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As a primarily archival blog, Ámauteurish! does not depend on exchanges or interactions, although it might generate dialogue elsewhere, whether in the virtual realm or in real-life situations. To attain this level of self-containment, I attempt to devote the fullest possible attention to achieving correctness in the texts I upload. Considering the limits of time and internet consistency, however, certain errors in proofreading may have slipped through, or certain links may have expired or been modified. I would be grateful to be apprised of these details, as well as of suggestions for improvement (although I cannot guarantee that these will be minded, since the blog’s contents are essentially predetermined by my output for independent publishers).
Manila, July 2015
After I deactivated my (only) social network account, I realized I had accumulated a significant number of exchanges that I had planned to post in a useful manner. Trouble was, I had already allocated available sections in Ámauteurish! to predefined uploads, with at least two sections opening with one-shot features (a folio on film criticism in the Remarks section, a compilation of Manila by Night features in the Extras section). At the same time, I kept wondering what to do with the Contact section: I received occasional requests and (thankfully) infrequent spam, which meant people preferred to discuss issues using the relatively traditional e-mail and messaging apps.
Possibly as a result of time freed up by pandemic-era quarantine, the connection fell in place one day: a page titled “Contact” should encourage people to ask questions, but then I’d answered queries via other means already – so why not use the idle space on this page for that purpose? (Hence the “Queries” name change.) Understandably, several of my still-living past correspondents were hesitant about being identified regarding controversial issues, while I have not been able to track down a few others. So several of these queries will be from unidentified sources and have been modified for a general readership. If you recognize a conversation we’ve had on this page, and wouldn’t mind having your name or initials appear, please let me know so I can make the adjustment.
* Is it true you have become a Noranian?
I guess this has something to do with the libelous post of a person who had swindled me and a few other friends in the past. It’s not libelous to be called a Noranian, of course, but when I checked the only book that used the term, Si Nora Aunor sa mga Noranian: Mga Paggunita at Pagtatapat [Nora Aunor to the Noranians: Remembrances and Confessions] (ed. Nestor de Guzman, Quezon City: Milflores Publishing, 2005), I saw that all the contributors were affiliated with Nora Aunor fan clubs.
In my case, I get identified as a(n unofficial) Noranian for stating two things: one, that she was the prime multimedia actor who emerged in the history of Philippine pop culture, and two, that her stature jump-started the nearly unbroken and constantly growing trend in Philippine film-book publication. The first is a critical evaluation founded on an extensive reading and intensive application of performance-studies principles, while the second is a statement of fact that I uncovered unexpectedly, when I completed the Comprehensive Pinas Film Bibliography (uploaded as an exclusive feature on this blog).
The only way to avoid making these conclusions is to ignore excellence in film and media performances as well as pretend that a basic empirical analysis of the bibliographic record of Philippine cinema cannot be done or isn’t worth doing. If the figure of Nora Aunor emerges in these areas of Philippine film and media studies, whose fault is that? Not mine, and certainly not hers either.
* Do you have a doctorate in Noranian studies?
My doctorate was in cinema studies. Anyone who thinks I don’t have any credibility for whatever reason can always try asking New York University to retract the degree – a historical first, if that ever prospers. Also, as far as I know, the only dissertation (so far) on Nora Aunor was written by the excellent art-studies scholar Patrick D. Flores. I don’t think mine even mentioned her but whatever.
* Did you write a bad movie script?
The scripts I wrote were for my student films, decades ago, and for television programs I did even earlier, as a freelance writer (some of whose producers stole my credit even after their programs won awards, but again whatever). The latest incident I think refers to a project commissioned by a director from a Korean advisee of mine. The writer proposed a rom-com but requested me to provide Tagalog translations for lines he wrote in English. The draft has gone through numerous revisions, partly because of the costs involved, but the momentum for finalizing the project seems to be over.
The writer insisted on crediting me as co-author, which I refused because I really only provided translations, but he said that’s the only way he’ll allow the script to be produced, and the director decided to follow his preference. Another director may have commented on an early draft of the material and focused on my name, which means I tend to attract attention even in a secondary capacity. But if a so-called reporter wished to comment on it, she should have determined the exact circumstances rather than write something that existed in her fevered imagination (consequently fulfilling the defamatory requirement for a libel suit, since hello, there’s no public interest in that kind of silly question). If I had actually written my own script, it would be not just awful, it would mark the end of civilization as we know it. That I think would be a goal that my friends will be able to recognize as genuinely worthy of my credit.
* Why does this personality seem to have a vendetta against you?
Who knows? She probably thinks I have enough money to buy her silence, since that’s how these cheap media players operate. Other friends have come forward and said that the same person owes them large amounts of money. Another former colleague (now dead) also warned friends of mine that this person was a government agent.
My story is: when my first book came out, this person asked me to commission several copies from the publisher to sell to her friends. I paid for the copies, so I wouldn’t have to keep going back just to finalize the arrangement. When I followed up on the sales, she said that she gave the copies away to her friends in show business “to educate them,” implying that I should be grateful for the opportunity and annoyed that I even raised the question. You know that a second-hand copy of a book of mine went on sale recently at Amazon for almost a thousand US dollars? My books used to sell at much lower prices of course (the equivalent of two dollars in today’s prices for the title in question), but I was then a state-university instructor surviving on a hand-to-mouth existence when I was tricked into spending for nothing.
I might as well add here that this same person kept complimenting me during that period, in a manner I’d describe as full-on creepy (I should add that it takes a lot to creep me out, which was how I was able to endure certain extreme samples of cinema). I’m no math whiz so please don’t ask me to calculate how all these variables played out.
