Tag Archives: Profession

Auteurs & Amateurs: Toward an Ethics of Film Criticism (Lecture Version)

Many thanks to the International Association for Ethical Literary Criticism for inviting me to deliver a plenary lecture on ethical film criticism. I may not also be everyone’s idea of a film critic, especially if you bump into me during more casual occasions than a literary conference. In my own feeble defense, I would begin by mentioning that what we might count as the basic output of a film critic, the movie review, was one of my earliest articles as a campus journalist, over forty years ago (David, “Birds of Omen” 43-45) – but let’s keep that scandalous detail to ourselves, shall we.

11011Since then, my odyssey as a Filipino film critic was marked by a few firsts: first fresh college graduate to be invited to the Filipino film critics circle, first former student activist to work in the Marcos dictatorship’s film agency, first and only graduate of the country’s undergraduate film program (my second degree actually), first to publish a local prizewinning book in film criticism, first Filipino to be accepted to a doctoral film program, first director of the national university’s film institute; although one last first – to teach a graduate course in pornography and feminism – will again be probably not to everyone’s liking or appreciation.

11011I take this personalized narrative-based mode because the lessons I learned about ethical practice in film criticism were hard-earned and initially defiant of then-existing values and ideas. But before we move on to what those insights might be, allow me to point out a problem, more of a kink really, in the expression “ethical practice in film criticism.” What I mean by this is that, contrary to commercial practitioners’ expectations, and in line with the thrust of the conference, film criticism always-already presumes ethical practice. This would be its most vital, though also most obvious, resemblance to literary criticism.

11011I may also need to make clear this early that I depart from the premise of what we term ethical literary criticism in a crucial manner. One way of understanding why this distinction must be made is in the industrial definition of film production as opposed to literary activity. To better comprehend the comparison, let’s consider each sphere during the recent past when media technologies had yet to begin converging in digital formats, and were therefore distinct from one another. In literature, the entire manufacturing activity comprising the use of all types of printing and copying machines, plus binding and distribution systems, can never be fully equated with actual literary production. A significant, unknowable, but possibly greater amount of literature is necessarily created privately, almost entirely by individuals, and an invaluable amount resides in the collection and maintenance of written material, not all of it printed in the still-contemporary sense.

11011Film, on the other hand, is emblematic of what we should really call the post-literary mass medium, in the sense that without the presence of an industry, it would not exist – except, at best, as theater. From beginning to end of the filmmaking process, one or more machines are operated by technical specialists, even in the case of the simplest possible type of production, the home movie. In fact the most distinct type of movie we recognize today, the film event, is premised on industrial spectacularization, with its megabudget appropriation, cast of thousands, reliance on preexisting commodities such as hit prequels or comic books, and global distribution system, with a showcasing of the latest digital-graphic applications as an essential component of its attraction.

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11011My sentimental education regarding this matter proceeded from my stint in the Marcos-era film agency, heightened by my film-school internship, and concretized in the year-long freelance work I conducted, in effect replicating what I did right after completing my first degree, in journalism. Allow me to interject here that freelancing in media is the one thing I would never recommend to any fresh graduate, unless she or he has a masochistic streak. Nevertheless, I had enough of a background in student activism and government service to sustain me with a few overweening delusions: first, that scouting the field for the best option can be done while earning a living; second, that media outfits would be fair enough to reward hard work rooted in academic training; and third and most unreasonable of all, that a free radical could effect some changes significant enough to improve the system.

11011In my short autobiographical account of my stint as production assistant for a mainstream studio, I mentioned a notion I’d hoped for that somehow became a reality: today, graduates of any of the country’s few film programs get hired by film and media outfits on a regular basis (David, “Movie Worker” 13). An even luckier few of these degree-holders manage to skip an on-the-job training process and make local and sometimes global waves with their first few film projects. Yet the lesson that impacted my practice as film critic did not appear in this account I wrote. It was something I formulated later, after returning to film commentary by being designated the resident film critic of a prominent weekly newsmagazine.

11011I will admit that I wished that when I first stated my newly formulated ethical premise, my colleagues hailed me as harbinger of a useful and progressive insight. In reality, I collected a number of verbally abusive responses then, and still do so occasionally today. Strangest of all, for me, is the fact that these almost entirely come from representatives of the national university, bastion of claims to Marxist ideals in the country. My aforementioned premise runs as follows. Because of its industrial nature, film practice enables individuals to support themselves and their families and acquaintances. We kid ourselves if we merely focus on the high-profile examples of celebrities and producers and major creative artists: the majority of people working on any sufficiently busy project would actually be working-class, as I had been when I worked in the industry.

11011When a project ends, one could sense a festive atmosphere, with people simply relieved that the struggles and headaches that they sustained through several weeks, sometimes months or even years, of mostly physical labor, have finally come to an end. Yet on the ground, there would also be palpable anxiety: which upcoming project can they latch onto, in order to be able to continue maintaining a decent source of income? Corollary to this is their hope that the project they just finished earn back its investment, if not become a hit, because this means the producer would be able to bankroll a future film, with the strong possibility of rehiring them.

11011I tracked this logic to its extreme conclusion and realized that its ethical core was solid enough to apply to any kind of project. Even a supposedly aesthetically dubious undertaking, like a genre film, or a socially disreputable effort, like a trash or pornographic entry, still represents a godsend to any impoverished member of the film crew. And if the said dismissible output makes a killing at the box-office, this may be unwelcome news to society’s moral and aesthetic guardians, but it certainly portends nothing but glad tidings for the project’s collaborators – its producers and artists, of course, but its workers as well, silent though they may be.

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11011I was taken aback, and still tend to have the same response, by the magnitude of the hostility exhibited by academe-trained experts whenever I attempted to articulate this critical premise. In retrospect, of course, I can see where my should-be colleagues were coming from. The class-based orientation of orthodox Marxist training behooves them to focus on the role of captains of industry – producers, financiers, investors – and subject their judgment of a film product to the moral depredations wrought by capital. As a consequence, profitability, according to this view, should be its own reward already, so a movie that hits pay dirt ought to meet higher expectations or face critical dismissal. Bound up with this judgmental mindset would be the known political sympathies of the major entities behind the production, as well as the operations of narrative formulas, with genre projects suggesting a questionable set of motives, and “low” or “body” genres confirming the producers’ and filmmakers’ surrender to decadence.

11011The one auspicious and relatively recent development on this front is that a progressive strain in feminist thinking, which we might call the sex-positive anti-censorship school (Kleinhans and Lesage 24-26), has set out to recuperate these modes of practice that once resulted in what we might term film detritus, or types of movies that so-called respectable experts and institutions would have jettisoned from any canon-forming activity; some of the more familiar examples would include pornography, horror, tearjerker melodrama, toilet-humor and slapstick comedy, home and diaristic movies, even advertising and propaganda.

11011This development was affirmed on several institutional fronts during the last few years of the 20th century. For example, of the over 200 titles classified as “condemned” or “offensive” by the US Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency from 1936 to 1978 (Catholic News Service), several showed up in the so-called Vatican Film List (SDG), which were supposedly endorsements to the faithful of nearly 50 titles, presented by the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications on the occasion of cinema’s first centenary in 1995. What this meant was that movies once regarded as immoral by religious standards, were later admired as insightful windows into the human condition. When I was in the process of completing my cinema-studies doctorate, the top-ranked American film schools started announcing courses on US skinflicks of the 1970s, now regarded as a Golden Age in porn production; a previously X-rated film, John Waters’s Pink Flamingos (1972), was an arthouse hit, as was an even earlier entry, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), described as Russ Meyer’s tribute to bosomania. Films with outright pornographic sequences can at present be submitted to compete in the A-list film festivals of Europe, and even win major awards for the effort.

11011What this made evident to me was the fact that in popular culture, no pre-existing judgment is guaranteed to last forever. Just as the historical heroics and Biblical epics and costume dramas that once dominated US Academy Awards are only screened for camp amusement today, and the downgraded B-movies of that same era are now considered essential to studies on the development of film language (Monaco 7-10), so can we indulge in the engaging exercise of identifying which contemporary forms of audiovisual media happen to endure the disapprobation of authorities in government, academe, and corporate-sponsored institutions. Only those among us who still cling to beliefs in eternal verities in approaches to popular culture, will be dismayed by the constant revision and repudiation of standards that mark contemporary evaluations of film and cultural artefacts, and will probably be surprised when today’s so-called trash items become tomorrow’s objets d’art.

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11011I might need to clarify, however, that my insistence on recognizing the cruciality of continuing film-production activity to the sustenance of an industry, does not imply that I desisted from formulating negative commentary during the six-year period when I had to turn in reviews on a weekly basis. What my premise precluded, in my personal practice, was the use of sweeping condemnations like “worst movie ever made,” unless I could mix in tonal shadings of irony or camp. Put another way, anything that could lead to the conclusion that such-and-such a release should never have been made would make me think more than twice: I could just as well be commenting on the potboilers I had worked on, and if they’d never been made, how would I have survived?

