Tag Archives: Introduction

Book Launch Lecture: Millennial Traversals

Millennial Traversals had a long and involved narrative behind its emergence. Invited to lecture during the website launch of the University of Santo Tomas’s UNITAS journal, I took the opportunity to discuss what turned out to be two volumes’ worth of special UNITAS journal issues. This occurred less than a week after I delivered a lecture on another recent book of mine, Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic. (To enlarge the pics at the bottom, please click on them. To go to the Millennial Traversals book feature on this blog, please click here.)

THE MILLENNIAL TRAVERSALS OF MILLENNIAL TRAVERSALS

Thank you for attending this occasion and allowing me the honor to speak in commemoration of the launch of the UNITAS website. My own contribution comprises two volumes of Millennial Traversals, which I had originally uploaded as an open-access book on my own website. I’d had occasion to go over this book several times – from conceptualizing it to finalizing it for its digital version to correcting, revising, and updating it further for what would now be its so-far final version.

Some of you might be able to read the finer (or shall we say bloodier) details of how Millennial Traversals took shape in its present form on the UNITAS website, so I might as well own up to certain motivations that I had to be careful in expressing on the page. Since the originally intended volume was non-print, I wanted to take advantage of certain freedoms unavailable to me during the times I was preparing my earlier book manuscripts for what we now call dead-tree publications. That explains the extra-long complete title, which goes Millennial Traversals [colon] Outliers [comma] Juvenilia [comma, ampersand] Quondam Popcult Blabbery – all this even before we get to the title of each part. For the same reason, I put together a digital manuscript that was a few times longer than any book I had previously published, whether as author or as editor.

What I did not anticipate, of course, was the fact that UNITAS was now being handled by a long-term acquaintance of mine. Professor Lulu Torres-Reyes and I had been coordinating since the start of the current decade, on articles, lectures, and special issues for Kritika Kultura, the journal she founded and edited at the Ateneo de Manila University. But we had actually started out as casual acquaintances for almost four decades, when we would join informal film screenings and discussions organized by mutual friends of ours. So it was no surprise to me that she had proved receptive to film-studies materials, and that when she tried her own hand at film scholarship, she met with resounding success here and in Korea, the country where I work.

When the process of transforming Millennial Traversals into the edition that can now be found on the UNITAS website was completed, I stepped back and considered what significance the project might have had, if any. I was of course thrilled that I could claim to have a book that first took shape as an open-access digital text, and wound up in a printable version afterward. All my previous books took the opposite course – from print editions in their original incarnations, to online versions on my website. I don’t know of any instance of a Philippine text that observed the format shift that Millennial Traversals underwent, although the possibility might exist somewhere. At this point, all I care to announce is that it happens to be the first local film publication that first came out in digital format. It would also be the first that passed through a print format, and wind up in still another digital format, in another website.

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What proved uncanny for me was when I finally stared at the book covers, I flashed back to the first few journal issues I ever bought, as a high-school student at the University of the Philippines. I realized later that these must have been dissertations that were deemed outstanding at the time, but each one provided me with the double satisfaction of collecting a book as well as a journal copy in one volume. Millennial Traversals is of course an anthology of my output, in keeping with the nature of all my previous sole-authored publications. It marks my farewell to this arrangement, and has been followed by the manuscripts for a film monograph on Manila by Night (recently published by Arsenal Pulp Press in Canada) and for a canonical listing of Philippine film entries for the publisher of YES! magazine, Summit Media.

Hence Millennial Traversals is and isn’t a book volume publishable as a journal issue. It is physically a UNITAS publication, in two separate issues in fact. But in its original incarnation, it was intended as a blog feature, then-unique in the Philippines, with several ambitious and probably ultimately imperfectible goals:

• first, it sought to compile my responses to Filipino films from the late 1970s to the present: of over 30 titles covered, about ten are hard to track or possibly permanently lost;

• second, it also aimed to demonstrate certain ethical functions that were part of my self-valuation as a film critic, including my insistence on financial independence from investors, the attendance of theatrical screenings with a paying audience, the re-watching of titles I planned to review in order to take down detailed notes on the text and its spectators, and the cultivation of an audience perspective that requires the readers’ participation by watching any film being commented on, regardless of my subjective response;

• third, it refused the then-fashionable practice of standing apart from practitioners in the industry, because of the so-called intentional fallacy – when in fact the author should be a primary source of the work’s always-complicated journey from conception to exhibition; and

• fourth, it gestured toward basic critical attempts concerning certain cherished beliefs among film critics, starting with certain notions that implicated myself and resulting in a few awkward examples of self-deconstruction.

