Monday, August 27, 2007

Minds blown in mall: The 3rd Backdoor Ventures Arts & Music Fest

View all pictures HERE

View all pictures HERE

I did not make it to the first day (Aug. 24) of the three-day event held at the Megatrade Hall of SM Megamall. But the Saturday and Sunday shows blew everybody away. While boy band Rivermaya was having auditions for a new member, these real artists got busy giving religious experiences.

Highlights: Mind-blowing performances by Drum Connection (percussion jam headed by Pinikpikan), Sing India, Kadangyan, Lakbay Lahi, Project Ganymede, Unitiima, The Spaceflower Show, Japanese band The Dorques accompanying a fantastic anime cosplay, and capping the Fest, Pinikpikan’s monster jam and dance freak-out. Okay, the free-flowing GSM Blue wasn’t bad either.

Also noteworthy were Cosmic Love, Bahaghari, the hilarious FMD, The Late Isabel, The Chonkeys, and the return of Indio I. Museo Pambata’s shadow play and the body paint show were also cool.

Boo: Quadro’s Ratbunitata-ish interruptions of The Late Isabel’s set (turning off their power may have been an accident, but soundchecking that freaking guitar while the lady was singing?). Isabel frontwoman Wawi Navarroza was obviously pissed and remarked, “This is what you call mid-set roadkill.”

Head-scratching: Pepe Smith, who slurred and tuned his guitar through “Beep Beep,” and tuned it some more behind some stage props. Not sure what he was on, but his mere presence spelled Rock & Roll to me.

And I can’t wait for next year’s fest!

View all pictures HERE

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Indonesia Nostalgia in Mega

In connection with the 62nd anniversary of Indonesia's independence, the Indonesia Fest was held at the SM Megamall on August 18 and 19. It was mainly a cultural show, with Bali's Puri Gita Nusantara providing music and dance.

What a show it was. First, there were the dramatic props especially flown in I presume from Indonesia. Then the gamelan instruments carefully laid out on stage. The musicians, who were in full Balinese regalia, performed several pieces, accompanying the dancers who performed several Balinese dances including a topeng (mask) dance.

I'm careful to identify them as Balinese because Indonesia is not Bali and Bali is not Indonesia. Bali is just a speck in the Southeast Asian archipelago, which I believe has the richest bounty of ethnic culture in Asia. Indonesia is composed of tens of thousands of islands, with more than 300 ethnic groups. I love Indonesia because everywhere you go, it's like going to another country. Bali is different. Jakarta is different. Jogjakarta in Central Java is different. Then there's Sumatra, West Timor, Papua, Sulawesi, Kalimantan and so many other regions. Each one has a different language, distinct culture, traditions, food, even appearances (unlike, say, when you go to Bicol then to Cebu or Ilocos, not so much difference there.) I rarely met Indonesians who identified themselves as such. Usually they would say Balinese, Javanese, Madurese, etc. To be the President of Indonesia is a tough job indeed. It's like having a mini United Nations in one country. The Philippines has a problem with ARMM wanting to be another country. In Indonesia, each region threatens every now and then to be on their own.

Aaah, the sound of gamelan filling Megamall. I never thought a day like it would come. Balinese gamelan music is different from Javanese gamelan. While in Java the music insinuates, with the instruments gently hit with sticks, in Bali the gamelan is pounded with a hammer-like instrument made of metal. It's more in-your-face, like the paradise island itself. I've never been to a place before or since where every direction you look, you want to take a photo of it. Bali has a very lush, green environment with small rice terraces all over. People walk the streets clad in traditional garb, especially when there's a funeral -- a tourist magnet by itself. Each house or establishment has a shrine in front where flowers and incense are offered every morning. Small shops everywhere selling paintings and woodcarvings. Everywhere you look there's the unmistakable Balinese architecture (like the props in the show, but bigger and grander). The air is filled with gamelan music and the sweet smell of kretek (Indonesian clove cigarettes) mixed with incense.

