Friday, December 01, 2006

Being a Filipino film critic

1.) Just to continue from this previous post about the state of the Filipino film industry, a chilling reminder of what Hollywood intends to do to the many cinemas of Asia, and an interesting recent development:

QC scraps amusement tax on local films

A nice first start--give the locals a hand, the same time you're sticking it to Hollywood.

And you know it's workable, because when a measure is well and truly making or about to make a difference in Philippine society,
someone complains.

Atienza's remarks are revealing; for one he says the city's measures aren't a threat to the industry per se, but to "the government's reward system for quality movies"--to whit, the CEB, or Cinema Evaluation Board of the FDCP or the Film Development Council of the Philippines. The distinction is important, I think.

As for the very idea of a ratings board--my problem with that isn't just the fact that their tastes in films don't exactly match mine--an "A" for Crying Ladies? Only a "B" for Magnifico? No ratings for Mario O'Hara's
Babae sa Breakwater (Woman of the Breakwater, 2003) or Lav Diaz's Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino (Evolution of a Filipino Family, 2004) (I don't think they were rated; one problem of this board is that it doesn't have an official website, much less an online record of what films they have recommended). My problem is that such a system doesn't even consider rewarding films that cater to tastes like mine (and I have esoteric tastes, I know). A ratings board is at best the distilled and considerably compromised opinion of a group of (hopefully) reasonably intelligent people; at worse, as with its predecessor, the Film Ratings Board, it's a way for a handful of industry trapos (a punning acronym, TRAditional POliticians, with the word "trapo," or dirty washrag) to reward their cronies, friends, sons and lovers.

He suggests that Quezon City should "reduce ticket prices by the equivalent amount of the reduction of amusement taxes," which is an admirable aim, I suppose, since that's another way of bringing back the audience. He goes on, however, to suggest a "two-tiered tax scheme: 10 percent for local films and 20 percent for foreign films" with the difference "put in a fund that will continue the incentives program for producers of quality films." See, my problem with that is the word "fund." It implies a pool of money controlled by a small group of people, probably governmental, not always competent. And please remember, the Philippine government isn't just known or famous, it's legendary for its corruption.

He goes on to wonder "is the higher tax on foreign films a violation of the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and can it be considered "protectionist" in nature?" Well, yes, strictly speaking, it's protectionist, but I've got a long previous post (see
above link on the subject) talking about what I think about such purely free-market regional or even world economies--how they seem to favor the ultra rich, and powerful, and roll over underdeveloped countries such as ours.

He ends with the following words: "(t)he two-tiered tax system can be justified if it is implemented for a (limited) number of years. It is the same system followed in France." I'm not up on the system adopted in France, but knowing what I do about the French, I think it'll be a cold day in hell before they allow Hollywood to come traipsing in with their Adam Sandler comedies and Ron Howard melodramas and Michael Bay extravaganzas just like that; I think--and I've said this again and again--we should follow suit.

2) On being a Filipino film critic; I'll freely admit I'm not the most knowledgeable of critics, even in my own narrow field of specialization (I haven't for example, seen Gerardo de Leon's legendary Daigdig ng Mga Api (World of the Oppressed, 1965) nor am I likely to in the near future--the film is probably as lost as the American occupation of Iraq), or the most prolific, or even the best or wittiest overall writer; I just do what I can. What informs my writings though, and is possibly the driving force behind much of the work I do, is the sense that with Philippine ciema there's so much that has to be done. Not just in the act of creation, and I salute the many talented people in the industry who are doing their best (and with so little return) in that formidably challenging endeavor, but in the act of appreciation. Not just, having halved the field right there, the act of putting down on record and even describing what little survives (I can tell stories of lost and destroyed prints that will curdle the blood and whiten the hairs of many a cinephile or archivist--and these are recent films, circa 1980s!), but digesting and meditating on the many wonderful films out there, and putting them in their place against the larger scheme of world cinema.

I mean--Lino Brocka is the Philippines' most famous director, and did you know there isn't a single book written on the man? Oh, numerous essays and articles, most of them mouthing the same platitudes, and many of these collected in one volume (Lino Brocka: The Artist and His Times, edited by Mario Hernando, indispensible by default mainly because there's literally nothing else)--but a real book, a systematic and thorough appreciation of the man? No.

It's a near-impossible task, and the best I can do is chip away, bit by bit, at the problem: writing an article here or there, seeing not just lost or hard-to-find classics, but also new work by new filmmakers; trying to keep in contact with people in the know or people who matter, either to ask for help or to help them if I can. Even if it's just moral support, a mutual crying-on-shoulders about a film we've never seen, and probably never will.