The urgency of foregrounding these values was conveyed to me by friends who were closely observing the then-burgeoning film-blogging scene, complicated by the top academic and critics’ official’s statement that film bloggers deserved to be dismissed if they could not present any degree that would qualify them as film commenters. Considering that baccalaureate-level film education was either too exclusivist (available at the national university) or too expensive (in private universities), the remark was unfair and ironically elitist, given the author’s leftist bona fides.

A few critic and filmmaker friends attempted to convince me to intervene directly, by pointing out the problem in such an assumption, among other horrendous conclusions made by the same official. I opted to time my confrontations carefully, in the form of a book review and a rare exclusive blog statement. But the option of leading by example was always best practice for me, so I set about looking over the never-before-anthologized materials I could compile. I did not expect that the entire undertaking would be treated as a book, but a few netizens informed me that they were printing out the pages I had put together and binding them as voluminous textual collectanea.

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I made sure to warn people on social media that Millennial Traversals existed first and foremost as an open-access internet upload. I preferred that people would explore various categories according to whatever piqued their interest, maybe moving forward or back if any of the contiguous articles seemed worth inspecting further, or returning to the table of contents via a readily available hyperlink in case they wanted to check out another section or approach or issue. Within certain articles I also provided links to other articles, in the same book or in my other volumes, or sometimes to other websites.

I knew that this qualified notion of interactivity could be replicated in a printout of the text, but with much more difficulty. Yet I was also aware that the strictly open-access arrangement was an unstable format. Every semester I would receive a query or two from new social network acquaintances asking whether the digital editions of my books would be downloadable. My answer for nearly the past half-decade has always been the same: eventually. The transformation of digital text files into downloadable material is complicated by the fact that e-books exist in various formats. I would need to set up my own business firm in order to transact businesses with a cover designer and layout artist as well as apply for International Standard Book Numbers, one for each freaking format including the open-access version.

Needless to say, I don’t have the full luxury of attending to these concerns as speedily as I’d prefer. This accounts for my relief in UNITAS enabling Millennial Traversals to reside on its website. The original digital edition is gone for good, except for the few enthusiasts who printed it out. About 20 to 30 percent of the content was revised, since certain indeterminate or open-ended articles could last longer on the internet, given the medium’s wonderful capacity for self-correction or self-updating – a property that academics of my generation are just starting to realize and exploit. On the other hand, a book, even in journal’s clothing, is meant to be forever. As those of us who’ve been publishing might already know, perfection only appears to be an ideal, but it turns out to be too utopic to reach, the more ambitious the writing project becomes.

I’d also proffer here the wisdom I picked out from all the senior authors who’d anthologized their own articles before I started with my first volume in 1990, and which might prove useful to those considering the same kind of project. The principle of perfection-as-mirage applies: it would be impossible to identify your best entries and expect the rest to aspire to the same level of achievement. It would also be highly inadvisable to rank your articles according to your or others’ perception from best to worst or vice versa, and follow that order in anthologizing. The other obvious sequence, the time-determined one of following the articles’ chronology or reverse-chronology, similarly poses the question of the author’s rising or falling level of competence.

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Yet, from my earliest attempt onward, I found that following these problematic procedures worked best in helping me arrive at a useful structure. Counter-intuititively, I also felt more confident whenever I had more material than I could use, rather than picking out only the ones that fit a preconceived theme or thesis. This is because when you start reading more closely in order to fix typos and observe the publisher’s style requirements, you may realize that a section may require the equivalent of breathing space, or that an intensively discursive exercise could do with a stylistic coda – a function best fulfilled by a relatively throwaway article or two.

I apologize to colleagues of mine for whom these so-called lessons might already be old news. I found myself wandering down this introspective path regarding Millennial Traversals, by way of letting everyone know that I’m aware of the manifold difficulties a journal staff undergoes, on a seemingly endless basis. As soon as one issue, essentially an anthology, is completed, the next one has to be set in motion, preferably overlapping with the previous one. I once went through this kind of grind during my undergraduate and early-graduate years, and it brought out a side of me that I prefer to forget. I cannot even imagine having to contend with the additional challenge of preparing multiple volumes for uploading online.

The only source of comfort for me is that Professor Torres-Reyes could not have been any more qualified for this kind of challenge than she is at this moment. When you see her supervising the day-to-day requisites of the job with her usual humor and light touch, you can take my word that her approach comes from a long-drawn-out and contentious experience in her previous station at Kritika Kultura. Thanks to everyone for your attention, and more particularly to Lulu, the UNITAS staff, and the University of Santo Tomas.

Announcement of the event, along with a photo of the turnover of complimentary copies (pic courtesy of Cory Quitoriano); as well as a commemorative pose with UNITAS editor Lulu Torres-Reyes, filmmaker Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil, and contributor and educator Bayani Santos Jr. (pic courtesy of E. Ongkeko-Marfil).

