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On Homeland. October 25, 2012

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Oh You Know, TV.
2 comments

At the time of writing, Homeland is airing its second season, just a few days after the fourth episode, and it demands to be written because that particular episode, wittingly called “New Car Smell,” illustrates how political thrillers should be made. It’s no doubt a masterclass in writing and direction, its pacing like a live wire waiting to be touched, and when touched explodes in the end, which actually happens in its mind-blowing conclusion that feels like an early but by no means premature season finale. The brilliance of Homeland lies in its unpredictability, and this is not just unpredictability for the sake of suspense but also of something that reveals a kind of fearlessness that its pool of ace writers has managed to deliver since the first season, making the viewers feel as if the episodes are conceived and taped at that very moment, the plot turns never random but always impulsive, the narrative arcs of Carrie and Brody, as well as their family baggage, meeting without actually seeing each other, their emotional intensities equaled by no one but themselves. For a show that features two main characters that rarely meet in person, Homeland knows when to hurl its most deafening grenades. That particular sequence when Carrie and Brody meet at a hotel bar is quite similar to the time they spent in the cabin one weekend, only the former is more taxing because neither is drunk and both are more frightening when they’re not under the influence of alcohol, especially Carrie because she has a plan in mind that she’s going to carry through no matter what, regardless of instructions given by Saul, Estes or Quinn, and simply because she is a manic and ruthless intelligence officer. Claire Danes portrays her with massive keenness, displaying a kind of demeanor that leaves the viewer in awe of her dramatic range, too focused to be bothered by anything trivial yet too sensitive to miss the complexity of casual details. She’s like a plane that always experiences turbulence, and unfortunately for the people around her she refuses to put her seat belt on. Any one or any thing that can make her feel uncomfortable or can loosen the screws in her head is welcome, and Brody, episode after episode, does so on various levels of terrifying intensity. Damian Lewis provides him with human and beastly qualities that shred the character in little pieces, only to be picked up and put together again. At this point, who cares about the logic of madness? At the rate it’s going, Homeland doesn’t seem to care for its audience’s nerves. Wherever its story turns up, in the Middle East or in the woods in Gettysburg, one can only expect brilliant anomalies, and in the crazy scheme of things, those fractures can easily suffice.

Walking with Spiders: A Night with The National February 8, 2012

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Oh You Know.
7 comments

In one of Alligator’s rapturous moments, Matt Berninger takes a walk in the clouds and sweeps them away, narrating a story purportedly inspired by a low-key neighborhood in New York City. He sings in “Daughter of the Soho Riots”: You were right about the end / It didn’t make a difference / Everything I can remember / I remember wrong. He talks less about the place than the relationship he associates with it, his words sounding very affectionate, lodging small stabs in the chest every time he utters, Break my arms around the one I love, and be forgiven by the time my lover comes. More than once I asked myself during the concert, who must have known I’d do this someday? Here watching them live?

The experience has brought about several realizations. One is that I bring music with me everywhere I go. I can’t imagine my life without it. I associate people and places and things with songs, and every time I hear a familiar tune my face either lights up or frowns upon remembrance of an event or moments spent with someone. The National, for one, has provided me with an awful lot of memories. In fact, if I were to make a list of bands that have left an indelible mark on my life, they would be on it, alongside Radiohead, Blur, The Clash, The Smiths, and The Beatles.

The night before the concert, Jade, Mario, and I agreed that among the artists that became popular in the 2000s, it was really The National that hit us the hardest. They may not be as huge as U2 or Coldplay or Arcade Fire, but they are huge—we just don’t know how to approximate it. Out of the blue we started singing, poking fun at misheard lyrics—Corinne, Monster, and Raymond joining our conversations—and we couldn’t hide how excited we were for tomorrow, like kids waiting for their dates on prom night.

And the night came. Three days before my birthday. November 6, 2011. 8 P.M. at the Esplanade. I dressed up for the occasion. I planned wearing a tie to match my long-sleeved polo but hell, it would just make me feel uncomfortable. I saw some friends while Kriz and I were lining up to buy merchandise. Carina, Sarie, Luis, Kathy, Khavn. I went to the bathroom and someone was humming “Fake Empire.” We hurried to our seats and saw another batch of friends. The theater, which reminded me of a more sophisticated CCP Main Theater, started to be filled up, stall by stall, row by row, seat by seat. It was sold out. And we were lucky to be seated near the stage, right in the middle.