Art comes naturally in their lives (they don't even have a word for "art"), belying a very brutal and bloody history that is now virtually unknown or forgotten. Almost everybody knows somebody who is a dancer or a musician or a painter (my Balinese friend was a professional dancer). On my first full day in Bali, there for a short respite three years ago, I woke up early to catch a taxi to some village known for their dancers. I wasn't disappointed. The island really is the kind of place where you could just take public transport any time of the day and be able to catch a performance somewhere, whether in a village, in a temple, a shrine, a hotel, or a nearby theater. It's impossible not to breathe culture in Bali, and it could be quite intoxicating to be constantly bombarded with such beauty day in and day out.

Central Java is my kind of place though. It's grittier and less touristy than the Hindu island in the east. After being assigned in Jogjakarta for a week (okay, it's more like pleasure than business), I decided not to go back to Bali and just spent one more week in the Javanese city. I have incredible memories of Jogja, as it is fondly called, of kretek-filled days and nights, walking through Jalan Malioboro (see pictures below) -- the city's main street where the atmosphere is electric -- several times a day to shop or to just immerse myself, of wayang puppet shows, watching the dalang (puppeteer) do his magic at the other side of the white curtain, gamelan performances, Ramayana ballets, Borobudur and Prambanan sightseeing, visiting the water castle and the Kraton (sultan's palace) many times that the ticket guy recognized me already, of sneaking into batik and puppet workshops to know how magic is done, of becak rides, dangdut concerts, of eating dinner at the lesehan cross-legged on the sidewalk to the sound of young street musicians, of the best chicken satay on Earth (P40.00 for eight sticks with rice from an ambulant vendor on the sidewalk), cheap but delicious nasi goreng, es campur, es jeruk, of sweets that reminded me of home, of friendships formed that last to this day. It was an experience that broke my heart once it ended. Till the day I die I'll look back at that time when my passion for the arts and culture was rekindled and strengthened, a turning point the significance of which I've yet to realize.

Jogja pictures from the internet

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Motherf*ck*ng Day with Quentin Tarantino

I first saw Quentin Tarantino in person last Thursday night, as I was entering Gateway Mall, there to catch a screening of Anton Corbijn's "Control." He was exactly as I have imagined him to be: tall, a bit bulky at the tummy, with that famous forehead and chin. He was wearing a blue, long-sleeved barong, with what appeared to be jogging pants, waiting for his ride together with Tikoy Aguiluz.

By 11 am last Saturday I was already in Cubao to be able to get a good seat for the Quentin Tarantino talk at the Cinemanila Film Festival, scheduled to start at 1 pm. I just got my festival gold ticket the night before (only gold ticket holders could be allowed to join Tarantino), which would enable me to watch 10 movies, as well as entrance to all seminars. I was surprised (shocked!) to still be able get a front row seat. By 12 noon, the Gateway Cineplex lobby was already filled with hipsters and call center types hoping to catch a glimpse of the QT. The line snaked through the corridor by 1 pm, with a smattering of whites and semi-famous people (directors, writers, columnists, poseurs). I was glad Tim Yap was not around to annoy everybody.

We were allowed to go in past 1 pm and Tarantino was already inside, chatting with Tikoy Aguiluz and staff. By 2 pm, the talk started, an hour late. Quentin did an opening spiel then stopped when he noticed a video camera. "Please turn that thing off. I want this event to be only for those who are here," or something to that effect. He recalled a time a few years back when he got invited into somebody's apartment while in China, only to find it packed with about 30 film students, for whom he did an impromptu discussion about filmmaking. A few years later, he would meet some of those students in film festivals around the world, either competing or just participating. They would come up to him and tell him that they were there in that room when he made that talk. "The people in this room are the future of the Philippine film industry," declared Tarantino.

