Fallout over “A Lover’s Polemic”

After “A Lover’s Polemic” came out in The Manila Review (August 2013, pp. 6-8), the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication invited me to participate in a rather awkwardly titled “A Round Table [sic] Discussion on Poetics and Practice of Film Criticism.” Without anyone informing me outright, I knew that the event was motivated by the impulse of the members of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Filipino Film Critics Circle) to engage me in public, possibly to defend its practice. In the article I wrote, I acknowledged some positive contributions of the MPP, but I also maintained that several current problems in local film criticism could be traced to its shortcomings. The college dean at the time, Rolando B. Tolentino, also happened to be the MPP chair, and of the final list of participants, three out of seven (including Tolentino) were members of the circle. All the participants except one were faculty at the CMC, and three of them were members of the Young Critics Circle. Inasmuch as I was a former member and corporate secretary of the MPP, a founding member of YCC, and founding Director of the CMC’s Film Institute, it made sense for me to participate in the roundtable even if I knew, from past experience, that the MPP could recognize its weaknesses and resolve to confront them – but would continue anyway with its more lucrative counter-critical practice of award-giving. Unfortunately the roundtable was scheduled on March 19, 2014, when I had to be back at work in Korea.

11011The contributions were published in the vol. 13, no. 1 (2016) issue of Plaridel: A Philippine Journal of Communication, Media, and Society, where I happen to be a member of the International Advisory Board, and where Tolentino is Editor-in-Chief. As expected, the pieces written by MPP members displayed varying degrees of pique, starting with none: my former adviser and criticism mentor Bienvenido Lumbera provided a short and charming autobiographical account (“Kung Paano Ako Nakapasok sa Film Criticism” [How I Started in Film Criticism] 162-63) of how his interest in literature eventually extended to film. Former CMC dean Nicanor G. Tiongson (in “Critiquing the Filipino Film Today: Notes for the Round-Table Discussion on Film Criticism” 171-78) made attempts at reviewing a number of recent releases using the MPP’s antiquated criteria and then, apropos of nothing, claimed that one of the “qualifications that are necessary to be able to analyze and evaluate films well” included “a healthy respect for other critics in order to encourage dialogue; and above all, an attitude of balance and fairness, which is free of all personal agenda and self-promotion” (177-78) – strange words, considering their source.

11011The meanest attacks were rendered, surprisingly enough, by Tolentino, who had requested letters of support from me for his deanship candidacy. Titled “Hinahanap, Kaya Nawawala” [Searched For, Therefore Missing] (178-84), the rambling presentation revisited the quarrels Tolentino had with what he called “film bloggers (a.k.a. critics)” over Marie Jamora’s Ang Nawawala [What Isn’t There] (2012). Tolentino’s text is in Filipino, so I have provided excerpts below of relevant passages, with italicized translations in English. (Many thanks to Jek Josue David for correcting the translations.)

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…nanghihimok na ang dalubhasa na lamang ng disiplina ang may natatanging papel, katungkulan, at kaalaman para sa pagpapaunlad ng disiplinang araling pelikula (178).

[Like any other area, that of film studies] ensures that only experts in the field would have the right, duty, and knowledge in developing the discipline….

Pero hindi nangyari ito, o hindi pa nangyayari ito. Sumpa ng midya ng pelikula na ang lahat ng nakapanood ay may awtoridad na makapagbigay ng kaniyang kuro-kuro sa pinanood na palabas, na ang publiko ay awtoridad – bilang konsumeristang nagbabayad – sa kaniyang karanasan bilang manonood. At walang ipinagkaiba ito sa teritoryalisasyon ng mga kritiko sa iba’t ibang disiplina sa humanidades at agham panlipunan na tumahak din ng landas tungo sa pagpapalawig ng pelikula hindi sa isang disiplinang pampelikula na panuntunan kundi sa kanilang disiplina’t espesyalisasyon (178-79).

But it didn’t happen, or hasn’t happened yet. The curse of the film medium is that every viewer has the authority to convey her opinion on what she has seen, that the public has expertise – as paying consumers – in their experiences as viewers. This is no different from the territorialization of critics in various disciplines of humanities and social sciences in expanding film’s potential not within its own discipline but rather in their own fields of discipline and specialization.

Tila isinasaad, dahil popular ang midya ng pelikula, kailangan ay popular din ang paraan ng paglalahad ng teksto at konteksto nito: diyaryo, magazin, libro, at ang kasalukuyang pamamayagpag ng diskurso ng pelikula sa internet (179).

What’s asserted [is that], because the medium of film is popular, then the means of explicating its texts and contexts should also be popular: newspapers, magazines, books, and the current supremacy of film discourse on the internet.

Ang isang sumunod na sumpa sa kritisismong pelikula ay ang Internet, at ang pagsulpot ng pigura ng film blogger…. Mas mabilis silang magsulat, at may kalakaran sila ng pagsulat na may apela sa mga 35 porsiyento ng mamamayang may akses sa internet – kalakhan, kabataan, at gitnang uri. At kung nagsusulat sila sa Ingles, nababasa sila ng mundo ng mga art film festival, at naiimbitahan sa press junket at film junket, kundi man, maging jury pa sa mga ito. Ang kalakaran ng pagsulat ay may gaan at maraming patutsada na wala naman sa mismong pelikula pero nasa konteksto ng gitnang uri’t virtual public na intelektuwal na nagsusulat, at ng karanasan nito ng panonood at pagsusulat, kundi man ng kaniyang gitnang uring buhay (179).

A later curse on film criticism is the Internet, and the emergence of the figure [sic] of film bloggers…. They write faster, and their writings appeal to the 35 percent of the population who have access to the internet – majority [or mainstream, since “kalakhan” means greater majority], youth, and middle class. When written in English, they are read by the art-film festival communities and get invitations to press and film junkets, and even get appointed as jury members in these events. Their writing is airy and has several innuendos not present in the film itself but in relation to how they see and write about the film as middle-class, virtual public intellectuals, if not in the context of their middle-class life experiences.

At ito namang peg ng mga film blogger (a.k.a. critics) ang siya ring pumapaimbalot sa isa pang quasi-, kundi man, pseudo-intelektuwal na publikasyon sa internet, The Manila Review, na ang apuhap din – batay sa “wafazan” ng mga interesadong indibidwal sa Facebook – ay tungo sa kontrobersiya’t espektakulo ng mga “intelektuwal” na lumelevel sa putikan at burak kapag umeestima ng puna at kritisismo (180).

And the standard of these film bloggers (a.k.a. critics) is also what suffuses another quasi-, if not, pseudo-intellectual publication on the internet, The Manila Review, that attempts to aspire – based on the “wafazan” of interested individuals on Facebook – toward controversy and the spectacle of “intellectuals” who thrive on mud and filth when evaluating attack and criticism.

In the interest of following through on Tolentino’s attacks on Ang Nawawala and “film bloggers,” I viewed Jamora’s film and made an exception to Ámauteurish!’s policy of functioning strictly as an archival website, by blogging my own review of the film. It may also be worth noting that Tolentino’s negative review of the film was posted on his own blog.


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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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