Well, “seated” is not exactly right. When the band came onstage, people rushed towards the front row and occupied the space there. I didn’t think twice about running—it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Standing for the entirety of the show, which ran for almost two hours, wasn’t bad at all. In fact, that’s how I imagined it to be: full of dancing, swaying, and shouting. And that’s what happened.

Matt was sipping beer or wine between songs and he joked about it, which made everyone in the audience chuckle. The band sounded excellent the whole freaking time. I looked around. People were everywhere, almost my age, young and alive, numbed by happiness, and their thought balloons read “!!!!!!!!!!!!!” There were some elderly couples too, enjoying the euphoria of the event, which ironically was brought about by songs about grief and sadness. I looked around and all I saw were happy faces in tears. Ninety percent of the photographs I took were out of focus, but every one of them made me remember the feeling, that formidable feeling of exhilaration, that thrill of seeing your favorite artists perform in front of you, carry your heart, and caress it.

As I write this, three months have already passed, but I still recall things very clearly. I must have said “Oh my god” over a hundred times. Kriz was right about the opening song, and I couldn’t have been more thankful that it was “Runaway” since it’s the track from High Violet that I first loved. The guy to my left kept looking daggers at me because I was flailing around every time a new song came in, but the girl to my right was cool—she didn’t even notice it when I shook her shoulders the moment “England” ended. A bunch of Asian dudes in my row was shouting “All the wine! All the wine!” during breaks and unfortunately for them the song wasn’t played.

“Slow Show” took me by surprise because it had a different arrangement. It was the first time I cried that night. There were horns! We were clapping in unison! And they transitioned smoothly to “Squalor Victoria,” which had a spectacular intro that encouraged some of us to whistle. When silence came after “Apartment Story,” I managed to shout “That’s my favorite song!” and Matt responded with a smile. I burst into tears, which lasted only for five seconds because “Abel” started playing and it made me leap. I’m guessing they were smoking pot when they arranged the set list. It was a roller coaster of emotions.

They returned with four more songs, and Matt was probably tipsier than he thought. In the middle of “Terrible Love” he waded through the crowd, walked his way through the seats until he reached the end of the room, turned left, and was hounded by fans, myself included. I touched him, making myself believe that this was truly happening, and unconvinced, I pinched him. What could be gayer than that?

Back onstage, he sang one last song, this time only Aaron and Bryce’s acoustic guitars accompanying him, with several moments of violin playing. It was a stripped-down version of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” a perfect song to close a wonderful night. Matt sang with his eyes closed, and so were most of us. I sang along and my voice was quivering. Everything became so clear and images flashed before me. I was out of breath, and I thought, “Shit! I must not die now!” Recognizing the weight of the entire experience made me weep, and I didn’t have the drugs to sort everything out.

The stage lighting, among other things, is fantastic.

I was afraid.. I’d eat your brains.

It’s hard to take a picture of Bryce, but here he is.

On a bloodbuzz, all through the night.

All the very best of us! String ourselves up for love!

The set list:

1. “Runaway”
2. “Anyone’s Ghost”
3. “Mistaken for Strangers”
4. “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
5. “Slow Show”
6. “Squalor Victoria”
7. “Afraid of Everyone”
8. “Conversation 16”
9. “Available”
10. “Sorrow”
11. “Apartment Story”
12. “Abel”
13. “Daughters of the Soho Riots”
14. “England”
15. “Fake Empire”

ENCORE:

16. “Lucky You”
17. “Mr. November”
18. “Terrible Love”
19. “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”

<EVERYTHING WAS BEAUTIFUL AND NOTHING HURT> 

So lighten up, Squirt. January 20, 2012

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Oh You Know.
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See you in July, I guess?

What will make Ilda think?* January 9, 2012

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Essay, Noypi, Oh You Know.
17 comments

Will this make Ilda think?

