8:05 PM |
The Sound You Hear is the Belching of Anticipation
We have been starved all these months for the old feasts—because, admit it, they were all feasts in our pandemic-tinted hindsight, all of which we had so unwittingly taken for granted. The bibimbap from Kri, and the turkey burger. The samgyeupsal from Soban. The bulalo from Royal Suite Inn. The buttered chicken from Qyosko. The baked salmon from Le Chalet. The Dumaguete Express from Hayahay. The steak and eggs for breakfast fare from Café Alima. The native chicken in spicy coconut broth from Adamo. A wide-ranging menu of a city fast becoming known as a food mecca in this part of the world—but all so easily shuttered into the current limbo of mere cravings without fulfillment. We had no idea.
There is no recollection of the last good meal we had in the old normal, which was only a few months ago calendar-wise—but in our current consciousness already eons back in the past. There is only this for pittance: that on the last day on Earth, on April 2nd, in the hours before the midnight that Dumaguete went on full ECQ, we found our way to ChaChaGo, the new milk tea shop housed beside a Star Oil gas station along E.J. Blanco Drive. We thought it would be commemorative—to tell others in the murky future, “We went to get milk tea the night before the lockdown.” It had the proper undertone of the mundane to it, enough to buffer the overwhelming uncertainties.
ChaChaGo had barely opened for business, coming in on the scene just as the pandemic was making its presence felt. In fact their chairs and tables had never really been used—but there they were, the furnishings stacked up on or beside each other to simulate the lanes of a queue, the harried staff, newly hired but probably already facing employment conundrum, serving their assortment of milk tea in take-out mode. There were to be no more dine-ins, and facemasks were de rigueur. That was our first taste of what food would be like in the protocols of lockdown: take-outs, pickups, deliveries, the sight of pink-shirted delivery boys, the mushrooming of neighborhood food stalls, the craving for things that were abruptly denied all of the burgis us.
Perhaps we thought things would quickly go back to the way they were when some semblance of normalcy returned. It could not last months, could it? [We sounded like our forebears back in the hazy beginnings of World War II, believing the “skirmish” would only last a few months, gobsmacked by the ensuing three years without God. Here’s the realization: the start of all wars makes us unbearable optimists, drinking from the Kool-Aid of denial.]
We were, by that reasoning, optimistic for normalcy in May, and then June, and then July—and now it’s August, and while some of the old robustness has returned to our city streets and business enclaves, we cannot deny the cloud of uncertainty that persistently hovers, and that anytime now what we’ve got is merely short reprieve. The energy that powers most people now is old-fashioned complacency.
In the meantime, most of us try to stay home as much as we can, ordering for food deliveries without resorting to Food Panda—I have come to know well some of the delivery boys from Chowking and Neva’s—and sometimes venturing into the familiar confines of old gastronomic haunts when they finally re-opened, a checklist of cravings in mind. Samgyeupsal in Soban [in a week when the craving for Korean food was intense]—checked. Miso ramen from Ichiraku—checked. The barbecue gallows from Why Not?—checked. It’s a long list; we’re not done with it.
Sometime in the early days of the GCQ in June, we found ourselves having to do chores in Robinson’s, and that occasioned our first real food in the dining-out sense: in Hukad, we ordered lechon kawali and pinakbet—and that first meeting of taste buds and food that didn’t come out of a can or a paper bag was an occasion of fireworks in our tongues. The uyap mixed in with the ampalaya and eggplant and tomato was sating a hunger that proved more than physical; it was existential. How we missed this, we thought—and found those words unable to encompass the want we never thought we’d feel.
But we also noticed how quiet things were still at the mall; you could hear the linoleum in Hukad breathe. “How many customers have you had for today?” we asked. It was already mid-afternoon. “You’re the fourth customer we’ve had,” we were told.
Later on we noticed the quiet in Mooon Café and Bo’s along the arc that makes up the al fresco area of the mall. Later on we noticed that Sunburst was gone, its signage gone, its interiors a mild flurry of carpenters working over what looked like the remains of the recently evacuated.
Later on, we noticed it helped if a food place had some social media presence: barring the limitations of the pandemic, some who have weathered the storm considerably—I could think of Neva’s and Chop’d Lechon in this regard—had active Facebook presence, took orders how they could, and did not shy away from going with the flow of the turbulent months. Most, however, remained quiet or temporarily closed up for one valid reason or other—and soon many were gone for good. Lu Fun, the Chinese eatery right near Cang’s downtown, closed up. Kurambo’s, Lord Byron’s, the original Roti Boss along Calle Sta. Catalina, Victoria’s Haven in Sibulan were gone. Scooby’s at Portal West remains closed, no word for its resurrection, although its Calle San Jose branch is open. Some—like Poppy and Bakugo Ramen—abandoned their physical presence, opting for the rent-free option of the internet. Bakugo Ramen didn’t even have a chance to open shop for real—a common story of waylaid plans because of COVID-19. Even Dumaguete culinary institutions like Kri announced the closure of its Silliman Avenue hub, with the caveat that its signature dishes are still available at Esturya along Hibbard Avenue. Which is good, but also not the same: call it voodoo of place, but Kri is not really Kri without the geographic attachments. I still eat Taster’s Delight cheese burgers at Howyang—but it’s like conjuring a ghost; it isn’t the same.
The Dumaguete food scene is in shambles—but it is also the same everywhere else. A story I read in the New York Times Magazine had one restaurateur tell of closing up her popular bistro, with the knowledge that there might not be a re-opening at all. Because take-outs and deliveries can only do so much. Because food ordering apps may be convenient, but they do take away from the “experience” of dining-in—plus the commissions they cut are a bit much. Because even when some kind of normalcy has returned, how do you exactly convince your wary customer-base to come back given the miasma of uncertainties?
This is not stopping some Dumaguete restaurateurs and chefs from trying something. Let’s call it a revolt against the circumstances—Edison Monte de Ramos Manuel of Adamo, Matt Villamil and Edz Vergara from Beyond Plants, and Howard Wong, Renald Tan, and Grhemy Buenavista from Coffee Collective have joined forces to create a collective of Dumaguete culinary artists and restaurants called Dug-ab, literally “to belch in gastronomic satisfaction,” to generate interest in the local dining scene after [or even during] the crisis of the pandemic via culinary events to be held every two weeks or so in specific restaurants around [and even outside] Dumaguete. The local lockdown of Negros Oriental also means Dug-ab would also become a showcase of food with ingredients sourced from local growers and farmers.
Dug-ab began as an invitational five-course tasting menu dinner last July 18 at Adamo [at the corner of Tindalo and Molave Streets in Daro], which boasted of specific contributions from the collective’s masterminds. The occasion personally marked for me a taste of the old dining thrills—there I was clad in pants for the first time since March, and a glass of red wine in my hand, my first sampling of alcohol since the end of the world. The rustic ambience of Adamo, unseen since Valentines night in February, was a welcome change, and a delight of the familiar you thought you would never see again. We asked Edison how the business was—and we got the usual response of downsized staff and changing dining hours: apparently Dumaguete was now a daytime diner, which meant simplifying and consolidating the menu. “But Dug-ab is our chance to do something,” Edison said.
I believe him. Crisis is a chance to re-correct, to be revolutionary, to think out of the box, so to speak. Who’s to say Dug-ab is not the revolution?
For starters, we had the pumpkin taquito, an appetizing assemblage of spiced pumpkin, basil leaves, garlic aioli sauce, and edible flowers on top of activated charcoal taquito—the earthiness of the aftertaste quite memorable. It’s a vegetarian offering from Beyond Plants, whose two chefs—Matt and Edz—actually used the onset of the pandemic and the lockdown that followed as an excuse to open shop, merrily cooking vegetarian fare in their corner of Hoy! Lugaw along the Rizal Boulevard.
The tuna crudo that followed as appetizer is clearly Adamo’s: the ruby-red freshness of the sashimi in the mix of guacamole, microgreens, cucumber, passion fruit, and wasabi presenting a fascinating skirmish of taste—the coolness of the guacamole fighting the heat of the wasabi.
The third course was pasta, from the vegetarian imaginations of Beyond Plants: a twirl of linguini, set with eggplants and tomatoes cooked in a ragu sauce, topped with basil, olive oil, and vegan parmesan, which contained cashews, garlic powder, and oyster mushrooms—a fare that tantalizes with its heat, its sweetness, and its sourness in equal measure.
The main dish was a stack of red snapper and beef brisket on a bed of potato puree with tarragon sauce infused with brown butter—and with the fish and the beef complemented by oyster mushrooms, whose earthiness punctuates well the overall taste of the dish, the burnt sweetness of the beef [its tenderness a nice surprise] and the subtlety of the fish. Clearly an Adamo creation.
Dessert came courtesy of Coffee Collective, pairing a glass of Ethiopian cold brew of lemongrass and black tea with a slice of chocolate walnut cake covered with chocolate crémeux, and on a spread of coffee mascarpone. It’s a great cold, balanced finish to an experience.
And there’s that: an event, a showcase of what you can do with locally sourced ingredients, a willingness to test the murky waters of the times. The only way to respond is wishing Dug-ab well, and the promise of patronage—as we must. You can get updates on their upcoming events by following the collective at Instagram @dug.ab6200.
