Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Reversal of the Criminal: on Jafar Panahi's Taxi (2015)



Ever since his conviction, Jafar Panahi has violated his suspension on film-making multiple times under the veils but in Taxi, he finally took this violation into the public space. The film opened with a frame of the roads of Tehran. Moments later on revealed that this was a security camera mounted on the dashboard. The next scenes that we will see are crimes unveiling itself in front of the camera which reminds us of the functions of such surveillance devices: to capture criminals perpetrating their crimes.

In a way, such is the limit of these devices: crimes need to happen first before these cameras fulfill their purpose. Isn't it why we never really feel completely "secured" or "safe" even when having these kinds of devices installed in our premises? It's because we have to see that it works! We have to see that it captured a crime and a criminal!

That is what Panahi's Taxi has given: the spectacle of surveillance. While still keeping his meta-filmic traditions, Panahi served the surveillance camera and gave it what it wants in redundancy, even revealing his passengers as accomplices by having them contribute footage from their own handheld devices. Panahi and his collaborators gladly took the reversal of the criminal who, instead of avoiding the surveillance camera, are willing to be captured in its footage.

In most cases, security cameras are installed on places where crimes are most likely to occur, thus the second and most important idea behind it: someone should and must watch over its footage. This function, similar to the Orwellian tyranny, has given Panahi's Taxi a sense of great discomfort, the physical taxi itself and the conversations inside it as a reaction to this tyranny. It isn't hard to notice that Panahi's character has shown much restraint from talking: he is aware that somebody is watching. This silence is probably the most straight-forward image of the attack that the film has done.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Notes on Drone Cinematography

Four-rotor blade choppers, such as the Bell Boeing QuadTiltrotor model for US Army's heavy lift program, are still projects in progress. Most of the successes for its researches are on smaller object lifting, thus, the use for mobile surveillance devices. Parrot's consumer-grade drones might be just a lesser version of these surveillance devices which has been used by the military on conflicts and campaigns as early as the Cold War.

The coming of the AR(Augmented Reality) Drone cameras in the early 2010s gave access to another way of photographic and cinematic imagining for professionals, artists and hobbyists of video. The idea of having an "eye from above" attracts so much that it was celebrated[1]. Like a lot of cinematic technological progresses such as the High-Definition Camera, drone cameras trace its historical use back to being technologies of war.

With the use of drone, the "track" in the "tracking shot" brings us back to its military meaning of "monitor" instead of "follow". "The function of the weapon is the function of the eye", as Virilio pointed out, but let's take it in reverse: "the function of the eye is the function of the weapon"[2].  To "track" now, is not just to follow its subject, but to attack.

Drone shot in That Thing Called Tadhana

The scene in which the "eye" follows Mace and Anthony from behind while they run on a mountain in Sagada in Jadaone's That Thing Called Tadhana is probably the most memorable recent example in Filipino Cinema which uses this "new tracking shot". In this scene, while the running humans are still its subject, the frame focused on the surroundings, like how surveillance cameras do. The "eye" cares not if it sees anyone in the frame. It just needs to cover the place. This is why the “guardians” of Sagada are not entirely wrong when they blamed Jadaone’s film and other films shot within the same time frame after it as the factor which left Sagada with lots of waste. After all, the shot just fulfil its purpose: to capture the place, showcase it in spectacle. Spectacles attract. The shot was an attack on Sagada.


In the same fashion, another recent Filipino film, Lakbay2Love, used the same drone technology. The film "strongly advocates biking as well as love for the environment as captured in its scenic shots"[3], the "scenic shots" mentioned are mostly drone captured, probably took up around 40% of the film. While the drone shots used itself are clear, and subjects are focused, the shots lacked context. It might as well be considered an "attack" on what it should be advocating on: biking. The shots capture the "beauty" of "nature", but never the "beauty: of biking, while the spectacle of "beauty" of "nature" itself was never really an effective image to drive "environmentalism". Advocacy was lost in most shots. 

Tag

In contrast of the use of drones for spectacle, Sion Sono's Tag goes back the drone as an "eye" and "weapon". The drone shots made for Tag queued of its theme as it looks very similar to frame angles for mid-90s 3D RPGs. The "eyes" are not only conscious, they are controlling. The "eye" is also the "hand". 