On New Year’s Eve, a six-paragraph piece of trash appeared on a Web site called Get Real Philippines. Written by Ilda, “Filipino films: they don’t make us think” is intended to be an eye opener, but the only thing it opens is the lid that covers the stink of the site’s pool of writers. The article is poorly written, poorly edited, and poorly thought-of—poorer than the festival it slams, and poorer than the culture of people it looks down on—and it should never have gotten the attention it received, had people stopped adding fuel to what turns out to be a harmless source of fire.

But shit has already been thrown on both sides and the discussion has switched rapidly between horror and comedy. If shit has some use then it is to make the land more fertile and productive: more reasons to prove that Ilda is a lunatic whose goal to make people “realise that things are not always what they seem” is something that she cannot do for herself. Benign0, the manager of the site and Ilda’s defense lawyer, is a rightist hypocrite who promotes change but whose entries and comments point at his deliberate resistance to change, a shameless totalitarian who’s too conceited to believe that change is possible through his “thinking” and the “mind work” done by his team of editorialists.

On the “mission” page of the site, Benign0 speaks like a scholar of Filipino culture, someone who is able to identify its weaknesses and their corresponding solutions, and believes that the country is “the result of lots of action underpinned by very little thinking.” This is the same person who glorifies the Weinsteins and devotes six paragraphs to the history of Miramax to illustrate his case against Philippine cinema, the same prophet who says that “the Philippine film indie sector lacks the sort of innovation that makes billionaires out of nerds and outcasts like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs,” and the same high and mighty who cannot create anything good from the things and ideas he destroys. In the final section of the page, GRP seems like a network of people—pyramiding?—who knocks on your door in the morning to test your religious beliefs. “But we continue to appreciate the contribution of every member of the GRP community and the conscious effort it takes to maintain a clarity of purpose in our minds to ensure that we do not get lost along the way.” From which brochure was this lifted from?

On the other hand, Ilda, who loves The King’s Speech as much as she loves flaunting her silliness, couldn’t have been a better species. Her judgment is rendered invalid by her own mistaken assumption that the world should be thankful for her opinion. Despite her obvious shortage of knowledge about local films—really, she’s blaming independently-produced films because she’s too snobbish to seek them out?—she still thinks her generalizations are well substantiated. She’s the worst kind of evangelist, the type who never shuts up and whom you wish is battery operated. Leaving a response to the comments section of her article would have been appropriate, but there is danger in the mere idea of engaging oneself in a discussion hosted by the opposing party. Therefore, upon careful consideration—and even though a strong proof has been presented that Ilda’s essay does not deserve any type of critical discourse—I decided that reacting to it is better than ignoring it, so rejoice, GRP ministers. Let it be known that whatever misreading invoked below is entirely Ilda’s fault—her writing and her thoughts leave room for a lot of misinterpretations.

*

The type of films Filipino filmmakers make [reflects] the type of people most Filipinos are – people lacking in substance. Just looking at the list of entries for this year’s [Metro] Manila Film Festival, you can already tell that not a lot of thinking was involved in the process of making them. Even the titles leave nothing to the imagination of the audience. Most of the actors playing the lead roles are the same ones we’ve seen since we were kids or some hot young flavor-of-the-month of one producer or another.

Dear Ilda,

First, local filmmakers do not only make one type of movies—there are several types, if only you care enough to know the difference between them. Second, yes, these movies do reflect their audience, but these are people who do not lack substance. In fact, they are more sensible than you. They have exercised their freedom to spend money on movies. Putting trust in a shaky but venerable industry is a sign of substance, of a mind that weighs the pros and cons of a decision. You have also gone as far as implying that you are different from these moviegoers—you have substance, yo—and by simply looking at the list of MMFF entries, you have already made up your mind not to watch any of them because, hey, you’re smart, you don’t waste money on crap, and you can’t believe these people are lining up in theaters, like they are so bobo, right? Third, have you seen any of Danny Zialcita’s movies? The titles of his films (Nagalit ang Buwan sa Haba ng Gabi, May Lamok sa Loob ng Kulambo, May Daga sa Labas ng Lungga, Nang Masugatan ang Gabi, Bakit Manipis ang Ulap?, Bakit Madalas ang Tibok ng Puso?, and a personal favorite, Kapag Tumabang ang Asin) are laughable, but they are actually good. His characters talk relentlessly, but with a lot of sense. But then again why would you care about something you don’t know?

