Review: Singing in Graveyards (2016)

Singing in Graveyards (dir. Bradley Liew, 2016) – Pepe Smith, a 68 year old impersonator of a Filipino rock legend, is given the chance to open for the latter’s concert.

Verdict

A moving portrait of impending mortality, Singing in Graveyards crafts a powerful character study beyond a predictable comeback story.

4/5

Review

Making an impressive debut at Singapore International Film Festival 2016, Singing in Graveyards tells the riveting story behind acclaimed Filipino musician Pepe Smith. Well, almost. The part-fiction narrative fascinatingly draws a hard divide between Smith and his famed stage persona.

Portraying the former as an impersonator rather than the bona fide musician himself, the film creates an interesting literal disconnect between the man and his on-stage successes as Joey. Some legends find themselves forgotten and left behind by time. What more, for one who has lived his life only in the shadow of another?

There were better times. In his prime, Smith had once basked in the warmth of the limelight to cheers and applause. It is only with this taste of recognition that he gets to miss what he once had. There is after all, only so much room on a stage at a time. Fading into obscurity is sometimes more painful than never having made it at all.

Photo: Epicmedia Productions

If no longer in critical acclaim, the fuel that Smith finds is in his pure passion for music. Yet in an industry driven by numbers and figures, the constant pressure of commercial success forces him to compromise in his craft. Reality forces disillusionment, as a need for profit and commercial success favours duplication of proven formulas over creation.

All this, at a cost. Conformity feeds the artist but kills the soul. The fire of rock and roll that thrives on rebellion, starts to suffocate. Harsh realities come through in subtle terms, its implications inducing thoughtful introspection and heartrending impact.

Photo: Epicmedia Productions

The smothering sense of solitude follows and makes its presence felt. Little by little, the musician becomes a prisoner of himself, unable to find comfort in his art nor broken relationships with those around him.

When given his last shot at an opening slot for Joey’s gig, Smith struggles to find inspiration and his own voice. While the tune may have remained the same, the world has never stopped moving on. Age catches up with him, and Smith finds his loneliness a wrenching reminder of how little he has achieved in his pursuit of ambition. What has he left? The hollowness he feels, palpably aches.

In all, Singing in Graveyards paints a powerful picture, its meaning beyond the trite path of a washed up musician in his latter years. At the impending end of his mortality, Smith leaves a mark with his haunting song, one that soars above forgotten graves and the quiet echoes of an empty room.

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