(Delivered on August 16, 2018, at the UNITAS Seminar Room, St. Raymund de Peñafort Building, University of Santo Tomas, España Boulevard, Sampaloc, Manila)

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Book Launch Lecture: Manila by Night

The summer of 2018 marked my first visit home after three of my four book volumes (actually two of my three books) had come out. I was invited to speak at the book launch of Pro Bernal, Anti Bio, Angela Stuart Santiago’s completion of Jorge Arago’s interrupted biography of Ishmael Bernal; the occasion was titled Queer & Defiant: Ishmael Bernal, Bernardo Bernardo, & Manila by Night. I took the occasion to talk about Manila by Night, the movie as well as the monograph I contributed to Arsenal Pulp Press’s Queer Film Classics series. About a week later I was guest speaker once more, this time at the website launch of the University of Santo Tomas’s UNITAS journal, where I was requested to speak about the two volumes of Millennial Traversals. The Manila by Night lecture below was followed by a percipient set of questions by my colleague, Patrick D. Flores, but unfortunately I was unable to take time to recall them after the event. (To enlarge the pics, please click on them. To go to the Manila by Night book feature on this blog, please click here.)

QUEERNESS AS DEFIANCE IN MANILA BY NIGHT

Facebook announcements. (Courtesy of Katrina Stuart-Santiago)

Many thanks for making the effort to trek all the way to what was once known as the centerpiece of the City of Man, the [Cultural Center of the Philippines] Complex. I used to work at one of the edifices here, the now-condemned Manila Film Center, and even though public transportation then was far more efficient and inexpensive, coming all the way here is not something I can be easily persuaded to do, now that I can find all the excuses I want.

Katrina Stuart-Santiago was extremely patient and encouraging in making all the necessary arrangements, but my interaction with her goes all the way back, in discussing the botched National Artist Awards procedure during the second Aquino regime, and later in going over some points of the book that she worked on with her mother, Angela. My association with Patrick Flores goes even further back, nearly three decades if I’m not mistaken. We were contributors to the review section of National Midweek, and when his review of Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit came out, friends asked me if I resorted to using a pen name again. I told them no – I wasn’t ready to write anything as accomplished as he did on the subject of local melodrama.

We had a conflicted and sometimes contentious relationship, but I bring out this history here so that I might be able to demonstrate to you that the lessons I learned, some of them painful, helped me evolve further as a film commenter and scholar. Some of these lessons still have to be played out more fully – and again, this is not in the spirit of TMI (or too much information) but rather in pointing out that the movie that will be screened after this talk, also suffered and continues to suffer from several hard-to-resolve problems.

As everyone here who lived through the middle period of Marcos martial law would remember, Manila by Night was subjected to the worst censorship case ever visited on a Philippine movie. It was banned for nearly a year, disallowed from participating as a competition entry in the Berlin International Film Festival, and released with the longest listing ever of visual cuts and aural deletions. Since all reference to Manila was prohibited, the title itself was changed, to City After Dark. Unknown to the public, the director had intended to prepare a definitive cut for the thwarted Berlin screening. He was discouraged from doing so by the festival director of the Berlinale – although after Imelda Marcos decided that the movie could not be permitted to represent the country on foreign screens, that issue was no longer even relevant from that point onward.

I provide a more extensive explanation of how Ishmael Bernal arrived at the particular stylistic decisions he used during the period when he made Manila by Night, roughly from 1979 to 1981. What matters in our looking back on this same period is how his approach was misconstrued as a lack, an inability to measure up to the level of competence exhibited by his contemporaries, including his friendly rival, Lino Brocka. His stylistic choices, which were drawn from Third-World cinema samples as well as his documentary training and internship, resulted in his being penalized by reviewers as well as the award-giving critics. You have the jaw-dropping anomaly of the group acknowledging Manila by Night as the best film they were privileged to recognize, but Bernal losing the prize for direction. After Brocka made a splash at the Cannes Film Festival, the next Filipino lined up for that supposedly most prestigious of all film venues was a much younger aspirant, rather than the filmmaker who was definitely Brocka’s equal, and in all possibility his superior.

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There is one more historical detail that recently re-emerged, as proof of the queerness of Manila by Night’s existence: Bernal made what we might call Manila by Day – a documentary, rather than a feature film, that upheld rather than critiqued the city, commissioned by Madame Iron Butterfly Imelda Marcos, rather than Mother China, Lily Monteverde. A few netizens expressed disappointment with what Bernal did, since it contrasted with the decision by Lino Brocka and Mike de Leon to boycott anything associated with the Marcos martial-law regime. But this overlooks several matters, from Bernal’s sense of duty in securing the good standing of his producers, to the later news of his active participation in the left underground during and after the people-power uprising of 1986.

