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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, March 18, 2015

entry arrow3:10 PM | Fellows Chosen for the 54th Silliman University National Writers Workshop Slated for May 11—29

The 54th edition of the Silliman University National Writers Workshop is slated to start on 11 May 2015 at the Rose Lamb Sobrepeña Writers Village in Camp Look-out, Valencia, Negros Oriental.

Twelve writers from all over the Philippines have been accepted as regular workshop fellows.

The fellows for poetry are Aimee Paulette O. Cando of Quezon City (University of Santo Tomas), Angela Gabriele R. Fabunan of Olongapo City (University of the Philippines—Diliman), Darylle Luzarita Rubino of Polomolok, South Cotabato (University of the Philippines—Mindanao), and Mohammad Nassefh R. Macla of Davao City (University of the Philippines in Mindanao).

The fellows for fiction are Luis Manuel Diores of Cebu City (University of San Carlos), Patricia Corazon F. Lim of Quezon City (Ateneo de Manila University), Kristine Abelink Patenio of Murcia, Negros Occidental (University of St. La Salle in Bacolod), and Rodolfo Eduardo T. Santiago of Quezon City (Ateneo de Manila University).

The fellows for creative nonfiction are Jona Branzuela Bering of Cebu City (Cebu Normal University), Rowena Rose M. Lee of Manila (University of the Philippines in Mindanao), Miguel Antonio Lizada of Davao City (National University of Singapore), and Edmark Tejarcio Tan of Quezon City (University of Santo Tomas).

Khail Campos Santia of Malaybalay, Bukidnon (Silliman University) will join them as a special fellow for poetry. The names of other special fellows from around the Asia-Pacific region will be announced later.

Four alternates have also been chosen in case any of the regular fellows declines the invitation: Christian Jil R. Benitez of San Mateo, Rizal (Ateneo de Manila University) for poetry, Edmond Julian Y. Dela Cerna of Davao City (San Pedro College) and Matthew Jacob F. Ramos of Cebu City (Ateneo de Manila University) for fiction, and Fritzie D. Rodriguez of Balaga City, Bataan (University of the Philippines—Diliman) for creative nonfiction.

Three applicants have also been invited to sit as special workshop mentees, including Ana Joaquina Adriano of Dumaguete City (Enderun College), Silvin Federic Real Maceren of Cebu City (Silliman University), and Chuckie Perez Manio of Bacolod City (Silliman University).

The panel of writers/critics for this year will also be announced later.

The workshop, which traditionally lasts for three weeks, is the oldest creative writing workshop of its kind in Asia. It was founded in 1962 by S.E.A. Write Awardee Edilberto K. Tiempo and National Artist Edith L. Tiempo, and was recently given the Tanging Parangal in the Gawad CCP Para sa Sining by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

For more information about forthcoming events during the workshop, please email Workshop Coordinator Ian Rosales Casocot at silliman(dot)cwc(at)gmail(dot)com or call the Department of English and Literature at (035) 422-6002 loc. 520. (Edilberto and Edith Tiempo Creative Writing Center)

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entry arrow12:37 AM | Lost Spring

In his later years, Albert Einstein concluded that how we conceive of time is an illusion, a construct we have created to box in the simple matter that everything -- the past, the present, and the future -- exists simultaneously, is happening all at once. All at once. Perhaps this isn't so hard to believe. Last night, for example, I went to Kurambo's for dinner and while waiting for my order to come, I allowed myself to absorb the sight of this newish grill in Tubod, a neighbourhood I used to live in as a kid. I could feel myself occupy two spaces at once: that moment last night while waiting for my meal, and also an entire childhood spent passing by this very spot to go home to the house my family rented somewhere in the interiors of Tubod -- or Springville, as the people who lived here would rather call it. That very spot was once a big old house, now gone, which tottered beside an abundant spring -- the "tubod" of the place's nomenclature. Here, everyday, I'd catch the neighbourhood's women do their laundry by hand. (Many of them worked as laundresses for students living in the dorms in nearby Silliman. No washing machines then, nor laundromats.) Last night, while waiting for my food to come, I closed my eyes and I could still hear those women's loud chattering over the icy spring waters, the sound of their paddles batting thick wet cloth which punctuated their gossip. The spring is now gone. There's only this restaurant built on top of it, the waters below sealed off by concrete. We have become so good at paving over everything. I felt delirious afterwards, having to occupy both past and present at the same time. I saw the boy I was then -- this was easy; but did he perhaps also see me in the shimmer of the spring water soon to be erased, an older form of him forlorn in the future, looking back across the aching gaps of memory, thinking about what we have exactly gained from the loss of so many things, like a spring?

