On my dying interest with films


My dying interest with films started when I wanted to write an essay for Catfish. Reviewing a film is all about the perspective of a reviewer, tagging along a number of limitations, discrepancies and imperfections. In the essay I was writing I was trying to talk about the entire film, with all the angles I could get, that as I added more and more arguments to my statement on the unreliability of the Internet (whatever that meant), it lost sense. It wanted to talk about the whole world, I found out. A world I need to make sense of, and a world which needed to be cemented with layers of meaning, theory, what-have-you. 

Another problem is that the essay wanted to sound academic. My knowledge of film theory, which back then wasn't even short of calling it knowledge, has been falling apart in recent months. Without my knowing it, I've already dismissed theory as something only applicable to musings on bus windows,  and other than the fact that it has shaped the way I perceive and write and philosophize about things (again, as big a word as theory), I knew it won't really help me get through the mundane. The computer screen becomes something else with theory, and the last thing anyone wants to think about while working is a transcendental computer screen. 

I guess I have to rest my theory for a while, even if it means shelving half of my college degree. 

The Quiet Earth










The Quiet Earth (1985) is an enchanting film. It doesn't have the usual trappings of sci-fi: spaceships in full-throttle, eerie music as in Soderbergh's Solaris. It's quiet enough, and this aura hovers throughout the film: initially it's just one main character, a scientific experiment gone wrong, and a vast stretch of a planet with traces of human activity, mysteriously depopulated not by mass murder, disease or extinction--but something else. 

It feels like Walking Dead: you're right in the middle of things, and the entire plot is in no rush to provide explanations. (I think Lost also operates on the same plot, but I haven't had the time to watch even a single episode.) In Walking Dead, which I watch once in a while, dismissing the chronological order, the "walkers" have been present right from the pilot episode (correct me if I'm wrong), and this made them appear in every way natural, without much back story; in the same way, the Quiet Earth allures the viewer because it swerves from being too chatty about numbers and science in general, and instead concentrates on the limitless possibilities of a depopulated earth.

Of course, the possibilities are exciting. One is left to own all the material wealth in the world, but what really plagued me while watching the film is: why, of all people, is Zac Hobson the only person left? I think of it as a form of human exceptionalism, and naturally the idea made him mad, declaring himself "the President of this Quiet Earth" in front of human-size figures of important people like Elizabeth II, Adolf Hitler, and the Pope, among the others. His being an exception doesn't disturb him as it disturbs the audience; it just puzzles him, the way scientists are puzzled about hypotheses and failed experiments.

Later on, we'll learn that Zac knew this was coming, that he wanted out of it by committing suicide the night before the event happened, but he didn't think he'd come off it alive. As he wanders all across the setting (New Zealand wasn't mentioned, but it was implied) he'll meet Joanne and later on, Api. 

Zac and Joanne met as if they were estranged friends, hugging each other affectionately, but it's probably born out of that longing for human contact. I initially assumed Joanne is also a scientist (or, in the scene where she visits a hospital, a doctor of some sort) and that she knows something about Project Flashlight. It turns out that she was just as bewildered as Api, the Maori who cornered Zac while driving into a cul-de-sac.

The sudden appearance of these two characters bothered me most probably since an ending has already formed in my head, and I was convinced right from the start that it would happen: Zac philosophizes, goes crazy, decries humanity, and dies in vain. With this sequence in mind, the Presidential speech is likely to be the penultimate scene in the film, and that everything will go downhill before his death. But  what happened was at least the good kind of unsettling: Zac needed this chance to meet with other people to commiserate with, to regain his sanity and think ahead. 

What the film wants us to think about isn't the technicality of a scientific explanation. Sure, this would spark debate and would incite the scientific community about the validity of such figures, of how can it be possible, but this has been the predicament of science since time immemorial. What the film achieves is adding the element of uncertainty in the role of human existence in Earth, that at some point all we can do is try to figure things out, and whether we have succeeded or not, later on, we are left to watch what happens. The film doesn't want to debunk anything, nor does it want to posit science as the only solution. It doesn't strive to answer hundreds of fundamental questions life has to offer with a yes or a no. The film wants us to see the uncertainty clouding the surface.

