The National Pastime – Alternative 1: Formats

Short Subjects

Mga Kuwento ng Pag-ibig
Directed by Jun Cabreira, Luciano Carlos, and Artemio Marquez
Written by Artemio Marquez and Jose Javier Reyes

3 Mukha ng Pag-ibig
Directed by Emmanuel H. Borlaza, Lino Brocka, and Leroy Salvador
Written by Roy C. Iglesias, Jose Javier Reyes, and Loida T. Viriña

Something positive should be said about the omnibus movie. For a medium that’s too expensive for full-length failure, and an audience that doesn’t pay any attention to screening schedules, it might be a good idea to have more film shorts compiled to run the two-hour theatrical maximum, instead of the stretched-out stories that only wind up fragmented and episodic anyway. Even the sheer statistical possibility of increasing the chances of success by adding more films to a single presentation ought to be enough encouragement for everyone involved. Why worry about perfecting a project when you can get by with a fraction or two? Moreover, given the humbler dimensions of the short format, ultimate earthshaking statements better not get in the way of the medium’s proper priority – entertainment.

11011For this reason omnibus film entries are almost always either failed ambitions or successful amusements; barely is there room for sustained inadequacies or grandiose achievements – both of which require the leisure of normal viewing time to attain. Valentine’s 1989 saw this observation being played out in typical industry overkill. Not one but two omnibus films by not one but two of our major local studios provided a veritable festival-total of six film titles for less than a third of normal screening time! Going by the admittedly friendly-critic principle that one good entry would validate an entire package, neither Regal nor Viva really lost; the issue in fact would rather revolve on who won more.

11011Regal Films’ Mga Kuwento ng Pag-ibig had, in order of presentation, Artemio Marquez’s “Halimuyak,” Luciano B. Carlos’s “Ginto’t Pilak, Namumulaklak,” and Jun Cabreira’s “Liwanag”; all three were written by Jose Javier Reyes, with the first co-written with the director. Viva’s 3 Mukha ng Pag-ibig had Leroy Salvador’s “I Love You Moomoo,” Lino Brocka’s “Ang Silid,” and Emmanuel H. Borlaza’s “Katumbas ng Kahapon,” all with Sharon Cuneta in common. Both productions shared Reyes, who wrote the Borlaza entry; the other Viva writers were Loida T. Viriña (Salvador’s episode) and Roy C. Iglesias (Brocka’s). With decent entertainment as minimum criterion, both films turned out an above-average (contemporary local industrial output as base) percentage division of 50-50, or three passable ones out of six. Most sensible viewers would have gone to see 3 Mukha on the basis of Lino Brocka’s credit alone; that plus Sharon Cuneta’s box-office draw would perhaps tilt the critical odds toward the Viva bet.

11011As it turned out, more viewers did patronize 3 Mukha, and rare as the occasion may seem, this was one instance wherein the better movie, even if only in slightly more favorable terms, drew in the support it deserved. Brocka’s “Ang Silid” surprisingly pales in relation to the other good episodes from either film. It’s a thriller where the moral issues are drawn as soon as all the protagonists are presented, and the plot twists that have been so injudiciously appropriated by local melodramas are sorely missed here. All “Ang Silid” ever really makes worthy of attention is the consistent competence of the performances – a rarity for even the most casual observation of Philippines movies – plus a moving self-play by what seems to be an authentic person with Down syndrome.

11011Regal’s “Ginto’t Pilak, Namumulaklak” would have been Brocka’s expected material, although the treatment is something else. And what a treatment! Luciano B. Carlos and Jose Javier Reyes take the story of a “class”-conscious slum-dweller to the outer limits of camp, then turn the whole thing inside out with a fabular happy ending. Lead performers Maricel Soriano and Joey Marquez ride along in the spirit of the undertaking, but the places they get to – a people-power uprising, a blatantly lewd courtship, the intervention of a female-but-fairy godmother, the intrigues and insecurities of the filthy rich – amount to a dizzying combination of the worst traditions of local comedy (toilet humor, cheap visual puns, improvised jokes, excessive campiness) presented in the best possible manner. In effect “Ginto’t Pilak” suggests that such elements seem contemptible mainly because of our familiarity with them. In a manner of speaking, this is what makes British film and Japanese television humor difficult for Filipinos to take: given the social stratifications and adherence to rituals that we expect of these nationals, it requires a form of logical somersault to appreciate the desperation of their amusements.