So the generally positive development of intensive film study and training in the Philippines, an option unavailable during Bernal’s time, also holds a disadvantage for older critics and historians of film. What we have among us is a generation of film participants and observers not only schooled in film, but also adhering to film-school values without the need to start from a wider historical, cultural, and philosophical analysis of their place in the world – a set of values that an earlier generation like Bernal’s and Bernardo Bernardo’s had no choice except to pursue. Instead of measuring friends by their choices of favorite films or music or books as social-network folks do today, they would start by articulating their social or political positions vis-à-vis urgent local or global issues, and proceed to infer which contemporary or classical philosophers, if any, informed their new acquaintances’ opinions.

Bernal and Bernardo – but if you’ll permit me I’d prefer to call them Ishma and BB respectively, to distinguish between them more easily – were exponents of a queer sensibility way before the word “queer” was recuperated in lesbian and gay activism via the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power’s even more radical breakaway group, Queer Nation. Formed in 1990, the group was credited with reversing the derogatory connotation of the word in mainstream media. The term “queer” is intended for oppositional activism, wherein a practitioner can be anyone who or anything that challenges whatever happens to be the acceptable or decent set of values of the moment. As an example, when I mentioned to BB the word and how it was defined in gender politics, in the context of his self-identification as a gay man who had a few celebrated heterosexual romances, he said, “Then I’m definitely not bisexual, but I’m also more queer than gay.”

We would therefore be correct in describing Manila by Night as a queer text even before New Queer Cinema first emerged in the 1990s. (I would even argue that many of the so-called queer cinema films are really nothing more than rom-coms with same-sex pairings, but that would open up a can of worms that we in this kind of event would not be able to wriggle out of.) Crucial to this description would be the kind of bohemian lifestyle that people like Ishma and BB designed for themselves, and that would be evident in their artistic output. They readily crossed boundaries of class – and gender, in BB’s case – and were consequently fluent in a wide variety of lingos, costumes, mentalities, and professions. To paraphrase Terence, nothing Filipino was alien to them.

Yet Manila by Night possesses a distinction shared in fainter degrees by any number of exceptional Filipino movies, including Bernal’s own follow-up projects. Even by global-cinema standards, one would be hard-put to put together a canon of films with multiple-lead characters whose achievement equals or exceeds Manila by Night’s. Robert Altman’s Nashville, Bernal’s direct inspiration, would be part of that list, as would Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game, Mizoguchi Kenji’s last film Street of Shame, and an obscure Italian title, Liliana Cavani’s La Pelle. These are all multicharacter movies, but they move beyond the depiction of a small group or community that has become one of the standard formats of independent cinema. They make use of types rather than characters, since the number of protagonists is so large that it would be impossible to develop any one of them unless the filmmaker abandons everyone else to focus on a few, sometimes on only one, the singular hero.

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And yet, rather than failing from this inability to provide a classically well-rounded character, these films give us a weird, or shall we say queer, impression that a characterization has been achieved. A characterization that does not reside in any of the characters, but rather in the social impression they create, via their couplings and conflicts, their onscreen interactions and offscreen further developments. The impression we get is that of an abstract super-character, one that we may define according to geography – the city of Nashville in Nashville, Manila in Manila by Night, Tokyo’s Yoshiwara district in Street of Shame, Naples in La Pelle. And because no single character is privileged, it becomes possible to define and redefine society according to the perspective of any character we choose to identify with.

Most people would get the impression that queerness in Manila by Night resides in BB’s character, Manay. BB himself affirmed that Manay was meant to function as the movie’s conscience – an unusual one, considering that this moral center indulged in promiscuity without batting the proverbial eyelash. Yet when we pick out Manay as our reference point, we find that the men he sleeps with are straight-identified, and that the women he tries to help occasionally turn out to be undeserving of his kindness. From Manay and through one of his charity cases, we arrive at the figure of Kano, the lesbian drug pusher, the only character in Manila by Night who (as described by my colleague Libay Linsangan Cantor) is never seen during daytime, much less in a home of her own, so totally liminal that all we can do is guess, from her name and origin in the US naval base, about her parentage and childhood. And as if this experience of trauma weren’t enough, several more come up, one worse than the other.

Ishma took pains to explain that all the unusual events in the film were drawn from his or his friends’ experiences. (I won’t go into too much detail so as to avoid ruining your experience of the revelations in the film.) With Kano, he had no definite real-life model, at least from what I remember. Yet it is Kano who resonates with the burning issue of our time – worsening poverty, homelessness, the drug war and its concomitant extrajudicial executions. In the monograph I wrote for the Queer Films Series of Arsenal Pulp Press, I claimed that Kano, by herself and as a focalizer who allows us to reconfigure the other characters, displays the radical potential described by such lesbian theorists like Judith Butler, Teresa de Lauretis, and Peggy Phelan, who argue in favor of invisibility, constant reinvention, and dangerous sexualization.