Organization

I think I'm through with patching things up between friends, and their friends. I have to dispatch most of them as memory. Sadly, most of them are the ones I cherish a lot.

Three years ago I downed bottles with A and B at LB Square. It was March, they were about to graduate the next month, and all three of us were quite giddy with the idea of doing something shady in the campus. We ended up soaking our knees on the Baker Hall pool at 3AM. All of us were scared to get caught by the University Police in the act of diving--worse if they happened to record the unusual activity with their hidden surveillance cameras. So we shivered in the early hours of the day,  then for some time we gazed at the stars, just like in the movies. We went home chilled to the bone, about two hours later, dodging the barbed wires along the perimeter.

Just two months ago, A texted, confirming my name. I asked who's this, and he didn't say much, but basically he said maybe we should hang out together, A, B, I, and--I assume--our college organization.

I recently met with B at this bar in Ortigas. I think that was just two weeks ago. Ever since her father had contracted cancer of the prostate, she never went out that much. I completely forgot to tell her about A's text message, and about how it surprised me.

Maybe A is depressed?

B and I talked about C, another common friend whom she's having a lot of issues with last year. Their friendship ended abruptly, and with lengthy e-mails in tow (some drafts, B said, but mostly sent). The conversation brought with it a lot of issues with ten different people, mostly unresolved, if not vague.

Just yesterday I was browsing through old photos and had a really bad time reminiscing, thinking about what really happened, and what went wrong. There was a lot of heartbreak. Lately I met with D over martinis and amaretto in the same Ortigas bar (don't I just love that bar!) and she was having family problems, and the requisite friendship problems in tow. See, I used to cook adobo in her dorm back in college, and together with her housemates they thought I should cook for them more often (needless to say, they liked the dish). Surprisingly, all four of them, D included, are currently in such turmoil that to think of them living in the same dorm three years ago is unthinkable. (The catfights involved Boracay, make-ups, name it.)

E is in his first (or second) year in law school. The last time we've chat, I was still in New York, and I was planning to give him this shirt I have the hunch that he might not like in the first place. (Funny, I had the gall to chat with him 32 minutes after he signed out from Facebook.)

F is always juggling with a lot of reasons: she has colds, etc. She wasn't able to attend the get-together she planned for D, B and I.

It was this year's Mother's Day when I attended this really cozy writing workshop about Walter Benjamin in Maginhawa, where I finally met C (the last time I've seen her was with L in the Hainanese restaurant, when we pleaded the waitresses to consider us as last orders since the mall's about to close) and I concluded, from the evasive remarks and the silence, that she doesn't have anything to do with E anymore, which is disheartening, to say the least. I was rooting for their relationship ever since, knew I had to light fireworks in their wedding, knew I had to tell my wife that they are what we should become. Just like the figurine on top of a three-tiered cake. I shrug. So right after the workshop there's the two of us in this taxi to Trinoma, C sitting on the backseat, I sitting right next to the driver, I wondering if it would be the right time to ask whatever happened between the two of them: Was there a closure?

I could never find the right timing.

There was H, whom I have not spoken to for so many years, basically because she never told me she was about to be kicked out of the university, for reasons that--and I'm being painfully honest here--I also can be blamed of, especially with her truancy, for the lack of a better term. When I think of H I always end up thinking I wrecked three dozen lives. Which is true, but more to that later.

Oh, when D and I bid our farewells that night, she mentioned H having a really big crush on Lourd de Veyra (which we've just seen at the bar) and I remarked that we should've talked about her, but I told her the same line: more to that later.

J and I exchange nods in the campus, but we didn't think there should be some resolution with what happened in our (shameful) past. We didn't even know the root of our problem, so his solution is to befriend H and laugh sheepishly after I nod at his way on the corridors. There's nothing funny about civility. It's the most embarrassing point of my life and I am just... I just can't help but dismiss it as some phase in life, like craving for chocolates.

K and I arranged to meet in New York before I go back to Manila. She was visiting an aunt in Queens and is staying for two more weeks in the city, but her mentioning of the Museum of Natural History as a rendezvous and her parents tagging along didn't appeal to me. We had had good times, especially at this place in Katipunan when she introduced me to two of her friends, one of them a single mother, to which I asked a naive question about the father of her son. Bad move--but she wasn't displeased about it. I find that charming. Anyway, I told K just recently that I'm on a hunt for an apartment near Diliman, hopefully to take my Master's this June. She told me on Facebook she enjoyed MOMA, especially Van Gogh.

