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Kawts Kamote will be no more

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You are now here and not in that dark-themed Kawts Kamote blog.

I’ve been trying for a long time to switch to WordPress. Fucking blogger templates are not hipster-friendly and they eat a lot of bandwidth. I only had the time and the “wit” (yikes) to think of a blog name.

So this is now “Missing Codec” which, as you may know, a common error for those who were starting to use PCs to run media (films, music, whatever) files they have downloaded over the internet or for those who are editing videos using old versions of Video Editor for PCs. Recently, these thought of errors by missing supporting files have been attractive to me as much as it irritates me back then, goes to show how much further does the science of computing need to go to attain the Ultimate Stand-Alone program to be released. But, as you may have realized now, stand-alone programs are for the lazy, codec packs are still the way to go, and they are fucking open-source, so, better.

The title, I think, also is going to be the central idea that would unite all of those which I’ve written before and what I would write in the future. I’ll be transferring some posts (especially recent ones) from Kawts Kamote, (which, by the time of this post, is going to be disabled and unpublished) with supplemental editing and commentaries for some.

This will be the new domain, and I thank you for visiting my new mistake.

Materials for an Immature Film Aesthetics

on Black Sheep’s “Alone/Together” (2019)

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Alone/Together places its cards less on the romance between Raf (Enrique Gil) and Tin (Liza Soberano), but on its own conception of what it means to be mature. This exploration of the concept of maturity was deployed in form as if it’s trying something new with very few plot-points that the film have. The film relies a lot with its narrative expositions told in a non-linear manner which intends to make whatever resolution less predictable. But what seemingly a novel attempt on narrative film was exacerbated by its own choices in film-form.

Essentially, the film only follows Tin: the one who is the most exposed in the film. Tin is an art studies graduate from a State University who works part-time as a guide at the National Museum where she get to know Raf, a medicine major from another university. There’s very little distance in the running time between this encounter and the exposition of the conflict. Their romantic relationship was only placed as a prologue to the main narrative, which happens 5 years later from this plot point.

Tin’s character embodies all the supposed expectations from and stereotypes of the graduates of the State University – that is, in the logic of the film, naïve idealists with high expectations of themselves. It is from this angle that the film tries to extract the conflict of her story: Tin got involved in a corruption case in the organization she was working on just after graduating. The condemnation from her colleagues became the source of her loss of confidence which made her quit her relationship with Raf. The event also became the catalyst for her to supposedly mature. The present narrative involves trying to patch up their relationship behind their respective current partner’s back.

As mentioned earlier, the story I retold above was expressed in the film in a non-linear manner. But the film seems to be concerned with other things than the story. At some point, it tries to call attention to its non-linearity itself (among other things that it tries to call attention to). It should have been a good opportunity for “experimentation,” but not in the case of Alone/Together. Its choice of storytelling technique is not unconventional: this choice has a history which makes it more of a corporate tradition than a challenge to conventions. Black Sheep’s film from last year, Exes Baggage, despite not having any substantial aesthetic or narrative ambitions, plays with the same non-linear narrative perhaps more successfully than Alone/Together.

From this point, Alone/Together looks like an uninterested attempt to recreate Exes Baggage’s form. Uninterested in the sense that it does the non-linear track of storytelling more as a chore – despite calling attention to it – that its intended unpredictability and complexity crumbles. This results for the film’s most important scenes to perform tautologically. Take, for example, Tin and Raf’s first secret date after meeting again at an award ceremony. Before going at the designated place where they are supposed to meet, a flash back of the confrontation between the foundation officials and Tin over the corruption case and her break up with Raf was shown. Back to the present, as Raf arrives and sits beside her, then Tin mouthed off everything that’s happened to her life. It is as if the film cannot even trust its own flashbacks that it needs Tin to repeat the scenes in her lines.

Of course, Raf needs some context. And what happened to Tin is the context he needs. However, Alone/Together is not really interested on making itself interesting. Its choice of cinematic form to expose this very crucial event is very straightforward, but not to the film’s benefit. It’s doing what it should be doing, again, as a chore: and like most chores, it was done with a sense of boredom.

