Category: the arts

wagging the dog

when PAWS raised a howl over the killing of a dog in the film Oro after it had been showing in theaters for more than a week, i wondered what the MMFF selection committee that had named it among the eight best of 27 submitted entries back in mid-november had to say.  i expected that at least one of them —

Nicanor Tiongson (author, Manunuri member and former MTRCB chair)
Ping Medina (award-winning actor)
Lawrence Fajardo (writer/ director/ film editor)
Mae Paner (actor/film director/ political activist)
Atty. Trixie Angeles (conservationist/ legal counsel for the National Commission on Culture and the Arts)
Alan Allanigue (station manager of DZRB Radyo ng Bayan)
Crispina Belen (veteran journalist)
Joy Belmonte (Quezon City Vice-Mayor)
Krip Yuson (writer/poet, inducted to the Hall of Fame of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature)

— would speak up and defend their selection of Oro, dog-killing and all.  it has to be defensible, after all, given that the choice was unanimous.  walang nag-object.

“When we computed all our individual scores, there was a consensus on these eight films. There were no objections among the execom members, and neither were there other issues that came about from these choices. We were all focused on the same direction, and concerned primarily on the quality of the films,” MMFF 2016 Competition Committee member Nicanor Tiongson explained.

strangely enough, we haven’t heard again from tiongson or any other esteemed member of the competition/selection committee since PAWS demanded that Oro be withdrawn from theaters, its awards revoked, and the director and producer banned.  the only one we’ve been hearing from is liza diño of FDCP, who was not herself a member of any MMFF 2016 committee (FDCP was represented by a mere staff member), and yet who took it upon herself to speak for the MMFF and, horrors, to dignify validate legimitize PAWS’ over-the-top importunings, thereby setting a horrible precedent that spells disaster for filipino filmmaking.  ishmael bernal and lino brocka would be howling back in thunderous proportions were they around today.

it bears pointing out that, except for diño and PAWS, dog-lovers who saw the movie pre-PAWS tell me they were not offended, i suppose because the scenes were believably integral to the story and the culture of impunity.  it also bears pointing out that of some 10 reviews of Oro, again pre-PAWS, that i read online, not one mentioned or brought up the dog-killing, and only one referred to it, with “irony” yet.  read IN THE NAME OF GOLD: A Review of Alvin Yapan’s ORO (2016) by gio potes.

… you got to give props for Alvin Yapan for shedding light on a locale that otherwise would only be known as a surfing spot (you can even handpick the coverboy governor as your superficial Exhibit A). Relying on the actors’ prowess to move the narrative forward, ORO worked best as an actor’s film complete with fine turns from Irma Adlawan, Sue Prado and Mercedes Cabral. While several of the film’s metaphors may not fit well into the narrative, ORO echoes Iñárritu’s AMORES PERROS, juicing irony not from the condition of human characters but from their best friends, the dogs.

Like BARBER’S TALES, ANINO SA LIKOD NG BUWAN before it, and even NUNAL SA TUBIG way way before it, the grit and drama of ORO is more than enough to alarm audiences of brutal injustices in the country’s fringes. It is very brave to have been done and entered in the most commercial of local film festivals; even Yapan had second thoughts in making it. But unlike documentaries, the makers of ORO know the power of fiction to ignite the fire on certain things we probably may have forgotten, on pressing matters easily ignored, and to draw viewers to investigate on hidden narratives that may be lurking around. When Eugene Domingo exclaims satirically “Suffering! E suffering na nga e, bakit pa imamaximize?!” in her own MMFF vehicle, you know she may have a point on escapism. But then again, Alvin Yapan’s film slaps the audience right back to the seats to utter just one question – who, then, will maximize it?

post-PAWS, there were a few who, while acknowledging that a law had been broken, insisted on going beyond the legalities, such as jj domingo in a facebook post.

… What I know about rights is there are positive rights, which are derived from legitimate authority, and there are natural rights, which are extrapolated from perceived order of nature (or, if you’re theist, the divine). Are animal rights merely positive rights bestowed either by human prerogative (to make us feel good about ourselves) or utility (to conserve the environment); or are they based on inherent, pre-conceived natural rights?

