American Guerilla in the Philippines

Finally caught Fritz Lang's 1950 American Guerilla in the Philippines, and it's not bad--straightforward storytelling, nice attention to details (how they improvised a radio station from a movie projector, or booby traps out of bamboo, or a telegraph network out of barbed wire and bottles), some good physical acting by Tyrone Power, nice use of Filipino locales--but this is the director of M and Metropolis and you can't help feeling that he isn't quite all there, that he isn't putting as much of him into the film (even Fury or The Ministry of Fear, which I don't consider his best works, are better). And they should have used someone with a real Filipino accent to play Miguel (Tommy Cook).

For a superior World War 2 film set in the Philippines, I'd pick Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero's Intramuros: The Gates of Hell anytime--they had a smaller budget and no-name Hollywood stars, but the war scenes are vividly staged, and the film makes full use of the massive walls of Intramuros as a set and onscreen character; the action even manage to thrill you some. Plus de Leon and Romero had the late Fernando Poe Jr.'s Latino punk presence, which blows Power's dark-browed intensity out of the water.


Sword of Doom

Kihachi Okamoto's Sword of Doom is interesting in the ways it differs from a Kurosawa jidai-geki: unlike Kurosawa, he doesn't rely on lengthy, well-placed, well-choreographed medium shots to capture the swordfight's every movement (much as directors of classic Hollywood musicals rely on the same kind of shot to capture as much of the dancing as possible); his style is more impressionistic, more immersive, as if you're the one holding the sword, or receiving the stroke.

His tone is also darker, more nihilistic (darker than traditional Kurosawa--Kurosawa himself was already experimenting with more pessimistic material and more stylized filmmaking in Throne of Blood). Tatsuya Nakadai (a Kurosawa favorite) shows an intriguing combination of physical prowess and perpetual melancholy, his near-feminine eyelids drooping languidly over unseeing eyes (the effect is of someone too bored, or too deep into despair, to see what's in front of him). Interestingly enough, Toshiro Mifune (Kurosawa's most famous favorite) makes a cameo as a fencing teacher, and his assured stance, his rough-and-ready charisma--embodying the classic Kurosawa hero--makes for a vivid contrast to Nakadai's brooding anti-hero.

The film ends abruptly (SPOILERS); actually, it was meant to have a number of sequels, which were never made (it and a number of other films were based on Daibosatsu Toge (The Pass of the Great Buddha) a huge novel by Kaizan Nakazato). As is, that final freeze-frame is fascinating, unsettling--far more, I suspect, than any sequel could possibly be. The anti-hero played by Nakadai begins with the near-senseless killing of an old man (you might say Nakadai killed him because he asked for death), and ends with the character experiencing a psychotic episode, prompting a bloody showdown that ends with him surrounded by dozens of swordsmen inflicting great wounds from all sides, he in turn dealing out deadly blows in an apocalyptic massacre. The sense Okamoto gives you of a gradually accelerating fall, of a plummet from promising if cold-blooded swordsman to sociopathic assassin, is harrowing; that Okamoto halts that fall in mid-frame suggests a mere pause, suggests depths of nihilism and despair still untouched, yet about to be explored.


In defense of REVENGE OF THE SITH--not!

From Atlantic Refugees:

Buddomon: Seems to me that some of you are knocking the series only because it's popular. Others are knocking it because it's been shot in a new medium that they know in their gut in the way of the future - for good or for ill. Others are slamming on it because of the dialogue, yet clamor to relive older films that feature characters speaking in rythmic patterns just short of Shakespeare's iambic pentamiter. Makes no sense to me: it's STAR WARS, for mercy's sake! Do you expect the characters to recite the Bible, or the Declaration of Indepence?! Do you expect them to speak in another language that none of us understand with captions on the bottom of the screen? If Lucas altered the dialogue in those ways, you'd whine about that, too! View the dialogue as a translation of a foreign tongue, if you can, and maybe you'll enjoy it a little more - but I doubt it. I doubt any of you scoffers could enjoy any of the films, except for the ones Lucas didn't direct, because you've already gone into the whole prospect of seeing a STAR WARS film with a negative attitude about George Lucas and his creation.

STAR WARS is the brainchild of George Lucas. It's his playground, and he can modify and adjust the playground equipment any way he wants to. It's his sandbox, people, we just play in it. That is, if we want to. If any of you can do better than he has, then prove it. I look forward to seeing your future efforts, and hope you all reap the same unfair critical responses you have all so generously sown. 