11011How then should I evaluate the moral worth of a film that I had to review? The answer to this entailed a two-stage procedure, one building on the other, and once more provoking unusual controversy. The first necessitated a bout of critical self-awareness on my end, a condition that applies as much to resident critics as to contemporary bloggers, especially those who set out to cover sudden concentrations of new or old releases, such as film festivals or retrospectives. When an editor or publisher stipulates that the critic must review everything on a given slate, the latter ought to initiate a constant negotiation regarding which releases are accordant with her level of competence or interest, and which ones lie beyond the scope of her abilities. I was fortunate during my resident-critic years that the movie industry was churning out up to four local releases a week, not to mention the far bigger amount of foreign releases that were being distributed. So picking out a film or two or more, out of five to ten choices, was a far better ratio than the one-to-one requirement imposed by some internet websites on their reviewers.

11011The second stage, as I mentioned, was when troubles would arise – not with my casual readers, but with my self-appointed critics. The method I observed took shape after the usual formal-slash-sociological, form-and-content approaches I used, left more questions than answers in their wake. Mostly these would revolve on another bout of self-doubt: how sure was I that any declaration I made was certain to hold up through an unpredictable future? As an example, a canon-creation project for Philippine cinema, ongoing for nearly a decade already, yielded several surprises when we went through the few major films of the past half-century (David and Maglipon). Among the movies released during the martial-law period of 1972 to 1986, for example, several titles acclaimed for their political daring felt, in retrospect, like melodramas in desperate search of significance. What stood out today, with some of them increasing in stature and integrity, were the honest-to-goodness flat-out melodramas, dismissed by film critics of the time for being flighty, apolitical, decadent, tending toward camp, and produced by a studio suspected of reveling in covert sponsorship from the dictatorial regime.

11011The ideal critical approach would therefore set down any conclusion we can make about a movie as strictly provisional, subject to further developments in cultural and political history. But what about the more problematic film-texts I mentioned earlier – i.e., the movies that enjoyed popular patronage? Would there be a means of presenting findings about these releases without falling into the trap of the high art-vs.-low culture binary? The only method I could think of during the time was to contact actual members of the mass audience. When I’d encounter friendly get-togethers in the congested neighborhoods where I resided, I’d approach the people I knew and chat about the movies they just watched or were planning to watch. Refreshingly, these were people who were unconcerned about my academic intent or the impression they would give about themselves among the intelligentsia. So when I asked them for the reasons behind their choices, they never felt obliged to genuflect before the altar of moral worth or aesthetic significance. What they’d provide instead was a unique though residual form of cultural logic, more helpful in elucidating why any current box-office hit was raking it in, regardless of its critical standing.

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11011Even today, one could see this deplorable and potentially tragic separation between the chattering classes, which would include all of us here, and the mass audience, or the public at large, or what we increasingly recognize as the majority of online netizens. When confronted with the reality of inconsistencies in voters’ choices, our colleagues would tend to explain this away by describing them as uneducated, unsophisticated, devoid of higher moral senses, vulnerable to petty corruption, oblivious to the consequences of their decisions. This type of academically acceptable though horrifically anti-progressive approach was what I attempted to evade via the admittedly casual anthropological research I conducted before setting out to articulate my responses to any contemporary film release during my time as resident critic. Once again, for reasons that I cannot (and prefer not to) fathom at this time, colleagues tended to react violently when I set this out as a prescription.

11011The first time I laid it out, rather than used it as a means of explicating specific popular films, a trend in Philippine cinema was arousing the ire of people across various political divides, even opposing ones. This was during a time, a few years after the world-famous February 1986 “people power” uprising, when the surest guarantee of box-office performance was for any movie to resort to toilet humor (David, “Shooting Crap” 109-10). Characters would be seen on prime-time TV trailers clutching their tummies or butts, rushing to toilet cubicles, with diarrheic sounds emanating from inside and characters in the vicinity responding to what appear to be unpleasant odors. The exponent of this funky trend was a comedian named Joey de Leon, still-popular today, whose latest exploit was a wildly successful comic-romantic setup that played out during the real-time real-life segment of a noontime variety show (Zamora).

11011Gamely accepting the challenge to defend his use of toilet humor on a TV talk show, de Leon found himself confronting the right-wing pro-Church chair of the censors board, as well as a leftist academic famed for being occasionally censored and thrown in jail by the martial-law government of Ferdinand Marcos. During a time when the members of the left-leaning Concerned Artists of the Philippines were conducting a series of rallies to protest post-Marcos censorship policies, this was the one remarkable moment when representatives of both sides came together for a common cause – to castigate de Leon’s reliance on a borderline-obscene strategy for provoking audience laughter. I criticized the spectacle via the following remark:

to question a person on the basis of principle is a simple thing to do, but when that principle happens to enjoy popular support, then the possibility of claiming to be better than the majority, antithetical to the democratic premise of raising questions on their behalf in the first place, emerges. This puts the … “critic” in a position too awkwardly similar to that of the cultural censor, who derives his raison d’être from the perverse notion that the people, even (or especially) in a democracy, could not know what is good for them. (David, “Shooting Crap” 110)

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11011One direct aftermath was that a few years later, I encountered the aforementioned artist-academic during my graduate studies in the US, and got berated by him for violating some code of bourgeois behavior that I could not decipher. I later figured out that it might have been because of the article I had written: I had taken extra care not to mention him by name, but there was certainly no denying the widespread coverage of his full-on theatrical performance as offended moral guardian on live TV. What I could have explained, if he had been able to simmer down and engage in a sober discussion, was that the moviegoers I had talked with certainly did not regard themselves as cultural dupes longing or willing to be taken in by a possibly cynically motivated comic talent. The key lay in the still-prevalent euphoria over the people-power event, when the country’s major artists all focused on projects that would commemorate the ouster of a long-entrenched tyrant and the restoration of democratic institutions.

11011The movie audience responded to these predictable and frankly sanctimonious texts by withholding their patronage of local film releases. As a result, from an average of nearly 170 films produced during the Marcos years, sometimes hitting as high as over 230 productions in one year, the local industry came up with 120 titles the year after people power and barely 100 the year after (David, “Annual Filipino Film Production Chart”); many of these in fact were sex films intended for the minimally policed rural circuit. The country’s most successful studio, Regal Films, managed to persuade audiences to resume their movie-going habit by providing comic fantasies featuring a breakout child actor, Aiza (now Ice) Seguerra (“Aiza Seguerra”). While these appealed to women and child viewers, Joey de Leon found a means of filling the gap for more mature audiences, including males, by seizing on a deliberately uncouth rejection of the spiritualistically inspired religious revivalism induced by what people still refer to today as the “miracle at EDSA.”

11011The difficulty of pursuing this particular configuration of critical framework cum method is further complicated by the stylistic demands it makes on expression. The principle I follow stems from the differentiation between academic writing and criticism. The only Filipino film critic recognized as a National Artist, Bienvenido Lumbera, prescribed an approach to writing criticism that conflated it with scholarship: “the writer must not be imprisoned by cuteness or [snark]. I think that’s a very strong tendency when one is beginning to write, when you fall in love with a manner, an expression, a point that you want to make, and you put that across and sacrifice the object you’re talking about” (Lumbera 72).

11011My own response, as a graduate-studies scholar confronted with the demand to observe an “objective” and “impersonal” presentation of research findings, was to constantly seek ways to query, if not subvert, this requirement, rather than allow an entire arsenal of literary possibilities to go to waste. In doing so, I managed to realize that the process of deconstructive jouissance can operate beyond analytics, via the mechanics of style. In criticism, especially in reviewing for a general readership, the playpen covers a far wider territory. The expressive demands may be greater, but the potential to involve the reader in formally discursive challenges, with the commentary providing a fixed reflexive coordinate to the film or films being discussed, would be worth the extra effort of drafting what we may call the creative critique.

11011The ideal to strive for would be an industrial intervention, where the critic helps articulate, for the artist as well as the audience, the film-text’s historical significance and significations, the development of the project’s auteur or auteurs, the industrial limits posed by budget, technology, and training, and how these may be overcome, and the larger social, political, cultural, regional, and global concerns (if any) where text, auteur, and audience may position themselves in pursuit of further insights or benefits. Such instances of intensive interactions among critics, creatives, and consumers have been few and far between, in the experience of Philippine cinema. Nevertheless, they have been known to happen, and have generally proved fulfilling for all parties concerned. The goal in observing a useful and progressive ethical approach to film criticism would be to ensure that critics’ contributions to the growth and development of cinema become a more-or-less permanent feature of creative cultural activity.

