>> Sunday, July 3, 2011
This is a note I found written in the FB account of Mr. Wincy Aquino Ong last Thursday, June 30, 2011. I'm not related to him. I didn't even ask for permission to repost this. (But since it is viewed publicly, I assume that it is for public consumption.) Hopefully you'll get something after reading it.
The Unpinoy Filmmaker
(Bullet Points of Reflection by Wincy Aquino Ong)
The other day I was watching the brilliant Word of the Lourd special 'How To Make An Indie Film'. The RA Rivera-directed series of shorts was comedy gold--too golden, in fact, that I got acid reflux from too much laughing. The cast was like The Beatles of Pinoy humor-Tado Jimenez, Ramon Bautista, Jun Sabayton, and Angel Rivero. Plus there was Lourd de Veyra, whose Beat Poet-intelligence added a certain density to the humor.
Once the after-chuckles subsided, I suddenly felt a strange feeling in my chest. As a filmmaker myself, I felt a pang of jealousy. There was just something that the short film had that my own works as a filmmaker didn't. I searched my girlfriend for an answer: "What is it that RA Rivera has that I don't?"
My girlfriend simply said, "He's more Pinoy than you."
Then like a Philippine Rabbit bus out of EDSA, it hit me.
Oh my God. Ang anak ni Janice. She was right. I am an Unpinoy Filmmaker.
Let's digress for a bit.
In 2010, I remember talking to a friend in ABS-CBN. Around those months, my band Us-2 Evil-0 lucked out and had our song as the soundtrack to a Greenwich TV commercial.
My dear friend jested, "Hanggang diyan na lang ang kasikatan ng banda mo."
I laughed, but was curious about the reasons. "Bakit naman?"
My dear friend clapped me on the back, "Eh, hindi naman kayo tunog-Pinoy."
It's a recurring theme in my life--one that I wanted to further investigate.
There's the big stinking question mark in the sky: What does it mean to be Pinoy in your art?
Abstractions are abstractions. And yes, the adjective 'Pinoy' is one big mother-lovin' abstraction, not unlike love, war, and churvaness.
'Pinoy' is ill-defined. I cannot quite put my finger on the term. Only a feeling in my testicles can.
So without benefit of thesaurus, just old reliable gonads, I try my best to tell what's Pinoy and what is not.
The Itchyworms is Pinoy. Ciudad is not.
The music videos of RA Rivera are Pinoy. The music videos of Pancho Esguerra, Marie Jamora and mine are not.
Cutterpillow is Pinoy. Fruitcake is not.
Ramon Bautista is Pinoy. VJ Sib Sibulo is not.
The writings of Erwin Romulo are Pinoy. That of Ramon de Veyra are not.
Lourd de Veyra is Pinoy. Those mestizo TV show hosts in Studio 23 are not.
SM is Pinoy. Rockwell is not.
Parokya ni Edgar is Pinoy. Taken By Cars is not.
There. I hope these examples helped and made the adjective 'Pinoy' less nebulous.
Overheard from a filmmaker from Alabang: "It's not that I hate Philippine movies and Philippine television. It's not a question of nationality, anymore. Great art is beyond nationality. How can you love something that has bad compositions, overly-lit cinematography, Depression-era stage blocking, awful sound design, and theatrical acting? The reason why I love American cinema more than my own country's is because of its qualities, its restraints. It's no longer about colonial mentality. It's about the universality of beauty."
My girlfriend told me once: "A UP education does something to your brain. It turns you Pinoy."
Then just like that, my insecurities as a culturally uprooted Atenean grew forth.
Q: What's the difference between a UP filmmaker and an Atenean filmmaker?
A: A UP filmmaker makes films about poor people. An Atenean filmmaker makes films about how his girlfriend left him.
Though it's a movie I didn't like that much, there was one scene in the Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg comedy The Other Guys that made me laugh. In that scene, alpha male Mark Wahlberg shows his ex-grilfriend that he can dance ballet. Mark Wahlberg goes on to explain to his cop partner that he learned ballet to piss off his gay classmates when he was a kid. Ferrell goes, "You learned to dance ballet sarcastically?"
You know who I'm talking about. Those friends of yours whose sense of humor skew towards 80's Pinoy movies. Those who can recite the entire canon of Tito, Vic and Joey films. Those who can dance like Manilyn Reynes in office parties. Those who can cite scripture from Joey Gosiengfiao's Temptation Island. Those who know their Aizas from their Lady Lees, their Crocodile Jones from their Bobocop.
Marvel Comics is to me, as 80's Pinoy culture is to Ramon Bautista. Ramon has a near-Wikipedic knowledge of action stars, child stars, obscure Dingdong Avanzado types, and the name of every arcane noontime show. It was clear to me that the guy was passionate about 80's Pinoy culture.
