To marrow, to marrow, I love ya, to marrow

The wife found a packet of soup bones, boiled one with some potatoes, onions and peppercorns until it was a meaty rich broth.

I had a cupful of rice on my plate, doused it with the broth till it was a soupy mess. Took out the bone, tapped it with my spoon...and six inches of pure bone marrow slid out.

Sprinkled that with fish sauce (fooh on sea salt), and, hey, butter should taste so good....

Even more Passion

You could tell the good guys from the bad based on the condition their teeth was in. Simon the Cyrene, if I remember right, had an overhang, but the way Gibson lingered over his face you can tell his teeth'll straighten out miraculously, later that night.

As for caricatures--hoo boy, I saw plenty. There was a lot of hooting and hawing, and I swear one of them looked like Alf his nose was so damned ugly. Barabbas practically chewed on the temple columns. There was a sniggering contest among the Roman torturers (incidentally, not many of them would be Romans at all--they'd be Greeks, Syrians, conscripts from all places. And they'd speak Greek, the only common language they have).


More passion

The basic problem with Gibson's film I think is that he chose the Passion Play format--a format that does away with context and with Jesus' more controversial acts (his scourging of the Temple moneylenders and entrance into Jerusalem on an ass help explain Caiaphas' actions a lot). Without that context, the anti-Jewish elements come out more clearly.

It's the ultimate violent flick--all violence, no or little story. We're suppose to hate--what? Who? That indistinct rage and hatred built up by the film can be directed at anyone, easily. Easily at people who are skeptical of the film. There have been threats at people who've spoken out.

The Passion of the Christ 3 (pls see prev. 2 posts)


As for the filmmaking--well, Gibson isn't known for his subtlety. The images are gorgeous enough--Gibson has at least one artist working for him, Caleb Deschanel--but pretty pictures, even pretty pictures drenched in blood, aren't enough; there's got to be a filmmaker's sensibility putting the pictures together, deciding where to put the music (which I think took a hint from Peter Gabriel's Middle-Eastern score for "The Last Temptation of Christ"), deciding how to frame the action for the camera (slowly, to catch every drip of blood), deciding what story to tell. By focusing on the last twelve hours of Jesus, Gibson does away with the theology working behind the crucifixion (he has flashback excerpts--"Jesus' Memorable Quotes," in effect) and focuses on Roman torture and death, on the physical instead of the spiritual.


I'd say, go watch Pasolini's "The Gospel According to Matthew" if you want a more faithful, in-context rendition of the story, Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" if you want something a little different, or Monty Python's "The Life of Brian" if you want something a little more sane. This one is strictly for them, not us.

The Passion of the Christ 2 (see previous post)


It's a pretty polarizing movie--most of the Jews yell and jeer and have rotting teeth, while the good Jews, Mary the mother, Mary Magdalene, the disciples--get a pass because they've already embraced the faith (their teeth, I might note, are in pretty good condition too). I suppose Gibson was depending on the figure of Simon of Cyrene to counterbalance all the nasty Jewish stereotypes, but Gibson dwells so much on his increasingly sympathetic face that a different message is clear: not all Jews are evil; all they have to do is believe in Him, and they are saved.


The message is reinforced by the two Jewish thieves hanging besides Jesus: one mocks him, the other doesn't. Hey presto, the mocker gets a particularly painful surprise, courtesy of Gibson (this wasn't in the bible either).


Incidentally, not a lot of people have mentioned the homophobia as well--an androgynous Satan, a rouged and eyelinered Herod.



The Passion of the Christ

Saw it.


Is the picture anti-Semitic? Well, it takes many of the anti-Jewish elements from the New Testament and arranges them in such a way that it heightens Jewish guilt. And no, I don't agree that saying there are anti-Jewish elements in the New Testament means I'm saying that it's is anti-Semitic; there's more to the books than that. There IS fuel in the gospels to create something anti-Semitic, something which the Vatican explicitly warns against and posted guidelines about, and I think that's what happened to Gibson's movie, intentionally on his part or not. Catholics who believe in the Vatican and in Vatican 2 (which, whether you're a believer or not, has plenty of sensible things to say, especially on Christian-Jewish relations) better take this movie with a huge block of salt.


I say "intentionally or not" because despite the claims that it's from the bible, Gibson does take images and situations from another book--the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich, a 17th century nun who WAS anti-Semitic (one of her writings has the claim Jews used the blood of Christian children for "diabolical purposes").


Emmerich is practically the guiding spirit of Gibson's film; the order in which different parts of the gospels have been chosen and arranged are due to Emmerich; the re-jiggering of Pilate's character as a sympathetic and reluctant judge over Jesus is due to Emmerich. As Philip Cunningham, executive director for the Center of Christian-Jewish Learning in Boston College puts it, the picture might as well be called "The Passion according to Anne Catherine Emmerich."



The Birds

I just saw The Birds again. I liked Tippi Hedren fine, but I thought Jessica Tandy gave the best Dominating Mother performance of any Hitchock film I can think of.

I think it was one of his most difficult films to make (when you think about how he thought actors are cattle, what on earth did he think of birds?), and his one film where everything is not explained away--where something larger than humanity is involved, and not in a good way.


The Passion: finally, a voice of reason

I think this should be require reading for everyone who sees the movie.
Then maybe I'd be more at ease with its success:



Snowed today.

Funny, snow tends to cover everything in a soft thick blanket; ice retains all the details, but gives them a shimmer and sparkle. One looks like everything is buried in whipped cream, the other makes everything look sugar glazed.

To look at I prefer ice, especially at sunrise, when the dawn shoots orange light through the thousand thousand diamonds of an ice-crusted tree. Tho it's admittedly more fun to fling snowballs about than crumple ice-brittled leaves...



Gerry is a beautifully shot and edited exercise in...well, I haven't figured that one out yet...

But the sense of desolation, the silence, are wonderful.

Got a ticket for Passion of Christ on Sunday (they were sold out today). I suppose there's not much silence in that movie.


The Delusion of Mel

"the bottom line of the movie as admitted by Gibson so many times is that he took it from the pages of the Bible itself, what's there to argue about?"

She's wrong--there's plenty in the bible that needs to be put into context and argued about. The writers of the bible put the words down years after Christ died, when Jews were persecuting this newfangled sect called Christianity (Saul who turned into Paul was one of the worse of them), and they apparently rewrote the story to put less blame on the Romans and more on the Jews (one passage in Matthew actually has the Jews saying something like "his blood be on ours and our children's heads!").