All that I would like to point out, by way of ending this elaborate argument, is that these qualities, in a Third-World context, raise the specter of guerrilla resistance. For me, this poses a challenge to scholarly colleagues who assert that nothing of political import arises from Manila by Night. It may be not completed according to the preference of its director, it may suffer from the technical weaknesses inherent in its deployment of unpolished surfaces and improvised performances, it may partake of a nihilistic vision packaged with a comically incongruous happy ending. Like some of the most gifted people we’ve known, Ishma and BB included, it is a difficult movie to love, yet it makes itself impossible to dismiss. Thank you everyone for listening.

Above: The author and Patrick D. Flores await their turn during the program. Below: The author, Angela Stuart-Santiago, and Rodolfo Vera (who performed a reading with Noel Añonuevo) pose before a picture of Ishmael Bernal. (Photos courtesy of Dempster P. Samarista)

(Delivered August 7, 2018, at the Silangan Hall, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Roxas Blvd, Pasay City)

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Sidebar feature: “These Blogs”

The WordPress blogsite allows its members to list their favorite blogs as a sidebar feature. Since I’d been observing blogs long before I started my own, I thought of paying closer attention to blogs like my own: those on Philippine cinema, with ongoing critical projects (as broadly defined as possible). But then I couldn’t focus on the selection activity as a project in itself, especially since I stopped handling Philippine-film courses on a regular basis. For that reason, I put off finalizing a personal “canon” of preferred Pinoy-film blogsites, until I needed a special-features sidebar that allowed its users to incorporate other available features in WordPress’s store of special functions (called widgets).

I started, like most other bloggers I knew, by listing the websites of the people I was familiar with. Then I realized that these people knew other people, and that’s how I expanded the list. I also included sites that did not aim to produce commentaries per se, for as long as I could argue that they exhibited critical awareness (including reflexive abilities). I was also somewhat surprised – saddened, actually – that some of my earlier favorites did not seem active any longer. I took out the ones that had no postings since the previous year (specifically from January 1, 2016, to the present), and uploaded an early version of the list on the social network. From the comments of friends and acquaintances, I was able to add three more blogsite titles, and since these features constitute a movable feast, I’m determined to adjust the sidebar’s contents at least once a year.

Anyone who wishes to suggest blog titles that I might have overlooked is welcome to do so. I cannot guarantee that I can accommodate any recommendation, but as long as the website in question deals with Philippine cinema in a critical manner, and has been active at least up to last year, I promise to take a closer look. Kindly provide me with the information at Amauteurish!’s Contacts page. (You may also opt to explain why any specific blog should not be included – again with the prior understanding that I may or may not be persuaded. I will also guarantee one answer, the first one, to your message, but I cannot engage in extensive conversations about these matters, since that is not my purpose in maintaining this website.)


Wages of Cinema Preface

The main psychological barrier in presenting a third volume of similar material for publication is the naturalized Western tendency to attribute the last installment of a three-part structure to it. It would be, if not the best (after good and better), then at least the resolution, after exposition and development. How I wish that were so in the case of this, my third book on cinema in the Philippines. Oddly enough, the earlier motives that I could not overcome in the first two books – The National Pastime and Fields of Vision – have somehow managed to inscribe themselves in the present volume. These consist of two related tendencies that perhaps typify the situation of writing (in the traditional sense) in our cultural context: where, for larger historical reasons, cultural production has outpaced critical analysis, writers with ambitious critical projects will often enough find themselves in the predicament of having to set the very same groundwork that good criticism seeks to probe into, modify, and even repudiate; partly as a consequence of this difficulty, I have always regarded my findings as provisional, subject to further discoveries both on the basic empirical level and at the theoretical level as well.

These qualifications I hope should temper the enthusiasms, positive or negative, that may arise in response to the present volume. Readers who might want to insist on building (or demolishing) what can now be called a body of work on the basis of a progression (or regression) from reviews in the first book, old critical approaches in the second, and new theoretical discourses in the current one are of course entitled to do so. It might even be possible to read a similar attempt at structuring in Wages of Cinema, in the book’s observation of a teleological mapping of postmodernist concerns in cultural theory, with an internationalist component coming in from left field, as it were. I would wonder, however, if real life could be just as definitive.

For one thing, I had always considered foreign-film commentary crucial to the critical practice of any sufficiently cosmopolitan national cinema, and therefore I endeavored to produce reviews of then-current foreign-film exhibitions alongside my usual (and now extensively anthologized) articles on local cinema. Perhaps I should have published an intermediate volume of such reviews, but the absurdity of reading them out of their sociohistorical context was compounded by the danger of regarding these pieces as circulating within and measurable against the canons of Western film criticism. In fact, I had had chapters comprising foreign-film reviews in each of my previous books, but my reservations regarding their effectiveness vis-à-vis the articles on local cinema won out.