Oh, phooey. I didn't diss Revenge of the Shits because it's popular, or even Star Wars and Jedi and the rest of the crap because it's popular; I dissed em all because I never thought they were any good. The quality of writing and filmmaking between Empire and the rest of that crap is so huge it's like saying, well, I like haute cuisine over sludge fried in motor oil.

Empire, in fact, is what turned me on to Kershner; everything he's done, from Return of the Man Called Horse to Robocop 2 to Eyes of Laura Mars I've tried to see, and there's a consistent thread throughout the films: they've always had the special effects and production design serve the emotions and drama, not the other way around. It's only inEmpire that you see this--not just the popcorn fun of Star Wars (which has the borrowed attraction of Lucas channeling Kurosawa), but a grandeur that's simply breathtaking.

So it's not b.o. envy, it's not that I wanna be a powerful filmmaker like Lucas (speaking for myself, I'd hide under a rock if I ever had a rep like Lucas; it's worse than Kubrick's with regard to actors vs. fx), it's not that this is all Lucas' baby and he has the final say over it (shit, if he wants final say, then he should've kept all the films after Empire to himself). They just stink, is all.


Batman Returns: in defense of DeVito

From Atlantic Refugees:

JC: he yelled almost all of his lines

Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now, Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet...it's a style.

He's a villain that Dickens might have conceived, if he wrote for multimilliondollar superproductions, and he embodies the theme of abandonment--by his parents, by the city, by his partner (Max Schreck), by his own gang. It's a sad, bitter and at the same time blackly comic role. That dapper stuff, it's as dull as dishwater without that theme of abandonment.

Actually, Daniel Waters' original script developed that further...but it was cut out. Haven't heard of a Waters script that wasn't cut. I think that means something.


On Danny DeVito as The Penguin in "Batman Returns"

From Atlantic Refugees:

JC: he yelled almost all of his lines

Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now, Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet...it's a style.

He's a villain that Dickens might have conceived, if he wrote for multimilliondollar superproductions, and he embodies the theme of abandonment--by his parents, by the city, by his partner (Max Schreck), by his own gang. It's a sad, bitter and at the same time blackly comic role. That dapper stuff, it's as dull as dishwater without the theme of abandonment.

Actually, Daniel Waters' original script developed that further...but it was cut. Haven't heard of a Waters script that wasn't cut. I think that means something.


Time Magazine's 100 Best

Schickel and Corliss' Time Top 100 Movies

That overrated fish story over Miyazaki, Takahata, Yabushita, Tezuka, Grimault, Fleischer, Jones, Iwerks, Freleng, Reiniger, Svankmajer, and others? I don't think they've seen a lot of animation.

Pyaasa is there but no Kaagaz ke Phool, no Mother India, no Awaara, or Ritwik Ghatak.

Citizen Kane is there but not Magnificent Ambersons or Chimes of Midnight. Tokyo Story is there but not Late Spring. Persona is there but not Shame.

No Naruse that I can see. No Bunuel save for the Oscar winner--hardly his best work (and City of God over Los Olvidados?! What the fuck were they thinking?).

No Larry Cohen. No Charles Burnett. No Chang Cheh or Liu Chia Liang or Hou Hsiao Hsien or Abbas Kiarostami.

Of course I don't expect them to know anything about Lino Brocka, Mario O'Hara, Mike and Gerry de Leon--hats off if they've even heard of these filmmakers. But the rest--feh.

I like the hubris of that statement: "Ever since TIME began." The magazine of record when it comes to factoids and cosmetic journalism.


Easter Parade

Hearing David Ehrenstein and others rave over Charles Walters made me rent this one. It's a surprisingly heartfelt little joy, a romantic comedy full of passion, betrayal, disillusionment, heartbreak that still manages to be a first-rate musical (or maybe I have that upside-down--it's because it's a musical that it manages to cram all that passion, betrayal, etc., etc. in there).

A few notes: When Ann Miller dances with Astaire to "It Only Happens When I Dance With You," the song is sensual, eloquent in heat and body language. When Judy Garland reprises it later to Astaire on the piano she sings with plenty of passion as well, but it's a different kind of passion--soulful, trembling, vulnerable. Walters has the camera approach the two lovers slowly, discreetly, as if he knows he's moving in on a very private moment and doesn't want to disturb them; the shot stops in time for Garland, who finishes the song, to throw Astaire a look of total emotional nakedness, as if to say "This is me; this is what I am. So what do you think?"