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Works Cited

Aiza [sic] Seguerra.” Wow Celebrities! (August 1, 2008).

Catholic News Service (Media Review Office). “Archived Movie Reviews.” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. No date.

David, Joel. “Annual Filipino Film Production Chart.” Ámauteurish! (February 25, 2016).

———. “Birds of Omen.” Philippine Collegian (July 26, 1978): 3, 6. Reprinted in Millennial Traversals: Outliers, Juvenilia, & Quondam Popcult Blabbery (Part I: Traversals within Cinema) in UNITAS: Semi-Annual Peer-Reviewed International Online Journal of Advanced Research in Literature, Culture, and Society 88.1 (May 2015): 43-45.

———. “Movie Worker.” National Midweek (November 4, 1987): 15-16. Reprinted in Millennial Traversals: Outliers, Juvenilia, & Quondam Popcult Blabbery (Part II: Expanded Perspectives) in UNITAS: Semi-Annual Peer-Reviewed International Online Journal of Advanced Research in Literature, Culture, and Society 89.1 (May 2016): 13-16.

———. “Shooting Crap.” National Midweek (April 4, 1990): page(s) unkown. Reprinted in Fields of Vision: Critical Applications in Recent Philippine Cinema (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1995): 109-12.

David, Joel, and Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon. SINÉ: The YES List of 100+ Films That Celebrate Philippine Cinema. Summit Media, 2019 (forthcoming).

Greydanus, Steven D. “The Vatican Film List.” DecentFilms: Film Appreciation and Criticism Informed by Christian Faith. No date.

Kleinhans, Chuck, and Julia Lesage. “The Politics of Sexual Representation.” Jump Cut 30 (March 1985): 24-26.

Lumbera, Bienvenido. “Critic in Academe.” Interview. National Midweek (April 4, 1990): 20-22, 46. Reprinted in Millennial Traversals: Outliers, Juvenilia, & Quondam Popcult Blabbery (Part II: Expanded Perspectives) in UNITAS: Semi-Annual Peer-Reviewed International Online Journal of Advanced Research in Literature, Culture, and Society 89.1 (May 2016): 65-74.

Meyer, Russ (director). Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Scriptwriter Jack Moran. Performed by Tura Satana, Haji, Lori Williams, Ray Barlow, Susan Bernardo, Mickey Foxx, Dennis Busch, Stuart Lancaster, Paul Trinka. EVE Productions, 1965.

Monaco, James. The New Wave: Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette. Oxford University Press, 1976.

Waters, John (director & scriptwriter). Pink Flamingos. Performed by Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivan Pearce, Mink Stole, Danny Mills, Edith Massey, Channing Wilroy, Cookie Mueller, Paul Swift. Dreamland, 1972.

Zamora, Fe. “Netizens Go Gaga over AlDub.” Philippine Daily Inquirer (August 17, 2015).

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The First Glory Awards (2017): A Mini-Album

It’s difficult to tell a complicated story, especially one that involves a lot of other individuals and a major formative institution. This will be an attempt to recount a series of occurrences, some of them subjective in nature. It began when the Alumni Association of my alma mater, the College of Mass Communication of the University of the Philippines, announced its own counterpart of the university-wide Alumni Awards. Since the event was sponsored by the family of the CMC’s founding Dean, Gloria David Feliciano (unrelated to me), it was going to be rather awkwardly named the Glory Awards. There were supposed to be ten selections for the first edition, and since I kept up with news about the college via social network, I caught the call for nominees the day it came out.

11011When a former editor and journalism-school classmate of mine contacted me about it, I was inclined to say no. I’d already been feted at the previous year’s FACINE Film Festival in San Francisco, and to me that was a signal honor. Several senior film critics from the Philippines hold loads of distinctions from all over, but none of their life-achievement prizes specified film criticism and scholarship, until FACINE’s Gawad Lingap Sining [Art Nurturer Award] spelled it out for me. I even prepared an extensive lecture, the festival’s first in nearly a quarter-century since its founding, delivered at the City College of San Francisco’s auditorium (famed for its Diego Rivera mural).

11011But my colleague, Daisy Catherine Mandap, told me to do it for the sake of old friends, since it would be an occasion to get our batch together at the UP Journalism Club. I said I’d do it mainly for her, gathered the materials, forwarded them, and forgot all about it. In late October I got word that I had won, and the number of awardees was reduced from ten to eight, making it an even rarer prize. I conveyed my willingness to participate, bought a roundtrip ticket to attend the November 11 ceremony, and tried to refocus on the several writing assignments that spilled over from the spring-semester half-sabbatical that made writing in Manila such a pain in the neck because of internet sluggishness, lack of support for authors, and overpriced cost of living. The motherboard of my three-year-old state-of-the-art laptop died from too many stops and starts and reinstallations, and I was reduced to making even older netbooks try to do the same tasks. (I could only buy a replacement machine in Korea, where my credit card could allow for installment payments.)

11011Three real-world factors blindsided me as I mentally conditioned myself for the awards ceremony. First, the faculty dormitory where I’d stayed since arriving about a decade ago for my tenure-track position announced that it was shutting down for renovation by the end of the year, and would be reopening as a university hotel. That meant I had to prepare to find my own housing for the first time in Korea, with all the concomitant complications that involved (starting with exorbitant down-payment fees). Then the results of my annual physical exam at the university hospital arrived, indicating that the gallbladder stone that I’d been, well, maintaining for a decade or so suddenly and inexplicably doubled in size, approaching what the doctor described as a “danger” threshold. My physician told me how fortunate I was that the condition remained benign through my sabbatical, since he knew the manifold troubles I would confront by requiring a surgical procedure in the Philippines.

11011The surgeon assigned to foreign-language patients responded to my request for a laparoscopy by specifying the day right before the Glory Awards event. It was supposed to be an outpatient procedure, but I couldn’t imagine myself rushing from the hospital to the airport, wounds still fresh, and going onstage and hobnobbing with folks while checking for bloodstains on my shirt. So I requested, urgently, a week’s delay at the hospital – then the third “development” occurred: the organizers of an out-of-town Korean conference on Asian culture, to which I had made a long-standing commitment to participate, contacted me to say that it would happen … during the weekend after the Glory Awards, the same period I had planned to have my postponed operation. When I revised my request for another hospital date, I knew that the staff could have taken this as another of my endless shifts in schedules, and hesitated to respond to my request, considering all the difficulties (from additional tests to scheduling assistants) that this particular arrangement entailed.

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11011But this was not entirely the reason I felt inclined to postpone my roundtrip to Manila. As the day of the event approached, the reality that the institution I used to work with, from which I felt estranged, crept up and slowly, steadily engulfed me. The fact that Daisy Mandap considered my nomination and win her personal mission as a friend was key to this sentiment. A few years earlier, the college called for nominees for its ballyhooed Gawad Plaridel [Plaridel Award] for the category of community journalism. The last time I worked with Daisy (who’d gone to law school after journalism), at the now-defunct Business Day, she assisted in the collective-bargaining efforts of the employees’ union, continuing to represent them even after they decided to go on strike. As a new hiree, I could not qualify for union membership – and needed the income to repay my undergraduate student loans. Daisy told me it wouldn’t be an issue for her and her allies, which was all the assurance I could ask for. I wound up leaving anyway, because of an exploitative arrangement that a TV host had with the publication, cornering me as a personal researcher while plagiarizing my reports wholesale – including weird structural touches I would introduce to see if the program would still follow, and of course it did (the fact that the episodes I wrote won various local and global awards for the host was instrumental in developing my contempt for pretentious, privileged, hypocritical socialites).

11011Business Day solved its union troubles by shuttering the newspaper and reopening it under a different-though-recognizable name, BusinessWorld, but Daisy found herself blacklisted by the publishers of major local dailies, including the very person who became the first winner of the Gawad Plaridel. She and her husband, Leo Deocadiz, left for Hong Kong, and set up The Sun, a publication with its own foundation aimed primarily at assisting Overseas Filipino Workers. I managed to convince her that we could argue for OFWs as a transient, foreign-based community, and she responded with plans of how to use the Gawad Plaridel prize money for the education of OFW members and their children. She of course became the frontrunner for that year’s award, but after the deadline for announcing the winner came and went, I knew (from a couple of decades of working in the college) that something unsavory was afoot.

11011A few days later the evidence rolled out. All the nominees were declared undeserving, and a new category (in fact an old one), print journalism, was announced, immediately after which a winner – a friend of mine and, more significantly, of the college officials – was declared. I would not begrudge anyone a prize that she or he deserved, but I also believe that those who’ve had their share of recognition don’t need to be grasping for more. The officials happened to belong to an award-giving organization masquerading as a film critics group, and the Plaridel roster wound up affirming the same set of winners that the supposedly separate group (whose chair that year was also dean of the college) had selected. Something like saying that my mother’s choices are excellent because my father opts for them too, although it’s best if you don’t realize that they’re married.

