Black God, White Devil (Glauber Rocha / Brazil / 1964)
July 24, 2017
Dearest Raju and Fernando,
Greetings from the Land of Engkantos!
How are things there in Argentina and in Brazil?
Before I begin and before any proper inauguration, I would like to enact an incision: that this letter be subdivided into several reflection points.
Knowing Brazil/Argentina through Cinema
I only know Brazil and Argentina through cinema and pictures. My favourite Argentinian film is the landmark film of Getino and Fernando E. Solanas titled The Hour of the Furnaces (1968). If you haven’t seen this film, I suggest you go see it. It is one of the films that had a vision to change the world through cinema. Its main paradigmatic practice is to constitute a revolution through image, and perhaps a revolution from the image of cinema, for The Hour of the Furnaces also combats the bourgeoisie’s mode of production by deploying the guerrilla approach to filmmaking. In the same way, the film also shatters the dominant cinematic image of its time in an ontological sense via deterritorialization i.e. all signs point towards a deterritorialization of the image through dialectical practice of editing.
The Hour of the Furnaces (Getino & Solanas / Argentina / 1968)
Lisandro Alonso is also an unforgettable figure in Argentinian cinema. He and Lav Diaz have similar approaches to duration, although Alonso has a more ambiguous and sparser style in narrative. I like La Libertad (2001) for its straightforward depiction of a day in a life of a proletarian woodcutter. There is a simplicity to it that blurs the boundary of documentary and narrative film. The camera provokes an elaborate and impenetrable silence as means of disclosure, of worlding, of existing. Jauja (2014) is also a beautiful film by the same director, but I don’t know much about its Argentinian roots. I remember watching it with eyes wide open, anticipating its idiosyncrasies and anachronisms. I can’t seem to make sense of its incongruities. Maybe the beauty of the film lies in its incongruities, pauses and ellipses. There is a scene where Gunnar Dinesen (played by Viggo Mortensen) sleeps on rock starring at the heavens. There is ‘infinity’ to that image that I want to re-experience again. I remember thinking that that scene has something to do with love, with longing, or an infinity of longing perhaps.
Jauja (Lisandro Alonso / Argentina / 2014)
I have also seen a recent Argentinian film titled Taekwondo (2016) by Argentinian born filmmakers Marco Berger and Martin Farina, a film that explores male bisexuality. It might be one of the very few films I have seen in my waking life that cinematically explores bisexuality, and I liked it.
From what I have seen, Taekwondo is labyrinth of bodies. The male body in the film transforms into a generalized spectre, a site of struggle of sexuality. What I liked about the film is that it withdraws from the penetrative approach of contemporary gay films by exhuming the liminal power of the body to question the politics of visibility of LGBTQ cinema. In withdrawing from penetrative paradigm of gay identity politics, the film reconstructs a ‘minotaurian dilemma’ of bodies and orientations. In the end, Theseus, in parallel to the character of German (played by Gabriel Epstein), will slay the minotaur, in parallel to the character of Fer (played by Lucas Papa), at the center of labyrinth with a kiss.
Taekwondo (Marco Berger & Martin Farina / Argentina / 2016)
As with Brazilian Cinema, I can only think of two unforgettable cinephilic experiences. The first one was watching Walter Hugo Khouri’s Noite Vazia (Men and Women, Brazil, 1964) which had a profound lingering effect on me. I can’t think straight for days. The other one was watching Glauber Rocha’s A Idade da Terra (The Age of the Earth, 1980). The Age of the Earth violated my vision of the world. It is pure deterritorialization of cinematic image. These two films were transformative experiences that troubled my senses to its very end. Rocha’s other films Entranced Earth (1967), Black God, White Devil (1964) and Antonio Das Mortes (1969) were also memorable. Rocha’s idiosyncratic and militant approach to filmmaking is somewhat unique yet formally similar to how some contemporary Filipino filmmakers would approach editing, mise-en-scene and narrative. Khavn dela Cruz is one Filipino filmmaker I can think of that channels the same energy as Rocha’s caustic style. Yet, they diverge in terms of stylistic restraints. I can talk more about this topic, but it will be too much for this letter.
Top: Noite Vazia (Walter Hugo Khouri / Brazil / 1964) | Bottom: The Age of the Earth (Glauber Rocha / 1980)
I wonder if Rocha, Khouri, Getino and Solanas’ approaches to film style remain influential in the contemporary cinema of Argentina and Brazil. What’s happening now in your respective locales in terms of moving image production?
The period of the 1960s in Latin American cinema was revolutionary. Third cinema emerged during this period as collective effort to decolonize Latin American culture and resist the cultural imperialism of the United States. How’s the Third Cinema project in your respective regions now? Is the tradition of militant filmmaking, as inaugurated by Getino and Solanas, still practiced among militant filmmakers?
