Criticine: Love Letters June 17, 2010Posted by Richard Bolisay in Noypi.
This article was commissioned by Alexis Tioseco for Criticine. Ben Slater & May Adadol Ingawanij carried through the Love Letters issue, and we are truly thankful to them. Alexis, however, is deeply, sorely, and painfully missed. Hello Alexis, no goodbyes.
July 24, 2009
Abad Santos Station
So as not to inconvenience you I will keep this letter brief, but direct and to the point I cannot promise. There are many things running through my head right now, some walking so far behind I cannot keep up with them, and some drifting past the line I cannot reach to bring them back. I hope I can just turn off my mind when it goes like this. Anyway I am waiting for the train booth to open, in about thirty minutes or so. The sun is about to come up and I’m in quite a good spot to see it.
I have missed you, and by you I mean your films. As I was preparing my things for the trip today I suddenly stopped in front of my bookshelf because I felt something was missing. When I checked, the books were in order but the DVD case of Bayaning Third World was out of place and when I opened it, the disc was not there. Who could have borrowed it? I could not remember. My phone rang and my colleague was asking me to hurry because the service was about to leave. I told her I’ll just take the train and she could just wait for me in the bus station and she hung up. It took me thirty minutes to leave the house shaking the thought of you missing in my own room.
How could a part of you leave my place without me knowing it?
I know it doesn’t feel right when people equate you to your films. But maybe it isn’t far from the truth, right? I assume Tarkovsky’s a very contemplative man; Hitchcock a naughty and sinister guy with unbelievable taste in women; Brocka a dream fighter of the common people; and you, M, I wonder, what do I make out of you from the films you made?
I imagine when I finally meet you I will scratch my head and say, “Hey Mister, you are a man of few words.”
It sucks, I know. I feel ashamed that I will use that phrase to describe you, M. You are more than a common phrase. I won’t take it back though, ’cause it’s true. And in addition, I believe you are a man of silence too. I remember when I was seven or eight, it was Holy Week and all we had on TV was a bunch of shows on religious themes, the usual fare of Himala and Mat Ranillo’s Kristo , the life story of the Pope, some family movies, and in the afternoon when everyone was taking siesta I came across Itim . That part when Jun prints the photographs, or when he and Teresa walk across the room holding a cross, it is too silent I thought the TV was broken. I could hear myself asking, Ba’t walang tokis, sira ba ‘tong TV, ano’ng nangyayari, may nangyayari ba (“Why is there no sound, is the TV broken, what’s happening, is there something happening”), but my eyes were so glued to what I was seeing that the inconvenient silence did not bother much. Later that night I told my mother that I saw the film and she also expressed her wonder in the creepy noiselessness of your first work.
The silence in your films is not just silent. It is an amplified hush of volumes of themes and conversations that your characters are not allowed to speak of; silence is their prison, and it is their only way of communicating with us, your audience. We understand their dilemma because of the silence you bestow upon them. The simple movement of the eyes, the placement of one hand onto another, the eerie hallway that witnesses a séance—they all hold your thoughts of imprisonment. Sometimes when one of your characters screams or calls for help I cannot help but think that I only imagine her speaking. I do not really hear her at all.
Once, someone pointed out to me that what sets your films apart from the others—and by “set apart” he meant both literally and figuratively—is that they are rather heartless, sometimes even lacking “human emotions”. The evil that pervades most of your films is somewhat closer to the reality of things, and that scares the hell out of him. My parents said that during the Marcos regime Batch ’81 was the first time they experienced ‘seeing’ their own fear after Martial Law was proclaimed. They had fear then but they never realized it as fear. Your ‘fear’ astounded them more. Likewise, the characters in your films are very vulnerable; they are often middle-class people whose problems are more than their restraint can handle; they are intelligent, curious, and witty, just like you I suppose. But how could other people not see the heart in your heartlessness? The emotion in your emotionlessness? And the light in your lightlessness? Maybe, as my father would unwittingly point out to me, I really have a peculiar pair of eyes.
My very first memory of watching films is when I was four, but I only started watching them seriously when I was in college, fourteen or fifteen years old. Not that taking them seriously was such a big deal. I was still pretty much the same, understandably appreciative to humble works and strongly hostile to boring bogusness. I am twenty-one now and I wonder, in that short period of being a fervent follower of cinema and seeing some of the most beautiful facets it can ever show to me, how could I be so sure that yours is the most important figment I have ever seen? How, in my relatively young and therefore superficial understanding of the arts, could I validate my judgment of your works as exceptional and therefore worthy of a book that I plan to sweat years on doing, without any idea of how much it would need from me emotionally? And in such a streak of thought I ask, how could I ever express to you, fully and honestly, and without the natural disappointment of hearing sincere but inappropriate words, that in the years when you’ve been hurtfully inactive, I long for a film that is uniquely yours—a film that only you, of all the countless filmmakers this world can give, can make? How else could I say that without sounding too selfish? How could I hide the priceless pleasure of just imagining that you are now working on your next film?
I miss your films, but I cannot lie and say that I don’t miss you too. In fact, I miss you more. I miss you so much that I wish the feeling would just go away. And God forbid I can’t help but feel that if you pass on I believe it will be the most hurtful missing I could ever go through in the lifelong commitment that I promised to cinema. Because I need to let go of the possibilities, of the worldly possibilities of you continuing your craft, making another film, speaking to us. The voice can only come from you—the careful balance of fearless political criticism, the distant yet truthful mockery of the system, and the patience it costs you for them to deliver. That voice has been keeping us in a steadfast belief that there will come a time that we will hear it again, even through a whisper.
Should I really cling so much to you? Am I being impossible?
Especially at this time when independent cinema is booming, your absence is remarkably felt. I remember seeing you in the launch of Dr. Tiongson’s book on Manuel Conde, and it stunned me, really, just seeing you there, attending, walking, hearing even a syllable of your words. I hesitated to approach you, of course. I didn’t want to ruin your rare public appearance. Shall we see more of you after that? (It sounds rhetorical, but I would still ask it, if only it would sound less rhetorical when put into words.)
Oh, my iPod just went off. It sucks when you have a very long trip ahead and you can’t use it. By the way, do you remember that Robyn Hitchcock song? The one that starts with the lines, I often dream of trains when I’m alone / I ride on them into another zone / I dream of them constantly / Heading for paradise / Or Basingstoke or Reading.
That was the song I was listening to before it snapped. And then I don’t know what kind of current turned this long-unused light bulb on in my head that I suddenly realized one important thing. You are actually that single train I often dream of. The train that I never had the chance of stepping into because whenever I dream of it, it is that moment when the door closes and its sound lingers to push me awake. Yes, I remember, I always miss it. Every time it passes I always miss it. There is always a reason to miss it. But maybe we’ll meet one night, out in the corridor of that dream that I used to have. Maybe. You’ve been gone for so long it feels like you’re never going back.
Hey, sorry if the writing’s hurting your eyes. The booth just opened, and the sun is up. It’s remarkably hot as always. I can feel the day starting to wrap me in its heat. Hope this reaches you.
*Photo courtesy of Karl Fredrick Castro