Quentin did not have a definite plan for the symposium, so he immediately asked for questions from the audience to get him to talk. Some of the topics covered were his writing style ("writing dialogue is easy for me...a god-given talent"), casting ("my characters are more important for me;" he gets actors if they fit the character in his head), his body of work ("I want each of my films to weak children and my grandchildren will be stuck with them forever. I don't want them to invite their friends to watch my films and apologize for them.")

More highlights:
  • He considers himself not just a screenwriter, but a writer. Other screenwriters just give directions.

  • He films all scenes in his movies himself. No second- or third-unit directors. (I read somewhere that this was the reason why it took him forever to finish Kill Bill. He had no previous experience shooting big action scenes.) He said "if it wasn't shot by me, it's not good."

  • Tarantino felt really strange promoting Kill Bill Vol. 1, because during the press rounds for that film, he had only finished the first scene of Vol. 2. He feels relieved after finishing a movie; he views promoting them as sort of a graduation requirement. But in the case of Kill Bill, that sense of relief was absent in the months between the release of the two volumes.

  • Quentin views himself as a film scholar, and "the day I graduate is the day I die."

  • He said that the Philippines is probably the only country that had two film industries: the "official" one, and the one that made all those English-language B-movies for foreign consumption. He's talking about those vampire, action, and women-in-prison movies made by the likes of Gerry de Leon, Cirio Santiago, Eddie Romero, and Bobby Suarez. He discussed lengthily Gerry de Leon's "Women In Cages" (a TV set was playing its trailer in a scene from Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror"), how its bleakness set it apart from the other movies produced by Roger Corman at that time. Quentin reportedly is writing a book on Philippine B-movies.

  • Tarantino confessed that he hasn't seen a single film by Brocka or Bernal. He mentioned his desire to see Lav Diaz's five-hour "Batang Westside." When he returns to the US, he will bring along with him DVDs of some of the best products of the "official" Philippine movie industry, to further his education.

  • He expressed his desire to work with Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, and Brad Pitt.

  • He did not want to talk about future projects, but he did reveal that he wanted to make a film in homage to those European sex flicks in the 70s and those of Russ Meyer, but fear that if he does, his sex life will be scrutinized by the media when he does the promotional rounds.
Tarantino was sharp and candid all throughout. We laughed when he recalled shooting his difficult action scenes for Kill Bill, and had to use body doubles because Uma and Lucy were a bit touchy feely. "What..was I...thinking? I waited my whole life to shoot a samurai scene. I could have gotten somebody like Michelle Yeoh, but I am stuck with these...American...BITches!"

I got to ask him a question. My question went: "Most of the Filipino low-budget films you saw as a kid are quite unknown to us. What did you find so fascinating about them?" And he answered the question elaborately for more than ten minutes, saying that he loved those films, among many other films of different genres, because he saw them when he was a kid. He even told an anecdote about Martin Scorsese and his efforts to introduce his daughter to Fellini's "8 1/2", but she didn't get it as Scorsese did not prepare her enough for the challenging movie by introducing her first to Fellini's more accessible films like "La Strada" and "Nights of Cabiria." Tarantino said that film viewing is a process. One should not make the mistake, as films students are wont to do, of jumping right away to the film canon without understanding first where the director is coming from. He cited Ingmar Begman's "The Seventh Seal:" "why is Death playing chess on the beach?" It will be difficult to get the director's sensibility if the viewer hasn't been introduced to his earlier films.

Ouch! That was the sound of me pinching myself to find out if I wasn't dreaming. Did the Quentin Tarantino really point at me when I raised my hand to ask him a question??! Am I really just three meters away from him and he's now actually looking at me answering my question??! Awesome. I really wanted to have my picture taken with him. I even brought along my copy of the Kill Bill Vol.1 soundtrack, as well as my CD of Ennio Morriconne's "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly," and my copy of the Shaw Brothers kung-fu flick "The Five Deadly Venoms" (a QT favorite), hoping to get his autograph. However, after a bathroom break, he came back saying, "I'm not signing anything. I'm not posing for photographs. I think I'm giving much already." (Whatever you say, Quentin.) That certainly did not stop a certain young filmmaker of dubious talent from high society, present at the symposium, whom I saw holding a laserdisc box set of Pulp Fiction at the gala premiere of "Death Proof," hours after the talk. So, was Dad able to get you your autograph?