[97th of 100]. Whenever I feel like love is absent or life is at a standstill, I turn to one film that for me has always been a refuge, a beacon for resilience, and a heartfelt parable for starting over. It's a 2003 melodrama set in Tuscany in Italy, directed by the late Audrey Wells, who took the memoir by the travel writer Frances Mayes and transformed what would have been Good Housekeeping schmaltz into a deep meditation of inviting the good in life in the midst of the bad, being patient for its slow rooting in, and recognizing its fulfilment in whatever surprising form it comes. Fictionalizing much of the autobiographical arc of the book, it follows a successful writer who suddenly finds her life being turned upside down when her husband asks for a divorce, and in lieu of alimony he demands she pays him, asks instead to keep their house for himself ... and a new wife. Devastated, forced to move out to a miserable "divorce hotel," and finding herself in a writing rut, she reluctantly takes up the offer of her lesbian couple friends to take their place in a "gay tour of Tuscany." It will help her find her balance, they say, plus, since it's a gay tour, no straight man will bother her! The whirlwind tour through the Italian countrysides leads to an impulse buy: a rutted villa which she proceeds to renovate with the last of her money and her sanity, with the help of migrant Polish carpenters and a community of eccentrics who slowly take her in to the fabric of their lives. Her renovations, of course, which tests all of her resolve and creativity, is the film's self-conscious allegory for her spiritual reawakening. But it is handled with such delicacy, and full of anecdotal delights [like that scene of a stormy night with only a frightened owl and a painting of the Virgin Mary to keep her company], that we don't mind at all the contrivance. And Diane Lane, as Frances, gives her beleaguered villa-owning lost soul such beauty and depth she somehow makes her character's journey generous enough in its examinations of life's twists and turns that it becomes an invitation for us to make that journey also ours. Thus, in becoming a very capable avatar, she makes the movie our very own. How many times have I exhaled at the movie's satisfying end, as if having been recharged with its wisdom? It has really become my go-to medicine for heartbreak, and something I prescribe to friends whenever they call for help in arresting the growing doldrums around them. I know the film also works for others because most of them come to thank me later on for recommending it -- so much so that some of the movie's lines have become our shortcuts for living reminders: "Ladybugs! Lots and lots of ladybugs!" for example, means to stop looking so actively for love, because the right love for you will find its way to you. "Terrible ideas. Don't you just love those?," means to trust the unexpected, and to follow where it may lead -- despite the fear of the unknown. There are other lines I have come to inscribe in my heart. A reminder for always living in the moment: "Never lose your childish innocence. It is the most important thing." A reminder for taking on what seems to be overwhelming: "The trick to overcoming buyer's remorse is to have a plan. Pick one room and make it yours. Go slowly through the house. Be polite, introduce yourself, so it can introduce itself to you." A reminder for thinking out of the box: "What are four walls, anyway? They are what they contain. The house protects the dreamer. Unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game. It's such a surprise." And this golden one, delivered by Sandra Oh, which has got to be the best reminder for when to pick yourself up in a rut: "I think you're in danger. Of never recovering. You know when you come across one of those empty-shell people? And you think, 'What the hell happened to you?' Well, there came a time in each one of those lives where they were at a crossroads. Someplace where they had to decide to turn left or right. This is no time to be a chickenshit." God knows we need films like this, especially in the most trying of times. We are always facing crossroads, and it's good to be reminded once in a while never to be chicken shit. What's the film?
We were finally able to locate Beyond Plants, the new vegetarian joint along the Rizal Boulevard just right beside/inside Hoy! Lugaw. We had the Sisig and Beyond Rice [local firm tofu with pickled red onions, mushroom chips, soy milk sauce, tomato onion, green chili salsa, shallots, and tea eggs], the Taco Trip Mamba [handmade corn tacos with local firm tofu, crispy oyster mushroom, curry pickled quail eggs, soy milk sauce, shallots with roasted pumpkin, spiced soy bean crunch, confit garlic aoili, basil with charred eggplants, tomato, cucumber, mint, and tahini], and the sweet potato shoestring fries, all paired with their homemade ginger lemongrass lemonade. So delicious, so filling, so worth it.
[96th of 100]. The movie musical works with the most magic when it comes to the subject of love. Think about it: when you fall in love, your heart indeed feels like it's singing, and there's probably Puccini playing in your head. When lovers sing in movie musicals, the song seems like the best way to articulate what is often unexpressable. Consider, for example, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer singing "Something Good" in The Sound of Music -- what an expression of surprise and delight at being loved! Consider the "Elephant Love Medley" in Moulin Rouge, which samples pop hits about love to become a negotiation at loving between Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. Consider "Falling Slowly" in Once, which becomes a shorthand for the couple's doomed love affair. And so to have an entire film that's devoted to charting in the most musical way the highs, the lows, and the plateau of acceptance in a love affair? I'm there! And I was indeed "there" when I first saw this 1964 film by Jacques Demy. I was already a working professional in the early 2000s when I first decided to do a screening of it, with insistence from my friend Annabelle Adriano, who loves it. What took me so long? But it was not as if foreign films were easy to procure in the days before torrent. Plus its reputation scared me. What am I to make of a sung-through musical in French, captured in arresting Technicolor, and starring the heavenly pairing of Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo? Would I like it? I was scared that I might be repulsed by it. In hindsight, I worried too much, because I immediately fell in love with the first mise en scene, and the first note of the first song. And Deneuve and Castelnuovo sold the love story with such fierce conviction. Together they embodied with purity and with convincing chemistry the bond of two young people in love as they try to make their relationship work -- despite economic hardships and parental disapproval and the claws of current events. The boy is drafted to serve in the Algerian War, and his long absence changes things, as LDRs are wont to do. When he finally returns, she has long since gone, married off to a rich man -- until fate allows them a closure that reminds me of La La Land's: a genuine acceptance of what cannot be. And then, all throughout the film, the gorgeous music of Michel Legrand, especially the endlessly charming [and heartbreaking] "I Will Wait For You." I love and miss outsized musicals like this -- which is why when filmmakers today are brave to attempt its scale [as in La La Land or Les Chansons d'Amour], I'm willing to surrender my all to the effort. These are difficult films to make right, and Demy set the blueprint for how to make it legendary. What's the film?
1:52 PM |
"Look at the Root Cause, We Can't Be Doing Cleanups All Our Lives."
My sobering choice quote from Deia Schlosberg's The Story of Plastic (2020): "Day in, day out, there's cleaning operations going on. It's unending. You can do cleanups and the problem will not go away. You have to look at the root cause, we can't be doing cleanups all our lives."
The documentary is screening for free until July 30. Here's the link.
[95th of 100]. Time is gold. We have been told this since we were young and malleable enough to learn maxims -- but this one is true, and gets even truer as we grow older. Spending time with people you love -- friends and family -- is a gift: there's just no other way we can best show appreciation for others except by being there for them. I know this, but I also know I'm a big transgressor of this. There's just something in me that wants to hide from the world; it is part of the same shadow that makes me believe I am alone and have no one. It's a lie, of course -- but it does keep me from spending time with people I love, like my mother. I think of these things sharply after watching once more this 1953 masterpiece from Yasujiro Ozu, whose films stir with so much tumult under such pristine surfaces. They're mostly about domestic misgivings that threaten to erupt, but are eased away by gentle talk and subtly measured misdirections. Sometimes the result is tragic, sometimes somebody keen enough to be honest does speak up -- but almost all ends in the resignation that proclaims, "Isn't life disappointing?" Ozu's answer is a gentle nod, and a push that says, "Let's live anyway." This is perhaps an understandable response to post-War Japanese realities. Like Leo McCarey's Make Way for Tomorrow  before it, a Hollywood film which galvanised Japanese audiences and inspired screenwriter Kogo Noda to do a loose adaptation, Ozu's most acclaimed film [it is regularly touted as one of the best films ever made] is designed to not just be a heartbreaking tearjerker, it's also a rebuke to the shortcomings of children with regards the welfare of elderly parents. [And in doing so, it also makes a case of indicting changing contemporary mores.] Here we meet a couple in the twilight of their lives. They live in Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture, quite a long distance from the capital. They have five children -- two who live in Tokyo: Kōichi, now a doctor, and Shige, now a beautician; one who lives in nearby Osaka: Keizō, a journalist; one lives at home with them: Kyōko, a student; and one who is presumed dead in World War II, but his wife Noriko, who also lives in Tokyo, remains loyal to her in-laws, eschewing remarriage for personal reasons. The couple, Shūkichi and Tomi, are excited to go on an extended trip to Tokyo to see their children -- but the trip proves a disappointment, although they are careful not to criticise. They find that, despite superficial shows of excitement, their children find their visit an unwanted intrusion into their busy lives. They find quick ways to pawn them off: booking them on a disappointing stay in a cheap resort in Atami, or making their sister-in-law Noriko entertain them in their stead, which Noriko does with aplomb and with genuine care for her in-laws. The ending is a tragedy where no one learns their lessons, except for the youngest, Kyōko, who calls her siblings "selfish" -- but not to their faces. It is Noriko who remains the truest of them all, but also one with the most practical view of the situation. To Kyōko's outrage, she responds with what seems like wisdom culled from life's disappointments: "As children get older, they drift away from their parents ... They have their own lives to look after ... I may become like that, in spite of myself." She believes this, but her action belies her view -- because she never drifts away, and she never stops caring, even for people who are not even her real parents. It all makes me feel guilty: my mother lives only a kilometer away from me, but I rarely see her, ascribing it all to "being busy." Such a lie. I hope I'm brave enough to call my own bullshit, and spend time the way it's meant to be spent: in the company of people I love. What's the film?