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

entry arrow1:29 PM | Maria and the Birdman

Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman and Oliver Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria are practically the same kind of film but made with different sensibilities. Both are about aging actors (Michael Keaton in one, and Juliette Binoche in the other) preparing for plays that promise to redefine their careers, but are unsettled by the ghosts of old roles that defined them in the first place. Assayas' film is the better movie, I think -- it feels like a sturdier study of being human rather than a prolonged technical gimmick, but guess which one had traction last year? The one about the male actor.

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Sunday, March 08, 2015

entry arrow12:02 AM | Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Jennie Livingston's Paris is Burning (1990)

Jennie Livingston's Paris is Burning (1990) has remained for me an essential title for the ultimate in film experience since I first saw it. When I am asked what my favourite documentaries are, this is one of the top five titles I could readily rattle off my head, alongside Microcosmos, Helvetica, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, and The Celluloid Closet. It is a cult film for understandable reasons: it demands repeat viewing, if only for one to spot certain details or drama you've never paid much attention to before; and there is of course its status as a cultural fountainhead. For those of us who became enthralled with Madonna's Vogue music video, directed with incredible panache by David Fincher, this was the film to excavate to find out where the mainstream culled its dance moves from the underground culture it was cribbing.

I see this film perhaps once a year, and often despite myself. I love it, but it is ultimately a sad, heartbreaking documentary, albeit a riveting one. In wanting to capture the underground ball culture of Black Harlem in late 1980s New York, Livingston also managed to capture in film the grittiness of the everyday lives of her subjects, the eventual hopelessness of their dreams and wishes, and the murderous end of some of them. And yet, despite all these, what keeps me returning to this film is the memory I have of how strangely warm this film is, how loving of its subjects, how curious and respectful of their foibles and their glittery lives. Its contradictions are also equally riveting: it is a spectacularly rough film, but also undeniably elegant.

Going through it once more for Nathaniel Rogers' Hit Me With Your Best Shot series over at The Film Experience, I took note of the shots that somehow made me pause, and I realised these were of scenes that underlined for me the film's themes...

The alienation of so many street-bred youths in a city that does not want them, for example, and the search for non-traditional families that would accept for who they are...

The yearning for elegance and beauty that seem perpetually out-of-reach...

The delightful raunchiness of the balls they indulge in, where they all compete in the name of escape, and in the name of being able to live the upper-class dream denied of them...

The sheer inventiveness they have in the language of dance as a showcase for a totally different kind of fighting...

The universality of our fervent pipe dreams...

And the longing for freedom, for becoming comfortable in the skin we want to live in...

But my choice of best shot is this...

A casual shot of one of the film's unlikely heroines -- Venus Xtravaganza of the House of Xtravaganza -- walking down the streets of New York with a determined look on her face even as her eyes betray an innate sense of being lost in a cruel world. The filmmaker's shadow hovers over her figure -- the only time we truly see Livingston's meticulously unobtrusive presence in the film. And somehow the shot also foreshadows the film's one great tragedy. (But no spoilers here.)

It still confuses me how this film missed out on a much-deserved Oscar nomination. Perhaps the queer subject matter derailed its chances? But time is the ultimate arbiter for a cultural product's longevity. Twenty-five years after its release, Paris is Burning still remains relevant and riveting.

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Saturday, March 07, 2015

entry arrow10:50 PM | Big Edie and Little Edie

Thank you for this, and for Gimme Shelter and Salesman, Mr. Maysles. Rest in peace.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

entry arrow10:04 PM | Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Robert Wise's The Sound of Music (1965)

I first saw The Sound of Music -- Robert Wise's arguably restrained film adaptation of the otherwise diabolically saccharine Rodgers and Hammerstein musical -- in 1985 when it barrelled into my hometown of Dumaguete as a 20th anniversary re-screening, an event orchestrated by the local Rotary Club for a charity.

The ferocious hype that attended its coming was particularly memorable: people were going to my grade school to sell tickets to the film, which was scheduled to screen in one of the old downtown movie houses -- the elegant Art Deco-styled Park Theater in this case, which has since been converted into a soul-less department store specialising in ultra-cheap brickbats made in China. To buy a ticket became a badge of being in the wellspring of popular excitement -- and so I scraped up enough from my meagre allowance for my entry to the screening. My allowance was pittance in those days, so it must have been quite an effort to come up with the sum.