The New Testament, some of it, really IS anti-Semitic, but given the context of the times, you can't blame them.

Problem is, literalists took a statement written a long time ago under conditions that no longer existed and use it as justification for serious anti-Semitic acts--the progroms where men, women and children are killed and their houses burned down.

The progrom in "Fiddler on the Roof" only gave you a taste, an appetizer of what it's like. It was far more awful in real life. And it happened to them for thousands of years.


Ignorance is no excuse

From tylerdurden:

"Interpreting the gospel in his (Gibson's) own understanding and believes that he is not offending anyone"

Ever studied the civil code? One of the basic principles found there is this: ignorance is not an excuse.

He may do what he does for the noblest of reasons (actually, Hitler killed 6 million Jews for what he believed was the noblest of reasons too), but the simple fact is, he's alienated and antagonized the Jewish community.

Hutton Gibson's Literary masterpieces


What the LOTR fans want

Originally posted by tylerdurden
It aint gonna be Lord of the rings if Pj made it distinctly his own. Fans will be outraged.

Yeah, well...

When movies were in their infancy, not much more developed than the moving photos that Edison invented, people demanded that the camera show the entire person, on the theory that they are getting the fullest value for their money. It took filmmakers like DW Griffith and Sergei Esenstein to demonstrate that in fact film is more dynamic, more dramatic, and has far more visual impact if you leave the director alone to shoot and stage his actors according to his own ideas of how the film is to be shot.

If Jackson wanted to make great films, he should have put more of himself into them. If he had the guts, he wouldn't listen to the fans and would direct the film as needed, not as fans would want them.

Maybe the basic mistake was to use a LOTR fan like Jackson, who practically reveres the ground Tolkien walks on. Boorman, who was at one point connected with the film, might have given the LOTR books the same treatment he gave the Arthurian legends, and come up with a really great film. As is, what I think Jackson came up with is a nine-hour version of Classics Illustrated.

What if Gibson never existed?

From Siopao Man:

"But ask yourselves this, if Jesus had not died the way he did, would christianity be as big as it it today? "

Good question, Siopao Man. And applying that question in a different way, where would this movie be if Gibson had not exploited and exacerbated the tension between Christians and Jews today?  A film about love and forgiveness, and it inspires all this anger and mistrust?  What's that again about knowing them by their fruits?


Bakit Bughaw ang Langit: A scene

I remember this from "Bakit Bughaw sa Langit" (I saw it only once, but I can remember it like it was yesterday): Nora having bought Dennis Roldan a soda pop, and Roldan (he's retarded) telling her he didn't like her. She asks why, when she bought him a soda? Roldan takes back what he said.

Before this O'Hara never used close-ups--mostly long shots and medium shots that take in the whole scene. For the first time he focuses on Nora's face, she smiles and she's radiant, and Roldan smiles shyly in response.  It's the first time in the film that these two lonely people actually connect.

Very, very simple scene, but it could be one of the most moving in all of Philippine cinema.

Christ movies

"you think all jesus' films are exploitation and propaganda flicks by religious fanatics?"

Most films in the "King of Kings" or "Greatest Story Ever Told" vein are Hollywood kitsch meant to cash in on the Jesus phenomenon.  "Jesus of Nazareth" was a more sincere effort, with a literate script by Anthony Burgess, but frankly Franco Zefferelli has no talent as a filmmaker.

There are three films on Jesus that I really liked: Pier Paolo Pasolini's "The Gospel According to Matthew" is the simplest and most straightforward, an almost documentarylike approach done on less than a million dollars, with a Spanish student playing Christ (compare that to $25 million and Caviezel as Christ). If you want sincerity, I think Pasolini had it in spades--and he was a homosexual and communist!

But even the Catholic church recognized Pasolini's achievement--they have his film listed as among the most important ever made.

Jean Luc Godard's "Hail Mary!" is more interesting--Joseph as a gas station attendant, Mary as a sullen young Frenchwoman who definitely did not conceive Immaculately, Godard's mischievously intellectual approach to the miracle of Christ.  Not the best Godard, but definitely one of the more interesting Christ films.

My personal favorite is Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ." Terrific filmmaker, very personal and radical interpretation, very human portrait of Christ (not only does he sweat and bleed and suffer, he has sexual fantasies, too).  And I love the relationship between Christ and Judas--as two close friends destinied to betray each other.


Mel Gibson's father


Triplets of Belleville

"Triplets of Belleville" is beautifully animated. It uses a lot of CGI but not in the obvious manner, not in a cliched manner. Lovely little details, including the poster of Tati's "Mr. Hulot Takes a Holiday" and a clip from "Jour de Fete." I think Sylvain Chomet takes his cue from Tati's brand of humor, mainly visual, mainly slapstick with a touch of grace.

Yes I suppose it can be considered something of a cold fish, but the French have never made many overly sentimental art films--it has the melancholy air of people who are oppressed but never give up.  They don't really change either, but you don't look for character development in a, say Road Runner cartoon--what's supposed to sustain you is the inventiveness, of which there is some; maybe, to my mind at least, not as chaotically funny as Dante's "Looney Tunes," but some. Chomet doesn't have the kind of control over emotional tone that Miyazaki does (maybe he didn't bother to try), but he does come up with a gorgeous-looking film.

Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God) locations

posted this on a forum:

I went to Majayjay, in Laguna, we did a tour of the Laguna churches for the Holy Week. There were other churches in better condition and more ornate, but the one in Majayjay was the simplest, oldest, most awe-inspiring. 

I talked to this old man sitting in front of this house in front of the church mentioned Majayjay was a popular location for movies, and rattled off some titles--"Maruja," "Ganito Kamin Noon Paano Kayo Ngayon," so on and so forth. The old man was very polite.  Then I mentioned "Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos" and he goes "Oh yes!  That movie!  Did you know Nora did her makeup in this house?  Did you know that's the church in the movie?  Did you know the elementary school is down that road?  Did you know the bridge is over there?  Did you know the house she lived in is over there?"  Di naubusan ng kuwento.

We went to the bridge. It was a twenty-minute hike through a path, and hardly anyone used it.  The bridge itself was overgrown with grass but still impressive in a massive, brooding way.

On the way home, we were looking for the house Nora lived in; it was on the road we used driving into town, but I never recognized it.  We went down the same road looking for it, and not five minutes out of town, I spotted it; earlier, I must have been looking at it from a different angle than the one I remember from the film.