[94th of 100]. It was my sophomore year at Silliman University High School, and we were just required to watch a film in Town Theater, which was Ðumaguete's seediest movie house. We groaned. What was to like? We looked at all required activities, both co- and extra-curricular, with suspicion, time away from our youthful preoccupations. But we got used to this, being herded around by the school to watch concerts and plays and exhibits, designed "to mold" us into better, culture-appreciating former philistines. "What's the movie?" one of us asked. We were told it was going to be a Tagalog film, an old one from the 1970s. We groaned some more. [Dumaguetnons used to be famous for being virulently anti-Tagalog, preferring our native Binisaya or the English of the American missionaries who used to be fixtures in the town.] But this was in 1990, and we were celebrating the centennial of our province of Negros Oriental. One of the cultural highlights was the festival showcase of the films of an acclaimed Filipino filmmaker whose name did not register to me or to anyone of my classmates at all. "Lino Brocka something." My class settled in the balcony section of the movie theater, which had indeed seen better days, and we were all predictably noisy like all restless high schoolers. We didn't really pay any attention when the program started and the host introduced some guy in glasses, who began to talk to the audience about the film we were about to see, that it was made years and years ago, in 1974, and that some of the imagery may be disturbing. Most of us barely heard anything he said, and barely noticed the lights going down. We only settled down to some sort of quiet when the film began. We were greeted with the flickering purplish close-up shots of a woman in some kind of distress -- and then it dawned on me: the woman on screen was getting ... an abortion? I shot up straight in my chair, perplexed -- were we even allowed to watch this? The shock rushed through me, and now I was paying attention, ignoring the whispered gossip of my friends, shushing even the classmate seated next to me when he attempted small talk. I was hooked, I wanted to watch more of this film -- and the surprise that sprang to my mind was this: I had no idea there were Filipino films like this. The movie unfolded like an invitation, and I was treated to a very compelling story of small town mores: a young man in the cusp of compromised adulthood, his philandering amoral father who used to be the town mayor, his hard-to-get girlfriend who gets sucked into the town's games of privilege, the town's resident mad woman whose plight is the epitome of the town's guilty secrets, a lonely man with leprosy who takes her in, among an assortment of characters who amply demonstrated the title's moral reckoning -- than in the final judgment, everyone is guilty of the worst persuasions of humanity. It is Lino Brocka's startling answer to Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game, and is even more amazing for how it towers over that classic of French cinema by embracing the melodrama of it all. I gather this was Brocka's revenge of sorts, having returned to his Nueva Ecija hometown -- a place he ran away from in the first place to escape its suffocating hypocrisies -- to film this production, movie stars in tow. The revenge must have been so sweet, and it was a double-edged sword:  to give the ultimate clapback as the returning success story, and  to immortalize his hometown's hypocrisy on film, capturing the faces of the guilty playing themselves. Most of us have the same misgivings about the small places we are from, thus striking a nerve, as it did me. It was an electrifying experience watching this movie at age 15 -- and it proved to be so personally impactful because this became my portal to the best of Philippine cinema. I came away from that theatre transformed: I knew with some inchoate realization that great art makes possible incisive social critique; that I don't mind very much anymore "required" things, because it impells me to see things I might not even be conscious about; that there was so much of Philippine art and culture I knew nothing about because of a tendency to be dismissive with only ignorance as ammunition; and that Lino Brocka -- later on a National Artist for Cinema -- is one of our film geniuses, bold in his social commentary, unflinching from his depictions of our frailties as a people. I would find out later on he would die the next year in a freak accident, in May 1991. A much later realization was this: that bespectacled man during my screening who gave the introduction to the film was Brocka himself. I was in the presence of a legend, and because I was a noisy, know-nothing high schooler, I wasn't even aware life had gifted me with an encounter for a lifetime. What's the film?
From all over the Visayas and Mindanao, Diskursong Diktador Collective gives you a Cebuano translation of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator speech. This is the true cry of a nation in pain. Featuring, in order of appearance, Jin Macapagal, Jerry Gracio, Ivan Zaldarriaga, Jadu Ligan, Boboi Costas, Kaye Alfafara, Ligaya Rabago, Publio Briones, Atty. Virgil Ligutan, Atty. Daymeg Lepiten, Atty. Democrito Barcenas, Erik Tuban, Dyan Gumanao, Ria Fernandez, Ongkong Boy Cameron, Leo Lastimosa, Nonoy Espina, Ian Rosales Casocot, Ka Bino Guerrero, John DX Lapid, Jhoanna Cruz, Phoebe Zoe Maria Sanchez, Fr. Joy Danao, Bryl Jan Salazar Yucaran, Ryan Macasero, Bambi Beltran, Badidi Labra, Danielle de los Reyes, Karl Lucente, Jurex Suson, Paulo Varela, Sunshine Teodoro, Chai Fonacier, Keith Deligero, Victor Villanueva, Nat Sitoy, Mayette Tabada and Bayang Barrios. And Idden de los Reyes and Danielle de los Reyes.
[93rd of 100]. Love is a battlefield, and divorce is a relentless all-or-nothing war -- and when it is undertaken by creative types, the woundings can become creative in their savagery. Welcome to the domestic warzones of Noah Baumbach, one of my favorite directors. In his last film, Marriage Story , he revisits this theme but finds surprising grace notes in his depiction of the unraveling marriage between a theatre director and an actress. Such was not the case in this 2005 film, his fifth as director and the one that proved to be his breakthrough. It is acidic, a story that's basically an extended spiteful spat between two writers going through the mess of separation, and then divorce, as witnessed by their two sons, who react to the turmoil with very specific expressions of rage you can't describe as predictable. The older boy demonizes his mother in favour of his father who really is no better as a parent, borrowing his pretensions in order to cope. [Those pretensions are laughable and also sad.] The younger boy pretends everything is peachy, but releases his frustrations by smearing semen all over school property. The dynamic between their estranged parents is made all the more strained given the husband's writing rut, with only his pedantic posturing in his creative writing classes all that's left of his writerly ego. Meanwhile his wife, who is now dating a younger man, is being published regularly in choice publications like The New Yorker, and reviewed constantly and favourably as well -- which sets her husband off to even more rage. With each of these four left to battle, the film becomes a fascinating symphony of hurt. And by God, the way Baumbach orchestrates all this, it is strangely alluring. Perhaps I can credit that allure, despite the material's darkness, to the intelligence that's brimming from it. Watching smart, writerly types wage war with each other with perfectly worded put-downs is one definite draw. But in the film's wallowing in the bile, I also found a story that is beguiling for its honesty, for its depictions of frailty, for its innate understanding of the dark complexities of human beings. And then there's the allegory of the sea animals in the film's title. When it finally comes out, I teared up: sometimes we remember what we want to remember, or what we think we remember, to bandage our wounds -- but it can also be an illusion, to suit the story we want to believe. It's a tragedy, and one that we can easily fall into. This film is not a warning though; it is a mirror. What's the film?
I honestly thought the legendary Olivia de Havilland [1916-2020] would live forever. At 104 years old, and reportedly still feisty [enough to sue Ryan Murphy very recently for the "untruthful" depiction of her in Feud], she had already outlived all of her peers, and was the oldest bonafide Hollywood star. She would be inescapable if you loved your movies and took note of its classic riches. I would remember seeing her first in Gone With the Wind  as the sunny and caring Melanie Hamilton. But I also loved her in Hold Back the Dawn , To Each His Own , The Snake Pit , and The Heiress , winning the Oscar for Best Actress twice for To Each His Own and The Heiress. I even loved her "hagsploitation" turns, in the twilight of her career, in Lady in a Cage  and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte , although both films left much to be desired. With her passing, the golden age of Hollywood is truly over.
Today is Luis Katigbak’s birthday. Our friend died too young, so many more stories he could have written. I remember he was excited about putting together an anthology of pieces/stories that have much basis in fact but are really non-existent. Like a “review” of Ishmael Bernal's lost film Scotch on the Rocks to Forget, Black Coffee to Remember. He was too young. I’m 44 and that made me research who died at my age. Google gave me Mary Queen of Scots, Steve Irwin, Marvin Gaye, Billie Holiday, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry David Thoreau, Jackson Pollock, Robert Louis Stevenson, Anton Chekhov, Baruch Spinoza, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Francis Magalona, Maya Deren, Gregg Toland. A lot of writers and artists, legends in my age.