Perhaps, Alone/Together’s boredom of its own task as a film – that is, to make its own cinematic techniques as sensually pleasing as possible – is the very attitude its supposed conflict between youthful idealism and “matured realism” has reached.  It’s a narrative of setbacks and what-ifs. And these what-ifs are trapped at a time in the past that the film is trying hard to get back to. From this set up, you can also get this sense of immaturity in the film’s aesthetic decisions. Despite having a veteran cinematographer like Neil Daza or acclaimed sound designer Michael Idioma on board, the film still looks and sounds as if it was done as an end-of-term class project. Something that you can get, for example, from that scene of the couples’ breakup where it was shot still and flat with a three-camera setup. The frame looks small for every action that it became less dramatic than it is awkward. Not unsettling, just plain awkward.

(Note: In the defense of class projects, I’m not saying that they are bad in general, but what I’m noting here is that the quality of work done in Alone/Together is not at par with what one would expect in an industrially produced work. Take the handling of the scenes in Exes Baggage for example, which I think, was done in similar, if not, smaller production scale than this film, but has produced more impressive results, at least in mise en scene. If you try to get a look at the specific scene I mentioned above, it’s not even a “subversive” or “poetic” take, it just looks as if it was done lazily which produced its awkwardness. Whether or not this retrogression of quality in industrial film production scale is a symptom of something is of another issue.)

If the film was done intelligent enough to be self-conscious of its “immaturity”, editing should have followed through and intentionally “missed” at some point. But the film’s editing seem to be the only one which at least had some consideration to be “mature” with its commitment to non-linear storytelling. This is where the form reached its penultimate conflict which it never gets to resolve: the uncompromising editing was done with heavily mishandled frames and sounds.

And then, there’s the narrative content. The non-linear storytelling, in practice, demands multiple complicated plots, which most of the time comes from multiple sources. Alone/Together, unfortunately, only had a unilateral source of plot which makes its choice of storytelling (that is to say, the film itself) ineffective in its delivery. This unilaterality, of course, points to Tin as the sole bearer of truth and the supposed subject of audience empathy. However, the film exerts very little effort to justify this choice. The film, like Tin, seem to lack the courage to commit to its own stand. In the end, during the confrontation between Raf and Tin in one of the last scenes which was set in New York, the two presents their own case on why one is either a coward or brave. They never really even tried to resolve this. After all there really isn’t any contradiction. Raf’s notion of cowardice (that Tin never really tried to do the right thing when the situation arose) and Tin’s notion of courage (that is, the courage to admit her own cowardice) are on the same side of the coin. The film is just too coward to admit that it is.

This cowardice, after all, is also its exercise in boredom. Arguing and proving a point is tiring, like most struggles. While it is just to empathize with what Tin went through, the film’s careless handling of the material, which never commit to any kind of resolution whether in form or content, makes it hard to even take Tin’s case seriously. Of course, except with the non-linear storytelling, which again, never really helped to give any kind of justice to Tin’s case. It is not because Tin’s case isn’t a grave matter, but the film’s choice of form do not seem to take its own material seriously.

These attempts for novelty, exacerbated by its formal cowardice, boredom and inattentiveness, gave way to the film narrative’s own retrogression. The conclusion Alone/Together set for itself brings Tin into a certain limbo of trying to regain one’s self without any form of salvation. She is, after all, admittedly a coward to even regain even her own innocence. She proceeded bearing the unnecessary guilt which became her own oedipal trap: that is, an entrapment in victimization and its reproduction. Since the film do not really take Tin’s salvage seriously, at the very least, as a piece of tokenism, you may want focus on the other things it would like to present. The idealized culture of the State University being featured, its “progressive” instructors with their “subversive” lectures, the flash protests, the festivities, and the sceneries which the film so eagerly want to sell more than it tries to make sense of itself.

Overhauling Identity (part 0)

I’ve been going back and forth to this problem of identity. At first, there seem to be a real issue concerning this problem: that indeed, there are unrests seemingly caused by conflicts brought about by differences on this category of identity. Francis Fukuyama himself, on his latest book, framed contemporary political and economic problems in light of identity politics, as if playing with it several years belated than his liberal colleagues. This isn’t to say that Fukuyama has forgotten class conflict, although he still abide by his belief that these conflicts are caused by certain search of an inner entity, an “inner sense of dignity [which] seeks recognition,” which makes his claims less intelligible than it is readable.

In recent times, some people from the left are taking into consideration whether to abandon identity politics as it has become a means for liberal opportunism. Identity politics, it is said in an article from In the Defense of Marxism, has “allowed a convenient way to deserting the class struggle and abandoning socialism, whilst continuing to pay lip service to “progressive causes”. “ Fukuyama has noted this shift from the left around the 70s to identity politics, but never really noted about this destructive implication within the left itself (of course, he’s never really concerned about it).

