Saturday, July 11, 2009
These days, I am thinking deeply about movies again.
I can’t help it.
Because after a few years of not doing so, I am once again teaching a course in film in Silliman University’s College of Mass Communication—and there’s nothing like a teacherly preparation factor to revive an old passion. (My students’ final project is to individually direct a short film, which I have told them to mount in a mini-film festival of their own making at the end of the semester. It’s a big challenge, and they are all scared by the idea—but I always tell them to invoke Luc Goddard’s famous plea, that the only way to critique or appreciate a film is to make one.)
Because I have suddenly found myself writing a new screenplay, for a movie set in Dumaguete, after years of fits and starts. (My poet friend J. Neil C. Garcia once quipped to me recently, “Literature is dead. The future’s in the movies.”)
And because only a few weeks ago, the Cinemalaya Organizing Committee invited me to sit in a panel for the Cinemalaya Film Congress scheduled later this month where I am to talk about “Indie Filmmaking in Dumaguete.” (And the first question that came to my head was, “Is there any?”)
But I have always loved the movies.
Yet you can also always say, “Who doesn’t?” Quite honestly, I know there’s truth in that retort. Because film may be the truest democratic art form today: it is, after all, a painstakingly-wrought symphony of many other art forms (from performance to design to music), and finally it also tends to level all sorts of human barriers—from class to language—and everybody everywhere else in the world can subscribe to it the way the opera cannot, or a painting cannot. Everybody has their favorite movies, and movies, for the most part, become portal to our deepest fantasies. As Edward Behr once famously said, “Films are our unlived lives unfolding in front of a magic mirror.”
I have always loved the movies. Truth to tell, it was my first love. Before I even deigned to become a teacher or a writer, and before I had that first pragmatic childhood wish of ending up a medical doctor, all I really wanted to do was the movies. My best childhood memories, first in Bayawan and later on in Dumaguete, often consist of separate flights of fancies in the darkness of various movie theaters, the only thing constant being the feeling of being enraptured by the flickering, moving lights set before my eyes. I don’t exactly remember the face of the person I had my first kiss with—I think it was with a girl named Kate, who lived in the apartment next to ours in my old neighborhood along Sta. Rosa Street, and I was only six years old—but I still remember, down to the details, my first movie experience. It was Irwin Allen’s The Swarm
, in 1978, and I was only three years old. I can still vividly recreate that atmosphere of terror and ecstatic joy which I felt in equal measure in the middle of a small theater, an affair called Oriente, in Bayawan, which is now only a faded shadow of its former self.
Later, still in grade school and high school, I made myself a cineaste, a self-educated one, and I voraciously read up on books on film technique, film history, and film theory. I began reading the intelligent criticism of Roger Ebert and Paulene Kael and David Bordwell when I was thirteen. I picked apart screenplays and montage techniques. I studied auteur theory. I began watching the Oscars earnestly the year when Kathy Bates won Best Actress for Misery
and Jeremy Irons won Best Actor for Reversal of Fortune
I became a mad borrower of obscure film titles—first in Betamax, and then in VHS—in an unassuming video store near the Dumaguete public market called Good Luck Store, from which I learned to carefully watch movies made by Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino, Neil LaBute, and other directors whose films you won’t see displayed today in VideoCity. (I’m not sure the Chinese owner of Good Luck Store knew he had all those titles—most of them terribly great but also terribly uncommercial. I mean, who would rent Kevin Smith’s Clerks
? Larry Clark’s Kids
? Steve James’ Hoop Dreams
? Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb
? David O. Russell’s Spanking the Monkey
? Gregg Araki’s Doom Generation
? Save maybe me?)
I swallowed movies day and night. When I was finally in college, I became president of Société de Cinephiles, the only film society (now defunct) in Silliman University, and we invited the Japan Foundation to stage Eiga Sai in Dumaguete, where we introduced locals to Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies
. We invited the French Embassy to do a François Truffaut mini-film fest in AVT1. We screened films from Iran and Vietnam and China and HongKong before anyone in Dumaguete heard of Majid Mahidi’s Children of Heaven
or Tran Anh Hung’s Scent of Green Papaya
or Zhang Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern
or Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express
. We studied films by Lino Brocka, and Ishmael Bernal, and Mike de Leon. We dissected Hollywood film noir. We had weekly film screenings in my old apartment in Bantayan, where we watched all sorts of weird movies like James Bidgood’s Pink Narcissus
and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo
. In retrospect, I think we gave the country the first ever gay and lesbian film festival, in 1995, before anyone else did. (We were always pushing the envelope. Once we had to fight a teacher who complained that Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine
was pornographic. It isn’t.)
Finally, I directed my first short film—a hysterical drama titled Trahedya sa Kabila ng Liwanag
—which can only be found in VHS, and hopefully rot away to mold heaven.
Sometimes, these days, I would wonder: where did I find all that time to do all of those? Chalk it up to the irrepressible energy and defiance of youth.
And then I stopped. Because life happened. But there is finally no getting away from the old enchantment of childhood. The truth of the matter is, once one becomes a cineaste, one will always remain a cineaste.
And yet one must admit, however, a scaling down of old passions: adulthood, after all, requires such sacrifices—which may be its greatest tragedy. The wanton days of hunting down obscure movie titles in even more obscure outlets and video rental stores, the sleepless nights devouring cinematic gems (and busts)—all that must wane a bit in the light of adult responsibilities. The consuming life becomes work, and cinema becomes the abandoned mistress. It is something we nevertheless revisit once in a while, on weekends and sick days. Sometimes we have gloriously rebellious days when we just want to do a staring down contest versus an avalanche of work and what-not, and we turn on the DVD for the now impossible march towards a fuller film education. (“There is that Bergman, that Altman, that Brocka, that Kurosawa I have not watched yet! That Buñuel, that Sirk, that Gosiengfiao!,” we scream, sometimes, in defiance.)
And so we return to the movies again and again despite everything, if only because it is a recognition for what once made us beings capable of fantasy and delight. In that flickering light is home, and no amount of numbing reality can ever deny that.
Labels: film, life, memories
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