11011This was the reason why the acceptance speech that the Glory Awards organizers asked me to draft kept detouring into a rejection announcement. In the end, with my surgery schedule still unresolved, my exchanges with the awards team approaching conflict territory, and my admissions of dismay worrying my closest friends, I decided to cancel the trip and pay the penalty fee that the airline warned me it would charge. The ceremony went well, from all appearances, and I was deeply moved by friends’ expressions of support. I may be able to admit that I might have been glad to attend, but I’m even surer that, with my killjoy mind-set, the people at the event were much better off without me. I only note here what I told some social-media friends: that unlike Daisy and many others, I’ve been too good at bridge-burning, and a day for reckoning with all that will surely come my way in future. The college, to begin with, is and is not its alumni association, although to my mind, several people now considered senior faculty deserve as harsh a treatment as history will be able to bestow on them – with Daisy’s Gawad Plaridel case just one in a long list of depredations.

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11011Meanwhile, to fulfill the post’s title, here be the (unnecessarily extensive) nomination document, as well as a few highlights from the event (kindly click on any of the pics for an enlargement):

Philippine Star announcement (above, left; photo by Jun R. Cortez); Pelikulove greeting (above, right; courtesy of Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil).

Personalized notebooks from Ruby Villavicencio Paurom.

Present Glory Awardees (above, left; photo by Joy Buensalido); absent Glory Awardee’s friends (above, right), comprising, left to right, Leo Deocadiz, Daisy Mandap, Ruby Villavicencio Paurom (photo owner), and Bayani Santos Jr.

Lower set of pics above, left to right: Martin Posadas Marfil, Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil, Bayani Santos Jr., Marianne Dayrit Sison, Ruby Villavicencio Paurom, Daisy Catherine Mandap, & Reggie Madriaga Capuno (all photos by Tita C. Valderama).

University of the Philippines Journalism Club circa late 1970s (from the collection of Martin Posadas Marfil).

Video prepared by Alex Arellano;
soundtrack by Noisy Neighbors Inc.;
narrated by JB Tapia


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Source Exchange for Review of Respeto

This is the exchange from which I drew certain insights and quotes for my review of Respeto. It was initiated on Facebook Messenger, and continued via email. Monster Jimenez answered initially, quoting excerpts from my FB Messenger queries; then after a response from me, Treb Monteras II included his remarks in Monster’s aforementioned response. To make this extensive first set of answers easier to follow via internet browser, I indented my queries and used boldface for Treb Monteras’s interjections.

On Tuesday, August 15, 2017, 11:50:41 AM

Hi Joel, I’m looping in Treb in case he wants to pitch in.

From FB Messenger

Hi Monster, si Joel David. I’m drafting a review of Respeto, which I saw twice as part of my preparation. It’s for Cri-en Pastor’s The FilAm, a New York-based online mag. I hope you don’t mind if I ask you some questions, since Cri-en’s expecting my article any time soon. First is regarding research or immersion: was there anyone in the production team who resided, or grew up, in Pandacan? If not, how did the project achieve its familiarity with the place?

It was never really rooted in Pandacan, but I remember Treb really had this location in mind since he passed Doc’s bookstore all the time. It was always going to be Navotas or Manila. But we prioritized Manila because Navotas gets flooded easily plus it’s really faaaar.

I was late for a meeting with the Respeto team when Waze forced me to take a different route to Makati. That’s how I saw this corner sari-sari store that eventually became Doc’s Bookstore.

From FB Messenger

The FlipTop fans I brought with me during my 2nd viewing identified the same guy that some filmmaker friends said was the director (the person who “choked” during his turn at the mike), but they called him by a rapper name. So Treb Monteras raps, or competes, or is a FlipTop enthusiast?

Yes OG Birador is our director. Treb Monteras is a big hiphop guy and the main reason why I joined in the first place because I know he’s the only guy who could do this na “legit.” He knew he had to do it because no rapper would be willing to “choke” even if it’s just fiction.

I’m not a rapper but I used to organize hiphop events back in the early 2000s, but the scene was very different then from what we have now.

From FB Messenger

Did the project participants go over previous depictions of the local rap scene, specifically Tribu? I’m asking because I noticed a distinct difference in the handling of gender issues, with Tribu seemingly unaware of the sexism that it depicted. Respeto I thought had a better sense of gender dynamics, since both protagonists (Hendrix and Doc) were feminized in terms of their power relations. How prominent was the question of gender politics in the pursuit of the project’s completion?

I love Tribu! But it was never part of the conversation in terms of reference or anything that informed our production. Gender politics was definitely part of the conversation and it’s difficult to process because it’s still dominated by men who think like machos, or at the very least are unaware of their prejudice. So Treb was open enough to let me raise those questions and we tried to address them when we could.

I have yet to see Tribu. Thankfully, from the very start Monster was very vocal about sexism. Candy’s rape almost wound up on the cutting room floor. We didn’t take it out because it is very essential to Hendrix’s emotional journey. It took us two weeks to fine-tune that scene.

From FB Messenger

Treb Monteras had done some short films before, and you worked on a documentary, if I’m not mistaken. Were these formats crucial to the making of Respeto?

I don’t think Treb has done any narrative before. He’s done over 300 music videos. I’m a documentary filmmaker, yes. I think it’s safe to say that anything we do helps how we think about our creative work. Treb’s massive work in music videos has helped him for sure. The guy thinks in terms of music and beat, but he is also a natural storyteller. I think in terms of story and narrative, and having written and made films my whole career, I’m obsessed with narrative. But we do share the same political leanings and we wanted to make a movie that meant something to both of us.

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From FB Messenger

Sorry to be troubling you with questions like these, but I couldn’t find any official internet source that addresses these issues in the film. As a matter of procedure, I always take the trouble to inquire further about a work before I comment on it; I used to get a lot of flak for doing this (during the time when critiques of “intentional fallacies” and declarations of “the artist is dead” were fashionable), but I think I’ve convinced some friends that it works out better. In case you might have some queries about my output, please feel free to go over my archival blog, Ámauteurish!

From FB Messenger [sent later]

Sorry as well for one more follow-up query: the political content in the film tends to skew to a critique of some policies of the Duterte regime. (My FlipTop companions, who were pro-RDD, liked the movie immensely nevertheless.) It also appears that the Doc character had a left background but never rejected it; he presumably ended his activist commitment because of the trauma of torture that he and his family underwent. If the movie were pro-left (the orthodox wing), then it would be pro-admin up to a point; if it were left but not pro-RDD, then its critique would be harsher. Does Respeto have an ideological orientation that can be pegged to any of the currently existing political groups?

For me, it wasn’t so much a system of ideas that we were looking for. When I received a draft of the film when Treb asked me to join him, it ended on a much more triumphant note. The movie was first conceptualized by Treb many years ago, before I or anyone outside of Davao really understood who Duterte is. The drug dealing and corrupt police were already part of the story then, but when we started working on the film this year, as we kept on revising the script, we arrived at a natural conclusion: this can’t end on a good note. We have right now, in our bloodied hands, a systemic societal problem that allows no one to exit. Nobody escapes and poetry is not enough. We place the story where violence is so ingrained in their narratives, there is no longer the shock but is part of their everyday life. PRRD is sitting on that chair so yes he is definitely a big part of this problematic system.

Hope this helps!

[Sgd.] Monster Jimenez
Managing Director
Arkeofilms | THIS SIDE UP

[Sgd.] Treb Monteras II

Tuesday, August 15, 2017, 7:46:48 PM

OK, this is tremendous. I’m being (typically) pressured to finish the review ASAP. I’m usually given a 1,500-word maximum – which I tend to exceed up to 2k words. I think you should engage the services of a journalist so you can get your answers in the open, for the enlightenment of the public. It also better helps audiences prepare to view the material. I could help spin this off into a workable Q&A but I’ve got too many deadlines until my sabbatical ends on Aug. 28 – and after that I’ll be too busy teaching, since I requested a double load, or four subjects. If you find a receptive journo, you can forward our exchange to her or him so that she/he can just expand on it. Re the answer on Tribu pala – I might also bring in Ari, which is about (balagtasan-like) improvisational poetry in Pampanga. So Respeto may be the love child of the two films, in a sense. 🙂

11011Treb – if you’re able to provide some important point or two I’ll do my best to integrate it while drafting the review tonight. Many thanks sa inyo and congrats again!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017, 08:38:47 PM

I thought Treb passed by that bookstore a lot. As it turns out he only saw it during pre-prod! Re Ari. I do love that movie. I really like movies about language because it’s so hard to capture. Again, no reference was made to this movie.