11011The best of the short-subject lot, Viva’s Borlaza entry “Katumbas ng Kahapon,” serves to confirm this notion, but from the opposite direction. “Katumbas” is a compendium of all our martyr-wife melodrama conventions, but the execution doesn’t require intellectualization to prove the point. This may have been because the time limit could not allow the overdevelopment characteristic of melodrama, and so the filmmaker finally had to rely on the strength of his performers. The final product contains an emotionally wrenching delivery by the grotesquely effective Christopher de Leon, matched highlight for highlight by Cuneta, who outdoes even herself in one of local cinema’s most satisfactory long-take endings ever. All the other potentially embarrassing moments in “Katumbas,” primarily comprising confrontation scenes between any of the leads and lesser-equipped performers, are outshone by the fireworks between Cuneta and de Leon. Much as we could conceive of more possible complexities (and therefore more pleasure) in the medium of film, such simple delights could do no harm and in fact could serve as springboard for more ambitious and longer attempts. Here’s to more shorts, in the theaters if not on the streets.

[First published May 10, 1989, in National Midweek]

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Triumph in 16mm.

Directed and written by Briccio Santos

It was bound to happen, sooner than later. Having been an active participant, as either coordinator or juror, in recent but now-defunct short-film festivals, and at the same time a privileged observer of the mainstream movie industry through my membership in the local film critics’ circle, I could not help but fear, if only vicariously, the arrival of the day when the two forms of film practice – one essentially a sub-industry of the other – would confront each other in a non-negotiable bid for mutually exclusive supremacy. After barely three years since the sensational debut of a number of artists in super-8mm., we now have, with the simultaneous shift of some practitioners to video, a situation in which the truly outstanding items of cinema so far this year are alternative in nature, in terms of either format or venue.

11011The big-time outfits immediately prior to the February political upheaval have all managed to resume commercial activity, but owing perhaps to the trauma of the temporary decline in box-office patronage, none has been able to come up with a critically acceptable output. Sure, Regal Films released some of the major directors’ also-rans, but its last competition-caliber productions were Ishmael Bernal’s Hinugot sa Langit and Peque Gallaga’s Virgin Forest – both over a year old. Better bets would comprise Sixto Kayko’s Private Show and William Pascual’s Takaw Tukso, plus also-rans by Gallaga (Unfaithful Wife) and Mario O’Hara (Bagong Hari). Among this year’s releases in alternative formats I’d place strong commendations on one in video – Mike de Leon’s Bilanggo sa Dilim – and another in 16mm., Briccio Santos’ Damortis.

Poster layout of Briccio Santos’s 16mm. Damortis (1986).

11011But first a few words of clarification about 16mm.: this is the midway format between the affordable (and therefore, some sometimes wrongly conclude, amateurish) super-8mm. and the commercial-gauge 35mm.; somewhere in distant lands lies the promise of an authentic roadshow presentation in 70mm., but short of engaging on equal terms in a co-production venture with a foreign outfit (a dream almost impossible in itself at the moment), we may have to content ourselves with a Third-World designation in the area of film-as-culture, as in all our other concerns. Because of its halfway nature, 16mm. could sometimes obscure – but never, as the more desperate artists maintain, negate – the distinction between what is alternative and what is mainstream. For just as 16mm. may be used to reproduce super-8mm. by allowing those produced in the standard speed of 24 frames per second to be enlarged, 16mm. may also be and is in fact more commonly used to reduce commercial 35mm. movies for various purposes, usually archival preservation or television broadcasting.

