Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Second Born



Janice gave birth to her first born via Caesarian Session at St. Luke’s, painless and stich-less, thanks to a new medical technique doctors call “Phantom Surgery” which was developed back in 2030.

Two months after giving birth to her son, she and her husband went to a clinic to have her check a stomach pain. “Must be something I ate”, she thought.

“Congratulations Ma’m! You’re two month’s pregnant!”, the doctor greeted her.

“No way,” said Janice.  “I just gave birth to my son!”

She looked at his husband and caught a menacing grin as he mumbles “Ave Satanae dominator domine.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Suggestion and My First Step to Doubt - On Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis


 

Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis stands out in Diaz’ filmography: never did any of his films has epically fallen ideologically than this. Even the horrendous Norte, The End of History would seem to be more acceptable: with Norte, at least Fabian had clear and transparent intentions and decisions in which he embodied and stood for until the end, while still showing his guilt. Hele tried to deal with fate and history, but denies itself a proper dialectic approach. It asks the right questions about the the struggle, yet, evades giving a clear answer.

We follow two stories of people sleeping with enemies: a test of tolerance to the passive presence of the enemy to the point where it is actually reflected whether they must be forgiven or not. Diaz echoes of the classic psychoanalytic idea of trauma whenever he speaks of Martial Law: that we never really come into terms with this that's why we are what we are right now. The classic psychoanalytic advice on making amends with the trauma, is to deal the violator with forgiveness, or at least with a compromise. Despite Diaz’ clear secular stance, Hele has actually suggested a very Judeo-Christian value as way to make amends to what he deemed as the nation's’ “trauma”.

There's Simoun, the scheming businessman who have planned to plant hatred and unrest to the Land to “force the people to rise up”. Even in the source material, Simoun looked at himself as someone on the pedestal, thinking that he could make his plans happen, Simoun was never the one to reflect on the nation's state, it was only a front: his agenda was revenge for his lost love and lost life. He might have been wanted by the law, but he is never the one to experience its violence. Then there's Caesaria, mistress to the Captain-General (who's also Simoun's friend), the most beautiful traitor of Silang. Both were forgiven in the film. Both were sheltered.

A friend told me on a conversation weeks ago that Diaz’ cinema from 2010 beyond has become evasive, and from what I see, evasive of a lot of things that established and complemented the cinema of his earlier and better works: evasive of the very things that has molded what he see as his aesthetics.

Near the end of the film, Basilio was asking Padre Florentino about the hardships and the sorrows of the Filipino people, on why things have to end up the way. Padre Florentino answered Basilio that it’s up to the younger ones to answer that, but he answered not with a face of certainty and wisdom, but with a face of confusion and self-doubt. That face pretty much sums up the whole film, more than any of the beautiful scenes that I’ve seen. That face, whether motivated or spontaneous, summarized how confused the film’s main idea, and probably, the very idea of its production.

PS. Or maybe, the film is not confused at all and forgiving the Marcoses and Gloria Arroyo is actually a suggestion.




Friday, May 6, 2016

Letters to a Young Poet By Edel Garcellano

This was a transcription of a lecture delivered by Edel Garcellano at the 7th Philippine International Literature Festival with the theme "Against Forgetting" which took place last April 28-29 2016 at the QCX QC Memorial Circle. Partly edited by me.

Credits to Sir Popo Castro for the Transcription and Jesus "Led" Villafuerte for the copy.

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(1)

I am supposed to address young people who are enamored of poetry, or the craft thereof. This is difficult for me. I have always tried to steer clear of workshops and literary soirees. They have since become a cottage industry for enterprising academics. But when the invite was sent to me, I had to write down my thoughts as representative of the Creative Writing Center of PUP where now I lecture. Should I be gentle? I don’t want to be mistaken as a grumpy old man by young people who secretly wish to be famous or national artist in the future.

Of course, there is in our subconscious the desire to be recognized, to rise above the crowd, to be proclaimed a poet. The honor sounds majestic, but many have fallen by the wayside – they end up as advertising creatives who rake the money: they who claim to have written a poem or two; they who ended up as Ayala hotshots working up campaign slogans for the likes of Duterte, Cayetano, Marcos, Poe, Binay, etc.

Today being a poet is almost a scandalous proposition. There is state funding for the honor, pension & free burial at Libingan ng Bayani. So how could you know if you have written a poem? Your mother would agree to the enterprise in the spirit of faith and maternal instinct. But would you believe the accolade around you? That your aesthetics exude formal/ideological beauty? There are books on how to write a poem, anyway. But poetry is a savage God.

Right now, most of you are probably inclined to churn out something about the Kidapawan massacre where farmers were killed by state minions. You are probably itching to write/blog about it in the stereotypical militancy and compassion. Muster all the inexhaustible partisanship for the victims (in the tradition of Markham’s Man with the Hoe).

(2)

But how would you write it? From what point of view? How would you see through the gambit of spin-masters in the Senate? How can you not be suckered into thinking that you must act beyond the finity of words? Who would benefit from your choice? The candidate who will rule with an iron fist? The peasants who have been reorganized to block the highway? What is the task of the poet who must plot out the narratives? Can you rise above the fray without cheap sentiments? How will you probe the politics of your text?

Being a poet is not a breeze, words may even crack the delicate crystal of truth.

In my time, I made so many enemies – people who could have been friends: There was this guy who used to be a down-and-out activist. He would later hook up with a plunderous administration, become eventually its spokesman, & finally an ambassador who wore expensive suits. He’s gone now. We cold have been friends if not for my refusal to grace a poetry reading hosted by a classy campus sorority. Poetry reading is not a simple matter. I was young then but had misgivings about my poems: what after all would I say to starry-eyed campus beauties?

(3)

In my ancient youth, when I entered UP, the cultural tradition was real poets are brooding manic depressives, quick to slash their wrists and let the blood drip, drip down.  It was scary, but was real.

The idea of a Ph.D. or Masters in whatever is somewhat preposterous. Poetry keeps you on the edge. But today any young gun has a Ph.D. from grants in American university & flourishes in literary fest. It seems too damned easy today. There are many publishing houses to release your secret poems.  Moreover I am told there are scars on wrists of drug crazed poets, wasting away in a nihilistic mode. In an elite university, they even sent a poet who writes in Filipino to a university in America which is somehow funny.

And I ask the young here – how long would you toil in the violet hours of your young lives to serve the savage God? After all, poetry is a savage calling.

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.