L and I are still friends. I send him the regular dose of links of curiosities and reads on shared interests, and then some drafts on my current work, and he replies with an apology. I asked B about K's relationship with his boyfriend, and she said they called it a day last November. I told B I didn't see that coming. Which thus explains the confused mental state again L has always been subject to, and has always been notorious for, especially during the ebb and flow of his rather fluid disposition, his whims in life.

This reminds me of C and the taxi on Mother's Day, when we asked ourselves rather rhetorically: so they broke up (L and his boyfriend)? and probably sighed, hopefully not about C's relationship with E, hopefully not about the underlying conclusion that even good things must come to an end.

Something stupid

I want to do something very stupid tonight, but I've just ran out of cash. Actually, I ran out of cash four days ago. If given the chance, my plan is to get a cab to Malate and just read Hemingway until 6AM. Malate because it's alive until 6AM. During my heydays with fellow bloggers we used to drink there and I remember seeing this cafe, and I knew I had to dine there. It sits at this triangular corner lot and had unpretentious decor. I can't remember where it is exactly, or the name, since it was six years ago.

On surrealism

Apollinaire wrote, “When a man wanted to imitate walking, he invented the wheel which does not look like the leg. Without knowing it, he was a Surrealist.”

-- from Questions without Answers for John Baldessari

Clarity

When you don't sleep for two days straight, you feel like a drifting part of some body, you become detached like a camera, you see things you have never seen before, your periphery takes it in, and the world becomes crisp and clear. Random words came into mind: "hologram", "distended".

On cyberwaste

Deleting old blogs is cathartic. It feels like taking part in cleaning what seemed like human cyberwaste, which is just immense, even after Multiply shutting down and Friendster deleting everything in its wake. Like the weekend detox program everybody seemed to be on these days. Well, I was able to do it for two hours in the office, and have managed to delete a substantial heft of online waste: several blogs from five years ago (two Wordpress blogs, three Blogspot blogs); my Formspring (I wonder why I made one in the first place); then my Plurk (inactive since 2009) and Twitter (inactive since 2007) accounts. I was one of the earlier users of Twitter and back then, it was such a flop since I couldn't really figure what the stuff is for. Update yourself: and then? I know better than to make an Instagram account: it's a fad which, later on, will add up to my online presence--another account to delete later in life.

The only accounts I couldn't delete are my Flickr and DeviantArt accounts, probably out of sheer sentimentality, but also because I had a Pro account with Flickr in 2009 and the unlimited bandwidth had tons of my pictures.

Facebook, so far, is a necessity.

My Livejournal is my long-standing account, dating back to 2005.

I was also cleaning up my Yahoo! Mail accounts (my first ever, made in 2004; then my second, in 2007). There was this e-mail from my 6th grade best friend, a reply from my e-mail dating way back 2008, when I was rekindling old contacts. The reply came about two months after I e-mailed him about his course, and how's things, so naturally I must have forgotten all about it. He clarified that he was taking Geology and not Geodetic Engineering. It seemed like an important matter in his e-mail. Then he said I was unbelievably "mature from the [former person] I know", what with all the blogs I wrote, which he read during that time.

The rest were unwanted subscriptions and spam.

Sometimes I wonder how my whimsical fifteen year-old self would react if he is reading it right now. Honestly, there was this point during my commute when I thought of these as time wasted. Well, it isn't that easy to dismiss these as nonsense, but every time I read my former blog posts I cringe. We hadn't thought that the things we wrote in the past would make us cringe in the future, but there they are, online, and other people can see it just by searching our name.

