Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Monday, January 08, 2007


…and you shall receive. Me and my big mouth. :-)

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Anonymous wanted me to write about the wonders of being single or my resolutions for the New Year. I’ve stopped doing the latter decades ago. The former needs more time and thought, so pardon me if I defer it to a later date. But I will talk about being single.

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Nelz on the other hand asked several questions that are easier to tackle, so I’ll answer them first.

[1] I’ve been reading about “Enteng Kabisote” winning the best picture, and the bishops lambasted the movie. Care to comment on that?

I haven’t seen Enteng and I have no intention of watching it. I also don’t know what reasons the bishops gave for lambasting the movie.

However, I do know that Mother Lily (Regal, producer of Mano Po 5) and Malou Santos (Star Cinema, producer of Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo) have protested over the best picture winner because—as per filmfest organizers—the film that has the biggest box office returns automatically wins best picture. Duh, right? Mother and Malou further pointed out that they were never informed of the criteria for judging. Had they known that earlier, they would have fielded in a more commercial fare. Hahaha, right… as if one can consider the stretched-out franchise of Mano Po and the reel-and-real pairing of Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo as serious “art films.” But the two power producers have a point: being most watched does not a best picture make.

[2] I also viewed the Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah ze Moveeh website, and I’m curious how it went. I’m coming back to Manila in June for a very short visit, and I’m hoping to snag a DVD copy to bring home with me (and show all the afams about Pinoy kabaklaan he he he).

I’ve been fortunate enough to stumble upon the comic book and gone gaga over it, to the point that I was lending it out to any and everybody I know just to spread the word around. And I’ve also seen the several incarnations of Ze Stage Musical (at CCP and at PETA), and loved the way they were able to take the wit, spunk and spirit of the comic book and graft it into another medium (the western stage musical, aka Broadway and West End) that could handle the giddy subversive tone of the original source.

Now, Ze Moveeh. On the one hand, blessed is he who watches Ze Moveeh without watching Ze Musical or reading Ze Original Komiks este Graphic Novel. In other words, ignorance is bliss. You see, generally the people who’ve fallen head-over-heels with Ze Musical and Ze Graphic Novel are those who can appreciate the subtle, the snappy and the sarcastic; in other words, those folks who find nothing ironic about using the word “ironic” in their everyday conversation.

On the other hand, this is the movies. Or specifically, this is Ze Moveeh, an adaptation of Zaturnnah into a Pinoy movie musical-comedy. So they adapted Ze Graphic Novel while borrowing zeveral zongs from Ze Musical (zyet, nakakahawa pala itong puro “z”!) and adding a few new tunes (thanks to Vince De Jesus, who also penned the songs for the stage). Movies are a pop art form, a mass medium where subtle and ironic aren’t your usual fare.

I have heard people say time and again that the Filipino masa audience is not stupid, and should never be treated as such; they deserve better. I agree. However, I also believe that in matters of taste preferences and sensibilities, the masa clearly is mainstream. Now, if you’re working with a medium that can cater to this vast mainstream audience (like movies or television), you have a choice: you can either play directly into the sensibilities of this bigger mainstream audience, or you can decide to pitch your movie several notches higher (or lower) and therefore cater to a smaller segment of that audience (after all, making it too sloppy will also turn off a mainstream audience).

In the world of mainstream or commercial film production, where big film companies such as Regal or Star Cinema spend millions to mount a movie, there is a need for them to watch the bottomline. After all, they are a business, and movies are their products. As companies, they are expected to make, not lose, money. This I also understand and appreciate. After all, is there anyone who would go into a business to lose money?

To be fair to Joel Lamangan and company, Ze Moveeh was given an “A” rating along with Kasal and Ligalig (the latter a Cesar Montano film, very dark, looks very serious). And I can see why it got a good rating: the storytelling is clear, the pace brisk, the humor not too crass. Certain musical numbers actually have an emotional lift to them, or at the very least the staging is brisk enough so that it doesn’t slow down the movie’s pace. I guess Ze Moveeh is better crafted compared to the other entries.

But there are flaws. The transitions to musical numbers feel awkward at times. Additional characters are unnecessary. The special effects are uneven. The flaws are not major, but they do detract from the movie’s over-all impact.

And the move to a different medium (novel to stage, or novel to screen) always involves some gains as well as losses. The risk involved in casting different actors to play Ada and ZsaZsa is evident here as well as in Ze Musical: there is a dissonance between the characters of Ada and ZsaZsa. In Ze Graphic Novel, I can still “see” Ada in ZsaZsa; the latter is just the former allowed to “burst” out of his self-and-societal-imposed shell. But in the musical as well as in the movie, Ada and ZsaZsa are really two different people. (Eula Valdez succeeds better in the stage musical because her ZsaZsa is able to retain the vulnerability of Tuqx Rutaquio’s Ada.) Of course one can argue that it can be treated that way: Shazam is an example wherein the human “host” is subsumed by the superhero. Still, it is a missed opportunity; one wonders if, in the hands of a more skilled actress, this more difficult task could be pulled off.

