First uploaded March 20, 2019
PICKS OF THE MONTH
February 2019 Picks of the Month
HEY, Diskurso Curation launched a group show called Religioso/Espiritual at J Studio, La Fuerza Plaza, in February, did you hear? Naturally we'd be biased towards having each and every piece in that show, put up by our curatorial department, as entries to our own February 2019 picks of the month list, you understand. . . . But we know we have to look elsewhere, at least in those places we can access with our unpaid time, including places on the Web, so here are our picks of the month for February 2019:
DengCoy Miel, Sebastiano, 2019, oil and acrylic on canvas, 48" x 24"
ONLY one of a large number of amazing art pieces that were put up for show at the Ouverture (or gallery launching) exhibition of the new Altro Mondo Creative Space on 1159 Chino Roces Avenue last February 23, Miel's Sebastiano struck us as one of the interesting ones when we first saw it posted on Facebook. Interesting for being a kind of religious art that goes Hollywood on you while remaining adherent, sort of, to all previous dramatizations of the Saint Sebastian "myth". Also, for its devotion to the history of miracles produced by the craft of painting and drawing (their ability to present alternative arm positions, to juxtapose by floating, to make some images transparent, and so on) that conceived something that made all the abovementioned magic gel, never mind if—as some cynical ones might suspect, but we doubt it—the artist merely used the saint's image as an alibi for peddling a visual spectacle with those devices.
Consider, too, that this "religious piece" is one that conservative Church authorities would likely disapprove the hanging of at any of their altars. Also, that the almost-1980s (Francesco Clemente, and so on) neo-expressionist depiction used here, complete with heavy metal flames, would look tired and passé under another painter's management, but in Miel's piece has the effect of having those classic devices and appropriations accessed not for a recipe of visual novelty, for attaining some kind of visual hype for our era of visual hypes and hunger for empty or decorative newness, but for something heavier. For that thing that would make things gel, as we said. No, Miel's hyperbolic bent does not come out here as something that he annexed only to make fun of (or to create a black comedy about) its subject but to miraculously enhance the legend of the saint the way a clever math teacher would try to make calculus interesting to a bunch of literature and art history majors.
We guess it's Miel's background as a political and news cartoonist that enables him to facilely build conciseness, and with total disregard for what's passé and fashionable in the art industry. With perhaps nothing but the message and its possible reception alone in mind, that's a relief in these recent decades of so much art that don't seem to know what they're here for. With his attitude intact, Miel can turn any "passé" habit in art history (whether it's from the '70s or '80s or the Baroque era) to be born again and survive critical arrows of faddishness, as stuff available for appropriation anytime, like old aesthetics or myths for a still successful function, and as if it's not at all for art. It is in this way that Miel's expressionism (at least here) is able to do what Clement Greenberg once said realism used to do: conceal the art, simply by making all the artsy things gel for a thing bigger than . . . Art. Hurrah to that.
the album cover
REMEMBER the 1981 British single of the year, the ska groove titled "Ghost Town," that got you dancing drunk to its lyrics lamenting Thatcher's unemployment- and racial riot-ridden era? Hey, the band behind it—at least some of them—are back, one of whom is guitarist Lynval Golding, whose last appearance in the Specials' lineup was in 1998's Guilty 'til Proved Innocent.
The "Ghost Town" veterans are incomplete now, with only three from that era remaining under, or returning to, this same band name and flag to create an album for. Isn't it okay for The Specials to have this Encore? After all, it's absolutely the same spirit of songwriting we have here, with the only changes being in the specific subjects of the new album's plot. It's really the same old interests.
So, we think our times can still welcome this band's return after that February 1 release of their new album together. Sure, you could say the band has aged somewhat, but that's only because you know they're not young anymore and here meld elements from classic disco funk, Latin music, and the questionable spoken word recording genre into the mix. But it's really the same social and political commentary sort of lyrics-writing that any senior high school kid who has come to like his parents' CNN-, MSNBC-, BBC News-, Al Jazeera- and ANC-watching habits can relate to today absolutely.
Let's have a look at the tracks:
The album's opener, a cover of The Equals' 1973 hit "Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boys," is a toast to a future world of mudbloods, away from anything Obama supporters would play a dirge to in this era of Trump. "B.L.M." (as in Black Lives Matter) has Golding reciting a story about immigration and racism in his real Jamaican accent. But the preaching or pleading veers its gaze to blacks, too, as when, six tracks later, "Embarrassed By You" scolds the switchblade-wielding hoodies dudes of the hoods' younger set. You'd say those young 'uns kicked by that song won't like this album, perhaps mostly for its seriousness, but guess who else won't love this album? Oh, Teresa May's party, that's who, what with lines heckling Tories "Making laws that serve to protect you / But we will never forget that / You tore our families apart" in the near-samba ska piece "Vote for Me"!
No, this can't be elderly music from 67-year-old Golding and 59-year-old Hall. For even the 37-year-old Fun Boy Three song "The Lunatics" here covered can't be more apt for today's Tory Brexit Britain and Yellow Vested France and so on, all under the watchful eye of Putin Russia, today's North Korea, or today's Iran. You want to pit that with something from George Ezra or Dua Lipa? Hahaha, don't do that. Especially as the world's now a cabaret, displayed in all its glory in "At Breaking Point." Even our own Duterte-loving and Duterte-hating populace can love the now-global girth of "Blam Blam Fever."
Actually, there's much here for young people to celebrate. Remember that girl wearing a Specials T-shirt who faced down with a smile in 2017 in Birmingham an eyeballing Islamophobic protester of the far-right English Defence League? Saffiyah Khan, yeah! Well, she's in this album, too, but this time—as if to confront many on all sides—hitting, in "10 Commandments," the misogyny in Prince Buster's 1967 hit song "Ten Commandments of Man" with everything she's got that feminists, even lipstick feminists, would be proud of. There goes any chance the Taliban or Aunt Lydia may find the album likeable for any reason.
And seems this album can't settle on one or two major social problem, too, can it? "The Life and Times (Of a Man Called Depression)" has Terry Hall (back from his self-exile in Fun Boy Three, The Colourfield, and Vegas) writing a prose poem about his bipolar disorder.
Anyway, how to close an album that opened with a utopia and thereafter dived into a brew of issues that would make a rightist defender go crazy? Hmm. Maybe with another utopia? Ideally a less fictive kind. Yes, a realistic dream, that's it—so to sandwich the ongoing dystopia and depression depicted in between! And that's exactly what "We Sell Hope" does. It offers the ideal campaign line to "do what you need to do without making others suffer." The Specials for Parliament!
RELEASED in the Philippines only last February 6, Green Book is a must-see on DVD or Blu-ray if you didn't catch its theater run. I also doubt that it's going to be a forgotten film in a future raving over a losing Best Film bet called BlacKkKlansman; at least in the global scene. Why do we say this? Because, fine filmmaking/editing esthetics that you'd find here aside, its treatment of discrimination and hate directed at the Other, all sorts of Other, by people everywhere is . . . just that, a treatment of everyone everywhere these days, and may be of great value to anyone outside of the United States if he can get the luxury of an objective view of the film's kind of anti-racism.
Yes, we know, it's a film that's been emotionally accused in the United States of being "racially tone-deaf" (really?) and of not giving "a damn about the community it's supposed to have been made for." True, it may not be the film that black Americans would universally celebrate in the United States, because . . . 90% or more made by white men? Let's put that aside for a moment and agree, before we go on, that its message is universal, and we're reviewing this for a global readership instead of a touchy American one. In short, we want to examine its international value, one that may be applicable to any nation, especially as it projects stereotypes and prejudice as well as goodness or potential goodness coming from all sides.
After all, we think the film's focus is more on the Italian-American white man character's struggle, or bit of open-mindedness, to entertain possible wrongness in his prejudice than in the utterly understandable fear and anger that BlacKkKlansman and Sorry to Bother You would want us to scream with, the one asking for the Other's karmic disappearance, the other for your sympathy. Should we censor this part of the equation that Green Book has, this part of self-examinations that the film would want to push forward as a collateral option accompanying the never-ending supply of pain expressionism and social realist documentation? Is the film racially tone-deaf because it also seems to say, "we all have prejudices which we all must try to correct"? Could it be more racially tone-deaf to have not noticed that the script did actually admit the fact that some people have more hurt in their lives than the next man "suffering, too"? And if the film seems to push the argument that says "all suffering beings have their own prejudice against the other man," then guess what?—racism is precisely a product of a fear against what is perceived as another people's already existing or potential counter-racism, and all of us have this fear! So that when Spike Lee implies, like a gangsta rapper, that he deserves to win an award over another white contender because his black film is blacker than that white contender's black film, just 'cos he's the one black and the other is not, is he really helping his cause or fanning the flame of the racist's fear or disgust? Could he even, inadvertently, be contributing to the conversion of some non-racists to don a certain racism towards him on their memory caps?
If we can agree on that anatomy of racist prejudice, that it's a product of fear, shouldn't we now try to find a cure to it outside of addressing pathos merely, let's say by analyzing the universal disease of stereotyping prejudice that resides in each and every one of us, as Green Book's script attempts to do? If one of those accusations against the film says it should have had in its contrived, allegedly faux-biographical, script something that addressed as well the currently burgeoning alt-right community or nation point blank, the way Sorry to Bother You did, we don't know how else you can do that other than by placing a character who is borderline that and demonstrating his slowly seeing the light through his reluctant journey with the Other? Isn't the racist script that one that says there are people who are born racist and unfriendly and people born not racist and friendly?
Shall we also now, instead of finding a cure, simply continue to exchange bits about how "hey, I am suffering more than you, so that it's you who should be empathizing more with me than I with you"? Isn't the cure precisely in the examination of the self, both individual self and collective self, rather than always in a redundancy of documentations about the evilness of the Other, whoever that Other is? Not just for us to examine our selves, which we may already be doing, but also to encourage others, especially those "evil others," to do the same, as Green Book attempts to do.
