Next Attraction (Raya Martin, 2008) July 29, 2009Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinema One, Cinemalaya, Indie Sine, Noypi, Queer.
Directed by Raya Martin
Cast: Coco Martin, Paolo Rivero, Jaclyn Jose
On our first day of class the late Jovenal Velasco told us that what distinguishes film from the other arts is that it is a “clear presence of an absence.” Everything in cinema boils down to the projection of moving images, hence the presence of people, places, and actions that are not really there in front of our eyes. The suspension of disbelief holds it, but when you try to think about it, these images seem to make us aware that these things are happening right when we are watching them. The illusion of time in cinema is probably its most important trait, the characteristic that sets it apart from other forms of self-expression, and the quality that makes it all the more versatile and evolving.
The presence then is confined to the technical; if there is no projection there would be no such thing as “cinematic experience” at all. (Well, in the case of home videos and digital discs, which also belong to cinema, it may be a projection of different kind.) It is the basic thing that the audience often takes for granted, something that only mall owners and theater operators find critical to take time thinking about. It is the absence that excites us; it is in this absence where our appreciation of cinema springs forth and blooms into something bigger than us. Only art can be bigger than god, and that thinking comforts us.
The absence relies on storytelling. The details of the story are pushed forward or intentionally made stagnant by its teller through plotting (the writing part) and treatment (the filmmaking part). These two work together, and it is up to the filmmaker to decide, like a doctor advising dosage to his patient, how much he needs his plot to move or his treatment to change. It is the correspondence of these two things that makes or breaks a film. The filmmaker doesn’t need to balance them; reaching a desired effect depends on his strong and willful purpose.
In this context I would say that Next Attraction has more presence than absence. It experiments on the telling of the story, its technique more felt than the story itself. It is obvious that there are two stories in the film – – one, the crew that shoots a short film, and the other, the short film itself – – but it is hard to qualify them separately because they are intended to work as one. The basic elements are ignored; there is no main character, there is no conflict, and there is no narrative to follow. After all we are in the times when all shortcomings and excesses are attributed to being postmodern.
You don’t have to see all his films to know that Martin is a queer storyteller. His stories are unusually told. It feels like he doesn’t even want to tell them at all. The explicit and implicit absence of his “absence” is the line that divides his critics, proving that there is really a very thin line between crap and genius, but ignoring the fact that one can be both at the same time. Next Attraction deserves the praise and the hate it receives, for it works for two sets of appreciation, both valid and understandable. What the film lacks in having a story to follow, it provides by being the story itself. The film is the story. The film is the bigger story. You discuss it more than the “story of the film” itself, even if you believe there is none.
I understand that it feels annoying when you feel too much power from the filmmaker, how he seems to be in full control of everything, how he points his hands at something and it changes, how he acts like the answer to everything, yes, no, or maybe. Expectations matter a lot to a viewer; it may be all his purpose for believing in cinema in the first place. What is cinema, by the way? Does what we make out of it really matter? Does a film stop being a film after you see it? Then, what is it after? Should intentions be more or less qualified, I believe it is always a singular argument that just because you feel it, it doesn’t mean it is there; and just because you don’t feel it, it doesn’t mean it is never there.