The current volume’s essays, in contrast, were produced in the course of roughly an academic generation, initially as papers that sometimes made their way to conferences and occasionally as texts written for purposes other than academic credit, minus the few constraints (and many fulfillments) of working within an active national and industrial imaginary. The pressures I had to deal with in overseas graduate studies had to do with the general one of survival, the more specific one of growing in seriously differential ways from my cultural roots (a fact that never failed to frustrate and confound me whenever I visited the Philippines), and the peculiar one of trying to meet my non-Filipino readers, including faculty advisers, in terms, including choices of film texts, that they could be capable of responding to.

Hence I should indulge in my standard gripe that foreign students get a rawer deal in the First World, particularly if their disadvantages are compounded by circumstances of race, class, and sexuality, but then I should also be the first to know that there are enough exceptions around to challenge this notion; moreover, I have somehow come to suspect such universalizing tendencies as not entirely free of false modesty and reverse egotism – something on the order of one’s being ennobled by having suffered more than others did.

As far as I can relate, then, my growth as an academic (which did not start only after I left my home country – an obvious point which I feel cannot be overemphasized) did not strictly observe the pattern presented by this book. That is, I did not start out obsessed with “Subjectivities,” refining these further with “Specificities,” and finally graduating (as I have not, yet) with “Sexualities,” just as I never began consuming and commenting on foreign movies only upon leaving the Philippines. It might be more accurate to say that I was always sexual and subjective from the start, and am still concerned at present with questions of history and cultural distinction – questions that fortunately tend to cut across barriers of nation, culture, and period. On an even more literal level, if one were to chronologize the essays compiled here, one would have to keep leaping from one category to another, even crossing halfway around the world at certain points.

These categories then are necessarily artificial designations – a fact that applies not just to the basic principle of cultural studies in general, but to the purposes of the individual essays in particular. More than in the case of my previous books, I find myself wishing each one (some more than others) were inventive and self-sufficient enough to stand independent of the rest. In the end, I find myself countering that such is the function of a collection, where each piece serves to complete and is completed by the others, and where any exceptions should actually be the ones that do not belong. My personal favorites (perhaps the most fluid qualifier of all) seem to be the ones that happen to raise issues that critical writing and analysis can never hope to answer by themselves. A psychoanalyst might be able to establish deeper and darker reasons for such an outlook; to the best of my knowledge, the only thing I can recognize on my part is a desire to keep at it, meaning productive discourse, with the prospect of failure a necessary risk and that of success an outcome of good timing, better luck, and the best possible readership (“best” here denoting as much generosity and patience as intellectual ardency). Given such undue fatalism, even I might not be able to tell what kind of critical project I could be able to come up with next. This finally is where the reader steps in.

New York City
August 1997

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Leave-Taking [The Original Introduction to Fields of Vision]

Dated “April 1994” and written in “New York City,” this draft (circa pre-email era) probably did not reach the publisher. When I went over the final version of the book manuscript, I was surprised to find the section intros mashed together to function as the entire volume’s opener. I dashed off a quick text culled from the third-to-last paragraph that begins: “There is a sadness, romanticist but still inevitable, in offering up a body of work that one has carefully and tirelessly assembled” to the end of the said paragraph.

The biggest question I was dealing with as these articles were being written had to do with a gap in Philippine film criticism. The mode of practice prevalent during the late ’70s, when I started out, tended toward a rectification of what is now termed impressionist writing – i.e., the articulation by the critic of (usually) his responses to the film text, with the assumption that such an individual would be qualified to so declare his views by virtue of some form of authorization, mainly that of higher education.

The imposition of martial rule in 1972, however, rendered unsavory such essentially authoritarian notions, although Bienvenido Lumbera had been arguing for a paradigmatic shift long before then. Not surprisingly the organization he helped found, the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (MPP), carried out the twin projects of valuing films as worthwhile discursive texts and subjecting them to formal and analytical fragmentation. Certain senior members, specifically Lumbera, Nicanor Tiongson, and Petronilo Bn. Daroy, also undertook a revision of Philippine film history along a Marxist line, one that separated form and content and valorized the latter within a now-standard framework of progressive politics. This approach, reflected in the organization’s award-giving criteria, has not been contested even by the current crop of purportedly poststructuralist local critics, who have made more of an issue out of the dispensable premise of the relatability of traditional Philippine theater with cinema.