I can't think of anyone else who can act with his back as well as Astaire does in this scene (he's facing away from the camera the whole time): the arch of his back, the tilt of his head, the slightly lifted chin suggests ever increasing levels of adoration--he even manages to show us a bit of his brow, wrinkling. His response to Garland's look is just about perfect.

That's about it, except "Steppin Out With My Baby" has (aside from the otherwise tremendous dance numbers, sometimes featuring only Astaire and a walking cane--Astair at his best, in my opinion) an eerie moment where Astaire spins and leaps and bounces his cane off the floor, catching it on the crook of his arm, all in slow motion while the rest of the dancers are stepping in normal time, yet both dancers and Astaire move in time to the beat--a feat I'm sure was a bitch to achieve, in the days of primitive sound recording, special effects, and no computers.


Nestor Torre on the Nora Book

Fans pay tribute to Nora Aunor in new book


May 20, 2005


Updated 05:22pm (Mla time)


Nestor Torre


Inquirer News Service


LAST Sunday, a book of articles about Nora Aunor was launched by the officers and members of the superstar's fan clubs. The new publication, "Si Nora sa Mga Noranian (Mga Paggunita at Pagtatapat)," edited by Nestor de Guzman, comes as a timely tribute to the currently beleaguered show biz icon.


We've received a copy of the book, and we're impressed with the number of fans (around 50) who took the time to recall how Nora had impinged on their lives, and put thosethoughts down on paper.


Nora must feel very gratified to have such loyal and articulate followers, and their essays should give her a much-needed boost, now that she has to contend with her legal troubles in the States.


Recognizable names Some of the writers in the book are recognizable names-Boy Abunda, Ramon Bayron, Noel Boado, Lady Guy, Domingo Landicho, Pit Maliksi, Danton Remoto, Noel Vera--while the rest are "just fans."

Or, are they? Librada Oria teaches catechism in Sampaloc. Mario Roxas is a CPA in the States. Jorge Demafeliz works in a bank in Saudi Arabia. Leonel Escota is a treasury specialist in a German bank in New York.


Milagros Long teaches in Japan. Marlon Antolin is an architect. Tim Capellan is the president and CEO of a retail marketing and management firm. And "Pacita Macaspac" is the alias of a militant activist who's also a diehard Noranian!What do these background notes indicate? That Nora's unique mystique affects and dazzles more than just the "masa" fan-atic. That's because Nora is a bigger achiever than most stars, having come up with some thespic masterworks that impress even demanding film and culture buffs, as well as people who are artists and achievers in their own right.




As we read their essays, we're struck by how strongly Nora's landmark movies have come to bear on the writers' personal histories. Sometimes, it feels like the writers use Nora's starrers as signposts or landmarks for their own evolution as people!


Why does Nora have this unique hold on so many different kinds of people, from the screaming "palaban" (hardline) fan who'll tear your hair out if you demigrate the Superstar, to the literateur and critic who's as circumspect as can be?


The writers in this book cite her beautiful singing voice, expressive eyes, kayumanggi coloring, "cute" frame and height, acting prowess, the fact that she "represents" most non-tisoy Filipinos, her having come from humble origins, her humility, shyness and lack of affectation, her love for her fans, her generosity, the hope and transcendence she represents--etc.!


Negative traits


To be sure, they also acknowledge her negative traits, which drive other people up the wall. But, the book is a tribute, not a rigorously objective character analysis, so if it errs on the side of excessive adulation, that's perfectly understandable.


Nora's fans don't need to be encouraged to get themselves a copy of the book. But, even if you aren't a fan, you may want to read it as well, because it says a lot about the unique phenomenon of star-fan relationships in this country.


©2005 www.inq7.net all rights reserved


The Star Wars films recounted

Something I posted on pinoydvd.com:

Klaus Weasley: No matter how much you bash it, you really can't stop Star Wars fanatics from seeing this film. Say, what do you think of the other films of the series, Noel?

