Keeping it real

Tats Manahan, curator of the Claudio Bravo exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, introduces the show. Photo by Ren Aguila

There are few things more remarkable than art that still delves into reality. On one level, there is the reality of recognizable forms and faces. On another is the complex of relations that constitute our worlds, for better or for worse—the kind of reality that can both be the object of the fetish and the appreciative eye.

Portrait of Ma. Lourdes Araneta Fores, Claudio Bravo, 1968. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of the Manila.

The two senses of reality in art is what for me is the subject of the Metropolitan Museum’s current flagship show, Claudio Bravo: Sojourn in Manila. Presented in cooperation with the Energy Development Corporation and the Chilean Embassy, and with the assistance of the Lopez Museum, the exhibit explores both the work Bravo created in a brief stay in Manila in 1968. The Lopezes were the ones who invited him to Manila on the occasion of the patriarch Eugenio Lopez’s 40th wedding anniversary with his wife Pacita, though Bravo later insisted that it was the Marcos couple who invited him. He has since become well-known for his still-life paintings, and like the writer Paul Bowles, moved to Morocco where he died in 2011. His sojourn is the subject of an article in the latest Rogue issue, which I was told was actually better written than a more controversial article in that same number.

Claudio Bravo in Manila, 1968. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.

A small number of people were invited to an exclusive tour last Saturday with the exhibit’s curator Tats Manahan, niece of one of those depicted in Bravo’s portraits. Manahan led us through the exhibit’s different rooms, telling stories about the people behind the portraits and highlighting Bravo’s own acknowledgment that his time in Manila was a turning point for him as a visual artist. She also emphasized how Bravo’s familiarity with classic art influenced his craft and style, most notably that of the Renaissance.

Portrait of Regina Dee, Claudio Bravo, 1968. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila

What interested me was the subject matter of Bravo’s work. These were, in many ways, the same people who comprised the economic and social elite of his time. Their names are names which, in my time, still resonate: the Montinolas (who own FEU), the Ayalas, the Lopezes, and yes, even the Cojuangcos and the Prietos (who own one of the biggest broadsheets in the country). The then-President, up for reelection a year later under stormy circumstances, appears in a painting which is dramatically different from his later depictions as a caudillo and a monarch in all but name. His wife’s own portrait was, Manahan assures us, more acceptable to its subject.

Imelda Romualdez Marcos, Claudio Bravo, 1968. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.

But what was more interesting was that it was portraiture. We rarely get to see portraits in most art galleries in Manila these days—I do recall seeing one such exhibit at Finale Art File sometime earlier this year, in a space made memorable by a recent independent film. It seems that what has since come into favor is art that aims to deconstruct, or even to abandon constructiveness altogether, or even to celebrate the sheer joy of abstraction without understanding, privileging it as creativity.

Surrealistic nude on the beach with sea shell, Claudio Bravo, 1968. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.

Bravo would not have wanted this. In a quote posted on the wall of the exhibit, he reminds younger artists that the work of art requires patience and effort, and the quote, in the wider context where it is posted, is somewhat contentious. It would perhaps would make some contemporary artists peeved enough to say, “That’s his opinion and that’s not what we need right now.” Then again, it is the same kind of attempt to define the state of the art that Patrick Flores of UP Diliman rightly critiqued last year—an attempt to ignore or downplay the social processes and relations that shape art in our country.

Luis Araneta, Claudio Bravo, 1968. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.

For as much as Bravo’s work shown here is about the careful craft, the almost-lost art of drawing from life, the literacy of the ars liberi shown in sketches and paintings, this exhibition is really about how much art’s value is in its role in society. Here it is the preserve of a legacy built carefully by families whose place in our society these days is being challenged by the “new rich,” the people who are trying not only to define the economic contours of our time but also the way that art is “used” in this new context. It was at the opening night for this exhibit when a friend reminded me that what the new players tend to miss is that “Rome was not built in a day,” and that it is not merely a matter of ever-fluctuating auction prices.

A view of the exhibit from the spiral staircase. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.

