Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When land is life

As I write this, I've just come out of a screening of acclaimed documentarian Ditsi Carolino's latest work, "Lupang Hinarang," at the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. The film -- still a work-in-progress -- tells about the plight of two groups of farmers in the Philippines: the first from Negros Oriental, who held a hunger strike in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform until they're granted access to part of the hacienda they work in that the law says belongs to them; the second, the group from Sumilao, Bukidnon who did the unthinkable by walking for 60 days until they reach Manila, to ask the president herself that the land they were tilling be given to them (again as the law prescribes) before it is turned into a piggery by San Miguel Corporation. Though both events took place two years ago, their stories are still unfinished; in the film, their stories end tragically, and indeed, tragedy has struck the farmers even after the events captured in the current version of the film.

In both stories, one thing is very clear: the farmers were willing to die for their land. This is something that most of us, including myself, will probably never fully understand, to risk life for something like a hectare of soil. The thing is, besides the clothes on their backs, the only thing they really have is land. In the film, it is also clear that the farmers did it not for themselves, but for their children, maybe because they knew that the land for which they have given sweat, tears, and blood, is the only thing they could leave their kids.

Watching Carolino's latest film is a very cathartic experience, in which emotions are expressed in all their nakedness. Suddenly, the artifice in storytelling that beset many movies that are showcased even in festivals like the Cinemalaya just fall away when confronted with a film like Carolino's, whose previous films include "Bunso" (which I have not seen) and the excellent "Riles." It is also to Carolino's credit that the film got/is being made: with no funding and no certainty that the film would ever be finished, she just grabbed her camera and jumped right in when she learned of the farmers' plight, simply because she believed their story deserved to be captured and told. And what stories theirs are.

I've always maintained the belief that the ability to create art and to have the resources to do so is power, and to not use them to advance either a cause or the art form is a waste of said resources and a lost opportunity. In both respects, Carolino and her film stands taller than everybody else.

Know more about Lupang Hinarang and how you can help:

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I've not seen two of the competing films in the fifth edition of the Cinemalaya. As if that would stop me from ranking my favorites in order of preference:

1) Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe (Alvin B. Yapan)
2) Sanglaan (Milo Sogueco)
3) Last Supper No.3 (Veronica Velasco & Jinky Laurel)
4) Dinig Sana Kita (Mike Sandejas)
5) 24K (Ana Agabin)
6) Nerseri (Vic Acedillo, Jr.)
7) Astig (GB Sampedro)
8) Engkwentro (Pepe Diokno)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Next stop:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

1984: The year of pop

Where were you in 1984? Were you in college? In high school? Or in elementary school perhaps, just like me? A yuppie? Heck, even if you were not born yet, if you just remotely happen to like pop music, there's no way you could have escaped 1984.

For 1984 was the year of pop. If there's one single year that plotted the course of popular music of the '80s and beyond, this was it. The year left no doubt who would define the music of the decade -- a triumvirate the like of which has never been seen again -- whose influence on pop culture extends to this very day. You'd be surprised to learn that most of the songs that you associate with the '80s were actually released in 1984, eternal reminders of our youth, or at least of that last '80s-themed movie you saw or that last '80s-themed party you went to.

Though the album Thriller was released in 1982, it was in 1984 that Michael Jackson cemented his reputation as the King of Pop. Christmas 1983 saw the release of the Thriller video. But just in the first quarter of 1984, Michael: officially released "Thriller" as the last single off the album; saw Thriller certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest-selling album ever; infamously burned his hair and scalp while making that Pepsi commercial; won 8 Grammys including record and album of the year; and was the subject of a TIME cover illustrated by Andy Warhol. Later in the year he got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and had the then-largest-grossing tour ever with The Jacksons. Definitely not shabby.

Madonna released her debut album in 1983, its popularity carried over to the following year with the release of the classic singles "Lucky Star" and "Borderline." But it was in September of 1984, at the first-ever MTV Video Music Awards (in which The Cars' groundbreaking "You Might Think" video won the top award) when the world truly first took notice of Madonna, when she writhed onstage wearing a wedding dress. Her second album and smash single Like A Virgin was released a few weeks later, accompanied by that video shot in Venice, Italy.

Michael Jackson may have ensured his status as the King of Pop, and Madonna may have proven to be the most enduring, but there's no doubt who owned 1984. In 1984, the world turned purple with the release of Prince and the Revolution's Purple Rain, arguably the year's best album and an instant classic. Out of the album -- a melding of hot funk, rock, and polished pop -- came tumbling classic after classic: from the first single "When Doves Cry," to "Let's Go Crazy," "Take Me With U," "I Would Die 4 U," to the live recording of the ballad "Purple Rain." The album, and the accompanying hit movie, established Prince not just as a star, but also arguably rock's finest frontman, and a songwriting genius, not to mention being pop's most enigmatic and prolific.

Apart from the triumvirate of Prince, Madonna, and Michael Jackson, 1984 saw a multitude of artists release their signature hits: Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," Bruce Springsteen's "Born In The U.S.A." and "Dancing In The Dark," Van Halen's "Jump," Billy Idol's "Eyes Without A Face," INXS' "Original Sin," Phil Collins' "Against All Odds," and Sade's "Smooth Operator."