I hate to think about the future--what happens ten, twenty, fifty years from now? Who comes after these people (and I like to flatter myself that I'm one of them), who will remember them or what they've done? Yes, the act of recording and spreading the word, thanks to the digital camera and the internet, has become far easier--but what of the new, greater challenge, that is of making your voice heard in the increasingly louder and more chaotic din? There are new ways of remembering and discovering, but also new and frighteningly subtle ways of forgetting and getting lost. Questions like these tend to keep me up at night.

But what's the alternative--roll over and die? In this sense I think I share a sentiment with even the humblest filmmaker, that one cannot see into the future, that one just plods on the best he can.

This two-part post was written for the ongoing Film Criticism Blogathon. Other posts include:

At Lost in Negative Space Peet Gelderblom takes a good, hard look at the film criticism of Armond White and discovers that this famously anti-hipster critic is, in fact, one himself (he must be one of them self-hating hipsters... ) in a fine piece called "The contrarian fallacy: Armond White vs. the Hipsters."

So you want to be a film critic, huh? Please, go to Last Night with Riviera and read Matt Riviera's post about "10 Thoughts on Watching and Appreciating Film." Film criticism cannot be simply about evaluating movies. It must be an active attempt to engage films on their own terms, to understand them and how they work. These ten thoughts describe an approach to film that is prerequisite for good criticism.

At Flickhead (home of the recent Forrest J. Ackerman Blog-a-Thon) you'll find an assortment of delightfully provocative statements about film criticism introduced with a wonderful quote from John Simon. There's potential for a great discussion here: I know I'll be spending time with this post with my morning coffee tomorrow!

Jim Emerson, who's supposedly on vacation, has posted his initial (!) contribution to the 'thon, a piece called "Pearl of the South: A tale of two reviews." This post functions not only as a fine appreciation of the late Robert Altman's masterpiece Nashville (1975), but also as a reminder that a good critic is more than simply someone whose opinion closely mirrors one's own. By accepting two critics' (Bob Strauss and Jonathan Rosenbaum) invitations to look at the new film Bobby (2006) in comparison to Nashville, Mr. Emerson pays tribute to the old idea of historically grounded film criticism (the role of the critic is to place new films in the context of film history) while at the same time exploiting the potential of the internet (by responding immediately and directly to these reviews) and pointing to the future.

Writing at his blog Critic After Dark, film critic Noel Vera shapes a messageboard debate into a fully-realized piece of writing on the state of Filipino film industry, specifically in regards to its relationship with Hollywood, called "The Hollywoodization of Filipino films." Like Jim's piece, this is an example of film criticism that utilizes the unique possibilities of the internet. And also like Mr. Emerson, Noel has suggested that more posts may be forthcoming!

The wonderfully erudite and prolific film writer/critic/blogger (but not necessarily in that order) Peter Nellhaus weighs in from Thailand with his thoughts on the recently-controversial critic and screenwriter Paul Schrader, specifically in regards to Schrader's book Transcendental Style. As Mr. Nellhaus mentions, religion is in in Hollywood these days, and now might be fine time for me to introduce myself to this book...

YouTube Fridays at That Little Round-Headed Boy are a beloved institution in the film blogosphere: he sifts through a lot of "one man's garbage" each week and points us to the rare bits of treasure. This week he has rounded up four film criticism gems in a post called " Talk about a mash-up! YouTube Friday meets Andy Horbal's Film Criticism Blog-A-Thon!"

At Zoom In Online Annie Frisbie pays tribute to a truly seminal pieces of film criticism, Godfrey Cheshire's "The Death of Film/The Decay of Cinema," in a post called "'Film is about to disappear over the historical horizon.'" Annie's astute observations highlight the many ways in which this article is more relevant than ever before...

Lucas at 100 films pauses for a moment to take stock of his activities as both a critic and a filmmaker. Looking back on the French New Wave for inspiration in a post called "Your own worst critic," he comes to the conclusion that we're on the cusp of a similar era of cinephiles working in both film criticism and filmmaking, with their activities in the one arena benefiting from their experience in the other. Lucas' own short film L'Attente (2006) strikes me as an exploratory effort in this direction--it is a critical examination of his relationship as a filmmaker to the French New Wave.

At Edward Copeland on Film (is that name still appropriate now that other people are contributing to the site?), Edward Copeland himself reflects on the past, present, and future of film criticism as a profession (a subject that regular readers know is something of an obsession with me) in a post called "Critical thinking." Are there any optimists ready to challenge the convincingly bleak picture he paints?

In a post called "powell and... dwyer?" Gareth of gareth's movie diary pens an elegant tribute to two film critics who had a lasting and positive influence on his development as a film lover, Michael Dwyer of The Irish Times and Dilys Powell of The Sunday Times. He's describing exactly the sort of informed, passionate, and regional film criticism that Edward Copeland fears we're losing; as gareth's post ably demonstrates, this would be a sad turn of events.