So yes, I agree that what is at stake here is not just an art vs commerce matter. It is a matter of art and society as a whole, of which commerce plays a constitutive but not all-defining part. It is a matter of being honest that the legacy of art in our country is a multifaceted one, and that there is room for the real in our art in every sense.

Claudio Bravo: Sojourn in Manila is on view at the Metropolitan Museum until 20 October 2012. For more information visit the Metropolitan Museum of Manila website.

Next up in my Thinking about Short Film series: the former life of Dexter Calliope.

Thinking about short film (1): Paghihintay sa Bulong

Today I am starting a short series about short films. I am planning to write initially about three short films—the next one is about a film by someone who recently had a feature out in theaters.

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My first entry will be on the short film Paghihintay sa Bulong by Sigrid Andrea Bernardo. It won the Best Screenplay (Short Film) prize at Cinemalaya 2012. I got to see it twice both at CCP and at the UP Film Center earlier this month.

The bleak humor of Paghihintay sa Bulong is what got me at the opening moments, when a nursing student bathes her catatonic grandmother. There is nothing pitiful about the grandmother’s condition—the only audible sounds she makes is that of her body operating on auto-pilot. As the story unfolds, we encounter a family in utter dysfunction. The student’s mother is the third (or was it fourth) mistress of a trigger-happy cop, her brother and her sister are aiming for control of the house where the grandmother lives for their shady activities, and the student’s brother is jobless (as far as we could tell).

There is something to be said for Bernardo’s script, which is filled with zesty wit in the first half before it wanders into darker realms. In sketching her characters, Bernardo lets us see how, in their rawness, they are as human as one could get, even in the remarkable series of coincidences that is their relations. Her ensemble too could be credited for giving life to her characters, and I found their acting to be one of the highlights of the short film program at Cinemalaya this year. (The other great acting feat was in Mario Celada’s Pasahero, which was so realistic I was sure I saw this happen before.)

Bernardo ends the film with a series of whisperings to the deceased by the family—a superstition I was hitherto not familiar with—in the hopes that she could, in the great cloud of witnesses, get a word in with the Almighty. It is indeed ironic here that while she paints the family as waiting for the grandmother, their waiting is marked by the kind of “let’s get this over with” disregard, a recklessness that we are sure will haunt them after the funeral. We are left at the precipice but we know what will come after.

Perhaps it is this quality which gave Bernardo’s film an edge—she refuses to let us see “the end.” And perhaps it is the place where she wants us to stay. Like some good stories of a certain sort, Paghihintay sa Bulong presents a moral world where narrative forces us to reflect on our ethical judgments. It is right that she leaves us thinking about how we view the craziness (for lack of a better word) in our lives, and the ways we relate to those we know and love ostensibly.

angnawawala:

ANG NAWAWALANG SOUNDTRACK!

We are very excited to announce that Ang Nawawalang Soundtrack (Vol. 2 to some of you) will be on VINYL! It will be a limited edition, CLEAR LP, scheduled to arrive in November.

The 12 songs on the record will be a combination of original songs written for the film, excerpts from the award-winning musical score, and pre-existing songs in their live versions from the film. All 12 songs will be remastered for vinyl.

Each copy will come with an exclusive 11” x 17” FULL-COLOR POSTER, a brand-new image of the never-sent Bonifacio Christmas card from a decade ago. That poster, as with all artwork on the soundtrack, will be by the amazing CYNTHIA BAUZON-ARRE. Check out her album and record label art above (with Gibson and Jamie sides!).

Each copy will also come with its own exclusive download code so you can get all the songs in high-quality digital form. BUT! We have so many songs that couldn’t fit on the vinyl record, so we put them on the digital version, which you get. You will get 19 SONGS plus THE ENTIRE AWARD-WINNING SCORE by composers Mikey Amistoso, Diego Mapa, and Jazz Nicolas! All songs + score will be remastered for this soundtrack.

Digital copies of the soundtrack will also be made available on iTunes and MyMusicStore.com.ph!

Further details will be forthcoming once we work out the fine print. 🙂

About last week, part one.