[92nd of 100]. There will always be resistance to films like this. Some of my favorite writers and critics dismissed it when it opened in 1965 and became a box office behemoth. For Vogue, Joan Didion wrote: “[It was] more embarrassing than most, if only because of its suggestion that history need not happen to people ... Just whistle a happy tune, and leave the Anschluss behind." Famously for McCall’s, Pauline Kael wrote: "Whom could it offend? Only those of us who, despite the fact that we may respond, loathe being manipulated in this way and are aware of how self-indulgent and cheap and ready-made are the responses we are made to feel.” Even its male lead, Christopher Plummer, had more than just reservations for its popularity, calling it "The Sound of Mucus," and why? "Because it was so awful and sentimental and gooey," he said -- although in recent years, he has had a change of heart, accepting finally and unreservedly the place of this film in the hearts of many people across so many generations. I'm one of those people -- and I will note that my love for movies began because I fell in love with this film when I was ten years old. In 1985, the film was celebrating its 20th anniversary, and 20th Century Fox decided to rerelease it in theaters worldwide. I was in the third grade, I'd heard older people around me wax ecstatic about it. You must understand this: in those pre-Internet and pre-cable days, once a film left the theaters, it left for good, recollected only in the memories of those who were lucky enough to catch it. Home video in Betamax format was fairly new in the mid-1980s, and only families with means could afford a machine, and even if they had one, there were no video shops to rent from. Films in Betamax were sent in by family members who lived abroad, and so we got used to visiting with fair regularity rich neighbors with home video, and also got used to watching the same titles over and over again. And so, when the filmmed version of this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical was rereleased in 1985, it felt like an event for people in Dumaguete [and elsewhere] who wanted very much to see the film that so enchanted them twenty years before. Some enterprising teachers in my public school got into the act, booking one screening for a fundraiser, and sold tickets to all the students. I remember buying mine for the small fortune of ten pesos [regular tickets sold for five] and on the appointed screening time I trooped to the orchestra section of Park Theater, had to settle for an SRO crowd, and basked in the musical delights of Maria, Captain Von Trapp, and their seven children. It was the stuff of pure magic -- and one has to commend Rodgers and Hammerstein for creating a whole body of music that was intensely singable. For days, my classmates and I talked of nothing else except this movie. We acted scenes out, we sang the songs with butchered lyrics. Soon one of us brandished a cassette of the movie's entire score, and that girl was instantly everyone's best friend. We listened to the songs ad infinitum, and I believe every single bit of them is now part of my DNA. Much later, after the EDSA revolution of 1986, public television would come to Dumaguete in the form of PTV 10, and finally the static of those who owned TV would have broadcast images to go with their set -- and because PTV 10's local programming was scarce [only the local news, with the very young Alex Pal as anchor], the channel turned to broadcasting movies [I believe in bootlegged capacity] with tapes they happened to have around. It was a hodge podge of titles, some were good, most were bad, and then there was the heavy rotation of James Bond titles. [I remember this was how I first saw Stephen Frear's My Beautiful Laundrette. Imagine seeing that film on public television!] We watched these movies on PTV 10, which really became our pre-cable HBO, and as the months passed by you could feel everyone's collective wish: "When are they going to show that Julie Andrews musical?" When it finally did air, all of Dumaguete rejoiced! Some years ago, when I was already a working adult, my old barkada and I would find ourselves doing a day trip to Bais, and for some reason, all of us in the car just started singing "I Have Confidence," Maria's anthem of moving forward and having an adventure. We remembered every word, which surprised us, and by the end of that spirited and impromptu sing-along, we were laughing so hard. That would become one of my cherished memories with friends. When I was ten, this film introduced me to magic, which evolved into an enduring love for film -- perhaps a preoccupation to recapture the thrill of that initial encounter. I'm glad I was young when I first saw it, untouched by the jaded cares of adulthood -- and it does happen: in my turn, I've hated films other people have loved, like Life is Beautiful or Patch Adams, finding their emotionality dreadful. We do learn as we mature more to resist the happy and the sentimental, calling endeavors of the type as saccharine, over-indulgent, false in its undisturbed positivity. But I can never think of this 1965 musical that way. What's the film?
[91st of 100]. To quote the film's iconic last line, "Nobody's perfect" -- but this film almost certainly is. I don't exactly remember when I first watched this 1959 film, which is a fine distillation of disparate genres: it is a romantic comedy, a buddy movie, a crime caper, a musical, and a farce. Most likely it was in my college years, in my phase of seeking out the major works of film masters -- but I know for sure that my introduction to it was one of sheer delight. No other responses seems possible for this story about two bumbling jazz musicians -- Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon -- who are on the run from gangsters after they've witnessed the infamous St. Valentines Day massacre in Chicago. They hide by disguising themselves as female musicians in an all-girl ensemble bound for a gig somewhere in Florida, until Marilyn Monroe's Sugar "Kane" Kowalczyk, a ditsy, love-seeking ukulele player, changes their game, with hilarious results. I laughed. I marvelled at the tight script and the towering sense of direction. I found every single detail organic to what made the entirety work. But then again, this is Billy Wilder we're talking about, a filmmaker who had an extraordinary keenness on what made popular cinema kinetic and interesting, and often funny. Even when he was cynical -- as he definitely was in The Apartment, Double Indemnity, Ace in the Hole, and Sunset Boulevard -- there is always something magnetic about his films, something which we can attribute to his eye for structure and form; he insisted on these as more than vital to filmmaking, a wisdom he would impart regularly to younger filmmakers like Cameron Crowe. This feel for form rendered his films polished and accomplished, and endlessly watchable. Film critic Nick Bugeja once wrote: "His images don’t contain the catharsis of Peckinpah or the poeticism of Antonioni. They are simple and laconic, producing a sharpness in meaning and effect: young screenwriter Joe Gillis [William Holden] floating face-down in Norma Desmond’s Hollywood pool; insurance man Walter Neff [Fred MacMurray] sitting against a wall, curled up with his head in his hands, wracked with guilt over his malignant schemes and actions; Chuck Tatum [Kirk Douglas] collapsing into the face of the camera from a long-unaddressed knife wound, bringing an end to his life of tabloid journalism and abject exploitation." When he takes these very qualities to make this comedy, what results is a scintillating film many would acknowledge to be the greatest comedy ever made. Film critic Nicholas Barber, writing for the BBC, "It is structured so meticulously that it glides from moment to moment with the elegance of an Olympic figure skater, and the consummate screwball dialogue, by Wilder and IAL Diamond, is so polished that every line includes either a joke, a double meaning, or an allusion to a line elsewhere in the film." He also notes that "the film is an anthem in praise of tolerance, acceptance, and the possibility of transformation ... an anthem that we need to hear now more than ever." That's the measure of this film's appeal and endurance, and while nobody and nothing may be perfect, it is that reach that defines its own perfection. What's the film?
Yes, we have National Artist for Cinema Eddie Romero and acclaimed screenwriter Cesar Amigo for film legends hailing from Dumaguete. But if I were brave enough, I’d do a documentary or a story on 1980s actor Gino Antonio, who's also from here. He fascinates me as representation of a very specific, and vastly unstudied, niche and period in Philippine cinema. Known unfairly as a “hubadero” for a bunch of 1980s “pene” films, he was actually a very capable actor, was even nominated for Best Actor by the Gawad Urian for Takaw Tukso . His third film, Private Show , directed by Chito Roño and co-starring Jaclyn Jose, is now considered a classic of Pinoy neorealism—which is now so rarely screened. He's retired from showbiz and is a tilapia farmer now in Dumaguete, and I've been dying to interview him—for film studies purposes of course.
I’ve decided to take 2020 the way it also invites me to take it: “20/20,” a sharpening of vision, of forging a new path from the comfortable blindness of old. Crisis is also opportunity [but please make no mention of that misinterpreted Chinese word you’ve read about in self-help books]. I’m not discounting the hardships of most people today, but I’m staking this as my narrative. Beginning, again.
In the process of reviewing stories submitted to me for publication or critique, I got to thinking about where these stories come from. In a country where only a very small fraction of the population write, it bears to consider the question. My best guesses (since I have no research handy):
a. Academe. Students enrolled in creative writing courses or similar classes that require the development of texts must write stories. It's sort of like forced savings, in financial terms. Some of the stories developed here are quite good, especially in the post graduate courses, and have gone on and been published. In the undergrad level though, finding a good story is a bit harder—people, after all, are still learning craft—but once in a while excellent stories written for a class come my way and floor me. With a little work, they're ready for publication. Included in this category are stories written by students even if they are not in a creative writing course—because I suspect that, given their exposure to things academic (including required readings and interdisciplinary studies), the university environment is a profound influence on what they choose to write about and how they write it. Also included are work by writers who are teachers or otherwise part of the university system—these writers also create surprising fiction that deserve a wider audience.
b. Writing Workshops. Technically, no writing is done in workshops as each fellow "auditions" with a select set of stories, plays or poetry which obviously were written beforehand. However, these texts undergo the workshop process where they are critiqued in Dumaguete or Cavite or Baguio or whichever lovely place is chosen by the organizers. In my experience, rewriting occurs after a critique (whether positive or devastating), and so the work becomes more polished. A lot of workshopped pieces go on to publication or literary competitions. But certainly the benefit here is not on a per story basis but in the critique and in what the fellow learns from the panelists (techniques, terminology, critical approaches, history). Apart from the formal workshops hosted by various universities, there are also a number of informal writing workshops (such as the LitCritters that we used to have) which go on during the year.
c. On Demand. Every so often an editor issues out a call for submissions for a certain anthology. Usually these anthologies are themed (by subject or genre) and the editor is looking for a certain kind of story. If the writer has no story that fits the requirements, that author needs to write a new story if they want to submit a story for consideration. Sometimes, this brings out exciting texts, sometimes it doesn't. But when it does, the resulting anthology is a fine read, a blend of editorial taste and manifold authorial flavors. Once in a while, an editor may contact an author directly (for an anthology or a magazine) and request for a particular story or type of story from that author, with the express purpose of publishing that story. Whichever case, if the author's inventory does not contain that needed story, then they must write a new one.
