June 2018: Round-Up

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From Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (Wang Bing / China / 2002)

 

June 2018 | Best Reads of the Month

Aside from watching films, going to work, going to the gym, and writing a great deal of other things for thesis, I also find time to read non-thesis related articles. I don’t think there has ever been a time this month that I actually tried to read a fictional work i.e. novels, short stories, poetry. I’m way too much invested in non-fictional writings. As much as I would love to read great works of literature, I’m tied and committed to academic books and articles related to my thesis. Occasionally, I also read non-thesis related writings. Here are of some of them:

  1. The Autonomy of the Aesthetic Process by Alain Badiou
  2. Art Won’t Save Us by Anna Khachiyan
  3. Marx’s Commodity-Fetishism & The Crisis of Contemporary (Conceptual/Post-Conceptual) Art by E. San Juan [Plenary Speech During Marx @ 200 Conference]
  4. Ranciere and Cinema by Diagonal Thoughts
  5. On the Role of Agitation and Propaganda by Paul Saba
  6. Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art by Alain Badiou
  7. Art in Order: Anatomy of Film List by David Heslin

JUNE 2018 | Favorite Films of the Month

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Woman in the Dunes (Hiroshi Teshigahara / Japan / 1964)

My cinephilia experience this June is a downer. Most of the films I’ve watched came from Hollywood. They were disappointing, except, of course, for Hereditary, which is an outstanding example of classic horror film that did not rely so much on art cinematic devices (i.e. the way Lynch would do it) and used a great deal of its mise-en-scene, deployment of cinematographic movement, editing and sound to construct a ‘flat’ (as in a flat ontological  sense) dimension of demonic haunting, refined by Toni Collette’s otherworldly facial register, Milly Shapiro’s otherworldly presence and Alex Wolff’s superb acting. The narrative fluidity resembles that of a bath tub slowly being filled with water until it horribly overflows at the end. It is weird that the film has no flashbacks or flashforward. It seems to hinge its nonlinear temporal dimension on the photographic (the photo album), the scuptural (Annie’s miniature art project) and the uncanniness of a somnambulistic experience (Annie sleepwalking). Physical forces from other dimensions disrupt the order of its filmic world. This makes the film incredibly exhausting and mentally draining as it assigns the index of the image as is, in a literal sense of the everyday. It’s as if we are the subject of the demonic haunting like Rosemary, in  the film Rosemary’s Baby (1968), when she looked at her baby for the first time.

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Hereditary (Ari Aster / USA / 2018)

Teshigahara’s masterpiece Woman in the Dunes is by far the most transgressive and transformative film I’ve watched this month. The desert, the bodies and the spatial tension altogether created this labyrinthine landscape that epitomizes capitalism’s inescapable tendency towards the desertification of the world. Another great film I’ve watched this month is Fei Mu’s Spring in a Small Town (1948). It is a melodrama masterpiece from post-Sino-Japanese War China that actually exceeded my expectations in terms of style. Several shots were well-rehearsed long takes that involve multiple framing and re-framing. And it surprised me how the woman subjectivity practically dominated the space of discourse of the whole film. The heroine plays a double role as an omniscient narrator of the film and as the character itself.

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from Spring in a Small Town (Fei Mu / China / 1948)

I have only seen one Filipino film this month, Treb Montreras’  Respeto (2017), which I reviewed in advance for NYAFF 2018 for VCinema. Respeto is technically commendable, but like many Philippine independent films that came out in the past years, it lacks  sharpness in terms of deploying its political critique.

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The worst film I’ve watched this month is Rampage. As much as I like its more-than-real humanization of the animal via CGI, I don’t think it has something to offer to the viewers more than the adrenaline rush one feels when Dwayne Johnson moved beneath the battle of giant animals: a giant wolf, a giant albino gorilla and a giant mutated crocodile. The idea of giantism as an cinematic trope in science fiction movies is better explored when a much larger social dimension is explored. The good example of this is Del Toro’s Pacific Rim, which is a better film than his Best Picture winning film.

I have also seen two compelling South Korean films I Saw the Devil and The Chaser, which are both about serial killers. While they both have different market pressures, South Koreans do better films compared than their Hollywood counterparts these days. Albeit their differences in their captured markets, Koreans deploy aesthetics in a more nuanced way without relying so much on CGI. They usually build their stories on existing socio-economic condition of Korean society and is not afraid to highlight the class contradictions in their society.

Between I Saw the Devil and The Chaser, the former has a more formally conscious approach in executing its action scenes: well-staged, well-rehearsed scenes, precise and almost perfect framing that heightens the mood. It has also a well-written screenplay. The latter, The Chaser, has an elliptical and unruly narrative, which makes it more interesting that the straightfowardness perfection of I Saw the Devil. The Chaser is interested in exploring dimensions of falseness, miscommunication and the decenteredness of reality. Both of them are testament to Korean Cinema’s commitment to high aesthetic standards for their popular films.

I have also seen two queer films Close-Knit, a Japanese film about a non-traditional family in which a transgender woman assumes the mother of the household, and Love, Simon, an American film about a teenage boy coming out to the whole school. Both are inspirational films, nothing fancy or nothing out of the box. Both deal with societal pressures and notions of acceptance. In Close-Knit, there was scene that paid a sweet and tenderly tribute to Ozu’s Late Spring (1964).

Between the two, Close-Knit is a more body-conscious film, while Love, Simon has a particular commentary on the impact of social media (i.e. postsecret blogs, Facebook, etc) in the construction of gender discourse. Both films ended up affirming the status quo in the end.