Take the 13th [installment] of Shake, Rattle and Roll, and ask: What else can people expect to get out of it? Not much, obviously. People are probably watching it for the eye candy. Every year the film features starlets parading and pouting for the camera hoping to look cute enough to win an award. That’s right. Talent in acting is not really a criterion for winning an acting award in the Philippines.

…in the Philippines! …like a pyramid!

You ask: what do people expect to get from watching Shake Rattle and Roll? I ask: why do you care? What reasons sound good to you? That they expect to learn more about the dynamics of horror as a genre based on too-stupid-to-live characters? That they expect to see Don’t Look Back or Rosemary’s Baby?  You’re right, “not much,” but how arrogant of you to belittle the enjoyment, no matter how small it is, that people can derive from watching the movie. For instance, Jerrold Tarog, who unfortunately you don’t know, made an episode last year called “Punerarya,” which I liked a lot. The first two episodes, directed by Zoren Legaspi and Topel Lee, were more than worthy to be walked out on, but I stayed because I wanted to see Jerrold’s shit and I wasn’t disappointed with what I saw. So, that’s what I got out of it. I saw Odette Khan as a monster. I got scared numerous times. I wanted to chop Nash Aguas in half. If I wanted eye candy, I should have watched porn instead. And just to let you know, Carla Abellana was superb in “Punerarya,” but the best actress prize went to Ai Ai delas Alas, so maybe there’s some truth in what you said. But seriously, you believe in awards given by MMDA?

In the case of the film Enteng ng Ina Mo starring Ai Ai delas Alas and Vic Sotto; the actors had nothing to work with in terms of storyline and dialogue. The characters just basically rehashed their roles specifically with Vic playing his Enteng character from the 1980s TV series Okay ka Fairy ko and Ai Ai reprising her winning role in last year’s Tanging Ina Mo. It’s another one of those things in the Philippines we can refer to as scraping the bottom of the barrel. The producers are obviously milking the franchise until it bleeds.

Consider this: if you decide to eat at a fine-dining restaurant, do you make a public announcement and say that the food is too expensive? What’s that expression again, “it goes without saying”?

And what about the new Panday 2 movie? First of all, how does Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr find the time to make movies? Isn’t he supposed to be spending more time deliberating policies in the Senate instead of delivering cheesy lines? Aren’t there enough men to take over the role Senator Revilla inherited from the late Fernando Poe Jr? Second, the new Panday movie is being criticized for being a blatant rip-off of the 2010 Hollywood blockbuster remake of Clash of the Titans. All the film needed was Medusa to complete the cast of Perseus’s nemesis. There was nothing special about the “special” effects either.

This is classified as rant, and rants are OK, especially if they are directed towards someone as irksome as Bong Revilla. However, by making a point that Panday 2 “is being criticized for being a blatant rip-off” of Clash of the Titans is a low blow. Bong said that it’s better than Harry Potter, didn’t he? Furthermore, the MMFF is the only time of the year when Hollywood movies get some rest, so thank you for spoiling it.

How do these filmmakers sleep at night knowing that they are not really creating a work of art but just copies of some other people’s work? They are not even making people think; they are not even stirring emotions or provoking people into doing something with their lives; they are not even inspiring young people to aspire for greatness. What they are producing is just stuff you can discard after one use. In short, most Philippine films are a total waste of the people’s time and money.

So, this is the part when you point the loaded gun at the filmmakers.

Determining if something is a work of art or not is similar to hitting your head on the wall and asking why it hurts—it’s kind of, uhm, stupid. It’s a Moebius strip; it just goes on and on. If you think it’s not a work of art, fine, it’s not a work of art. But what makes art an art is that it can be interpreted in infinite ways; hence one’s appreciation, or the lack of it, is only as meaningful as the others.

Nothing is original: deal with it. Even your thoughts are not. How can you sleep at night knowing that someone has already written what you just said? Your personal observations are sweeping statements that can be proven wrong if we interview people. Perceptions of art cannot be definitive. For all you know, a kid watching Enteng ng Ina Mo or Panday 2 might be dreaming of doing films or being a comedian someday. Who knows about the possibilities?

Moreover, making a categorical statement like “most Philippine films are a total waste of the people’s time and money” means you only rely on what little you know about local cinema. It might have been a stronger argument if you removed “most,” since it would be less ambivalent, but apparently you wanted something safe to say and easy to get away from. Humility is substance, my friend, and you seem to have none of it.

Films are supposed to be cultural artifacts that reflect our culture and, in turn, affect us and our outlooks towards life. Most films are considered art, for entertainment and a powerful tool for educating — or indoctrinating — society. But nowhere can we find our culture or any significant message of consequence in our films. Films are powerful tools of communicating ideas and who we are as a people. Unfortunately, our films tell us and everyone else that we are shallow and superficial.

Aside from its triteness, what’s clear in this paragraph is that the MMFF was chosen as a concrete example to illustrate the shortcomings of Philippine cinema and make generalizations about it. This mindset abridges and limits the arguments because these movies do not represent the entirety of the industry in both quantity and quality. Complaining about the MMFF is like beating a dead horse. Supporting the festival, however, is always a choice. You may not like these types of movies, but you can’t take the entertainment away from people who look forward to seeing them every year. There are options offered, and though it seems that the atrocious outnumbers the bearable, the festival still serves its purpose of providing a family fare during the holiday season. A selection of indie films shown a week before Christmas has also been included in the MMFF since last year, an act that can be viewed as some sort of tokenism, but at least there’s some effort from their part, no matter how minimum.

*

Needless to say, there has been a wealth of Filipino movies in the past ten years, and they cannot be ignored if one decides to write about the matter. There’s a thin line between constructive and destructive criticism, and Ilda’s essay fall into the latter because of its failure to recognize many aspects of Philippine cinema and her tirades that display her lack of familiarity with the subject. Her point of view switches between far-sighted and near-sighted, and in the end she resorts to a cross-eyed pronouncement that lashes against Filipino culture, which she deems” shallow” and “superficial,” as if she doesn’t flag her own abysmal shallowness and superficiality. The biggest blunder committed in the essay is when she claims that she is higher than the culture she actually belongs to, the egotism and conceit that Philippine cinema and its people can be summed up in six lousy paragraphs, backed up by nothing but amour-propre.

Just because they subject themselves to dumb and tasteless movies, Filipino moviegoers are neither dumb nor tasteless. Calling a number of films dumb and tasteless is open to question, but these movies exist because there’s a set of audience who tolerates them, not because of a society that’s in full agreement with their values. They are present in mainstream and independent sectors, made by people whose core of values has been irreparably institutionalized, a cycle repeated over and over, generation after generation. Considering their politics, these movies reflect only a specific aspect of the culture, and not the totality of it.

Furthermore, the clearest  fallacy in Ilda’s generalizations is the confidence in her judgment—her separation of high art and low art, of art and entertainment, of highbrow and lowbrow consumers—and by baring her thoughts she has also exposed how debased and minute her understanding of the world is, how her ignorance is wrapped in despicable pride.  One can only wish that a majority of Filipino moviegoers would have time to see more films, not just the ones shown at malls, but they have more pressing concerns to attend to, be it economic, socio-political, or personal.  Information is readily available online, but not everyone owns a computer and has access to speedy Internet, so it’s admirable when filmmakers decide to bring their works to grassroots communities, reach out to the marginalized, and encourage discourses with people in the area.

The programmer’s job cannot also be discounted. In addition to the yearly screenings of Cinemalaya, Cinemanila, Cinema One Originals, and Cinema Rehiyon—four of the biggest film festivals in the country that showcase a variety of features from north to south—there are small-scale public screenings organized in private residences and establishments that put emphasis on overlooked and underrated films and filmmakers. These movements, which have not been strongly present in the 90s and the early part of the 00s, prove that there is basis in declaring a golden age in Philippine cinema, that in fact there is progress in terms of the quality of films being made and the quality of appreciation being given by the audience, as exemplified by the increasing number of people attending festivals every year and bloggers writing reviews online. Like other national cinemas, the local film industry struggles from the constraints of traditional moviemaking and the fetters of nostalgia—every now and then people look back to the years of Bernal and Brocka—but that’s the good thing about it: contemporary filmmakers and moviegoers are leaving a unique mark on the landscape of Philippine cinema despite these hindrances, and the industry is no longer standardized and homogeneous but multi-faceted and ripe with contradictions.