It was closed down, but someone was living there--the window shutter opened, part of a woman's face peeped out.  We said we were visiting it because of--well, Nora had filmed here for "Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos," does she remember that picture? The woman in the window smiled and waved.


Re: The Philippines is a World Power 2 (con't from prev. post)


>To be
> honest for a country that's supposedly in the top ten,
> the ratio of quality films versus trash being churned
> out is rather large.

This I agree with, but it makes that fraction of one percent all the more
precious. I consider it worth it, sifting through all that crap to find
the gold.

> No filipino film has moved me
> aside from films made by filipino independent
> filmakers - produced somewhere else -  certainly not
> in this country!

That's funny; I haven't seen a, say, Fil-Am film that had the same effect
on me as a Filipino film. Well, Lav Diaz's Batang West Side, but he and I
consider it a Filipino film.

> I would say the same thing to what's
> happening in filipino music and the visual arts. The
> philippine culture industry is in a very sorry state
> because it is steep in petty politiks, superficiality,
> anti-intellectualism, and the people who are
> supposedly the supporters are just interested in
> making a profit.

And yet I still think good work is being done.  I've seen it.

>One could say that, like the country
> itself, contemporary philippine culture is headed for
> the doghouse.

It's been heading there for years, will probably head there for years
more. Still, the good work is being done.

> Admit it we're lame and we should be
> aware of this so that we can challenge and be critical
> of ourselves so that we can better something and do
> away with this false pride.

I've been there, oh, maybe ten years ago.  Then what?  You move on, you
sift through the awful to find what's good, even great. And you make sure
no one forgets about them.  There's nothing false about my pride.

Re: The Philippines is a World Power

> i must admit i haven't seen a whole lot of filipino> films and I can't name one cuz they're so forgettable.> But i've seen more filipino films than say japanese,> chinese, hong kong, taiwanese, indian, italian,> spanish, mexican, french, german, iranian, cuban films> combined and the little foreign films i've seen are so> superior in terms of dialogue, acting, cinematography,> production design, etc. to those filipino ones, and> yes even the indian films are way better.

Really, it depends, and it helps to have seen these films...and it helps to see more Filipino films. Maybe you can start with my recommendations.

One of the classics of Indian cinema, for example, is Bimal Roy's Bandini,considered his best work. It has terrific cinematography, lovely songs and music, and a great performance from the lead actress whose name escapes me for the moment.But it lacked grit, and a real sense of cruelty, and a more complex depiction of the lead character--elements that, say, Mario O'Hara'sBulaklak sa City Jail provides in greater measure.

Really, the popular notion of cinematography is that if it looks beautiful, it's great cinematography. That's not the only yardstick. One of the most beautifully shot films I've ever seen is Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, and what makes it so memorable, what makes it so great is the way Mike de Leon captures the shine of rain-slicked streets, of esteros clogged with garbage. Conrado Baltazar's work in Insiang, on the other hand, captures the stink and texture of Smoky Mountain.These films deal in truth, and I'd pick them over a lot of French, German,what-have-you films.

And I'm not alone. Taiwanese and French filmmakers and critics have expressed admiration for Brocka's work; Maynila was included in Geoff Andrews' book of 150 great films.And I don't even consider Brocka the best, or Maynila the greatest. There are better, though not many. (con't)

Rabbit-Proof Fence

Saw Rabbit Proof Fence.

Terrific stuff. Sure it's an easy heart-tugger--kids vs. impossible odds, aborigines vs. misguided whites, so on and so forth.  But I like the way Noyce doesn't underline the drama and keeps everything levelheaded and somber, leavened with moments of deadpan humor (the kids giggling behind the nun's back, Branagh and company shot like a smalltown church congregation, the women smiling when the deputy backs away from their spear).

I like it that Branagh plays his role like a harassed, underfunded bureaucrat; I like it that he gets the best lines--stuff like not underestimating the aborigine, and his incessant wish, that they understand what he's trying to do for them.  It's his exhaustion that makes his performance so compelling--his racism is so basic, so taken-for-granted he's weary of people misunderstanding it.

Wonderful film.


Setsuko Hara

Occured to me that the story of Millenium Actress may have been inspired in part by the career of Setsuko Hara, especially her sudden retirement.

Here's an article by Donald Richie:



Interview 3 (pls. read prev. post


>12. What do you think is missing in Filipino films

If you mean most films, what's lacking is the courage to do something different and the imagnation to do it well. If you mean the rare good Filipino film it's the money to do it properly and the marketing strategy to sell it well.

>13. Do you sometimes come across films with themes
>that are lifted from foreign films?

Yes.  If they are done well, I don't mind.

>14. What kind of stories do you think should be made
>into films?

Anything.  I don't want to limit the subject matter.

>15. What advice can you impart those who want to
>pursue the same career as the one you hold?

Find another job. There is no money here, and little satisfaction.  I just do it because I feel it needs doing.

>16. If you could change one thing in the Philippine
>film industry, what would this be?

Lower the taxes, abolish censorship.  Well, lower taxes.

Interview 2 (pls. read prev. post)


>10. How do the films in the present compare to those
>films of 30-50 years ago?

That depends on what industry you're talking about. As far as world cinema is concerned, some of the best works were coming out of Japan and India; Philippines, I've seen some of the '50s films, but it's difficult to assess firsthand; many of the pictures are gone.  Philippine cinema is suffering from a kind of Alzheimers, a gradual loss of memory, with the loss of our film prints.

I can say right now that compared to around 30 years ago, we were on top of the world, or near it; the only other comparably great cinema being made that I can think of is by the United States (Scorsese, Coppola, Altman). Of course the great films of the '70s are better preserved and more easily seen, so this is hardly an objective judgement.

But there is still good work being done today.  I think the films of Lav Diaz, of Mario O'Hara, Tikoy Aguiluz and the rare output from Mike de Leon still gives some hope.  I still hope Celso Ad. Castillo can do something good, even great--he nearly did, with Lihim ni Madonna. The independent filmmaking scene is vigorous as ever, maybe even more vigorous with the advent of diigital cameras. Aureaus Solito, Khavn de la Cruz, Ditsy Carolino and Sari Dalena, Raymond Red, among many others.

Of commercial films I think Chito Rono, Jeffrey Jeturian, Ronnie Ricketts and Maryo delos Reyes are doing good if not first-rate work. Of the new directors I like Joyce Bernal, Quark Henares, Rico Illarde.

>11. Do you think the current film industry still has
>potential to overcome its weaknesses and in so doing
>make Class A films?