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Close-Knit (Naoko Ogigami / Japan / 2017)

The June 2018 Film List

 

Transformative and Transgressive (5/5)

Woman in the Dunes (Hiroshi Teshigahara /  Japan / 1964)

Best of the Best (4.5/5)

I Saw the Devil (Kim Jee-woon / South Korea / 2010)
Hereditary (Ari Aster / USA / 2018)

Very Good (4/5)

Spring in a Small Town (Fei Mu / China / 1948)
The Chaser (Na Hong-jin / South Korea / 2008)

Good (3.5/5)

Respeto (Treb Montreras II / Philippines / 2017)
Close-Knit (Naoko Ogigami / Japan / 2017)

Fair (2.5-3/5)

Love, Simon (Greg Berlanti / USA / 2018)
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Simon West / USA / 2001)

Unbearable (1-2/5)

Ocean’s 8 (Gary Ross / USA / 2018)
A Wrinkle in Time (Ava DuVernay / USA / 2018)
Life of the Party (Ben Falcone  / USA / 2018)
Blockers (Kay Cannon  / USA / 2018)
Tomb Raider (Roar Uthaug / USA / 2018)
Maze Runner: The Death Cure (Wes Ball / USA / 2018)
Rampage (Brad Peyton / USA / 2018)

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I Saw the Devil (Kim Jee-woon / South Korea / 2010)

 

JUNE 2018 | Anomalous Materials of the Month

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The violent NutriAsia dispersal

[digital encounters in the web, evental sites of ruptures, exclusionary digipoiesis]

June 2018 is a violent month for the Philippine working class. There were around three or four major labor issues circulated in Philippine social media sphere. The most prominent was the strike and violent dispersal of the NutriAsia workers and the protest of laid-off contractual workers of Jollibee. Aside from these issues that provided self-reflexive ruptures in the Philippine social media sphere, the internet is also filled with non-sequiturs, farce, parodies and comic  reliefs that provide occasional disruption and paradoxical play to our everyday. Here are some of my selection of ‘Anomalous Materials’ for June 2018:

 

JUNE 2018 | AgitProp Corner of the Month

June has passed and the People’s movement is still stronger than ever, even if government institutions like NEDA, DFA, DOF and NHA have purposely downplayed and undermined the role of people’s movement in the democratic process. Agitations and propagandas are necessary in revealing the contradictions of the bureaucratic capitalist machinic system that continuously robbed the working class of their right to live a decent life. According to Lenin:

Only agitation can reveal on a broad scale the real state of mind of the masses, only agitation can make for close co-operation between the Party and the whole working class, only making use for the purposes of political agitation of every strike, of every important event or issue in working-class life, of all conflicts within the ruling classes or between, one section of those classes or another and the autocracy, of every speech by a Social-Democrat [communist] in the Duma [parliament], of every new expression of the counter-revolutionary policy of the government, etc.–only work like this can once again close the ranks of the revolutionary proletariat, and provide accurate material for judging the speed with which conditions for new and more decisive battles are coming to a head.

(“The Assessment of the Present Situation,” CW, Vol. 15, pp. 278-279.)

Meanwhile, below is a collection of selected AgitProp (and accidentally AgitProp-like) materials that circulated online this month.

To read more about AgitProp, Paul Saba wrote a very good article in the journal Revolution in 1978 titled On the Role of Agitation and Propaganda

 

Diary, Notes, Sketches for JUNE 2018

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There was a wide release of Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson / US-Japan / 2018) in select Philippine theaters during the first week of June. The premiere happened last Wednesday, May 30, 2018. I missed it.

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June 3. Congratulations to my friends Epoy Deyto and Donna Wendy Idano Deyto for their new baby girl.

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Pujita Guha Hanoi Talk

Fellow Lav Diaz scholar Pujita Guha gave a talk on Lav Diaz at Hanoi DocLab last June 15, 2018. Here is her Abstract for the Talk:

In his 2016 Berlinale Award winning 8-hour epic, Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery) Filipino film auteur Lav Diaz intersects three narratives panning out in the forest, in the wake of the Katipunan Revolution of 1896-97. The first narrates Gregoria de Jeus’s search for the last remains of her husband, the Katipunan Supremo Andres Bonafacio; the second, Jose Rizal’s fictional protagonist Simoune’s escape into the forest; and the third, the impish horse-demon Tikbalangs who toy with the unwary visitors of the forest. A history fabulated with myths, and a history little known, the forest, I argue, arrives as a crucial site to imagine Filipino histories that are evidenced outside existing discourse. Akin to the fragmentary and opaque histories the film tackles, the forest too does not thrive as a linear space that can be easily tendered to human enquiries – it is dense and labyrinthine, a meandering landscape playing a dyad of light and dark, known and unknown, visible and invisible.

Reading from the film then, this presentation undertakes the act of re-configuring the forest as typically understood in modernity. Considered a virginal space which is someplace else, removed from the violent intrusions of history – a sublime isolated landscape often – I re-imagine the forest as a space that is lived and encountered materially, lived through all its density. The forest, then, both expands the concept of history outside of the human while enfolding its own traces of history. It is a witness to the secret, untold histories that are enacted there, consequently becoming an archive of the same. The forest becomes a crucial space that this project traverses: a closed world where anti-colonial revolutions meet pagan-animistic cultures, shamans meet with military personnel, and objects acquire magical lives of their own. As a dense, vexing landscape the forest allows one to closely introspect an entanglement with different species, enter into a world where objects, vegetal, animal or mineral, begin to speak alike. To this effect, the paper introspects the interaction between the social/cultural, the historical and the fantastic, the natural and the cultural even.

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June 5. Remnants of Lynch. It’s been a year since Twin Peaks: The Return debut in American Television. I have always had it on the back on my mind ever since, especially the song Shadows by Chromatics.

 

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June 30, 2018

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