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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, June 17, 2020

entry arrow9:00 PM | The Film Meme No. 53

[53rd of 100]. When we become adventurous enough in our scholarship of Philippine cinema, and when the archives are finally available, someone will become our own Vito Russo who authored The Celluloid Closet in 1981 [which then spawned an equally pathbreaking 1995 documentary]. In that book of patient cinematic historiography, Russo traced the development of the homosexual theme and depiction in [mostly] American movies, from the silent period to the 1970s. [The movie expands the scope a bit to the early 1990s, but somewhat loses steam in its contemporaneous consideration, understandably.] In both book and documentary, we get a clear arc of historical queerness on American film -- something I've always wished could be done for Philippine movies, and something I wish someone like Nick Deocampo would do. It would be an interesting look at our cinema. What was the first Filipino film to depict a gay character? Kevin Leo Clidoro, in his unpublished thesis on the evolution of gay portrayals in Philippine cinema, writes that it's Tony Cayado's Kaming Mga Talyada in 1962 [unseen by me], where we encounter an American transsexual woman played by Christine Jorgensen. But an earlier one could be Mar S. Torres' Jack and Jill (1954), where Lolita Rodriguez's Benita and Dolphy's Gorio, siblings, play a twist on gender roles: she drives a jeepney and brawls with men, while he does all the household chores and answers to the name "Glory." Coming of age in the 1990s, I was lucky enough to see the more spirited [and very serious] pushing of the envelope being done by Filipino directors in tackling the gay theme, from Mel Chionglo's Midnight Dancers (1994) to his Burlesk King (1999), from Maryo J. de Los Reyes' Bala at Lipstik (1994) to his Sa Paraiso ni Efren (1999), from Carlito Siguion-Reyna's Ang Lalake sa Buhay ni Selya (1997) to his Tatlo...Magkasalo (1998), from Gil Potes' Miguel/Michelle (1998) to Joel Lamangan and Eric Quizon's Pusong Mamon (1998). The 1990s was the seminal decade, giving us nuanced gay films that were vast improvements from the homophobic bents of Danny Zialcita's Si Malakas, Si Maganda, at Si Mahinhin (1980), Mahinhin vs. Mahinhin (1981), and T-Bird at Ako (1982). [Albeit they were enjoyable misfires.] Or the shrill sissy caricatures of Luciano B. Carlos' Fefita Fofonggay Viuda de Falayfay (1973) or his Facundo Alitaftaf (1978) or his Petrang Kabayo at ang Pilyang Kuting (1988), or Rome Villaflor's Mga Anak ni Facifica Falayfay (1987) -- all either with Dolphy, who largely became a phenomenon because of these gay roles, or his comic heir[ess] Roderick Paulate. There's also Leroy Salvador's remake of Jack & Jill (1987), complete with a gender twist once the right heterosexual ideal for Sharon Cuneta's tomboy character comes along. [It proved so popular, it spawned a sequel, Jack & Jill Goes to America, in 1988.) Granted, there were also beautifully realized films with complex gay characterisations in the 1970s and 80s, such as Lino Brocka's Tubog sa Ginto (1971) or Stardom (1971) or Ang Tatay Kong Nanay (1978, where Dolphy deepens his popular gay persona from all those Luciano B. Carlos films), and Ishmael Bernal's Manila By Night (1980). The sincerity of the 1990s led to the dam bursting in the 2000s, signaled by Dolphy giving a last go with his gay persona as an ageing queen recollecting a painful past in Gil Portes' Markova: Comfort Gay (2000). The avalanche that followed, which also saw the subsequent rise in independent filmmaking, contained the good -- such as Joel Lamangan's So Happy Together (2004), Auraeus Solito's Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (2005), Brilliante Mendoza's Masahista (2005), Adolfo Alix's Daybreak (2008), and Francis Xavier Pasion's Jay (2008) -- as well as the very, very bad, a lot of them skin flicks with a pretense of drama, trying to capitalize on a suddenly vigorous pink market, most of them forgettable misses. Out of this gay swarm rose two filmmakers that would go on to shape with vigor gay Filipino cinema as we know it now, although of opposing sensibilities. One is Crisaldo Pablo, whose gritty "no-budget erotistatements" [Jade Castro's words] are surprisingly sweet between the hot takes and are often well-made despite the DIY aesthetics. Pablo gives us a picture of Filipino gayhood from the viewpoint of the less privileged, from Duda (2003) to Bathhouse (2005) to Moreno (2007) to Campus Crush (2009) to Boylets (2009), the last of which many critics consider his masterpiece. The other one is Joselito Altarejos, whose more polished take often centers on gays of the burgis class dealing with the assorted upheavals in their lives, from Ang Lalaki sa Parola (2007) to Kambyo (2008) to Little Boy Big Boy (2009). Altarejos begins to tackle more serious-minded themes done in the beat of found cinema in Ang Laro ng Buhay ni Juan (2009), Pink Halo-Halo (2010), Laruang Lalake (2010, where he first turns a critical stance on his brand of queer filmmaking), Unfriend (2014), and thematically culminating in Kasal (2014), which is Altarejos dismantling and then reassembling his legacy as a filmmaker in the guise of charting the rise and fall of a gay couple's relationship. But the movie that perhaps started it all is this 2008 film, which is a rush of adrenaline and a shock to queer filmmaking when it first came out. Following on the heels of the supreme success of Ang Lalaki sa Parola the year before, Altarejos lures us into the movie's world by giving us what seems to be a typical coming-of-age story: we follow a teenager named Antonio as he goes about his small world in Marikina, acquiescent to the cares of a single mother, and navigating the landmines of adolescence, especially his burgeoning gay sexuality, which he keeps a secret. Into the mix comes his paternal uncle in his 20s, who has come to live with them. Tito Jonbert is ruggedly handsome, streetwise, and attuned to his nephew's sexual awakening. The stir the film created among the gay community in 2008 was dynamite, a response to its frank sexuality and unhesitating depiction of a taboo, but a taboo that is well-known in the secret histories of so many gay men in the Philippines. Needless to say, it was galvanising for me, something its violent finale underlines as a kind of corrective. "I wanted to end it with my own version of the grand guignol," Jay told me once -- here giving the audience who were familiar with the titillations of Ang Lalaki sa Parola what they had come to expect, but also snatching that away by injecting a final dose of horror. Because this incestuous fantasy should be taken as nothing else but a horror story. I agree with him. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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