Singapore Sling

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In a house that could belong to Norma Desmond in a world similar to that of the Merchant/Ivory film Savages (1974) live a Daughter (Meredyth Herold) and a Mother (Michele Valley) who appear to be acting out their own nightmare version of Grey Gardens (1975). They role play, swap identities, murder indiscriminately, and generally get off on the same kinds of kinks as Jörg Buttgereit. It’s into this surrealistic fantasy that Singapore Sling (Panos Thanassoulis) arrives. He’s a kind of cast off from a Michael Avallone novel who gradually degenerates into a Samuel Beckett-esque version of Lennie Small. Nikos Nikolaidis’ most famous film, Singapore Sling (1990), is somehow all of these things and more.

Singapore Sling may be an intersection of differing aesthetic ideas but there is a clear unifying theme. More than anything else Nikos Nikolaidis seems interested in the cyclical nature of victimization. One of the keys to this reading of Singapore Sling is the persistence of fluid identities. Certain roles and the performances that accompany those roles are intrinsically linked to certain kinds of domination and submission. There is, between the two women, a binary balance in the relationship that is undone by the arrival of the title character. It’s inevitable that he will replace one of them, which he quite literally does. However Singapore Sling is not invested in maintaining this balance and sports a knife as his substitute phallus when he penetrates Daughter/Laura to death.

By the end of the film Nikos Nikolaidis believes Singapore Sling to be so emasculated that his only recourse is to brandish a large hunting knife where his penis “used to be”. Nikos Nikolaidis’ gender politics in Singapore Sling are heavily steeped in Freudian psychology and cannot permit the Mother and Daughter to both survive and triumph.

Comparisons between Nikos Nikolaidis’ Singapore Sling and David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977) seem to miss the fact that the only things these two films have in common is their black and white cinematography and that each film is a very personal realization of the filmmakers’ own neuroses. The industrial landscape and harsh shadows of Lynch are nowhere to be found in Singapore Sling just as none of Nikos Nikolaidis manic depictions of female hysteria and southern gothic trappings are absent from Eraserhead.

Singapore Sling is a mess of a film that’s rendered beautifully by its photography and production design. If it weren’t for these two features I doubt much of the film would feel so cohesive. Singapore Sling is a cult classic and in that context is enjoyable as a kind of mindless spectacle. Yet, any closer examinations or thoughtful considerations reveal the film to be highly flawed and unfocused.