Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Great Cinema Party (2012)

The Great Cinema Party (Raya Martin, 2012)

Raya Martin’s The Great Cinema Party, the final third of the 2012 edition of the Jeonju Digital Project which includes new works by China’s Ying Liang and Sri Lanka’s Vimukthi Jayasundara, is uncharacteristically joyous. Despite starting with several minutes of footage of war, the film is surprisingly held together by an atmosphere that seems new in a Raya Martin film. While Martin’s preoccupation with Philippine history is still there, it isn’t met with the same sorrow or regret that features pronouncedly in his previous works. There’s something more than the erstwhile levity here, an emotion that overpowers Martin’s expected angst about the painful inadequacies of what we presently perceive as a country’s recorded past. There’s actual joy.

The monochrome snippets from various unearthed footage of the Pacific War are edited together like a rousing action film replete with explosions and images of destruction, opening the film with a communal memory of a violent past. The absence of sound only makes the visuals stronger, allowing blasts and explosions created by a very fertile imagination to marry their appropriate images shotgun-style. The story, possibly invented again by the same fertile imagination, has foreigners waging war in the Philippines, with the hapless Filipinos, forced either to take sides or die without even trying. Like the rubbles from the war of those imperialists, Filipinos are but reminders of a history that is not their own. Lav Diaz, the foremost figurehead of Filipino independent filmmaker ends the turmoil and welcomes everyone to the great cinema party like some kind of deus ex machina.

A group of friends assemble in Corregidor, a tiny island in Manila Bay that has preserved relics from the Pacific War as its foremost attractions. Like the picnickers from that mysterious early Peter Weir film, they explore the curious landscape, digging for memorabilia, taking photos, and relishing in nuggets of trivia about the place. An explosion is heard from far away. It is more than a ghost from the past. They retire in a rustic mansion. They have escaped the fate of the famous Weir picnickers, thankfully. There is more to Martin’s film than manufactured atmosphere and head-scratching endings. In the mansion, another guest reveals the filmic past of the mansion, how it played opulent settings to celebrated films of those anonymous golden ages Filipino cinephiles reminisce with both glee and regret.

The film’s third half features the party itself. Local film personalities arrive in hordes, brandishing bottles of San Miguel while carrying plates full of food over a makeshift tent that is cinematically ornamented with globes of yellow light. Music drowns the discussions, the topics of which range from movies to nonsense. Everything fades to black. Only the high-spirited music’s left, teasing the fertile imagination, the same way the wartime images teased it to invent sounds and stories, to conjure images. Against the oppressive darkness, suggestions of light, of pictures, of figures, of a formation of friends expecting a fireworks display to cap the night, are displayed.

These images are our fireworks display --- the patches of light over darkness, the cinema. We form our own tableaus, united and eagerly awaiting for the cure to the temporary void, that violent war. Where history is a wellspring for melancholy and regret for Martin, cinema, which has evolved for him from the absorbed art, the made-up philosophy, the tainted theories, the remembered experiences of being alone or together in a darkened room with a random work of a random artist from a random place in the world to that and the relationships that cinema has pushed to surface, becomes the reason to live. The Great Cinema Party is Martin’s modest monument to the lifetime joys of the art for which he suffers for.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Dolphy, National Comedian

Dolphy, National Comedian
by Francis Joseph A. Cruz

In 1928, Rodolfo Vera Quizon, Sr. was born in Tondo to a ship mechanic and a tailor. Because of the odd job of selling peanuts, butong pakwan, and other snacks to movie patrons that he ventured to take on during his formative years to augment his family’s humble income, he was predisposed to love cinema. While working as a stevedore, shoe-shiner, and driver, this love for cinema would eventually push him to try his luck in theater, cinema’s closest relative. He would eventually learn comedy from famous duo Pugo and Togo, and become known as Golay.