Sleeping

I've been getting so much sleep for a middle-aged person that I feel like I can't and will never achieve the good sense of the word busy, as in the productive kind of busy. Eight hours of sleep is still the norm for me during the weekdays, and I still manage to pull it off straight until evening. I vow to try make my weekends as sleepless as possible: there's this calm after reaching the 24-hour mark. I feel unbelievably focused, like the periphery of the laptop screen disappears, swallowed by some indeterminable whiteness. It's time to finish reading some books--I have a list of books rotting by the corner. I have been outnumbered by my unread books thirty to one, thirty books unread for a book finished. Whoever told us to finish books? In elementary it seems like a disappointment students share with teachers: why buy thirteen books every year when we couldn't even reach half of it? College has always been the most sensible of it all: handouts provide great comfort and utility for everyone. Now I'm starting to wonder as to which notion should I subscribe: should we really finish books? Is there really a human tendency to desire finishing a book? Does this tendency also stem with our desire to complete the incomplete, as in Gestalt psychology? I'm not sure. I'm halfway towards every book: from The Sun Also Rises, among other books I can't name, oh, the Thomas Pynchon book, The Crying of Lot 49, since it was absolutely challenging I think I needed two days off from work to absorb at least each and every sentence, it's so well-crafted, masterful attention to detail that Pynchon requires from his reader a very close approach to reading. It's not the kind of book which would amuse you during commutes; it's the kind of a book which blends well with espresso shots and probably some sort of a problem with ATMs or remittances, that kind of a problem to absorb it all. Then I'm also halfway through this interview with Don DeLillo from The Paris Review which was just utter failure, a far cry from the best of the best interviews I've read from the magazine (the Ashbery interview trumps them all--though he's a poet and maybe poetry necessitated the challenging questions). I've read their interviews with Vollmann and Eugenides and I think Franzen, but I'm not sure about Franzen. There are other halfway projects like this short story I wrote on my iPod, then several other projects. I was thinking a while ago that I don't want my writing to end up like Lorrie Moore; I've read one of her books and she's really vying for the lyrical kind of prose, very fluid. Maybe that's why Pynchon is intimidating for me, since he wants you to pause and challenge you where the hell did the subject-verb agreement go? How can they be located and strung with the right colors, the right tags and description? Close reading, I think, needs a really blank mind and a vacation in Provence. The really blank mind contains nothing but problems only perfectionists seem to nag themselves about: did I leave my keys behind? Will my tartan sweater blend with lavender flowers that is the hallmark of a vacation in Provence? Those kinds of problems. Meanwhile a professor wants to see the two of us in his cubicle one of these days, just let me know, he said, and the wife told me he'd be giving us books, and maybe writing professors have this knack of giving out books for lousy writers like us, or for couples who were married at twenty one, as a guidance and a God Bless You if you still want to be a writer, that sort of a pat in the back. My wife thinks it's a Frederick Barthelme book for me, which is great, good god, I only have a single book from him, The Law of Averages, which I hesitantly bought after having been convinced by my wife that it's worth buying for 75 pesos, who knows, she said, he might be related to The Donald Barthelme, and lo and behold, he is, and Frederick is just as witty. I am afraid she doesn't know anything about her book, but maybe it's Sylvia Plath or who's this other guy, Allen Ginsberg?

Not a blog

So, George R.R. Martin blogs at Livejournal

Way back in college, my girlfriend was very interested in Game of Thrones. When it reached the height of its popularity--and when most of our friends started watching it (the very people who thought it was downright weird to watch some kind of series)--my girlfriend grew visibly incensed with all the buzz about the series that she ended up hating the series

I was never interested in the said series. While updating my Livejournal, I stumbled upon the blog since it belongs to this list of Top 100 Livejournal blogs, and probably because of its unusual address--what the hell does GRRM mean? I clicked it without thinking it would mean George R.R. Martin. 

Maybe it's just me, but it's funny to imagine an eighty-something Gandalf-looking author writing in his "weblog" writing posts like "Swords for Sale" ("The intrepid armorers and brawny armorers of Valyrian steel have been busy as of late") and a digression about his house and "construction woes" (italics mine):

Most recently the plumber has been in, ripping down walls and installing my new plumbing. It turns out that none of my old plumbing was actually up to code. The developer who built my house in 1979 cut a few corners, it would seem. The scamp.

Under his "life and death" category are two posts: "RIP Roger Ebert" and "Shocked and Saddened" (about James Gandolfini and The Sopranos). But mostly he talks about his life as an author. I wish he would write something else, like his dinner. 

