I grew up unartistic. I come from a small town called Banga, somewhere in South Cotabato, somewhere in Mindanao. It’s the 2000’s and people ardently believe that the only way to go to the metropolitan is a thriving education. In no time, I found myself dreaming of the sunken garden, of the sablay, of the office job within Quezon City.
There was love. Where does it begin? For me, it started in the 2010s. I entered PISAY as a lateral entrant – I was new, and people only knew me from the ink prints smothered on the campus bulletin board: “Batch 2020 Lateral Passers”. After a semester, I became just like everyone else – using the word ‘substandard’ every so often, throwing irrelevant jokes, romanticizing the terms ‘dean’ and ‘lister’, receiving a stipend worth four digits as if it’s enough for the neoliberal curriculum imposed by the system, and belonging in a clique comprised of overachievers. So where was love? It was in the second semester of 9th grade and personified in the last three letters of the alphabet. That’s her name – “seize”, phonetically. And just like that, the 26 letters of the alphabet felt exponentially more, yet the words that echoed were exponentially fewer; the room I cultivated to become a landmark of my intellectual feats shifted into a movie house where Richard Linklater’s films and introspective dialogues from Nora Ephron were on repeat. Butterflies.
Discovering. What day was it? I can’t recall the specifics, only the feeling. It was very much like love – that no sleep, no eat, logic-ditched moment. However, the flowers inside me wilted and gradually lay bare to the butterflies. “Gusto niya si ano?” “Huy si Justice, alam mo ba…” “Weh?” “Really?” in staccato. It was my first time to be loudly conceived by others… to simply be interpreted. Fortunately, sweaty nerds understand queerness and that sexuality is a spectrum… “There are colors the human eye is unable to perceive but a bunch of insects can.” Something like that. They gave me random advice at random times of the day about the reality of life I was confronted with, and suddenly, I was ‘bi-curious’, ‘lesbian’, ‘pansexual’, ‘hopeless romantic’, and ‘figuring things out.’ Being a little bit different was a little bit confusing for a girl in a pseudo-Catholic school.
“Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, comfortable.”(Sontag, 1966)
At some point in my high school life, I became aware of the things I am truly passionate about, and that included moving images. I went into it the only way I know – research. Research is not only typing on a Google search bar what films a cinephile should have seen or who are the filmmakers with the best filmography. Researching entailed binge-watching cult classics and painstakingly slow movies and pausing at every single moment to reread the subtitles in an attempt to see into the future – alas! I was born for this – and if I was wrong, I would beat myself up for not being good enough. Now, I realize that I shouldn’t have beaten myself up at 17. I should have beaten myself up now for beating myself up when I was just a victim of society’s pretensions.
In Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation (1966), she argued that “the effusion of interpretations of art today poisons our sensibilities”. And she is right. I have witnessed and am still witnessing this in the competing films of Filipino film festivals. The beginning of the short film is intriguing, interesting, and astounding even, with the amount of technical creativity it possesses. However, as it furthers, it lets go of its promise – throwing in every social commentary it could fit in the run time allowed by the festival. Is this really how you interpret cinema? Everything is political! There is no need to maximize the content to be as political as you can be or to make as special of a film as you aspire to have. It is maddening to know that filmmakers make short films molded from full-length films – they are of different forms and if you squeeze in the same amount of content, it will not only destroy your film but the watcher’s sensibilities as well. Sontag was not joking when she insisted that art is a package of form and content. You simply cannot put out a work that is unnecessarily jam-packed with verbal semiotics and give your audience the burden of reading between the lines. Art is an experience. Film is an experience. Oh, how I hope to go back in time and rewatch Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s without the urge to freeze the frame and interpret what she meant by, “No matter where you run, you end up running into yourself.” Form is as essential as content… I reiterate. If you are a filmmaker who has a new film in mind, live life a little more. There is no point in knowing everything and making others feel like they are lacking cognitively. If you are a Letterboxd user who is insecure about not liking Drive My Car when everyone else is on their knees praising Hamaguchi’s script, it’s okay – but then again, that film is a masterpiece, don’t be butthurt. It’s probably because you watched it with particular expectations in mind or because it simply did not translate to the experiences you’ve lived. I realized this when Professor Richard Bolisay told me the probable reasons why I did not like The Worst Person in the World. Narrative itself is not enough to communicate a visual story. The magic happens in the chemistry between sound, cinematography, dialogue, etc., and experiencing it.
2020-03315. Today, I found myself dreaming of the sunken garden, of the sablay, of the office job within Quezon City. Not because it’s the ideal life but because it can be a good film material. Speaking of film material, there are times I still think of what had not happened between me and my high school crush. I believe I stopped growing when I repressed my emotions, and my queerness, and moved on to a life that did not pan out the way people in my hometown preached. Instead, I stayed where I am and searched for other possibilities. I went into Film. And it is liberating to be able to read Pauline Kael’s Replying to Listeners and feel her aggression. If only I had known her when I felt like nitpicking on my femininity, I wouldn’t have submitted to the interpretations of my classmates about my love life. I could have experienced what life has to offer and told her, “I like you.” If in the end, I am bi-curious’, ‘lesbian’, ‘pansexual’, ‘hopeless romantic’, or ‘figuring things out’, I am the one who has to deal with it anyways, not them.
There is love, still. It is a ceaseless art project that we need to deliberately and collectively create until the day we die. It is the perfect amalgamation of form and content… of intellect and emotions. And we are its critics before artists. Why? It is important to note that we experience love before we create it. Just like in film, you can easily become a good filmmaker but not a good critic. You can show your affections toward someone but have the wrong notions on how it should be given.
In the words of that one girl in Daisies (1966), “Everything is being spoiled in this world.”
When the time comes that every single one of us understands everything, the tangible and the abstract, would the mystery that is love(art) still be enduring?
Filmové studio Barrandov. (1966). Daisies. Czechoslovakia. Retrieved 2022.
Garrett Zecker, says:, S. J. H., & Says:, M. (2018, October 18). #468 Sedmikrásky (daisies) (1966). Garrett Zecker. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://garrettzecker.com/2016/12/18/%EF%BB%BF468-sedmikrasky-daisies-1966/comment-page-1/
Sontag, S. (1966). Against Interpretation and Other Essays. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.