After the break, we gave Tarantino a standing ovation, and he seemed really pleased that he was appreciated. He quickly disappeared into the side exit. It was chaos outside the theater as we streamed out. The entrance was full of cameras and media people, and onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of Quentin. They were just told to come back early that evening before the "Death Proof" premiere for cocktails and media briefing.

After the talk, I watched a screening of Pulp Fiction. I remember watching this movie over and over again at the theater when it came out thirteen years ago (has it really been that long??). I was obsessed with Pulp Fiction. I went to see it multiple times to be able to rearrange it chronologically in my head. I also remember trying to convince my classmates in UP to watch it (at that time, their idea of entertainment was to go to a Side A concert, a year after the Eheads broke!). Pulp Fiction was the first movie that made me take notice of a movie's screenplay. I would memorize chunks of lines from the movie and talk to myself in the mirror. Barring the soundtrack to Aga Muhlach's 1984 movie "Campus Beat" (guilty pleasure!), Pulp Fiction was also the movie that opened my ears to movies' soundtracks. I loved Misirlou; hearing it used to give me palpitations. I loved Never Can Tell, and Dusty Springfield's Son of a Preacher Man is damn cool.

It was indeed like watching Pulp Fiction for the first time. In 1994, during the dark years of Etta Mendez, the movie was released R-18 with cuts, most notably Uma Thurman's adrenaline shot and the Marsellus Wallace butt-fuck. Well now, the syringe stays and Marsellus's ass is on display, and the movie was rated PG. A sign of progress?

Before the movie started, a handful of trailers for vintage Filipino B-movies in English was shown, which elicited much laughter from the audience. I read that Quentin Tarantino himself compiled the trailers, and might be included in the DVD of either Death Proof or Planet Terror, together with an interview with Filipino B-movie auteur Cirio Santiago. Meeting with Santiago was one of the main motivations for Tarantino to come to the Philippines, reportedly his first time in Southeast Asia.

Tarantino also brought along some B-movies from his personal collection, which included Wonder Women, and The Ravages (the latter, an Eddie Romero concoction, will be shown on Friday). And ultimately this is Tarantino's importance to me as a movie lover: he doesn't judge movies based on their budget or their gloss. He goes out of his way to tell people that there's so much more to love about the movies than we care to know, pointing us to obscure works and obscure directors that deserve their place in the sun, telling us that it's okay to like these movies, that liking them is cool, that pleasure derived from movies is endless if we just know where to look. He may not inspire people through his films, but he himself inspires people to open up their minds and get that inspiration from infinite sources.

The "Death Proof" gala premiere was packed. The excitement was palpable, especially in Quentin Tarantino's face, who then introduced his new movie like a ringmaster would introduce the next circus act.

A few weeks back I saw Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror," and memories flooded back. Having been born in the 70s, I am not a stranger to grindhouse movies. As a kid, at a time when only rich people had Betamax, I watched a lot of double features in our small theater in Batangas, which used to be a vaudeville theater in the 30s. It was the kind of place that was infested with bugs, no aircon, smoking was allowed, smell of piss in the air, and banana-Q vendors plied the aisles. I would always get sick after seeing movies there. A seat at the balcony cost P5.00, orchestra P3.oo, but we usually got in for free courtesy of my uncle. Food was not a problem as my aunt used to run a panciteria across the street. I watched a lot of comedies there. Hollywood films were few and far between (that's where I saw The Neverending Story and RoboCop), and usually we got them almost a year late, after they have done the rounds of theaters in Manila and other cities (hence the scratched and battered reels we got). Of course, to get to the main feature meant having to sit through a movie we didn't like, usually a Filipino action movie with the same old revenge plot ("anak, huwag mong ilagay sa iyong mga kamay ang batas..."), or an American B-movie with Z-list actors that looked like discarded members of Michael Learns To Rock. Or Steven Seagal. The crazy thing was, usually when the films start rolling at around 12 noon, they play the second half of the main feature first, then the B-movie, then the main feature again. We would leave the theater at around 4:30 pm in the middle of the main feature. The theater still stands but has not been used for more than a decade. The memories linger. Today, a few grindhouses remain in downtown Manila, but I heard that instead of banana-Q, people walk the aisles offering handjobs.