In return, I would like also to know if you have an idea of the Philippines, Philippine cinema, or militant cinema of the Philippines. What’s the recent Filipino film you’ve watched? Also, a question to Raju, if you come from India, what circumstances led you to reside in Brazil? How long have you resided in Brazil? Has transferring to another country affected your subjectivity as an Indian-born cinephile/film critic?
Correspondence: An Epistemology of Arrival
The geographical and cultural distance between Philippines and Argentina or Brazil poses a challenge especially on the subject of knowing the other. I guess cinema provides a translational advantage, a bridge that allows for distances to appear closer, yet some areas in your culture still remain untranslatable. There are still images left to be interpreted, contextualized, and re-imagined. Transcultural dialogue is more important now than ever. With neoliberalism and US cultural imperialism dominating distribution networks of cinema around the globe through Hollywood, we must not let a day pass without rallying for what is at stake in this dialogical space of cinema. The disappearing cultural specific heritage, proletarian subjectivity and collective memory are now threatened to be erased by instantaneity and synchronicity as operated via a globalized capital disseminated at an infinite speed. Correspondence, as I see it, is a radical refusal of instantaneity and synchronicity. It reintroduces again the concept of delay, or knowing in delay, through a form of a letter.
In correspondence, the question of ‘knowing’ and ‘arriving’ collapses into a duality; as if, for a moment, to ‘know’ what is there from a distant is also to ‘arrive’ there prematurely. Is knowing also a form of colonization? Correspondence, as I understand it, is a means to ‘arrive’ as well as to ‘know’ a place outside of oneself. To correspond is to arrive in a place outside only to know that one is always already too late. In correspondence, we are always late. Time has passed: for in arriving, or for a letter to arrive, some of us have already departed. We cannot be in same place at the same time, yet technologies such as instant messaging allow us to appear as though we are synchronic: in two places at once. Correspondence, on the other hand, recognizes the limit of the distance between two points, two locales, two worlds, two cultures, two temporalities. It is governed by the law of the Two, which, for Alain Badiou, constitute the dialectical alternative of One. Correspondence restores the difference and the untranslatability of one culture from another.
To enter into the activity of correspondence, which, for now, will be through a ‘letter,’ is to come to terms with the vulnerability of exposure, of arriving at a place exposed, or arriving towards an exposure of the self. It has occurred to me that writing a letter would not be as easy as I thought it would be. Since the letter is a form of public correspondence, there is a risk of exposure. There is a risk of exposing too much of myself, too much of my world. Can a letter be a means of overexposure? Cinema, on the other hand, has its own of means of exposing the world. Cinema can also be a letter of exposure (or overexposure) in its own way. To expose through exposition, on the other hand, for a letter is also an exposition of oneself, is also, in itself, a movement, a positioning, a posturing, a step ahead. To ex-pose — as a movement from one pose to another — is an ex-position — a displacement, a change in position. Indeed, correspondence is both an exposure and an exposition, jointly and separately, one and the same.
There is a life out here in the Philippines that is worth a book or a poem or a film, but a letter of correspondence would not suffice to expose even the surface matter of phenomena and reality I see through my eyes. Hence, the term encounter offers a heuristic path towards knowing the other without risking exposure and colonization. Thus, in correspondence, we only write encounters.
Lav Diaz’s Cinematic Duration as Object of Study
I would like to share to you a little background of my writing and research life. I am twenty-eight years old. I live in Manila for more than ten years now. For now, I am not affiliated in any film journal or publication, but occassionally I do published some of my articles in magazines and film journals. The latest would be an article on Hegel and Lav Diaz in NANG Magazine Issue 2. I am also actively engaged in a film organization Cinema and Moving Image Research Assembly (CAMIRA). I am in-charge of organizing activities of the film organization in the Philippines.
As for my studies, I am currently finishing my MA Media Studies (Film) degree at the University of the Philippines Film Institute with key interest on film philosophy. I am now in my thesis stage with Lav Diaz’s cinematic duration as my main object of study.
I have been doing research on Diaz’s cinema since I started my MA degree in 2014. My interest in Diaz’s cinema does not come entirely from an appreciative perspective, but rather from a critical one. Diaz’s cinema has amassed a wide range of critical debates on various subjects of his cinema with film reception as one of the main areas of contestation. My thesis will focus on the problematic issue of Diaz’s long durations.
Death in the Land of Encantos (Lav Diaz, Philippines, 2007)
With running time up to eleven hours long, and, on average, clocking at six to eight hours, his films no longer belong to the general criteria of entertainment cinema. In Diaz’s cinema, I consider cinematic duration as site of constraint generative of a new ontology, epistemology, ethico-politics and aesthetics of cinema.
Diaz’s eurocentric audience also poses a problematic politics of reception. One of my cinephile friends from Italy, Renato Loriga, expressed his distaste on European cinephilia’s instant positive appraisal on Diaz’s cinema after winning three successive major awards from the top European film festivals of Locarno, Berlin and Venice in the span of three years. Renato told me that the Italian critics, especially those who have ignored some of his early long-form works in the 2000s, were suddenly appreciative of his cinema because of the awards he won. Diaz was almost suddenly under the radar of critics, scholars, producers, distributors and the media, earning him a title as one of the world’s most renowned filmmakers.