Attempts to utilize war technologies to create a spectacle never really hide its tyrannical qualities. Discomfort sneaks in on every animated "beauty" shots of skewed wide-angle lenses. It would not be surprising that soon the use of these surveillance devices would extend into the private spaces of personal happenings. Nuptial shoots captured by drones not to keep memories but to take a look from "God's eye view". 


1. "The Eye from above" was the theme of Youtube's AR.Drone Film Festival, held in 2012, in partnership with Parrot (http://blog.parrot.com/2012/11/07/ardrone-film-festival/).
2. Virilio, Paul. War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception. Translated by Patrick Camiller. Verso Radical Thinkers Series, 2009.
3. From the Lakbay2Love press kit. 


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Automaton Writings #2: Err, Bliss and More Err

Disclaimer: This actually acts as "Minutes of the Meeting" of sorts for a meeting which took place last Monday.
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One hot afternoon, early this week, I'm not really too hot myself to take a walk, no one is. It would take an effort for one to get up from the comfort of his own roof to go out and be somewhere. I've decided to grab a sundae, something that I would not normally do. I walked up at a coffee shop in Atrium just beside where I bought the sundae, I'm seeing Christopher Ad Castillo lining up the order queue from a distance. He noticed me and waved back. It's minutes after 1:00pm that all the other guys arrived: Jose Alejandro Eduarte and Carlo Cielo. "The troublemakers", Chris exclaimed. It includes me.

Chris landed early that morning from L.A., he's been meaning to spoil to us Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special which he saw just before he boarded the plane. After the whole 4-5 hours of meeting about possible projects and all, I still kept myself a bit more quiet than the rest of them. I've been trying to absorb much as I can. Not meeting and talking with other people about the things that interests me all these years kept me sort of out of loop and sort of dumb in most ways. I have absorbed as much as I can.

These recent weeks kept me thinking of what to do moving forward. What to do in the coming days. What must be done to make it work. I remember someone who shut himself away from everyone thinking that it would accomplish what he wants to do. I figured to do the opposite: I've decided to still do the things I do now, only with more intensity. With more interest. With more energy, something which I think the corporate world has taken a lot from me that it made me disinterested of the things I love.

I'm trying to keep the love.

The recent weeks are full of errors. These recent days tired me. I'm just glad the people who are around me now decided to help me accomplish what I want to do. Basically, I'm just glad that there are people around me now.

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We talked about our recent observations in Cinema, given the profile of people I'm meeting with, you probably know what they are talking about. But the basic thing that the meeting would like to address is to stop the scene from being stagnant. To look ahead of what's present and look out for something new: just like how the scene was when it was starting. Just like how every scenes were when those were just starting.

Like every other art scene, stagnation and dictatorship of templates and formulas aren't new when it gets to a point that market has seen it's potential, or the other way around: when artists themselves see what is marketable from the different approaches that was done, might be by accident or by intensive trials and errors. The Post-Hardcore scene has been experiencing it for sometime now, the Philippine Independent Film Scene is experiencing it now. What makes it unique from the film scene is that, the template or formula that manifested is not rooted from the scene itself but from a bigger machinery of market. But like all other art scene crises, stagnation causes it's audience to be comfortable with a certain template, to the point that this template became the introductory and the most accessible piece of the said scene, mainly because, of it's market value. In consequence, there are now certain hostilities against those who would attempt experimentation and explorations of the medium, and the sidelines mostly just kept its core audience and not branch out to reach new ones in fear and in (unconscious, maybe) prejudice of the larger audience of the scene. That there wouldn't be any appreciation that will be received, even if it's screened for free. Hence, the term "dictatorship". Sadder is that it is those who must protect the scene, producers and reviewers, who lacks interests and shelve aside bolder works that may have been something. And this has been proven by the selection of films that are allowed to be produced by these grant-giving bodies, in which most independent artists depend on for secured screenings after production. The greatest films are destroyed even before pre-production.

From time to time, you may hear about pitching stories for these grant giving bodies (or even production stories) when you're around with people who work in Cinema: horror stories worthy of their own movies.

