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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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Thursday, June 09, 2005

entry arrow3:01 PM | Letting Go


I believe that sometimes, the measure of one's heart lies in its capacity to let go. At the best possible time, of course, before the very fact of keeping lets in the rot, and destroys the very thing we hold dear.

I can fit this emotional template to many things in the world. There's the mother bird, for example, which must literally push its little offsprings out from the comforts of the nest, into the void of the air, that they might learn how to fly.

There're our biological mothers who must also push us out from the cocoon of their wombs and into the harsh light of the real, breathing world. It is vicious letting go, if you come to think about it, but one springing from an instinct of love and biological drive -- else the baby dies. The first cry we make as newborn babies is that of anguish really, because deprived suddenly of the almost-selfish sustenance and creature comforts of what had kept us.

We let go, thus, in order to grow. Or else we rot.

My own life contains varied examples of this theme. (Yours, too, most probably.) There's the post-adolescent flight from my childhood home, for instance, to seek out the unfettered sense of living on my own. And other things. But I will recount in this writing something else, and not anything that will typically come up in your mind.

I am going to talk about my video collection.

I probably have one of the most extensive video collections in all of Dumaguete -- nay, this side of the Philippines. Of the last count, I had around 500 video cassettes of various titles in one of the aparadors in my pad in Tubod. (This is not counting the over a hundred titles in my current DVD collection.) An acknowledged cineaste, which is fancy French for a moviehead, I first started collecting movies when I was a junior in high school and had then been lured by the magic of the silver screen. I had read earlier an article by Edward Behr in The International Herald Tribune Magazine where he wrote that "our favorite films are our unlived lives unfolding in a magic mirror," and that no other art form has quite the same power to shape our views of ourselves and the outside world. Films, thus, have the authority of our dreams.

They did. Films transported me to stories that went beyond the restrictions of my geographical horizons. They were passports to many worlds, and for once I had a grammar of understanding everything else in the universe. I had to collect them -- because collecting them meant collecting the world.

Since then -- and much more manically when I began teaching Film Appreciation in Silliman University's School of Communication in 1999 -- the collection grew and grew. It was an eclectic list for the most part, and notoriously snobbish of Hollywood trash, save for Hollywood "trash" that I loved. It began with Betamax. (Betamax! Does anyone still remember Betamax?) Went through a very long VHS phase, skipped the Laserdisc, and approached the VCD with much caution, because the latter was a clumsy format that halved movies into two discs -- a sacrilege.

The Betamax tapes, one could say, laid down the thesis, or the criteria, around which I began and nurtured the collection. I had five titles in the beginning: Stanley Kubrick's Lolita, Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder and To Catch a Thief, Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise's West Side Story, and Mike Nichols's Biloxi Blues. The take on each one: a thoughtful, controversial art film before the term "art film" was even coined; early demonstrations of auteur theory meeting the grand old days of Hollywood; Hollywood at one of its musical best; and film at its most contemplative, using humor for insight.

Some came into my possession as repositories of memories of old college friends and places traveled. I bought George Cukor's Born Yesterday in a clearance sale off Mitaka Station in Japan. Danny Fernandez gave me Gene Saks's Brighton Beach Memoirs, John Hughes's The Breakfast Club, and Lawrence Kasdan's The Big Chill, because they reminded him of childhood, high school, and college in California.

The collection soon grew to include the best of the Hollywood heavyweights, including Martin Scorsese's After Hours, Raging Bull, and Taxi Driver, Woody Allen's Annie Hall, Bullets Over Broadway, and Manhattan, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, David Lynch's Blue Velvet, James L. Brooks' Broadcast News and Terms of Endearment, Brian de Palma's Carrie, The Untouchables, and Dressed to Kill, Roman Polanski's Chinatown, Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, George Lucas' Star Wars Trilogy, William Friedkin's The Exorcist, James Ivory's Maurice, Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Mike Nichols's Postcards From the Edge and Working Girl, Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show, Robert Altman's The Player and Short Cuts, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and James Cameron's Titanic.

Yes, even Titanic, that most saccharine of all Hollywood pictures. And yet even that distinction did not faze my collecting, and soon I had some of the best (and worst? -- but divinely worse!) of the Hollywood assembly line: Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire, Tony Richardson's The Hotel New Hampshire, Robert Benton's Kramer vs. Kramer, Roger Kumble's Cruel Intentions, John Landis' Coming to America, Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct, Tommy O'Haver's Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss, Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles, Amy Heckerling's Fast Times at Ridgemont High, John Hughes' Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Herbert Ross' Footloose, Andrew Bergman's The Fugitive, Doug Liman's Go, Robert Redford's Ordinary People, Barbra Streisand's The Prince of Tides, John Madden's Shakespeare in Love, Rob Reiner's This is Spinal Tap and When Harry Met Sally..., Curtis Hanson's Wonder Boys, George Dunning's Yellow Submarine, Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night, and Andrew Fleming's Threesome.

