movies Uncategorized

ROTK, Finally (big spoilers below).

Yesterday was our anniversary, so Madeline and I finally got to go out and see The Return of the King. (No, that wasn’t all we did; we did go to Masa’s the night before.) When one’s expectations are so high, the movie is bound to disappoint — which it didn’t, as it exceeded them and more. Absolutely amazing. (I read the books when I was in high school and all I could remember from the last book was the spider — couldn’t even remember whether Frodo made it out alive.)

Favorite moments off the top of my head:

– Andy Serkis in the flesh.

– The “helicopter shot” of Gandalf, Pippin and Shadowfax riding up the levels of Minas Tirith.

– “Sneaking? Sneaking?”

– The lighting of the beacons.

– The scene when Hugo Weaving presents Aragorn with the reforged sword. (Madeline had to chuckle, though, when the camera pans lovingly up and down the blade.)

– Eowyn pulling off her helmet.

– Legolas surfing down the elephant trunk.

– Shelob wrapping up Frodo in a cocoon. (I honestly thought he was dead.)

– “Don’t go where I can’t follow.” (Sentimental fool that I am, I almost lost it on that one.)

– Frodo and Sam, holding each other on the rock surrounded by lava, “at the end of all things.”

– “My friends, you bow to no one.”

– Elijah Wood, looking like he stepped out of a Caravaggio painting, boarding the ship.

movies Pinoy

Language and Aswang.

My Asian American Culture students are probably cursing my name, because I asked them this question for their finals (though a good number of them succeeded admirably):

In a few of our class’s readings/viewings — Wayne Wang’s film Chan Is Missing, Barbara Jane Reyes‘s poem “101 Words That Don’t Quite Describe Me,” R. Zamora Linmark’s novel Rolling the R’s, to name some examples — some words, if not entire blocks of dialogue, are left untranslated. What could this signify?

I had then expected answers regarding untranslatability, minority languages, language as instruments of inclusion and exclusion, the politics of translation, the interrogation of the primacy of English (one student would write in his exam that it was “a challenge to English hegemony) or, at the very least (even if I didn’t personally agree), the idea of a native tongue as being “closer” to some kind of ethnic “essence.”

To these characteristics of language I’d add another dimension, related to exclusion: language as signifying the secret. Or, in this case, representing the mysterious/exotic. I was happily reminded of this after watching Wrye Martin and Barry Polterman’s enjoyable low-budget horror film Aswang, from 1994 — a real treat for you indie-horror fans out there. The setup’s pretty simple: a young woman is paid to be a surrogate mother (and to pretend to be a wife) by a wealthy man who apparently needs an heir in order to inherit their rural Wisconsin estate. Our pregnant protagonist visits the ancestral home and is introduced in turn to the ailing matriarch, and the creepy Filipina maid named Cupid (played with relish by Mildred Nierras) — and is told about Claire, the sister who is “touched” and “gets upset easily” and lives in a cabin separated from the house.

And there is, of course, the aswang; for you non-Filipinos out there, it’s a vampire-like creature straight from Filipino mythology. (Funny how the online reviewers — one of which helpfully wrote, “It’s pronounced ass-wang” — found the premise intrinsically nasty, whereas I simply found it the stuff of childhood stories. Yes, the aswang happens to feed on fetuses sucked out of pregnant women.) We see it first in a framed drawing on a wall — we are told the family spent time in Basilan — and the nosy neighbor is horrified: “Good Lord! What is that?” “The aswang.” “Wh– what is it doing?” “Feeding.”

But one of the coolest things* about the film is that the mother, the son and the maid speak in Tagalog to each other throughout the movie, and their speech (at least the version I saw) isn’t subtitled. (The white actors playing the mother and son are pretty game, even if the pronunciation isn’t the clearest.) Most of the Tagalog words are colloquial conversation, limited to “No” and “Thanks” and “Please pass the cider,” but still. There’s even a scene when Cupid puts her ear to the pregnant woman’s stomach and pronounces “Mga dalawa, tatlong araw na lang, malapit nang mahinog” — crucial information, I thought, but here, just left to the viewer’s imagination. (Later, when the maid falls down on her knees and begins praying, one realizes that the audience is supposed to think it’s a magical incantation of some sort.)

Tagalog here, particularly when seen in the context of the genre, functions to intensify the fear of the unknown; something bad is going to happen to the protagonist — perhaps even discussed openly — but both she and the non-Tagalog-speaking audience is deliberately left in the dark. (That “something bad” becomes clear once the aswang’s phallic tongue is unfurled.) So while the Philippines is tangentially imagined here as the source for humid horror (in a fashion similar to those bad “anthropological” X-Files episodes when Scully and Mulder encounter “other cultures”), I am at least let in on the secret.

