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First uploaded September 10, 2019
Updated September 18, 2019
PICKS OF THE MONTH
September 2019 Picks of the Month (so far)
DengCoy Miel. Juan Tamod: Masipag Magpakatamad. 2019
Juan Tamod: Masipag Magpakatamad. Love the paradox and rhyme in that title (and consequent avowed intent) for Dengcoy Miel's new painting. The artist sent the piece to Kaida Contemporary as one of his entries to the Yugto group show that opened September 8 at the gallery.
We think the allegorical narrative in this one painting is worth talking about, outside of the usual art-writing bullshit that would often just state in flowery language what everybody already knows about what's in/on the picture. In plain language, let us talk about what are in this black comedy of a composition that not everyone might readily see. But first, let's acknowledge that everyone would be able to discern the character mainly represented in this very composition, viz., a Makapili. Now, the "Makapili" tag has been popularly used to also refer to people regarded by its user as "traitors" or "collaborators with the enemy". Furthermore, in our time that tag could be applied to certain individuals and organizations in the political spectrum. Here's why:
First, allow us to alert everyone to that obvious image in the picture and what may be its not-so-obvious meaning. We're talking about the fact that the Makapili persona here is not armed solely with the finger that the Makapili of old was for pointing out rebels against the invading force. What the Makapili figure here has is a gun, which would have been shocking to the Imperial Japanese Army if an officer of that time allowed it to happen. So, therefore, this image by Miel must be qualified.
So, okay now. You see, in the post-World War II and post-Philippine Independence period of Philippine history, the "Makapili" or traitor understandably crept, under our noses, to a new privileged role in our society. The traitor-collaborator evolved. The post-Independence comprador or trader/merchant-politician placed in power by new foreign interests sponsoring him became his latent personification. And he, the new Makapili, may or may not be from the same families the Spaniards or the pre-war Americans or the Japanese conscripted to collaborate with them against rebels of the Katipunan or the guerillas of World War II. In the vocabulary that usually pertains to Latin Americans (post-Independence in their respective states), the new Makapili is what would be known as an element of the lumpenbourgeoisie. In Western progressive intellectual circles, he would be referred to as a neocolonial element.
So, the neocolonial persona Miel presents us with in this picture is indeed still hiding behind a woven-bag "mask," but not because he really is (hidden or hiding). That's just a visual slur Miel is using, because we'd like to think that Miel wants to push forward the reality of the situation that has been reversed, namely the reality that while the old Makapili would leave us guessing as to who it is behind that woven-bag mask, the present-day Makapili or lumpenbourgeois element would have us constantly guessing about his true loyalties even as he gallantly shows us his face. This is so, because while the old Makapili would be hiding simply the truth about his identity through the opacity of his woven-bag mask, the new Makapili is hiding a bigger truth, this time via the mask of words (or the mask provided by opaque words). So, it's that mask that Miel is giving us here. It's a mask of half-truths, distractions, and alternative "facts" that would render people blind to any given persona's true personality.
Now, notice that the allegory in this picture may have been made complex by another offer, namely the context that the Makapili here in question is supposedly also a "Juan Tamad" given to the vice of, say, lazy womanizing and boasting around about his sexual prowess (and his semen ["tamod"] supposedly worshipped by a conquered gender). He would be given to machismo and all appearances of strength and achievement, both the real and the imagined. That element regarding the Makapili persona's being both lazy and into endless sex and other luxuries of his conquests is not a complicating element to us. In fact, we think that that serves as a necessary backup support for the central melody of the lumpenbourgeois element's corruption. It pertains to his position as an appointed leader of his people who has merely to laze around as he waits for the next instruction from his superiors regarding what program to next implement that would fatten the institutional interests of his bosses' banks and what-not.
Speaking of background, this time Miel offers us a red wall, which you and I may easily read as alluding to China. This act is to us a welcome facet in Miel's body of paintings that we thought had been putting too much space for the Philippine experience with Spanish and American imperialism and not enough about China's presently burgeoning one.
Now, okay. So this Makapili neocolonial puppet of a foreign power, let's say China, is supposed to be merely playing, lazily, with a gun. We can actually read that to mean: playing us with his gun prowess, playing us to applaud his position with gun power . . . against, say, whatever it is you would like to disappear from our society, never mind if that war against it that he would talk to you about would turn out to be more in your perceiving mind than in data facts.
It would seem that Miel understands the potential emptiness of those power words that the neocolonial element may have for our consumption, for while he here paints the symbol for these macho words as penis bullets for the Makapili element's gun, those bullets―when closely examined―would, after being fired, actually only turn up a barrage without balls. How can that attack have real balls when it is merely coming from a lumpenbourgeois puppet given instructions to lie about the facts for a fear-mongering tactic, especially when the object of that supposed war of his may actually involve himself as one of its targets, as might be alleged by his critics, if that war was real and comprehensive?