No matter how many fanatics watch it, I can't really stop throwing up at the idea of Lucas making a Star Wars film.
Saw Star Wars recently--it's dull in the exposition parts, ineptly acted, badly produced, and concerning the dialogue Harrison Ford once famously put it (what I can remember anyway) that Lucas could write this shit but he sure as hell can't say it. On the plus side, the music makes the  movie, and the editing of the battle sequences is expertly done, so I'd say the true genuises are John Williams and Marcia Lucas. And Kurosawa, whose sense of timing and style of storytelling Lucas appropriates.
Empire--well, we all know this--is the best. Kershner gives the scenes emotional amplitude, the imagery visual flow, and he knows how to improve a script. That scene of Fisher saying goodbye before they freeze Ford, Kershner says it was lifeless until he told Ford: "Harrison, when Carrie says 'I love you,' tell her the first thing that comes to your mind." They play the scene, Fischer says "I love you!" and Ford without thinking said: "I know."
Now that's directing. It makes full use of Solo's character, it shows that he's a braggart even when chips are down but such a charming braggart that you can't take offense at his swagger--that in fact, his swagger is all the more heroic for being so defiant. It's such a simple little thing and it adds so much to the final scene. For Kershner, the human element is always the best special effect, and it shows in his films.
Empire is where production design and special effects reinforced and magnified emotions and drama. It's fantasy filmmaking at its best. Lucas--hah--he tries for it in Sith's last ten or so minutes, but it's too little too late.

The other films--eh. I fart in their general direction.


Star Wars Poetry

A Piece of Sith

By Noel Vera

Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo
Tell me that you love me and your love is still true.
You saw the "Phantom" mess, the "Clones" waded through
Don't leave while you have a dollar left to woo.

I've done all you want, what's left for me to say?
Double the action, thrice the CGI frappe.
Even got Tom Stoppard to make the drama play
(Though did he make a diff'rence? Can't tell either way)

Don't the FX matter, the ships that go "wheet!"?
Don't all that magma heat the soles of your feet?
Don't the colored flashlights send tingles up your seat?
Wasn't all that money spent good enough a treat?

Even put a polit'ckal subtext in for free
'Bout how "if not a friend, then you're my enemy"
Michael Moore it ain't, but wait a week or three--
My inbox'll fill with right-wing calumny.

My bro Coppola got me a dialogue coach
'Cuz he knows I'd rather handle a robot roach
So what if I let Hayden in his worries poach?
Humans are always so damned hard to approach.

But enough! I've called in the real big guns now;
Recycled the best stuff from "Star Wars," and how:
Like the double-sunset, and James Earl Jones' voice--wow!
Can't you tell that I'll do anything for thou?

Don't you say we're all done, that we are all through
Four movies, and still I can't get through to you.
What do you expect, when I can't even spell "poo?"
Please--hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo



Clockwork Orange: Burgess vs. Kubrick

From the Dennis Potter mailing list, re: Clockwork Orange:

jackdinn writes:

That said, the last chapter of the novel is a massive climb down, don't you think?

I much prefer the story without - the sensibility being not that, as one grows up one becomes less violent or savage, but that the way in which you are violent or savage changes - maturity as a sophisitcation of violence, rather than a move away from it.

Good point, but even leaving religion out of it, I'd say Burgess already gave us an extensive series of sketches of the more sophisticated forms of violence in society: that shown in the prison, that shown by Alex's former droogs, now police officers, and that very act of Ludovico'ing Alex--violence at its most progressive and reform-minded, but violence nevertheless.

I'd argue that Burgess' final chapter gives us the human response to everything that Alex has gone through--he's reacted to everything so far the way an automaton would, a 'clockwork' mechanism capable of sex and violence and suffering. What then is his ultimate response as a man, an 'orange' capable of bright, juicy goodness?

It's not as simple as you'd think--it's not all sweetness and light. There's bitterness and anger here, as Alex realizes what he's become (a responsible member of society, Bog damn it--one of those losers he makes so much fun of). He knows it for what it is--'all that cal' he puts it. I'd think, and I believe Burgess suggests it here, that now that he's finally changed he'll have to deal with all the things he's done given his newfound sensibility, and he quails at the prospect. But the change does happen, and he can't turn away from it. It's himself, finally.


Kung Fu Hustle

Saw Stephen Chao's Kung Fu Hustle, and it's easily the best thing I've seen from him yet. Has a nice way of unfolding and raising the stakes with each plot twist (from fake gangster to real gangsters to a trio of kung fu masters to a pair of great kung fu masters, etc), and he shows a surprising amount of heart in the way he uses a lollipop and a young deaf-and-dumb girl (I swear, that's the closest I've been moved to tears for some time). There's even evidence of fairly subtle wit, as husband and wife (Paris and Helen, haw!) show up for their showdown in the cheesiest pair of canary-yellow outfits I've ever seen (well, maybe not subtle, but it's not slapstick or toilet humor). And I don't know if it's Chao or the translator, but the single funniest line in the film has to be a quote from Stan Lee--"with great power comes great responsibility" indeed.

