Sunday, December 18, 2011

E.R. Ejercito tries to defend his interference in 'Asiong Salonga'

Update on the Asiong Salonga controversy:

(If you're coming to this only now, please read the petition letter for a summary of the situation and if you agree, please sign the petition)

Some reactions off the top of my head.

"Hindi, basta ako, ang comment ko Direk Tikoy, magaling si Direk Tikoy.

Pero dagdag niya rin, "Pero yung editing and music, hindi niya linya yun. 

"Huwag niyang pakialaman yung area na yun sa movie."

(For me, my comment on Director Tikoy, he's great. 

Then he added: "When it comes to editing and music, that's not his line.

"He shouldn't interfere with those areas of the movie").

Difficult to respond because I haven't seen the film, but we're talking here of Tikoy Aguiluz and his long time collaborator and editor Mirana Medina. She has edited his films since his first feature, Boatman in 1984 and as far as I can see they have never varied their editing style or philosophy when it comes to pacing, rhythm, shot length. And I can say, having seen almost everything they have done, that theirs is some of the crispest, most no-nonsense editing in Philippine cinema.

Aguiluz's practice is to bring in Medina not just at production stage, but pre-production stage, and they plan out the editing almost from the point when they work out the script. 

This has several advantages: Aguiluz knows what's essential to telling the story, what to leave out or fight to keep when money's short, or when things go wrong. He (and Medina) know the bare minimum needed to tell the story properly, even when they're missing several days' footage, or when the production is chaotic. That preliminary edit they share in their heads is their lifeline, to keep things clear, to recognize when they don't have a film and need to shoot some more, and what can be improvised when things don't work out. 

So when Aguiluz says that his film's damaged because a few scenes were added (see this article for an explanation of the changes), my impulse is to believe him. He knows the film's structure, along with his editor; they've lived with this structure for the whole time, from the writing through pre-production, through the shoot, to post-production. To add or detract from a Tikoy Aguiluz film is like, in effect, slicing away or stitching on various appendages to a beautiful woman's face--the result is hideous, no matter what you think of the original visage. You do serious damage to what is essentially a finished product.

In a later article Ejercito declares that he found the pacing too slow, and he hired younger editors (he repeats the word "younger" at least twice) to (presumably) pick up the pacing. To this I reply: but at what cost to the storytelling? Are we to have Bourne Identity style editing when the story is set in the '50s? Will the audience marvel at the 'faster pacing' or laugh their heads off at the inappropriateness of the faster cuts? Does Governor Ejercito  consider the Filipino people to still be cinematically and visually illiterate--that they wouldn't know good or appropriate editing when they see it? I don't declare--haven't seen the final product--I only ask.

Boatman, Bagong Bayani (The Last Wish), Segurista (Dead Sure), Tatsulok (Triangle), Biyaheng Langit (Paradise Express) for all their flaws have all been excellently edited, fast-paced films; the actions scenes are exciting to behold and never self-indulgent. Based on Aguiluz's filmmaking record, I frankly can't see where this is coming from. 

Any filmmaker will tell you this; the idea of anyone adding to or cutting from their film can have them shuddering. I've already mentioned Mario O'Hara as having experienced this several times, but everyone from legendary Mike De Leon to maverick Celso Ad. Castillo to the late Ishmael Bernal to Lino Brocka himself has suffered interference, and all to a man will say they don't like it (Brocka has said so frankly in many interviews). It smacks of second-guessing, of mistrust. It suggests the producer has no confidence in his decision to hire the filmmaker in the first place. 

(Again, if you agree with any of this or if you believe in artistic freedom in general, please consider signing the petition)

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