Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Little Black Book 3

Poster for Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos
Continuing from Little Black Book of Movies and Little Black Book of Movies 2:

Tim Cavanaugh on George Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) chooses not to highlight the implicit social satire (zombies in a mall) but instead talks of how the "careful detailing of tactics and terrain makes this one of the greatest action sequences ever filmed."

I wouldn't dare disagree; I'd add that Dawn's action is the perfect companion piece to Romero's
Day of the Dead (1985), where things have gotten so bad that terrain and tactics don't matter any more. Where in the first two films tactics matter (in the second even more than the first, Dawn practically being a textbook on the defense and maintenance of a modern building (I think it's significant (and utterly cool) that one of the characters in the film notes that the zombies can't break through the glass doors--thanks to the trailers blocking the way, they don't have the leverage)), in the third all the characters are trapped in a kind of desperate paralysis, a No Exit scenario where hell isn't the millions of undead shuffling outside but each other (in such a case metaphysics, not tactics, is all). I wish someone had thought to include Day of the Dead in this collection.

Can't resist including mention of Bob Fosse's All That Jazz (1979), easily one of the great if not the greatest of recent musicals (a more recent musical like Rob Marshall's
Chicago seems by comparison as substantial as a weenie on a toothpick; a more contemporary film like Francis Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979) seems more sane and staid). As Jean-Pierre Coursodon puts it, "this is one of the most personal, most original films to come out of Hollywood." True Fosse violates the classic Hollywood musical style of keeping the camera focused on the dance as long as possible; but he had I submit the extraordinary gift of rendering coherent said motion even through a series of shots, the space and choreography held clear in his head (and somehow in ours) as he riffled through various angles like a card player through a deck of cards, the transition so swift and smooth the illusion of continuous motion is preserved.

And Brad Stevens again, on Stanely Kubrick's The Shining (1980)--not the film's big setpieces (the elevator lobby flooding with blood, the gigantic hedge maze in snow) or horrific moments (Jack walking into room 237; Wendy finally reading what Jack has been writing for months and months on end), but a job interview early in the film. As Stevens puts it the scene "shows how Stanley Kubrick's films address philosophical questions of identity and communication." Depend on Stevens to pick out the ostensibly dullest scene in Kubrick's film--his career, arguably (though I submit there's a similar conversation in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968))--and show how the scene is actually the film's central horror wrought in miniature (tying in possibly, or am I going into the Twilight Zone on this, with the shot of Jack peering down on a model of the maze, to gaze impossibly at Wendy and Danny wandering through said maze like a pair of ants).

For my fourth contribution I picked 'Chato's deflowering' in Celso Ad. Castillo's masterpiece Burlesk Queen (1977)--I just thrive on eyecatching titles, don't I? But it's precisely that quality in the scene and the way Ad. Castillo addressed said quality that made me choose it, to whit: "'The Celso Kid' does what few other filmmakers can do: transform a sordid moment into lyricism, tenderness, beauty." Ad. Castillo has many flaws as a filmmaker; he's pretentious, bombastic, inconsistent, often incoherent. He can barely sustain the quality of his storytelling throughout an entire film; hell, he can barely sustain the quality throughout an entire scene.

This gives his work an unintended element of suspense; you often watch with bated breath, wondering if he will see things through, or sink slowly into shit, stubbornly refusing to extricate himself because, of course, he's an artist. It's his worst flaw as a filmmaker; it's also his greatest glory. Thus, a hack remake like Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa (The Most Beautiful Creature on the Face of the Earth, 1996) may plod along as ninety minutes' worth of unintentionally funny melodrama, suddenly taking wing when a man with a machete chases another through subtly tilted landscape shots worthy of Gerardo de Leon. Thus a great film like Burlesk Queen is marred by theater impresario Louie's hyperconscious commentary (veteran character actor Jonee Gamboa, doing wonders with lines that are essentially intellectual crap)--the same time it's rendered unforgettable by the aforementioned deflowering. You watch with bated breath and fingers crossed, and you hope for the best.

For my third contribution, 'Elsa and the baby' from Mario O'Hara's Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God, 1976), I said: "it's one of the most vivid demonstrations on film of two powerful ideas in mortal conflict with each other: first, that the wartime Japanese are to be hated or opposed; second, that all human beings are to be cherished."

I find it more and more difficult to write about Tatlong Taong; not so much because I've run out of new things to say (I could
talk for hours on the subject), but because I feel I have to strike a balance every time between exciting interest in the reader and overselling the picture. And it's ridiculously hard to see; short of actually being in Manila during the few times a year they have a screening (cable channel Cinema One in Manila or The Filipino Channel in the United States shows it I imagine, but with commercials and in a slightly truncated form), you have to sign over your soul to view the film. Sometimes I feel like a tenor singing a difficult aria as strongly and passionately as I can to a near-empty room; I treasure the few actually listening, but I long for a fresh pair of ears.

9 comments:

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Noel,

Finally got a copy of the book. I'm quite surprised that Kieslowski didn't get any love. Other than that, it's a great book.

Noel Vera said...

Also nothing by Vincente Minnelli, Otto Preminger, and Edgar Ulmer, if I remember right. It's not a perfect list. And for my last post on the book, I hope to write about the moments I picked that didn't make it...

Oggs Cruz said...

Minnelli, Preminger and Ulmer hava entries Noel. A bunch of them actually, basing from the director index.

Noel Vera said...

Why, so they have. Must have been looking at the wrong index.

Fruit Chan, then (who I much prefer to Wong Kar Wai); Ringo Lam (though his colleagues Tsui Hark and John Woo are mentioned); Kim Ki-Duk (and if he didn't make it, then why fellow shockmeisters like Lars Von Treir and Gaspar Noe?). Even the Farrelly brothers go where Kieslowski fails to tread.

And animation is almost a non-genre: Chuck Jones is here, but not Hayao Miyazaki, or Taiji Yabushita, or Jan Svankmajer, or Max Fleischer, or Lotte Reiniger. A little black book 2 might correct that, who knows...?

Oggs Cruz said...

True, true. Yeah, a repeat can correct that. We can really never run out of moments. I'm glad that you mentioned it, there seems to be no love for anime (except for the mention on Akira, which although important I really didn't care for).

Noel Vera said...

Ironically, Otomo's one of the least expressive of current anime filmmakers. Satoshi Kon, Oshii, Miyazaki, Takahata, Shinichiro Watanabe among many others...you got so much to choose from.

ronald said...

Saw a copy in London. Had a peek at your bits. The book's a bit pricey though so didn't buy one. :-) RSE

Noel Vera said...

Eh, fair enough. Thanks for peeking at my little bits, tho.

Noel Vera said...

If you can spread the word, I'd feel better, heh.

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