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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

entry arrow12:00 PM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 22.



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entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 33



[33rd of 100]. Food in cinema is one of my favorite things, and there's a feast of it, from Like Water for Chocolate to Babette's Feast, from Mostly Martha to Chef, from Big Night to Ratatouille, from Tampopo to Kailangan Kita, from Julie & Julia to The Hundred-Foot Journey, from Burnt to No Reservations. Not all of them have been made with the requisite delicacy, but even the least of these contain extended food scenes -- either in the preparation or in the consumption -- that simply whet the appetite. I'm talking about films where the culinary occupies a central place in the narrative, not merely movies with memorable food scenes. In these films, food is usually an allegory for the travails of creativity, or a metaphor for what makes us human -- standing in for our consuming desires, our expressions of thanksgiving, our dreams of invention, our notion of community, our attempts at connection. All encapsulated in images of mouth-watering plenty. My favorite of them all is this gem from the early works of the Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee. He does what all these films set out to do, and does it in the vocabulary of Chinese cuisine, where he asks us to follow the domestic drama of an elderly widower -- a retired chef -- and his three daughters all ripe for love and the promise of life beyond the walls of their father's abode. The opening scenes alone, where the father preps a thousand ingredients for what seems to be a banquet of a "simple" Sunday family dinner, prepare us for the abundance of food in this film, and we are immediately rendered ravenous. But in the actual dinner sequence, which comes a bit later, we shockingly learn that all that food we've seen so far being prepared lacks the expected flavors; the father has long since lost his sense of taste -- which then prepares us for the conflict in this story: beneath the surface, something is not right in the dynamics of this family. And then the domestic hijinks unroll -- all the secrets and lies, all the passion and desire, giving us a domestic comedy like no other. It's a beautiful film, one of those that first opened my eyes to the glory of Asian cinema, and of the form that I wish its director would return to once again. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 32



[32nd of 100]. Of all the easy riders and raging bulls that came to prominence in the late 1960s to the 1970s -- Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas, Schrader, Bogdanovich, Beatty, Kubrick, Hopper, Nichols, May, Allen, Fosse, Benton, Penn, Cassavetes, Altman, Ashby, Rafelson, Friedkin, Milius, and Malick -- the one that reminds me most about obsession of all things cinema is, incredibly enough, Brian De Palma. He bends his cinema to be about cinema itself, wearing his influences on his sleeve and treating cinematography in peculiar ways that not only add something concrete to the narrative, they are self-conscious enough for us to take note of his techniques considerably, and yet not be distracted from the elegance of the story he is telling. I guess you could say that De Palma's impact on me is on how to bend my cinevoracity to actually become concrete and real filmmaking. [I'm still getting there.] Take this film. Those in the know can tell you that perhaps the biggest influence on De Palma's filmmaking is the cinema of Alfred Hitchcock [and also Michelangelo Antonioni, Sergei Eisenstein, among many others], hence the propensity to do thrillers: in this film, he cribs without apology the structure of Hitchcock's Psycho, and lets us follow ostensibly the protagonist -- a wealthy but bored New York housewife who succumbs to her desires, and midway in the film, ends up just like Janet Leigh in the shower getting a gruesome end in an elevator. [Is that a spoiler?] And then just like that, we are in an entirely new narrative track. He does Hitchcock, yes, but he goes beyond mere homage and teases out the overt carnality in the story that Hitchcock could never do. And everywhere else, cribbing the manipulated point-of-view insisted on us by Psycho's camera, this film also does sleights of hand with regards camera movement, including the now-famous tracking shots in the long and wordless museum sequence, the camera building up on the action, resulting to sexual tension. What to make of this film? It's difficult enough to describe it. Aside from the horny housewife, we also get her dutiful son, and a woman who's ensnared enough in the housewife's bloody problems to become a Nancy Drew of sorts. And I'm not even mentioning the gentleman in the museum who may or may not have STD, the switchblade-wielding killer, the cross-dresser, the disbelieving cop, and Michael Caine's curious psychologist. I make mention of the film's nod to sexuality because eroticism -- both sensual [which must be succumbed to] and sinful [which must subsequently be punished ] -- is perhaps the key to understanding most of the filmography of this director, from Carrie to Sisters to Scarface to Body Double to Femme Fatale. His camera does not hesitate to undress nubile bodies [usually in showers], and his storytelling does not hesitate to link sexuality to unhinged powers and depraved motivations. I first saw this film in Betamax sometime in the early 1990s when I was in high school, and needless to say, it seduced me: it made me see that cinematic carnality does not necessarily have to have pornographic simple-mindedness, it can be used to plunge deep into a character's psychology. De Palma among his cohorts remain the one director who made this kind of cinema his calling card, and perhaps to his detriment. I like that we live in a world where a film like this exists. I doubt this could be made today. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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Monday, May 25, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 31



