Notes on Audience-Taste, Education and Capture

Disclaimer: This convoluted essay is a product of me processing recent events and my writing projects in Media Studies. But just because this is related to a school project, doesn’t mean I do not take these seriously. In fact, I’m probably more serious about this now more than ever. Writing these down to at least make it available out here, and to get back to it later. Then again, this disclaimer is from me asking for apology for writing this essay so convoluted that what I am saying might slip.

Let me know if there are things that aren’t clear. I could sure use some conversation.

Philippine Cinema is lucky to have an Erik Matti: not that we are expecting him to speak for any sort of good for his liberalism is not capable of reaching that point of moral reflection. But, at least we can hear him speak for himself and the non-points that he gives every single time. Over at a recent thread (posted August 26, 2019), he, again, expressed his cynicism on the state of Philippine Cinema, which, ended with his usual guilt-tripping. Not that there’s nothing to learn from him too. The things he’s pointing out are important: lack of newness in cinematic form and content, consumption, production, complicity to capital, labor, etc. Then again, these are all in the service of retention of the cinema that he knows and the cinema he’s working at: again, he’s speaking for himself, nothing for us to benefit from, even when he speaks of this ghastly figure of “the audience.”

An important shift happened at the comments section when film director Frasco Mortiz pointed out the thing a lot of liberal thinkers has been pointing out as the root-cause of it all: education. But his point is mainly of consumer behavior: “Years of dumbing down the Filipinos have taken its toll in every aspect of our lives, including TV and Film preference.” Whether or not this adds to the guilt-tripping Matti has laid upon his post, is still to be decided.

Something is left unprocessed at the thread: is this “dumbing down” a result of the education Mortiz has been talking about? Instead of answering there directly, a longer response, I think, would be more fitting.

Let’s try to go back again with Matti’s rant: the earlier part of his post concerns mostly of content. Basically, what’s he’s on to is to roundabout blaming a certain sense of complicity of the “film artists” to the “audience’s taste” and to what’s the tried and tested formula to sell. He left a window for speculation: that maybe, there’s an audience somewhere. But the bottomline is that, the frame of reference that he’s looking at his assessment of cinematic practices is this speculative notion of “audience preference.”

To synthesize Matti’s and Mortiz’ points: the “audience preference” to which Matti’s points are framed, is a result of what Mortiz, and later on Matti, identified as “years dumbing down” of the Filipinos, which Mortiz has pointed out as an issue of education.

Let’s just say that this is true: as a supplementary to knowledge, these preferences are a result of dumbed down education. Which is to say, that what we refer to as “dumbness” is learned.

There’s a ring of truth in this, something which Matti and Mortiz has never validated. Something which liberals in general, like Matti would never validate: that education is meant to be a capturing mechanism. To validate this point, otherwise is to rid Matti of anyone to blame but the political structure, which, of course, something that liberals in general are quite suspicious of.

Renato Constantino, in his classic essay “The Miseducation of the Filipinos” noted that “The moulding of men’s minds is the best means of conquest. Education, therefore, serves as a weapon in wars of colonial conquest.” Constantino in his most insightful stance on education, reached a more clarified conclusion, that colonial education has influenced our consumption habits.

Between Matti/Mortiz and Constantino, looms this haunting image of the consumer being formed by colonial education. This dumbed-down learning, so to say, may have been a result positive for capitalism. The cinematic complex which Matti’s been keen on defending and restoring, is quite dependent on this kind of education. Which is to say, there’s really no conflict between Matti’s project of a “different” kind of cinema and this “dumbed-down” education, since the cinema that he’s trying to salvage is something which is produced through the deployment of such “mis-“education. Otherwise, the “different” kind of cinema would never even be thinkable without the “same” cinema that the “dumbed-down” audience consume.

As mentioned earlier, none of the project of Matti would benefit us, or the phantom “audience” that he’s thinking. But something along the line of Mortiz’ problem can be thought of. If the root of the problem has something to do with education, what would be your alternative? Filmmaker Lav Diaz sees an opportunity to educate people through cinema since cinema is so powerful, but does this guarantee that the same will never happen? Isn’t it with the same notion of power that colonial education itself successfully captured the minds of its subjects?