Here’s what I noticed: all of the people I know SO FAR who have really liked the movie (they come close to raving about it, though they were still objective enough to point out flaws) have never seen the musical nor read the graphic novel. Which got me thinking that they fully embraced the movie for what it is—warts and all—because they have no basis for comparison.

Which is why in the end I came out of the movie house generally happy for the movie. Why? Because when I watched in Megamall, the audience was lapping up the humor, reacting to the musical numbers (I heard a ZsaZsa Padilla fan[?] copying her singing style during her song number), and generally enjoying the movie. While the more (gay) political tone of Carlo Vergara’s original novel (also present in the musical) is clearly missing from the movie (ironic given the fact that it’s directed by Joel Lamangan), the openness and the matter-of-fact treatment of the gay characters plus the theme of acceptance (as exemplified in Dodong’s character) lifts this movie above the tired comedies of old wherein gay characters are the butt of jokes. And although the movie clearly can still be crafted better, it isn’t every day that a smarter-than-usual Pinoy movie musical can make its way into Philippine cinemas. Yes, you can cry because the glass is half-empty; or you can be happy because the glass is half-full.

Let’s be realistic and take into consideration the audiences. For the graphic novel, the audience is clearly a sharper reading public. The people who pay their way to watch the stage musical are clearly a more exposed (and in general more affluent) crowd. The movie, on the other hand, is obviously pitched at getting the biggest crowd possible (hmmm, did Joel Lamangan know the festival’s best picture criteria?). That Ze Moveeh is not as whip-smart and sassy as its earlier incarnations may not necessarily be a negative thing for ZsaZsa.

“But we must lift the Pinoy moviegoers’ sensibilities!” you might cry out loud. “Lift”? Why “lift”? It connotes that their sensibilities are low. Now that’s a condescending attitude. I think there is a place in this world for simple, light entertainment as well as works that bothers, challenges and pushes the envelope. If entertainment is well made then there is method behind the “mindlessness”; it takes smarts to create well-made pop. And remember: even Hollywood has B-movies, and across the Atlantic there’s annoying Euro-dance music (think Crazy Frog, which was invented by—gasp!—Swedes and popularized by Germans).

More and more I appreciate the need for the Spielbergs and the Pixars of this world. Between the commercialist and populist touch of a Michael Bay or a Chris Columbus and the head-scratching, patience-trying tastes of a Lars Von Trier or a Lav Diaz, there are very few who can straddle successfully between the two worlds of aesthetics. In fact, I think that is also a different kind of genius: the ability to touch and be relevant to a mass audience while refusing to dumb down. The saying is true: try to please everybody and you please nobody. But the one who pleases the most opposite of the spectrum—the uncritical moviegoer and the hypercritical reviewer alike—is the one who is extraordinary.

By June the DVD may already be available. Cross your fingers, raise your hands and shout, “Zaturnnaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”

[3] Your thoughts on Daniel Smith being handed over to the Americans despite his conviction

President Arroyo blinked. Given the vague wording of the Visiting Forces Agreement, both sides could argue that they have the right to insist on where Smith should stay, in a Philippine prison or in US custody.

But I think the more interesting aspect of this case is not where Smith goes. In fact, I think many people don’t really care about Smith. Of the many women familiar with the case whom I’ve talked to, most of them feel that it is not only Smith’s fault; Nicole is partially responsible for what happened to her. They feel that Nicole placed herself in a position where the boundaries are blurred and it’s difficult to tell if it’s rape or if it’s first with consent then she changes her mind. Do you “fault” someone for misjudging her capacities? That’s why most people are ambiguous about the case. In a situation where both parties may have been responsible for what happened, why should blame be placed on just one?

On a separate note, when is rape considered rape? Consider this scenario: the man already has his cock inside her vagina and is pumping away, but a few seconds later she changes her mind and says, “Wait I changed my mind, I don’t want this anymore.” He doesn’t believe her and continues. She repeats her request to stop. At this point he’s bewildered. He tries to continue pumping, while at the same time telling her, “C’mon, we’ve gone this far now!” She now tries to push him away as well, and her cries of “Stop!” get more frantic. He resists her pushes as much as he can until she becomes too violent for him, then he disengages from her and stomps out of the room. That’s when she discovers that he had already ejaculated inside her just before he was finally pushed off her. Questions: Can she cry, “Rape!”? If yes, at what point did it become rape?


Dinno Erece said...


thanks for that nice review of Zsazsa Zaturnnah Ze Moveeh but more so, thank you for understanding the word compromise in our world

dinno erece
scriptwriter, Zsazsa/Manay Po

Anonymous said...

At what point did it become rape, you ask? WHEN SHE SAID STOP.

Nelson said...

Wow thanks for the very lengthy answers!

Re: Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah Ze Moveeh -- One thing I do regret is not seeing Ze Musikal, and now the movie came out (ang hirap ng nasa kabilang panig ng mundo noh!), and I'm simply curious how the novel crossed over to stage and film. I guess I would love to do comparisons myself--to see what was lost or gained in the media it was presented.