Miel doesn't show us the shot penile projectiles without the balls, and that is precisely what allegories do. The allegory in an allegorical picture is not in what you see in the picture's still moment; it is in what you see beyond that moment, moving to the past, the present, and the future. Allow us to say here that anyone can access the allegory in things, lest we be read as trying to be intellectual snobs (while using our plain language). But that access can only happen if one is willing to go beyond the flowery language of art writing (for auction catalogs and the like) often boringly describing the already obvious. Only then will one be able to consume art such as this beyond its comic appearance, and to then realize the darkness of the laughing matter, as well as realize that even the Makapili's mask is itself a metaphor for a metaphor, standing for any given person's filled-in-the-blank identity.
Echo in the Canyon's official trailer
Echo in the Canyon. September 10, the documentary was finally released on DVD and Blu-Ray after its limited exposure in US theaters last May (preceded by the soundtrack album's release in April).
What triggered this production? Purportedly, Jakob Dylan and former Capitol Records executive Andrew Slater were watching the 1969 Jacques Demy film Model Shop. They then started to talk about the Laurel Canyon phenomenon that birthed the folk rock genre, The Beach Boys' progressive and psychedelic kind of chamber pop, and The Mamas and the Papas' and The Association's sunshine pop, all of which would be tied together to a mother aesthetic appreciation called the California Sound. They were doing all this and then Slater supposedly thought of producing an album for Dylan wherein Dylan would cover a number of songs from this era, about 1964-1967, the recording for which could maybe haul in guests that might create a duets album. So they called Fiona Apple, Beck, Jade Castrinos (formerly of The Magnetic Zeros), Norah Jones, Cat Power, Regina Spektor, and Eric Clapton to join the project in the vocals department, along with Neil Young (not in the 2017-18 shots of the film) and Josh Homme (not seen in the film). That happened, and the album concept was extended to envision this documentary film that would provide a sort of backgrounder on the scene covered by the album, with interviews with some of the artists from (or were influenced by) the era in question―Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Brian Wilson, Michelle Phillips, producer Lou Adler, Ringo Starr, Graham Nash (who first met Crosby and Stills in LA in '66 during a Hollies US tour), Clapton (who was then attracted to the Laurel Canyon scene after Cream's arrival in the US in early '67), Jackson Browne (who at the time was just starting with the Nitty Gritty Band), and Tom Petty (as a fan of the California Sound and the Rickenbacker 12-string)―to give our era a glimpse of that important page in American pop music that would influence pop music all over the world. The film would also contain snippets of the 2015 Orpheum Theatre concert introducing the album project.
Of course, the documentary's thrust is entirely from the point of view of Slater, Dylan, the album guests, and the interviewees from the period, and is certainly not the sort that might come from a deeply-researching book writer or documentarian treating of the same subject for a comprehensive view of that history. Thus we would see glaring omissions: no touch on the band Love, no scene with The Doors beginning their trek towards that first album of theirs released in January 1967, nary a word about the buzz around Joni Mitchell's arrival in LA in 1967 (with Crosby at the production helm of her first album aiming for an early '68 release), nor anything about Spirit (whose sound, ironically, decorates the soundtrack of Model Shop). Mention of how small and how big this thing actually was in relation to other factors influencing the cultural spirit of the era would also be limited, fleeting, and highly un-academic. There's almost nothing beyond a whisper about the ongoing civil rights tensions at the time, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the hue and cry about the Age of Aquarius. At least near the end there would be hints about the band breakups and the going-solos, for it was this sad development that actually led to the epoch of singer-songwriters in LA, which included solo Young, and the film doesn't say that that was precisely what the unraveling produced.
For comprehensive takes on the California Sound period and scene, read Michael Walker's Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll's Legendary Neighborhood (2007), Harvey Kubernik's Canyon of Dreams (2009), or even Barney Hoskyns' Waiting for the Sun: A Rock & Roll History of Los Angeles (1996).