I think it's making Class A films (whatever that means); no one knows about it, though. (con't)


This class from University of the Philippines interviewed me:

>  Questions:
>1. How did you get started in this career?

I walked into the Manila Chronicle editorial office, turned in an article to Celine Cristobal, daughter of Adrian Cristobal and then lifestyle editor of the Chronicle. I called two weeks later to check if they printed it and found out they used it the very next day.  Been working steadily, more or less, ever since.

>2. What was the first films you reviewed?

Forrest Gump. I thought it was awful.

>3. What does your job entail?

Long hours writing, small pay, abuse from many readers, disdain and anger of the local film industry.  Some friends, but very few--you daren't trust anyone from the industry.

>4. How do you deal with other critics or readers who
>disagree with your opinions regarding a film?

Not much. If I chat with him/her in person or online, we may talk about our differences. If he/she is a good friend, I'll needle him about his liking a film I didn't like, or defend a film I liked.  But if we don't know each other I'm very polite.

>5. What film did you give the most favorable review?

Um--Mario O'Hara's Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos.

>6. Do your reviews get influenced if the director or
>actor in the film is a friend?

I can't pretend it doesn't.  What happens--or at least what I hope happens is that I do still tell the truth, I tell it as it is, but I don't use my knives, so to speak--I'm not as sarcastic.  Once I had to write about Nick Deocampo's "Pedrong Palad." I remember saying it wasn't a very good film, but that he was working under straightened circumstances. He admitted I was kind to the picture.

>7. What basis do you use to critique a film?

Everything I know, everything I can learn about the picture.

>8. Do other critics use the same guidelines?

I wouldn't know, I don't know how other critics work.

>9. How many films a week do you watch?

Onscreen, maybe once a week.  On cable and DVD, maybe one every other day, or five times a week. During a festival, as much as four to ten films a day. (con't)

US-Canadian relations

From John T., the most acutely perceptive precis of US-Canadian relations I've ever read:

"Do they like us? Do they like us? Oh boy, I sure hope they like us! They do! They DO like us! But what did they say about us?! That's not funny! Fuck them! How dare they make fun of us?!"


Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property 2 (pls. read prev. post)


We also see literary interpretations of Turner by white writers, but other than a WPA play with black performers, no major literary work by black writers--again, a telling lack that the documentary points out. Ossie Davis asks (he's talking about Styron, but he could be talking about all the versions)--for whom are they interpreting Turner? For the whites? The novel that addresses this imbalance has yet to be written.

Perhaps the most unsettling moment in the documentary is Burnett's re-enactment of a crucial scene in Styron's novel, Turner's killing of the white woman he lusts for. Showing this must have been more than a little painful for Burnett (I'm guessing here, but I think he must have hated Styron's novel), yet he stages the scene with unsettling force and skill, with the suggestion (through the way the scene was staged and shot) of sexual violation, in the way Turner's sword penetrates the woman from behind.

And just when you think you've seen everything, Burnett springs a surprise (skip the rest of this paragraph if you haven't or plan to see the documentary). The murders seen at at the beginning of the documentary are re-enacted, then the camera pulls back to show us Burnett shooting the scene with his cameraman. For the last ten minutes, the same intense gaze Burnett leveled at the various artists interpreting Turner he turns on himself, and we see him questioning his own motives and methods in making this documentary.

All in all, a wonderfully made piece of truth-telling (though I would like to see the two-hour version Burnett originally wanted to make), and--I'm willing to bet even if it's only February--one of the best things I'm likely to see this year.

Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property

Charles Burnett's documentary "Nat Turner: a Troublesome Property" is about as startling and excellent a documentary as I've seen recently.

It's about Nat Turner, a slave that rose up and, with fellow slaves, murdered his way across the nearby Virginian countryside (the documentary opens with a re-enactment of the first few killings--of Turner sneaking into a bedroom and hacking child, husband, and wife to death with an ax); it's about knowing so little of the actual historical figure, and, as a result of the wildly different interpretations people have had of his legend, across different ages--to Abolitionists he was a freedom fighter, to Pro-Slavery whites a terrifying bogeyman, to '60s civil rights protesters an early prototype of Malcolm X ("by any means necessary").

There's mention of Grey's "Confessions of Nat Turner," a (most historians suspect) highly fictionalized account of Turner's last words; there's mention of Harriet Beecher Stowe's bowdlerized version ("Dred!") and of William Styron's Pulitzer-Prize winning "Confessions of Nat Turner" (he took Grey's title) and the controversy this inspired, in that Styron interpolated a scene where Turner lusts after a white woman.

Burnett I think tries to be as fair as he can over the controversy--supporters and naysaysers are given equal time. You can't help but notice, though, that the black historians and writers largely express anger at a white man daring to show Nat Turner's lust for white flesh, while Styron's friends--who all happen to be white, the ones in this documentary, anyway--try to explain some larger perspective.

Burnett does his best to play fair, but what I think was needed was some black historian or writer who could look beyond the indignity and show why Styron was right (or wrong, if that's his conclusion) in including that scene. That Burnett couldn't produce this one voice is a telling lack on the part of Styron's critics. (con't)

Punch Drunk Love

So I finally saw Punch Drunk Love.

It doesn't look like the typical PTA movie--for much of the film the camera sits still or moves slowly in long takes where the focus is on Sandler's body language. That looks like the best idea PTA has--to take Sandler's schtick and look at it as the motions of a painfully lonely man. Not too many loud pop songs, mostly discordant music used--gasp--tactfully, and not many musical sequences to fill in the dead air.  PTA actually seems to have something to say here, and his focus on only one character allows him to develop something of a story and an evolving protagonist.

That said, there are some things about the movie that are absurd--what on earth would Emma Watson see in this guy?  She's attractive, she can plainly see that there's something freakishly wrong with him--why does she stick with him?  I suppose I can buy her going for him, but it better be a good reason, and I'm just not being given the reason.

And how can a guy like Sandler, disfunctional as he is, own a business, manage employees?  Where did he get the money? Was it an inheritance?  I can't believe a bank officer would approve his application for a loan.  He actually has a business--when he first mentions this, I at first thought it was a lie--and he seems to be making money, or at least have plenty of it, what with the flight to Hawaii and the flight (I assume it's a flight) to Utah, but I just can't believe someone that introverted and dysfunctonal can be a viable entrepreneur.  Romantic comedies do tend to stretch crediblity but even Bringing Up Baby wasn't this unbelievable (Hepburn may obsess over Grant the moment she meets him, but hey, it's Cary Grant).