If animal rights are mere positive rights bestowed by human prerogative or utility, then why can’t they be trumped anytime by other human considerations, such as for instance the need to effectively tell a story in order to inspire social action? If animal rights are based on natural rights, then why don’t we respect the rights of all animals? Why just dogs and not, say, mosquitos? Also, how can we say that it is natural for all creatures to have rights when the most fundamental regime in nature is the food chain, which decrees that all is fair in the name of survival? I mean, really, I don’t think Peter Singer has ever proven that Mother Nature wishes to protect all her creatures from death and suffering. On the contrary, we know that Mother Nature allows millions of creatures to die and suffer everyday, all in the name of ecological balance.

on the other hand, the film reviews post-PAWS, as expected, turned critical of the dog-killing and the initial denials and obfuscations.  read Fauna non grata by tito genova valiente.

…One of the achievements of independent cinema is the exploration of narratives, of self-conscious storytelling that has created, to borrow the words of film historian and film theorist David Bordwell, “a vast appetite for artifice.” Stories are told and retold and, most often, the themes that didn’t touch us because they were developed by the dryly objective approaches of mainstream TV journalism, are now viewed “cubed”, as if the phenomenon is being turned around and around for us to deliciously and deliriously take in the realities made super. That, among other things, is the legacy of good cinema: Reality is achieved without resulting to plain reality. In plain words, actors need not die in their death scenes, dogs need not be killed for the committal of injustice to be less assaulting.

As it is, I agree with Anna Cabrera [of PAWS] and her decision to bring to court the Oro team and the Oro filmmaker. I, however, do not agree with her move the awards be taken away from the group. I don’t think the killing of a dog contributed to the performance of Irma Adlawan. She’s a good actress because she knows the magic of artifice…

which brings me back to PAWS and diño who mightily succeeded in wagging the dog and, wittingly or unwittingly, distracting from the march 2014 massacre in barangay gata, caramoan, camarines sur, on which the film was based.  read Kalikasan’s On the cause and controversy of the film ‘Oro’.

…In ‘Oro’, the small-scale mining community was threatened at gunpoint by the SKTF [Sagip Kalikasan Task Force], and subsequently displaced them from the mines. The SKTF took over the operations of the mine, forced the community to work on a contractual basis, obliged them to sell their ore to the SKTF’s local collaborationist buyer on unjustly low fixed prices, and eventually killed their leaders.

There are an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 small-scale miners across the Philippines and they continue to suffer the same fate. The worst situations they have faced involve large-scale mining operations displacing them from their livelihoods, and paramilitary, military, and private security forces perpetrating atrocities that range from intimidation and harassment to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Self-regulation remains a pipe dream as the current mining policy regime deprives them of access to the accreditation process and to much-needed state support.

The small-scale miners, peasant farmers, indigenous people, and other marginalized masses, together with all the flora and fauna that compose their once sustainable rural lives, are all victims to the open-pit mines and other forms of development aggression, and the heavily armed fortifications that come along with it. We have a tyrannical social and economic system as a common foe; let us always remember what the real enemy is.

in august 2015, a DOJ special panel of prosecutors found probable cause to charge members of the Sagip Kalikasan Task Force (SKTF) with murder pertaining to the “Caramoan massacre” of March 22, 2014 that led to the death of four local miners in sitio campo, barangay gata, caramoan, camarines sur.

The Panel found that all elements of murder were established:

First, victims Julio, Rene, Salem, and Jesse were killed.

Second, Respondents Breso, Espares, Jr., Tria III, and eighteen other unidentified men, allegedly members of the SKTF, were responsible for the killings, as seen by witness Elmer and heard by witness Carino.

Third, the killings were attended by the qualifying circumstance of treachery as testified by witness Elmer. The victims, who were simply having dinner and drinking after work, were caught off guard when Respondents Breso, Espares, Jr., and eighteen other unidentified men shot the former point blank, leaving them no chance at all to evade the onslaught. The Panel observed that the method of inflicting harm by Respondents Breso, Espares, Jr, and the eighteen other unidentified men ensured that they would fatally kill the victims without risk to themselves.