But the film's thesis is clear. It opens with text showing a dictionary definition of "echo," as "a close parallel or repetition of an idea, feeling, style, or event." Indeed, that epigram speaks for Laurel Canyon's function as an echo chamber for face-to-face exchanges and mutual influencing that led to a copylefting field for an intellectual commons in the arena of pop music's development during that time, at least among these musician neighbors in this canyon who were then trying to become stars. The film ultimately becomes yet another demonstration of how art (in this case music) develops a revolutionary movement simply through community, with this community of artists focused on their communal artworks and art-making processes instead of on the hype on their individual selves as greedy "competitors". The focus on the creative process resulting from echoing each other, feeding off each other that these artists would find themselves doing . . . would be portrayed by the documentary as attractive enough, at least products-wise, to build a national interest, with followers of the development wanting to come to California to contribute to that production. This phenomenon would also be clarified as an international or trans-Atlantic thing even from the beginning, particularly with The Beatles being part of the exchange.
But it's the mind's pivoting on the art-making as witness to new things produced communally, but communally almost unconsciously (as against one from a contrived communality), over and above the self's ambition, that becomes remarkable in such documentations as this, no matter how narrow and meager a surface treatment it might be. Such communal echoes, after all, whether physical to a canyon or hill or virtual in an Internet community, are universal to the field of art and to artists in general, testified to by the artists exchanging opinions during the fin de siècle era, by the artist community described in Ernest Hemingway's memoir A Moveable Feast, or by the artists involved in the several stages of the "Golden Age of Hollywood." Documentations like this need to come out every now and then, if only to remind us of these processes and to underline the fact that artworks are as much a product of individuals or bands of individuals as much as of a larger community of like-minded eager beavers.
Skin's official trailer
Skin. This film, based on a real person's story, had already been released to theaters late July in the US, Belgium, and the Netherlands, but is coming out in UK theaters only this 27 September and to German theaters on 3 October yet. We have an appreciation from the news of the presence of so many neo-Nazi skinheads in the UK and Germany, so it'd be interesting to see how the film might be received by these all-too-present parties there. As for the Philippines, there has been no scheduled screening for the film yet that we know.
Now, just as it's fair to ask what a painting on a wall would serve as and for whom, it's equally fair to ask what (else) a narrative is trying to say with its story and for whom its story's statement may be of (further) value. Because, after all, Skin is really just a simple report of the fact that there has been a number of members of the US neo-Nazi movement who've struggled to get out of the movement and have been aided in their journey by certain groups in the US, no more, no less. Is that "report" bound to get some neo-Nazi members thinking about their current political and/or moral position? Maybe, maybe not. Is it going to get the country angrier toward this presence? That's possible, depending on how far one's imagination and research can fill the gaps for a full understanding of this movement, a filling that cannot be delivered by an almost-two-hour movie alone. But the film can certainly inspire politicians and communities to think of ways to resolve this problem of anti-Other racial nationalism, perhaps to even emulate those people aiding the neo-Nazi membership's slow decline, simply by focusing on each member's individuality instead of on the religion of extreme rightism which may not actually be the bottom root behind someone's membership (as this film suggests).
Now, the film is not one of those perfect sort of oeuvres. In fact, many parts of the film would leave us creating explanations by ourselves for how this or that situation came to be. Although we all know what the scream "Blood and soil!" is all about, and do generally acknowledge the reality of neo-Nazi anger, the film is not a narrative that aims to guide us into the whys and how-did-they-get-heres of this anger, contenting itself with focusing our minds on the story of the film's protagonist, Bryon Widner (Jamie Bell), who has bile that comes from a group culture he has been driven by the fates to join, or manipulated by false charity to be a part of. This taking in of his lost person by the neo-Nazi family called Vinlanders SC, with Fred Krager (Bill Camp) as the father and Shareen (Vera Farmiga) as the mother, is later echoed in the film by the group's leader's hiring of another young poor white runaway named Gavin (Russell Posner) whom Krager and Widner saw by the river with a bunch of other unattended kids. So we deduce that this anger in Widner is from a thinking he had only been trained since childhood to embrace like a child warrior. We assume that this same thinking would only necessarily be pumped further into his testosterone by the manipulators of groupthink that abound in politics, manipulators such as Krager, who has once ran for the state legislature and plans to run again.