The case between American/Liberal-“left” discourse of intersectional identity politics and Fukuyama’s view of inner sense of dignity are two sides of the same coin: that is, both of a view of a certain fixity in the category of identity. A lot is at stake here: there are legitimate concerns of marginalized sectors and ethnic communities of socio-economic neglect from the state, ongoing repression of othered genders, disputes over national territories. But, if one is to inquire into the matter, it seems to be unreasonable that neglect, repression and disputes are caused by this sense of othering. Some would probably see it that way: that it is indeed unreasonable.

But no one seems to interrogate to the essence of this unreasonability itself. Critique of discrimination based on identity tend to become weak precisely because of this dismissal of discriminatory attitude as merely unreasonable or “incompatible” with the times (“it’s already 2019 and you’re still thinking that way”) become itself a mere reflection of the same dismissive attitude of conservatives. These critique most of the time come from affective response and emotional reactions, which, by themselves, left unchecked self-consciously, tend to become unreasonable too. No one seem to look into the very essence of this perceived unreasonability which stem from either a defense or dismissal of identity politics.

Postcolonial and cultural theory, extending their object of studies to gender, race, ethnicity and nationality, has been tools used throughout the years to try to make sense of these phenomena. Their general thesis is that these came mostly as a result of power relations generated by the history of colonization and patriarchal rule. While this may prove to shed some light over the matter of identity problem, contemporary appropriators of postcolonial and cultural theory tend to mythicize this notion of power relations only to generate an unreasonable discriminatory attitude towards anyone who can be associated with their “reactionary enemies.” Which, again, fall victim to the same kind of attitude and method as their supposed enemies.

This recoil towards the flip side of conservativism, the reactionary and irresponsible promotion of openness and tolerance, creates a feedback loop to the same process. Liberal intersectionalism — this unproblematic embracing of identity as a fixed category and hence, requiring tolerance – recently being catered too by a lot of young leftists from the urban centers, also opens itself to the tolerance of neoliberal capitalist logic: they too, are a target market. As these theories and methods do not by itself think of a way out due to their fixation to the fixity identity, it also fail to provide an actual alternative to the situation which drive them to critique in the first place.

To follow through the outline of the problem, this series of essays will try to find a way to overhaul this general notion of identity. I argue in this essay, and for the essays to come, not a dismissal of identity or identity politics, but a reconfiguration of identity and identity politics towards a more reasonable understanding of itself. This set of essays will quite obviously borrow from the functionalist method used by Reza Negarestani in his book, Intelligence and Spirit, wherein he referred to the “essence” or “spirit” of things (geist) and concepts not as a metaphysical entity, but the way things work. We’re looking at identity and identity politics on their supposed and ideal function for us to get a general understanding of how it should be, and for us to recognize what it ought to be, and what can we do to reconfigure it. The search for the geist will then be recaptured back to Mao Tse-tung thought, where we’re making sense of these functions in the light of social practices, and that the development and progress of these functions can only happen through active struggle. And these practices, for Mao, do not just involve participation in economic production, but everything which can be deemed as sensibly productive activities and struggles, which, for Negarestani, are necessarily public or deprivatized for them to be considered as part of general intelligence and intelligibilities.

For this goal of understanding identity, on the next iteration of this series, we’re starting with what’s been assumed already by some skeptics of thinking: that identity is a construct, but were looking at it in a materialist way. Identity, being a construction, is necessarily a product of history, and by being a product of history, is also a subject of either retention or revision. As a category, identity has its own set of criterion of which it identifies itself. These set of criterion changes as the condition which enabled the production those set of criterion change. The criteria and changes of identity can be traced through the changes also of the social practices which in the first place contain the site, materials and methods to which identities are constructed.

Once we have established the materials necessary to produce an identity, the next set of essays will focus on the problems generated by the construction of identities. It is on these parts that we’re going to engage with the perceived “unreasonability” of discrimination, to make sense of these unreasonabilities, and to provide a more rational insight on the real implications and violence resulting from these unreasonabilities. In a way, the critique of discrimination will undergo a process of negation via criticism-self-criticism, which will force it to face these so-called unreasonabilities to make them reasonable. The reason for this is to provide this critique its correct weapon to address identity discrimination without falling into the same rules of what it tries to critique.

