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First upload June 1, 2020
Updated October 10, 2020 with entry #13
PICKS OF THE MONTH
diskurso art magazine's
June 2020 Picks
1 (Documentary film)
The official trailer on PBS Distribution for A Thousand Cuts. [Uploaded by PBS Distribution, 14 July 2020]
The June 12-13 limited-access premiere of A Thousand Cuts on YouTube. (Two-day limited access streaming launched by FRONTLINE PBS | Official on YouTube, 12 June 2020; scheduled later release on various virtual cinemas, 7 August 2020)
A THOUSAND Cuts is a portrait of post-truth politics in the Philippines by Filipino-American documentary filmmaker Ramona S. Diaz (Imelda), which viewers may be able to easily see if their understanding of post-truth politics refers to that that's not only wary of journalistic reporting with a version of various truths running against the government's (or its friends') version but is also deep into the art and clever craft of gaslighting.
The film doesn't go into the nitty-gritty. It doesn't dive further into the cyberlibel case against Rappler editor-in-chief and CEO Maria Ressa that led to her arrest and conviction. Such an in-depth dive would require it to, for instance, look into the oft-alleged relationship between billionaire Wilfredo Keng and President Rodrigo Duterte and Duterte ally and former Philippine President Gloria Arroyo. That would demand, as we should say, a heavier kind of investigation, and this film only chooses to focus on Ressa as a human signifier of what should be a question or compound of questions regarding the problematic conflict between Rappler's journalism and the Duterte government's social media-based push for alternative metanarratives.
In other words, the film acts as an introduction into the Philippine matrix containing what it and its subject implies as the reinvigorated art of gaslighting, alternative facts dissemination, Russian whataboutism, and Stalinist diktats via lists touted as intelligence-deriving. That last fits snugly into what is positioned here as a fearmongering stance of an official policy constantly flaunting the argumentum ad baculum. Yes, this film doesn't go into the details behind these manifestations of a currently globally-trendy right-wing populist art, but it amply gives us the required abstract sprinkled with hints on why the Ressas of the world would be deemed as an enemy and why others would not. True, an adjunct film would investigate further into why the Duterte government had its eyes on Maria Ressa alone (not Rappler entirely) as well as the Lopez family's ABS-CBN alone (keeping its hands out of the GMA network or the newly-Ramon-Ang-acquired Philippine Daily Inquirer, at least at the moment), but you are right: this is not yet that kind of film.
It also offers us yet another panoramic view of the controversial rise of this new gaslighting art within a setting that would parallel those in the right-leaning populist media of the United States, Brazil, Russia, Turkey, Belarus, and so on. In short, this re-strengthened art's relationship with rightism is being given the spotlight here. Its coverage of the Bato dela Rosa (de la Rosa in Spanish countries) and Samira Gutoc senatorial campaigns not only offer a rightist vs. liberal contrast in the approach to the crime problem (the drug problem, especially) that the Duterte camp seems to have successfully hijacked for its communication as solely their cause and not within other parties' priorities, notwithstanding the fact that reports have been surfaced alleging that the President (or his son Paolo) has links with a druglord. History has yet to judge whether dela Rosa's vigilantist view has been a fully-aware party to the Duterte camp's fearmongering utopia or has merely been conscripted as one from a "useful idiot" to service this utopia, a utopia that the film portrays as more of a dystopia with a clever gangsterist framework.
2 (Stand-up comedy)
The official trailer for Hannah Gadsby: Douglas, 2020
Hannah Gadsby: Douglas. (Launched 26 May 2020, Netflix)
IF stand-up comedy constructs today are to be written as text, one could argue that they'd all display the characteristics of postmodern literature. While telling their jokes, they all seem to be not only concerned with their authors' and audience's role in the narrative, but also with the interplay of truths and fictions inside these constructions. If so, it might be fair to say that Aussie comedian Hannah Gadsby's Douglas is one of the most postmodern of them all, not only for being self-reflexive all throughout, but for going as far as letting people know at the beginning that she's going to be managing their reactions in all the chapters of her gig. With that, as shown in this filmed Los Angeles leg of the Douglas tour, a sort of announced manipulation occurs―which displays the height of irony (or sublime parody), the manipulation being aimed at the most rightist of reactions within American conservative culture, an intolerant culture that has of late been moving further and further to the death-threats-flaunting international fascist right.