People who work in Cinema and those who watch Cinema has seen what the market-driven model is capable of doing in its people and in Cinema itself, what made me scared of what was happening recently is how passively was everything is accepted these past 2 years, where as, none of these trends would have been totally acceptable half a decade ago. The should-have-been-vanguards doesn't seem to care now, and a lot of them has been absorbed already by the market too, and those who should not have nothing to do with everything are working in the market. Filtering what should and should not be in their works. If this continues, not only we will be left with bad films, but also with the worst audience. "If Kubrick tried to release "The Shining" today, he would have been bombed by these new audience and filmmakers", me paraphrasing Chris on one of the conversations.

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A lot in the conversation sounds harsh, as harsh as they are in social media, but this is because of something bigger. Especially when you are listening to Carlo talk in real life. Passion is where the hypertext and the voice differs. It won't just get through the internet.

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The internet, social media, has been an issue now of the Cinema-market and it's workers, to a point that a lot of it's workers would work to their bones to get a "5/5" rating of a certain reviewer. The rating systems of different websites and blogposts has been barometers over the past years for workers of the Cinema-market and its audience, to a point that these are being taken as "objective" data. Numbers devoid one of subjectivity.

Monday, January 18, 2016

I tried: 2015 in Short Films (sort of)

*This is also intended as my ballot for Pinoy Rebyu's Best Short Films of 2015 poll.

Some weeks ago, I asked Skilty (the one who organized this poll) what does he think of 2015 for short films. He answered: "maraming matino ang pagkakagawa" ("most have decent production"). This remains true, however, I still find it hard to assess last year (or even the past 3 years) for short films: while the comfort of digital film-making brought short films at par with (or probably even better than) most feature length films, the recent years have seen lesser filmmakers who explore and experiment with the medium, probably the only things I look for in a short film. This list might be the reflection of that personal struggle to find challenging pieces of work.

The last year has also been a challenging year for me for witnessing cinema as life always needs more urgent attention, so forgive me if most of what was written here are either films I saw on CinemaLibre Film Screenings (probably the only times that I've actually watched a film in a venue) which I helped organized or films and video works which were released online. I have not covered much from last year, but I think this lot that I've listed below are nonetheless the more interesting bunch from the films I get to see from last year (also, thanks to Skilty from helping us participants of this poll to catch up).

You might notice my thematic selection of meta-cinematic works and analog-fusion works in this list: these recent trend of exploring cinematic history thru films and technology has taken an interest in me, as though these filmmakers were trying to find answers by placing contrasts in place: the past and the present, the hardware and the software. The rest of the films I mentioned here were just from my own honest personal liking that I really wanted to share with everyone, hoping you'd find the same experiences I did.


10. Pusong Bato (Pam Miras)
True to it's title, Miras' Pusong Bato involves two people who have never opened themselves to each other over the course of the whole film. The notion of being "stucked" is apparent throughout the films, and maybe, the filmmakers themselves who seems not to get tired playing around with celluloid hand-processing. I'd say that it's still worth the adoration the way they still wanted to physically interact with the medium, however, this is a work with old tricks (pseudo-flickers, etc). Pusong Bato, while itself can be called an achievement in persistence of celluloid production, must remain as a reminder for the Tito and Tita collective to explore what more the hand-processing method could give them aside from getting the retro film. How about let's take this question for a queue: Would celluloid give us the feel of a future?


9. Dindo (Martika Ramirez Escobar)
Editing was the highlight in Dindo: it stressed an editor's function as something as vital as the director's all in an easy to digest manner. Ramirez never really had any trouble making any film she made as light as possible but still retaining wit and intellect, making her the most audience-friendly young filmmaker working today.



8. Sanctissima (Kenneth Dagatan)
Dagatan's Sanctissima showed the thin line between love and bizarre - how one would go to extended measures to nurture, extend and protect who they love. This would have been a good poetry about motherhood, but only with flesh eating and demons. Sanctissima was made with all the basic elements of horror films made more effective with great screen composition.



7. Shotgun Tuding (Shireen Seno)
The question of why Shotgun Tuding was created is still a mystery to me, but one thing's for sure, it wouldn't be made if not with 16mm. The desaturated frames compliments a lot with the sand dunes, the western inspired costumes and the B-movie-ish production design. I wonder how would it feel if this was seen projected in celluloid.