Among the independents, I had Hettie MacDonald's Beautiful Thing, Kevin Smith's Clerks, Neil Jordan's The Crying Game, Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons, Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko, Mina Shum's Double Happiness, Karol Reisz's The French Lieutenant's Woman, Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World, Christopher Ashley's Jeffrey, Wayne Wang's The Joy Luck Club and Smoke, Steven Soderbergh's Kafka, Joe Mantello's Love! Valour! Compassion!, David DeCoteau's Leather Jacket Love Story, Tom DiCillo's Living in Oblivion, Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave, Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom, Francois Girard's Thirty-Three Short Films About Glenn Gould, Agnieszka Holland's Total Eclipse, and Jim Fall's Trick.

But I also had some of the very rare ones. Including assembled clips by the Lumiere brothers who pioneered the whole cinematic art form, as well as Georges Melies who, in A Trip to the Moon, first used montage to create what would be the mother of all special effects. I had Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali's Un Chien Andalou and F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu, probably the best vampire movie ever made.

Of the old masters, I had Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, Robert Weine's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Sergei Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin, Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush, Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion, Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie, Rear Window, Birds, Vertigo, and Psycho, Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause, and Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard.

Then there are the controversial films, which would include Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris, Larry Clark's Kids (about sex among teenagers), Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of Passion and In the Realm of the Senses (both about obsessive love and murder), Bruce LaBruce's Hustler White (about male prostitution), Anonymous' Pink Narcissus (one of the earliest underground erotica ever made), Antonia Bird's Priest (about gay priests), David O. Russell's Spanking the Monkey (about incest), and Roeland Kerboasch's For A Lost Soldier (about pedophilia),

And then there were the foreign-language films, which opened my ways to the various ways of the rest world: Vittorio de Sica's The Bicycle Thief, Marleen Gorris' Antonia's Line, Shekhar Kapur's Bandit Queen, Nikita Mikhalkov's Burnt By the Sun, Pedro Almodovar's Carne Tremolo and The Flower of My Secret, Giusseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso, Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman and The Wedding Banquet, Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine, Yasujiro Ozu's Floating Weeds, Tomas Gutierrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio's Fresa y Chocolate, Wong Kar-Wai's Happy Together, Jacques Tati's Jour de Fete, Jan Sverak's Kolya, Patrice Chereaux's La Reine Margot, Andre Techine's Les roseaux sauvages, Alfonso Arau's Like Water for Chocolate, Giusseppe Tornatore's Malena, Danis Tanovic's No Man's Land, Agnieszka Holland's Olivier Olivier, Zhang Yimou's Raise the Red Lantern, Akira Kurosawa's Ran and Rashomon, Albert Lamorisse's The Red Balloon, Tran Anh Hung's The Scent of Green Papaya, Francois Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player and Small Change, Andrei Tartovsky's Solaris, Jaco van Dormael's Toto le Heros, and Alejandro Gonzales Innarritu's Amores Perros.

Among the documentaries, I had the extremely hard-to-find Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North and Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, as well as Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's The Celluloid Closet, Terry Zwigoff's Crumb, Alek Keshishian's Madonna: Truth or Dare, Jyll Johnstone's Martha and Ethel, and Douglas Keeve's Unzipped. I also had two volumes of the New York Center for Visual History's American Cinema series, one on Romantic Comedy and Film Noir and the other on The Studio System and Film in the Television Age.

And then there were the Filipino films one rarely gets to rent in Videocity: Kidlat Tahimik's Mababangong Bangungot, Chito Rono's Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa and Itanong Mo sa Buwan, Lino Brocka's Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim, Maynila Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang, and Ina, Kapatid, Anak, Ishmael Bernal's Broken Marriage, Manila By Night: City After Dark, and Relasyon, Mario O'Hara's Bulaklak ng City Jail, Mike de Leon's Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, Kisapmata, and Sister Stella L., Marilou Diaz-Abaya's Karnal and Moral, Carlos Siguion-Reyna's Ang Lalaki sa Buhay ni Selya, Jose Javier Reyes's Live Show, Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara's Minsa'y Isang Gamu-Gamo, and Peque Gallaga's Scorpio Nights, Unfaithful Wife, and Virgin Forest. There were also Nick Deocampo's famous documentaries, including Oliver, Isaak, Memories of Old Manila, and The Sex Warrior and the Samurai.

A veritable treasure trove of film titles. And what I have listed is only half of them.

And so we have come to the end -- to complete my thesis, and to explain the presence of past tenses all over the list: I have let go -- donated all of them to the Silliman University Library. Because my pad is too small to accommodate a burgeoning library of movies, and books. Because DVDs are so much easier to collect, in the name of portability and long-life. Because Betamax is a dinosaur. Because my VHS player is not working anymore. Because the videos are just being stored in one of my aparadors, bearing too much of time and humidity -- and molds have started to grow. That last one was the clincher. Molds were slowly defacing Kurosawa and Ozu and Chaplin and Welles. I couldn't bear that. At least, in the Library, the archiving system can bring back their health -- and when I want to revisit them, I could just take out a library card...

When I was putting them in the box for their transport Thursday, and when they finally arrived at their destination, I felt my heart constrict and cry. This box, after all, contains the testament to my days as ardent moviewatcher. That's more than ten years in my life. To let go was to feel pain, like losing a child.

But I let go.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich