Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A rollicking fun

This post is antedated. I am trying to recover the online version of my columns before the Manila Standard Today deletes the archives for 2011. I made the mistake of assuming the archive will be online for five years. Sigh.

I will make a confession: At some point in the recent past, I stopped watching Filipino independent films. Actually, I simply stopped watching Filipino films in general. I just got tired of having to sit through the same plotline movie after movie; and watching the same themes being rehashed over and over again.

I still believed that indie films represented our best chance to resurrect the dying local film industry as the chances of mainstream cinema being able to increase its annual output has become almost nil, thanks to the prohibitive costs associated with traditional filmmaking (a huge chunk of which goes to the talent fees of superstars), the oppressive taxation system in the country, and the rampant proliferation of film pirates. Indies films were the way to go. And we have been able to produce quite a number of really great indie films in the last five years. There’s Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Olivares (The blossoming of Max), Kubrador, (The Bet Collector), Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe (The Rape of Fe), among others.

Unfortunately, the local indie scene had also become quite trite and predictable. The recent smash hit indie film Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank (Woman in a Septic Tank) cleverly illustrated the many ways in which we have reduced to a cliché what local indie filmmaking is about. If it’s not about poverty, it’s about homosexuality. Otherwise, it would be about the pains of growing up, or gang wars, or violence against women, or May-December love affairs, or if not any of those already mentioned—it would have to be about, sigh, incest. It’s as if someone developed a formula and decreed that everyone stuck to it.

I’m not sure it’s really about the gaya-gaya (copycat) syndrome although there’s a part of me that thinks the bandwagon effect may have been at play at some point.

For instance, a friend theorized that the reason why there has been a preponderance of gay-themed films in the local indie scene is because he suspects many of the budding filmmakers are gay and have a wealth of stories to tell. I told him it’s a convenient excuse, although it must be noted that even the great Lino Brocka did direct a number of films that tackled homosexuality. Perhaps gay people in this country lead more complex, more cinematic lives that bear retelling in pictures– but surely, there are limits to how many times the same plotline can be rehashed regardless of the approach or the twist in the presentation. It is also possible that the phenomenon has been basically driven by the basic law of supply and demand—it seems there is a market for gay-themed films, which should say something about the purchasing power of this segment of the population but that’s another column altogether.

At any rate, I am glad I acceded to a persistent invitation of a friend to watch Zombadings: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington (Zombie gays: Scare Remington to Death). We caught it over the weekend (I’ve been told it had been running in moviehouses for two weeks already) and I tell you, I don’t think I have had such great fun inside a moviehouse prior to Zombadings. We got out of the moviehouse physically weak from laughing too hard.

The title of the movie already promised loads of rollicking and campy fun (did it really have to be in swardspeak?) and I am pleased to report the film delivered in this aspect.

This was a hilarious, laugh-out-every-minute film. One doesn’t have to be immersed in the local gay culture to fully appreciate Zombadings although those who are I think have a distinct advantage. They get the jokes a split second ahead of the others. Subtitles are provided when the characters lapse into colorful swardspeak, but really, a lot of the nuances are lost in translation.

The whole Zombadings experience is enhanced if one can relate to campiness brought to extremes (think fireworks, stars, and bursts of colors coming out the main character’s body and a magical flying red scarf). In short this is one of those movies that is better enjoyed when one leave inhibitions and intellectual pretensions at the door. Oh yes, this is a gay-themed movie, but I noticed that majority of the people inside the moviehouse when my friend and I went there were heterosexual couples. In fact, I made a survey among my friends and was pleasantly surprised to note that most of those who have watched the film were heterosexuals. And they said they enjoyed it immensely. So as Neil Patrick Harris sang in the recent Tony Awards “it’s not just for gays anymore.”

Camp is something that is difficult to achieve—it doesn’t have a middle ground, it either works or does not. Something is either done with a certain flair that sends people on a laughing fit, or just leaves a bad taste in the mouth. To my mind, the campiness of Zombadings works because, pretty much like the original Temptation Island movie by the late Joey Gosiengfiao, it is largely unintended. I think the people behind Zombadings just wanted to make a movie that was fun, period.

Thus, what I really liked about Zombadings is its unapologetic tone— the film doesn’t bombard you over the head with metaphors and symbolisms nor does it attempt to overexplain things. They leave things as they are and leave it up to the viewers to make sense of. I am sure there’s a meaning behind why the female “authority figures” in the film from the main characters’ mother to the town mayor seemed masculine or why the main character delivers certain dialogues in English and the others in swardspeak, but this isn’t one of those films where such attempts at nitpicking is material.

Zombadings reminds us that watching a movie is supposed to be a sensory, not just an intuitive, experience. Here the colors are bolder, the actions are over-the-top, the dialogues are campy, and the whole point of the movie seems to be focused on just one goal: Telling a story in the most cinematic and fun way. I have nothing against movies that throw people into bouts of reflection and deep thinking, but if you just want to be entertained, Zombadings is a movie you should not miss.

And oh, it’s actually a well-made film. The acting is superb (Eugene Domingo is in it), the editing was tight, the musical direction was competent. This an indie movie, yes, but it’s one that is clearly notches above many mainstream movies. I think I will begin watching Filipino indie films again.

Go catch Zombadings: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington if you still can.

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