[31st of 100]. This movie shouldn't work. It's set in the early 1960s, in the posh Catskill enclaves for vacationing Jewish-Americans of means -- but it's a movie that cannot shake off its 1987 feels. It stars two actors of fantastic chemistry -- but who detested each other all throughout filming. The dancing, as promised, ain't that dirty -- in fact, Joel Silberg's Lambada, coming three years later, would be "dirtier." And if you have seen the episode of The Movies That Made Us on Netflix devoted to its making, its production was a mess from beginning to end. But for some reason, it worked. It became an unlikely hit, and an unlikely pop cultural fixture that we're still quoting ["Nobody puts Baby in a corner"] and remembering all these years later. I think most of the magic of this film can be attributed to its unlikely director, the late Emile Ardolino, who's mostly unremembered now but was responsible for a string of feel-good hits we've come to love, including Chances Are (1989), Three Men and a Little Lady (1990), Sister Act (1992), and The Nutcracker (1993). [He would pass on at age 50 in 1993 from AIDS complications.] He was the movie's quiet captain, with a great eye for dance [he won the Oscar for his 1983 documentary feature He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin'], and a way of handling gently all the surrounding drama of the production. He had an ability to construct a strong film from a heap of production mess with his uncanny sense of tone. All of his films have that: a light tone that just has a bit of an edge, tinged with a willingness to embrace the exuberance of performance that you could call joy. Think about these moments in his films: that final choral performance in Sister Act, that piano interlude with Robert Downey Jr. playing "After All" in Chances Are, that last dance sequence set to Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes' "(I've Had) The Time of My Life"! in this movie. "He could spot something in the moment and just go with it, and capture it," producer Linda Gottlieb would later attest to his genius. I remember watching this film in 1987 [I was 12!] in Ever Theatre, lured in by its poster of a dancing couple in a scandalous clinch -- and it felt so forbidden, and necessary, that I think this must have colored the experience of moviegoing for me in the years to come. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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entry arrow6:48 AM | Marawi Fireflies



I love this, although it’s also quite sad. Artist Brent Sabas remakes Seita and Setsuko from Grave of the Fireflies as Marawi children. Rappler gives us this reminder: “Three years since the gun-toting terrorists besieged the city of Marawi in Lanao del Sur, more than 120,000 residents are still displaced from their homes, leaving them vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.” 

Read the report here.

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Sunday, May 24, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Fillm Meme No. 30



[30th of 100]. I read the novel by Lauren Weisberger in 2003 because it was making headlines as the barely veiled take-down of Vogue editor Anna Wintour. I found the prose excruciating, but it made me laugh. It was precious and glamorous and I was amused by its willing embrace of its sensationalism, but I never saw the appeal. So when they announced the movie adaptation three years later, I was intrigued over what Meryl Streep could bring to a character that was more or less a cardboard cutout. I was in for a surprise, and it proved the rarity: that sometimes, like in The Godfather, the film is so much better than its trashy origins in fiction. It unspooled like the smoothest of pop concoctions -- the music, the knock-out fashion sense of Patricia Field, the performances, with the titular devil given more dimension and nuance without sacrificing the devilishness. Granted there are one or two things that grate, like the worthless friends and boyfriend who are inexplicably made out to be moral compasses, but this movie is an exemplar of commercial filmmaking. There was a time in the very recent past when I'd play the opening credits of this movie every morning, imbibing in the gloriousness of that wake-up-and-let's-get-ready-to-go-to-work sequence to the tune of KT Tunstall's "Suddenly I See." Watching this together with R. J. Cutler's The September Issue, the documentary that was more or less Wintour's response to the book and film, makes for an aspirational combo that delves into the drama of creativity. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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Saturday, May 23, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 29