What became apparent to me in my stint with the MPP was the fact that the group’s practice actually adhered to a view of film that can loosely be characterized as “classical” (and it must be emphasized here that basic terms in film history do not always correspond to and carry the same meaning as the same terms in Western literature). The role of the filmmaker was duly appreciated by the group, but only within the auteurial hierarchization that recognized the creative team, and within it the director before all the rest; the role of the spectator was also acknowledged, but only as a passive construct, for which the critic was to supply independent and superior recommendations. Discourses on contexts of production were to be undertaken only in special situations, as a matter of strategy: there was after all real and present danger in being too insistently critical of a system of martial rule that was assuming national-socialist characteristics reminiscent of fascist dispensations.

The importance of the MPP’s critical position in promulgating oppositional film appreciation cannot be overemphasized. Yet with the reintroduction of liberal-democratic institutions after the fall of the Marcoses, the challenge was for Philippine film critics to update themselves with the state of cultural discourse in more developed contexts. I remember the shock of realizing how many contending schools of thought had proliferated and been discarded in the field – a paralleling of the several possible steps and missteps in industrial modernization that had also passed us by. The current ethos of correctness abroad dictated that one progressive formation would be as good as any other, but what concerned me was how far removed this postmodernist position was from the, well, premodernist situation we were coming from. In fact Philippine academe itself was still grappling with the issues of the applicability of modernist methodologies in mass media when I rejoined it as first student and then faculty. Not surprisingly an emergent group of critics, with whom I was at first counted, took to renouncing the now-established representatives of classical film practice. More distressingly still, this new group just as quickly diverged between those who submitted to the nihilistic anti-totalizing terms of textual deconstruction and those who wanted provisional considerations of the workability of available cultural setups.

I cast my lot with the latter group – a more difficult position, I realized even then, in that it could be perceived by the old-timers as collusive with the extremists, and by the latter as collaborationist and opportunistic. My agenda, however, proceeded from an admittedly personal motive: I had come to see where modernist approaches in cinema could be made to function in the Philippine cultural situation, and could neither stand discarding these just because more developed countries had done so, nor make much of the latest in high theorizing simply because it happened to be proving workable in other national contexts. To take one mode of practice in particular, that of canon formation, which I anticipate will be the equivalent of a flashpoint for this present volume: one could dispense altogether with the notion of a canon itself, but I had chosen to set up counter-canons, just as the MPP set up (and is still continuing to do so) its own against earlier ones. My view is that it was the persistent and ultimately frustrating redefinition of “the” critical canon that led to the current refusal to admit to any form or act of canonization whatsoever, rather than some theorist’s brilliant perception that (re)canonization would never lead anywhere anyway and that it better be disallowed before it even gets underway. Besides which the supposedly definitive listing in Fields of Vision, the ten all-time best Philippine films, was done by what could be considered a super-critics’ group and thereby invites as much revision (of both the group and its choices) as it does detotalization.

I do not see myself returning to these frameworks and their methodologies, apart from what may prove to be occasionally useful in the always circumscribed practice of reviewing. There is a sadness, romanticist but still inevitable, in offering up a body of work that you have carefully and tirelessly assembled but for the purpose of outgrowing it yourself. I could also categorically maintain that these writings, although mostly subjected to deadline pressures, never took for granted that they were in many ways the only ones of their kind; perhaps that helps explain why I wish there were more of them, not necessarily by myself, and why I feel I could never be mean-spirited or cavalier in looking back at this phase, just as I was once looking back on classical critical practice then.

As a final libidinal release, indulge me my listing some names: Bienvenido Lumbera, Nicanor Tiongson, and Isagani Cruz; Ricardo Lee, Ishmael Bernal, and Nora Aunor; Ellen Paglinauan, Gigi Javier-Alfonso, Delia Barcelona, Lilia Quindoza-Santiago, Brenda Fajardo, Laura Samson, and the late Patricia Melendrez-Cruz; Ricky Lo, Thelma San Juan, Vanessa Ira, Ester Dipasupil, Iskho Lopez, and Eddie Pacheco; Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr., Joi Barrios, Glecy Atienza, and Teddie Co; Pete Lacaba, a critic’s editor; Karina Bolasco, my first publisher, and Esther Pacheco, my current one; Bliss Lim, Roland Tolentino, and Chris Millado; Jon Hartmann; and Theo Pie.

Some of the people I acknowledged have extended support that goes far beyond anything that I could ever hope to achieve, equal, live up to. But the limitations I have pointed out (granting that the history of criticism observes a developmentalist teleology) have nothing to do with these names and everything to do with what I am. Until Philippine cinema can be seen by its local and foreign observers as capable of engaging a wider array of analytical methods and procedures than what current practice has so far demonstrated, this book can at least serve as saturator, the means by which succeeding similar attempts can be reduced to the level of latecomers, if not also-rans.

