Thursday, September 16, 2010

Vapor Trail (Clark) (2010)

An archived photograph of the Filipino-American war as shown
in John Gianvito's Vapor Trail (Clark)

by Francis Joseph A. Cruz

I once fancied myself a history buff, memorized all the events, the dates, the personalities, and other specifics. I was necessarily fascinated by the fact that these events, although involving unheard of elements like war, bloodshed and political intrigue, were real and that they happened in the same world that I exist in. That these events happened in the past gave me a god-like stance of observing them, studying them, memorizing them within a safety that is comforting. The immediate rewards of this fascination with history included top grades in social sciences and an infamy for being a reliable source of trivia.

Trivia. That was all history was for me and presumably most of the world’s work-a-day citizens. As soon as we participate in the seemingly grand but realistically humdrum race called life, we conveniently forget the lessons of the trivial past and replace them with a mentality of “what’s in it for me in the future.” The several EDSA Revolutions all seem like blurs, all parades of empty symbols of the color yellow, the Laban sign, and the humongous Mama Mary standing guard atop a Catholic shrine. For majority of us who are in it for the future consider these symbols as emblems of the promises that they once were and are rejuvenated as continuing promises, not necessarily as a linkage of the persistence of history as a reason for the woes of the present.

Alexis and Nika were murdered on September 1, 2009 in Alexis’ house in West Triangle. Alexis was a film critic, nay, a film activist who spread himself and whatever resources he has amassed during his lifetime for the goal of film education, whether it be to salvage whatever remains of whatever film legacy the Philippines has or to simply broaden the tastes of Filipinos to try films more complicated than the traditional offerings of Hollywood and its local counterparts. Again, all of these are just trivia, bits and pieces of information that newspapers would publish for a semblance of currency in their news-telling. Again, that’s that, a piece of history for the now-enamored-then-oblivious history buffs in high school. The truth of the matter is that their deaths have left an immense void in the advocacy that they concentrated their efforts on.

One of Alexis’ foremost projects was to set-up informal screenings right at the heart of the hangouts of the middle-class and upper-class Filipinos, presumably to bring intelligent films into the consciousness of those with the most capabilities to move and change the pitiful status quo. Thus, the Fully Booked Film Series was born. Imagine. The static shots of Lav Diaz, the beautiful experimentations of Raya Martin, the ultra-personal visual poems of John Torres, and the sensible madness of Khavn just a few meters away from Batman, Spider-man, Archie, Calvin and Hobbes. The irony of it all is just the cherry on top. The meat of the project is that these films, criticized for only being devoured by film enthusiasts outside the country, are being screened in the Philippines, for free, and with the directors and film experts present to answer or at least acknowledge hopefully sensible questions.

A few months after the deaths of Alexis and Nika, the Fully Booked Film Series re-introduced itself as the Tioseco-Bohinc Film Series in appreciation of the two film lovers’ contribution to its existence. In consonance with the recent happenings in the Philippine cinema scene, a very apt screening of John Gianvito’s Vapor Trail (Clark) was held a few months ago after much prodding from Lav, one of the film’s staunchest supporters. The first part of two documentaries that tackle former United States military bases in the Philippines, the film parades itself as a document of the harrowing effects of the ghosts of these bases, from the contaminations to the water supply to the general forgetfulness of the residents of the subtle woes that the Americans have left behind in the country. The documentary perceptively masks its berating message to the Filipino populace who seem to have contented themselves in treating history as a reason to install crumbling statues in unkempt city plazas while sniffing rugby for pleasure. We are a country of people addicted to momentary flights to landscapes of illusory comforts while everything else in the world is decaying.

In Gianvito’s very personal introduction to the film, where he acknowledged the contribution of Alexis to the film but was only read to the viewers because Gianvito was in Boston and could not go to the screening, he proposes that the Philippines “was robbed of its own independence” by the Americans “at the very moment it had finally achieved liberation from the brutal yoke of Spain is yet one more example of the willful distortion of history by those who benefit from the suppression of inconvenient truths.” The crux of Vapor Trail (Clark) is not only the indictment of the Americans of its overt and subvert crimes against the Philippines but also the indictment of the Filipinos for the act of forgetting and hence, undervaluing and neglecting the gift of liberty that was delivered by our patriots and freedom fighters. The very purpose why this country exists has been overshadowed by tenuous promises of alleviation. The truth is that we are still at war with our colonizers yet there are only very few revolutionaries left fighting, very few nationalistic songs sung, very few real Filipinos left to protect. The rest are slaves to a written history that is too much about trivia and too little about us.

These ramblings are of course products of my own frustration, not anymore about how this country’s history has been morphed into a topic of quiz nights instead of discourse but by the well-founded opinion that to even entertain such an idea is so unpopular, so boring, and so unsophisticated for anyone to spend a few hours of a lazy Sunday for. Vapor Trail (Clark), powerful as it is in its content, in the fact that it is imparted by an American, in the fact that it is too scathingly true to be simply a matter of entertainment or even curiosity, ended with only four people in the audience remaining. Alas, such is the sorry fate of these films that only seek to enlighten and to change mindsets and such is the blessed fate of Christopher Nolan’s Inception that is praised to death by both critics and viewers for its ability to turn fantasy into reality, vice versa ad infinitum. Such is also the fate of those who attempted to inherit Alexis’ woes, finding solutions against all odds to instill a permanent curiosity which will hopefully evolve into a thirst for films of these sort, films whose whispers are louder than the most grandiose explosions in a Michael Bay flick. If only these things can be treated as trivialities. Unfortunately, they can’t so we simply stagger on.

(First published in Uno Magazine, September, 2010, issue)


Anonymous said...

great read oggs. sorry wasn't able to see this. sana makapunta na ko ulit sa mga susunod na screenings.

- ken

Oggs Cruz said...

Thank you too Ken. I hope to see you too in our future screenings.

Canada Drugs said...

Thanks for the review, Now i can't wait to watch it.