[29th of 100]. There is a briskness to this movie that belies its one hour and 45 minute running time: it always feel like it's too short, that there should be more. And perhaps that speaks volumes to the appeal of the movie, which has become a cult classic. What's not to like? It has Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn in camp of the highest order, playing narcissistic would-be zombies who have discovered the "fountain of youth" [and paid grimly its price]. It makes us ponder a little bit more the concepts of immortality and beauty and youth, and the lengths people go to to achieve them. And it is extremely, wickedly funny. Nothing is wasted in this black comedy, from broken necks to belly holes -- it is the peak of the director's long streak of imaginative hits that started with Romancing the Stone in 1984 to Cast Away in 2000, including the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, Contact, and What Lies Beneath. [What a streak!] When this movie came out in 1992, it featured special effects of comedic mayhem that was groundbreaking for its time, from the team that would also give us the magic of Jurassic Park the very next year. And the special effects are still remarkable so many years later, more than the CGI monstrosities we get these days. It allowed me to laugh at the macabre, and in beholding Meryl Streep embracing farce gave me permission to embrace the kookiness of things. Comedy can be very serious. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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Friday, May 22, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 28



[28th of 100]. I loved this movie when it first came out in 1989. It was one of the first to stir me into the life of the cineaste. And it also awakened the nascent literary creature in me, and ripened me for what I do now, which is teach. So if this list has to be a rundown of films that impacted me, this one contains my origin story. In 1989, I was a high school freshman, just beginning to think of a life in letters, and romanticising that life as I went about penning bad poems and making haphazard attempts at fiction. And so when this movie arrived, I was more than primed for it: it caught me like the explosion of a bomb. What's not to respond to in this film? It follows a group of boys, roughly my age, who are discovering the beauty [and the perils?] of poetry, and finding a mentor in an unconventional teacher who makes them see the world anew from atop a desk, who makes them recite verse while playing football, and who earnestly reminds them to "Carpe diem! Seize the day!" I was in love, or to be more precise: the romantic boy in me fell in love. For the longest time, this movie became the benchmark with which I judged other films -- and while that is no longer true today, I still consider it a "perfect" film, flaws and all, because I remember being moved most by it. Which is why I take issue when later criticism of it has since disregarded it as something sentimental and maudlin. It wears its heart on its sleeve, yes, but I doubt it is maudlin: this is after all a film by Peter Weir who -- in films like The Truman Show, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Mosquito Coast, and Witness -- has demonstrated that he can move us by showing us just enough. Years later, when I found myself teaching, a career I never thought I'd be doing, this was the movie that somehow validated the choice. I still sometimes make my students climb and stand on top of their monobloc chairs to make them see the "world" in a new light, or at least a different angle. I know now that life is more complex than simple declarations of Latin phrases or standing on chairs or tables, but the film is a capsule of a more innocent time, and I'm glad for the reminder once in a while. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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Thursday, May 21, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 27