Otherwise--yeah, it's fun, it's easily the best Sandler I've ever seen, and maybe the first PTA I've really liked. 


Millenium Actress

Happy VD, everyone.

Saw Satoshi Kon's ("Perfect Blue") next film, "Millenium Actress." At first it seemed more superficial--a sort of self-indulgent celebration of Japanese films and an actress' long career. But at about the point when she sees the drawing of her, the story started getting hold of me; by film's end I loved it. Beautiful superrealistic animation, with some spectacularly stylized sequences. It wouldn't be embarrassing to compare this to Studio Ghibli films--that's the highest compliment I can think of.

Part of what makes Chiyoko so appealing is that her beauty is hardly important to her, that she's not at all full of herself; she's looking beyond herself, and actually, beyond almost everyone around her. She's already got one foot in that next world she's heard about, just a few inches beyond a man's reach, and that's what lonely men like Genya, or her film audience, find so fascinating (it's what audiences found so fascinating about Garbo--that she seems to be looking beyond her leading men at something ethereal, almost spiritual).


The Philippines is a world power 4 (pls. read prev. post)

"But since our people are fond of electing movie actors, even president of the republic, unfortunately, these actor-politicians don't really know what power is, and how to use this power to guide our country to be at least at par with other countries of the world."


But how do you measure "world power?" GNP? Military might? I also consider such intangibles as cultural vitality and local cinemas--which may not beat fellow countries in a war, but I think still counts for something. The USA may be far stronger than us militarily, but I'd choose our very best against their Hollywood output, anytime.

The Philippines is a world power 3 (pls. read prev. post)

"How about the Philippines? We have huge market for films, locally and
foreign produced. Our films have global reach; they have entered (distributed) the many corners of the world, land and ocean, because of the demand (need) Filipinos (Overseas Filipino, immigrants etc). Outside of our kababayan, our films have not entered the real  world to be called a world power."


So you don't think overseas Filipinos, workers, and housemaids count?


Please note, the Hong Kong cinema in its heyday in the late '80s was sustained not by the Hong Kong market, which was small, but by the overseas Chinese in Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines.


"How many Filipino films do you know that have other language subtitles? How big is our clout in the Asian Film industry, i terms of quality and quantity?"


That's where the marketing perception is. I've SEEN the recent Malaysian and Thai and Indonesian films, and especially the Thai have bigger budgets and more time to make their films, but in terms of imagination and filmmaking, no, I don't think they match the very best our local industry (mostly the independent productions) have to offer.


On the other hand, it's true that these better Filipino films are very little known. Again, the problem is marketing. It's sad that our own people don't seem to be familiar with these films either.



The Philippines is a World Power 2 (pls. read prev. post)

"China has bigger population than India but has less films produced; China however has produced more world acclaimed films that are also available in Chinese and world wide audience with sub-titles."


Uh, this is more RECENT acclaimed Chinese films. This, as I implied in my post ("we just don't know about it"), is a matter of marketing and perception. China has some interesting films, certainly, but India has been more active at it and has produced more great filmmakers--not just the known Satiyajit Ray, but the lesser known and equally great Ritwik Ghatak, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, Raj Kapoor, Mrinal Sen...the list is enormous, and definitely longer than the Chinese list.


Ask anyone familiar with world cinema. He can set you straight on this point.



The Philippines is a World Power

From: canlasmc@aol.com

Subject: Re: Re: The Philippines is a World Power


"We are not a world power in film or movie industry. The number cited in the Newsweek list (with number of films produced per year) is not a good measuring stick. India has the most, but how many India films have you watched or have penetrated the world market. They have more because also they have bigger population."


Pete Lacaba I'm assuming posted that mail partly as a joke. Production means something although not everything. It does mean this much, that the high production rate in India indicates you can have a viable, self-sustaining cinema without using Hollywood style budgets, production values, or marketing.


How many Indian films have I watched? Quite a few, actually. They are available on Netflix as well.


And that 'bigger population' is a clue as to why world market penetration is irrelevant to Indian cinema. They have a big enough domestic market to support a thriving industry. And one, mind you, that still has artistic talent--witness the films of Adoor Gopalakrishna, or Mani Rathnam, or Shyam Benegal.



Mel Gibson

Interesting post by LA film critic David Ehrenstein:

I was on Mike Signorile's radio show this morning, talking about Melvin Jesus H. Christ Gibson. If you'll consult the fabulous Jeanette Walls at the MSNBC site you'll note her quoting Melvin to the effect that his Episcopalian wife -- while a truly wonderful person -- is going to hell because she's not a member of the True Church.

Needless to say True Believer Melvin, who has many children with women other than his wife, is going to Heaven.

This of course leads to the eternal question Is There Sex After Death ? I'm sure Melvin hopes that will be the case, because he loves sex. Very strange sex.

Way back in the 80's I met Melvin when he was in L.A. to promote Gallipoli There was a lunch meet-and-greet over at Paramount. Apparently the otherwise fabulous Susan Pile wasn't on her toes that day because there was a competing meet-and-greet on the other side of town going on at the same time for some other movie. So basically Melvin only had me and my colleague David Chute to talk to. This was fine with us as we were both fans of the first Mad Max and Melvin had just finished shooting Mad Max 2 -- known in the U.S. as The Road Warrior. As we were talking Mad Max the conversation obviously led to leather fetishism. Melvin wasn't too keen about that, but he did express enthusiasm for another sexual fetish --

Shit Blisters

What are Shit-Blisters? Well might you ask! That was the question David Chute and I found ourselves inquiring of the soon-to-be-superstar -- and he explained.

Fecal matter is injected into the epidermal layer of the skin -- usually the arm, chest or back. Then during whatever sexual act you're interested in performing -- at the height of passion as it were -- the "blisters" are popped, thus releasing the fecal matter for decorative and olifactory delight.

No I am not making this up.

Will shit-blisters be featured in The Gospel According to Melvin ?

I wouldn't be at all surprised. You know those Jews are capable of anything!

Mario O'Hara and Nora Aunor

"Bulaklak sa City Jail" is a wonderful film, and a superior example of the "women in prison" genre, without the taint of exploitation.

It's also got a knockout ensemble cast, as mentioned above, even a great cameo by German Moreno as an evil gay warden.

"Condemned" I'd call a perfect thriller, maybe one of the best noirs in Philippine cinema, and according to O'Hara, his favorite of his films.