The defense of alibi by Respondent Tria III was held to be unconvincing because he was positively identified by the eyewitnesses.

five months later, on january 29 2016, bicoltoday.com reported that court hearings were finally to commence, “very soon,” at the RTC in san jose, camarines sur.

On Thursday, January 21 (this year), families of the victims staged a rally in the City of Naga and cried for justice as authorities were slow in investigating the massacre and had encountered stumbling blocks over gathering of evidence.

… Investigation by authorities had taken a downspin at some periods in time as gathering of evidence had turned out difficult after provincial capitol officials refused to cooperate with investigators who wanted to get the roster of Capitol employees, specifically those belonging to the environment department and Civil Security Unit.

Even Governor Migz Villafuerte refused to turn over vital information which might help authorities in the investigation.
Villafuerte’s refusal to cooperate had caused the ire of the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) which, later, purged the Governor of his “deputy powers.”

In stripping Villafuerte of “deputation powers accorded to him as Deputy of NAPOLCOM”, the police commission cited the Governor’s involvement in “covering- up investigation of the Gata massacre; protecting the suspects and coddling of armed men; obstruction of justice; and acts inimical to national security.”

but but but there have been no subsequent reports of court hearings, the case is still pending, which must be telling of how powerful were / are the villafuertes, luis and miguel, father and son, across the aquino and duterte administrations?

i would like to think that the dog-wagging was not a deliberate attempt to draw attention away from the real crime and the real enemy.  even if, for a while there, the PAWS-diño tandem seemed virtually unstoppable.  the MMFF was called out on jan 2.  by jan 3 the FPJ award was taken back.  by jan 4 Oro was no longer showing in theaters.  and on jan 5, camarines sur rep. luis raymund villafuerte was asking congress to probe the MMFF.  the nerve!!!

… film fest officials should explain “why they included ‘Oro’ among the official entries – and worse, even granted an award to it – despite its gory dog-slaying scene and its depiction of supposedly everyday life in our province that was the exact opposite of what actually happened as well as the real protagonists and antagonists in a barangay in Caramoan Island.”

“The film is nothing but political propaganda masquerading as art in which the highly respected actors that took part in it, plus the film crew, were unwittingly used to present an alternate universe of events that never happened in Caramoan Island two years ago,” he said.

“The withdrawal of the award over the animal cruelty issue is the best proof of sloppy work by the film fest committee, which explains why it was haphazardly included among the official entries despite its grossly inaccurate depiction of reality in Camarines Sur,” Villafuerte stressed.

… “Instead of just suspending the movie’s showing until such time that the dog-slaying scene is edited out, the Metro film fest committee must ban its showing altogether as an act of contrition for its dismal failure to exercise due diligence,” he said.

seems to me like a last-ditch effort to convince the public that the gata4 massacre was all just a figment of the imagination of the villafuertes’ political opponents.  nothing to lose?  pushing their luck?  given a liza diño who’s all over the place, and given the silence of the likes of boots anson and ed cabagnot, jesse ejercito and wilson tieng, nick tiongson and krip yuson, e talaga namang sinusuwerte ang mga villafuerte.

michael is gold!

couldn’t believe that i had not heard / read of michael christian martinez before sochi 2014.  my bad?  and/or media’s?  whatever, that was quite a two-night high, watching this 17-year old competing with the world’s best and being dazzled by his talent and passion and tenacity.

on facebook it was good that above the babel of high hopes for a gold (sana matisod ang japan at canada, haha), there was the voice of prof. neil garcia, once a rollerskater and skateboarder himself, who has been following the olympic event “since forever,” and who placed it all in perspective in this thread of observations.

J. Neil C. Garcia

just to make the cut for the free skate–that’s achievement enough (his real olympics will be in 2018, when he will hopefully have a quad or quads, and his other triples will be more secure, his line more graceful and powerful).