[27th of 100]. There is an extended joke at the very beginning of the movie -- which is about the assorted goings on in the production of a French film -- when a television crew visits the shoot and proceeds to individually interview the principal cast members what the movie is all about. The sound bytes that result are a scream: each actor manages to give a summary of the movie with their character as the focal point of the entire drama. It's very much like asking Gus the Mouse what Walt Disney's Cinderella is all about, and the answer you get is something like, "Well, it's about a mouse who gets lost in a big house, and soon finds himself being taken care of by this strange optimistic girl who lives in the attic, is covered in soot, and has terrible family members to attend to." That narcissism is the ties that bind the threads of this comedy classic by one of France's most celebrated filmmakers: the actors are narcissistic, but so are the rest of the denizens of this unlikely community [from the script girl down to the grip]; even the town's police chief who has given them permission to shoot on location has allowed himself access to the set like a godfather of some sort, bringing girls with him hoping they could catch the eye of some producer. The friction of all of these egos clashing together -- buttered by a genuine care for the process of making a collaborative art -- is the drama that makes this movie delicious. In my film production class, I always screen this movie to give my students an idea of what it can be like to make a film, the heartaches and painful logistics that go with it demonstrated in equal measure of parody and love letter. [What's it like to film animals? You'll get a funny demonstration here.] Watching this now and again is always enlightening. And the layers! The director is meta enough to make a film about filmmaking -- parodying it in the process, and meta enough to cast himself as the director of that film within the film. I said that the movie is a love letter to filmmaking, and it is: in the end, after the martini has been taken, and despite all the shenanigans thus far, the crew members pack up their stuff, already missing the weeks spent together in close quarters, a farewell to a creative family meeting its end, and hoping that could be reconstructed elsewhere in another job, in another set of personal dramas to battle with. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

entry arrow4:09 PM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 21.



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entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 26



[26th of 100]. The sheer delight of this political comedy has remained with me ever since it came out in 1993. For the longest time I could not think of anyone positively presidential and first lady-ish except its leads, a pop cultural precursor to the Obamas, if you think about it. It lampoons Washington, D.C. politics but also underlines their gravity, and I think it is that combination that has made this movie more memorable than its makers probably set it out to be. In the film, we meet an every day Joe, the proprietor of a temp agency who moonlights as an impersonator of the American President in their little town simply because -- well, he looks very much like the President. Strange circumstances take him to D.C., and stranger circumstances lead him to actually take on the job of the presidency -- as a puppet of ambitious insiders. This sounds like a grim political drama, but it is a testament to the brilliant alchemy of direction, screenplay, and action that what we get instead is a lampoon of the highest order: intelligent, warm-hearted, incredibly funny. It is also, I think, the pinnacle of the director's signature light touch in filmmaking -- and that's speaking of a filmography that includes the two Ghostbusters movies, Twins, Meatballs, Kindergarten Cop, and Junior. This one towers above them all. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 25



[25th of 100]. At the apex of this film, an adaptation of a play by Christopher Hampton from the deliciously late-18th century scandalous novel by Choderlos de Laclos, the two sexy and amoral predators of this tale take off their masks, and reveal the inner hurt that defines their motivations. The Marquise de Merteuil, indelibly played by Glenn Close, forces us little by little to listen to her shattering confession. Upon being asked by the Vicomte de Valmont how she had managed to "invent" herself, she replies: "I had no choice, did I? I'm a woman. Women are obliged to be far more skilful than men. You can ruin our reputation and our life with a few well-chosen words. So of course I had to invent not only myself but ways of escape no one has ever thought of before. And I've succeeded because I've always known I was born to dominate your sex and avenge my own ... When I came out into society, I was 15. I already knew that the role I was condemned to, namely to keep quiet and do what I was told, gave me the perfect opportunity to listen and observe. Not to what people told me, which was naturally of no interest, but to whatever it was they were trying to hide. I practiced detachment. I learned how to look cheerful while, under the table, I stuck a fork into the back of my hand. I became a virtuoso of deceit. It wasn’t pleasure I was after, it was knowledge. I consulted the strictest moralists to learn how to appear; philosophers to find out what to think; and novelists to see what I could get away with. And in the end I distilled everything to one wonderfully simple principle: Win or die." It is an assessment of human nature that I have come to more or less accept, although I still have some optimism left in me. I've printed out this monologue on a tiny piece of paper, which I have kept in my wallet since 1999, when I graduated from college and when I also saw its contemporized version in Cruel Intentions. I imagined myself then a Valmont if I were more sociopathic, but Merteuil's scathing "win or die" was the thing that shook me to the core. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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Monday, May 18, 2020

entry arrow1:14 PM | Monday.