11011Which simply means that, in a strictly classificatory sense, films reduced from commercial format to 16mm., even were the 35mm. prints to be permanently damaged or lost, should not be considered in the same category as those produced originally in 16mm. or blown up from super-8mm. In this regard I can so far claim to having seen the alternative 16mm. features that matter, not to mention the commercial films that exist only in the reduced format, and this is where I stake my assertion, circuitous as the route has been, that among the former kind, Damortis is the best of the lot. After having been screened for free in several venues, the film was shown to a half-full house during the Wave festival, where I first saw it, and where it turned out to be the dark horse in the race for superiority among a number of well-chosen fiction-film entries. Having begun with such a casual attempt at comparison, I might as well take pursuit in a more pretentious vein by asserting that Damortis – exceeded as it was on the technical level by its less fully developed double bill, Carlos Siguion-Reyna’s Patas Lang – would pass muster if only on the plastics level of commercial releases.

11011The opening frames provide an impression of dramatic restraint, in the Franco-German or middle (Indian) cinema manner; takes are long-drawn-out, the filmmaker reliant more on in-depth composition to make his points. Toward the end the attentive viewer will have noticed that the filmic strategy has shifted toward the employment of montage, sometimes to the extent of documentary lyricism, dangerously close to but never quite within the realm of editorial indulgence. This is because the filmmaker does not let go of his initial attack in storytelling, in which he harnesses obliquity to pull forward a linear narrative: a seminarian returns to his hometown, Damortis, upon learning of the death of his father; he discovers he has occult healing powers and sets up a clinic, from which he and his wife profit unexpectedly even as they neglect an assistant, a childhood acquaintance of theirs. When the assistant’s father dies, the faith healer teaches him some basic rituals, after which the assistant’s healing powers surpass those of his master. He succeeds in ruining the master’s practice and in ravishing the wife, but is upended in the end by the avenging woman.

11011Various themes – the ones I can remember are occultism, lust (for sex and power), exploitation, and sexual politics – crisscross the tale, but refuse to come to a head in the end. Not one is in fact satisfactorily developed beyond the presentation of conflicts, but the essence is in the telling rather than in the message: everything gets drawn into a flux that indicates the meaningless repetition of ordinary existence, which may admit the raising of issues that provoke transitions to heroism, only to thwart the necessary culminations in order to uphold the cycle of survival. A recurrent strain in Damortis is that of religious rituals, repetitive and endless. For every act that the protagonists take outside of the ordinary, a ritual plows them back into the town’s earthy existence; the climax of the story may be initially seen as a liberating exception, until we realize that the very act of the rape victim in setting fire to herself and her transgressor is in itself a consummation of the protagonists’ rebellion against the life force – a metaphysical warning that those who dare counter this course will cancel out one another to the point of extinction.

11011Some other observers may accuse me of having read too much into the film, and they could be correct as far as the weak ability of Damortis in purveying popular staples, beyond the occasional gore or epidermal exposure, is concerned. I for one do not imagine myself re-viewing Damortis with the same appreciation I held when I first saw it: my admiration for its offbeat storytelling and extra-cinematic daring will have been replaced by a more proper reaction to its visionary coldness. More to the point, I can imagine other filmmakers, if not Briccio Santos himself, undertaking less defeatist yet even more experimentally successful approaches within the format. In a sense, Damortis is the urbanite’s reaction to the rustic’s condemnation of the city; I can see the film taking the con side in a debate on the desirability of a return to rural values – the other side of which has already been articulated, perhaps unwittingly but still injuriously, by our typical slum films.

11011I may be succumbing to the lure of Damortis the town, but I don’t see any more appropriate way of ending this review by referring back to the mainstream-vs.-alternative industry conflict. Quo vadis, mainstreamers? The only possible opportunity to rally forth with a one last ticket for the awards sweepstakes would be the Christmas season’s Metro Manila Film Festival, but then again that couldn’t be considered a normal industrial period, could it? Somewhere in the back of my mind the prospect of alternative artists challenging and eventually dominating the moviemaking establishment becomes less fearful, more desirable even.