The US Netflix trailer for When They See Us (2019)
A rewatch of When They See Us, the 2019 Netflix four-part miniseries, after its mention―in the IndieWire report titled As ‘The Help’ Goes #1 on Netflix, Critics Speak Out and Offer Better Movies to Stream―as one of the better films to watch (again) in this month of Black Lives Matter rallies protesting the killing of George Floyd. (IndieWire report published 4 June 2020, indiewire.com; When They See Us launched on Netflix 31 May 2019)
THIS month, as the US-wide Black Lives Matter protest rallies in the wake of the killing of George Floyd continues, igniting in a big way updated reactions to a longstanding problem in United States history and society, The Help, the 2011 film on racial healing (supposedly), became the #1 streamed movie on Netflix USA. There were a few writers and critics who just couldn't allow that statistical endorsement to pass without a social media comment complete with a counter-offer of a list of better (or more realistic) movies for people to watch. Film journalist and critic Zack Sharf of IndieWire reported on these critics' protestations towards a rating result, and so here we are, picking one (the 2019 miniseries When They See Us, launched on Netflix 31 May last year) from among those pieces counter-endorsed by these writers.
Then, on June 10, Netflix came up with its Black Lives Matter Collection, available in the Philippines, and The Help is not there (it's never been available on Netflix Philippines). When They See Us is in the collection, as it should be, along with 13th, Pose, Dear White People, Mudbound, and Who Killed Malcolm X?, among 35 other titles.
Read our comments regarding this Ava DuVernay-written-and-helmed miniseries in our June 2019 picks of the month list. But, to add, note please that this movie need not just be about the Central Park jogger case and the American issues around it. Its context embraces, without question, not just the reality concerning the psychology of authorities who've assigned themselves the role of judge/jury and/or punisher, but also the fact that same authorities often go around existing laws, or test these laws' limits, inspired by one cultural bias or another.
This film does not just touch on the laws that govern the fight against criminals and how these laws have been used for other agendas (including continuing racism-inspired legal beliefs by people in government like Donald Trump). It may actually be read without difficulty as also covering those doctrines that arm the, uh, war against terrorists, for instance, and how these doctrines may be used for purposes other than the anti-terrorist fight.
the album design for Bob Dylan's new outing Rough and Rowdy Days. Photo from muckypegrecords.co.uk
Rough and Rowdy Ways. (Launched 19 June 2020, Columbia Records)
BOB Dylan's ultimate Rimbaudian subtlety is at work here, in the most fine-drawn imagist lyrics of the tracks, plunging us into beautiful, almost-surreal verbal montages that at the same time get as rough and rowdy (read: truly of folksy common sense) as when we first heard tracks like "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again." The songs here could be read as a capitulation to America's current backward spiral into its Old West beginnings, but it could actually on the whole be appreciated as a paean to freedom (not just one's own but others' as well). Which in itself delivers the Old West question of whether freedom can best be served by letting it apply to the big capitalists first or, in contrast, the people first. Such is the basic conflict, after all, in Americans' point of view towards things up to today, within a division that could only have been expected to widen after the realizations of post-Reaganist deregulations that even the Democrats' Bill Clinton continued. Oops. Are we veering away too far from our subject? Nahh, we don't think so. Let us illustrate:
But first, Dylan's still-ragged vocals fit snugly into the landscape of his lyrical aggression here, even while his music in the album continually lie back to the collaging of traditional elements. After all, this collection might have been inspired by My Rough and Rowdy Ways: Early American Rural Music, Badman Ballads, and Hellraising Songs (Classic Recordings of the 1920s and '30s) volumes 1 and 2 that Yazoo Records came out with in 1998, even though Dylan points to Jimmie Rodgers' My Rough and Rowdy Ways as his model for this outing. But it's not as if Dylan's songs here work like a soundtrack to a western film; far from it. Like in the early days of Blonde on Blonde, or even earlier, as he turned poet more than mere writer of protest songs with Another Side of Bob Dylan, the bard's compositions here gather personal, mythical, earthly, historical, contemporary, international, as well as idyllic imageries to provide an anarchist view of life, which fortunately looks more left-anarchist than right-. Or, okay, just liberal for being acknowledging or open to his own persona as a man containing multitudes (contrasting with, say, Eric Clapton's anti-immigrant sentiments that seem blind to the multitudes in his own music).
