Sunday, December 04, 2011

Memories of Overdevelopment (1980-2011)

Memories of Overdevelopment (1981-2011)

At around 9 in the evening, in Vocas, a vegetarian restaurant/art space/wonderland that Nick de Ocampo aptly described as a nook straight out of Kidlat Tahimik’s mind (the place comes with a galleon and several other objects that are undoubtedly products of the artists’ sariling duwende), Kidlat Tahimik presented the latest version of his Memories of Overdevelopment, a thirty-minute version of the filmmaker’s dream project about the first man to ever circumnavigate the globe. Except for a few seconds of scenes that were inserted into the perpetually unfinished film and several minutes of footage that were restored from several generations of film decay, the film remains the same, an enduring fragment of what possibly could be the best film never made.

As it is, Memories of Overdevelopment is a lyrical ode to the ingenuity of both its subject, Enrique, a Filipino who gets sold to Ferdinand Magellan in what the film describes as history’s first buy one take one deal, and its maker, Kidlat Tahimik, who resigned to the fact that the film would require an enormous amount of money to mount started to put together scenes using whatever resources he had available and as a result, came up with the film. Utilizing relatives, friends, backpackers and expatriates who would frequent his Baguio home, Kidlat Tahimik assembled several lovely sequences that are strung together by his narration, which most of the time, resembles a storytelling session by a father to his children, and at other times, sounds like a pitch from an artist to a shrewd financier.

Enrique’s story is laced with wonderment and humor. Notwithstanding the inherent ambition of the project which would span miles of sea travel and between two diverse continents and cultures, the film never loses perspective. It remains an intimate portrait of a man of meager beginnings fated to accomplish big things by virtue of fortune, ingenuity, and a desire for home. The intended film, as can be gleaned from this most recent version, never strays from the playfulness that has defined Kidlat Tahimik’s filmography. Even during the sequences that venture towards some form of reverence or would normally require a semblance of sensitivity, Kidlat Tahimik injects an abundance of cheekiness, steering the film’s discourse from narrative seriousness or historical accuracy towards commentaries on the Filipino psyche.

Despite the nature of the film as a self-aware work-in-progress, the film actually feels oddly complete. Sure, Kidlat Tahimik himself admits that there are the sequences that the film lacks like the shipbuilding scenes in Spain, the grandiose sea voyages, the battle between Lapu-Lapu’s men and Magellan’s invaders. However, there is an endearing charm to Kidlat Tahimik’s straightforward modesty and honesty that makes the film’s inadequacies negligible. Instead of pleading for forgiveness because of the lack of those scenes, he pleads for creativity and imagination by supplying images of quaint sea travel in the Philippines and Indonesian shipbuilders to supplant the more ambitious imagery in his mind. There’s a certain sense of Kidlat Tahimik taking the place of his Enrique and the film’s audience taking the place of the curious young boy who suddenly invades his morning bath to be told stories of his adventures in the way Memories of Overdevelopment takes form.

The current version of Memories of Overdevelopment may or may not be the film’s final form. It all depends on Kidlat Tahimik and the cosmos. Part of me wants the film to get finished but part of me is also deeply satisfied with this admittedly flawed but infinitely intriguing version. It is after all that rare but persisting document of the Kidlat Tahimik, that odd but indisputably talented filmmaker whose films seem to be more beholden to unhinged imagination than monetary funding, who at one point of his illustrious career has seen himself as strangely a part of the traditional mechanics of movie-making, with its need for sizable investments, and because of that investment, certain compromises. The film shows Kidlat Tahimik to be a carefree hostage to unforgiving economics, a thankful victim of luck, and a constant dreamer.

(Cross-published in Lagarista.)

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