I was ten. Movies have always enchanted me, but The Sound of Music came at a time when I had yet to come into my first personal golden era of ardent movie-watching. Up until that time, I had only succeeded in one crucial cinephilic turning point: being able to go to the movies without a chaperone, something I managed to pull off when I was nine, and I had watched Looney-Looney Bugs Bunny by my lonesome at Ever Theater -- a terrifying and joyful experience.

I had no idea what the film was about -- only that it contained some singing, and there were children in it. The poster they displayed at the front of Park Theater had Julie Andrews as Maria traipsing through the Alpine hills with a guitar case in hand. She looked happy and inviting, but my classmates and I were excited by it because of the hype, and the fact that the older people around us were quite excited to see it once more on the big screen. In 1985, only twenty years had passed since its release, and I bet people then still had big memories of the film's original enchantments. These were the pre-Internet, pre-Betamax, pre-VHS days, so watching specific movies was very much a once-in-a-lifetime theatrical affair, and the moment a film had a fill of its run in your town, that was it. The prospect of seeing the movie once more in its full glory must have been an electrifying promise.

Park Theater was packed come screening day. I couldn't find my seat in the orchestra section -- and timid boy that I was, I found a spot near the back of the SRO crowd, never mind the three-hour running time. I remember that night as the first time I was completely enchanted by a movie, to feel for the first time cinema's power as the film unspooled and captivated everyone in the audience. The feeling of amazement was communal. From the moment the Alps and the hills near Salzburg came to view, to the moment when Maria appeared first as a speck in the horizon and then twirled to give us the film's signature song, I knew I was going to be in love with this film for the rest of my life.

It made me a believer in film magic.

Years later, I would learn of course that the film was not universally loved, that it had fervent critics, that its sweetness was an issue for many people. Later on, when I came to my discovery of the criticisms of Paulene Kael, I learned about the brickbats hurled the film's way for being agonisingly saccharine -- even Captain Von Trapp himself was reportedly ambivalent about its legacy. In my more jaded older years, I've come to regard many of these criticisms as true -- and yet a part of me still remains that ten-year-old boy who was so enraptured by the film, he'd go on to buy the cassette tape of the original soundtrack, and memorise every single song in the repertoire -- even the nuns' "Morning Hymn and Alleluia."

In turn I have become suspicious of the easy jadedness of critics when they lament about sentimentality in movies. Not everything has to be muscular and restrained and morose -- masculinist standards that are also responsible for the demonising of romance novels and the films of Nora Ephron.  Properly handled, sentimentality has its place in popular culture -- and Robert Wise has done nothing short of a miracle in the handling of it in The Sound of Music.

And what do I remember most about the film that should merit my selection of a "best shot"? This one, if only for its emblematic composition, where Maria comes to near the end of "I Have Confidence" -- a song originally written for the film version of the musical -- and confronts for the first time the enormity of the challenge she has been given.

Here is this massive mansion behind very intimidating gates -- imposing, cold, and seemingly fashioned like a trap. But she goes in anyway, and starts to weave her uncanny magic to dispel all of those things. It is a perfect metaphor for the film: behind its big gloss and blockbusterish juggernaut, it is actually just a tender film about falling in love.

A few years ago, after college, I found myself in a joyride with some friends, five of us in a small car. We were in our early thirties -- adults, in other words. And one of us (me), for some reason, just started humming. And the humming became distinctly words. And the words were Maria's hopeful personal pep talk in "I Have Confidence":

"What would this daaaaaay be like..."

And somebody joined in with: "... I wonder."

It went on: "What would my future be..."

And somebody else joined in: "... I wonder."

And then we just started belting out together the rest of the song:

"This day could be so exciting, to be out in the world to be free! My heart should be wildly rejoicing, oh what's the matter with me..."

And by the end of the song, we were shouting out the melody and the lyrics, giddy with laughter and with our sudden capacity for silliness, unbelieving of the fact that we somehow knew the entire lyrics of the song.

I think it was a perfect song for a unique moment. I understood in hindsight why we had to sing that song. And I'm glad it came from The Sound of Music.

This post is part of Nathaniel Rogers' Hit Me With Your Best Shot Series over at The Film Experience.

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