Pinoy Cinema and Our Discontents

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I think it was Lenin who said, “Of all the arts, for us the cinema is the most important.”  So it is for us here in the Philippines, where anyone who invokes Lenin would be an “enemy” and where “manood ng sine” is held in high regard.  And here we are – past MMFF season – and the Internet is abuzz about the “sorry” (or for some, “not-so-sorry;” still for others, “sorry-not-sorry”) state of Filipino cinema.

Some forced perspective is in order: cinema in the Philippines has seen better days.  In my hometown, the theaters and movie houses have given way to ukay stores. Filipino cinema is still vibrant, but even the pinilakang tabing is tarnished with the patina of operational costs, media piracy, and expensive movie tickets.  It may sound extreme, but every time we say, “I’ll just download the movie,” we move the wrecking ball an inch closer to the movie house.

And then there are “bad movies,” exemplified (at least for this MMFF season) by “My Little Bossings.”  Having opted to watch “Boy Golden” for this season (it makes me think more of KC Concepcion’s future in being this generation’s Cynthia Luster, and less of Jeorge Estregan’s movie career in general, but this is not a movie review), I’ll reserve my judgments for Vic Sotto’s movie for when I watch it.  But let’s take it as a given that our public intellectuals and cultural critics consider the film as a “bad movie:” my answer is a little less simple than what I want it to be.

I think that we’re talking amongst ourselves when we say that movies that fit the mold of the typical Vic Sotto/Kris Aquino movie are “bad.”  We can even talk about it using words like “Bildung” and “frisson” and “agon” and “pharmakon,” if we feel like it.  But this is us: the people who can afford to watch movies every week, who revel in the idea of cinematic deconstruction over at Starbucks afterward.  We’re not the ones who pinch centavos just to take the whole family out to watch a movie come Christmastime, to see our “Eat Bulaga” idols on the silver screen.

I’m sure that if the masses are given the same privileges we have to see the photograph from the eyes of Susan Sontag or the cinema from the mind of Jean Baudrillard, things would be way different.  We’d have a lot of cinema with the cinematographic influences of Yasujiro Ozu, the storytelling of Robert Bresson, the mental exercise of Peter Greenaway.  Even our “bold” films would give Atom Egoyan’s “Exotica” a run for its money.  We all would be cinephiles and answer the question of whether or not the mob that attacked the central character in Vittorio de Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” were the reason the director pluralized the title.

Or construct paragraphs mostly by dropping names.

We blabber on about “deserving better cinema” than what we get at the MMFF, but do we just hook the poor up to cable, make them read Barthes, and poof, better movies?  Not really.

Improving the state of cinema means improving living conditions.  For people to watch more quality Filipino movies, they shouldn’t worry so much about where the movie money will come from.  Movie tickets are expensive: an entire day’s budget for some.  And so the movie may not necessarily be “worth it,” but a reasonable escape from the kind of toil that could be – and already is – the script of poverty cinema in the Philippines.  The educational system should be more than just about churning out graduates, but to help people think critically about the media they consume (or for that matter, think of it that way).  A better cinema – or TV, or advertising, for that matter – comes as a consequence of a better way of life for all.

Again, Lenin: the cinema is the most important.  The state of cinema should, ideally, be a yardstick of our feelings, our cultural inclinations, of things we have in mind.  It’s obvious, but economic circumstances prevent us from watching more of it.  Kung di lang isyu ang pera, madaling manood ng sine, at magandang sine at that.

Which brings me to this: there is a preoccupation to bring people to the cinema, but not of bringing cinema to the people.  The poets and komikeros are quite successful at doing the latter, I believe.  And this is why we see a rekindling of interest in Pinoy poetry, a renaissance in Filipino komiks, and (more on this when I feel like it) the Fliptop and Tondo/Dongalo gangztah subculture is emerging as a new thread of Filipino literature.

But that’s too lofty, too high-minded, too much of a platitude for solutions should be a little more concrete.  If we can bring Pacquiao fights to remote villages, what’s keeping us from using that same projector to show films from indie outfits who can’t afford to book a theater at SM?  Maybe incentives can be given by the Department of Education to filmmakers who wish to film about civics and history, and use that for alternative classroom learning.  Pwede rin naman… actually, pwedeng-pwede.  Now there’s a way to spread good movies.

And to the argument that “we’re third-world,” hyperactive yellow minions were once the height of American cinema last year.

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