The last part will look into the liberal solution for identity discrimination: the irresponsible promotion of openness and tolerance. This critique aims to expose how liberal intersectionality and tolerance do not lead toward any actual unity, but rather, it settles for tolerating unrest also without any suggestion of struggle. This irresponsibility stem from its own aim for stasis: that tolerance makes way for a smooth flow of capitalist desires. As liberal openness and tolerance forgoes the value of struggle, it also hampers the capability of man to reconfigure himself and his history, as what is actually being promoted with openness and tolerance is also an openness and tolerance to the current, that any sort of futuristic imagination – of leaving out dominating and marginalized identities of the current into the dustbin of history for actual progress of humanity; any sort of progressive and constructive activity outside the framework of the present – has become a threat.

To overhaul identity is to reconfigure the understanding of ourselves from the multiple facet of stasis to a unifying march towards history. It is only through this overhaul that actual diversity – the autonomous uprising of polyphony – can happen. That it is possible, because we’re beginning to acknowledge the non-fixity of this category: the acknowledgement of identity as synthetic. And with this acknowledgement, we were now able to control it, and change it in any way we see fit for our benefit.

Regular Film Posting (January 13-20)

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Brave (2012) & Aladdin (1992)

Been watching Disney films with Olivia for the past months. Instead of commenting on each, will probably just lay down a general observation for both.

Disney films, for better or for worse, has been great showcase of white American contemporary culture. Contemporary, being contemporary for each of the films’ release. There is of course a significant difference between representations of women on Brave and Aladdin. Brave being one with all the strongwoman archetype, and Aladdin as a film in-transition embracing a more liberal value with regards to choice. It is within this framework of historicization that we can understand Disney films older than these two. Just think that the older the films are, the more conservative white they are.

Their general weakness is their heavy dependence on cinema as representation. The same weakness of the more mainstream/populist Hollywood products in general. I think I’ve been addressing in here in several occasions the weakness of this dependence of representation: that it does not really address any kind of root problem. Especially in contemporary times where there’s an overabundance of representation that images flow with other excess in the semio-sphere.

American liberal/populist left seem to ride on this representative-driven aesthetics too much that they became the target audience. Regardless of actual audience drive, the flak caused by “misrepresentations” and “incorrectness” seem to shift capital flow from conservative to liberal spectrum. It is not that these are actually radical. We can go on a stretch that there’s really not much difference between them, that liberalism, being more rigid than conservative with their demands, is much the same as conservatives. Political correctness buy better social capital, still, in the era when culture industry is running on zombie mode.

In this ghoulish reality, where does critique place itself? In this constant rewind of history of representation, cultural critique becomes more and more a supplement to industrial entertainment complex.

 

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Salvage (2017)

At first, the glitches incorporated within the runtime of Salvage seem to be one of self-conscious effort to bridge between the logic of the camera-tool and the logic of the supernatural. But then again, there’s too much glitch that I begin to wonder whether if this would still work if these are actually salvaged footages. So, let’s drop the technological awareness.

This is the kind of a film Salvage is: one that has given up the more interesting aspect of its grand concept for the benefit of the other. Sure, there’s very interesting aswang sequences. There’s probably an excess in actually interesting aswang sequence for that matter. The first-person/found footage aesthetic work for the chase scenes: it gave us a sense of space and the entrapment the characters in the film found themselves in despite of the vastness of the forest. But that’s probably it, the majority of the film is a chase. If anything, it leaves out another important aspect in found footage film which is its sense of exploration. Weirdly enough, these are journalists, and most of the characters on screen doesn’t seem to be interested on doing anything.

Well, there’s very little to explore. Its probably because of its fascination for the supernatural get in the way for anything intellectual to intercede with anything. Sure, it works for its own good, and a lot of scenes are interesting, but it is left to that sense of interesting (interesting for whom, is of another question) other than something which is meant to be there in the frame to be something. The end of the film does not really add up to any other thought of being or becoming but rather, only piled up with its interesting-ness. The end sure, is interesting. The cast is interesting, the sub-cast is sure more interesting. But it’s nothing more than that.

 

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

John Carpenter’s macho-led satire films are perhaps a genre of its own. In Big Trouble in Little China, Kurt Russell is portrayed and will be remembered as this stereotypical white truck driver which has no other redeeming qualities even in a fistfight. In its own way, it provides a refreshing take on this position in power of the white image. Still, he poses as the protagonist, then again, what did he really do?