*But perhaps the coolest scene in the film — particularly for you gorehounds out there — is a battle between two women, with a hoe, a chainsaw, and a cramped living room.

movies music

Ethics and Music.

MacDiva writes about “loving the artist, hating the song” — in particular, Billie Holiday singing “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do:”

…there I was, listening to a woman declare herself a willing candidate [of domestic violence] and almost singing along with the chorus.

I have no magical formula to offer in regard to this issue. Indeed, the answer may be that one learns to tolerate a degree of imperfection in artists one admires and each individual decides where to draw the line. I’ll delete “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” from my iPod because I find the song too irritating to continue listening to it. Other decisions about lyrics that make me uncomfortable will be made on a case-by-case basis. In some of them, I will keep right on loving the artist and hating the song.

Songs like that one probably constitute a fourth of Lady Day’s recorded output, but that’s how it goes. My very first Billie Holiday purchase was the live Billie’s Blues, which contains the classic “My Man:”

Two or three girls
Has he
That he likes as well as me
But I love him

I don’t know why I should
He isn’t true
He beats me, too
What can I do?

Oh, my man, I love him so
He’ll never know
All my life is just a spare
But I don’t care
When he takes me in his arms
The world is bright
All right

Later on MacDiva writes about “Sweet Home Alabama” — a retort to Neil Young’s “Southern Man” — and how the song’s “hot guitar riff” still won’t earn it a place on her iPod.

Let me take the topic a little further, because it’s something which has (or hasn’t) bothered me as well. As a voracious (and fairly omnivorous) consumer of music, I listen to a whole bunch of artists and groups associated with dodgy themes or politics, whether as window-dressing or (unfortunately) in real life. Michael Moynihan has made clear in the very good Lords of Chaos the very real connection between the Norwegian black metal scene and various acts of homicide and arson, among others. (Yes, I listen to Darkthrone.) And a lot of the early Industrial/noise groups also used graphically violent imagery as part of their shock tactics. (Yes, I listen to Whitehouse too. And Boyd Rice. I confess it all: behind the mild-mannered, defender-of-minorities facade, the Wily Filipino is a rabid, Satan-worshipping thug in jackboots.)

It reminds me of how one of my Filipino friends from New York shook his head in disbelief when I told him I was a big John Zorn fan; this was because Zorn had gotten into trouble from the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence for the covers of the Naked City albums Torture Garden (naked Japanese women suspended and tied up in elaborate knots) and Leng T’che (Chinese man ripped apart in a public execution — you Bataille fans would have already seen that one). (Surely that hidden Araki photograph in Taboo and Exile would have gotten Zorn into hotter water, but it didn’t.)

(And probably my favorite film of all time is Apocalypse Now, which is deeply racist, but in an interesting way. Which may have been Coppola’s point, but I’m not sure that it is. But as Frank Chin writes: “We have to be able to accept Conrad and Coppola’s works as the white racist works they are and still recognize them as great white lit and film. And I think most writers from non-white peoples can and have been reading racist white lit and recognizing it as great lit.”)

MacDiva also brings up Miles Davis, which is funny because he’s always my primary example of how I conveniently ignore the musician’s personal background for the music. He was, by all the accounts I’ve read, extremely abusive towards women. (But his indefensible behavior is somehow “excusable” because the man is a genius. Is that the logic in operation here? Because I’ll be damned if I never listen to Miles again out of principle.)

In any case, it is an interesting quandary…

movies this damned war

Ebert on the First Amendment.

Swiped from MetaFilter : an excellent interview with Roger Ebert:

The right really wants to punish you for having an opinion. And I think both the left and the right should celebrate people who have different opinions, and disagree with them, and argue with them, and differ with them, but don’t just try to shut them up. The right really dominates radio, and it’s amazing how much energy the right spends telling us that the press is slanted to the left when it really isn’t. They want to shut other people up. They really don’t understand the First Amendment.

Plus: more from Ebert on Michael Moore, Justin Lin’s Better Luck Tomorrow, theocracy, the repeal of the estate tax, and Do The Right Thing.

movies this damned war

The Oscars.

Where Nicole Kidman rambled on, Adrien Brody showed he was a total lech (Halle, you should have slapped him!), Dustin Hoffman quavered, Susan Sarandon pulled her punches, Julianne Moore shone, Gael Garcia Bernal spoke very eloquently against the war, and Michael Moore, in the highlight of the ceremony, said the following in his acceptance speech (as the orchestra tried to drown him out):

We live in a time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man who’s sending us to war for fictitious reasons, whether it’s the fiction of duct tape or the fiction of orange alerts.

We are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush. Shame on you.