Saturday, August 26, 2017, 11:48:00 AM, via Facebook Messenger

Hi Joel! I haven’t gotten around to thank you for your great write-up. We’re about to go on a wide release soon and will start sharing some of these features. Just have one correction in your article, or maybe I just misunderstood? OG Birador is not a real person, people might think he is. He’s just the name that Treb took on for that one scene. Anyways, just a heads up.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017, 10:27:00 PM, via Facebook Messenger

Hi Monster, thanks for the clarification. I remember sending you and Treb a message here on FB Messenger, including a copy of the review I drafted. [Some confidential information had to be deleted from the rest of the paragraph.]

11011Too bad, if FB Messenger didn’t mess up the message I sent you earlier, I could have included the correction in the FilAm article. But then again, I revise and update all my non-journal articles and post them on my blog, so I’ll be doing that for Respeto. I’m thinking of expanding the review a bit so that it doesn’t have to compromise any longer with the word-count limit, aggravated by the forced inclusion of the other film titles. Once I’ve done the revision, I’ll update you and Treb and post it on my FB Wall. BTW, I also posted (on my blog) our exchanges so that researchers can see a fuller view of how the movie was created. I’ll revise that exchange to add the correction you provided just now. Many thanks as always, and I’m looking forward to more output from your team – and from you, as woman filmmaker as well!


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Source Exchange for “The Transnational Pastime”

This exchange conducted on Facebook’s Messenger app formed the basis of “The Transnational Pastime: An Interview with Joel David,” conducted in early 2017 and published in the June 2017 (volume 4, number 1) issue of Plaridel. The interviewer was Paul Douglas Grant, a professor of film at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City. Answers that I first drafted as Notepad text files and attached to the Messenger service are indicated by the descriptor “From text file” and indented (appearing as italicized material in smartphone apps).

Saturday, February 25, 2017, 9:28 PM

Hi Joel, so…can we start with just getting a kind of run-through of your career, your work with the Manunuri, you studies abroad, your publishing history, your current work, etc.? And then maybe having written a number of books on Philippine cinema (and I see that there is a forthcoming book on Manila by Night!), you could talk a bit about the decision to have an online presence, and in particular your very generous approach to sharing your materials, for instance the PDF versions of your books that you have posted for free on Amauteurish! From there I can get a bit more precise. I’ll try to cause you as little pain and hassle as possible.

Hi Paul, I’ll try to draft a reply so that it won’t get lost when FB Messenger crashes (which happens occasionally on my laptop). Then I’ll send it to you tomorrow, if that’s all right with you. Thanks for being considerate about the “pain and hassle,” although I’m at the stage of discovering pleasure in pain. Never too late for anything, as they say.

Haha OK, OK, no rush either. Just to get the ball rolling. Thanks so much for doing this Joel.

Saturday, February 25, 2017, 5:02 AM

Joel [from text-file attachment]

My film criticism was something that started out as an option that evolved into a phase and that eventually solidified before I knew what to do with it. I started writing book reviews for the high-school paper – which sufficiently impressed the teachers who were then deciding whom to send to some secondary-school press conference. In college I attempted a few film reviews but felt frustrated about my inability to grapple with the terms of the form. But film was the medium du jour and most publications were interested in it. I was also determined to avoid the economic and political analyses that had marked me as an activism-oriented campus journalist, so my shift to cultural writing included a few more movie reviews. As you can imagine, the local critics group (Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, or Filipino Film Critics Circle) had to downgrade their definition of “critic” to include reviewers, or else they’d have comprised only two members (Pete Daroy and Bien Lumbera) and maybe two associates (Doy del Mundo and Nic Tiongson).

11011I knew I needed a lot of leveling up after interacting with the best film artists of the time, and even more after I joined the Marcos government’s Experimental Cinema of the Philippines. I read up on the standard early-film discourses (Arnheim, Balazs, Eisenstein, Bazin, etc.) plus active practitioners, with emphasis on stylists like [Pauline] Kael and the Philippines’s Nestor Torre (his early years). Kael was occasionally wrong and sometimes terribly so, but I was fascinated by how she could figure her way into sounding just right – a skill I might need in case I’d do regular reviewing. For some reason many prominent local critics of the time preferred John Simon, who to me was too willing to sacrifice insight for the sake of displaying wit and erudition.

11011During the late years of the Marcos regime, the University of the Philippines introduced the first undergrad film program in the country, and since I’d completed a bachelor’s in journalism at the Institute (now College) of Mass Comm, the ECP designated me to take the major courses so that the agency could eventually offer its own film courses. I said that if I took the equivalent of an extra sem, I could complete a second degree, so in effect I became an ECP scholar, required to complete the courses plus an occasional public-relations piece for the agency. The Marcoses were ousted, ECP was dissolved, and I had a film degree that no one else shared since it took the other majors much longer to complete the program. I tried industry work but got delegated to entry-level production-assistant tasks at starvation wages, then I retried journalism and TV scriptwriting – but all these jobs disappeared as media workers were unionizing for the first time and the panicked owners figured that shutting down their companies (and reopening them under different names) was the easiest solution.

11011The dean of UP mass comm bumped into me and said that, since I was the program’s first and only grad, I should teach film. Ellen J. Paglinauan, who adjusted her Fulbright program from geography to film, had just returned from the US and became my colleague and mentor. She knew my up-or-out deadline was approaching and that I could better serve the faculty with a film degree, so she helped me work out a Fulbright application. The politicking on the Philippine end was terrible, but fortunately the Institute of International Education “corrected” the Philippine-American Educational Foundation’s list of recommendees and repositioned the education minister’s daughter from first to somewhere near last, and (according to Ellen) ranked me on top. That was why no amount of pleading from PAEF could convince me to settle for any of the less-expensive choices. It was NYU or bust, although that also amounted to hubris on my end. The Fulbright was for a master’s degree; when NYU accepted me to the doctoral program, I could only apply for another US government grant (like another Fulbright) if I resided outside the US for two years.

11011UP was interested in getting a PhD holder for the film program and told me to find work and apply for student loans. I managed both and intended to pay off all my loans once I reached a managerial level at the economic-database company that hired me, but I could only manage to reduce my loan amount by half when my residency deadline loomed up. Back in Pinas, UP could not provide me with the means to repay my loans either; my mother sold some property to settle my account, with the understanding that I should repay her instead. That’s how I took the first offer to teach in Korea, on exchange; upon returning to UP, my salary was withheld for some mix-up that I had nothing to do with, so I sent out an SOS to friends in Korea – which is how I found the university where I’m currently working.

11011Re the website: this was also part of another slow process of realization. The Korean university announced that a personal website was part of its tenure requirements, so I read up on blogging, observed some dynamics (useful also for teaching cyberculture classes), and launched the website…by which time it was no longer a university requirement. But then in seeking out ISI-listed publications to fulfill the bulk of the university’s tenure specs, I stumbled on Ateneo de Manila University’s Kritika Kultura, which was open-access, an obvious ideal combination of prestige and availability on the level of profit-oriented academe that had somehow never occurred to me before. Researchers were asking for copies of my out-of-print books, so I arranged with certain publishers to work out new and expanded editions – but publishing, like all the other predigital media forms, was no longer as vibrant as it used to be. I was fascinated enough with so-called film piracy via the Quiapo Cinematheque (with Laikwan Pang’s studies as guidepost), and also became familiar with the work of Jojo Devera and other people invested in reviving and strengthening the public domain.

11011To me it’s still entirely rational, once we take out the element of finance as the ultimate arbiter of success. Jojo and I have stable jobs that allow us to engage in blogging activities, in which the actual price of (in my case) paying for a domain and WordPress’s custom-design privilege isn’t all that exorbitant. I get to dispense with the guilt of telling researchers that my books can be found in certain hard-to-access libraries, as well as preempt sites like GoogleBooks from monopolizing readers with uploaded versions of my sole-authored books that I’d rather update and revise if I get another chance, which is now. It doesn’t really stop publishers from wanting to have exclusive rights to my future output, and I get to keep myself busy with feeding the machine, with the additional leverage of defying it (by getting my manuscript out on the blog) when it misbehaves.

11011The Manila by Night monograph and the special Philippine cinema canon volume for YES! Magazine are exceptional cases: I’d accumulated enough material about MbN, from my dissertation preparation onward, so that I was able to edit Kritika Kultura’s first film forum devoted to articles on the movie, and that provided me with the impetus to pique the interest of Arsenal Press’s limited queer-films series; Summit Media (the YES! publisher) saw some mini-reviews (which I collectively titled “Short Takes”) for a personal canon of 100 local film titles that I uploaded on Amauteurish!, and offered to buy the rights to them, upping the fee if I participated as a consultant in their one-shot canon project. Re downloadable copies of my own books, plus more PDFs of other materials – these are all in the future. I imagine I’ll need to spend for and train in page-layout software, so that I might be able to circulate the books better. All in good time, like everything else.

