang connects sexual disorientation to spatial disorientation specifically through his manipulation of cinematic space. I also foreground the role of “orientation” (including the connotations of “orient”) in Tsai's evolving relationship to Taiwan, Malaysia, France, and Japan. I argue that Tsai's “sleepy cinema” suggests an experience of film that is melancholy, sleepy, and cruisy. The concept of the spectator as sleepy or cruisy is particularly relevant to Tsai's film about a cruisy movie theater on the night of its final screening, Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003), which I have previously linked to Roland Barthes's “Leaving the Movie Theater” as a way to bring out the queer spatial practices of cruising and the ethical role cruising plays within Tsai's exploration of urban “queerscapes.” Tsai also “disorients” space through juxtapositions of public/private (rented spaces), reality/fantasy (abrupt musical numbers), and waking/sleeping (“sleepy” is a third term, reminiscent of Proust's opening to Swann's Way). The spectator of Tsai's films might feel sleepy (“dreamy”) but is also remarkably alert to minute details of daily life, which links his filmic practice to Andy Warhol. Warhol and Tsai are queer filmmakers worth comparing, I suggest, so here I connect Warhol's Sleep (1963) with Tsai's No No Sleep (2015), a short film shot in Japan in a sauna and capsule hotel, another rented, “cruisy” space, and his film I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, where I argue that Tsai explores both spatial and sexual disorientation. No No Sleep is one of Tsai's “post-retirement” films in the “Walker” series of international site-specific, exhibition/platform-specific collaborations with his muse Lee Kang-sheng walking incredibly slowly, based on the 16th century Chinese story of the Tang dynasty Buddhist monk Xuanzang's legendary pilgrimage to India. But I use the film in this presentation as a way to catalogue the intertextual and intratextual motifs of homoeroticism, cruisy rented spaces, and sleepy affect that pervade Tsai's body of work.