I had a chance to do a number of interesting things last week. Among these was view a number of post-rock bands, which is a genre I am exploring as an extension, or an offshoot, if you will, of a past interest in progressive music.

Last Tuesday, though, I was invited to revisit a film I have spoken about a lot on these pages. As its theatrical release draws near this Wednesday, I will share a bit about what happened last Tuesday afternoon.

Unlike the last time the cast and crew went to the press, which was a classic press conference with ubiquitous showbiz reporters sight, the event was a press junket in which director Marie Jamora, co-writer Ramon de Veyra, and most of the cast (Mercedes Cabral was in Venice, I understand) were in attendance, as were award-winning composers Mikey Amistoso, Diego Mapa, and Jazz Nicolas. Nicolas left early for a recording session with his band, the Itchyworms.

Ang Nawawala’s director and co-writer Marie Jamora answers questions from the media as Felix Roco looks on. Photo by Ren Aguila

The press forum, moderated by Cai Subijano of the Philippine Star‘s Y Style section (and, I understand, someone with a minor role in this film), had a speed-dating feel, with two or three of the cast and crew going around the tables for fifteen minutes at a time. The first interviewees included director Marie Jamora, who graciously addressed Roland Tolentino’s critique with a response that was reminiscent of Vinny Tagle’s essay in response for We Talk About Movies–a reminder that while socially conscious films were important, these should not be the only stories Filipino cinema should tell.

However, her answer came just after a more interesting quote. One writer asked about her influences, a critique that formed part of the discussion around Tolentino’s essay. Her response? “I’m not insulted when people compare me to one of my heroes. I’m just making a film and I grew up with their stuff.” In fact, what has happened, she confesses, is quite the opposite–film students come to her and say, “You made the movie I should have made!” (And that’s turning the tables.)

And now, another appreciation:

Long before we had the interview, I was aware that people were seriously thinking along the lines Jamora envisioned. Sometime before Ang Nawawala came out, I spoke with a friend about her acquaintance who just finished film school and felt that a film had to be made about the upper-middle class. In a sense, the time has indeed come for these stories to be told, again. (I was told that it happened before, but the early examples, like much of Philippine cinema, are not available for convenient viewing.)

But the context in which we are telling these stories has changed, with the hegemony of the “new Left” (cue the last part of the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again“) in the critical scene encouraging and privileging a certain kind of cinema. What has also changed is the rise of a strong studio system that at once reminds me of the pre-Martial Law era studios and yet mirrors more the ratings war between the networks that own the current studios.

In any case, these stories do need to get out. Perhaps it is because the world might need to hear them too. Perhaps because these are stories being told in other parts of the world. Perhaps because, like me, there are others who want to hear stories that resonate more with their life-worlds. We are indeed aware of what is going on in the wider world and yet we know that the human transcends the categories into which we happily sort ourselves.

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Next time, I will be revisiting my music interviews, both from before the film was released and after. It should be out on Tuesday.

And for more information about where Ang Nawawala will be showing, please check out this post.

Finally, as it is Sunday night, time for one of my candidates for Song of the Year 2012.

angnawawala:

Hear ye, hear ye! The list of movie theaters showing Ang Nawawala starting Sep. 12! We are so pleased to be playing in cities outside of Metro Manila; please help us spread the word far and wide! If you have friends or relatives in these cities please let them know we are headed to their neck of the woods!

See you at the cinema. 🙂

High five!

My review of Metropolis.

We Talk About Movies

Ren Aguila on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote in the book Life Science Library: Space that if there is any lasting legacy German/American director Fritz Lang left the world, it was the final countdown before rocket launches, something which has since become iconic especially in the years when the world’s imagination was fired up by the “space race.” It was in his Woman in the Moon (1931), one of his last German films, where this first happened.

Metropolis (1927) is Lang’s other lasting legacy to world cinema. So when a friend from the film world here invited me to watch this and other films in the sixth International Silent Film Festival, I almost immediately agreed. The last time Metropolis was shown here in Manila was in 2007, with the same live scoring team, Rubber Inc., handling it. It became interesting for me, apart from its oft-discussed importance, because…

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