While legitimizing his position as one of the forminable Asian auteurs that penetrated the European cinephile culture, the limited turnout of Filipino audience in most of his screenings in the Philippines proved contradictory. Diaz’s high cultural capital and idiosyncratic approach to filmmaking opened debates, critical appraisal and critiques in his home country. During the onset of his popularity, Diaz’s long duration was dismissed as anti-people and anti-audience for its demand for long endurance and extreme durative work from its audience. Diaz’s duration can be seen as a totalitarian conditioning of opticity. This and other problematiques would constitute the core problems of my thesis.
A Sneak Peak on my Archival Research on Lav Diaz
Day 1: Ground Zero (July 9, 2017)
One of my book finds in Lav Diaz’s library- Kubler’s The Shape of Time. I wonder if he ever read this.
My archival research on Lav Diaz will not be possible without the big help of Hazel Orencio who first sent me a message inviting me for a Lav Diaz-related event in Singapore this coming August 2017. This prompted me to ask if she has some of Diaz’s primary documents to back-up my historical research on him. Two Sundays ago, we agreed to meet in Diaz’s apartment in Marikina, Metro Manila where Diaz is residing. He’s on a three-week break in the Philippines before heading back to the United States. Marikina is a suburban city adjacent to Quezon City where I live, just two jeepney rides away from my place.
Since my study is historiographic in nature I asked Lav Diaz if he could provide all the primary documents in my checklist. These include scripts, production notes, behind the scenes photographs and videos, rushes, cinematographic devices, lighting equipment, sound equipment, old photographs from childhood, school records, birth records, etc. So we initially level off in terms of conducting my research. We also run through my checklist to identify the documents’ location. Diaz is not fond of storing photographs. He said I should ask his regular film crew like Larry Manda, his cinematographer and collaborator since 1998, and Cesar Hernando, production designer of Batang West Side (2001), to locate some the production/behind the scenes photos of his films. Diaz also suggested to visit the archive of the comics publisher Altas Publishing to check on some of his works. Diaz mentioned that he did two graphic novels. One of which is titled Prinsipe Maru. He also suggested to check the archive of PTV4, a local government-owned TV channel, for his works in television during the late 1980s (post-EDSA People Power). If one of you is aware of Diaz’s history, the earliest version of Heremias (2006) was an educational video he did for the TV Program called Balintataw, which can be found in PTV4.
His personal archive in Marikina contains mostly old scripts, old but highly important miniDVs containing the raw files of his mid-2000s works. All digitized raw files of his post-Good Harvest works are there. His digital cameras are also there. His editing station is also there. Hazel told me that Diaz only edits his films in one area – his editing room, a small room with a Mac computer and a small single bed. Ever since they transferred in Marikina, he never edited outside the confines of this editing room. This must be a very special place.
Diaz’s Panasonic DVX-100 camera he used in the mid-2000s.
Also, I was surprised to find that all his filmmaking equipment and all his awards fit into one bookshelf, no more and no less, although I haven’t seen the Golden Lion, the Silver Bear and Golden Leopard. This includes his cameras, lighting equipment, sound equipment, tripods, and lenses. Diaz was also not fond of displaying his trophies in glitzy cabinets and display tables. Instead, he places his trophies alongside his equipment without any distinguishing space for both types of materials. One is mixed with the other. Some of the trophies even have missing pieces.This only shows that Diaz is not really much after the awards.
MiniDV tapes of Heremias
Diaz is currently using a Sony A7s camera for his two upcoming films. This full-frame camera provided Diaz’s the necessary sensitivity to both light and darkness. He used this to shoot his previous film Ang Babaeng Humayo. This is quite different from how Diaz organizes his shoots with his Panasonic DVX100, which he used to film the latter half of Evolution of a Filipino Family (2005) until Butterflies Have No Memories (2009). Panasonic DVX100 uses miniDVs while Sony A7s uses memory card. Although both are digital in terms of coding, they vary differently in terms data management principles and storage.
Diaz as the current archivist of his cinema
Diaz does not use sophisticated sound devices except for a simple boom microphone in some of his films. Most of his sounds are live sounds using his cameras’ respective microphone. He also rarely does sound editing or sound design. He also does not use sophisticated lighting equipment, just a few LED lights he used for the night scenes in A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery (2016). Other than that, all his light comes from natural sources.
This is ground zero of my Lav Diaz research. I wish to share more of my findings in the next letters. I wonder, have any of you seen a Lav Diaz film? What is your experience like? What do you think are the similarities and differences of Lav Diaz and Lisandro Alonso in terms of their approaches to slow cinema? Do you consider Lav Diaz’s cinema as slow cinema?
I am quite excited to hear from you two.
July 24, 2017