It doesn't have the kind of purity Jackie Chan brings to his comedies (or especially Chan directed by Liu Chia Liang), but I'd say Chao has a surer, smarter sense of what audiences like. Not ready to call this a great comedy, much less a great martial-arts comedy, but it's very good indeed.  


Science Fiction writers

From peoplesforum.com

Which science fiction writer are you?

Dock Miles: I am Samuel Delany

The short stories were interesting--Aye, and Gamorrah..., and the beautifully baroque Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones. Quite a stylist.

Frosti: I am Hal Clement

Hal Clement is wonderful--science fiction at its hardest. He has that rare touch, the sense of wonder you get from a totally different point of view.

jenniferb: I am Alfred Bester, who I've never heard of. Isaac Asimov's the only one I HAVE heard of, in fact

Shit, Alfred Bester is better than Asimov. Bester is tres cool. He was doing cyberpunk before any real cyberpunker was even born (what did they call that drug trip at the end of Stars My Destination? Synthenesia). Still writes better than they do, I think.

People don't like his later novels, but I ate em up just the same: The Computer Connection (band of immortals including Jesus Christ fighting a rogue immortal); Golem 100 (future society where a witch cabal summons a killer demon). Maybe the only one I didn't like was the last one--can't even remember the title.

His short stories are fantastic. Fondly Farenheit is a favorite, tho there are many others.

Asimov had a cool anecdote about him. He was part of a panel at an SF convention I think, and someone threw him the question "how do you handle rejection?"

Bester looked uncomfortable, looked around, then spoke into the mike: "But I've never been rejected."

Asimov wrote that he and everyone else on that panel wanted to kill him on the spot.

Lysana: I came up as Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert--well, Dune has a huge rep, but my favorite has always been God Emperor of Dune. Something about being an all-powerful giant worm always appealed to me. The book was the basis of one episode of Billy and Mandy, by the way.

Spidra Webster: I am James Tiptree

James Tiptree--she used to work for the CIA. Killed herself. Her fiction was brilliant.

As for me, I am: Stanislav Lem (This pessimistic Pole has spent a whole career telling ironic stories of futility and frustration. Yethe is also a master of wordplay so witty that it sparkles even when translated into English.)

Dock Miles: Wow -- the Grail of Literary Sci-Fi (just ask Stanislav!). Way to go.

That's kind of a compliment and and insult (knowing what i know about him) I don't know whether to be pissed or pleased. Like Stanislav, I guess.


A Tale of Two Sisters

I'd seen Kim Ji-Woon's The Foul King and liked it, but wasn't too impressed; A Tale of Two Sisters is a considerable leap in quality, with its fairy-tale ambiance and use of an evil stepmother. It borrows heavily from Ringu and The Sixth Sense, among others, but somehow still manages to come into its own, mainly because it's really a gothic drama with a story of its own to tell. Impressive use of atmosphere and setting (most of the story takes place in this beautifully shadowy house), plus the rhythms of a Korean art film, which seem distinct from, say, those of a Japanese horror film--more languid and mysterious, which makes the sudden moments of terror all the more startling.

Intricate plot, not entirely linear, which makes it hard to follow--but if you take the effort, the rewards are considerable (helps to see it on DVD). I like the way it unfolds its twists, raising as many questions as it answers; (SPOILER) unlike, say, the big one in The Sixth Sense, the first surprise is revealed about a little over halfway through, allowing the film to develop the consequent story, making it not just a surprise, but an integral part of the story and emotional arc (I like the way Kim foreshadows this in several subtle touches: the way the younger sister doesn't really talk, and the understated way Kim shoots the lakeside scene, so that you only see one pair of feet pull out of the water, next shot you see both girls looking down, shaking droplets off their legs).

The second surprise has a nice buildup (that long shot circling the suited figure) and Kim wastes blessedly little time in trying to explain it away. This second revelation is foreshadowed in several ways, the most obvious being the father's mysterious phone call, the most important being Kim's use of color. Green signifies the younger sister's presence and eternal innocence; red brilliantly (both literally and metaphorically) links older sister to stepmother--it's the color of their menstrual blood (they have their periods at the same time), it's the color of their clothes at one time or another, and it's the color of sexuality--their sexuality. Which is what presumably won the stepmother her husband (he replaced his sick wife with her nurse), and what's emerging in the elder sister (she identifies with the stepmother two ways: both were responsible for the younger's death, and both compete for the father's attention). The color red isn't just a key to the plot, it's a key to the characters as well.