Education supplements capitalism, colonialism or any form of subjugation, through input and endless consumption of information. In the chain of production, the consumer learns through education what it is going to consume. This framework of education relies to positive feedback to the informational input to be harnessed more as exploited labor (either through an extension of working hours or through consumption). In here, production and consumption of cinema is not excluded: whether or not you assumed your “freedom” as an artist either to do “the same” or “something different,” the fact remains that once let go to the market, your film-commodity becomes one which demands positive informational/capital feedback upon consumption to sustain itself. An openly “educational” cinema would perform the same, only to produce surpluses.

Suppose, we suggest education as another key, but what are we going to teach? The “truth” is illusive, especially for those same people who advocates for “education” as the mere key for change. Not that we should dismiss the education project, the method itself is very important, given the fact that Constantino raised regarding its capability for “capturing minds.” In this end, we can propose a strategic end to which education should lean on: an education which unlearns instead of learns. Tentatively, we can call this negative education.

This kind of education is something Paulo Freire already hinted on his classic book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He noted that the condition for human existence (that is to exist humanly), is the capability to name the world in order to change it. In this sense, “naming” becomes a form of abduction and abandonment: you capture something to let it go or shift it to another. The “reappearance” of the world is important in this aspect: which can only be possible if the named is changed which requires new names.

In the light of Freire’s naming, Negative Education would bring about changing “dumbed down” education through unlearning it. But before one unlearns something, it must be acknowledged and learned first that that something is learned. “Being dumb” or “ignorant” is learned, and since it is learned, it can be unlearned. Negative Education wagers on Reza Negarestani’s project on cultivating intelligence which, for him, only matures with unlearning its slavery.

Standing in the conditions of intelligence, Negative Education do not see power through control as “evil,” unlike the petty Manichaeism of liberal philosophy. Negative Education completely harness control as an operational motivation to build its own tools to help with his continuous unlearning of slavery. It is in complete contradiction with capitalist capture of positive feedback: it excretes rather than accept information.

This unlearning will become a means to produce new knowledge. It will not guarantee, however, to that these knowledge to come will support Matti’s ideal cinema, as his ideal cinema is only possible through the capture of the minds as slave. Negative Education will actively reject capture as it strive for unlearning.


Between Representation and Visualization

Concerns over “proper” representation has been hot cake since liberal academics weaponized semiotics away from its concern over information and/or data towards a less scientific concern for sentimentalism. There really isn’t any contradiction between the two before this weaponization happened. However, more recent developments on the production of images makes looking at visualization more urgent than interpreting representations.

If we are to re-read de Saussure, the fundamentals of organization of signs as the organization of information, has pointed us now to visualization as the actual practice of image production than representation. The arbitrary and relational properties of a sign can be seen more on the practices of visualization, from cartography to diagrams. Maps, for example, has depicted more accurate depiction and exposition of ideology and its implications, by explicating borders than, say, a film about fascism.

Hyperrepresentation has never really done anything to negate the perceived misrepresentations in media. What happened is more a diagrammatic displacement of images, but still depicting the same data and still performing the same process sets as their perceived misrepresentations, only with a different legend-sets.  See for example, the recent Twilight Zone episodes, where it boasts “representations of minorities” with less and exceptional white casting (recently, for “Not All Men”, which features patriarchy as its subject.) Of course, the new Twilight Zone will be seen as a champion if is looked at with the sentimentalist view and thirst for proper representation.

Representational readings look for “meanings” or “essence” in a non-helpful abstract-for-abstraction-sake way. To look at visualizations is not just to look not with what the images mean, but how the information, these “meanings” in a certain image, are organized. Not just with the sequence, visualization is also concerned with the methods to which the images are organized. This is where ideologies come in. In essence, looking at the history of thought, ideology, as some people say it, is a “way of looking at things.” It is, therefore, a way of organizing information. A method. Rather, a set of methods. To look at how images are conjured, visualized, is to find this set of methods—the processes which govern how the information are presented as images.