"Kastilyong Buhangin," I wrote about here:

Kastilyong Buhangin  

And "Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos," I wrote about here:

Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos

(If it looks funny, try clicking on the "unwrap lines" button above the article, it might help).

I've said this before, but I'll probably never get tired of saying it again: O'Hara's collaborations with Aunor are magic.  More than Brocka, who rejected the chance to direct her in "Tatlong Taong" ("I don't want anything to do with that Superstar!") more than Bernal, he understood her the best, I think.

The Philippines is a World Power 2 (con't from previous post)

Here's my reply to Pete's message:

According to Jacob Wong, programmer of the Hong Kong Film Festival, as
recently as 1998 we produced 150 films, outproducing Hong Kong, which only
did 90 plus.

In the '50s, '60s, and '70s, we were doing better quality films than Hong
Kong (except for a few exceptions), easily the best in Southeast Asia.

In the '50s, Ramon Estella trained under Fred Zinneman and Robert
Flaherty, and did films for Vietnam and Malaysia (Teddy Co jokingly calls
him Malaysia's greatest filmmaker), an Italian film in the 1960s and
Japanese films in the 1970s.

Of course, everyone must know by now about Manuel Conde's friendship with
James Agee, and how Agee championed his Genghis Khan, which went on to
screen in the Venice Film Festival in 1952 (easily better than the John
Wayne version).

We were always a world power. We just never knew about it.

The Philippines is a World Power

> From: Pete Lacaba
> Subject: [plaridel] We are a world power!
> Believe it or not, the Philippines is a world power--at least in the
> movie business.

> The special edition of Newsweek magazine dated December 2003-February
> 2004, on the subject of "Power: Who's Got It Now," has a centerfold
> that lists the top 10 most powerful nation-states in various
> categories, such as Economic Power, Diplomatic Power, and Social
> Power. The Philippines appears in just one list, Movie Power. There
> are three areas in this category--Movie Tickets Sold Per Year, in
> millions of dollars; Film Investment, again in millions of dollars;
> and Feature-Film Production, in number of films produced per year. It
> is  in the area of Feature-Film Production that the Philippines ranks
> No. 9.
> The Newsweek list (with number of films produced per year):
> 1. India (1,200)
> 2. United States (543)
> 3. Japan (293)
> 4. France (200)
> 5. Spain (137)
> 6. Italy (130)
> 7. Germany (116)
> 8. China (100)
> 9. Philippines (96)
> 10. Hong Kong (92)
> And to think that the movie industry went through a slump last year!
> (In the 1960s, we were producing about 250 films a year, which would
> probably have placed us just behind India and the United States.)


Bakit Bughaw ang Langit (Why is the Sky Blue?)

I finally, finally saw Mario O'Hara's "Bakit Bughaw ang Langit," about Nora as a mistreated young woman and her relationship with a retarded man, played by Dennis Roldan.

To put it bluntly, it's a tremendous little work, one of the most beautiful Filipino films I've ever seen, and one of Nora's best performances. I can't believe a film like this attracted so little attention. It blows a Hollywood effort like "Rain Man" right out of the water.

I'd write more, but I need to digest what i saw a little. This film deserves to be considered one of the best of the '80s. At the very least.


Old Hickory House

Old Hickory House in Charlotte has that distinct hickory-smoked, hand chopped barbecue sprinkled with crispy-dark "outside brown," the toasted bits of the moist pork butt and just drrripping with fat. We got to taste for the first time the "Piedmont" style of North Carolina barbecue, where a sweetish tomato sauce is ladled on top.

You can order the sauce (or as it's properly known here, the "dip") on the side, in a large ramekin with bits of onion and chunks of barbecue meat floating on top; I tried adding this but no--the meat was just too tongue-meltingly good to cover with the (admittedly tasty, tangy) sauce. It was just good with a hint of the tomatoey sweetness (the sauce was more Mephis- or Texas- style sweet and thick than traditional Carolina thin-and-tangy).

Included with the barbecue "tray" (it's called that as opposed to the slightly more expensive "plate" usually served in the east--reportedly becuase fries aren't included, tho I noticed this isn't a hard and fast rule) is a cup of Brunswick stew--maybe the best Brunswick stew I've ever tasted, and I've started to taste quite a few of them. Salty with meat, tangy with tomato, sweet only with the sweetness of the vegetables, it's uncommonly thick and smooth, probably because of the stale bread they mix into it. Delicioso mucho.

The Mayor of Casterbridge

Thomas Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge" is a heartbreaker of a tragedy.

That said, I can kind of see where some consider "Jude" and "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" as Hardy's masterpieces and this not quite. Mayor involves the rise and fall of a man as seen through his relationship with several people--his wife, his rival, his mistress, his daughter. "Tess" and "Jude" are essentially triangles (Tess and the two men in her life, Jude and the two women in his) and for much of their lengths solitary journeys. The greatness of Hardy's prose seems to shine brightest with solitary journeys--with relationships there tends to be dialogue, and Hardy's dialogue doesn't seem to be his best strength.

And "Mayor's" plot has all kinds of convoluted developments--missed meetings and subterfuges and stolen letters and such--to achieve its undeniably moving conclusion, where the plot of "Jude" and "Tess" move with a kind of simple and natural inevitability.

Still, there's a lot of power to "Mayor"--the early part, most of all (of which Michael Winterbottom's "The Claim" retains the most of, now I can see why); the grandeur of Henchard, particularly after he's fallen; his relationship with Elizabeth May, that moment whe he realizes he's come to love someone who isn't truly his--some of these scenes are wonderfully realized. "Mayor" is moving, especially to fathers who have daughters; to men who feel family is at times a blessing, at times a burden; and to anyone and everyone who has ever loved someone and lost them.


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

I saw the original but missed the remake, which was frustrating, because I wanted to compare the two.

I'll tell you this much. The original was shot for something like $350,000, which wouldn't even cover the makeup budget of the remake; they didn't even have the money to make a special effect 'saw, so what you see for the entire film is a live and working chainsaw. Gunnar Hansen, who plays Leatherface, says the 'saw started up every time, and that sometimes he would work the saw just three inches from the actor's face, looking through the tiny eyeholes of his Leatherface mask.

There was in fact one scene where he goes beserk with the 'saw (you see it in the film), and he could see through his tiny eyeholes the director of photography, one of the producers, and director Tobe Hooper running for their lives.

One of my favorite stories that Hansen tells is of one of the characters who took ten hours to put his makeup on. After that ordeal he announced that he wasn't going to do that again, so he wanted all his scenes shot NOW, and then he's leaving for good.