The film can only be taken for all its goodness: sloppy Chinese martial arts and magic, conflict which bridges hell from Earth, and an insurance-troubled truck driver. It is culturally inappropriate? Sure. For both sides. Big Trouble… take on all these stereotypes, made them hypervisible, to make them even less believable, to attain a different level of fiction.  After all, what else can you do with them?

This self-consciousness of fiction as final-product of cinema makes this film worth while. It’s telling you right from the start: this has magic, this has martial arts, this is a fictional world. It is less serious about its representation than it is for cinema.

Regular Film Posting (January 6-12)

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Sorry to Bother You (2018)

It is not hard to love this film. On one end, it functions as a (re)affirmation for everyone to see it about the value of human labor as an essential to generation of any sort of value. On another, it’s a real bait for Marxists, probably a more effective bait than Young Karl Marx (2017) or any other biopics about revolutionaries.

But the bait catches real good fish this time. Nothing fancy fanservice like in Young Karl Marx quoting classic passages as film lines. Sorry to Bother You has real understanding of the film medium. More than the technical prowess, the film shows great engagement with the film form. It chose this comedic route which would make one reflexive on whether s/he should laugh. It has this very uncomfortable sense of humor, which not in anyway offensive, but targets that sense of uncomfortability. It pushes a window for thinking, and is patient enough not to make quick cuts or jumping vibe.

The film’s intelligence doesn’t lie on what it’s done to itself, but what it’s doing to you. It forces you to acknowledge the things it acknowledges: from working class struggle, to the need of class solidarity, to the propagandistic function of cinema as its general function (a film theory which I’m very fond of and have been working towards for quite some time now). But propaganda, as most public relations people would have it, is not in the sense of force-feeding, but this “forcefulness” comes in a very persuasive way. Sorry to Bother You does not tell you things, it shows. Think of Medvedkin’s Happiness (1935). It is the only closest one I can think of who treats cinema in the same way of persuasion and discussion.

In a way, the title stands for the whole film. Cinema is a bother. And the film is kind enough to apologize in the first place, but it has to tell you something. It is a very modest thing to do for a film which, if put in a different context, boasts a lot. Gladly, this also comes with that same working class modesty where it is understanding that it will get uncomfortable, and it’s time and money, but we’re in this together.

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ABCD (1985)

What ABCD does is to take the educational format (something it probably took off from Sesame Street) and take all these things which seem to be out there either in questioning or mockery. It’s hard to distinguish what does it take and does not take seriously. The length of exposure might be one key, but looking at the whole work holistically, it seem to give equal weight to everything.

This seeming flatness is something which resonates with everything Roxlee has done. It’s this sort of hippie/new age attitude towards everything. That everything is connected. While it does mock Yoga in this film, it doesn’t really remove that hippie attitude. Especially with the soundtrack.

The image featured above is probably its best instance. Not only it does resonate the primary contradictory argument every mass organizer has been pointing out, it is also quite bold. This boldness is what made this film  stood out of everything Roxlee has done. Sure there’s an ample amount of bold statements on The Great Smoke, or on Tronong Puti, or even on the Juan Films, but never really as bold as this. Although, it might be just me reading it.

 

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Pulp Fiction (1994)

It’s probably been a decade since I last saw the film. Never been the greatest fan of it. But growing up sure changes things.

I began to appreciate how the writing in this film is so balanced. You get to remember everyone, especially those who got paid a lot. Vincent, Butch, Jules, Mia, Marcellus, Fabienne. Harvey Keitel seem to have this very small role, but sure he’s quite memorable as Mr. Wolf.

There seems to be a lot of thought placed in here than what I’ve perceived from before. In a sense, all of them characters seem to scream that it was written by a nerd. You get that, a lot. In the way they talk. It adds a lot when you consider the archetypes the characters are playing on.

And it’s weird that it’s taking on archetypes, like, it’s been refuted a decade before this film. And yet, here they are. And they work.

I think a lot has been said about its choice of form, and probably they are all true to it. I don’t know if anyone pointed out the archetype of things. It seems to me a proper entry into the postmodern, wherein it’s when it begins to sink in for most nostalgic that none of these simplicity in worldviews will ever be back. As a result, the film is quite a mess with its approach, subject, or just about everything. But Pulp Fiction being a mess that it is is probably the reason why it stands to this day. Especially now that seemingly woke goody-two-shoes will never take light the way its dialogs and representation goes. And they’re probably right about it: it’s that piece of insensitive mess that happens to get away with it in the grunge era. And that is because this film is grunge. And grunge is just a decoration in the era of Twenty-One Pilots and less of an aesthetic.