Which is most certainly why he named his blog as, well, Not A Blog. In his first post dating way back July 2, 2005, he wrote: "I will, in short, post whatever the hell I want to here." And it's not about pizzas, or politics.

Thoughts on Tennis

I really don't have much to say about tennis.

People from the Philippines, I think, isn't entitled to blog about tennis. We have tennis courts in our third-rate subdivision, but I've seen people play badminton in the court. It looks so shabby, I must have said to myself, that they looked like they're playing badminton from afar.

Ever since Novak Djokovic won two years ago at Wimbledon, I suddenly wanted to keep abreast of tennis affairs. It's not easy to pinpoint what's with Djokovic to have this influence over me, but I've seen him playing before during those brief channel-skipping intervals. His name just stuck to my head. I most probably didn't take note that he's a Serbian. Never did I take a good glance on tennis games: except, perhaps, when I used to read Jessica Zafra's blog, which I now discontinued, for personal reasons. 

I just know that if someone would ask me out on a dinner and ask me about tennis, I'd say Djokovic. With confidence. 

Back in college, I enlisted myself to a lawn tennis class, but the 7AM schedule discouraged me. This means I would have to wake up at 530AM, and eat a measly amount of breakfast for fear of appendicitis. A measly amount of breakfast is unthinkable for me. Add to that is the distance from my apartment to the tennis court: about twenty minutes away, provided that there are jeepneys willing to stray a little far from the major thoroughfares. I also had to be practical since this was ideally my last semester, which means I would be juggling this with my thesis. 

Some other reasons: None of my parents' families had any sport to be associated with. From the looks of it, we simply didn't want to be athletic. 

Also, it would require a tennis racquet which I didn't have. My girlfriend has this father who encouraged all three of them to play tennis, but I declined when she volunteered to lend me hers, since--and this is an afterthought--no person in his right mind would take tennis, except the people who's good at it, the people who wanted to look good at it (with Lacoste attire, etc) and the fanboys who would make it easier for everyone to be the ball boy.

I changed my mind and took bridge instead. It's easily one of the most sedentary P.E. classes next to chess (which I also took). But at least I finished college!

What's irresistible with tennis is this hushed atmosphere that's strikingly different from the rowdy games we watch on TV. It's one of the elite sports, next to water polo. It's like watching two people play head-to-head chess, only with audible grunting. I imagine golf games to be rather hushed, but that's partly due to its being the most boring sport on earth. Raccoons can play golf, I swear to god.

It's just now that I've learned of the seed system they have, and the various terrains tennis courts have. (Djokovic is currently number one, and I'm sure it means a lot). I also haven't watched any other open tournaments other than Wimbledon, probably because it was, to my horror, mentioned in this Justin Timberlake song (with Snoop Dogg)

As I've elaborated on my disclaimer, I can't say a lot, but the Bartoli vs Lisicki championship match is just the worst game I've ever watched on my fledgling history of watching tennis matches. (I totally forgot to stay tuned to last year's Wimbledon! I was rooting for Lisicki simply because she's very amiable, but I never thought her being emotional (she always smiles: I've never seen any other tennis player who smiles so wide) would take a toll on her game with Bartoli. Bartoli is mean, tough, robotic, with a no-nonsense game face. Lisicki is just graceful, but sometimes erratic. Lisicki is as moody as Bartoli is as consistent. It's clearly not the game people are looking forward for a championship.

But here's to hoping Djokovic wins the championship tomorrow!

Hughes and Gray


Listening to Iron Man by the Cardigans > Remembered that my wife told me that the song was a cover of a Black Sabbath Song > Googled the song > Read a comment on Youtube that it was the Iron Man from a Ted Hughes story > Wondered if Ted Hughes was the same man, the husband of Sylvia Plath > Wikipedia confirmed it, together with the synopsis of the novel and this portrait by Reginald Gray > Googled Reginald Gray and his works > Found most of it aren't that striking as the  Ted Hughes portrait above. 

The portrait is very calm, his face a play of light and shadow. I can imagine how cold the English countryside was when the portrait was painted (assuming that Gray was painting this en plain air). Juxtapose this portrait with the accusations that he was one of the reasons (if not the reason) behind Plath's suicide.