Representation, as appropriated by capitalist realism, becomes reactive as time goes by. It settles with anything that would depict the oppressed subject as a minoritarian version of whiteness, or as Reza Negarestani puts it, it settles and “remains within the confines of the Western colonial notion of others as noble savages.” The new Twilight Zone does this Mexican, Asian, or Black version of white people best. So is Jordan Peele’s Us. Or Crazy Rich Asians. Or more recently, the depiction of women-empowerment still within the confines of patriarchy in Erik Matti’s Kuwaresma. “Progressive” content do not trickle down to the method, form always devour content. Representation resides within capitalist realism too, in so far as it does not do away with the methods and structure of capitalism as long as it gets the “proper” images it wants to have.

Representation banks on a perceived totalized being against another perceived totalized being. It is somewhat relatively dogmatic, ultimately consumerist. It settles with a limited amount of choice, with a hope to conserve aspects of these totalized being that champions of representation seek to forward. To repeat myself, none of the champions of “progressive representation” present any actual negation or alternative.

In contrast with representation, which settles with the present, visualization permits an opening for a future. In practice, to visualize is to draw a possible image of what could come out in the concrete. Since it concerns the concrete, it also concerns itself with the relative autonomy of each of the elements it depicts. It is aware of each and its own properties and measurement. These are blueprints, models, plans. Elements of visualizations are present too, in other forms of image-production, in so far as these forms are delimited from “creative” and “anthropological” use. Visualizations, as experimental as they are, also looks into the possibilities and becomings. Less to proving what is, but to what one has and can become.

Is a spectacular form like cinema a form of visualization too? Cinema is a planned, deliberate production of images. It does not merely “represent” or “reflect”, it is also information arranged and organized, something which can be rearranged and reorganized. To think of cinema as a visualization is to capture it to its wholeness, scope and limitation included. If anything, looking at the boundaries of cinema, and looking for boundaries in cinema, captures something close to truth.

For A Theory of Movie-going?

Last saturday, April 27, 2019, a concern over the current film industry’s overproduction of films was raised by Prof. Nick Deocampo on his talk on the Boom-and-Bust pattern of Philippine Film Economy, at the UP Film Institute. The concern centers on the concept of “demand”, something the Boom-and-Bust, being the liberal economic model that it is, seem to cover a lot. (Overproduction, i.e., we produce a lot of films which a few to none has seen).

But “demand” in any sense seem to be ghastly, more on the discussion of film. Can one really account on any film’s demand? If we quantify the list of top-selling films for the past 20 years, would it account to any fixed notion of “demand”? Can a “demand” for a specific film be established in the first place?

The notion of “demand”, in classical discussion of it in market economy, seem to center a lot of its decisions on the consumer. Consumer demand, as it turns out on recent expositions made, seem to be less concerned with what the consumers actually want. In a sense, what the consumer want is the Lacanian real for market economists. It’s that impossibility. That to get close to it, you’d only appeal to its symptoms, and not to its actuality. These symptoms can come in a form of survey, result of focus group discussions, or whatever quantitative research output economists and market researchers use.

Consumer demand, or at least the data of it, seem to be more synthetic than we can accept. It is a ghost from a community ghost story which we believe in strongly,despite only hearing it from someone, or only seeing things which are like it. Especially for a marginalized commodity as film — a commodity with very little use-value — producers and film marketers oftentimes use a lot of mechanisms to generate or conjure, to be consistent with our gothic metaphors, demand.

The hot topic of the past days, Avengers: Endgame, did conjure this ghost demand, but it does so in a very long process. Often times this could be mistaken as an “organic” process, but for a company as big as Marvel and Disney, its global audience is nothing organic or accidental. It is at most calibrated. It is capital as Nick Land would put it: an amplified response to positive feedback.