But think about how grunge worked: it’s punk’s transgression self-consciously sold out with pop rhythm (significantly slower than punk). It’s that capitalist hate sold on 7-11 shelves. No one really knows what one is to do with it. It kept kids jumping in the 90s. The adults are merely clueless. Pulp Fiction, in a way, functions the same.  It took out all of these 70s and 80s, and even earlier, archetypes of everything cinematically despicable. Made them chewable. An actually recommendable version of an Abel Ferrara late-80s / early-90s film. And that, I think is quite commendable. Unlike punk, it’s hard to make a Ferrara film recommendable to any uhhh, euro-loving cinephile. And Pulp Fiction‘s opportunism, for better or for worse, made itself quite an achievement. Like grunge.

Makes me think how impossible it is to do something transgressive these days.

Regular Film Posting (January 1-5)

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Insects (2018)

There are three living surrealists in cinema who are still actively working to this day. David Lynch seem to give up back in 2006 with Inland Empire to focus on his new age campaigns (which he calls transcendental meditation) but were able to make a come back in 2017 with a new season of Twin Peaks. Alejandro Jodorowsky is doing stuff again with his last two films being consistent with his works from his early days.

Insects is Jan Svankmajer’s second curtain call for himself. I remember him calling it quits 8 years ago with Surviving Life (within the same year as Bela Tarr’s retirement). This might not be a complete retirement for him, as I’ve read somewhere. Seems like he’s only doing what Hayao Miyazaki is doing: retirement from feature length films.

I can see the reason why. At the advent of entertainment explosion everywhere, cinema seem to be less and less of priority when it comes to pastimes. Arthouse filmmakers like Svankmajer, much as they get very privileged status in cinematic discourse, can’t seem to ensure economic stability without having to compromise with mainstream / Hollywood framework. And with Svankmajer, you really just can’t make his films compromise. But it is less because of an artist’s stubborn personality. His films are in a way, impossible to be mainstream.

Insects is that another stubborn film in its very core. It actualizes what surrealism originally is: a material which leaps from familiar to unfamiliar and back. Insects work as metacinema, but it is less concerned with commenting on its own. It’s meta-form makes a continuity between production and the product. Which makes it more of a surrealist film, than most of his works. Svankmajer made his strongest flex as a filmmaker: he’s letting us see what he’s doing and all the “faults” one might find is intentional as we can see him instructing the actors: “forget acting school”; “act without empathy.”

It’s weird seeing this film now. It seems to be something which you may see on a retrospective along with, say Last Year at Marienbad and 8 1/2. Its reflexivity has more of the modernist / futurist claim for artistic autonomy than it is of a postmodern musing. And Svankmajer is there to assure that.

“I told you,” is his last words in the film. Insects responded to that remark I had over a private conversation, that in cinemas, why materials tend to be self-reflexive is because we need to be constantly reminded that we are watching a film. It came from an insight that people seem to blur the line between the screen and real life due to the ubiquity and practical uses of screens. Svankmajer pushed this reminder further: “you’re seeing this from a screen which you do not have control of. You’re watching a film, my film.”

 

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Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)

I’ve already said enough of this work. This would probably be a summing up.

Its form makes you need to take it seriously. Some took it as your regular Black Mirror material. You know, your favorite dose of cynicism and capitalist realism. The acceptable Thatcherite neoliberalism for the semi-woke to ignite your unconscious anti-working class sentiment (while still keeping it unconscious). You know, it doesn’t offer much for the future, and therefore it’s cool.

Bandersnatch works best if you do not take its content seriously, like most Black Mirror episodes. It’s a great exercise in cinematic expression, of course. Like the best of British TV, it moves like a film, conscious of the smaller screen size.

But none of the form is new. Bandersnatch is self-conscious of it. It presents these three layers of reappropriation of the “choose your own adventure” (CYOA) literature. Which its way of admitting that none of these are original.

Narrative-wise, it presents this interesting speculation that, what if, back in the 80s, there’s a CYOA novel which was done by a lunatic? It is in this aspect that a really good (possibly radical) element of the schizophrenic that Bandersnatch initially present. Only to suppress it, of course, in the guise of negative popular discourse surrounding schizophrenia. Reverting back to the very neurotic character of the control freak paranoid of control.