[First published October 20, 1986, in New Day]

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Movie(?) of the Year

Ang Lungsod ng Tao Ay Nasa Puso
[Originally titled Film Trilogy on the Theme of Poverty and Prostitution]
Directed and written by Nick Deocampo (a.k.a. Rosa ng Maynila)

Three films with the too-formal title Film Trilogy on the Theme of Poverty and Prostitution comprise nearly three hours’ worth of viewing time in super-8mm. format. The prospect of watching the individual entries in succession – “Oliver” at 45 minutes, “Mga Anak ng Lansangan” at 50, and “Revolutions Happen Like Refrains in a Song” at 75 – might be akin to sitting through a long-winded discourse by a brilliant speaker: his genius will endure, your patience may not. I had the understatedly more relaxed option of watching the short-film entries as they came along, in two-year intervals over a period of five years, plus the benefit of some intense exchanges along the way with the trilogy’s filmmaker, Nick Deocampo. “Oliver,” the first installment, introduced itself as the first in a series of works on what was then ironically being heralded as the City of Man. “Mga Anak ng Lansangan” provided a more technically assured but dramatically deficient presentation on the eve of the February 1986 upheaval, while “Revolutions Happen Like Refrains in a Song,” which came out this year, acknowledged the primacy of far-reaching sociopolitical concerns over technical finesse and went one step further than either of its predecessors in allowing its creator to finally take center stage and admit his role and motives in the making of the entire work thus far.

11011Local reception to these titles has tended to match their seeming unpredictability of direction. Acclaim came fairly and easily for “Oliver,” too easily for “Mga Anak,” and unfairly hard for “Revolutions.” As these stand, “Oliver” is the most perfectly wrought among the three, its focus having been provided by its sensational character-subject Reynaldo Villarama, who uses the alias in the title for his graphic gay live shows. Successive re-viewings confirm the classicality of its contributions to short filmmaking in the Philippines, or even in avant-garde independent-cinema circles elsewhere, which is generally characterized by an obsession with plastic experimentation at the expense of more permanent values.

11011In “Oliver” the choice of subject complements the medium’s propensity for surface exploitations: Villarama’s story may be sordid even for those familiar to the point of cynicism with the goings-on in the local gay underworld, but the guy himself lives in and loves the limelight. He comes alive with the essentially exploitative nature of documentary filmmaking, in effect ensuring the audience that not only does he not mind baring his soul (or close to what remains of it), he’d even be grateful for any sort of reaction, be it positive or negative, to his desperate attempts at exhibitionism. Deocampo, then going by the nom de camera Rosa ng Maynila, thus discovered and preserved for cultural posterity the proper sort of documentary subject in Villarama, a real-life counterpart of the effective screen actor, who after all is just another performer craving for public adulation.

Reynaldo Villarama (b. 1959), more famously known as Oliver, in Nick Deocampo’s super-8mm. Ang Lungsod ng Tao Ay Nasa Puso (1983-88).

11011In this regard “Mga Anak ng Lansangan” squanders this precious insight into documentary film craft. Here Deocampo surrenders, as it were, to the preoccupation with the so-called fine visual principles typical of alternative and academic film circles: standard light sources, carefully calculated lens openings, well-planned camera placements and movements, matched cuts, and all the other excess baggage assumed by short-filmmakers who can’t seem to discard the siren call of mainstream commercial practice despite their routine condemnation of the system. It isn’t so much Deocampo’s inadequacies with this sort of cock-eyed approach to the woefully inappropriate super-8mm. format that undoes him as much as the demands of his subject themselves. In “Mga Anak” he has trained his camera on child prostitutes, and they’re either as naïve or as reluctant about the opportunity of exposure in film as Villarama was neither. Interviews with adults who concern themselves with the kids’ plight only serve to heighten this awareness of how unforgiving the film medium can be, how unsparingly it exposes the limits of its performers’ understanding of the roles that they set out for themselves to play.