The film does help us some with the holes. It gives us the sense that almost everybody knows everybody here in this part of Columbus, Ohio. In a rally, Widner knows the name of a disrespectful-to-the-leader member of an anti-Krager faction of the group. By this sense of small town-ness, we also get to assume that activist Daryle Jenkins (Mike Colter), addressed by Widner as "Jenkins" during the opening riot scene, probably already has a reputation among the Vinlanders as that founder of the One People's Project, one of those groups that help neo-Nazi members jump ship. Is this everybody-knows-everybody regional feel that's been established by the film also the reason why, in that scene where Jenkins is taking a video of the Vinlanders arriving near their outdoor Halloween party, he (Jenkins) is allowed by the gang to continue to film, unharmed, considering we didn't see any police car out there to protect an outsider's presence? Details of how Jenkins goes about his duty for the OPP is also not shown, apart from us seeing him in that Nazi rally counter-rally that we mentioned and, later, while shooting those videos of the neo-Nazis on their way to that Halloween party that we also mentioned. The film also doesn't explain how a family of child singers―the mother of which family, Julie Price (Danielle Macdonald), becomes Widner's love interest, and the eldest daughter of which, Desiree (Zoe Colletti), is suspicious of Widner―got to contact the Vinlanders for a one-time-paycheck gig at one of the gang's political rallies; but, again, it's that part of Columbus where everybody knows everybody, remember? After all, too, Julie used to have a neo-Nazi boyfriend or husband (the father of her three kid singers) and has a father who used to belong to the KKK, so she might actually know some members there. Apparently, however, she is supposedly now trying to distance herself from the movement as much as she can, and trying to forgive herself on behalf of her daughters from taking this route once. Now, at times the film would get prosaic, as when Jenkins tries to explain to a young staff member of OPP the point of what they're doing, but we can also fill in an explanation for this: the kid must be a newbie in the OPP building.
Above all this, we are given the impression by the film's director, Guy Nattiv, of how confident the Vinlanders are towards policemen's and FBI agents' presence (ignored by the group during their neo-Nazi march at the film's beginning, and, during an interrogation scene, were shown by Widner, who stripped himself naked, his anti-snitching tattoo on his inner thighs that he seemed to have placed there for a possible future interrogation like this one). It all makes us wonder if there are people higher than police commissioners and FBI agents who have these neo-Nazis' backs. For while there are indeed those loose ends in the script that would endlessly instigate us to ask questions about the possibility of this or that, these finally lead us in the end to ask the ultimate question: "who are funding these 'social clubs' and why?" In one scene, Krager refers to his club as "this business". It seems that the film's ultimate achievement is not so much in its dramatization of a skinhead's emigration into the mainstream nation (from the global alt-right team he had been fated to be a part of) as in its challenge to make us ask that very important question from beneath the film's presentation, a presentation that's been accused of being melodramatic toward its subject.
[Speaking of melodrama, we could also debate as to whether the film's reenactment of certain violent acts committed by the skinhead group should have been given more light and perhaps zoom-ins and maybe even slo-mos, just to make those deeds more sensational and horrific the way Saving Private Ryan did its share of gore visuals for German Nazi firepower. We wonder, too, if that downplaying was intended to lower an age rating in order to get to a wider educable audience (we don't know much about this).]
But perhaps the reason why a sense of melodrama has been a constant criticism thrown at the film is because there have been expectations toward it as a redemption film concerning belief. The ultimate point of the film, we think, is that there are members of these social clubs who've only been thrown into this religion of beliefs, one not of their own choosing, as against other members who may have joined after experiencing pain from the Other that triggered a sustained anger in them and a consequent philosophizing capacity. The contrivance of the former situation, when mis-applied to a man by manipulating leaders (and co-members) whose manipulations and possessiveness would churn out fake rituals and a business-like approach to the group's operations, may begin to surface more clearly to the man. This can only lead that man to doubt his "religion," as it has in many cases. In the dramatization of this kind of case in the person of Bryon Widner, then, there would be no need for a reeducation from without, say from a Jenkins, only one from within the man himself and from his human heart. In short, the film is saying: perhaps many neo-Nazis' beliefs are only skin-deep and thus uncomplicatedly remediable.
The Parting Glass' official trailer
The Parting Glass. We don't know if this film ever got a distributor for theatrical release after its premiere in June last year at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, or following its July 2018 showing at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival or its October 2018 one at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Either way, we're glad it was launched this September 10 on Amazon Prime.
Directed by English actor Stephen Moyer, this B-movie gathers fine actors Ed Asner, Rhys Ifans, Melissa Leo, Cynthia Nixon, and Denis O'Hare to tell the story about a family who came together in Missouri to retrieve the belongings of the youngest member of their family who has recently died, thereafter to collect her ashes and have her funeral. Coleen, the deceased sister, daughter to Asner's role, wife to Ifans', is played in flashbacks by Anna Paquin (who doesn't really show her whole face or for long, perhaps for reasons of actor's agent's cost). The story and screenplay is written by O'Hare, based on his own real life experience with his sister's death by suicide.