There’s several endings for the material. All of them are admittedly quite a disappointment. Like most Black Mirror endings, all of them are non-endings. Symptomatic most probably of its capitalist realism. Although the processes of getting to the ending are most enjoyable much as they are frustrating. The illusion of control is what makes it attractive. It is this auto-generation of pain-enjoyment that one can’t really dismiss Bandersnatch as mere hype. Or perhaps, this pain-enjoyment is the reason of its hype. Like in a Black Mirror ending, you’ll realize you’re not really in control. But then again, like all good ideological deployments in cultural products there’s the good old Zizekian formula: you actually know, but you still did it.

 

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Bird Box (2018)

What could possibly go wrong with a dystopian film? Nothing much. It’s already wrong. It’s dystopian already.

I really wanted to love the film. But it has this TV Movie feel that as if none of these were taken with really great consideration.

It has these bits of things which is good. Charlie’s character provided a really good metacritique of prominent trends in dystopian literature. But, I don’t think this critique is what the film needs. It probably needs more meta: why not a critique of dystopian literature itself?

Bird Box‘s dystopian apologism, however, provided an indirect counter argument with Jameson’s “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” Essentially, the film answered just that: capitalism ended with the alien invasion. Only it ended with a positive feedback against the “creatures”: if the problem is seeing, we can just forget seeing completely. Looks like Saramago’s Blindness in reverse.

Again, like Black Mirror, it concluded with a non-ending. None of the home of the blind sanctuary helped resolved the real threat of the creatures. Then again, like most dystopian literature, there’s only two options provided: non-resistance or compromise.

 

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BLACKkKLANSMAN (2018)

BlacKKKlansman is clear with its intent. It does not really resolve a compromise between being with the police and the black liberation. Its conclusion made it sure.

What it highlights more is the solidarity produced by the Black Liberation not just within the movement, but even outside of it. In the end, it doesn’t really exclusively give priority with black liberation, as white-extremist reaction would have it. Although the form might make it seem like it.

It all boils down on whether the film can hold firm of its position transhistorically with the method it uses for now. It seems that the film tries to negotiate between the state disciplinary apparatus and black liberation while making us shift its focus on the infiltration mission. BlacKKKlansman seems to situate itself within the specificity of its time.

But then again, this is cinema. And what’s more, Hollywood cinema.

What it gets wrong, is that it falls bait with all of Trump’s racist drama. That it only stand within this specific wrong: what if Trump changed his mind? In the end, BlacKKKlansman will remain reactive. There’s a lot of potential in the material, but it falls within this very respect of the source that it did not get to fulfill its full potential. Then again, there goes its limit as a biopic.

 

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Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018)

There seems to be a lot of negative reaction against Michael Moore’s latest essay. Mostly coming from his supposedly “empty” ranting. Of course, he can be as liberal as he gets. But thanks to this recent development at least we can hear a disavowal of the classic AND the neoliberal framework in the frame of class struggle.

There’s a bit in the film wherein Moore addressed this necessity to reshift our focus on the working class instead of dividing our attention with identity politics. That identity politics — whether racial or gender politics — have indeed been reappropriated by bourgeoisie as their tactic in the dawn of the 21st century, to reassure votes, and therefore, have them remain in power. Something BlacKKKlansman seem to fleetingly address but only to present it as white discourse.

But Moore seems to be naive with his trust of the young ones trying to change Democrats. I’m not really sure though how to respond to this properly as a Maoist, since it seems to be a very valid tactic on my standpoint. But, what also needs to be addressed is that it should be transitory. Like how representative politics should have been transitory on any actually working democracy.

But then again, who knows?

As a political material, I think, there’s more to learn here than on earlier attempts of Moore to critique politics on his middle-aged naivete. This fruitful maturity is welcome. No matter how gimicky Moore has become, seems like his resolve in here goes beyond mere gimick: this is an actual document of Moore making an action. The image above becomes more of a symbolic act for a direct action against the perpetrators. He’s alone there. What more if there’s a crowd to flood the governor with the poisoned water he made Flint drink?

The Years of Permanent Midnight and other unedited essays

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Starting today, my first anthology, The Years of Permanent Midnight and other unedited essays will be available for online download via archive.org.

https://archive.org/details/TheYearsOfPermanentMidnight

The physical copies are mostly self-printed which is why I was only able to release 12 copies of the first printing. Some copies are still available, probably, at Cinema Centenario, along with my other work, Krisis at Pelikula.

You may also email me if you are interested on getting printed copies of both, but I can’t assure you that it will come around fast.