Let's try again with this life on quarantine.

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entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 24



[24th of 100]. Of all this filmmaker's celebrated filmmography, this one is my emotional favorite -- although Fanny and Alexander [1982] is a close second and Persona [1966] a distant third. You cannot look away from this movie: it begins with shots of nature shrouded in fog, and as we enter a bedroom where we spy on the sleeping protagonists, the camera leads us to one sleeping face, which soon wakes, and then grimaces in quiet pain. But you cannot look away. And then the drama starts, and the movie, we see, is splattered with color [especially crimson] and shot with such careful composition, all of which somehow correlate directly with the pain bursting at its seams. Three sisters and a female servant come together in a secluded but sprawling estate to provide companionship to one of the sisters who is dying from cancer -- and from their interactions come charging themes of femininity and faith, and most of all, the meaning of suffering. And yet despite the grim sound of all of that, I found the film stirring with uncanny hopefulness and humanity best encapsulated by its closing sequence: a fantastical image of the four women dressed in white, carrying parasols, enjoying the sun and the trees as spring deepens, untouched by pain. It asks to consider all of life, its delirious ups and excruciating downs, but still come away believing that, “Come what may, this is happiness. I cannot wish for anything better. Now, for a few minutes, I can experience perfection and I feel profoundly grateful to my life, which gives me so much.” This has resonated with me forever. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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Sunday, May 17, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 23



[23rd of 100]. Talk about impact. The novel by Carl Sagan, the late great romancer of science, was beloved by me. Its prose influenced so much how I imagined the beginnings of my short story "A Strange Map of Time," which won the 1st Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards sponsored by Neil Gaiman in 2006. The film adaptation of the novel came out in 1997, around the time I came back from a year of living in Japan to finish my studies at Silliman -- a time of so much ferment that led to so much productivity in the 2000s. I will forever associate the movie and the novel to that time, and I think I know why: it is a tale of consuming passion when everyone else around you tells you you're looking for the impossible -- only for the possible to happen, taking you on a singular journey that defies´ the understanding of those who didn't go on it. It asks, fundamentally, this: What do you believe in? As a young writer, I grappled with that question as well, and I think an underlying theme to things I've written is really about faith. [Read "Things You Don't Know."] The film is an encapsulation for all of these. I follow the travails of its protagonist as she looks for answers to her questions to the stars, adamant in her search regardless of gigantic, often bureaucratic, roadblocks. And then the answers come from the skies as alien ciphers she [and now the rest of the world] must try to decode, which leads to the construction of a ship, which leads to a leap into the void. The philosophical and scientific fireworks of this story are immense. The movie received less than accommodating responses from critics when it was first released, which I never understood. It is a perfect distillation of an epic scale without sacrificing much of the philosophy that drove the Sagan novel. But I guess the movie, like its protagonist, is always misunderstood, but it pushes ahead anyway, searching for a map through the stars while everyone else is happy being earthbound. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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Saturday, May 16, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 22