It's this second surprise, in fact, that makes the shot where the stepmother lies with the father so disturbing--the father clearly wants sex, but the stepmother/elder sister coyly keeps her face away. (END SPOILER)

Excellent film; maybe only the fact that it relies too much on cheap scare tactics (Kurosawa Kyoshi's The Cure comes to mind of a horror film that doesn't rely on closeups or shock cuts) and borrows heavily from previous pictures prevents it from being a really great horror flick. That, and the fact that The Cure hints at a philosophy, a sensibility, where Tale is no more and no less than a ghost story well told.

Interview by the International Herald Tribune--NOT!

So someone emails me claiming to be from the International Herald Tribune, whatever that is, with a few questions. So I answered. So whoever it is emailed me back saying the deadline's passed, and she couldn't use my comments (Waitaminute--she emails me on Friday and was hoping I'd answer that night? What's she thinking, that I live in front of this PC? Never mind...).

So--waste not, want not. Pity about that Herald Tribune whatever, but that's the story of Philippine cinema--always with the lousy timing.

From: "Lim Li Min"

To: noelbotevera@hotmail.com

Subject: Lav Diaz in International Herald Tribune

Date: Fri, 13 May 2005 05:32:40 +0000

Hi Noel,


I am a Bangkok-based freelance journalist writing a piece on Lav  Diaz's Evolution for the International Herald Tribune.


I wanted to ask your opinion about Lav Diaz and the Filipino film industry in general, and was wondering if you would care to pen a  few lines in response to the questions below. Or, if you would  prefer, I can call you, so please give a number I can reach you  at.


If it is not possible for you to comment, no worries. Many thanks anyway.


Please find below the said questions:


1. In what way does Evolution contribute to Filipino cinema?


Any number of ways, aside from stretching the definition of a Filipino film's length (it's outright the longest Southeast Asian  film ever made, and arguably the longest Asian film ever made meant  to be seen in a single sitting--Kobayashi's The Human Condition  is really three 3-hour films, while the 27 hour Burning of the Red  Lotus Temple is really meant to be seen in instalments, over a  period of around two weeks).


Lav has stretched the possibilites of video and black-and-white cinematography in Filipino filmmaking. He is a practitioner of what has been called "The Cinema of  Contemplation" (and which I in my less generous moments like to  call "The Cinema of the Comatose"), of which Andrei Tarkovsky, Bela  Tarr, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Theo Angelopolous and recently Gus Van Sant  are some of the most prominent practitioners. And where most  Filipino filmmakers, even Lino Brocka, focus on the particulars of  a set of characters and their circumstances, Lav ponders the  broader socio-political implications of his stories--the  relationship of, say, the declaration of Martial Law to the lives  of farmers in the countryside.


2. What does it say about Filipino society and the political state of affairs (during the Marcos years and at present)?


Lav in an interview said Ebolusyon was a (freely paraphrasing  here) look at the causes that gave rise to his previous film,  Batang West Side" (West Side Avenue), a five-hour examination of  a Filipino American community in New Jersey. You can see what he  means--the film in its historical footage basically tells the story  of the Filipino people from the Martial Law days to shortly after  the fall of Marcos (though there is no explanation of what footage  depicts which event, or even much of an attempt to keep it  chronological--as Lav puts it, it's the characters' recollection of  historical events, not a historically accurate exposition of said  events).


We trace history from Marcos' television announcement of Martial  Law to the assassination of Ninoy Aquino to the first EDSA revolt  to the massacre of farmers at Mendiola Bridge, with maybe footage  of one of the many coup d'etats staged against Cory Aquino inserted  in there along the way. Maybe the only explication that helps tie  these sequences together and gives them historical and political  perspective are the scenes of Lino Brocka being interviewed on the  radio (nice twist here--Lav has iconoclast film critic Gino  Dormiendo plays filmmaker Brocka, while filmmaker Quark Henares  plays interviewing film critic Agustin Sotto); ironically, the  people listening to the radio interview turn the dial to listen to  yet another endless soap opera. That, for me, is a more trenchant  comment on the prevalent popular attitude towards politics and the  art of filmmaking than Lav's later conceit--that Brocka grows so  dangerous that he becomes the target of an assassination attempt.  It's a nice conceit, tho it made me raise an eyebrow; I'd like to  think it might have been true.