I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts about these works. thanks for reading in advance.

Fascism as performance art

The following are the notes I’ve prepared for SIKAD’s activity, Usapang Komyu, which focused on Art and Fascism. All of the citations came from Hito Steyerl’s “Let’s Talk About Fascism,” which is to say, none of these are “original,” so to say, but a processing of local experiences of Fascist tendencies with Steyerl’s observation with contemporary Europe Far-Right uprisings.

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Fascism feeds on the perceived ineffectivity of politics, most especially of democratic representational politics. “Where representation collapses or spins off into precipitous loops and feedbacks, fascism seemingly offers easy answers. It is the panic button for blocking off annoying remnants of reality.” (178)

Fascism is a politics of comfort. It does not try to resolve contradictions and also do not try to make way to resolve diverse needs of diverse groups towards real economic equality. Instead, it “tries to replace equality by uniformity.” (179). The condition of San Roque is a derivative of fascism: the state does not and will never acknowledge such diversity of life and struggle, and would rather prefer gentrification and privatization of spaces. The flattening of the city. To have the same malls and commercial centers as the other district within the same city. All calls for more efficient government policies on housing are being ignored, in exchange of corporate taxes from places which the majority who will never really need to access.

Contemporary form of fascism is the government hijacking itself to justify authoritarian control, in the guise of “emergency” and “necessity.” Our local strongman play dumb and weak to justify more military, extramilitary and paramilitary interventions. Our local government and other national office officials deliberately wasting public money on useless projects such as film festivals, art fairs and VIP parties here and abroad to highlight the excesses of libertarianism and liberalism, then act as if it is against to it. The president acting against corruption while making high ranking government officials richer from unexplained bonuses and fat cheques while job orders and part timers barely live off their monthly wage. All to generate a populist outrage, while making you feel powerless.

Government’s derivative fascism in the form of performance art.

Economically, Fascism do not stray far from neoliberal economics. It would explain the existence of Salvador Panelo as adviser. In the same manner as the original Fascists of Italy, contemporary derivatives of fascism is comfortable with private profit and are giving more incentives to big business. Neoliberalism – with its incentives for individual pursuit of profit – has benefited a lot with the governments’ implementation of price deregulation and privatization of a lot of industries. This goes as far as the Marcoses, which the succeeding administrations from the Older Aquino to the relatively Younger Aquino continued, that instead of founding national economies, instead of more effective economic policies to support nationalization of basic industries, they opted for total privatization of industries. Market liberation at the expense of Import-dependence and export-orientedness and more imperialist-backed militarized support for foreign businesses. Which justifies below-living standard minimum wage, land grabbing and wide spread povertization of the population.

As a performance art, the Government’s derivative fascism’s form is indiscriminate violence against the poor. From actual killings to forced eviction. The state’s “monopoly of violence” itself has a neoliberal property: the violators are either employed uniformed men sidelining as mercenaries, or freelance killers, or members of “security companies or outsourced gangs.” While criticisms of such killings pervades mainstream media, such feedback feeds positively into government action: chaos abound, and therefore, the need for more aggressive intervention. More militarization. We are in crisis. Fascists thrive on crisis, the same as neoliberalism.

While the acts of “ineffectivity” might seem performative, the implications are real. Real people are being displaced, killed. Real lives being dismissed. Real rights being disregarded. All for the benefit of myths. A myth that all of these will be resolved by a single strong authority. The 3-6 months myth that we are promised to. The nationalist myth, while air strikes and systematized murder are being given to national minorities. Myth of going back to pre-filipino language through the promotion of baybayin while Filipino subjects are being removed from college curriculums. The myth of a national identity outside of actual struggle for nationalist independence.

Like all performance art, it is comforting only to the few of whom the “performers” are performing to. The objects of the performance, being displaced, destroyed, thrown around, being shot at. And like all performance art, it capitalizes on the interesting. Like how interesting it might be for urban planners to displace more community settlements for further corporate developments.

In the light of these, we are inviting all the artists first, to explore the nature of these derivatives of fascism. To have a dialogue with communities which are dealing with these violence on a daily basis. This is less of a condemnation of art but a provocation for artists: in the light of fascism, what is the role of artists? I know, we are all looking for autonomy. But in these kind of condition, is autonomy thinkable? In the same vain as the effectiveness of fascism as performance art, detached from any form of real community involvement, what does it make of our artwork if it is also detached from the community?