Cinema and positive feedback to it, as the social practice of blockbusters go, never seem to care much of “aesthetics”, or morals, or ethics, so to say. Its mystique comes from what Pauline Kael, in her classic essay “Trash, Art and the Movies,” call enjoyment. For Kael, enjoyment is the basic thing that we want to get from the movies, everything else is secondary to it. Weird thing that Kael do not want to equate what’s good in the movies — which is its fun — with art, meanwhile, Hito Steyerl would note that art needs to be salvaged for it is one of the sources of fun.

In any case, Kael’s point is never about art, but rather why do people go to the movie houses. Kael would note on enjoyment as something which is never really the same for everyone, but she nonetheless points out what she finds enjoyable on films that she sees. I think this dynamic of going to see a movie is something which is less considered when market study of films are being done. I’ve yet to look though, if studies are done, at least a survey, on why people are going to the movies. Of course, a hunch, just like Kael’s, is to enjoy. After all, enjoyment is the most basic of the use-value in consumerist societies.

Going to the movies costs a lot. It better be worth it.

Chris Fujiwara’s notion of the film critic as an organizer I think comes in here. We can understand why a lot of film critics stretch their hands to reach out to people and tell them to see this possibly underseen independent film or arthouse film. Fujiwara noted that at the most basic, you’re supposed to share the pleasure of watching the film on every review. In the context of the Philippines, however, there seems to be quite a few who are being honest on their own enjoyment.

See, for example, this review of Tristan Zinampan of Citizen Jake. It is mostly in the parentheticals that we can see what can possibly be enjoyable with the film. Mostly, the review goes back and forth between its director and the “political message” the film supposed to bring, very few on the plot points, fewest about what made the film worthwhile seeing. If the film, as the title suggest, is worthwhile as a wake-up call, it never really mentioned in the review how does the film wake you up. It just tells you things you already know.

The general tendency of film reviews center around either this form of moralism, or a point of snobbery. Most of the time, the fault is two fold between the critic and the filmmaker. Most especially, those who treat film in line with the fine arts. It is in this sense that Francis Joseph Cruz flat-out only made a review for a Lav Diaz film, and never really attempt to reach out for more audience, in his review of Ang Panahon ng Halimaw. He can choose to fault Diaz over this: on why the film seem to be a film for specialists. As it stands, his review seem to reflect a lot from which we can enjoy the film from, however, it may be as intimidating also as he said it would be.

There’s something I quite find unassuring however, of both reviews’ conclusions on both films. A wake up call and a call to arms. Both reviews merely survey the manifestations, but never really pointed out how they worked as such. Are they just working metaphorically? And if the times are as they say (dark, violent or whatever), aren’t these kinds of work… useless? For surely, who were they supposed to wake up? Who are they suppose to arm? Their already-assured audience?

Then again, if we go about fetishizing auteurs, no one would really watch a Mike de Leon film because one wants to wake up, or a Lav Diaz film because we want to bear arms. Those who follow them as artists already know how and where they stand politically, does it warrant for a repeat on the reviews of their films? What about what made them stand out as films? Isn’t that considered into equation?

It is unfair to fault an audience-base who do not know what they are dealing with to not see these kinds of films. No one even made a good case on whether anyone would have an enjoyable– if not, interesting — time watching those films. The cases which were raised by almost everyone who’d make you want to see Citizen Jake is its wokeness. But what if you don’t buy wokeness? What if you don’t buy film directors either?

Is it time for critics to consider the basic question, why do people go and see the movies, and consider them on their written pieces?

Time and again, the so-called nationalists virtue-call cinemas for blocking their screens with an all-day screening of, and fault audiences falling in line to, the next hollywood blockbusters. They also fault capitalism, “because business”, which, of course, the boogeyman we need to slay, but never really make a good case how did we come to this. This is a good case of call-out vs critique. The latter, is what we always lack when looking at this predicament.