d. For Periodical Publication. A number of Filipino authors develop stories with the intent of submitting these stories to the various periodicals that publish fiction. Pro tip: Respect the "no simultaneous submissions" policy—once you submit a story to a particular magazine, you should not submit it to any other—especially if you're also looking at the international market. So it helps to have a number of stories awaiting their black or white fates at various markets; when one is rejected, you can pass it to another venue (after the requisite agonizing and rewriting, if you are so inclined).
e. Competitive Writing. There are a number of literary competitions, the such as the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature (cancelled, like many many things this year, because of the pandemic). Some writers develop texts specifically for competition. My stand on this has always been clear—it is akin to athletics, and there is nothing untoward about writers exercising writerly muscles in competition against other writers. Sometimes, authors send me their contest pieces that did not win in some competition.
f. Personal Writing/Inventory. There are a number of writers who just write stories because they like to write stories, which get stored up in their inventories. Majority of the pieces of this type that come my way are not up to publishing standards but do give a sense of the author's potential. On occasion a gem can be found and this is just a delight. Even rarer and exciting is an author who sends me a couple of excellent stories, and, when I ask for more, delivers even more from their inventory.
Stories are written to be read, and to be read they need to published, and to be published they need to be a certain quality. Young guns with a number of unpublished stories need to start showing their stories to readers, other writers and certainly editors, and get over the fear of rejection.
I imagine there must be a number of unsung, unpublished writers with phenomenal stories waiting to be read. But ultimately, the action must spring from the author, to expedite discovery.
[90th of 100]. Everything you want to know about Facebook is there in the very first scene we see in David Fincher's 2010 examination of the legal [and moral] tumult of that social network's founding. As written by scribe Aaron Sorkin, the films opens with Mark Zuckerberg on a date in a bar clearly populated with college types. He is with a girl named Erica Albright, a fictional addition to the story, and they make an attempt at conversation over the din. They have been going out for a while, but which does not at all help in stringing together conversation where each understands perfectly the other: in the stew of topics that includes the IQ of the Chinese, SATs, rowing crew, final clubs, among others, they demonstrate the very essence of communicating in Facebook -- which is that it is a landmine of misunderstanding. The scene begs transcribing:
MARK: Did you know there are more people with genius IQs living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States?
ERICA: That can't be true.
MARK: It is true.
ERICA: What would account for that?
MARK: Well first of all, a lot of people live in China. But here's my question: How do you distinguish yourself in a population of people who all got 1600 on their SAT's?
ERICA: I didn't know they take SAT's in China.
MARK: I wasn't talking about China anymore, I was talking about here.
ERICA: You got 1600?
MARK: You can sing in an a Capella group.
ERICA: Does that mean that you actually got nothing wrong?
MARK: Or you row crew or you invent a 25 dollar PC.
ERICA: Or you get into a final club.
MARK: Or you get into a final club, exactly.
ERICA: I like guys who row crew.
MARK: [Beat] Well I can't do that. And yes, it means I got nothing wrong on the test.
ERICA: Have you ever tried?
MARK: I'm trying now.
ERICA: To row crew?
MARK: To get into a final club. To row crew? No. Are you, like -- whatever -- crazy?
ERICA: Sometimes, Mark-seriously-YOU say two things at once and I'm not sure which one we're talking about.
MARK: But you've seen guys who row crew, right?
MARK: Okay, well.. they're bigger than me. They're world-class athletes. And a second ago you said you like guys who row crew so I assumed you'd met one.
ERICA: I guess I meant I liked the idea of it. The way a girl likes cowboys.
MARK: The Phoenix is good.
ERICA: This is a new topic?
MARK: It's the same topic.
ERICA: We're still talking about the finals clubs?
MARK: Would you rather talk about something else?
ERICA: It's just that since the beginning of the conversation about finals clubs I think I may have had a birthday.
When I watched this scene in the autumn of 2010 in San Francisco, it just felt like electric banter that I've come to expect from the dialogue master who has written the screenplays for A Few Good Men, The American President, The West Wing, Moneyball, The Newsroom, and Steve Jobs. To watch a film written by Aaron Sorkin is to witness characters wading through words, the best of them encapsulating vivid characterization in the process. I'd only been on Facebook for about three years when I saw this film; for those of us who migrated to it after the disappointments of Friendster and MySpace, we felt very much like evangelists for the newly ascendant social network, telling everyone they must -- they absolutely must -- sign up. [I sigh in regret now.] In 2010, to watch a film of Facebook's founding was more than just enticement, it felt like beholding the origin story of a beloved platform. The critics were similarly enthused, and it must have been the best-reviewed film of the year [which later on culminated to the shock of The King's Speech winning Best Picture over it]. So we watched it in that vein, and while we learned of the shenanigans and betrayals behind its establishment, what was absorbed was allure of the platform. It would take six more years, in 2016, to discover that a platform we considered a benign and beloved connection tool with friends, acquaintances, and family would turn out to be not just a capitalist monster in possession of our data, but one that embraces the preponderance of fake news and fascist propaganda in the name of profit. The film was prescient. We turn back to Fincher and Sorkin's work no longer just a chronicle of a tech revolution, but also distinctively as a warning we never deigned to heed. What's the film?
Choice quote from Lav Diaz from last night’s screening of Chuck Escasa’s Jingle Lang sa Pahina . This gave me new resolve about cultural work in the midst of the darkness I was wallowing in since the lockdown.
Misplaced one Q-pass, so only one of us could go inside the Lee Plaza grocery while the other waited in the parking lot. Broke a pair of glasses, so one of us is flying blind. Left the car’s headlights on while dining in Qyosko, so both of us have a dead battery situation. What a day. The problems are minuscule compared to how the world is burning—but the pandemic has a tendency to magnify things. Oh what a day.
[89th of 100]. Plays can be tough adaptations to film -- as a medium, it's bound to a strict unity of place, hence the intrinsic stagebound-ness of films made from theatrical materials. Most of the time, directors attempt to "open up" the story, to get away from that static changelessness and to become more cinematic than just having people in a room talking to each other. Most retain their feel of being contained -- but sometimes for the better, like in Oleanna or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, where the singular setting contributes to the suffocation of the drama. [But Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf even attempts to "open up" a little by having its characters leave the living room for a nearby bar for a while.] "Opening up" can work, like in Barefoot in the Park or Brighton Beach Memoirs or Closer or The History Boys, or most musicals to be honest. My favorite attempt at an "opened up" play is this prismatic gem of a film from 1993, directed by Fred Schepisi from the play by John Guare who also wrote the screenplay. It hops around, gets to places and mindsets in a swirl, it's unbelievable the original material is a play. I've read the play before, and I've always thought it unfilmmable, a quirk about most Guare plays. In fact, the film critic Pauline Kael once wrote: "When I see a Guare play, I almost always feel astonished; I never know where he’s going until he gets there. Then everything ties together. He seems to have an intuitive game plan.” The same exact thing strikes me about this particular play, which premiered on Broadway in 1990, garnering nominations for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. It is about an upper class couple in Manhattan, the Kittredges, who run a private art gallery catering to their wealthy friends. One night, as they are about to go to dinner with a prospective client, a young man -- who tells them he is the son of Sidney Poitier and is a classmate of their Ivy-educated children -- barges into their evening, eventually charming them with home-cooked pasta and a spirited discussion of modern ennui and Catcher in the Rye. He promises them parts in the film version of Cats that his "father" is preparing, and they're dazzled. Things best left unsaid ensue, but they discover he is a conman, and has pulled similar shenanigans with other friends. They collectively go to the police, only to be told the young man has not done anything wrong: he didn't steal anything -- he only wanted to be, in a surreptitious way, part of their lives. But I have not done justice to the intelligence of the material, and how elegantly it explores the beauty of art, the singularity of experience, the want for what is deprived of you, and above all, the longing for connection, hence the title of the film. This is emphasized by the monologue given by Stockard Channing's nuanced take on Ouisa Kittredge, who sees finally the young man not as a criminal interloper, but a lost soul brimming with this longing: "I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet. The President of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names. I find it extremely comforting that we're so close. I also find it like Chinese water torture, that we're so close because you have to find the right six people to make the right connection ... I am bound, you are bound, to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people." A beautiful film, and I'm glad Schepisi found a way to be truthful to the play. It must have been difficult transferring the nuances, but in accomplishing this, found a way to make an almost perfect film. Ryan Gilbey, writing for New Statesman and echoing Kael before him, has this to say about the film: "I want to liken it to a mosaic because of the accumulation of mysteries and profundities. In fact, it's more fluid than that suggests; it's closer to a word-association game, or a string of sense-memories. This is a kind of film-making that aspires to reproduce consciousness, where our divisions between past, present and future are elided." Yes, yes, yes. What's the film?
