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Laramie Movie Scope: Shirkers

A movie about a movie and moviemakers

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 21, 2018 – There are lots of movies about movies, but this one is about a movie that never quite got finished, and the enigmatic movie director who sabotaged it. The movie that didn't get finished, titled Shirkers, the same title as this documentary about it, appears to be a kind of over-hyped avant garde home movie. What's really interesting are the people who tried to make the movie.

In 1992, Sandi Tan (who also directs this documentary) with friends Jasmine Ng, Sophie Siddique and Georges Cardona shot the independent film Shirkers in Singapore, one of the earliest indy films shot there. After filming was completed, but prior to editing, Cardona, the film, the soundtrack, and lots of other materials related to the project vanished without a trace.

This documentary is about all the effort that went into making the 1992 film Shirkers, as well as detective work to track down the history of the mysterious Georges Cardona, a smooth-talking hustler who manipulated people, lied to everyone about his past, and who is said to have repeatedly sabotaged the work of others in a number of film projects.

The movie spends a lot of time on the relationship between Sandi Tan and Georges Cardona. The two were best friends, and traveled together in the United States, even though he was married and much older than she was at the time. Her road trip inspired Tan to write a screenplay, which Cardona liked and agreed to direct.

Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique both worked hard on the project, along with Tan, scouting locations, working on the script and raising money. Others interviewed for this film acted in it. Others interviewed in this documentary worked on the soundtrack and operated the cameras. The filmmakers managed to obtain donated film and cameras to make the film that was never finished.

The film, a kind of oddball slasher road picture, was shot on a tight schedule while Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique were on break from college. Sandi Tan starred in it, which she later admitted was a mistake. She pushed everyone so hard to finish the film on time that there were hard feelings between her and her friends. Near the end of shooting, Cardona said an additional $10,000 was needed to finish the film and both Sandi and Jasmine agreed to provide the money. It appears the money was used to fund Cardona's escape, instead.

Cardona disappeared with 70 cans of film, the soundtrack and lots of other material needed to finish the film. Later, a box of video tapes was sent to Jasmine from Cardona. She and the others hoped this was the finished film, but it was a cruel joke. The tapes were all blank. What kind of person does that?

Eventually Cardona died in Houston, and his widow contacted Tan in 2011, and told her that she had found 70 cans of film labeled “Shirkers” among her late husbands effects. Tan did not look at the film until 2014 because she was afraid of being obsessed with the project, and she was right. It turns out the film can never be completed because the sound recordings are all gone, destroyed probably.

Tan starts peeling away the layers of Cardona's past, finding out his true age and birthplace (he had lied about both). She also discovered that hers was not the first film project that Cardona has sabotaged. He also seems to have destroyed part of another film made by a friend, Stephen Tyler. In the film, Tyler theorizes that maybe Cardona has some psychological need to sabotage the work of others. Ben Harrison, who composed the original score for Tan's 1992 film talks about how Cardona acted strangely before stealing his soundtrack (he recreated the soundtrack for this documentary).

Interviews with Cardona's widow (not identified in the film) and other women who knew him, indicate a pattern of talking women into donating money for his various projects, including a winery and the Lighthouse Media Center in New Orleans. Tyler and some of Cardona's other Lighthouse protégés went on to work on other films, including “Sex, Lies and Videotape.” In addition to sabotaging the work of others, Tyler said Cardona also made up lies about himself to make it seem as if he had connections to major films. Cardona seemed to be jealous of the success of his friends and students.

This film clearly opens old wounds for those who worked on that 1996 film. Sandi Tan does not shy away from the pain, or from the fact that she treated her own friends badly. Her best friend, Jasmine Ng also speaks plainly about how Tan treated her in 1996. Tan is also frank about exploring her own feelings about how the theft of her film stunted her own growth as an artist.

Tan clearly did not want Cardona to steal this film too, but he does, despite the fact that he died years ago. His enigmatic presence still haunts this film, and all who knew him, or thought that they knew him. That is too bad, because there are other people in this film that seem to be more worthy of attention than this long dead con man. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2018 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]