So they shot round the clock for 27 hours to finish all his scenes, the most extensive of which was a dinner party  in an enclosed room with an average temperature of 100 degrees inside.

Everyone was broiling, literally, from the Texas heat, had gone without sleep for more than a day, and were under enormous pressure to finish the scene, which was experiencing plenty of trouble, technical and otherwise.

Gunnar Hansen confessed that several times he lost it. When someone yelled at him to "Kill the bitch (actress Marilyn Burns)," Hansen, thinking by this time that he really WAS Leatherface, stood up and walked over, ready to really kill her.

Later in the same scene, Burns' finger was to be cut by a knife. Hansen held a knife with its edge taped for safety, and a tube on the hidden side ready to spout blood...only the fake blood had congealed, and the tube wouldn't spout.

After the umpteenth take with the blood not spouting, Hansen turned around, took the tape off, and on cue, actually sliced Burns' finger open. Burns' horrific reaction to Hansen's cut, that wasn't acting.

Really, there's an energy and force and--well, I hesitate to call it realism--to the original Texas Chainsaw that, I don't think the remake is going to match.


Les Miserables

Finishing up Les Miserables. Feels like I've been given a year-long tour of Paris over 170 years ago. A lot of it, particularly the parts about crime and sanitation, strikes me as not being so different from Manila, even the Manila of today.

It's an almost indescribable book, crammed with riches and excesses, everything from sublime drama to risible melodrama, an extensive lecture on argot, an incredible treatise on the Paris' sewer system (he argues for recycling Parisian shit into fertilizer, this over a century before the concept of recycling and environmental awareness became so popular), a tremendous description of two vast barricades erected in 1848, and an entire section on the battle at Waterloo that is perhaps one of the greatest battle sequences I've ever read.

Maybe the only thing missing is a piece on Parisian food. I'd love to hear what he has to say about the street grub and haute cuisine of the time, and he threatened to do just that with a description of carpes aux gras (a stuffed carp) at one point, but shies away at the last moment. Damn.

About the characters: almost everything about Jean Valjean and Javert are sublime, some of the lesser characters--Eponine and Gavroche and their rodent family; various walk-ons including M. Gillenormand--are good to excellent; everything about his lovebirds Marius and that insufferable spoiled brat Cosette are irritating. His hell is magnificent, his heaven an interior decorator's nightmare, kitschy and embarrassing. Unfortunately, the last pages are devoted to the lovers, making you wish Valjean had just drowned the brat and advised Marius to get it on with Eponine--she did save his life, after all.

Still, the embarrassing does little to erase the great. It's been a long, long slog--a thousand five hundred pages--but the trip's been more than worth it.


What to do with Passion 2

I can see Gibson keeping that Matthew quote if he drops the claim that this film depicts the true events of Christ and emphasizes it's his take (the same tack Scorsese uses) on the gospels, maybe admitting in interviews that that Matthew's line was written not as an accurate word-for-word statement, but with a specific political slant--becuase at the time when these words were put down, Jews were persecuting Christians--but that this is no excuse for the years of persecution of Jews in turn.  One wrong does not excuse another.

I can see the film released as is if he said these things.  But he hasn't yet, has he?

What to do with Passion?

from indie boi:

"You seem to have misunderstood my post. Let me simplify it further -- A film about christ can never be considered truthful if you excise the involvement of Jews in any way whatsoever. The Pharisees are a jewish sect, for crying out loud!

People are getting riled up because Gibson, for this film, supposedly used language that was not widely used at the time. Would it have made the film more "sensitive" to the times if the jews have been replaced by generic far easterners?"

Blanket condemnation of someone whose films I've seen and whose interviews I've read?

I've said before, some Jews have been shown in other films, the concern is that Jews as a people are accused (you don't seem to understand what I'm posting either). The Matthew quote is a crucial question--in some versions this was include, in some screenings, it wasn't.

Tthe answer to all the questions I asked is, I would do exactly the opposite of what Gibson did.  I'd show select people of the Jewish community the film (something Gibson hasn't done), and listen to their concerns. If there's a way of accomodating their interests, I certainly would try do something about it.

And finally, it's not just a film, there's a real and valid concern about anti Semitism.  Don't you read the papers?  What's happening in the middle East? The anti Semitism on the rise all over the world? And around this film?

"Why don't we just wait for the movie before we decide if it's being anti-semitic or if Gibson is just being a pompous *ss along. "

Because it's Gibson and not the movie is acting like an anti-Semite (read his response to the NYT article questions), and it's he and not the movie that's acting like a pompous ass. You don't need to wait for the movie to disapprove of what Gibson is doing.

Passion in context 2

(read previous post)

Foxman cited Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's praise of a Passion play from the 1930s to illustrate his point:

"When Hitler walked out [of a Passion play] in 1934, he declared that 'the whole world over should see...this Passion play, then they will understand why I despise the Jews and why they deserve to die,'" Foxman told the crowd of about 400 attendees.

2.  New Belief:  Only those persons who actually participated were responsible for Jesus' death.

The Second Vatican Council, a pastoral, non-dogmatic ecumenical council of the Catholic church (1962 - 1965), has often been described as the most significant event in Catholicism in the 20th century.

One of the most influential documents of Vatican II was Nostra Aetate, which affirmed that "the Jews" as individuals are no more responsible for the death of Christ than Christians are.

Nostra Aetate states:

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.

Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

Passion in context 1

From barrister:

.  Old Belief: All generations of Jews are responsible for Jesus' death.

The accusation of anti-Semitists is not limited only to those Jews present at that scene before Pilate.  To the anti-Semitist's view, ALL JEWS -  and this literally includes the past, present and future generations of Jews -  are responsible for Jesus' death.

The Gospel according to Matthew states:

20.  But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
21.  The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.
22.  Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.
23.  And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.
24.  When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.
25.   Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children
(Matthew 27:20-25, emphasis mine.)

It's verse 25 that Jews find objectionable because the anti-Semitists are using the said verse as basis for saying that the Jews themselves admitted that the entire Jewish race is responsible for Jesus' death.

Bearing in mind that Jews do not believe in the New Testament, which to them is nothing but a fictional work of literature, it is easy to understand how infuriating Matthew 27:25 must be for them. 