1984 also saw one of the best musical comebacks ever, when Tina Turner strutted onto MTV in high heels, denim jacket, tight leather skirt, and that hair with the hit "What's Love Got To Do With It," inspiring a hundred thousand drag queens the world over to do the same. The year also showcased the staying power of several acts, most noteworthy of which were Lionel Richie (with a bunch of singles from the best-selling album of his career, winning the Grammy album of the year award in 1985), Chaka Khan with "I Feel For You," Paul McCartney with "No More Lonely Nights," and Queen with the anthem "Radio Ga Ga." Speaking of comebacks and staying power, 1984 also saw the release of Bob Marley and the Wailers' posthumous classic compilation Legend, introducing Marley and his music to a new generation, and the album eventually proving to be everyone's favorite entry-level initiation to reggae and Jamaican music.

Hip-hop was still at its formative stage and would not gain mainstream acceptance until two years later with Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys, but in 1984, one of hip-hop's most enduring classic -- Grandmaster Melle Mel's "White Lines (Don't Don't Do It)," an anti-drug anthem -- filled the airwaves in America and Europe.

But not all the pop that the world consumed voraciously came from America, for 1984 was also the peak year of the so-called Second British Invasion (the first being in the '60s), not seen again until the rise of Britpop in the mid-'90s. Leading the pack were the golden boys of MTV -- Duran Duran -- who unleashed "The Reflex" and "The Wild Boys" to the world in 1984. Culture Club memorably burst onto the scene, led by a cross-dresser in shockingly red hair and kabuki make-up whom I really thought was a woman until I read the name ("Why is her name Boy George?"), prancing across TV screens with "Karma Chameleon," "Miss Me Blind," "Mistake No. 3," and "The War Song." The Police released "King of Pain" off Synchronicity, won the Grammy song of the year award for "Every Breath You Take," then broke up. Wham! (George Michael and that other guy) told us to wake them up before we go-go, then also unleashed the immortal "Careless Whisper" and "Last Christmas." Eurythmics gave us "Here Comes The Rain Again." Depeche Mode came out with "Somebody," "People Are People," and "Master and Servant." Tears For Fears made us "Shout." Spandau Ballet, The Cure, and Bananarama all had new singles. The Smiths came out with their self-titled album and told the world that they're miserable now (but when was Morrissey not?). U2 uplifted us with "Pride (In The Name of Love)." And before the year ended, Bob Geldof of The Boomtown Rats had corralled most of them in a studio as Band Aid to sing the second British invasion's glorious anthem, "Do They Know It's Christmas?," which directly spawned 1985's similarly stellar (if inferior) "We Are The World" by USA for Africa, as well as the defining concert of the '80s -- Live Aid -- the crowning glory of which was Queen's set, with Freddie Mercury leading a sea of people through "Radio Ga Ga."

(But where was rock during this time of boys in make-up and hairspray and ladies who looked like drag queens? In America and the U.K., hardcore punk and post-punk were still in full swing, and alternative rock was taking roots, with memorable releases from bands such as the Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, The Replacements, Minor Threat, Meat Puppets, R.E.M., Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, and Cocteau Twins. In the last quarter of 1984, Tommy Tanchangco formed the hardcore label Twisted Red Cross in the Philippines, releasing tape compilations the following year featuring bands such as Urban Bandits, Wuds, Betrayed, Dead Ends, and Ethnic Faces.)

By 1984, barely three years after it was founded, MTV had already become the taste maker when it came to music consumption, with bands wanting to be in it, not only to be heard but to be seen. Suddenly, singers had to be attractive, fit, young, and trendy. Along with radio, MTV gave exposure in 1984 not just to established acts, but most especially to memorable one-hit wonders that the '80s have become known for, like Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax," The Psychedelic Furs' "The Ghost In You," Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me 'Round (Like A Record)," Shannon's "Let The Music Play," Sheila E.'s "The Glamorous Life," Robin Gibb's "Boys Do Fall In Love," Talk Talk's "It's My Life," Thompson Twins' "Hold Me Now," Torch's remake of "(Build Me Up) Buttercup," and Nena's "99 Luftballons." The first MTV generation bought music in droves, mostly in cassette form. At that time, cassettes had already been outselling vinyl due to the popularity and portability of boom boxes and the Sony Walkman. In the same year, CDs were first manufactured in America.

In Asia and Latin America, 1984 also signaled the start of Menudo-mania, with the boy band from Puerto Rico (featuring lead Robby Rosa and later on new member Ricky Martin) releasing hugely popular singles within the year such as "Like A Cannonball" and "If You're Not Here (By My Side)."

In the Philippines, the youth culture zeitgeist of 1984 was not only ignited by American and British acts. In the same year, the movie Bagets was released, featuring a popular teenage cast, and the soundtrack spawning not only Raymond Lauchengco's "So It's You" and "Farewell," but most especially "Growing Up" by Gary Valenciano, who had another hit that year with "Reachin' Out" from the movie Hot Shots. (Gary V. would go on to become the country's very own Michael Jackson, releasing hit songs and albums and routinely selling out venues for his energy-packed concerts). Bagets also sparked a fashion craze in the country, when teenagers and kids started wearing clothes in primary and secondary colors like the characters in the movie (I certainly remember wearing shirts and short pants in a combination of red, yellow, blue and green, sometimes with the Bagets logo).

Whoa, what a year! There may come a time when a year like 1984 might come our way again -- a rare moment when talent, mass appeal, positivity, youth, and commerce aligned -- but I certainly doubt it. In the meantime, let's hit the boom box and say happy 25th birthday to the hits of 1984.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009