6. Iris (Mike Esteves)
Esteves's silent work took obssession in weird turns. One would see Wes Anderson on one side and feel Junji Ito on the other. The almost 1:1 aspect ratio added tension on every pan of the screen, some scenes are too tense it's almost dreamlike. A weird mix of beauty and absurd.


5. Mga Alingawngaw sa Panahon ng Pagpapasya (Hector Barretto Calma)
The main achievement of Mga Alingawngaw... is that it's one of the works that actually took a step on criticizing the current administration (though indirectly) and take a look of the situation of it's current milieu and what is actually happening to their own country: one thing that almost all Filipino Filmmakers (young and old) seem to have forgotten to do with all these recent wave of feelms. Mga Alingawngaw... makes me think that the recent scene is not yet a hopeless case as long as people like Calma are still creating films.



4. Cyber D3vil X Ahas (Timmy Harn)
Harn did what was usually isn't done by filmmakers here: to extend the universe of the films they created. Cyber D3vil X Ahas follows the reptilian, in contrast with what we saw in Ang Pagbabalat ng Ahas, being free and enjoying himself in a bicycle. The film is presenting a narrative possibility that may or may not happen, but sure is something worth considering to be extended.



3. Corazon (Francis Sacil-Espina)
What seems to be a murder scene was actually a double suicide gone wrong. Espina retold Romeo and Juliet backwards in crisp black and white cinematography in high contrast to compliment a song of adoration by Brickcity - whom I consider as the most interesting musical act in the country right now. Espina also did a great video work for Brickcity's Common Remedies for Contemporary People last year.



2. Man in the Cinema House (Bernard Jay Mercado)
Mercado couldn't be any more clearer of his criticisms and intentions to Philippine Cinema. What he presented in The Man in the Cinema House is not just the things he sees wrong but also what he thinks our Cinema ought to be. Mercado must be admired for his fearlessness and honesty.



1. Excerpt from "INDEPENDENCIA 86: The Lost Film of Arturo Madlangbayan" as re-edited by Miko Revereza and Raya Martin (Miko Revereza | Raya Martin)
Independencia 86 simulates the experience of how enthusiasts and scholars alike would have seen MOWELFUND shorts (or any independent film work) in the 90s: watching from an analog video recording of a celluliod projection with 4-track audio recording. The short seem to attain what Raymond Red's Kamera Obscura wanted to attain with lesser running time and more appeal. Of all the neo-retro (or pseudo-retro, if you prefer) short films I've seen recently, this one has attained the intended effect closer to the real thing.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Tale of Two Oedipi*




  muh freedomz


Cornejo’s Apocalypse Child was never the story about finding or clarifying one's identity as the QCinema’s jury citation or the gimmick of the film would suggest. Almost everyone in the film is well aware of their own truths (almost absolute truths). But the film could be read in two ways: first, as a story of people struggling with the truths they know, making amends with it on their way to self-liberation; or, second, a tale of two Oedipi who have murdered their fathers and make their mothers their wives. As far as the signifiers took me, I went for the latter.

Rich (RK Bagatsing) was the first real Oedipus. What’s interesting in the film was how Rich also became King Laius himself: turned into a figure of authority and by the end affirmed his disposition as something he learned (as he learned so much, he said) from his dead father. This brings us to our second Oedipus, Ford, who is a basic Oedipus image, so basic he’s a bore and didn’t require much of a reading to be understood (though they tried to make him as interesting as they could, with their Apocalypse Now! gimmick). Ford is so easy to read for someone who's supposed to have identity issues.

To be fair with Sophocles, the two aren’t his Oedipus:  Sophocles’ Oedipus blinded himself out of guilt and faced the sphinx to solve a riddle, while Rich and Ford made amends with their guilt by accepting and affirming their respective father’s torments. The two are Oedipi straight out of Freud’s notes.

Freud used Oedipus to further his research on unlocking the human mind via human sexuality, like a key to unlock the key to unlock Pandora’s Box. This is where Freud was mostly misunderstood that he’s just all about sex, or dropping the name Freud equates to talking about sex. Freud talks about the human mind, with sex and sexuality as his “narrative device”. Apocalypse Child makes use of the same narrative device to unlock each of the two Oedipus.