11011“Revolutions Happen Like Refrains in a Song” could therefore only be the inevitable result, although I wonder if Deocampo’s sense of hindsight resembles my own. A sprawling, exasperating, but nevertheless impressive mélange of personal memorabilia, outtakes from the earlier two films, and documentations of historical events in the interregnum, the film comes close to redefining documentary presentation as observed by its predecessors, and in fact already contains the potential for doing so. Only those who’ve done some careful thinking and tinkering with super-8mm. will appreciate this sort of achievement – which I suspect is the reason why local short-film festival judges, affiliated as they tend to be with the mainstream, accorded “Mga Anak” a recognition at par with that of “Oliver,” but gave nothing whatsoever to “Revolutions.” How could one used to commercial gauges even begin to take seriously any film print that deliberately contains mismatched overlit or underlit shots, defective celluloid surfaces, jerky home-movie camerawork, or downright bad takes strung together over the filmmaker’s first-person narration of how this particular work came about?

11011Of course this entire question has been answered in part by the proponents of personal cinema – and I’d emphasize “in part” because the personal-cinema movement has rarely been as intimate as “Revolutions” purports to be. To be sure, and as Deocampo himself has admitted, the movie tends to repeat itself in some parts: overall, however, the daring and the honesty coupled with the surface crudeness begin to assume a measure of charm, if not admirability. Moments like Villarama fumbling over his infamous Spiderman act (which served as “Oliver’s” finale) or gay live-sex performers arousing each other in near-absurd desperation (absent in the sanitized presentations of “Mga Anak”) provide enough theatrical distance to be almost funny in themselves, while the shots of the February 1986 revolution-in-progress instill a sense of relief, however false or fleeting, through the hope that the trilogy’s theme of poverty and prostitution may get caught up the sweep of farther-reaching social changes.

11011If we take “Oliver” as is, “Mga Anak” as a necessary step in the development of its maker’s understanding of his medium’s particular format, and “Revolutions” as a work-in-progress nearing completion, then Nick Deocampo’s trilogy is the fulfillment of a long-standing threat by alternative filmmakers to finally overrun the mainstream. What an honor that a foreign festival should give its highest prize to this work, and what a shame that we couldn’t have any similar means of formally providing the recognition it deserves.

[First published January 27, 1988, in National Midweek]

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Perils of Politics

A Dangerous Life
Directed by Robert Markowitz
Written by David Williamson

Finally, an audiovisual event that will surely figure prominently in everyone’s comprehensive yearend listings. Ironically for film observers, A Dangerous Life isn’t even, strictly speaking, a movie: it’s a multi-installment and big-budget video production. And ironically for nationalists, A Dangerous Life may not even be Filipino, if we consider sources of either capital or creative control. Whatever its merits and demerits, A Dangerous Life will remain the year’s most discussed, er, film, and people who have something to say or write about it would have done so by now. There won’t be a dearth of issues to raise: its perspective may be non-American but nevertheless remains Western (producers and creators are Australian); it has apparently served to further the claim to legitimacy of the current regime, not to mention the station that aired it nonstop save for the usual breaks; most important, it deals with the most significant event of our generation, the 1986 February revolution that resulted in the ouster of Ferdinand E. Marcos and the installation of Corazon C. Aquino in his stead.

Mendiola protest performance, a sampling of the anti-dictatorship uprising covered by Robert Markowitz’s TV movie A Dangerous Life (1988).

11011How to place this kind of work in the context of the local mainstream? To begin with, A Dangerous Life is not the first attempt at reconstructing the upheaval that began with the assassination of Benigno S. Aquino and ended with the people-power phenomenon. A number of documentaries by both local and foreign filmmakers are relatively easy to access, and the events themselves occasionally figure, if only in passing, in full-length feature productions. Nothing of feature-length scale has ever yet been accomplished, however, obviously owing to the sheer logistical and budgetary resources that such an undertaking will require. This makes of A Dangerous Life something like an ultimate, and a less-than-satisfactory one at that. Various quarters have questioned the disparities between perceived reality and the filmic version of it, even in details as dismissible as prosthetics. Of course the reconstruction of anything with the scope and magnitude attempted by A Dangerous Life is a heroic thing in itself, but I think its basic problem lies in the foundation on which it built the story of a nation and its people.