Jingle was a cultural force in the Philippines, a publishing phenomenon that also spawned some of our best musicians [Eraserheads!] and writers [Juaniyo Arcellana and Eric Gamalinda and Ricky de Ungria and Lualhati Bautista!] and artists [DengCoy Miel and Roxlee!]. It was also subversively political despite the censorious Martial Law years. To honor the memory of Gilbert Guillermo, founder and editor-in-chief of the famed chordbook and magazine, the filmmakers of the full-length documentary, JINGLE LANG ANG PAHINA, will make the movie available for free viewing on Vimeo from July 22 to 23.
[88th of 100]. The film that gets under the skin of my generation -- the slackers and the reluctant yuppies of Generation X -- the most is this 1992 Seattle-set movie from Cameron Crowe. This was when the city -- and the popular culture -- was abuzz with grunge music, and we were all howling existential angst to Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Alanis Morissette, and Joan Osborne [until the shock of bubble gum pop crashed our party, for which I still harbor residual misgivings against Britney Spears and all those late-1990s boy bands]. But this film preserves that brief period in amber: the music, the raves, the specific pursuits for love [video dating!] and living [coffee houses!]. For that, it is the utmost perfection of a generational film, structured wittily in chapters, in episodes, and in shifting points-of-view, following around a group of twentysomethings populating an uptown apartment complex. It's a motley crew of fully realized types: a city planner looking to build a luxurious commuter train for the city's workforce while in pursuit of romance, a coffee-bar waitress looking to please her non-committal boyfriend by all means necessary [breast augmentation included], a rock musician/flower delivery boy looking for the elusive acclaim for his music and actively not looking for commitment, an NGO environmentalist looking for ways not to have her heart broken again, and a budding socialite looking desperately for a man to sweep her off her feet even if it means commissioning a tacky dating video that was my generation's equivalent of Tinder. They're all looking for love under the guises of their busy yuppie lives -- and in their conversations, fourth wall-breaking confessions, and encounters, we find ourselves incredibly drawn to their friendships, their notions of romance, their desperations to find meaning in their lives. Above all, there's the Seattle scene -- its locales and its culture [especially the music] -- that provides the glue, the organic matrix, to all these. The film exhibits a sharp use of place, with the city's characteristics embedded deep into the flow of the story, and it won't be farfetched to say this is Crowe's love letter to Seattle, which he renders on screen lovingly, energetically, and idiosyncratically. And all these interweaving narratives! It's truly a magical thing how Crowe balances all these disparate stories to make a cohesive statement about being single in the early 1990s and about belonging to a particular generation whose time for reckoning has come -- these are the oldest members of Generation X, after all, coming to terms with the changing of the generational guards just around the corner. When I do finally decide to write a feature film, I know it will be heavily influenced by this one, with Dumaguete standing in for Seattle. That's how deep in my consciousness this film has rooted itself in. I don't mind. What's the film?
[87th of 100]. In William Friedkin's 1970 adaptation of Mart Crowley's seminal play The Boys in the Boys, one of its principals -- part of a bunch of gay men in New York gathering together for a birthday party, which soon attracts the requisite drama between queer friends -- blurts out this line: "It's not always the way it is in plays. Not all faggots bump themselves off at the end of the story!" If you have been paying attention to the development of gay representation in popular cinema [or theatre], that line underscores what was true about it until The Boys in the Band came around. Characters who were gay or lesbian [or are coded as gay or lesbian] had, as part of the moral formula acceptable for movies, to suffer any of these development:  invisibility,  the supporting comic foil to the [straight] leads, always as an object of jokes and ridicule [say hello to the "sissy"!], or -- and this happened a lot --  death. Gay men and women in film have been regularly killed off as their ultimate comeuppance -- they get shot, felled by arrows, buried under burning bricks, swiped by cars, sliced by knives, hung from trees or rafters, commit suicide, etcetera. This was the only ending made possible for us by Hollywood; we were never permitted to be happy or lead normal lives or be alive by the last reel of the story. Until Friedkin's film broke that pattern; the film ended with all the partying gay men still partying on till the wee hours, dancing and laughing and popping champagne. It was revolutionary, and while it didn't exactly end Hollywood's practice of killing off gay characters at least for one more decade, it was a crack in the formula, a glimmer of more hopeful possibilities. So of course we do have now a plethora of gay films that not just give their characters assorted happy endings, they have given them complexity and humanity as well. I've loved so many ... In the early days of my cinephilia, I doted on In & Out, Threesome, Jeffrey, Fresa y Chocolate, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Broken Hearts Club, Il Compleanno, Un Chant d'Amour, Leather Jacket Love Story, Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss, Trick, Lan Yu, The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love, But I'm A Cheerleader, The Wedding Banquet, The Object of My Affection, and Eighteen. In the early 2000s, my U.S.-based brother Rey used to send me all these great titles in VHS, usually from Strand Releasing, and since I lived alone in my family's big house near Bantayan I used to screen all these films for friends in a kind of pop-up queer film festival. Later, there were Call Me By Your Name, Looking, Weekend, Gayby, Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa, The Kids Are All Right, Get Real, Were the World Mine, End of the Century, Tangerine, Love Simon, Miss Bulalacao, Booksmart, the films of Marco Berger, and so many others. We've come a long way. And the film that stands for all that hopefulness and possibilities is this 2007 film from Jonah Markowitz. It follows a young surfer living in a down-and-out California town, who nurtures a natural talent for the visual arts but whose dreams of attending art school is being compromised by duty to family. His sister, a selfish, homophobic single mother who works at the local grocery store, demands his total fealty above everything else. Then into his life comes the older brother of his best friend -- and love sparks, much to his astonishment. Hard choices have to be made -- but the film is gentle enough not to wallow in cruelty, allowing its characters breathing room for happiness. This makes the film a kind of an urban fairy tale -- but coming as it did in a cinematic landscape that was a desert for gay affection rewarded well, it felt like water quenching thirst. Hence this film's hold on me when I first saw it. It made me cry, it made me hope, it made me believe in love that can happen for me. And guess what? Its promise isn't a lie. The poet Juan Miguel Severo recently gave this beautiful quote: "Yes, art and media must tell stories as they are—let there be tragedy, let society be the beast that it is—but there is definitely power in telling stories as they should be, too. Queer people deserve be told the same aspirational, romantic love stories they were led to believe only straight people could achieve. This series wants to tell a story that bypasses these injustices and triumphs over persistent cultural hurdles because, in this cis hetero-saturated media landscape, letting queer characters experience joy, freely express love, and get their most-deserved happy ending is an act of protest in itself. Let us refuse to fetishize and exoticize queer love. Let us normalize queer love by presenting it like its the most normal thing possible. Because it should be. Because it is." Yes, a thousand times, yes. What's the film?
[86th of 100]. This is how I know I love this film: whenever pontificating articles [or YouTube videos] come out listing down undeserving Oscar Best Picture winners and this 1998 romantic comedy by John Madden hovers near the top, I bristle with anger. I feel bewildered over the hate because if you watch the film now, it has more than withstood the test of time: it remains a delight, a fresh take, a funny speculative historical approach to the writerly life and troubles of young William Shakespeare before he became celebrated, and set during a fraught period which finds him falling in love, and getting inspiration enough to write, with fervor ... "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter." [Laughter!] Its screenplay by Marc Norman and the celebrated playwright Tom Stoppard is still sharp -- and if you're a theatre or showbiz aficionado, the in-jokes are still golden -- and its uses of well-known Shakespearean lore and lines to suit its unfolding drama feel almost majestic in the breadth of their recycling. The performances, too, are still indelible -- perhaps the best turns yet of its leads, and in particular Gwyneth Paltrow who acquits herself beautifully as Juliet ... and as Romeo. [She deserves the Oscar win for Best Actress.] I was settling to being back home in Dumaguete after a year in Tokyo, and finding this was a godsend to my soul. This was readily my favorite film of its year, having delighted me to no end -- and when it won Best Picture, it felt like a just coronation. So what gives with the current hate? It centers, of course, on its win over the perceived would-be [or "should-be"?] champion, which was Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. The debate would have us believe that what won was frothy confection over an important wartime drama. [And then there is the usual related chatter about the disgraced Harvey Weinstein's hand in the debacle -- that he wormed his way, in the heyday of his Hollywood powers, to Oscar gold with this film.] I can only do a comparative analysis of the two films, and this is my hard take as someone whose favorite director is Spielberg: his film is fantastic filmmaking, its crowning glory being its first 23 minutes which painstakingly captures in gripping, gritty details the horrors of the Allied landing in Normandy in France, which turned the tides of World War II. The starkness and the power of that sequence cannot be denied. It demands awe and attention. But the rest of the movie -- the "saving" part of an army private named James Francis Ryan [who has to be evacuated for PR reasons because he is the last man in his family still standing, all his brothers, also conscripted into the war, having met their end -- to the abject horror of their mother, the recipient of all those condoling telegrams] -- is kinda middling in places. Still absorbing, of course, but the film borrows too much from the power of its beginning to sustain the rest of itself. But for its technical and logistical achievements, the film merits Spielberg's deserved second Best Director win. John Madden's Shakespearean dramedy, on the other hand, has a strong arc of a well-told story, consistent from beginning to end, all its other cinematic aspects well-wrought to serve its beguiling tale. But is it "important"? I find it the height of macho bullshit to consider stories of war "more important" than stories of artistic or domestic troubles. [And of course leading the charge of this unfair criticism are male critics.] But in the final analysis, there really should be no competition between these two great films; they're much too different to be put at odds with each other. I still prefer Madden's "confection," though; after having my soul rattled by the gore of Spielberg's film, watching Shakespeare pursue love and writing is a grand exhale. What's the film?