Perhaps Lav's greatest achievement in this film isn't so much the historical footage or the politically charged statements made by  his Brocka, but the beautifuly immersive sequences depicting life  in the Filipino countryside. It flows to a different rhythm, has an  altogether different sensibility and set of values, and I think  Lav's film captures this better than any Filipino film--or any film  I can think of, for that matter--that I know. That the people are  almost totally unsympathetic to the happenings in Manila and  Malacanang Palace, even if it affects their lives, that many of  them would rather listen to radio soaps about outrageously  melodramatic lives--that's a brave, brilliant observation to make.  If enough people see the film it would probably provoke both the  left AND the right.


3. What state is Filipino cinema currently in and why? Are there  any directors, beides Diaz, whose work excites you?


Near comatose. Production has gone down to less than fifty a year,  where in the late '90s it was over a hundred to a hundred and  fifty--some years even higher than Hong Kong. Hollywood films have  taken over the boxoffice, and producers have been too timid to try  anything really new.


That said, there's a growing independent film movement--Khavn de la  Cruz, Mes de Guzman, Ditsy Carolino, Tad Ermitano, Aureaus Solito  and Regiben Romanoare among the many I can think of doing good  work out there.  Lav Diaz, of course, stands as a titan in that  field with the ten-hour Ebolusyon and the five-hour Batang West  Side (for my money his best work to date), but there's also  Raymond Red, the only Filipino to win a Palme d'or from Cannes (for  his short Anino (Shadow)).


Of mainstream filmmakers, Lav has done not inconsiderable  commercial feature films, none of which have made money, but are  worth seeing. Among others' there's his first, Kriminal ng Baryo  Concepcion (Criminal of Barrio Concepcion), and Hesus  Rebolusyonaryo (Hesus the Revolutionary, a science fiction  dystopia set eleven years into the future).


Then there are the old guard--Tikoy Aguiluz, who debuted in the  early '80s, does excellent realist dramas; his best include Boatman, Segurista (Dead Sure), and Bagong Bayani (The  Last Wish, a docudrama about overseas workers). Mike De Leon, a contemporary of Brocka, did the brilliant Bayaning Third World (Third World Hero), a deconstruction of the life of Filipino  national hero Jose Rizal. And Mario O'Hara, former Brocka  collaborator, has done great work--Babae sa Bubungang Lata (Woman on a Tin Roof--an elegy to the Filipino film industry),  Sisa (an almost insanely imaginative take on Jose Rizal), and  Pangarap ng Puso (Demons--my vote for the best Filipino film in  years).  His Babae sa Breakwater (Woman of the Breakwater) went  to last years' Cannes Directors' Fortnight, the first Filipino  feature to do so in fifteen years.


Hope this suffices.


More early Kurosawa

No Regrets for Our Youth: Made in 1946, right after the collapse of Japan's dreams of empire--it's perhaps not as courageous as the characters it depicts, and Kurosawa's brand of insistent humanity isn't as subtle as Kon Ichikawa's attempt at the sublimation and transcendence of suffering in Harp of Burma or Fires on the Plain. But it is, however, a vivid portrait of a young woman's political awakening. rendered with an uncharacteristic intensity (uncharacteristic if you've only seen her in Ozu's films) by Setsuko Hara. 

Kurosawa's still experimenting here, but you'll see a few images used later in Seven Samurai (which, come to think of it, is a kind of magisterial summation of the Kurosawa style): the quick cuts from one character to another, all running; the people lying in the peaceful grass, staring skywards; rice planting; even the kind of crowds rushing down steps that he'll use on a massive scale in The Hidden Fortress. There are interesting things he tries here that he'll soon discard: Hara standing shocked behind a door as she realizes the man she loves is going away, perhaps forever (Kurosawa cuts from one dismayed pose to another); and a sort of point-of-view shot where Hara collapses in a faint when she realizes the same man has been killed. 

Contrast this with the near-final sequence, where Hara goes rice planting. Simple enough act, but Kurosawa attaches so much significance and drama in this one sequence that it feels as if she's going forth to tilt the planet. This is the signature Kurosawa style, no fancy experimental shots (tho he does that well enough), only meat-and-potatoes mis-en-scene and editing, making his muscular point through an unmatched skill in accumulating and assembling details to the point of overwhelming you. 



