Friday, May 17, 2013

Jolico Cuadra (1939 - 2013)

Never really thought I'd be writing this, but:
Jolico Cuadra, 1939 - 2013 
Best known for his poetry, particularly this poem--
"Wing hard, white-stallioned time:
The whirlwind sun upride
Where no sheerer
The crude bird dies.
Hanged in the mind’s eye, hold
Fast—shake out
The canines of God
The manbird locked in God’s bones
Him dogstar till the phoenix hour
The manbird locked
Till the phoenix hour. "
--but I'd known him for almost everything else.
I'd first met Jolico in the offices of the Manila Chronicle back in the '90s, when I practically lived in their editorial office, tapping away on one of their computers long after everyone else had gone home. He had an art column where he alternately terrorized and championed local artists, praising those he thought deserving, holding none sacred, raising a ruckus in his distinctly poetic prose.
We talked for hours. He told me of encountering artists and filmmakers (I remember a few of the names--Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Orson Welles, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Gerardo de Leon). He had wild stories (a friend once regaled him with a blow-to-blow sexual encounter with Pauline Kael ("they made love standing up")) and even wilder opinions (Pasolini was "filthy--a filthy man!" Gerardo de Leon was "an idiot!" which he later qualified: "you don't need to be an intelligent man to be a gifted artist"). 
Are any of the stories true? I don't know. But I had a grand time listening to them.
Even more interesting was what he loved. He thought Philip K. Dick was the greatest writer America ever produced--borrowed my copy of Dick's The Valis Trilogy and never returned it ("I'm rereading it for its ideas" he told me when I asked him about the book some years later). He loved Chiqui Gomez (also known as 'Auggusta de Almeida'), poet and stunningly beautiful woman: they met in '74 and started living together in '75, and she was at his side till the end. 
He didn't think much of our best Filipino filmmakers--Brocka, Bernal, Mike De Leon (for the record, I begged to disagree), but: "there is one I like--Mario O'Hara." 
This was in 1996, when the filmmaker's career was in a bit of a lull (two films made in a period of eight years), and his best known work Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God, 1976) largely forgotten (both his and the film's reputation would be revived by a screening at the "Pelikula at Lipunan" festival around that time). Cuadra had never seen Tatlong Taong, but did see Insiang, and when he had the chance to talk to O'Hara criticized the film for being set in Tondo.
 O'Hara wasn't offended; he nodded in agreement. He had originally set the teleplay in Pasay (why Pasay is better than Tondo is explained in the article). 
On Bagong Hari (The New King) he had this to say: "(Dan Alvaro) was perfect. So quiet! Real killers are like that. The loud man walking down the street, threatening death, I don't notice. I'm afraid of the quiet man." 
When he finally saw Tatlong Taong--I'd arranged to have him attend a screening--he said it was "a great film." He pointed out that Peque Gallaga's Francis and Christopher De Leon's Masugi were probably lovers ("they don't look at each other's dicks when pissing") and loved how the women circling Nora's Rosario at the end of the film mirrored the children circling in the playground at the beginning of the film.
Cuadra, I had to admit, was more perceptive about and responsive to O'Hara's films than I was.
He was a wonderful man, an incredible asthete, a for the brief time we'd spent together good friend. I'd finally gotten hold of Auggusta only last year after a long time spent out of touch, and asked for news of him; she replied that he's been struggling with Parkinson's the past three years, and was wondering if I could send money.
I tried; I couldn't. I sent her a message apologizing, said I'll send something as soon as I can afford it. I planned to send something this end of May.
Too late.
Death happens all the time; it happens to friends, to family, to people we care for and admire and (even if we're only fooling ourselves) we believe are going to outlast us, be around forever or at least long enough for us to meet again, to help in some small way. 
I know, I know; I should've known better. Doesn't mean I have to like it.      
May 17, 2013 

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