One would notice the series of sex scenes and sexual tensions which was spread throughout the film, in the same fashion on how more recent European films came to use sex scenes as a narrative device and not just mere spectacle, these scenes became the key to RK and Ford: or let’s say that the film only talks when there’s sex or sexual tensions. Here is where Apocalypse Child has ultimately succeeded: the reintroduction (and re-imagination) of sex and sexuality as a discourse in a Filipino film.

Nothing is ground breaking or new about the film and its approach, but the most interesting part of it and also of its reception is how it confirmed Foucault’s take on the deployment of sexuality as:

…a new distribution of pleasures, discourses, truths, and powers; it has to be seen as the self-affirmation of one class rather than the enslavement of another: a defense, a protection, a strengthening, and an exaltation that were eventually extended to others- at the cost of different transformations-as a means of social control and political subjugation. (Part 4 - Chapter 4; The History of Sexuality Volume 1: An Introduction).

Apocalypse Child maybe just another affirmation of one class’ agenda: like a typical liberal call for “sexual open-mindedness”, while not really intending to repress the other, it pushed its device, justify its cause in the name of nature, shove it to your throat and would say “you should do this too”, thinking that your life and freedom depended on it.


Post script:
I can’t take my mind off Rich, who, by the end of the film, sounds a bit like those Marcos Revivalists on facebook (or worse, like those neo-facists). 

* I'm not sure whether Oedipi is actually a word, but it's sure sound a lot cuter than Oedipuses.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Automaton Writings #1: Reminiscing Rivermaya's Liwanag sa Dilim and the mid '00s

 *Automaton Writings will be this blog's section for non-film related posts, since I can't seem to write anything about movies at all recently, I'd just use this blog this way
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Listen to Liwanag sa Dilim here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvGYqdvZvYM

2005 was a time when radio airwaves and TV signals were transitioning from and cleansing itself of sex jokes: either of sex jokes on lyrics or people who are being sex jokes themselves (but they still have to wait for more time before Willie Revillame was taken out from the air, but only to return years later). It was also the time when you'd start seeing from either from Pinoy Weekly or your college papers counts (tally?) victims of political murders and of enforced disappearances under the Arroyo regime. Those were what we could say dark times, but with a kind of darkness which brought feelings of uncertainty.

No one was happy, or no one knows how to be. You'd sense remains (or spectres) of grunge nihilism. Even jumping emo kids tend to dance not with songs of celebration but of hurt and pain, and never without a scar. It was a time of symbolic depression, paired with real depression brought by the body count of the dead and missing. The State never really made the killings a secret. The President then even commended Jovito Palparan for his role as the state's butcher.[1]

Perhaps I was too young to think about it back then and some may have perceived it, but it was really spot-on that Rivermaya has released then their instant hit, Liwanag sa Dilim.

Liwanag sa Dilim was made as light as possible, while its lyrics call to stand up and to break with history: as though a sudden wake up call for those who are still asleep. The song spoke of being a light; not really what you'd expect to come out in the midst of a rock scene then crowded with black shirts and heart aches.

Fast forward, 10 years later, radio airwaves now only play old songs (or old songs recycled by new singers) and TV confusing the people of what was real or not, in addition to several other screens people are looking at right now (mobiles, PCs) to form their daily realities and ideas: a time when every light shines too bright it overshadows the darkness, but never really get rid of it. Everything's too bright now, that most of us get blinded by it. What now, is our alternative for this brightness? Do we have to regress to darkness again just to have the light focused on what should we focusing about? Is this the reason why most netizens crave for Fascism again?[2]

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Notes:

1. Arroyo, Gloria Macapagal. Sixth State of the Nation Address, July 24, 2006. "And we will end the long oppression of barangays by rebel terrorists who kill without qualms, even their own. Sa mga lalawigang sakop ng 7th Division, nakikibaka sa paglaban si Jovito Palparan. Hindi siya aatras hanggang makawala sa gabi ng kilabot ang mga pamayanan at maka-ahon sa bukang-liwayway ng hustisya at kalayaan." Retrieved from: http://www.gov.ph/2006/07/24/gloria-macapagal-arroyo-sixth-state-of-the-nation-address-july-24-2006/.

2. Recent exchanges of opinions online regarding the coming elections tend to sway either in favor of the tandem of the now celebrity senator, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, and Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., or a call for Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (one who is regularly linked to the vigilantes who murders/executes criminals in Davao) to run for presidency.