Early Kurosawa

Drunken Angel: Mifune's well nigh unrecognizable as a consumptive gambler; he has the role Takashi Shimura would definitively portray years later in Ikiru, as the man unmoored by his own mortality, and desperate to find purchase in anything, anywhere (in Kurosawa's world, these are the men ready to take the next step).

What makes the film memorable is the sense of spreading malaise Kurosawa evokes from the swamp bubbling away in front of all the characters. It's an obvious metaphor, but Kurosawa presses it with such urgency you can't help but feel a tad itchy--you badly want to wash your hands the moment you leave the theater. That, and Mifune's finale--a bit of slapstick involving whitewash, then an operatic end. The interplay between Mifune and Shimura's very fine--warmer and more detailed than even what you'd see in the later, far longer Seven Samurai.



Lav Diaz has spotted copies on display at the Datelines Bookshop and Old Pop--two great arthouses at the Marikina Shoe Expo in Cubao, Quezon City.


Good news and bad news, re: "Critic After Dark"

Unfortunately, the Manila edition won't be pushing through.


But--I'm hoping to interest the publishers in another project.


And the book is still available for ordering here:




Will "Revenge of the Sith" be any good?

From peoplesforum:

Do Not Resuscitate: You Can Get Your Hopes Up Very Slightly For Revenge of the Sith

Scott Von D: I could have seen it today, but didn't. Isn't that fascinating?

crabgrass: Seen what?

there are rumours that the saga will continue as a television series

Oh, let's not insult television...

crabgrass: Wasn't there supposed to be parts 7, 8 & 9 as well?

Oh, let's not--


Mark Holcomb on Gerardo de Leon

Village Voice's Mark Holcomb on Gerardo de Leon

He focuses on his exploitation films, of course (they're the only ones available).

But it's a good piece on those films, even if it does leave out Blood of the Vampires (Okay, correction--he calls it Creatures of Evil. But the film's original title is supposed to be Dugo ng Vampira (Blood of the Vampire), not Ibulong Mo Sa Hangin (Whisper it to the Wind), which is a different film. Unless imdb is wrong. Which wouldn't be the first time). And I thought the one most significant contribution De Leon makes to Moreau lore with Terror is a Man is the suggestion, however subtle, that the creature is capable of love, and of acts of kindness. That wasn't in Wells' book.


Jeepers Creepers

Looked at Jeepers Creepers again, and well, I think it's the best American horror picture I've seen recently--which may reflect more on the quality of recent American horror than on the movie's actual virtues. Salva's Powder was an unappealing mess, a sentimental plea for tolerance that you can't help but feel is self-serving (and if you feel that, you can't help but note that the lead is not just pale and beautiful and half-nude much of the time, but also possesses supernatural powers).

Jeepers Creepers works because Salva takes the premise of Powder and flips it around: this time you feel he's the monster, and this portrait of a super-powered serial killer as sexual predator pretty much fits what little you know of Salva (filmmaker (with attendant powers) as convicted sexual predator, reformed (or so they say)). That a director is so willing to take his image and push it as far as it can go is as disturbing as it is effective.

And Salva pushes it pretty far: the opening sequence, revolving around a huge pipe diving deep into the ground, with unspeakable smells emanating from it (Got it? Got it?) and unspeakable secrets lying at the other end of it; the use of beautiful young men to play the Creeper's victims; the occasionally breathtaking image (the shot of the Creeper carrying away his victim in the light of the full moon); the final scene (SPOILER), with its metaphor for anal rape pushed to an extreme (the rapist has literally gotten inside your skin, and done so with much screaming and agony).

Perhaps what makes Salva really unsettling is that he is not without some talent, and here he is, indulging them and his obsessions for your pleasure and entertainment.


Lucas on Star Wars Episode 3

From peoplesforum:

Lucas Forced Himself To Write 'Episode III'

Hollywood mogul George Lucas struggled so much with writing the screenplay for final Star Wars installment Episode Iii - Revenge Of The Sith, he had to force himself to stick to a rigid working day as he sought inspiration. The hugely successful movie-maker, 60, took on the persona of a normal office worker as he sat at his desk for nine hours a day, five days a week - and he still only managed to produce five pages everyday. He says, "I am very diligent about writing. I go to work at 8.30am and leave at 6pm. I sit there with that page in front of me but I still can't write it. I do get it done, I actually write five pages a day. But I force myself - otherwise I would probably write a page a day."

Forty-five hours a week to produce crap.

Nope, writing dialogue this bad isn't easy; you have to work at it.