And that is precisely why we think that the movie is not for a community "it's supposed to have been made for." If anything, we think it was made for those in humankind who'd want to examine both their hurt, and then their own prejudice that may be producing the fear of the other, rather than for people who merely want to hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see, the suspicious camera beamed towards the majority-belonging other who has the prejudices and never on those who are hurting more (especially those hurting who are also hurting their own without their knowing it). Wouldn't that be the racially tone-deaf stance to take, in the sense that we cannot forever empathize with the rule that says Israel can never be wrong because we've all seen how their forefathers were treated in Schindler's List and The Pianist? Or should we all put it on record that just as we were all born sinners, as some Christians would say, we were also all born racist and must henceforth look for a cure?
Furthermore, what about the accusation that the film is about "antiquated race relations"? Uhm, huh? Is inter-racial friendship antiquated and no longer in existence? And, true, the geographical divide between northern racism and southern racism may no longer be the norm, but that doesn't mean that that difference no longer exists, in the north or the south (after all, provincialism can exist even in the most urban of citizens, and provincialism can be of many types). There are indeed all sorts of discrimination. We realize that some can be totally aggressive, southern if you will, loaded with fear (as those we might have towards the other with the religion or irreligion unlike ours), some simply cultural, or northern, manifest in a people's laughter and so on (the Bisaya or Kapampangan who paints his ceiling a color not white, for instance, as if there aren't Tagalog layman esthetes who would do the same). But northern or southern, they're both here complementing each other, and provincialism, though not anymore in the provinces, still exists.
In our country, the Philippines, you'd seldom see the kind of racial discrimination and hate you'd see in Green Book, perhaps because we almost all look the same. But that doesn't mean we all haven't experienced discrimination and hate from each other in terms of ethnic identity or background, gender, age, anthropometric results, financial capacity, taste, level of ignorance, educational attainment, looks, deviancy, and so on. So it's not hard to empathize with the American problem towards multiculturalism and demographic numbers and those who fall victim to the results that arise from this fear.
The smartness of Green Book we can applaud is in how the story and screenplay treat the arguments over American racial discrimination, any racial discrimination anywhere, including discrimination against a deviant one within a race, whether one happening yesterday or today. Like an intelligent essay or CNN/MSNBC/ANC talk show debate, it develops a fine demonstration of how objectively we could all handle all arguments. Green Book comes replete with examples in favor of one oppressed side of the conflict that it overwhelmingly surveys, thus its title, but, more importantly, shows everyone's discrimination against everyone (outside and inside his community) and is rich in that demonstration as well. In short, it doesn't come like a partisan (or even racial) load of anecdotal evidence propped up to support the construction of one party's version of a Trumpian snaking ideological wall.
Finally, cheers to Viggo Mortensen's acting here. It not only transcends his Danish-American identity to occupy that of a '60s lower-class Italian with a hard-to-get-rid-of accent, it—just like Mahershalah Ali's—also soaks itself in a supposedly two-month long moment of frustration and enlightenment, which he seems to relate to admirably as any human soul should. For, truly, those of us who had had to get rid of our own prejudices at a certain period in our lives, whatever race or majority/minority we may have belonged to, can or should find it easy to relate to such moments in the movie.
the album cover
HERE'S one of the best demonstrations of the aesthetics of cynicism that even lets you forget it's art. If the song lyrics in Eton Alive were coming from your Alzheimer's victim of a grandparent, you would also lovingly laugh at what he/she is blurting out, a bit disgusted sometimes perhaps, but always with more than a mere grain of salt to take them seriously. But that doesn't mean you can't agree every now and then to what demented grandparents would say that smacks of utter suspicion, especially as cynicism is easy to come by when you're listening yourself to TV news about what our society, of all sorts of sides, has allowed to keep on happening. And in this era of screams that seems to please the recording outfits, it's a relief to hear Sleaford Mods again in this February release, sounding like real punks who, instead of crying, would simply spit at the pavement every time you walk by in your new sneakers. And the creativity! Phew! It's like graffiti has finally been liberated from the wall invasions of the unimaginative.
RELEASED in the Philippines February 25, The Favourite is a superbly-acted movie about 1) characters with axes to grind sucking up to the powerful, 2) the sad powerful who have no idea at all about what really needs to be done, 3) the personality of "governors" suffered by the people (including this people's warriors), 4) the ways by which some or all may curry the highest favor, 5) social hierarchies and ambition (or aristocracies and persecution), 6) the luxury of the privileged, and 7) the never-ending cycle of abusers of power. Finally, a film about God's favoured creatures! . . . Oh, but wait, you want us to talk about the superb direction and editing, too, don't you? We understand, but, nah, that's for you to witness yourself, if you know how to look for what Yorgos Lanthimos includes and excludes in his films. Oh, you mean the rabbits! No, dorks, those are not from Lanthimos' The Lobster film at all. Not at all. Or . . . maybe they actually are? And could be what the film is (and Queen Anne's regime was) really finally all about? Yeah? For in a land that cannot provide real love from among the humans, perhaps that real love is with the animals. Or are you confused now about which animals we're talking about? [d]
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