11011There’s a point, or a line, where I move from surrendering my own copyright to claiming those of others, when I find out-of-print material (usually institutional in nature) where the publisher is difficult to determine and often is already defunct. I know enough to tread carefully here and I generally wait until there’s enough of a social-media interest in an issue relatable to the material.

Maybe I should end here for now. The answers ran (or rambled) on for a while. Hope this can provide enough to help you formulate questions. Best regards.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017, 8:21 AM

Great thanks Joel. Rambling is great! I’ll get back to you ASAP. Salamat.

Monday, February 27, 2017, 9:53 PM

Wow this is really rich, is it all right if I just go back for a second, concerning your publishing history. So for instance you mention your dissertation (BTW who was your adviser?), was this not among your early publication efforts? If my chronology is correct you had already published The National Pastime before going to the States. Then in Wages [of Cinema] and Fields [of Vision] it feels like the tone of the writing changes and becomes much more contemporaneous with the kind of poststructural film writing that was such a mainstay in Anglophone film studies. Is it fair to say that you were the first to really bring that approach to film writing in the Philippines?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017, 4:25 AM

I’ll need another day to answer, Paul, if you don’t mind.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017, 6:49 AM

Of course! No worries, and thanks again for what you’ve sent already. I’ll back off shortly.

Thursday, March 2, 2017, 4:42 PM

Joel [from text-file attachment]

Sorry for the delay in writing out my response. My diss adviser was the late Bob Sklar, and Bob Stam, Toby Miller, and Ellen Paglinauan were on the panel. I managed to spin off some chapters into journal papers, and even read books on revising theses for book publication, but I never had the time to work on that project. I was hoping this second half-sabbatical I was granted [for spring 2017] could provide me with the time to devote to that. Then I realized I’ll have to overhaul, rather than revise, some chapters, so I thought of writing them out as papers first. Looks like it will take longer than I would have preferred.

11011National Pastime and the second book, Fields of Vision, were meant to be just one book, an anthology of film journalism (articles and reviews) in two manuscript volumes. I tried to interest some university presses in it but they all gave two-year (or longer) timelines, so I went to Anvil. They said they could produce it in three months, which was just right for me, but I later realized it was too fast. They wanted only half of the manuscript I submitted, plus pictures (when I preferred to have none), and a glossary of film terms. A layperson editor took charge and insisted on an approach that could be summed up as “if it’s about movies, then I shouldn’t have to put in too much work to understand it.” I thought that was fair to a certain extent, but I also realized that it meant that an opportunity for casual readers to learn something new (by meeting the author half-way) was being discarded. That’s the reason why the glossary I was forced to write contained some sarcastic passages.

11011The remaining articles from the original volume would be my second book, I thought, and I brought the MS to the Ateneo Press just because Prof Esther Pacheco told me they wanted to handle my next title. But when I compiled the MS, I realized Fields of Vision would just be echoing National Pastime, so I held off until I was able to do some “academic” (mostly quantitative and canonical) exercises, with the rationale that all of the available local samples were too deeply flawed to be taken seriously. The third book, Wages of Cinema, was meant to be strictly a personal middle stage between completing my graduate requirements and starting work on my diss. I mentioned to Prof Laura Samson, then the director of the University of the Philippines Press, that I had performed this strategy of gathering my (necessarily not ready for primetime) material so I could find a workable direction for my final project, and she asked to take a look at the manuscript. In a few days she said she wanted to publish it as a book so could I grant her permission to do so. I thought fine, at least I’ll have some feedback [from readers] on how to improve the material even if in the end I wind up pulling it out of the publication process for being too callow, but apparently the readers signed off on it without any major changes.

11011So the approach you mentioned was deliberate in the sense that I looked for ways beyond repeating each previous book’s approaches, but it was also accidental in that I would have been more cautious about getting the stuff out if I had a name to uphold by then. People immediately told me about some progression they noticed – from classical to structuralist to poststruct – so I incorporated that insight in the back-cover text of the last book, but it wasn’t something that needed to be done if anyone had asked me. Each book generated some negative comments but I only answered the one (re Fields of Vision) that complained that the text required readers to do some work on their own. The fourth “book,” Millennial Traversals, was essentially a digital-edition mop-up operation, where I compiled everything else I’d written on film and media up to 2016, so that anything by me could be accessed in book form. Like I might have mentioned to you before, I’m hoping to get all the digital editions of my books in e-publication formats so that they could be downloaded and printed or read at the reader’s convenience. When I’ll manage to do that is the question.

Answers to your 2nd batch of questions, sir.

Great, thanks, Joel. Hopefully I can leave you alone after this.

No prob if you have further queries, Paul.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017, 9:39 PM

Hi Joel, quick question. What was your dissertation? That was quite sad about Sklar, he taught my diss prop seminar. What a tragic end.

11011Also, when did you put up the site, i.e. what year? Thanks Joel.

Thursday, March 9, 2017, 1:31 AM

Re the website first: the 2014 record states that it went “live” on June 13, but that I was adding features since March of that year. But since it was originally part of the list of tenure requirements, I remember setting up another website, with a Korean webmaster, in 2009. I forget its name now (its URL was [joeldavid-dot-net], but I’m not so sure about this either), and I remember updating it (via the webmaster) five or six times. I realized that if I were to have my own website, the best arrangement would be to have as much control over it as possible – which is why I undertook some quick research on blogs and observed the more active ones (especially Michael Musto’s La Dolce Musto, when he was still with Village Voice). As I must have written to you earlier, these activities became part of my preparations for teaching the Cyberculture undergrad class, and later the Digital Humanities grad class, at Inha University. I must have opened a WordPress account in 2011 or 2012, since I kept tinkering with blog templates and formats for a while before I launched the website. I decided to make it archival in nature, after I saw all the trolling and spamming that went on in the blogs that weren’t moderated by their owners, and the badmouthing and resentment that went on when the blogs were moderated. Since anything archival would be less topical than ordinary web logging, it would justify my refusal to entertain any type of commentary and help me avoid this no-win situation. In late 2013 I also concluded that the free WordPress services would yield a stale-looking design. I subscribed to the most basic among their several paid features, and immediately the improvement in appearance was satisfactory enough, so I kept this arrangement. I also wanted a showy, trashy, corny, pretentiously funny name, but the best I could do was settle for a mash-up between “amateur” and “auteur” – amauteurish.

11011The dissertation was titled “Primates in Paradise: The Multiple-Character Format in Philippine Film Practice” – which is undergoing a really long process of revision, as I must have told you earlier. I don’t want to rush it at all, since it’s got a core that’s worth refining as carefully and ambitiously as possible. I’d cannibalized some chapters for journal articles that I’ve published, as a way of undertaking the revisions. Some books and several articles (including in the New York Times) have already come out on multicharacter movies, which is fine, since the phenomenon is fairly new in the US, with Robert Altman as its pioneer. Since one of my bachelor’s degrees was in journalism, I know enough about the relative worth of the scoop (or being the first to report on something significant) vis-à-vis the interpretive or feature article: it’s extremely rare for both to be the same, and between being first to report and coming up with the best article on the same topic, I’d rather leave the privilege of being first to others. That’s the reason why one of the people I was mentoring described me as “bukas-palad” or open-palmed, meaning that I didn’t mind cluing in people to useful bits of info, even exclusive ones. For me, the real competition lies in how well anyone reads any material. If you’re chronologically last and no one else follows, the careless smart-ass observers would focus on the fact that you were last; but the real implication is that you were definitive, since no one could add anything after you came along. Di ba?

Wednesday, Apr 12, 2017, 2:26 AM

Hi Joel, quick question (and I see I never thanked you for the last response! Thank you!). You mention that “Jojo and I have stable jobs that allow us to engage in blogging activities” – who is the Jojo you are referring to? Almost done with this thing, and I added a few transition phrases just to organize the flow of the text, I hope that’s OK with you. I have to make it look like I did some work.