"Planet Terror" rocked. Rodriguez's homage to grindhouse movies was pretty dead-on. I laughed at the dialogue, the crazy violence and head-scratching plot turns, the hysterical acting (or non-acting; it's Heather Graham's best performance yet!), the scratchy film stock, and characters that just appear and disappear without explanation. Pretty darn accurate. And Rose McGowan's one-legged machine gun bimbo is hands-down one of the coolest movie characters in recent memory.

Though I enjoyed "Planet Terror" very much, I can't help but feel that it's really only a pastiche of homages. Tarantino's "Death Proof" felt like a real movie. I'm not going to discuss the plot. Be assured that though it looks like a quickie production, "Death Proof" is definitely a Tarantino movie, with the crazy dialogue and fantastic music (most memorable: The Coasters' "Down In Mexico," used in the lap dance sequence).The movie is full of fast cars, fast women, severed limbs, cursing and bitchslapping, and the audience lapped it all up, laughing, cheering, howling and clapping at the right moments.

After the screening, a beaming Tarantino returned the love by exclaiming from his seat, "This has been one of the best audiences I've ever had in a premiere. Those who said that the Filipino audience is reserved don't know shit what they're talking about!" What a way to end the day!

As I typed this, the internet was being flooded with reports about yesterday's awarding ceremony in MalacaƱang. Quentin Tarantino was to receive an award from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. On the way to the palace, in raging typhoon, the car carrying Quentin and Tikoy Aguiluz got caught in a terrible traffic jam in Manila's flooded streets. They were running late, so, they got out of the car and hired pedicabs to take them to the palace! How hilarious! It must have been pretty surreal and wild for Quentin, but I doubt if he minded. He received his award from the president, still a bit wet, in his very formal long-sleeved barong, and a pair of jogging pants.

Cinemanila movies I've seen so far:

Control (Anton Corbijn, UK) - about the life and death of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, wasn't as engaging as Michael Winterbottom's "24-Hour Party People," but the guy who played Ian Curtis was fantastic and the cinematography was tops. The musical sequences were well-executed.

The Postmodern Life of My Aunt (Ann Hui, Hong Kong) - didn't stick to my head, except Chow Yun-Fat's kooky supporting performance.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Mamoru Hosoda, Japan) - an anime, was very funny and poignant. However, the cosplay that preceded it wasn't.

Persepolis (Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi, France) - a film adaptation of Satrapi's popular graphic memoir, this animated film (which competed at the Cannes Film Festival last May), is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film (together with Ratatouille and The Simpsons Movie)

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungju, Romania) - winner of the 2007 Cannes Film Festival Palme D'Or for Best Picture, it's actually a little film that I found incredibly well-directed, well-written, and well-acted.

I finally got to see Pedro Almodovar's Volver. It's not as masterful as Talk To Her or Bad Education, but since this is an Almodovar film, it still did not disappoint. The film boasts a scintillating performance from Penelope Cruz, hands-down one of the best in the last ten years. That scene where she sings a sad song with tears in her eyes while unbeknownst to her, her mother whom she thought had died years ago was secretly listening and god. I lost it again at the movies.

You may see the list of winners here: