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The Holy Whore in Jose Javier Reyes’s Live Show (2001) March 21, 2008

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Noypi, UP Screening.
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Written and directed by Jose Javier Reyes
Cast: Paolo Rivero, Ana Capri, Klaudia Koronel, Hazel Espinosa

In an overwhelming display of poltical power, Imelda Marcos banned Ishmael Bernal’s Manila by Night because she thinks its portrayal of the city misrepresents the proper image of Manila that the Marcoses then were promoting. Misrepresentation might be a very safe word; in fact, Bernal’s critique of personal maladies that lead to an expansive urban corruption is far from the glitz and glamour that Imelda was telling her cohorts and multinational socialites; so far it is way beyond her grasp. Manila by Night works on different levels of degradation – – from domestic atrocities to the venality of bureaucratic negligence until it reaches the peak of ephemeral absurdity – – and perhaps Mrs. Marcos was so concerned with the perceptible image (and her self-image) that she wasn’t able to see that. Likewise, Imelda was so blessed with thriving wisdom that she even forced the producers to change its title to City After Dark because she believes “that using the name of the country’s capital in the movie would give (us) great shame.” Suffering from numerous, insensible cuts, choking to hide its underworld ugliness but still managing to express its madness without the least effort, it even made its way to international film festivals, despite the government’s refusal to issue an export permit. And that, my friends, is a brief history of censorship here in the Philippines, circa 1980.

As Truffaut puts it, In love, women are professionals, men are amateurs. But in politics, are they also professional or just plain narrow-minded? The transition during the ouster of Joseph Estrada and the ascent to power of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is notorious for its attempt to recreate the so-called people power that threw the Marcoses out of the presidential palace. But given the holy mess to look back after eight years of going down the drain of collective penury, it seems that we are suffering from similar fate, the one that never heals, or perhaps much worse. Because now, the Church is on their side – – the Church is on the side of the unruly scissors, the crucifix is worn by blind men of power, the mass is summoned by hypocritical moralists, listened by their equally hypocritical followers – – and like the way the Spaniards regarded us during their colonial rule, these people are treating us like Indios – – not the politically correct Indio, but the caste-propelled term, the determinant of power and status in the society – – only the difference is that we are yielding to a metaphorical type of colonial rule – – an irrational, nonsensical government controlling our lost, imagined lives.

Experiencing the same politically-motivated anarchist move is Jose Javier Reyes’ Toro, which was later renamed Live Show because according to then Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) chair Armida Siguion-Reyna, she cannot allow it as a title unless the film is about a male cow or elephant or any male bovine animal. That’s insane logic. Since when are we not allowed to provide a title that we like, that best exemplifies our work? In addition, the controversy that surrounded the public screening of Live Show is heightened by the fact that it was during the impeachment proceeding of Estrada, the time when every flaw in his government was magnified, and moralists, pseudo-moralists, evangelists, and pseudo-evangelists were anchoring their groups, enough to populate an entire province, to their strayed ethical values. It is a historical film so to speak – – for it proved to be symptomatic of the nightmare that we experienced, and still experiencing, after Arroyo was sworn into office – – and newly-appointed MTRCB chair Nicanor Tiongson and Reyes pride themselves as the first victims of her administration. Tiongson was the first cabinet official to resign during her presidency, doing it on principle and public trust, against the filthy corruption that continues to deprive our country of national dignity. Arroyo disproved its screening not because she found it pornographic – – in fact, according to Reyes she had not seen it prior to its embargo – – but largely because of the seismic pressure from Catholic groups, including the late Jaime Cardinal Sin. Now define disgrace under pressure, that’s a short overview of censorship in the Philippines, twenty years after. Have you seen any difference?

Live Show is a product of overreaction. An image that pops into my mind is that perhaps the moralist groups who are so keen on pulling the film out of the theatres have just seen parts of it – – the sexual acts mainly – – and are not able to place those visuals in proper context. I would go on saying that banning it is just a mistake in judgment, lacking enough and valid reasons to consider it lewd and immoral simply because the people who are tagging it as such have minds that are so narrow, an artillery of ants cannot even pass through them. And that’s because their foundation of morality is too limiting, too constricting, and too conventional. Not that our values should dramatically change after hundreds of centuries, but as F.P.A. Demetrio points out in his wonderful essay, “We simply have to recall the very early images of the crucified lord depicting a starkly naked Christ (that is, without the belatedly added loin cloth), that revealed all of the holy flesh, and realize that no sane prelate or layman ever cried ‘pornography’ in front of such a venerable icon.” Isn’t Christ one of the earliest representations of flesh in human history? No one ever raised the issue of pornography because it is way beside the point. His image is not meant to arouse the senses but to deliver the milk of human kindness, to spread the spirit of good will, and to inspire people. His physical image exists differently from his intentions; and since he was stripped because he was scourged savagely, no one thinks that his being naked is done with malice.

And that’s exactly the point of Live Show. Intentions are not quantifiable but a man with intellect knows when what he sees offends him. It is an honest idea – – the offense – – for it shows the type of person you are on the type of films that you consider pornographic. Reyes treats his subject without any hint of appealing to the prurient interest. As Dr. Tiongson mentions during the forum, “only a sick guy could be aroused by those images.” Live Show is perhaps one of the most depressing Filipino films ever made, like when someone sees a dead man in the desert, eyes wide open, intestines devoured by vultures, and only an inch of flesh left in his body, and Reyes has successfully delivered this grim tale of social injustice into a wider, amoral perspective.

No doubt that Reyes is a great writer. But what he has nailed here, the same way he does in Batang PX, is that the words honestly express the extent of poverty that the characters are caged in; not only about financial stability but also the pathos of existence in a Third World country – – the luck that always escapes – – the idea that poverty is a social creation, a result of large-scale human corruption, and a case of congenital disorder whose cure is unbelievably hard to find. His characters are way below the line of poverty – – that is if poverty is considered empirical – – and the way they see life in the darkest caves of urban jungle is particularly disturbing, enough to see the long marginal line between the rich and the poor. Perhaps in the point of view of people who had never been extremely starved in their whole life, the film is a harsh portrait of poverty. But beyond that I guess they should also be able to analyse the effects of starvation to individuals who try their best to make ends meet while losing all possible options they have except for prostituting themselves. Poverty is universal but the conditions that arise from it vary differently from every society to another based on cultural backgrounds. Prostitution is not an acceptable reason to make a living but people who engage in these activity already know that, so what’s the point of bringing it up to them? Would they choose to do it if they have better options to take? Or, if for example, they have gotten used to it and decide to continue it in the long run, should we blame them for their decision? One thing is clear though, judging them won’t do any help. Their hopeless oulook in life is a product of a million little things, not just financial problems or domestic violence. And since we share this one big global village of ours with each other, we have no other choice but to feel responsible for them.

For it is able to raise these issues, Live Show demands to be seen. There is that sequence when Klaudia Koronel finds her friend who promised to bring her to Japan after handing her fifteen thousand pesos in the hospital, assaulted by adolescent rich kids, and looks clinically-dead with her wounds and bone fractures. Koronel’s character screams, almost banging the victim in her bed, begging what happened to her money that is supposed to relieve her from the state of destitution she has here in the Philippines. It is an utter moment of flinching paranoia – – worthy of comparison to that scene in Manila By Night when Bernardo Bernardo almost passes out after discovering that the dead person they are looking for in the morgue is mistakenly identified – – something that occurs momentarily out of provoked madness, traversing that thin line between sanity and delusion, a disturbing childhood memory that triggers schizophrenia. See it not because it is the most controversial Filipino film ever made, but because Live Show‘s importance is radically immense. These institutions still control us but we need to lever our minds to truth. Like pawns in a chess game, we should make our best move before we are sacrificed and eaten alive by those Horses, Bishops, and Queens. * * * *

*Live Show is one of the films screened in the Director’s Cut: A festival of critically-acclaimed and controversial films by the country’s finest directors held at UP Film Institute, Cine Adarna from March 5-7, 2008.

Comments»

1. leo oya - July 18, 2010

that movie was a great movie that we can learned how filipino was sucrificing in terms of needs,thats the way they know how to earn money,thats the big mistake.if you earn that way.hope our co filipino aware of that business…its such a big succesful movie ever that ive been seen in my whole life…please send me a copy of that movie to add my collection…hoping that you will give me….here is my address were you can send the copy. if ever you will give me….

2. kaye hannah demetria junasa - September 29, 2010

its so annoying …….. specially to the filipino women…..

3. ngekngok poems - October 12, 2010

thanks for sharing
The Holy Whore in Jose Javier Reyes’s Live Show

4. James - March 4, 2011

I heard so much about it! do you know where I can download/find it?

5. Ivan Benjamin Faustino - August 25, 2011

i really want to watch this film not because I’m a perv, but because of the controversies that this film made. I’m searching for the site to grab a copy but no one responded..hope someone can help me here.


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