Harry Tuttle of > screenville, whose writing will be the subject of my own first actual submission to this 'thon (it's going so well that I'm determined to write at least one more, probably about Slate's Movie Club, which is indirectly responsible for the existence of this here event), contributes what may be just a first offering: a compilation of critics, writers, and directors trying to define what a film critic is called "Defining a critic." Posts like this one, which run completely contrary to the film blogosphere's tendency towards currency, are amongst my favorite things that Harry does...

Writing at The ScreenGrab, Editor Bilge Ebiri burrows into the annals of film criticism and brings back Graham Greene's scandalous review of the Shirley Temple film Wee Willie Winkie (1937) in a piece called "Dubious Moments in Film Criticism: Graham Greene vs. Shirley Temple." Lately I've been pondering the occasionally disturbingly sexual screen persona of Judy Garland in her early films, made when she was only 14-16 years-old, so this post is delightfully apropos for me. But you'll find it interesting too, I promise!

At Burbanked my fellow Pittsburgh-based film blogger and storyteller Alan Lopuszynski passes along the wisdom of the Very Old Tale of film criticism to the critics of tomorrow in a witty entry penned in that inimitable Burbanked style called " Daddy, when I grow up, can I be… a film critic?"

"Everyone is a critic" is a truism that a lot of us tend to accept at face value or reject out of hand without really thinking about it. Writing at Windmills of My Mind, relative newcomer to the film blogosphere Damian actually stops to examine that statement in a personal and insightful post called "The Critic On Your Corner." It can also be read as something of an elegy for the waning age of the video store, when arguably there was a critic on every corner. While you're there, say hi and introduce yourself!

Film critic Simon Crowe, who blogs at Mostly Movies, contributes a post about the lessons he has learned that guide him in his journey along this road we call Film Criticism. This is my introduction to Mr. Crowe's blog, so I'd like to say hello and it's a pleasure to make your virtual acquaintance!

Film critic Tim Lucas, writing at his Video WatchBlog (home of the recent Joe Dante Blog-a-Thon), shares with us his history in film criticism. In the process he touches on a garden variety of the principles of good film criticism, including the critic's obligation to be familiar with the filmmaking process (it's shocking how many professional critics routinely display ignorance in this department).

Filmmaker Karl G. Bauer (Deadly Obsessions (2003)), blogging at KGB Productions, Inc., muses about what he can bring to film criticism as a result of his filmmaking experience that will make his writing unique. His thoughts are informed a great deal by Matt Riviera's post for this blog-a-thon. "The early worm," as the fella says...

Jim Emerson is back with a second post! Mr. Emerson is one of America's great, forward-thinking film critics and we must pause for a moment and say that we're extremely gratified by his enthusiastic support for this project. But, his post! This time he's writing about a variety of things, touching on subjects like film as film criticism and how does one write a movie review that haven't yet been addressed in this blog-a-thon. He concludes with his own personal rules for film criticism, a sort-of meme for this 'thon that I'm really enjoying!

Damian of Windmills of My Mind is back with a second post as well. Thinking about what spawned his initial interest in film analysis/criticism, he lights on the preface to David Cook's The History of Narrative Film, one of my own first film texts (along with David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson's Film Art).

In another second post (!) Noel Vera continues his thoughts on the present of the Filipino film industry, this time based on recent governmental actions, and then looks both back to the past and ahead to the future in his reflections on "Being a Filipino film critic." For whatever it's worth, Noel's passion for Filipino film has infected at least one Western movie buff!

Writing at Critical Culture, Pacze Moj (it's good to have you back Pacze, by the way!) asks a question about one of the few film critics who got to be as big as the movies themselves in a post called "Pauline Kael: Great Critic, or Great Writer?" In the process Ms. Kael is compared to: Cary Grant, The Beatles, Marshall McLuhan, and "one of the droogs sitting next to Alex by the white, naked statues in the Korova Milk Bar in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange." It is, in short, a post as distinctive as Ms. Kael herself!

At Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, my esteemed friend and fellow-blogger Dennis Cozzalio pays tribute to a recently deceased (that was a sad day, wasn't it?) master of cinema in post called "Robert Altman, Film Critic." It consists of two quotations that are brief, but extraordinarily rich!

Girish Shambu, who I've always thought of as playing Fagin to the gaggle of young writers/pickpockets in the film blogosphere (but in an entirely positive, non-anti-Semitic way! Um... ), contributes a short post called "Ricoeur's Three Stages" that is nonetheless one of the most thought-provoking pieces collected here. This is a nearly perfect description of my own "process of immersion" in any given film, and it is proof positive that academic film writing can be as vibrant and exciting as anything published at, say, Ain't It Cool News!

