Bibliographic Mini-Essay 3: The Rise in Spin-offs

One game I’ve been playing in uploading and updating the Pinas film bibliography is predicting what category would be first to require splitting up because of a too-large number of entries. A few categories had to be handled this way right after I first posted the categorized file – which only meant that I observed how the majority of categories tended toward the same range. So after a period where some categories needed to be expanded – Novelizations added to Screenplays, Teleplays, and (filmmaking) Accounts; Special Journal Issues added to Studies & Festschrifts – the next stage was a reclassification of the largest groups in order to align them within the same range as the others.

11011Initially it seemed to me that the Reviews and Criticism category might be the first to require this treatment. As it turned out, the first three that needed to be adjusted, over a year since the bibliography went online, were: Histories – a good sign, since that meant that people were paying more attention to film development, with enough material to constitute its own pre-Marcos category); Auteurist Materials and Memoirs – essentially an overlapping differentiation, since the objects of the biographical issues would be auteurs in either instance, but I enforced a distinction wherein Memoirs would be personalized accounts of a subject’s private and professional experiences, while Auteurist Materials would be screen cultural studies that proceeded (partly or entirely) from an auteur’s psychobiography; and Screenplays, Teleplays, Novelizations, Accounts (the first to be expanded) – an extensive-seeming group that actually neatly subdivided itself in the middle.

11011My critical-academic biases, the same ones that led me to expect that Reviews and Criticism would be the fastest-growing category, caused me to pay the least attention to the last category I mentioned until the number of entries called for adjustment. One film-derived adaptation comprised short stories while another was a musical (of which several more can be published even at this point), so I changed the subcategory’s title, from Novelizations to Literary Adaptations. And had to confront the proverbial can of (book)worms: a great number of local films, especially during the early years, may not have been spun off into literary texts but were definitely adapted from pre-existing material. We may think that the end of our equivalent of the Classical Hollywood period, the First Golden Age, finally liberated us from relying on “worthy” samples like metric romances and historical novels, but look more closely. Some of the best output of that period actually originated from a still grossly underappreciated source: serialized graphic novels called komiks, to differentiate them from the US innovation that inspired and inspirited them.

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11011Komiks at one point became the primary print form for Philippine readers, so it naturally made sense for producers to schedule projects at around the time when a serialization was expected to conclude. This symbiosis between film and print proved fail-safe, so in fact we might make two corollary claims: that Filipinos were the most avid consumers per-capita of visual media (of which film was merely one among several possible instances), and that the closest to a unifying national language we ever had was, propitiously yet problematically, audiovisual.

11011If this sounds like an apology for an extensive gap in bibliographical material – Where are the literary sources of our film products? – I don’t see how it can be anything else but.[1] It’s a doable challenge for ambitious cultural historians, but it lies beyond the scope of other tasks I’ve designated for myself. For one thing, someone already counting down to retirement (as I am) will have to reset her timetable to accommodate the equivalent of a doctoral dissertation, just to accomplish the empirical groundwork. Let this goblet pass from me and I promise to fill it later with some delightfully filthy potables. Patience is our key.

11011As for the recent adaptational flurry of publishing activity on the part of pop-oriented publishers and alert production houses, education officials should be able to recognize how a decline in komiks patronage may have been replaced by our audience members’ willingness to read texts that recapture or enhance their movie-watching experience. It may have been a few years’ trend that does appear to be waning, another opportunity to upgrade young people’s literacy wasted by local educators’ inability to cope with the fairly dated challenge of teaching audiovisual appreciation.

Note

[1] The emergence of new media has occasioned several novel instances of narrative renewal and adaptation. Those written about in books include films derived from Wattpad stories, Facebook exchanges, viral videos (converging on the TikTok app during the Covid-19 pandemic), and online games. Mobile-phone content – in terms of oral conversations as well as SMS chats – have also become standard fiction-film features.

11011One might also have to face the possibility that the challenge of tracking every possible prior influence in Philippine cinema might amount to a snipe hunt, inasmuch as the country’s Westernization provided a wide range of influences from two continents through premodern to postmodern periods. Moreover, the still-unresolved obsession with “originality” that (at least during the early years of organized criticism) constantly intruded on useful film evaluation, along with the ever-present concern for moral values, promise to constitute stumbling blocks even for progressive thinkers. Finally, Pinas is nothing if not a globalized entity, from its inception to the foreseeable future; as a specific prominent sample, consider John du Pont’s Philippine Birds, a 1971 monograph published by the Delaware Museum of Natural History, determinedly innocuous if not for the subsequent sensation of its Forbes 400 author’s “guilty but mentally ill” conviction for the fatal shooting in 1996 of Dave Schultz, an Olympic freestyle wrestler. Du Pont died in prison, with the tragedy subsequently dramatized in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher (2014), a prestige project named after the family estate where he sponsored and trained a number of athletes.

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Á!

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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