* She seems to have some leftist friends though.
Left, definitely, more than leftist. As in left behind. Probably her way of ensuring that she’ll always have dimwits she can shortchange whenever she needs cash for her rentboys.
* Have you contacted a libel expert to look into this case?
What was Falstaff’s point about discretion being the better part of valor? I know enough of Philippine media law and still have some friends in the right places, is all the answer I’ll proffer for now.
* Are you a Marcos supporter?
My contribution to an award-winning anthology of articles on the legacy of people power (titled Remembering/Rethinking EDSA, ed. JPaul S. Manzanilla and Caroline S. Hau, Mandaluyong City: Anvil, 2016) was complimented by the editors for being contrarian but fair. Even during the build-up to the EDSA uprising, I kept warning my colleagues at the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino that the Philippine industry output should not be downgraded just because the products were coming out during a dictatorship.
Time has proved me right: a canon project I advised came out with more titles during that period than at any other moment in local film history, but you would not recognize that kind of acknowledgment if you read the reviews published during that era. One consequence of this vulgar-politicized approach is that when film production dried up and film artists migrated to mainstream and televisual involvements, film critics clammed up; after complaining about how awful things were, what else could critics say when they actually became awful?
Since then I always made sure to point out that the Marcoses were corrupt in relation to succeeding regimes, but they were also more culture-positive (to appropriate a term from identity politics) than later administrations. I posted on Ámauteurish! my Remembering/Rethinking EDSA article, titled “Grains & Flickers,” to be able to elaborate and update some of these points. Those who believe that anything done by an immoral leadership should never be branded as acceptable are either misunderstanding discourses on Marxist economic determinism or suffering from stupidity, which to me suggests a distinction that isn’t really worth making.
* You keep bashing the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino and the University of the Philippines Film Institute. What do you think are their problems?
I not only came from these two institutions, I actively participated in their founding. For over a year I was the first and only graduate of what was then the country’s first film program, even though I signed up one semester after it opened; after a year of freelancing, I became the first Pinas film faculty who actually had a Pinas film degree – no big deal for me, but industry friends found it valuable. You’ll see me listed as corporate secretary of the MPP and not just founding director of the UPFI but final director of its preceding enterprise, the UP Film Center. (The national university probably believes one or the other distinction should be enough, but when the time comes to narrate the incipience of Philippine film studies, you’ll see that the UPFI could never have come about if I had not been in charge of the UPFC.) So if the day ever comes when I avoid talking about them, that should be cause for concern.
We might as well bring up specifics. As an institution, or someone with institutional pretensions, I foreground my programs of action and make adjustments according to what might be useful for the foreseeable future. These depart from the ideals announced by other institutions, including the MPP’s and UPFI’s. (We may as well add that people who defend them don’t hesitate to bash me for adhering to standards that they think fall short of what my former associations represent.) As far as I’m concerned, we allow ourselves to be evaluated by how well we meet the expectations we set for ourselves. I conduct and announce my own evaluations, not always rosy ones in every respect – but can these institutions claim to be superior just because?
Most of us make do without access to governmental and global resources and strive to be as productive as we can be. Looking at the output of individual members of the MPP and UPFI, I doubt if we can conclude that they have what we colloquially call K, or the right to walk tall, on the whole or on average. Take a closer look at the awards and distinctions that many of these people have acquired and tell me if no charlatanism was involved. At most possibly only one person in both of these groups (the same person, actually) can be counted as the exception that proves the rule. Be careful as you proceed though, because if they’re experts at anything, that would be their siccing their less-smart followers on their critics.
* So is organized film criticism per se wrong or problematic?
I mentioned earlier that I was involved in the founding of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino. After I left, I was contacted by another disgruntled member and we set up the Young Critics Circle. Later we thought that the awards system should be as flexible as possible, which is why we organized Kritika (along with an eponymous weekly radio hour that humorously heralded itself as “ang programang may K”). I don’t see anything wrong in participating in any of these groups, although when I wrote about my short history of participating in organizing film critics, I said that Kritika fulfilled my idea of a perfect group: it folded up after a few years of proving its point about handing out annual recognitions.
Someone from another chat group said that my being unaffiliated implies that I regard myself as too special to allow myself to be associated with any organization. There’s some truth in the sense that the previous ideological institutions I was once affiliated with (first religious and later radical-left movements) always complained that I was too unwilling to submit to disciplinary prescriptions. But a sufficiently functional academic context, which allows for scholarly differences in a quest for furthering knowledge, might just be the right place for folks like us to thrive. (I’m assuming that you’re reading out of a willingness to be open to liberal ideas.)
* When will you reactivate you Facebook page?
I used to deactivate for a few months toward the end of the year, when personal and professional tasks had piled up, but I found it increasingly hard to resume during the past few years. I’m hopelessly biased against middlebrow values unless they function within a resistive context. Please don’t ask me to elaborate further.
* Why did you write a gossip article?
Because I’m not good enough to write more! I’d revel in wallowing in scandal if more of these types of allegorically useful stories come up, and if I could wangle more time away from academic production to attend to the immense analytical and stylistic challenges of attempting this wondrous mode of articulation. My models are Petronius and Michael Musto – only the best there have ever been. If I had an entire life to devote to anything I want, it would be gossip writing or bust. Maybe that’s why I’m indulging in this kind of exchange? You be the judge. Or don’t, whatever suits you.
* Do you intend to be a gatekeeper for Philippine film criticism and/or scholarship?
[More Q&As coming up!]