CNN Philippines reports that the remains of 88 OFWs from Saudi Arabia has been repatriated. [Link here.] This includes the body of Jomar Tanyag, who was last seen making a difficult appeal over video: “Hirap na hirap na po ako, 'di ko na po alam gagawin ko hirap na hirap na po ako. Sa totoo lang, malapit na ko sumuko kasi hirap na hirap na ko huminga.” Mr. Tanyag was never even sent to the hospital by his employers to confirm if he was positive for COVID-19. Sharing his video to remind us what we're fighting against, and why we can't be complacent: stay home as much as you can, wash your hands, and always wear a mask! And also demand accountability from the government in these difficult times. DON'T LOOK AWAY. Condolences to the family.
[85th of 100]. I never thought of including documentaries in this list, because that felt like another list deserving of its own spotlight. Truth to tell, my favorite documentaries number beyond a hundred, and I actually do have a stronger preference for non-fiction. I thought that including this tradition of cinema in this list might eclipse narrative film altogether -- but nearing the tail-end of this endeavour, I've realized what a taxing, if also rewarding, exercise this has been, and I'm not sure I have the wherewithal to do the same for documentary films. And so I am placed in the most excruciating of positions: to choose just one favorite among the many. I could go the classic route and choose Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat or Nanook of the North or Man With a Movie Camera. Or I could go for the iconic and choose Grey Gardens or Woodstock or Salesman or the Up Series. Or I could go to the poetic and choose Baraka or Nostalgia for the Light or Microcosmos or Aquarela or Last and First Men or Honeyland. Or I could go for the strange and choose The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On or Gates of Heaven or Catfish. Or I could go for the historical and choose Last Days of Vietnam or The Act of Killing or The Kingmaker or Batas Militar or The Missing Picture or Night & Fog or Shoah. Or I could go for the scientific and choose A Brief History of Time or Aliens of the Deep. Or I could go for personal chronicles of uncommon or disrupted lives and choose As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty or Sunday Beauty Queen or Capturing the Friedmans or Stories We Tell or Three Identical Strangers. Or I could go for hero-making biographies such as Citizen Jane: Battle for the City or RBG or I Am Not Your Negro. Or I could go for the observational and choose At Berkeley or Ex Libris: The New York Public Library. Or I could go for the controversial and go for Olympia or Mondo Cane or The Thin Blue Line or Roger & Me or Deliver Us From Evil or Jesus Camp or An Inconvenient Truth or Waltz With Bashir or Hail, Satan? or The Terrorists or The Aristocrats or The Cove or Super Size Me. Or I could go for the delightful and choose Spellbound or Wordplay or Kedi or March of the Penguins. Or I could go for the suspenseful and choose Free Solo. Or I could go for the intellectual and choose Derrida or Public Speaking or Regarding Susan Sontag. I love films about gay concerns, and I could choose The Celluloid Closet or Paris is Burning or Before Stonewall or The Times of Harvey Milk or Tickled or The Case Against 8. I love films about artists in pursuit of their craft, and I could easily go for Jiro Dreams of Sushi or Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse or City of Gold or Exit Through the Gift Shop or Style Wars or Helvetica or De Palma or Everything is Copy: Nora Ephron, Scripted and Unscripted or Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold or What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael or Waking Sleeping Beauty or Seymour: An Introduction or Cutie and the Boxer or Hitchcock/Truffaut or The Price of Everything or Shirkers or Unzipped or Madonna: Truth or Dare or Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry or Spielberg or Six by Sondheim or Ballet 422 or Pina or Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel or Jodorowky's Dune or Man on Wire or Becoming Mike Nichols or The Kid Stays in the Picture or Mori: The Artists Habitat or Bill Cunningham New York or The First Monday in May or Finding Vivian Maier or The Decline of Western Civilization or The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness or Tim's Vermeer or Faces, Places or Filmworker or Crumb. Do you see what I mean? It's an impossibility, so I'll choose something that I've found myself perpetually delighted by even in repetition -- and if you've noticed, I have a particular weakness for documentaries about artistry and creatives. And I've chosen the 2009 documentary by R.J. Cutler about the making of Vogue Magazine's heftiest, and most sought after, monthly issue. I love the film because it is ostensibly a work documentary following American Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour -- clearly her personal response to The Devil Wears Prada, the fictional expose, in book and subsequent film adaptation, that dared bear her alleged workplace toxicity. But in following their subject around as she goes through the grind of finishing the most demanding issue of the year, the film finds itself becoming a treatise about staying true to one's artistic vision under the heels of pedestrian and commercial concerns. It makes that turn when it discovers editor Grace Coddington, the perfect foil to Wintour and her struggles to juggle the demands of the bottomline, editing just enough of the artistry to populate the meager page counts with, and staying right ahead or on top of the cutting edge of fashion's many dicta. It is clearly not an enviable job, and I can understand the icy stance Wintour puts on, perhaps as shield to the hard editorial decisions she has to make. But this also makes out Coddington as the free-spirit art director, always fighting for more pages for her truly remarkable fashion photos, and always trying to subvert the fashion world's expectations. [On hearing that Wintour has ordered the pot belly of the film's cameraman -- who was used as minor subject in one of the magazine's approved photo shoots -- be airbrushed, Coddington quickly calls the art department for it to refrain from doing so. "We need this to be realistic," she tells the camera.] That push and pull between Wintour and Coddington is all the more interesting because it is not really antagonistic, but more of a strange kind of complementary. As Coddington would confess to the camera: "She knows how to push me, and I know how to push her." The film also has a special allure for me because it is also a story of journalism -- magazine-making is a very special niche -- and it has allowed me a sobering look into the hard work of creating those glossy pages. It informs me above all that the primary qualification of a good editor is really singular vision-keeping. I once worked for an editor who was too timid, and lacked a strong editorial voice: her way of managing her staff was to take in everyone's suggestions and ideas without really processing if they worked together. The resulting publication was a terrible hodgepodge that defied description. This film taught me the fine balance between editorial firmness and artistic flight. What's the film?
[84th of 100]. If I must remain truthful to this list as a very personal take on movies with impact, I cannot be prudish and excise from it films of more ... salacious fare. Take it from the co-author of Don't Tell Anyone: Literary Smut. It's hard to write sex scenes in fiction well, and I'm sure depicting it for film is even more challenging. Sex in film has always been a fascination -- not just because it makes the pulse race but also because it is so difficult to capture and still make the film ... artistic, that is to say, more than "mere pornography." And yet there are so many good films out there which transgress that line, things like Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses or Peque Gallaga's Scorpio Nights or Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris or Gaspar Noe's Love or Lars Von Trier's Nymphonamiac or Alain Guiraudie's Stranger By the Lake or Frank Ripploh's Taxi zum Klo, all of which are brazen and do not apologise for the explicit or unsimulated copulations they have. And yet they remain undeniably artistic. Maybe its depth, maybe its context, maybe its form informing the show and action of genitalia -- but films of this kind somehow do not make me feel ashamed for wanting to see them, because there is so much more in the film than just a focus on lovemaking. The carnal content becomes a metaphor, and you cannot strip away the boldness of its depictions without marring the intent and the wholeness of the material. They're necessary, in other words. One of my favorite sex films is John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus, which revolves around a sexually diverse ensemble of New Yorkers desperate for connection, often meeting in an artistic, sexual salon in Brooklyn, where they make sense of their neuroses while getting their kicks. I love this film, I love specifically the gay threesome in it that involves a spirited rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." It is the most heartfelt film I have ever seen with a lot of sex going on in it, and I do believe it should be on Netflix for everyone to see. Which gave me the idea that beholding frank carnality onscreen does not have to be a clandestine endeavor. It can be enjoyed openly as artistic expression the same way we can't our secret trips to PornHub or alter Twitter. Which brings me to this anime from 2003, rightfully a gay hentai or sexually explicit Japanese animation, with no director to its name but with a writing credit going to Ashika Sakura, a popular [female] Japanese manga writer known for her yaoi and shotacon stories. The film itself is short, only 30 minutes long, and even with that slim running time, it is divided into two episodes. The first part details a developing affair between two manga artists, derailed slightly by rumours of past infidelities -- generally giving us a humorous, romantic story about trust and the irresistibility of pure attraction. The second part gives us a more challenging fare: a college student goes to do his parttime job as a pet-sitter for a rabbit, only to find out that said "pet" is really a naked boy tied up in a closet in an ongoing BDSM game -- and then something clicks between them. Needless to say both episodes contain acts of explicit sex that it can be amusing to see it all displayed in animated form, if not for the genuineness of the surprise and affection we get from the characters. The second episode for example limns a darker and very disturbing side to sexuality, but the unfolding interaction between "pet" and "pet-sitter" shows a complexity I probably would not get if this was a live action film. The sex is indeed hot in this film, but what remains with me are the humanity of the characters of this OVA. It's -- in the long and short of it -- quite unexpectedly sweet and complex, and you don't get to say that about a lot of porn, or even plain ordinary films, out there. What's the film?