So, now to our earlier thesis regarding the album's politics. You see, ultimately, the album qua utilitarian product can be beamed towards our current international landscape as a sneer on the burgeoning trend towards the studied implementation of demagogic utopias of "law and order" or narrowing "discipline" by both the new fascists and the equally fascist-spirited ruling communist factions of the planet. The songs, while confessing a rowdiness, celebrate that roguishness to wallow in all of its multicultural glory before the censors win in trying to deliver their hypocritical theonomies enforcing primness. Such a rough rowdiness is, after all, anathema to the silent obedience of sycophants kowtowing to a government backed by red-tied, finely-clothed corporate plunderers. Such rowdiness would every now and then directly or subtly write a protest song or verse line, offending the anti-rowdy religious now backing the fine people of America's actually-Mammon-obsessed plutocracy.
There are three songs here that delight us more outstandingly and advance the rowdy vs. prim thesis by more than a mile.
There's "Goodbye Jimmy Reed," which at first pushes the fact that the USA is a confusion of religions. It opens with Dylan pointing out, "I live on a street named after a Saint, / Women in the churches wear powder and paint, / Where the Jews, and Catholics, and the Muslims all pray, / I can tell they're Proddie from a mile away." Proddie is slang for Protestant. Then the song quickly avers, in the same verse stanza at that, "Goodbye Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Reed indeed. / Give me that old time religion; it's just what I need." For Dylan to imply that the blues is actually now his preferred religion, after trying out Judaism etc., is quite rowdy of him, isn't it? :) He doesn't stop there. He goes on to call to Reed, "Go tell it on the mountain, go tell the real story," and looks to parody Christianity with "Tell it in that straightforward, puritanical way." Which is sweet, considering blues puritanism is definitely harmless compared to that fundamentalism in a judge who'd lord it over pregnant women who'd very much like to decide what to do with their own bodies. And as if that's not blasphemous enough for an American to sing, Dylan cries to Reed, "Thump on the Bible, proclaim a creed."
But this isn't just about the blues religion compared with what that word would often refer to as a religion, it's also about the religion of music-making as an artform, where Dylan puts himself in Reed's shoes and sings with the following comments: "You won't amount to much, the people all said, / 'Cause I didn't play guitar behind my head" (which contrasts Reed with a Charley Patton or a T-Bone Walker): "Never pandered, never acted proud, / Never took off my shoes, throw 'em in the crowd."
Still, after alluding to Bacchus in a later verse, politics and religion seem to enter the scene again when Dylan narrates in the final verse: "'God be with you, brother dear. / If you don't mind me asking, what brings you here?' / 'Oh, nothing much, I'm just looking for the man, / Need to see where he's lying in this lost land. / Goodbye Jimmy Reed, and everything within ya, / Can't you hear me calling from down in Virginia?" "Down in Virginia" is the title of a Jimmy Reed album. Reed died in California, but he was buried in Illinois. All blue states, yeah? But still all a part of a still "lost land."
Then there's "Mother of Muses," which acknowledges a different American present time. It mentions heroes in generals Sherman, Montgomery, Scott, Zhukov and Patton, who all fought against the spread of Fascism and Nazism, then other types of heroes here represented by the persons of Elvis Presley (he who popularized black singing among whites) and Martin Luther King. But the whole song prays not to Zeus but to a female goddess, Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. In another verse Dylan desires the company of Calliope, one of Mnemosyne's daughters, because she's the Muse of a field that Dylan picked, eloquence and epic poetry, and is supposed to be one of the more spunky ones that can't be made to "belong to anyone." This song in fact can be appreciated as something that may bring us back to Dylan, the protest song writer, if only with the lines "Mother of Muses, unleash your wrath. / Things I can't see, they're blocking my path. / Show me your wisdom, tell me my fate. / Put me upright, make me walk straight. / Forge my identity from the inside out, / You know what I'm talking about."