Quizon inevitably found his way back to cinema. Starting with bit roles for the very popular films of Fernando Poe, Sr., he would then be discovered by Doc Perez of the famed Sampaguita Pictures who would give the budding a comedian a broader canvass to refine his talents with. With a blossoming career in films, Quizon smartly used his nickname, Dolphy, as his screen name.

The rest, as corny as it may sound, is history. However, unlike the history that the country tends to conveniently forget, Dolphy’s history is something the nation fondly recalls. His trailblazing performance in Mar S. Torres’ Jack en Jill would introduce to Philippine cinema a brand of comedy that finds itself still potent to this day especially with the recent successes of Jade Castro’s Zombadings 1: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington and Wenn Deramas’ Praybeyt Benjamin. Arguably, Dolphy’s hilarious portrayals of the so-called parlorista gay in most of his more popular works may have resulted in an unfortunate public consciousness of limiting homosexuality to the type that Dolphy depicted in cinema. However, Dolphy’s mostly sensitive portrayals, coupled by his endearing public persona, would also elicit an understanding as to the humanity of the Filipino gay man in general.

This is most apparent in his brilliant portrayal of Coring in Lino Brocka’s Ang Tatay Kong Nanay. Coring, a parlor owner who unabashedly lives to the fullest a very carefree gay life involving nightly gimmicks with friends and seasonal sashays as pretend-Miss Universe queens, finds himself suddenly restricted from his pleasures when his former lover leaves his baby with him. Forced to bring up the child oblivious to what he thinks are hobbies of his which might confuse the child, he becomes a pained irony, a gay man whose very traditional view of the world is contrasting with his own sexuality. An unapologetic melodrama, Dolphy easefully injects the role with a sophistication that only a true artist can do so.

Dolphy, however, did not carve his career from merely mining one stereotype. He also developed another stereotype which he conveniently explored in his television shows, from the legendary John and Marsha with Nida Blanca to Home Along da Riles with Nova Villa. Dolphy is perhaps the quintessential Filipino family man: a hardworking breadwinner, usually unlucky in terms of material fortune but extremely lucky in terms of family. There are the usual quirks like the wealthy mother-in-law or next-door neighbor, who would constantly remind Dolphy of his station in life, the roster of oddball friends, who would support Dolphy both in the manufactured trials and his comedy, and the very familiar trials that are laced not with the actual unbearable burden of being poor but with levity and humor.

Dolphy also symbolized Filipino ingenuity. He paraded his comedic skills in films as localized and usually more interesting versions of Batman, James Bond, and Dracula. Usually lacking the extravagant budgets of their Hollywood counterparts, Dolphy makes do with butchered titles like Alyas Batman en Robin, Dolpinger, and Drakula Goes to R.P. and a whole arsenal of indefatigable slapstick and genuine wit.

It may seem that Dolphy’s artistry is unrefined and pandering to the convenience of the masses. However, Dolphy never really strayed from what is pop. He did not have any pretensions of doing art for the sake of art. It just so happened that his fluency in his craft, his tempered navigation of his lengthy career in both films and television, and his legacy of performances that are undoubtedly his, can be argued to be regarded as marks of an artistic vision that is not unlike the ones from the artists who can easily be classified as such.

The Philippines is country that has been known for its people’s ability to find humor in the direst of situations. Curiously, the country’s definition of art, dictated by the academe and the governmental institutions, shies away from the exquisite pleasures of laughter found in the unlikeliest of events, sadly belittling the contributions of artists like Dolphy, relegating them within the realm of the slight and momentary. Reality dictates however that it is these artists’ so-called art that really reflects, without need of a trained eye or taste, the most practical dictates and effects of art to the biggest demographic in the country that requires it.

It is about time Dolphy, not for the fact that he is old, or that he is a respected icon in the industry, be proclaimed as an artist whose dedication for his craft has given him the goodwill that is now being confused as the basis for his nomination as one of the country’s official bastions of art. To do so might just be the most honest things ever done since those awards were created.

(First published in Supreme, Philippine Star, 28 April 2012 as "Why Dolphy is our National Artist.")