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but what an olympics this has been! first, there was that obviously scripted but still shocking withdrawal by plushenko (that had the bulk of the audience–russians, naturally–heading for the exit); then there was jeremy abbott’s horrendous fall (that visibly knocked the wind out of him) and grim determination to finish his skate anyway (reassembling his program from scratch, almost, well enough to still rack up some points); then there was yuzuru’s incredible score, followed closely enough by patrick’s (and the two of them are way out ahead of the rest of the finalists); then there was the almost pitifully empty arena (less than a quarter of the seats were occupied); then there were all these botched quads, popped triples, and falls, all resulting in unseemly and unbecomingly low scores for most of the competitors… the pertinent ‘first’ of course is the entry and qualification of our own lone teenage olympian, who has certainly done us all proud. a memorable evening it has been, after all. here’s to a respectable and clean free skate for mcm tomorrow!

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mcm himself admitted in the post-skate interview that his combination jumps are his waterloo. without them naman, he can’t go very far in the free skate. if i were him, i’d go for a double (rather than a triple) toe tacked at the end of a triple lutz and a triple loop and that second triple axel. pwede na yun. don’t na try for a triple triple. basta clean, para memorable na rin. and his ina bauer, which is great, along with the biellmann: female moves, and among the guys only he can do them–he should highlight them as transitions.

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he doesn’t have the mature line and edges yet. clearly visible, this youthfulness, when seen side by side the higher-scoring skaters that came after him. he’ll gain all of that with more training. i really hope he gets a sponsor–maybe some rich tycoon, fil or filam–who will put him up in michigan or somewhere else in the us, and basically allow him the opportunity to get better at his craft.

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his nebelhorn and earlier competitions saw him holding his positions longer. it’s the nerves–they obviously got to him, even if only a little.

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who wrote this report? several triple axles? he did just one triple aXEL; a downgraded triple lutz combo (ended up doubling the toe loop), a triple loop and a cantilever (a kind of inside-edge spread eagle, with knees bent, back leaning). his best (because unique elements) were in the transitions (the ina bauer, for example) and the spins (the i-spin and the biellmann). hay. it’s time we brush up on the elements of this very complicated sport.

yes, and it’s time that government and the tycoons give the young man all the support he clearly deserves.  we have in michael a national treasure, so young and already skating, strutting, on the world stage, doing the nation proud.  and those 10 minutes when he was number one of six, that was a glimpse of gold that augurs great for his future.

Michael Christian Martinez: The Wounded Dancer (Olympic Poetry)

THE WOUNDED DANCER
By Kwame Dawes
For skater Michael Christian Martinez of the Philippines

We skaters arrive wounded, limping, the aches—
beneath the skin you will see the terrible
brutality of what we must do to our bodies.

Ice, we know, is cold, a sharp pain of brittle
light—but ice is hard, it will not give,
it bites back, before melting sardonically.

I leap, torque and flow, my mind whispers,
flight is lifting the weight of the world,
And there are no white rose petals to land upon.

Here in these humid islands, the mall owner
is kind to build a rink, but he thinks the ice is smooth
as glass, slick, even. He would not know

the bubbles and fissures of the uneasy ice,
the physics of crystals, and the way the ankles
twist and contort to hold a smooth line—

come closer, turn off the muzak, listen
to the crunch and yelp of the ice breaking
away against the steel’s bite, and hear the pop

of my bones and the wheeze of all tendons
before the leap—hear the deep grunt
of anticipation as I lift, the body already

alert to the blow of my landing—and only
for that small moment, of clothes flapping,
in the miracle of the second turn; only

then, when the dizzying of lights spinning,
colors hurled at me, in the second of lift
and the yank downwards, only then

can you call my body smiling—then comes
the brute ache, of landing, splintering ice,
ankle howling, such painful, painful beauty.

woody’s woes

Considering how long and how often it has happened, Western culture should find it easy to separate art from artist — to judge a particular work of art apart from the behavior, even reprehensible behavior, of its creator.