Film scholar Chris Cagle, whose Category D: A Film and Media Studies Blog is one of the best academic film blogs on the internet, lends his keen eye for insight to this blog-a-thon with a post called "Film Criticism as Subfield." After placing "film criticism" into its historical context (as one of three subfields of the discipline of film studies along with film theory and film history), he raises a lament to which I'll readily add my own voice: Where are the solid historical studies of film criticism and journalistic film criticism in the twentieth century? Such work is a necessary precursor to the study of film criticism in the internet age that I'd also like to see.

Bob at Forward to Yesterday contributes a post called "The Burden of Opinions" in which he extolls the virtues of an underrated virtue, humility, and tells the story of the most "invigorating bit of non-work" he's ever not done: the review of The Triplets of Belleville (2003) that he didn't write. For me this would be the review of André Téchiné's Changing Times (2004) that I didn't write. And you?

A writer on the road named Larry Gross has e-mailed me a post that I've posted for him on my site and titled "A Humble Proposal and a Humble Opinion." He first suggests that quality, innovative film criticism is dependent on a quality, innovative cinema to write about. Then he submits that the best contemporary film criticism is being produced by a writer named Joshua Clover, who blogs at jane dark's sugarhigh! I'm not familiar with Mr. Clover's writing, but I'll certainly make a point of acquainting myself with it now!

David Lowery, whose always insightful and entertaining Drifting: A Director's Log marks him as one of the best filmmakers/bloggers on the internet, writes about another one of his duel identities--as a filmmaker and a film critic--in a post called "Film Criticism and Films, Criticized." I'd wager that it's the respect for these two forms of art that shows here which accounts in large measure for his success in both arenas...

Las Vegas Weekly film critic Josh Bell, who blogs at Signal Bleed, contributes an admittedly narcissistic post called "Selling out" about one of his favorite critics: Josh Bell. Fear not: it's not an appreciation, but rather an inside look at the perils of self-promotion.

Emma of All About My Movies, who surely most be the energetic and enthusiastic aspiring young film critic in London, contributes a review of Claude Chabrol's Le Boucher (1970) called "Butchers, Murderers, and a Whole Lotta Movie Criticism." Tell me again that the kids these days are only interested in special effects-laden blockbusters?

Okay! At last I've finished something of my own, a preface to my main contribution to this 'thon which I'm calling "As a Preface: Andy's Letters to the "Young Turks" 3:1 (Or something)."

Tram at Talk To Me Harry Winston takes a look at Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel's recent blog post on "the death of film criticism" (which I wrote about here), and comes to a conclusion that differs from his considerably. I'll glibly summarize it thusly: "Film criticism is dead? Long live film criticism!" I'm suffering from a spot of summary fatigue, I think, but be assured that her piece is as serious, thoughtful, and well-supported as my description is vapid and flighty!

At Cinemathematics Dan Eisenberg contributes a tribute to a critic near and dear to my own heart in a post called "Jay Sherman as Critic." Jay, who made his television debut when I was 13 years-old, is the first film critic I ever knew (even before Roger Ebert!), and now he occupies a place of honor on my DVD shelf in the form of The Critic: The Complete Series.

I've only owned Phillip Lopate's brilliant American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now since May, but already it's the most worn-out book on my shelf save for my dictionary and my thesaurus. Every page is dog-eared, because every page is golden. At The Evening Class Michael Guillén has not one, but two posts detailing the contents of Bay area Phillip Lopate lectures and Q&A sessions! The first: "Phillip Lopate: PFA Readings on Cinema Lecture and Q&A," and the second: "Phillip Lopate: Codys Bookstore Reading and Q&A." Michael, these are a gift!

Hmm. Well, for better or for worse (one of my great weaknesses as a writer is my inability to fairly evaluate my own work) I have finished my own contribution to this blog-a-thon, a post called "Harry Tuttle, Film Critic: An Appreciation." Thanks to the overwhelming response to this blog-a-thon, I just don't have time to compose a second post, but I'll definitely add the etiology of my interest in film criticism (ah, Movie Club '04!) that I had planned to my to-do pile. And maybe when I write that post I'll sneak in an explanation of le blog's name as well. . . . (Note: it's not nearly as exciting as all that.)

And last, but certainly not least, a big thank you to everyone helping to bring readers to this event: Anne Thompson, The House Next Door, GreenCine Daily, The Sheila Variations, ScreenGrab, Girish, Dennis Cozzalio, The Bleeding Tree, The Listening Ear, Talking Moviezzz, Dr. Mabuse's Kaleido-scope, and anyone else I'm forgetting!


andyhorbal said...

When the CEB was instituted by RA 9167 four years ago, he points out, “the amusement tax was turned into a method by which economic incentives could be given to producers of quality movies.”

Quality movies? Wow, I don't know if it's an entirely fair comparison, but I sure would hate to have the MPAA telling me what a "good film" is...

Noel Vera said...

Heh. Welcome to Philippine politics.