Re organizing, structuring, and correcting interview material – that’s part of the magic, as we know as students of film. The Jojo I’m referring to is Jojo Devera, who runs the [now defunct] Magsine Tayo! blog. I don’t know if I’m repeating info I already gave you, and sorry if I do, but Jojo’s an avid collector of Pinoy movies, sometimes with titles that can’t be found anywhere else. Unlike the typical archivist-hoarder, he makes an effort to remaster what he has and post the results on his blog for free. It tends to alarm still-active producers and distributors, although he recently found his own ways around the problem of having to take down the movies that producers don’t want to make readily available. First, he gets the approval of the filmmaker, or maybe another producer also involved in the production in question. Next, and worst comes to worst, he had a lawyer advise him that film owners can only claim overseas copyright if they’re listed as foreign distributors of their films. Nevertheless he still concedes to producers’ claims just to be able to avoid too much fuss. In the past, they were able to petition YouTube to shut down his website. In the last few months, he migrated all his film uploads to Vimeo, which (according to him) has better terms for uploaders. His troubles are reminiscent of the Quiapo Cinematheque controversy, when “legit” DVD distributors (with the encouragement of Imelda [Marcos]’s pal, Jack Valenti), insisted on outlawing videocopies that sold for Php 20 so that people could be forced to buy their stuff that would cost Php 1,000 or higher. The producers aren’t really overcharging the public this time, although Mike de Leon supposedly priced his 3rd World Hero at Php 3,000 per copy (I bought Marie Jamora’s director’s cut of The Missing at Php 2,000 and it was worth it). But the legit copies are just too hard to find, and besides, Jojo’s material comes from older videos or TV broadcasts, sometimes censored or shortened for airtime. So a number of film researchers (JB Capino’s the most vocal one) have come to Jojo’s defense; I’ve been acknowledging his help in several of my research projects, since if he’s got a rare copy of anything, he won’t hesitate to share it with you.

Wow thank you Joel, this is all new to me, i.e. no repetition. Thanks so much.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017, 9:45 AM

Hi Joel, it’s me again…. Can I just check with you about a couple of publications that you might have written for? Sagisag magazine, Midweek magazine, Diliman Review, and Humanities Diliman. Were these important for you?

Not Sagisag. It folded up before I started freelancing after I was graduated in journalism. Not Humanities Diliman either – one of my submissions languished too long with them so I pulled it out. (Unless they printed it without my knowledge and skipped the peer-review process.) Diliman Review – I only remember getting published there once, although the office was my favorite hangout whenever I revisited the campus. Some members of the staff were also with the Literary Apprentice, so I submitted a piece to them as well. National Midweek was where I published regularly for almost its whole period of existence. I was with another periodical when I started, so I used a pen name. The former chair of the critics group I drifted away from wanted to invite me to join them, but he had a good laugh when he found out it was just me. Most of my writing for Midweek was subsidized in effect by my teaching at UP – Midweek rates were next to nothing, but you could barely survive as a UP instructor either. I just learned to live on a tight budget, a skills set that was useful for living, studying, and working in NYC later. Today it’s still the same. All the writing I do, including maintaining my blog, is subsidized by my teaching. But the difference between the Philippines’s national university and a second-rank school outside of the capital city in Korea is tremendous. You get the impression that [in Korea] you could live strictly as a scholar and the institution will cover your needs as a matter of course – no need to beg for anything.

Oh man that’s enviable. I keep trying to imagine what it will be like to go back to the States and work as an adjunct at five or six different universities just to make ends meet. Here I can get by, but it’s not sustainable. Anyway, what was your pen name at Midweek, does any of it appear online?

Re the Diliman Review connection – when its editor, Bien Lumbera, started a journal at the Cultural Center of the Philippines titled Kultura, he encouraged me to provide them with critical material (including lengthy reviews). That’s where my Second Golden Age article originally came out. My Midweek pen name was Jojo Legaspi. My entire Midweek output has its own listing on my blog. I mention the pen names I used in a still-to-be-updated “How to Use the Blog” page. I don’t really remember my underground aliases in the student movement, or kept copies of what I wrote then. It’s amazing how [the late National Democratic Front chair] Tony Zumel had his whole collection of UG writings printed in book form, but they’re of a highly specific genre (agitprop we used to call it, or agitational propaganda). I don’t think I’ll want to be remembered for the literary accomplishments of that type of writing. You lived and studied in NYC too, right? Everyone who does that goes through a specific (and special, but we don’t want to self-aggrandize no?) experience that non-NYers will never understand, or will probably perceive as a type of neurosis.

Wow great! Personally I’d love to see those writings from the underground. Yes I lived in NY for a big part of my life and definitely had periods where I had to struggle for work there. Can’t imagine now what it’s like to be an academic there!

Couldn’t be caught with keeping [the agitprop material], Paul. It would be like admitting I wrote them, which would have been true. But I also made sure to use a “dead” journalistic style so I could deny authorship. To be honest, the writing [I did there] dismayed me, but that’s probably why I never got suspected of being a UG contributor. At NYU I roomed with Bliss Lim, who was a former student of mine and a published poet. We realized we’d be writing scholarly material for a long time, so we had some intensive discussions on writing style. Mainly how the “flat” approach that our teachers prescribed in order to foreground content was as much a myth as objectivity in journalism. We hoped to reach a point where we could come up with a better formula, but that would have been impossible. It was enough to just know where the seams were. In fact I think Bliss found a great way to use poetic devices in her scholarly work. I’m more prosaic like everyone else, so in theory a lot more technique is available to us, but there’s always the danger of falling back on the ones that we’re already able to handle well. It’s strange how an obsession with style was palpable among writers in English during the time we were in college. Probably because of the awareness that you could be suspected of succumbing to colonial mentality. That’s also probably why a lot of local writers in English are stylists, in addition to whatever their area of specialization happens to be.


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Times Journal interview

In 1991, a few months after The National Pastime was published and a few weeks after it was launched, I was interviewed for a now-defunct daily, the Times Journal. The session was a one-shot two-hour exchange that took place at the office of what was then the Film Department (now the Film Institute) of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication. Not all the points I wished to raise about film criticism came out, but then the purpose of the exercise (arranged by Anvil Publishing) was to publicize the book rather than raise issues.


Distinguishing the Film Critic from the Reviewer
Vanessa B. Ira

Since I grew up reading film reviews before the much-endorsed literary classics, it became my lifelong obsession to find out just what “film reviewers” are. They analyze current movies, fine, but if this were so, where do the “film critics” come in? What is a film “reviewer” and what is a film “critic”?

11011A call from Joel David, University of the Philippines film professor and author of a new book of “over 50 reviews” called The National Pastime, allowed for either the validation or demolition of personal guesses, observations, and biases. Since I was sure I’d never be the same after an authority set straight my thinking on the matter, I scribbled some of these views, as they say, for posterity.

11011I repeat, the following definitions are “pre-Joel David,” and do not at all reflect his views or opinions:

11011Film reviewers use the “I” more than the film critic – draw your own conclusions from here. The word for film critics is “intense,” the words for film reviewers are “casually passionate” (especially when they’re doing the worst of the worst Regal movies).

11011The film critics’ language takes some getting used to (“putative,” “proferred,” “decontextualizes”) while the film reviewers’ is like, well, ya know, like this. Film critics are name-droppers, film reviewers are “phrase-coiners.”

11011Film critics are long-distance runners, film reviewers are quick-writes. Film reviewers have more fun and it shows, film critics may have fun doing what they’re doing but refuse to show it. Film reviewers write for moviegoers while film critics write for film critics and film students. Film critics are “teacher-types” while film reviewers are “student-types.”

11011To be sure, I read the distinguished professor’s (there, I sound like a critic) book before the interview. I did not wish to go out there in UP territory lambasting film “critics” or “reviewers” only to find out that Joel David was one or the other. To be sure too, I asked him point-blank what he calls himself.

11011“I prefer the badge of honor [to be called a] film critic,” David answered my question.

11011From there, he distinguished the reviewer from the critic.

11011“The more serious of film students would probably appreciate critics’ writings more,” David said. “Then again, reviews and criticisms serve different purposes. Reviews show how a person responded to a film so there is this tendency to become personalistic. There is also the tendency for reviewers to get known.”

11011A critic, on the other hand, owes it to himself to be critical of his own subjectivity. Ideas matter more than any reference to the personal. As a critic, one has the option to “defer judgment.” In a way, one must humble oneself.

11011If one were to draw two extremes, David, explained, reviewing is to journalism as criticism is to film theory and the application thereof. So it is that there are more expectations for film critics to have some sort of a film education.

11011The last point was particularly intriguing. I had always wondered how local film critics felt about treating in all seriousness an industry which generally refuses to take itself seriously. In short, isn’t a painstakingly written critique of Pido Dida much ado about nothing? Absurd?

11011Joel David came alive and caused us to unexpectedly veer away from the original topic of the interview. From thereon, we talked about the film critics in our society. The professor lamented that some local reviewers make their analyses using Hollywood standards. This isn’t practical in a nation that cannot afford slick-looking movies.

11011“We’re asking Filipino reviewers not to question in the traditional way,” David said. “Because if you do, you’ll wind up condemning the taste of the masses. We cannot rely purely on aesthetics.”

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11011The goal is to understand Filipino culture and society even better by turning to different approaches in evaluating our films. It works this way: You don’t, for instance, write that “Maging Sino Ka Man is a commercial film that teams up the komiks queen Sharon [Cuneta] with the number one action star Robin [Padilla]. She screams, he hardly talks, just grunts.”

11011The way of the (local) critic is to take note of the last few box-office hits and compare them with this latest one. What do they have in common?