Concerning Gibson's movie, the Anti-Defamation League's Abraham Foxman, in a November 2003 panel discussion, warned of the dangers posed to Jews from previous theatrical depictions of Christ's crucifixion, since they frequently reinforce the notion of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus. (con't)

More Passion

From an online forum:

"manood na kayo"

With open eyes and working brain. Don't just fall to the ground worshipping the moment you enter the theater--think. Be wary. This is exactly the kind of movie where it's dangerous just to accept what's up there on the big screen

On why we're noisy 'bout "Passion of Christ"

"My problem with MOST self-righteous groups .. majority haven't even seen the film yet .. is they create these outcry even without seing the film. Look at the protests that haunted The Last Temptation of Christ ? or to a lesser extent, Dogma ? Based on what, movie reviews? story line ? Sure, it MIGHT create a problem on the treatment of Jews .. but we're not in a Minority Report movie where you punish the person prior to doing something wrong. So why not wait and see ? We're not in the 1500s ... we already know the Jews did it, he's just putting it out there ? What's the big deal ?"

It's specific Jews and not ALL Jews, that are accused of killing Christ.

Historically, that provision in Matthew has been used as an excused to commit progroms--raids on Jewish communities where their homes are burned and the Jews are massacred.  This has been going on for a long time, and the Holocaust is just the latest expression of that longstanding hatred.

So please, if y'all are good Catholics, be aware of Vatican 2--certain Jews at the time and not all Jews all the time are guilty of having Christ killed.

And even if you AREN'T good Catholics (like I am)--well, Vatican 2 still makes sense, even to an atheist like me.

And we're not condemning the film per se, neither me nor the ADL nor the New York Times--we're condemning the WAY Gibson has been withholding screenings (only for rabid conservatives or Christian extremists) and mounting an aggressive campaign against people who are expressing concern (please note: they are NOT calling for a ban; they are expressing concern about possible anti-Semitism). It's not Gibson's film that's being attacked; it's Gibson who's exploiting the controversy to drum up interest in his film.

Remember, it's Gibson's people who jumped the gun on the Pope's support, when they didn't have any such clear mandate.

As for the anti-Semitic attacks on Last Temptation...well, it's those same people who made the attacks (Christian extremists, rabid conservatives) who are defending Passion and the way its controversy is being handled. Film critic David Ehrenstein, who defended Last Temptation, is the first to say this is so.  You really can't say the two controversies are the same.


Last Samurai, again

> I'm curious, why do you think Tom Cruise is a mediocre actor?

I've seen his films from Risky Business to this one, plus Rain Man, Born on the Fourth, Magnolia, Jerry Maguire, Minority Report, Mission Impossible, Few Good Men, all his reputedly good performances.

First, he has a weak voice,  it's not very deep, it's not very resonant. He sounded like a teenager and still does, and when he yells, which is his way of indicating anger or determination, it breaks.

Second, he relies on his eyebrows to indicate intensity. An actor should use his physical characteristics well, but overreliance on a single set of traits tends to indicate an insecure actor. Jack Nicholson has an impressive pair of brows, but along with the brows are his drawl, his timing, and the overall sense you have of a formidable presence.

Third is his choice of roles, which indicates a clear pattern, of a callow man who grows in the course of the story; the problem is, when this 'callow' man finally matures, we don't see it--he still looks callow. Again, some actors have done
great things with a limited range--Cary Grant, for example--but what little they do they do well, and anyone with North by Northwest, Charades, Notorius, To Catch a Thief, Gunga Din and Bringing Up Baby under his belt can limp along on bad performances for the rest of his life and still he's a very welcome actor. Cruise's range has given us a scant number of movies to admire--Risky Business, his performance in Magnolia (a miraculously atypcial performance, and the one thing in
the movie that I do like), maybe the physicality in his Mission Impossible
movies and Minority Report. That's it.

When he steps out of his range, he's embarrassing--Born on the Fourth of July is a lot of bugle blat, Few Good Men shows how weak he is opposite a real actor, Interview with a Vampire is so campily bad it's funny.

Hope that answers your question.

Les Miserables, again

Someone asked me about Dickens vs. Hugo, and I had this to say:

Dickens is great and all, but Hugo, he seemed to encompass everything about Paris at the time (except for the food). He's like Dickens on speed and a hell of a lot more longwinded, and if I remember correctly, Dickens never wrote about war, at least he wasn't known for it the way Hugo is.

I'd say Hugo is more on the level of Tolstoy. His description of battle have more fire and personality, but Tolstoy was trying to show that great currents of history and not people win wars, and the most successful generals are those that understand this (Russia didn't win against Napoleon, history won against Napoleon). Tolstoy has an incomparably more complex sense of proportion, where Hugo is all passions and disproportion--Valjean is a gentle giant, Gavroche a midget wit, Javert a tall predator.

Yu can make a strong case for Tolstoy being ultimately the greater artist, and I'd have to agree with you (the way he writes about normal life is just about this side of Godlike), but my tastes tend to lean towards Hugo and his excesses. At this level of writing, however, you're really comparing titans.

Les Miserables

Finished Les Miserables. Feels like I've been given a year-long tour of Paris over 170 years ago. A lot of it, particularly the parts on crime and sanitation, strike me as not being so different from Manila, even the Manila of today.

It's an almost indescribable book, crammed with riches and excesses, everything from sublime drama to risible melodrama, an extensive lecture on argot, an incredible treatise on the Paris' sewer system (he argues for recycling Parisian shit into fertilizer, this over a century before the concept of recycling and environmental awareness became so popular), a tremendous description of two vast barricades erected in 1848, and an entire section on the encounter at Waterloo that is perhaps one of the greatest battle sequences I've ever read.

Maybe the only thing missing is Parisian food. I'd love to hear what he has to say about the street grub and haute cuisine of the time, and he threatened to do just that with a description of carpes aux gras (a stuffed carp) at one point, but shies away at the last moment. Damn.

About the characters: almost everything about Jean Valjean and Javert is sublime; some of the lesser characters--Eponine and Gavroche and their rodent family; various walk-ons including M. Gillenormand and Monsignor Bienvenu--are good to excellent; but everything about Marius and that insufferable spoiled brat Cosette are infuriatingly coy. His vision of hell is magnificent, his heaven an interior decorator's nightmare, kitschy and embarrassing.

Unfortunately, the last pages are devoted to the lovers, making you wish Valjean had just drowned the brat and advised Marius to get it on with Eponine--she did save his life, after all, and for my money appreciates him more

Still, the embarrassing does little to erase the great. It's been a long, long slog--a thousand five hundred pages--but the trip's been more than worth it.