[22nd of 100]. It took quite a while to see this 2007 movie, years after its release in fact. [The one constant in Philippine cinema is its poor distribution, which has contributed in immeasurable ways to its curious lack of wider appreciation. It is truly ironic that a Filipino cineaste will have more access to ... say, Albanian films than Filipino films. Unless you live in Manila, of course.] In the time that it took to finally reach me, it had evolved to a kind of magical starting point for several things: that this was the calling card to the industry that soon "made" one of its co-directors, leading to such films as Heneral Luna and Goyo; that this essentially jumpstarted the rebirth of Cebuano cinema, leading to the influx to the mainstream the likes of Ara Chawdhury, Remton Zuasola, Christian Linaban, Keith Deligero, Victor Villanueva, Maria Victoria Beltran, Chai Fonacier, and many others; that its powerful reception was an early marker for the eventual cumulative success of the Cinema One Originals. Its reputation was sterling and remote, but sight unseen I couldn't care less -- until I finally saw it, admittedly in bootleg copy, and was soon overwhelmed by its power: it was precise, it was exquisitely told, it was defiant in its message. None of these are diminished by the obviously low budget aesthetics, which adds only to the documentary feel of the thing. What is the story? A young filmmaker goes to Cebu to document the Sinulog Festival, and unwittingly encounters a local politician who taps him to record his confessions of misdeeds while in office. The result is a shock to the system. All told, the movie earns very much all its plaudits, and as a starting point to the new golden age of Cebuano cinema, it also earns our thanks. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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Friday, May 15, 2020

entry arrow1:26 PM | The Film Meme No. 21



[21st of 100]. I have a soft heart for [often] impenetrable movies with very strong, very intoxicating visual styles, and I take to them like they are poems where you have to surrender the need for prosaic logic, and embrace instead the symphony of images and the surreal headiness of the experience. This is why I love Leos Carax's Holy Motors (2012), and Darren Aronofsky's mother! (2017), and the phantasmagoria of Tarsem Singh [2000's The Cell above all] -- which I really think comes from my initial orgasmic responses to Dimitri Kirsanoff's Ménilmontant (1926), Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali's Un Chien Andalou (1929), Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera (1929), and Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), as well as the dazzling documentaries by Godfrey Reggio [the Qatsi trilogy] and Ron Fricke [Baraka and Samsara]. They come off to me as pure cinema, unburdened by a literal story [or at least adhering to the usual demands of narrative], but magnifying the primacy of the image in telling a story. For this list, I could have chosen any of above titles as representative of personal impact in the regard I am discussing them, but one title kept coming back to me: this strange 1969 "biography" of the great 18th century Armenian poet and musician Armenian poet Sayat-Nova. It doesn't waste time telling a straightforward story, opting instead to settle for shots that mimic Armenian miniature paintings and medieval manuscripts, every image an allegory and metaphor. Needless to say, the movie is certainly not for everyone, certainly not those demanding coherence or structure. I would even agree I have not seen this film in the best way possible -- my laptop screen can only do so much, and there is no way to surrender fully to the movie's lushness and idiosyncrasy if it is not magnified majestically on a wide screen. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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Thursday, May 14, 2020

entry arrow10:25 AM | The Film Meme No. 20



[20th of 100]. Whenever I see a sprawling adventure epic that has a huge cast and employs small but pivotal segments that take place in countless [often exotic] places, I see the fingerprint of this movie all over them. This movie's breathtaking stitching together of incidents that point to a mystery -- airport controllers noting reports of a UFO, scientists arriving in the deserts of Mexico to examine the sudden appearance of long lost World War II airplanes and being told by an old witness that the "sun sang," the same scientists arriving in India to be told by a mass gathering of people that the fantastical music they heard came from the skies, a mother and her toddler in Indiana suddenly being terrorized by mysterious lights -- made for a sweeping prologue that was breathtaking for its scope. It is such an influential narrative shorthand, we see it now in movies hoping to achieve the same feel for worldwidish scope, including 2012 or The Core or Godzilla. This movie also signalled the filmmaker's thorough handling of its story. And then to have that epic scope suddenly be dialled down to the singular tale of a troubled family man haunted by visions he cannot understand -- that shift was amazing. I never saw anything like this narrative when I first saw it on videotape in the early 1990s. It was my introduction to the filmmaker's work, and it is certainly an excellent primer to his cinematic vision, his conceits of storytelling, his directorial ticks. I was so taken by it, I even devoured the excellent novelization of it. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

entry arrow12:03 PM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 20.