“Filipino films: they don’t make us think” is one of those incongruities that obviously comes from a group of groundless hecklers who means more harm than good, who believes that all independent filmmakers—unabashedly called “point-missers” and “onion-skinned crybabies,” groundbreaking terms, mind you—are whiners. Let’s leave it on a happy note, can we? Remember Lino Brocka’s Insiang? There’s a short and amusing scene in the film when Hilda Koronel passes by a bunch of kids and she accidentally steps on shit. She gets mad, of course, so she rubs her slippers on the ground and walks away. That’s a brilliant moment, and it befits this issue very well because Ilda, twenty-six years later, is the reincarnation of that piece of shit, excreted without warning. Like Insiang, we should all just abandon her like a boss.

*
(A) Enrolling in a class under Mr. Alemberg Ang
(B) Appearing in a movie with Ms. Lilia Cuntapay
(C) Watching the filmography of Direk Wenn Deramas
(D) All of the above

If you know the answer, please leave a comment below.

Goodbye, Noli. October 7, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Oh You Know.
2 comments


Noli, as it stands today

A six-year-old kid growing up with toy trains and hand-me-down books could only look forward to the weekend with an exceptionally hopeful pair of eyes. Weekends meant freedom, doing things I was not allowed to do from Mondays to Fridays: sleep late, wake up late, play outside, listen to the radio, watch television, invite friends over, disappear from the house. Saturdays were reserved for household chores, helping my sisters clean the house, tagging along with my brother to buy merienda, running errands that only a six-year-old kid could do. On the other hand, Sundays were far more special: we wear our best clothes, we go out, we eat out, we watch movies.

To be honest, it wasn’t exactly the movies that made me wet with excitement back then. I didn’t care about movies. I didn’t care about stars. I didn’t care about buttered popcorn and Coke in can. The prospect of watching movies every Sunday, a family habit that continued for more than a year before it stopped because we had to cut expenses, filled me with happiness because it meant I’d be passing by the store located near the theater, a small establishment that sold local comics. While my siblings were looking at film posters and arguing about petty things, I’d sneak out of their sight and into the store, browsing through cheap collections, checking out the new issues most especially. My mother would eventually find out where I was, and after endless promises of studying hard at school, she’d buy me a copy of Funny Komiks and I’d shut up, holding a key to another world where my sisters and brother could not enter.

The theater is called Noli. It’s located at the corner of Laguna Street and Rizal Avenue, facing a busy intersection where tricycles and jeepneys load and unload passengers. At first I thought Noli only showed local movies, but there was a time when we went there and my parents said we couldn’t watch the film, apparently because of me. I didn’t ask why but I remember the film was Schindler’s List. We had no choice but to leave. My mother promised that we’d be back next time, but that next time never happened. It was the last time we went there together as a family.

Noli closed down several years ago. In the late nineties its owners tried to save the business and screened sexually provocative films. It didn’t prosper. Its seats remained cold and empty. Its floors were never swept clean again. Its lights were no longer lit. The small store beside it that sold comics also disappeared. The restaurants we used to frequent had been replaced by salons and lotto outlets. I vaguely remember how Noli looked inside—I’m pretty sure it’s nothing special—but its proximity to the places I found special endeared me to it. One weekend I went to the place where it used to stand. I stared at its decrepit state, and it never felt the same.

*This article is part of the Hidden Skyline Competition, sponsored by the British Council. Along with other shortlisted entries, it will be exhibited in the Future Memory Pavilion at the National Museum of Singapore from October 18 to November 19. Learn more about Writing the City here.

2011 in Music: August Tweets August 31, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Oh You Know.
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No music tweets for this month. Something more interesting happened, something that merits an entry, however mundane and cockeyed, on this blog.

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