[83rd of 100]. We are vastly loyal to the books we've read and loved when we were children because they were our first gateways to worlds of imagination that not just informed our reality, but also provided escape from it. That dual effect of books -- as flight and as anchor -- is part of their magic, a truth about reading most bookworms would know. I've loved so many books when I was a kid, and I was indiscriminate in my taste, hopping from classics [Jane Eyre, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Little Women, Treasure Island, The Wizard of Oz] to popular fare [Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Sweet Valley High, Encylopedia Brown, the books of Enid Blyton, Pippi Longstockings]. I'm grateful for that time in my growing up years, and I do envy my childhood's voraciousness for books, something I fall short of these days given the mundane concerns of adult living. It is this feel of treasuring the worlds of imagination we'd conjured in our heads from the pages of books we loved that make many of us feel proprietary over titles suddenly given to adaptations in visual media: because how we imagined them has a primacy for us, and anything else feels like an invasion, even a thievery. Which is why when Agnieszka Holland's 1993 version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's beloved novel about a lonely girl and the botanical magic she conjures from a forgotten parcel of earth came out, I was wary. Will they make Mary Lennox too sweet, for Hollywood's sake, scrapping her initial crabbiness and sullenness? Will they make her too modern, injecting contemporary mores into a Victorian story? Will the manor and garden be as how I'd imagined them, or will they a horror of details gone awry? I was not prepared for disappointing my expectations: Holland -- who had already made a few films about "lost" children like Europa, Europa  and Olivier, Olivier  -- had taken Burnett's story, and made a faithful film of the material, infusing it with the necessary Gothic thrills and leaving the goodheartedness intact. We still get Mary's arc from miserable orphan girl to miracle worker, complete with episodes of hard-earned self-actualization that lead not just to her redemption, but also the redemption of the miserable people surrounding her. I'm not sure this film can be faulted for any bad choices. It feels like something near perfection, especially if you have loved the book, as I had. In the 1990s, there were a few attempts to put to the screen a slew of classics of children's literature, of which this was one. Another one that comes close was Alfonso Cuaron's adaptation of A Little Princess , from a novel also by Burnett. Many of them failed to register at the box office, ignored by many -- which always bothered me: people complain too much about not getting wholesome fare at the movie theater, but when actually presented with gems of the wholesome sort, they proceed to ignore them. Thank God, the filmmakers behind these children's films persevered, ensuring us movie treasures we can turn back to once and again, the way I can go back and peruse the pages of my favorite books, which occupy pride of place in my bookshelves. What's the film?
[82nd of 100]. Complacency is a trap that makes much of the possible evils in the world take root and fester. And so once in a while, we do need reminders that come as a slap, to awaken and disturb us. It is much harder to accomplish this than one might realize. Most people cannot be bothered. Complacency is so much more comfortable, and uncaring feels like the natural recourse for many people, and when confronted with the knowledge of the horrible, some might even insist on contrarian revisionism, denying altogether the evil that has transpired. This is humanity at its bleakest aspect. Which is why, when this film came out in 1993 and dramatized in unblinking harshness one of the horrors of the 20th century, it proved to be a necessary history lesson. That it was also great cinema is fantastic, but also quite beside the point. I remember that year as a kind of triumph for Steven Spielberg. That summer, he unleashed on us the romp of Jurassic Park and the film blew away my 18-year-old sense of wonder and everyone else's, I believe. It further cemented his status as a Hollywood visionary with blockbusters in his DNA. That film remains iconic, and Spielberg's 1993 would have been one for the books already were it not for the unexpected second part of his double whammy. By year's end, he released this Holocaust drama that was the utmost opposite of his summer fare -- and we had to wonder: how did he do it? To release in the same year a fun movie ride with dinosaurs, and then a sobering, uncompromising history lesson in sheer black-and-white? But he did, through some miracle of his own making -- sweeping the Oscars the next year with these two films, Jurassic Park gobbling the technical recognitions, and this film winning the plum prizes, including Best Picture -- and finally a Best Director nod in his favour. The Holocaust film also proved to be an unlikely box office draw, and it was gratifying to see so many people in the movie house [I watched it in Park Theater] become aware of a piece of history they might not necessarily want to know about on their own [and school wouldn't be much help either, history being such a neglected part of people's education]. But here was a popular movie that was also a didactic vehicle, and it served that purpose well: I remember people in the theater being moved, being shaken to their core, being reduced to tears. I remember this quote being banded about: "This will never happen again." It did serve a worthwhile end -- but alas popular culture can only do so much, and it is never elastic enough to contend with time and people's forgetfulness. Today, there are neo-Nazis proudly proclaiming their abhorrent views to the world, and fascists once more run the world. And alas, it is harder to shock people with a well-made history lesson in film. Nevertheless, I love this film. It remains a powerful document, although I am also aware it has received brickbats for "sentimentalizing" a tragedy. But I'll quote Roger Ebert's defense of the film: "The film has been an easy target for those who find Spielberg's approach too upbeat or 'commercial,' or condemn him for converting Holocaust sources into a well-told story. But every artist must work in his medium, and the medium of film does not exist unless there is an audience between the projector and the screen. Claude Lanzmann made a more profound film about the Holocaust in Shoah, but few were willing to sit through its nine hours. Spielberg's unique ability in his serious films has been to join artistry with popularity -- to say what he wants to say in a way that millions of people want to hear." Exactly. What's the film?
This is my favorite coffee mug. I like how the Phantom’s mask starts appearing as the heat of the liquid spreads all over it. It looks so ... dramatic. Somebody gifted me a mug exactly like this years and years ago, I can’t remember who, but an ex broke it. Devastated me. So I bought another one exactly like this in New York exactly after I watched the musical itself on Broadway, in 2010. There must be thousands of these mugs everywhere.
[81st of 100]. The only perfect way to describe the experience of watching Tran Anh Hung's magnificent feature film debut is to say something like, "It feels like reading poetry," or "It feels like listening to a soothing symphony." Critics have done exactly that when it came out in 1993, astounding everyone with the tranquil beguilement of this Vietnamese film. I think the comparisons to poetry and music is just a way for its admirers to describe tangentially what the film does, which feels like indescribable witchcraft: all of it is the sum of quiet moments recollected. It is a sensibility that pervades the structure of the film, which is set in a sprawling property of a middle-class Vietnamese family, in a neighborhood perhaps located in Saigon before its fall in 1975. [We infer this because sometimes we hear the distant noise of flying helicopters, planes, and curfew sirens, reminding us of the unseen menace that hovers outside but gets lost in the tranquility of house and garden.] We follow a young girl, Mui, as she emerges from the shadows of the street into the compound. We learn soon after that she is the new househelp, hailing straight from the countryside. Her eyes become our eyes, and we are soon observing the minutiae of life in this household, which includes the elder housekeeper and cook, who teaches Mui not just the constancy of housework but also the secrets of making-do when the family finds themselves in a bind. ["When there isn't much food, make it salty," she teaches Mui when there is not enough money to buy ingredients for viands, "That way, they'll eat more rice with the dishes."] The challenges come because the father is not exactly an upright man, regularly disappearing for months on ends to sate his whimsies, stealing the household funds, and leaving his wife to tend not just the family but also their small dress-making business. The wife is patient and long-suffering, and soon takes to doting on Mui as the daughter she never had -- an impression not lost on her three sons, the two youngest of whom resort to childish shenanigans to disturb Mui and her tireless attention to housekeeping. I make it sound like major domestic melodrama, when it's really not: the film is mostly quiet throughout its running time, broken only by the incidental "noises" of bird calls, crickets songs, splashes of water, the crackle of cooking, the thum of prayer bells, the sounds of string instruments playing into the night. Mui hears them all like an absorbent observer, the way she also sees things: the white sap of papaya falling on leaves, crickets, ants, frogs, rain, the white pearls of green papaya seeds. These kaleidoscope of little things is the world of the film, and the very consciousness of Mui -- underscored by the minimalist music of Tôn-Thât Tiêt, at times playful and whimsical, at times naughty and thrilling. The soundscape of this film is so layered and rich, it make the film's world so thoroughly engrossing. Mui's story continues, of course, when she is older and pursuing a different life where she finally finds love -- but the second act follows very much the sensibility of the first it's easy to see the continuum, time just blending into itself. It's remarkable to take note that the entire film was actually made on a soundstage in Paris, and not on location in Vietnam -- so stark is its realism and attention to detail -- but you can sense that in pursuing that Tran Anh Hung has all the visual elements under control, a necessity in invoking a world that is already lost: the way the film unfurls that world, there is also much evocation of it like memory. I think it is the same spirit that informs much of Alfonso Cuaron's recreation of his childhood neighborhood in Roma. In an interview, Tran once said that his intention in making the film, and making it in a very specific approach, was "to give a daily life to a people. And I think that against the backdrop of these people who have now been humanized and have a daily life, one can understand the atrocities all the better. I grew up in France, and yet I wanted people to have at their disposal a body of film about Vietnam. And yet I found that there was no cultural foundation for that heritage. If a Japanese filmmaker wishes to make a film about Japan, he or she has recourse to a ton of people: Ozu, Mizoguchi. I have this problem of a lack of cinematic heritage behind me. I had to make a film that was a departure to something. Fundamentally, I guess you could say that I made a film for nothing: just to create artificially and pretentiously a cinematographic past for myself." [You can watch the entire film here.] What's the film?