Re: Daniel Smith -- yeah I thought so too with Nicole. I admit I was angry that he turned over despite the conviction, because it meant the Philippine government was bowing down to U.S., but I agree that Nicole is partially responsible.

Something else came to mind when you graphically described the man having his cock in her vagina: Daniel Smith in partial G.I. garb, his glistening Marine-built body pumping his cock. Though it's very inappropriate and very un-P.C., the image made me smile. ;-)

Thanks for the long post. Halata bang uhaw sa balita sa Pinas? he he

Nelson said...

PS -- re: lifting Pinoy sensibilities -- I do admit that this is my general opinion of Pinoy moviegoers, that movie producers have a responsibility to "lift" their sensibilities. It IS very condescending, I mean especially after reading "Enteng Kabisote" won best picture despite it not having any plot or technical merits (then again, I haven't seen the movie). But obviously it catered to the so-called "bakya" crowd. I partially couldn't shake this attitude because 1) I admit that I'm a snob and 2) despite that I'm a snob, I DO watch the light-hearted--OK let's add brainless here--fare (sometimes merely out of curiosity, sometimes by my own free will, sometimes to cruise the cinema), and more often than not these movies are really disappointing (but not the cruising--more on this in the future). I believe I'm expecting too much from them, which I shouldn't I guess.

So now my attitude to this is that anyone can watch whatever they damn want. I'll watch the movies that I choose to watch. I am realizing that there is another aspect to my underestimation of the "masa" being dumb--that these types of movies have their OWN audience, which leaves me to believe that the "masa" may not be so dumb after all, if THEY choose the movies they want to watch.

joelmcvie said...

DINNO: I worked in a major boradcasting network (and also did work for their movie outfit) for six years. Often at the start their intentions are always to deliver the best crafted movie that the most number of people will flock to watch (hopefully multiple times). It is in the execution that reality and budget and sked deadlines kick in and affect the outcome.

NELZ: When you decide to watch brainless movies, you don't necessarily become dumb when you do so. (Although there ARE movies that make you wonder if you did lose a couple thousand brain cells.) I guess a lot of people do not demand much from their movies; "What can distract me, entertain me, or let me relax for 2 hours?" may be their default attitude when standing in front of the cineplex, trying to decide which movie to watch.

Different people have different wants and needs regarding movies.

ANONYMOUS: I agree with you that the moment she said stop, the guy should have stopped; pushing (literally) on further would mean he's already fucking her against her will.

However here's the difficulty in these cases: if there are other witnesses, then it can be determined whether sex with consent turned into rape; but what happens when there are just two people involved? It will become a case of "he said" versus "she said". Worse, in my example it will be difficult to determine rape via physical manifestations because it's possible no excessive physical injuries were sustained.

I don't envy the lawyers who have to handle cases such as these. Thank god I'm no lawyer! :-)

Raymond said...

You may not be a lawyer, but you ask questions like one! Indeed, the issue is at what point did the consensual nature of the intercourse cease and become forcible and criminal as such? And you are right to ask about the "he said, she said" nature of this debate.

Unfortunately, as far as I know, the determination of the presence or absence of consent will be ineluctably colored by the Philippine judicial system's sexual mores and its insistence on the Maria Clara image of the Filipina. With such a built-in bias in the system, "she said" is always given more weight than "he said." Even though Nicole was probably not a virgin, the fact that Smith is an American and a GI makes it quite obvious to the close-minded sectors of our society that he is the culprit.

I would have loved to defend Smith, and to go up against those shrill, strident defenders of Filipino womanhood. But I don't know if I would have made any difference, considering the overwhelming political circumstances in this case.

On another note, yes, wonderful review of ZsaZsa. And nice to see that the actual screenwriter appreciated your review. I perfectly agree with your analysis of the necessary compromises that had to be made. I enjoyed Ze Moveeh immensely because I did not see its precursors. On its own, I think that Ze Moveeh stands as a unique work of art. Congratulations to everyone involved, especially to the director and the luminous Rustom Padilla!

Nelson said...

Wow, Joel so now you have a couple of topics to talk about simultaneously hahahhaha!

Here's another topic I'd like for you to comment on: what are your thoughts on the so-called "stars" produced by numerous reality shows? Are they really credible actors/actresses, or are they just eye candy? Are they just famous for the duration of those reality shows, and disappear after a couple of movies or TV appearances?

When I left Pinas, I was very much aware of all these Starstruck / StarSearch contests-reality-shows. I was fascinated, but at the same time disgusted: these are untested, untried young people trying to make it to showbiz, and I feel that they were being manipulated and milked for all their worth. When I came back last June, I was seeing/reading these army of young stars who were products of these shows, and I don't even know who they were and what they could do!

The only guy I took notice of was Sam Milby, but I think pa-cute lang siya.

joelmcvie said...

BONG: "Ineluctably"?! Gee Bong, you write like a lawyer. Wait a minute, you are a lawyer!

NELZ: Hahahaha! When it rains it FLOODS. I should answer those questions in a separate episode, not in this comments thread.