Rather, we are afraid to critique this side of movie-going. Because it necessitates a “downgrading” of cinema from an “art” to a “mere” commodity. Critique of the cinema distributing system in a society like ours would necessitate a critique of the structure and system that enables it. And that will start always, in looking at production, modes of production, and commodities. That production, in the context of capitalism, is not art-production, but commodity production. Because these goods are exchanged for other commodities, more commonly, money. Cinema is a commodity. There’s no use crowdsourcing over at twitter on what your speculative audience want to see. We can only figure out why people go to see Avengers and not our movies, not in-lieu of their desires — these are merely the symptoms — if we start looking at films like in the manner of how we gauge our consumption of coffee.

“Cinema is not made of flesh”: an interview by Mara Valle

Around late November last year, a student by the name Mara Valle (MV) approached me for a written interview for her undergraduate (?) thesis. Her topic has something to do with the films directed by Olivia Lamasan and representation of women in her films. I asked for her permission if I can post it here. I revised some of the points I made, mainly due to clarity concerns.

The decision to post these answers to her questions came with the realization that the answers actually map the groundwork of my thoughts with regards to cinema. The content mainly revolves around my general theory of the function of cinema as determined by its historical practice as a medium of illusion. And that it is within this framework that we can understand what cinema is doing to us and its main contribution to history and our lives. These were all fleshed out by Valle’s seemingly basic questions which never really occurred to me to write at all. So, I’m using this opportunity to have these available here, at least as a point of personal reference.

I’d like to thank Mara Valle for reaching out and asking these questions.


MV – What was your drive behind making film reviews?

– I’m not sure if you can call it drive. But I do it because I don’t know what else I can write. Or what else I can do. I write fiction from time to time. I also make films if time and resources permits.

But what I’m most comfortable with (with regards to my skill and knowledge scope, despite my handicap in grammar) is my capability to process my interaction with cinema and visual culture through criticism. There is an attempt of course, to broaden my interests. I’ve wrote a political pamphlet once for the Mass Organization I’m with (my work there is currently focused on production). Recently, I’m less interested with film in a manner that can’t consider myself as a cinephile anymore. But herein lies the contradiction that I’m already in the middle of it both as a creator and a commentator. The most I can do to validate my existence (and even with my “official” line of work since in the University, your tenure as a faculty gets more secured if you produce more “researches”) is to continue writing film reviews and criticism.

There is an advantage with not being interested with cinema while engaging with it: you see aspects of the medium which are mostly disregarded by those who proclaim that loves it. There are limits for people who love when they theorize and historicize: that they theorize and historicize to redeem that certain thing they love. This disinterest with cinema made my criticism more observant with what constitute its existence from the simplest to the most complex: from the illusory motion of frames to the military-industrial complex’s use of cinema as instrument of war.


MV – As a film critic who despite the fact that you are most likely to see different films almost every day, do you have a favorite movie? What is the movie’s title?

– As I’ve mentioned, recently, films do not interest me. So, as of late, I only see films whenever permitted. I do not watch much films lately. Probably before, I see different stuff almost every day but realizations from 2016 made me pause and take my time on consuming motion pictures. I still find Johnnie To’s Life Without Principle interesting enough to be called my favorite. But more as a narrative and as humanist critique of global capitalism than a movie. Well, formally, it is also compelling. Recently I’ve been going back to films I used to love and some of them I still like to some extent: Un Chien Andalou, Meshes of the Afternoon, Throw Away Your Books Rally in the Streets, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Inland Empire, Shaolin Soccer, Throw Down, Man with a Movie Camera.


MV – What is your basis when determining whether a film is good or bad?

– My criteria is more of whether the film is effective or not in providing an illusion. Cinema’s technology, basing with Muybridge’s motion studies in the late 19th century, reveals to us this very basic function of cinema: to provide illusions of any kind. Whether an illusion of motion, of time or of affect. A technology to replace the phantasmagoria, the magic lantern and even the vaudeville.

As a medium of illusion, cinema in the mid-20th century became what Louis Althusser called as Ideological State Apparatus (ISA). I highlight more on my reviews and criticism the role of cinema in propagating ideology than to concern myself on whether a film is “good” or “bad.” There really is no such thing as a good or bad film, but rather an effective or ineffective propaganda.