11011Take out the documentary footage and re-stagings of what supposedly transpired in actuality, and what’s left is a love story that assumes a triangular dimension at a certain point, but never becomes momentous or profound enough to require a corresponding historical background. Sure, you could voice exactly the same criticism about Gone with the Wind, and you’d be correct, except that GWTW had all the advantages of superior film technology and a desperate romantic conviction that surely derived from its makers’ confidence in themselves and in their ownership of the source material. In the case of A Dangerous Life, an unnecessary sort of tension results from the alternations between the love angle(s) and historically significant developments. It seems the filmmakers were reluctant to allow the concerns of the central characters, who were both foreign and fictional, from overwhelming the more impressive business of restoring democracy in a beleaguered Third-World country.

11011More serious is the oversight that resulted from such excessive carefulness. Philippine history suddenly became a morality play, with the forces of good clearly aligned against those of evil. Anyone who went through that period with any amount of intensity, myself included, will be able to contend that at most points it did feel that way, at least while it lasted. The trouble is that, even from the short perspective of the present, the entire situation never could have been as simple as it seemed then. It doesn’t help to assert, as the movie does, that Aquino was driven to a certain extent by vindictiveness, or that the Marcoses did have some amount of affection for each other after all. I suppose the major problem confronting a production like A Dangerous Life is that the real-life events it happens to be dealing with are not yet over; history too can be capable of the reversals and ambiguities that we normally associate with good drama. Yet if things remain as predictable as the movie suggests, what’s to keep creators from making the most of license? A Dangerous Life may have begun with this ideal in mind, when it sought to intersperse fiction with fact; but early on it decided to steer clear of possible controversies in historical interpretation, rather than pursue the more liberating option of turning fact inside out to make it more truthful, if not more real.

11011Thus it consigned itself to suffer the discontent of those who wanted more credibility in its depiction of historical reality on the one hand, and those who expected a more dramatically valid fictional framework on the other. In short, what we’ve got here is the classic case of someone setting out to please everybody and winding up pleasing no one, except maybe … himself? In the final analysis, such an account as A Dangerous Life provides will still have a place in our cultural setup, and not just from the politicized perspective either. Before our own creative artists make their own “ultimate” statements about the 1986 “revolution” (quotes are optional and may be removed by those who disagree), they’ll first have to see how far and how deeply the subject can sustain itself, given a particular medium as sample. And even before that, they’ll need to see if it can be done with any measure of success. A Dangerous Life, by the very act of letting down great expectations, will prove indispensable in raising these challenges.

[Submitted in November 1988 to National Midweek; unpublished]

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Imelda: Paru-Parung Bakal
Directed by Chito Roño
Written by Cesar Buendia

The demise of the hard-hitting television show Isip Pinoy could serve as marker for the waning of the public’s interest in politics; the more cynical among us would even go as far as saying that the cause was actually politicians, rather than politics itself. The distinction may prove to be more than semantic, once the new version of Isip Pinoy, now called Isyung Pinoy, gets under way. The pilot episode, slated to run for two hours (commercials included), features the former First Lady and makes bold claims, in both treatment and content, that the former series, for all its awards and distinctions, barely attempted before.

11011“Imelda: Paru-Parung Bakal” actually succeeds in some form of political sacrilege: it turns every Filipino’s favorite villainess into a highly sympathetic subject of study. In doing so it upholds the literary potential of video – the medium’s most vital aspect, so often neglected in the drive to exploit its journalistic capabilities. This reluctance to explore video’s dramatic potential had been primarily due to the inevitable comparisons with the more technologically developed medium of film on the one hand, and with the more aesthetically significant medium of theater on the other. Hence the most that video had done for itself in common practice so far was to approximate the storytelling function of film, reckoning with its technical limitations by appropriating the dependency on dialogue of theater.