11011The way of the critic is to note that Maging Sino Ka Man and Pido Dida have leading men who are poles apart from their leading ladies in character and in looks. That they have politicians’ kids – Kris Aquino and Sharon Cuneta – carrying the films. What does this say then about showbiz and politics in this country? How do these affect the moviegoing habits of the Pinoy?

11011“Then too, critics should be aware of the aesthetics of poverty,” David said. “It’s a matter of their compensating in other areas such as storytelling, subject matter, and treatment.”

11011Readers of Joel David’s collection of reviews will recognize the critic’s standards. The reviews in The National Pastime: Contemporary Cinema were written over a ten-year period, since the time David was graduated from UP with a second degree in Film.

11011“I was supposed to cover film press previews,” he recalled his earlier days. “But because I was usually late for the events, I’d end up reviewing the movies.”

11011The officers of the Manunuri [ng Pelikulang Pilipino, or the Filipino Film Critics Circle] liked David’s reviews so much that they invited him to join.

11011“Of all the local critics,” David said, “I admire Bien Lumbera the most. He came at a time culture, not to mention film, was not taken seriously. He came at a time when the criteria for judging cultural pieces were Western-oriented. But Lumbera rose above that.

11011“He came up with the insight that one way of understanding Tagalog films is by relating them to traditional forms of Pinoy entertainment such as the zarzuela and bodabil.”

11011Whenever he thinks of Lumbera, David realizes that his own struggle wasn’t as momentous. David and his colleagues from the recently formed Young Critics Circle come at a time when Filipinos are conscious of defining their identity.

11011Said David: “We may be semi-confused, but we also have to accept that we are still young culturally. It’s really a matter of determining who we are.”

11011Isn’t it ironic, I asked, that as the rest of the world is gearing itself for life in the so-called Global Village, here we are, turning inward, and perhaps even defensive about anything not Filipino?

11011“Not really,” David said. “If we were to compete in international film festivals, for example, we would stand out by showing what makes us unique from the rest of the world. You become interesting to the foreign crowd that way.”

11011Speaking of filmmaking, does a good critic necessarily make a good movie maker?

11011“We owe it to ourselves to at least know how to make films, and to actually make them, so we don’t just tear other people’s films apart in our reviews.”

11011But does this hold true for that other kind of film judge – the film “reviewer”? Find out as soon as we discover ones willing to speak for their sort.

[First published March 12, 1991, in Times Journal]

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Gawad Lingap Sining citation

The 23rd Annual Filipino International Cine Festival

Filipino Arts & Cinema International (FACINE)
is pleased to honor
Professor Jose Hernani S. David
with the
Gawad Lingap Sining
Art Nurturing Award

for his exemplary work in Filipino film criticism and scholarship. His writings on Filipino cinema are widely considered as original, provocative, and insightful, with remarkable awareness of the contending yet complementary forces of the artistic pursuit of the filmmaker and the prerogatives of the mass audience; and his firm belief that film criticism is important in the development of film culture in the Philippines and elsewhere.

Given this 18th day of October in the year 2016,
on the occasion of
FACINE/23: the 23rd Annual Filipino International Cine Festival
held on October 18, 2016,
at the Diego Rivera Theater, City College of San Francisco,
and on October 19-22, 2016,
at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco, California, USA.

(Sgd.) Mauro Feria Tumbocon, Jr.
Founder/Director, FACINE


My Big Fat Critic Status

Before the days of personal computers, I had to draft everything on a typewriter, correct it, and type (and sometimes retype) the final version. I diligently kept all my drafts, as well as the latter-day floppy drives of the Commodore 64 where I managed to finalize my first two book manuscripts. Nearly everything was lost to floods and pilferage, though for some reason, the draft of the letter I wrote to the Filipino film critics’ circle survived. This was not the first time I mentioned my concerns about the group’s obsession with its much-vaunted awards, but this was the moment I first expressed my misgivings directly to the group. (The addressee, then-chair Gino Dormiendo, also subsequently left.) Needless to add, I never returned after taking this “leave,” and neither did the group members stop with their annual ceremonies. Upon my return from US graduate studies, I was asked (via an emissary) to consider rejoining, but by then I felt that our differences had become too vast to be reconcilable.

Letter re Manunuri status
April 26, 1985

Justino M. Dormiendo
Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino
Metro Manila

Dear Mr. Dormiendo:

I am writing to convey my intention of requesting for a change in status to that of a non-voting member of the MPP. I understand that no such position has been granted anyone who had been or has been in good standing with the organization, except through technicalities such as inclusion in the list of nominees or absence from deliberations for the year under consideration. The reason behind my appeal, however, is my disagreement in principle with the notion of critics handing out awards to the people whom they are morally committed to help. The effect of award-giving on a circle as small as our local film artists’ community is to foster competition of a divisive nature, instead of encouraging collective action even (and most especially) in the area of artistic production, which in the first place distinguishes filmmaking from most other popular artistic endeavors.

11011As a result, I find myself dismayed by an attitude on the part of the industry and the public as well – that of regarding the MPP as an award-giving body, as opposed to a genuine critics’ circle. Each award-giving ceremony has done nothing except reinforce this attitude, and even the MPP membership can be charged with playing along with this posture when the body becomes complete mainly during awards-related meetings.

11011Should this request be granted, I would only be glad to carry on with whatever contributions I could make toward the revival of the MPP’s original ideals as a critics’ group, including the finalizing of citations, which are not as competitive in the sense that awards are. I must also indicate that at the moment I cannot consider any alternative other than taking a leave from my membership, to be able to personally formulate resolutions regarding my perceptions of the present state and future directions of Filipino film criticism.

Yours truly, etc.

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Before embarking on what has turned out to be a new permanent position overseas, I proposed a special-topics course for graduate students, who presumably would be mature enough to handle it. When my Filipino colleagues said that “pornography and feminism” sounded fine but academic, I facetiously said “Then let’s call it ‘Skinema’” – and I couldn’t shake off the coinage thereafter from their minds. The proposal was easy for me to formulate, since I’d been paying dutiful attention to the marvelous genre of American pornography during my graduate-school years, and short of living in the state where the industry thrives, none would be more ideal than New York City, where it all started a little over 40 years ago with Gerard Damiano’s era-defining Deep Throat. (Speaking of which, one of the award-winning stars in the US porn industry was a former student of mine, but that should be the subject of a write-up all its own.) In the center of Washington Square Park, from which the village area emanates, I could face in any direction and identify at least one X-rated specialty theater, all of them (except the ones up north, which were the first to be shut down under the mayoralty of Rudolph Giuliani) unidentifiable from the outside, recognizable only by the box office that first greets those who venture within.

11011Unfortunately in preparing for a course to be taught at the University of the Philippines Film Institute, I could not include any local readings (I couldn’t find anything of substance) or videos on the same order as the foreign titles readily available, apart from Peque Gallaga’s soft-core Scorpio Nights (1985). In fact I refused to list any title for screening whatsoever, just in case any of the right-wing religious fundamentalists infesting the College of Mass Communication might manage to get their paws on a copy of the syllabus; the incident where an Opus Dei-controlled student council requested the police to raid the faculty of the college during a screening of Martin Scorsese’s then-banned The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) impressed on me the realization that today our students would not hesitate to turn us in, the same way our student-years’ teachers would have had. Nevertheless for what would be essentially an introductory survey program, I drew mainly from the X-Rated Critics Organization’s Hall of Fame list, alongside Nagisa Oshima’s Ai no corrida (1976) and Jang Sunwoo’s Gojitmal (1999), plus the Gallaga entry, issued the standard start-of-sem warning, and plunged in.

11011As I’ve been implying, I sought mainly to point out how productive this type of genre study could be, and in fact some aesthetic satisfaction may be realized if we viewed the titles in historical context (hence my insistence on porn classics, although there was simply no way to avoid Deep Throat). Close to mid-semester, impressed by the students’ enthusiasm and imaginative responses, I suggested a creative option in place of the announced midterm exam. Everyone took the offer and turned in storyline proposals, a few of which were good enough to submit for subsidy funding.

11011The buzz the course created continues to circulate, and I’m sure everyone learned enough, including the institute: an elective titled “Cinema, Gender, and Other Identities” is now listed. My own realization came as a surprise as well. When I had my first sabbatical (actually a half-year, which is an arrangement possible in Korea), the UPFI asked me if I could lecture – for free, for reasons too complicated to go into; for an equally complex set of reasons I acceded. Then of course “Skinema” was the first thing they mentioned, and I discovered I’d somehow become too timid to agree. “I’ve done that already, so anyone who took the course should be the next one to teach it” was my defensive response. I’ll probably need some basic level of professional help if I want to sort out what happened, but meanwhile I’m providing here, for what it’s worth, a copy of the syllabus that we’d used.


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