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entry arrow8:23 AM | The Film Meme No. 19



[19th of 100]. The ease with which movie lovers become what they are today impresses me: Netflix and other streaming devices abound, as well as torrents in the more illegal shade of things. You want to see an obscure French silent film from 1926 that apparently is über film critic Pauline Kael's favorite of all the movies that she has seen? Dimitri Kirsanoff's Menilmontant is on YouTube in all its restored glory, readily available in just a few short strokes of the keyboard. I envy, sort of. This is so starkly different from becoming a cineaste in the mid-1990s, which for me was an occupation of diligent passion. It was hard work that entailed three things: hearsay, scholarship, and a kind of archaeology. Hearsay, because someone else could only regale you with descriptions of a great movie you haven't seen, you conjuring images in your head helped along with movie stills printed in books and magazines. [I remember my film classes with Jonah Lim where he would lecture about film history describing specific scenes to illustrate a point about the elements of film. When it was my turn to teach that class many years later, description gave way to the actual clips I got from YouTube.] Scholarship, because the lack of the actual films only spurred you to read film history books, as well as biographies of film artists. [In high school and college, I devoured books about Ingrid Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock, Lino Brocka, and so many others, as well as published screenplays.] And archaeology, because the 1990s was the height of the video boom -- Betamax giving way to VHS, and laser disks giving way to VCD and DVD. If you wanted a good film education, you had to have the best suki video store in town which could give you titles swimming in the ocean of commercial films you were not interested in. Finding the masters was a matter of looking, looking, looking, digging in. [I was lucky that a retail store near the Dumaguete marketplace named Good Luck Store kept a video collection of the most surprising cinematic taste: for some reason, it had in its inventory the earliest Ang Lee, Wong Kar Wai, Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou, Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell, Gregg Araki, as well as a plethora of the classics. When Cinema One came around, I learned to record with my first VHS machine their endless array of Filipino classics.] It was really hard work; the 1990s was the decade Dumaguete began losing its movie theaters. I'm writing all of these because it was in this context with which I came to know this film I'm writing about for today's meme. Every single film history book I read declared it "the best film achievement of all time." Sight & Sound Magazine placed it at the top spot for several decades in its once-in-a-decade survey of film artists and scholars. So I read books about its making, books about its influence, books about its director. I never saw the film itself. Until I found, around 1997, a semi-moldy Betamax copy of it in the dusty shelves of Silliman University's School of Communication in Guy Hall. I eagerly borrowed it to FINALLY watch it -- and when I did, I was profoundly ... bored. And the questions came: What was that all about? How is this "the greatest film ever made"? All of my earnest study of film in the 1990s -- which, in hindsight, really was inchoate -- gave way to this unsettling disappointment. But a voice at the back of my head kept insisting: "Give it time. You're not ready." I watched it again sometime later, and still the disappointment remained. And still the voice came: "Give it time. You're not ready." The third time, the fourth time, the fifth time, all disappointments ... but along the way I learned more about film history, film theory, and film production. By the sixth time [this was already in the early 2000s], something clicked. Every thing I had learned thus far about film suddenly became clear in this epic story of a newspaper magnate in the examination of the terrific highs and terrible lows of his large life: the crisp and formal structure of the screenplay, the manipulation of time, the ingenious mise-en-scene and production design, the deep focus photography. I saw the genius, finally, which my contemporary eye had obscured for a long time. This certainly was a film so far ahead of its time, and I had to reckon that it had led a revolution, and that many of the things I love now about cinema started with this one. [This is the mindset with which I have also learned to appreciate the films of Georges Méliès, D.W. Griffith, Edwin S. Porter, and Sergei Eisenstein -- films which would look crude and old to the undiscerning contemporary eye, but are really like the first modest stars that burned brightly after the Big Bang, so to speak.] I love this film now, and I watch it at least once a year, sometimes with a commentary track. [The best is Roger Ebert's.] This film taught me patience, and taught me that the best kind of appreciation comes from study, from being suspicious of boredom, from equipping oneself with the necessary tools to navigate art you sometimes have no map for. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich





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