11011Add to this program for survival the mostly financial advantages of issuing a product in installments, and what we get is A Dangerous Life – the surface characteristics of the epic minus the requisites of dramatic innovation that made classic examples more than just tolerable. The only other possible recourse, which to my mind is truer to the nature of video, is to regard it as lying not between film and theater, but rather on the other extreme of theater, with film in between. In practice all this simply means is that possibilities for dramatic presentation should be worked out according to the function that we have come to take for granted in video: that of audiovisual journalism or, in more faithful medium-based jargon, documentation.

11011By this account it should come as no surprise to discover that what A Dangerous Life barely attains in a more direct narrative manner, Isyung Pinoy’s “Imelda” manages in less than a fourth of the longer work’s total running time. The procedure can hardly be called chronological, much less filmic. Perhaps the seemingly extraneous formulations being imposed on film by more recent theorists will apply with unqualified success in the case of video. For where discourses on the relationship of the medium with the circumstances of its production become only so much ado about nothing if it eventually becomes capable of self-sustainment (as is the case with film), in video, or at least in “Imelda,” where the entire undertaking depends on the availability of effective historical footage, the circumstances of production are all but dispensable in arriving at a proper appreciation of the work.

11011In this instance we have a near-perfect choice of subject matter. No other prominent contemporary Filipino citizen, not even Imelda Marcos’s husband or his political successor, has such a confluence of contradictions operating on several levels of modern existence. “Imelda” reveals a woman ignorant of history but clever in her manipulation of it, allowing herself to be used by her master politician of a husband so as to be able to use him in return, sincere in her employment of pretense to surmount her early deprivations, committed to the end to a cause – her own, essentially – that she could never really attain on her own. One of the final images in “Imelda” is her interview on her arraignment in New York. It is something that should have been impressed on us, her former subjects, as closely as possible to its real-time delivery, rather than having been qualified by the news accounts that preceded (and thereby affected our perception of) it. “Imelda” restores the footage to a disturbing, heartbreaking, more, well, Filipino context, in which by virtue of the foregoing accumulation of the woman’s characteristics, what we find is our familiar conception of the earth mother: resilient and dangerously touching.

11011Some of the other aspects of the episode, notably the insinuation that Imelda Marcos lives on as a political syndrome among us, have apparently been intended for the former audiences of Isip Pinoy. The creation of “Imelda’s” central character is the more lasting achievement though, and the question of how the real thing corresponds with her video counterpart should be accorded a status at the most secondary to the issue of whether this sort of exercise should be encouraged in the first place. I doubt if the old (pre-1986 revolution) Imelda would agree with what she would find therein, and that in itself should constitute sufficient commendation for the product, if not the lady.

[First published March 15, 1989, in National Midweek]

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An Update

As recently as less than half a century ago, who would have imagined any Filipino’s gratitude for our proximity to the Land of the Rising Sun? Of course, super-8mm. wasn’t around then, but if it weren’t for Tokyo up north and the United States way across the Pacific, the format wouldn’t be around at all anymore. The first and most successful imperialistically introduced medium of the current century will surely be enjoying a renewed proliferation of 16mm., but not in the inexpensive black-and-white that characterized early television practice; formal film training will be making its mark on industrial practice sooner or later, and those in the know will agree with the wisdom of dabbling in a relatively cheap format that still approximates commercial-gauge procedures. No one seems to be interested at the moment in the 16mm.-to-35mm. blowup strategy, as well as the omnibus presentation, but these may accompany the onslaught of the local version of Hollywood Brats – or will it be the French New Wave? As for video, more and more people will be able to afford and appreciate equipment in this format (or medium – the distinction’s hazy here), which means, if we’re lucky, we could wind up having a nationwide filmmaking explosion. Or, at the very least, an audience who appreciates the process of film inside and out. Laser technology, which is currently proving indispensable to film preservation even in local cases, may yet provide radical options for filmmaking in video, though further miniaturization might first have to be realized.

[First published October 24, 1990, in National Midweek]

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About Joel David

Teacher, scholar, & gadfly of film, media, & culture. [Photo of Kiehl courtesy of Danny Y. & Vanny P.] View all posts by Joel David

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