The film journeys through the family's grief within a couple of days, but finally comes out as a treatment on the elusive mystery of depression contrasted with the beauty of life that victims have enjoyed prior to the onset of, or alternately with the attacks of, their disease. The film hints at a search for the cause of the sister/daughter/wife's depression, but ultimately would self-frustrate any progress at it. In other words, in the film's attempts to "solve" a mystery (the cause of the depression and/or death and who or what to blame), it ends up leaving the mystery alone, choosing finally to remember instead the opposite facet of Coleen's wonderful person and to have a good cry of gratitude at its having been here at all, even if only for a brief time.
the album cover
At the Party With My Brown Friends. Swinomish/Iñupiaq singer-songwriter Katherine Paul (aka Black Belt Eagle Scout) declares that much of her songwriting derives from this "radical indigenous queer feminist" social/political position she describes her person to be situated in, and that "indigenous music is the foundation for all of my music." We get that indigenous-political artistic springboard she's peddling, given that much that is in pop music today actually largely derives from something that an ethnomusicologist or anthropologist can better trace for us and that a Marxist critic can locate the political and apolitical contexts of in the present.
However, not everyone in pop music can also claim what she claims, that "Singing in our language is a spiritual process and it carries on through me in how I create music today." Thus, when BBES says she's also been influenced by the music of Nirvana, we could surmise that her approach to music-making, even her political-lyrics writing, might perhaps be closer to the Hindu context of that band's name than Kurt Cobain's, even as both artists' vague lyrics have political as well as religious allusions in them.
But politics and spirituality have always walked together, hand in hand through time, more than we've been willing to accept we see daily in our industrialized and electronic and satellite-enveloped age. This combo cannot be said to be exclusive to certain "tribes" or "nations" and cannot be deemed extinct in even the most materialist of cultures. Poetry has always been aware of that combo operating within various loci and times, even when expressed in the most Ferlinghetti-ish of verses.
So, in BBES' poetry of spiritual/political/erotic metaphors in this, her plucked strings- and arpeggios-laden second album titled At the Party With My Brown Friends (released August 30), we are led to look at the world as a "party," with her "conscious self" watching/witnessing this unconscious human event in progress in this life. And, mind you, she does not walk through this party, she "walks" throughout it, very much like air. Read:
In her album press release, BBES says of the lines "How is it real? / We will always sing," from the album's very political opening track titled "At the Party": "(Those lines) came out of me one evening when I was crafting the song in my bedroom. Within my conscious self, there is always a sense of questioning the legitimacy of the world when you grow up on an Indian reservation. We are all at the party (the world), trying to navigate ourselves within a good or bad situation. I happen to be at the party with my brown friends―Indigenous, Black, POC―who always have my back while we walk throughout this event called life."
Oh, the politics in those words, especially with that track's closing verse that goes, "How is it you've suffered through this kind of love? / It puts you in a dark place, dark place. / Even when you look at me, / Your heart so full, / I'll think of you from a nice place, nice place." And oh the spirituality in that, even in this age of MMIW, delivered in hushed vocals typical of Pacific Northwest indie rock.
Now, putting aside the fact that "Going to the Beach with Haley" is actually a paean of a song to BBES' fellow Pacific Northwest singer-songwriter and friend Haley Heynderickx, it does actually also come out like a track expressing BBES' queerness, wherein she seems to describe an erotic oneness with a love interest by saying "Even over here, I feel your voice coming through. / I feel what I'm like with you." That makes that love interest both a shell from nature and an alter ego. After brushing through other symbols that look erotic, the song becomes a haiku-like thing with another human being and with nature when she suggestively sings, "And I know / How it sounds / Under waves / Through the dark night skies." There's spirituality, indeed, in Two-Spirit politics.
That recurrent Taoist-like oneness with nature is further expressed in "Real Lovin'," which starts with a sad dreaming of some "real lovin'" trying to realize itself inside one's head. This dreaming soon turns into a "bull's shit" in the pretty realism of going outside to a sun "shining through the trees on your face."
In another obviously erotic song, "Run It To Ya," there is the puzzle as to what "running it" would constitute, what "running" would mean, and what that "it" could be.
Another puzzle is offered in "Half Colored Hair," with the lines "I never knew I'd like half colored hair so much. / But in the light . . .". Is the object of this chorus one with hair naturally half-black and half-colored; one with black hair half-colored with dye; or one with black hair only getting some color in the light, from the light? She outros: "But I knew I'd like you. / I knew I'd like you. / I knew I'd like you. / So I didn't care / 'Cause I care for you."
Finally, despite the fact that "You're Me and I'm You" is a song simply about her mother, it also transports us to a Gao Xingjian novel-like atmosphere where the "I" also looks at herself as "You", her mother becomes her and everyone's mother, she becomes her mother, and so on. Oh, the spirituality in that, even without Sedna. And oh the potential politics, too.
(More picks of the month later). [d]
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