However, upon getting to know him more, through our various conversations in burger joints and watering holes, I realized that Ramon Bautista was a guy who also had a lot of complaints about Philippine movies and television. He wasn't your typical Filipino viewer: this was a guy aware of the dearth of quality in our moving pictures.
With that in mind, I have thought countless of times while I'm stuck in traffic: Do the people who do spoofs of Ninja Kids in film class, really believe in Pinoy cinema...Or did they just learn to love it sarcastically?
Is it a crime to choose Wes Anderson over Lino Brocka?
Is it a crime to pay homage to Alfred Hitchcock rather than Manuel Conde?
Is it a crime to create science fiction rather than social realism?
Is it a crime to have your screenplay written in English?
Is it a crime that my hero is Tim Burton, and not Peque Gallaga?
The only time I ever idolized a Filipino artist was when the Eraserheads came. So much in fact, that at times, I proclaimed that I loved the Eraserheads more than The Beatles. Yes, that is only one of the rare cases where my devotion for a Pinoy artist surpassed their foreign comparisons.
Why? It's because for once in Pinoy pop culture, every Pinoy chose the right thing. The cool thing. The un-masa thing. For one anomalous moment in Pinoy pop culture, the heroes everybody chose did not have sculpted abdomens, did not sing R&B songs in laser-lighted noontime shows, did not wear Blowing Bubbles t-shirts, and did not crossover into acting full-time for badly-lit soap operas.The Eraserheads were four ectomorphs from UP. Sarcastic and smart. Not a single iota of kabaduyan in their blood. Who could ask for anything more, right?
Now, if only actors and producers and directors were more Eraserheads-like in their work, then by God, goodbye Hollywood. Hello local cinema.
A thought: An infant needs to be taken care of. The moment you leave an infant to its own devices, it dies a slow death. This, I believe, is what happened to The Philippines. We're practically infants, in terms of civilization. By the time the rest of the world had invented galleons and gun-metallurgy, we were still in loincloths.
We are arrogant infants. Infants who want independence, yet who are not ready for independence. Just take a good look at Baguio. In the hands of the Americans in the 1940s, it was a beautiful, well-landscaped Art Deco paradise. Then years later, the arrogant infants that we are, drove the Americans away and told them that we can take care of our own land. Fact: Baguio is now one of the most polluted cities in the country.
Can the same be said of our cinema? Perhaps we should've taken more lessons from the French and the Germans (the very inventors of cinema) just like our American brothers did?
But then again, I could be wrong.
Perhaps it's just a matter of locality?
All good artists are mascots of their homeland. Stephen King often set his stories in his native Maine. Mark Twain wrote of mischievous boy adventures in small town Mississippi. Stan Lee created superheroes who lived and breathed in the New York City he grew up in. Steve Martin wrote screenplays about his love-affair with Los Angeles.
Is devotion to one's homeland the ultimate obligation of the artist? (What of the surrealists-who set their tales in Wonderland?)
It is with much sadness that I confess that I am not Wincy Aquino Ong-filmmaker and Quezon City's favorite son.
I am the product of American comic books and Saturday morning cartoons. Though I can speak Filipino, I am more comfortable with the English language. Heck, I don't even look comfortably Pinoy side-by-side Toni Gonzaga in that ABS-CBN pilot we did. (I looked like a Korean Michael Cera.) I look at my friends and they are the kinds of people who don't read newspapers or watch local television. My friends know more about what's happening in Gotham City than in Quezon City. And yes, sometimes I do feel left out when people talk about showbiz tsismis. I'm sure you've met the type of person I am.
Is it my destiny to be Unpinoy? Or rather, am I doomed to be Unpinoy?
A list of five things I wish to see less and less of in Philippine cinema and television:
Dingdong Dantes as a jeepney driver
Slums, slums and more slums
Churva humor (it's getting old, mga mare...)
Another superhero resurrection from the Ravelo/Caparas catalog
The same old Star Cinema ending ( after one year of separation, they're reunited)
A list of five things I wish to see more and more of in Philippine cinema and television:
Geeky actors (no, Herbert Bautista-types don't count)
More Lourd de Veyra-type of shows
I guess there are no easy answers, only soft conclusions.
Perhaps, labels are futile. Art serves many needs, the needs of national identity only being one of many.
In the end, as artists and filmmakers, though no matter how cliche it may sound, we can only do one thing: Gawa lang nang gawa. No matter how Unpinoy you are.
Eventually, that's how we'll come to define what's Pinoy and what's not.