The ongoing tragedy of filmmaker Woody Allen and his family suggests maybe it’s not so easy anymore, especially not when everyone and their wacky brother can weigh in on social media. That in turn could affect how Allen’s peers judge his latest Oscar-nominated film, Blue Jasmine, and its Oscar-nominated stars.

the women, especially, are out in full force.  read The Dylan Farrow case and the power of internet 

Yes, you do have the usual clueless old white dudes who are content to recycle the same old sexist slurs. The nuts-and-sluts defense lives! … though in this case it’s being used against Mia rather than Dylan.

But what’s wonderful is that we’ve also heard from women like Ann Friedman,Amanda Marcotte, Katie McDonough, Jessica Winter, Emily McCombs andNatalie Shure. They address the case from different angles, but the one the thing they all have in common is that their writing is grounded in their experience as women, their utilization of feminism as a tool of analysis, and their commitment to challenging rape culture myths.

Back in the 1990s, you never saw very many female opinion columnists writing about these issues — not in most mainstream media outlets, at least. In liberal magazines like The Nation or Mother Jones you could enjoy Katha Pollitt or Molly Ivins, but even in those places, women’s voices were badly outnumbered by men’s. That so many vibrant feminist writers now have platforms on web outlets is a wonderful thing.

woody sure is getting a beating.  barbara walters tried to vouch for him in The View as a loving and caring father, but wow was she was pounced on.  like joyce carol oates twitted after: One might as readily step into the spinning propellors of an airplane as to engage in publicly ‘discussing’ Dylan Farrow/ Woody Allen issue.  oates herself got flak for tweeting : Though Woody Allen has been much denounced, very likely many of his denouncers greatly admire Nabokov’s “Lolita.” No contradiction? and In the Woody Allen case, as in cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, the remedy is for the victim to bring suit against the abuser.

to my surprise, even dissident feminist and art scholar camille paglia, who is known to take up the cudgels for men on certain issues, says she is inclined to believe dylan’s letter.  just the same this essay she wrote for Newsday back in 1992, published in Vamps and Tramps (1994), resonates.

Woody Allen Agonistes

Two weeks ago, the discreet twelve-year relationship between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow exploded into public attention in a media firestorm of charges and countercharges. Day after day, screaming headlines documented the revelations: Allen had filed for custody of the couple’s three small children; he had been accused of molestation of one of them in Connecticut; he admitted a sexual liason with Farrow’s adopted Korean daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, whose age has been variously reported as nineteen or twenty-one.

After an initial period of confusion, most sensible people seemed willing ot suspend judgment for the moment on the child abuse charge, in the absence of hard evidence. But on talk shows and in the print media, there was a thunderous chorus of condemnation of Allen for his relationship with Soon-Yi. Family therapists, feminists, and church-going conservatives called it callous, lecherous, incestuous, decadent. Woody Allen, one of feminism’s great white hopes for the ideal “sensitive male,” had flunked out. The lovable nerd was just another leering Nero.

This controversy is a perfect thermometer for taking the temperature of the American psyche. Twenty-five years after the sexual revolution, what have we learned about ourselves? Practically nothing. Contrary to feminist propaganda, we have not found the answer to any important sexual issue. In fact, as the century ends, we have barely begin to pose the questions correctly.

At his press conference two weeks ago, Woody Allen said there is “no logic” to falling in love. This ancient wisdom about the Dionysian irrationality of our emotional lives is documented in the earliest Greek and Roman love poetry. It is a great spiritual truth sadly missing from the ugly, clumsy ideology of current feminism, which is obsessed with social-welfare cliches of oppression, victimization and “care-giving.”

Woody Allen is an artist. To whom does he owe ultimate responsibility? Since Romanticism, we have expected the artist not to celebrate God, king, family, and established values but to break taboos, to explore his or her deepest, most socially forbidden self. Though his films have weakened recently, Allen is one of the central analysts of contemporary American manners and sexual experience. It is outrageous that therapists, bystanders, and pundits of every stripe have used this painful crisis to strike hysterical poses of moral superiority over him.

Picasso, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Madonna, Robert Mapplethorpe: during the past decade, each of these important artists has been denounced by holier-than-thou groups, from feminists to the Moral Majority, for their unsettling themes or bohemian lifestyles. This provincial American abuse of artists must end. Neither art nor the artist will ever conform to bourgeois decorum or tidy moral codes. Originality is by definition rule-breaking.