Of course there is ugly filmmaking, but even mishandled craft is still to be considered with its overall message. Say, for example, the overly “polished” single-take action scene from Buy Bust (2018). News is saying that they took them 52 takes to get that shot. When you see that scene, it still looks like a rehearsal video. If that’s the 52nd take, something must be wrong with the way it was handled. But the sequence being clumsy worked for its overall propaganda as a film which abhors both the action genre and the poor.


MV – When evaluating films, how do you handle if you feel you have a bias for or against the subject matter of a film. How do you manage to temper your review?

– At present, I am against any form of “subjectivation” (cinema sa an ISA means it constructs the audience as state’s subject) with regards to filmic representation. But cinema itself, at least its industrial part under bureaucrat capitalism, maintains subjectivation as its basic point: it shows what’s proper, it tells you what to buy, it tells you to subvert (but in a limited scope since industrial cinema can’t promote extreme subversions), but not in a very commanding way. Like how Slavoj Zizek say it: cinema teaches you how to desire.

So how do I handle being against cinema itself? I write criticism. My criticism is directed at two points: at the film and at film production under bureaucrat capitalism. I manage my temper by escalating it. There’s really no point of suppressing your anger over something that you should really be angry at. For example, Heneral Luna, is an effective propaganda on distributing semi-feudal ideas and liberal cynicism, since they appeal towards those who are disappointed over the incompetence of the Aquino administration but they opportunistically do so to promote their own degenerate and reactionary ideas. Isn’t that something that you should be angry about? Who are these people to tell us that we are our own enemy as if actual colonialism and imperialism never happened and is not happening?


MV – On your perspective, has digital cinema destroyed realism? Why?

– As mentioned earlier, cinema’s basic function is to provide illusions. Being mechanically called as “motion picture” in the twentieth century validates this function. Cinema works through a flowing assemblage of images which are being ran at a relatively fast speed. On the average industry standard, 24 frames per second. Having provided an illusion of motion through the projection of a set of images at a certain speed, realism will fail to take base. The first artist of cinema, Georges Melies, made cinema an art by incorporating with moving images not social realism, nor romanticism, but his practice of magic, which was his craft before he became fascinated with the cinema machine. Even the so-called “social realism” of the twentieth century, from Italian practice to the Filipino Melodrama, cannot even claim for a certain realism. Psychoanalytically speaking, the most cinema can depict is not a social real, but a social symbolic.

Cinema being a medium of representation, can never get hold of the real. It is an ideologue’s tool: most it can grasp is an idealism.

The digital medium, if anything, did not destroy realism, since it’s not even there in the first place. The fact that the use of digital medium has escalated from marginal use towards being the new convention means that it adds something quite positive in the realm of capitalist driven production of cinema. As such, it helped create more “realistic” scenes: isn’t it with digital cinema that the Bing Lao-Brillante Mendoza clique first deployed their “real time” “found story” aesthetics? Through the easier manipulation of digital images, it’s easier to make images as close to ‘real.’ Cinema, being born in the era of early cybernetics, guaranteed that the real that we know from the enlightenment – the humanist real – can never cross the realm of the reels. What is unfair is that cinema affects the real, as much as the developments in the mode of production and means of production affected it too. Cinema is not made of flesh. Its real is synthetic.


MV – What are your views on lead and supporting actresses in films that are being produced today? Personally, do you think women are still seen as Maria Clara or a damsel in distress in films? Do you think directors that produce films nowadays are gender sensitive?

I’ll be answering the three questions above in one go. From how I see it, the depiction of women in Philippine Cinema today borders between traditional and liberal, but both with conservative tendencies. Cinematic representation, at least in the industrial sense, do not really care much about the accuracy or political necessity of progressive stance if it do not guarantee profit. There are audiences for damsels in distress, there are audiences for depiction of independent women. It’s a matter of whose perversion is the studio catering with at a given moment.

