The film community is a strange creature, particularly this side of the millennium. We're scattered all over the world, and our connections are as tenuous as the aether writers spoke of in the 19th century. We don't see each other for years, we mail each other only occasionally, we lead busy lives, too busy to look to each other or sometimes even look out for each other.
But when we meet it can be as if we were friends long lost. We grip shoulders, we shake with firm hands, sometimes a tight hug or two. But it isn't so much the gestures of hail-fellow-well-met that we put out towards each other that is remarkable as is the expression, the glow on our faces when we see each other. We're happy to see absent faces, we're eager for the latest talk and gossip. Most of all, though few of us are loathe to admit it, we're hungry for kindred souls.
That's something I'm never going to get from Alexis--not anymore. Have not seen him for upwards of six years, and I can barely remember the last time we met--I believe it was with Joey Fernandez, of Brash Young Cinema, when I showed them my bootleg copy of Pangarap ng Puso (Demons, Mario O'Hara, 2000). I remember throwing down the gauntlet "Well? Do you think it's the best Filipino film since 1986?" Joey was skeptical; Alexis liked it very much, but couldn't agree.
And that's all right; we disagreed, and it's great we disagreed, that we had differing opinions, differing minds, tastes, thoughts. We argued about it, teased each other about it, then left the debate hanging, to be taken up again next time we met.
When I moved away I kept contact with him occasionally; I submitted a number of articles, some of them my best work, to his online magazine Criticine, still the finest web magazine on Southeast Asian cinema, even if it hasn't been updated for years. I like to think I think so not because I'd been published there, or had a kind review of my book there, but because it is a wonderful treasure trove of articles on Southeast Asian films and filmmakers such as Raya Martin, John Torres, Lav Diaz, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Amir Muhammad, and Pen-ek Ratanaruang among others, written by writers and critics such as Rolando Tolentino, Gertjan Zuilhof, Ben Slater, and Alexis himself.
It wasn't just the venue and unflagging encouragement to do my best; when in 2005 I was close to publishing my book, I was stuck for a title. My publisher Philip Cheah and I weren't happy with the suggestions I was coming up with, and I had a long list--too long, and too pathetic to bother publishing here. In desperation I emailed Alexis and asked for his input. Don't remember his exact words, but he said something like "I don't know about the rest, but this one I like--"
And that decided it for me.
It wasn't all work (though how we can call this work is beyond me--we were doing what we loved, and I don't like putting this out a lot because someone might take me seriously, but we would pay for the privilege of writing on Philippine cinema). I've ribbed him once or twice about being the only film critic in the world who was also a male model; caught him walking the ramp in a Ayala Center fashion show. He insists it was the one and only time, but--hey, girls loved him; he got all kinds of fan mail (fan comments?) on his blog. I'm no expert on male beauty, but who am I to disagree?
Irony of ironies, I'd been thinking about him lately. I was feeling with all the recent deaths of people known and unknown a sense of my own mortality, and the thought occurred to me "maybe I should give the password to this blog to someone. Just in case."
Our last email exchange I'd been enthusing to him about David Gordon Green's early film All the Real Girls; he'd been a longtime Green fan and had insisted that I catch this and George Washington (I haven't regretted the tip; they are both wonderfully moving films). I'd submitted to him an article for a special Love Letters issue--a love letter to be written to a filmmaker or film personality you profess a passion for. At least that's how I understood it, and how I wrote it, as a confession.
May never be published, alas.
So long, Alexis, I owe you a lot, I wish I'd done more for you, and I wish all your dream projects had come true--or will come true, God willing (not ready to throw in the towel completely just yet).
Love you, man.
photo from cinema du reel.org