Allen’s films, like Bananas, Love and Death, and Annie Hall, often show the comic inadequacy of words, reason, or good intentions to deal with the storminess of sex and love. In Broadway Danny Rose, he himself plays a gentle, earnest, compassionate bumbler overwhelmed by a flamboyant, vengeful Italian firecracker, wonderfully portrayed by Mia Farrow.

Farrow seems to have carried this unexpected flair for Italian theatricality into her present life drama, in which she has managed to exert maximum power while deftly avoiding overt public statements. Dispatching a host of adult and pint-sized proxies as skillfully as Shakespeare’s volatile Cleopatra, Farrow has fused Puccini heroines: she is both the pining, abandoned mother, Madame Butterfly, and the tempestuous, jealous diva, Tosca, who uses any weapon that comes to hand.

There has been an undertone of perversity or kinkiness in Farrow’s sexual personae from the start of her career. Her May/December marriage to Frank Sinatra still astonishes. Who can forget the first yacht-deck photo of the hard-bitten casino roue next to the androgynous gossamer waif? (Sinatra’s ex, Ava Gardner, snapped, “I always knew Frank would end up with a boy.”) In Secret Ceremony Farrow played a delusional girl-woman projecting a homoerotic incest fantasy onto a very patient Elizabeth Taylor. In Rosemary’s Baby she fought for her pregnancy against the forces of darkness and oddly nosy neighbors on Central Park West.

Motherhood is a far more complex phenomenon than the current brand of neat-as-pie yuppie feminism admits. Motherhood may unleash primal instincts for possession and territoriality beyond morality. Hovering vulturelike over the whole affair is Farrow’s dowager queen mother, actress Maureen O’Sullivan, hurling Junoesque thunderbolts at Allen (in her words, an “evil” man) from her stronghold on the West Coast. Farrow’s sprawling, multiracial household is in its own way tribal and matriarchal.

Allen is being impugned as an “immature” satyr with a Lolita fixation, like those other small-statured collectors of nymphets, Charlie Chaplin and Roman Polanski. The pursuit of youth and beauty has also been an integral part of highly accomplished gay male life for centuries. Allen has the right to seek his muse wherever he may find her. The quiet, dreamy Soon-Yi, paternalistically trashed by the bleeding-heart commentators as “helpless,” “passive,” and “naive,” may represent simplicity and emotional truth to Allen. Such insights, even if transient, are priceless to an artist.

Is it incest? Legally, no. Psychologically, yes. But incest is a universal theme in a world mythology that we have never come to terms with. Doing the research for Sexual Personae, I was stunned at the frequency of incest in Romantic literature. And incest permeates the two greatest plays ever written, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Freud’s theory of infantile sexuality is a century old, yet it remains unabsorbed. Most parents could not function at home if they fully accepted their children’s sexuality. Our horrified fascination with the Allen/Farrow scandal comes partly from our own repressions. Similarly, the child-abuse witch-hunts focusing on day-care centers in recent years are baseless hallucinations, eruptions from our vestigial Anglo-Saxon puritanism.

Woody Allen’s love life began in the shadow of the potent Jewish mother, then evolved through brunette and blonde shiksa goddesses to an Asian Mona Lisa. Thus it is ironic that he who moved so far romantically from his Jewish roots should still end up accused of incest. Like Oedipus, he could not escape his fate.

This sorry episode in the showbiz chronicles has much to teach us. Don’t send your Valentines with a Betty Crocker stamp. Cruelty and brutality lie just beneath the surface of love. Intimacy and incest may be psychologically intertwined. Power relations may generate eroticism. Perhaps – bad news for sexual harassment rules – hierarchy can never be completely desexed.

At his press conference, Woody Allen looked haggard and rumpled, like a graduate student flushed out of an all-night study session. In giving anguished testimony about the mystery, compulsion, and folly of sexual attraction, he has recovered and renewed his cultural status: the artist as scapegoat, illuminating our lives through his own suffering.