The studio system in the 21st century rely a lot on speculation, like most venues of contemporary art market. If they feel the tendency of the time sway on traditional end, they’ll do it. Social media makes it easy to calibrate with what the consumers want. This is less of audience participation than expectation exploitation. There are no real modernists existing right now, at least among those who positively reinforce cinema and its production. Any demand for what ought to be represented in the cinema screens are probably western-white culture whims than actual intellectual demand. There are demands for gender sensitivity but not, say, abolition of conditions which enable violence against women and other genders which includes feudalism, bureaucrat capitalism and imperialism.

This non-addressing of social, historical and political conditions which enable violence is what makes such moves on cinema conservative. A conservation, in the literal sense, of existing status quo. That as long as these demands are met, further extortion and expropriation of surplus value from workers can be justified. By the end of the day, it’s consumerism forming ‘safe spaces’ out of cinema.

It’s this idea of forming a safe space out of cinema houses which exposes two things about the concept of such spaces. First, safe spaces only pose for a temporary remedy which do not really solve anything, as such it is only supposing a politics of comfort. Second, that such calls for safe spaces contributes more to the conditions which actually violates rights of women, children and other minorities, as it only address comfort and do not call for struggle.

Not really sure whether directors nowadays are gender sensitive. But I am highly suspicious of those who pose as one. Especially, if they’re looking at women, gays, lesbians, and other identities outside of the basic contradictions and only bank on personal ones. The personal isn’t necessarily political.


MV – In the following films:

  1. Minsan Minahal Kita
  2. In the Name of Love
  3. The Mistress
  4. Milan
  5. Starting Over Again
  6. Barcelona: A Love Untold

Do you think the women characters are portrayed as empowered or weak?

– From the titles you mentioned, I only remember four of them. The best that I can remember is In The Name of Love, and I don’t really recall the film having any care whether they depicted Cedes (Angel Locsin) as empowered or not. And I think that’s how it goes too with Milan and Starting Over Again. I vaguely remember The Mistress.

Though, they are not really portrayed as weak too. Remember, these are studio films. Most that they are concerned with are the affects these characters and films generated. As studio films, they are backed with the most reactionary, backward and profit-driven narrative decisions. There may have been attempts from writers to subvert their materials, but subversions has always been ineffective, even if those supposed subversions made it to the final cut of the film. Studio filmmaking practice never really endorse any kind of empowerment, most especially in a film produced in a semifeudal country like ours. There will always be dependence of any sort, on the status quo mostly. The films mentioned above, being produced by Star Cinema, under the corporate blanket of ABS CBN, promotes the notion of the family as the most important aspect of life. This ideological dispersion run on two sides: it promotes the value that maintains the stature of the ruling class as ruling class, and it ensures to generate more profit.

Here’s the thing: most of 21st century productions of Star Cinema tend to cater the female market more, some of which may have a notion of empowerment from time to time. This is because by the turn of the century, the buying power of single young-adult and middle aged women has significantly grown due to the global necessity for more corporate-skilled and outsourced workers. If Star Cinema will try to do more of these women empowerment themes on their films, this isn’t because they really do advocate for it. After all, they’re still one of those larger companies which practices non-regularization through their outsourcing of clerical workers from agencies, a lot of whose are women, hence disenfranchising working class women on their end. This is on top of their crazy hours of working days (from 12 hour to 30 hour shooting days) which is unfair, for both of their men and women workers, from their cinema production to their news production. Any campaign brought about by mainstream media for any sort of empowerment or advocacy, they do so with capitalistic opportunism. And I think this go along with all other filmmakers and not just Olivia Lamasan, who, after all, is just another corporate employee with a fat paycheck.


MV – Do you think the image of women characters in films perceive how people see them in real life?

– Sometime they hit it by the nail. Most especially on the earlier sequences of their films, when they establish women as troubled and busy despite of all of their other necessities in life. It is on their establishment of narrative conflict and resolution – when they are actually becoming stories – that their films start to become fictional.

Materials for an Immature Film Aesthetic

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



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 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.

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.