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Section Intros

Part 1: Panorama

The essay that opens this section – and, in effect, the whole book – was ironically the last to be written. I had originally intended it to be the equivalent of a summing up for this volume, since it would also conform to the historical chronology of structuralism being the last of the approaches that could still be regarded as modernist. But using it as an opener serves an even better complex of purposes: it could serve as a situationer for Philippine cinema, explain my position vis-a-vis then-prevalent practices in Philippine film criticism, and exemplify my belief that however patterns of development (intellectual and otherwise) may have evolved elsewhere, we ought to be able to insist upon a workable degree of autonomy in exploring our own formations. The dichotomy between classical Hollywood and European “art” models that serves as a premise here would also be less viable today even in the Philippines – an insight that surfaces elsewhere in some of my more film-specific reviews; but what the essay contributes is a heretofore still-untried consideration of the non- or anti-Hollywood influences in local cinema. Unfortunately the journal that was supposed to publish this work folded up, so to speak, at the last instance.

Part 2: Viewpoints

This section is divided into three subsections. The first two turn on the now-traditional opposition between artistic and commercial endeavors: “Creations” deals with the former and “Speculations” with the latter, though another and currently more fashionable way of putting it would be to regard the first as tackling auteur-related issues and the second as concerned with spectatorship possibilities. These reviews got longer and my involvement in the releases became more intense – both instances of which did not always recommend these essays to orthodox (though still oppositional) publishers. Once comparative (two-film) reviewing, an earlier practice of mine, became more popular among other local writers, I tried stretching a little, as it were, intending to stop when I had reached the arbitrary figure of six films in one review. But with the four-in-one maximum that I had managed so far and also included here, I realized that not only had I reached six in a sense (since one movie was a three-in-one package of shorts), I may also not be able to give fair emphasis in the end to too many titles under the same critical project; this even assumes that it would be possible to find a framework workable for such an equal-opportunity compilation. The third subsection, “Positions,” consists of reviews not of films this time, but of film situations. One might want to read a structural progression in this subsectional arrangement, from textual through spectatorial to contextual; or from a recognition of the author through her construction by the viewer to her absence; or from the formal through the psychological to the political. I would argue though that such insights were never part of a master agenda on my part – hence the prerogative I took in raising, say, auteurist or spectatorship questions in a contextual issue, and so on and vice versa. In the end I would suggest that these pieces be taken on individual and autonomous terms first, the way that they were all originally intended to be published, and that whatever paradigm emerges be regarded as the reader’s gestalt which the author would be only too glad to share.

Part 3: Perspectives

These canonizing projects proved to be too popular for my own comfort as film critic, with responses coming in from far and wide – I still have a letter from an Australian cable station asking me how they could avail of the “ten-best” Filipino films for possible broadcast; a colleague accused me of “canon-forming during a time of canon-busting,” then proceeded to enumerate his choice of films. I mention this not so much to demonstrate the contradictions in our appropriations of contemporary Western notions: some local writers have even insisted that poststructuralist ideas are neither Western nor foreign the way prestructuralisms were, but to each her or his jouissance. My concern begins rather with the irresistibility of such canonizing activities in the first place, drawn subjectively from the relief I felt after I had done each one of them. I could only venture speculative explanations, however: It may not be the time or place for full postmodernist commitment on our part; or Too many official canonizing (mostly award-giving, but also punitive) bodies demand counterpart responses; or Canons will never be final so long as works continue to be produced, but people need them anyway as a form of shorthand criticism; or We may be simply and blissfully capable of nonchalance and masochism at the same time (my favorite rationalization, though I wouldn’t die for it). Perhaps part of the appeal of any canonizing activity is the combined fact that it tends to generate large-scale responses even as it does not demand radically new ideas or methodologies. By way of citation, “Worth the While” draws from Film Comment editor Richard T. Jameson’s annual “Moments Out of Time” feature; “Ten-Best Filipino Films” recalls a number of regular (most in/famously Sight and Sound’s) as well as one-shot survey projects; and “Great Philippine All-Time One-Shot Awards Ceremony” was just my way of pushing all these efforts to their logical as well as illogical extremes. I would point up though the now-outmoded positivist skills that went into these enterprises, and am entirely ready to admire (and perhaps pity) attempts to outdo them on the same, if not better, terms. Meanwhile here they stand, invoking hypothetically infinite levels of definitude and delirium, testaments to the sinfully inordinate pleasures I once derived in their undertaking.

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Millennial Traversals – Love Was the Drug


Thank you for your interest in Millennial Traversals, my fourth sole-authored book. In addition to its distinction as, to my knowledge, the Philippines’s first complete open-access (non-journal) volume, it has reappeared as a print edition of UNITAS, the semi-annual peer-reviewed journal of the University of Santo Tomas – which has also reposted it online. Please click on this link to open Part II: Expanded Perspectives, where the article you are seeking can be found. You may also find more information on the blog page of Millennial Traversals.

Á!