Then there's "Crossing the Rubicon" that warns despotic leaders of what it means for them to continue pursuing their generalissimo ways qua points of no return, this being about "the 14th day / Of the most dangerous month" (the day before the Ides of March) when Julius Caesar was murdered by a group of senators. Is it a coincidence that the Latin word Rubico comes from rubeus, meaning red, and that the US Republican Party is the US's red party? Is it a coincidence that the Rubicon is a shallow "red" river? And since the US Republican Party touts itself as the party of the Bible, Dylan here sings, "What are these dark days I see? / In this world so badly bent, / I cannot redeem the time, / The time so idly spent, / How much longer can it last?" as if to echo Ephesians 5:15-16, as pointed out by sw16, a contributor to Genius.com. Another Genius.com contributor, NateW, says the line "I feel the holy spirit inside" seems to be inspired by 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, finally noting that "Christianity has a reputation of being all about rules and guilt, but Paul is saying the complete opposite here and Dylan is reveling in the freedom that comes with being secure and unashamed before God." Touché.
5 (Language, Concrete poetry)
embed of the Alwin Reamillo Facebook status post with background
"Law IQ as State Terrorism". (Posted on Facebook 17 June 2020)
BRICOLAGE and installation artist Alwin Reamillo has been fond of posting political puns on Facebook that play around with the values of metonymy and polysemy, sometimes even exploiting the function of catachresis to mock a particular political phenomenon of the moment. In fact, this fondness has always been present in his artworks' titles and transferred texts.
But a Facebook post is not an artwork. The above post is not an artwork. That fact, however, won't stop us from treating this particular post as a strong piece of concrete poetry, one of those Reamillo puns with a Facebook-provided background that in its totality nailed it absolutely perfectly.
The phrase "Law IQ" in the post is a powerful almost-malapropism of a pun that has produced a polysemous sort of catachresis. For one, while the pun's contextual intent could be read as a kick in the butt of certain displays of stupidity by practitioners of the law profession, it could at the same time be read as Reamillo's nod to the intelligence required for the law practice and the presence of brilliant minds within it. Indeed, while we have heard of certain lawyers sublimely ridiculed by their peers for making a stupid statement or two, we've also definitely witnessed bar topnotchers and the brightest of (former) judges come out to bring us to texts of the law (latently) intent at defending or favoring a perceived or known evil and corruption. But that double meaning in that "law IQ" phrase is just the initial contextuality one can milk from it. When it gets attached to the next phrase, "state terrorism," via the above incomplete sentence, things get more exciting.
You see, up to today "state terrorism" remains a contested phrase, with various parties aiming for a win at a final agreed-upon definition, although we suspect we will never arrive at such a final state (pun intended). For, indeed, coming from an experience with the word "terrorism" alone and how it has already been abused by regimes with double standards, we may now accept the flexibility of that word as a still essentially contested concept up to this very moment. So, while a far-right element of our planet would regard Islam as a potential maker of jihadist terrorists, one could argue that far-rightism itself is a creator of a generalizing hegemonic terrorism that may be deriving from an equally religious perspective (often accompanied by economic or corporate purposes). A state can write its definition of the word in a law, but that won't stop people from questioning that definition or how that definition is used in a double-standard world populated by a million-or-more brilliant lawyers who can also defend the acceptability of even the most obviously-planted evidence.
When one attaches the noun "terrorism" to the adjective "state," the resultant phrase by itself asks whether most terrorism weren't already state terrorism, because they were made possible either by direct sponsorship or by inspiration. For instance, when a neo-Nazi commits a terrorist action against an African-American community as inspired by a speech by Donald Trump, and then Trump vaguely or ambiguously "denounces" the act, could one say that that act of terrorism was practically state-sponsored already? And so on and so forth.
Let's get back to the relationship that may be created when low-IQ lawyers and high-IQ lawyers both use the IQ of the law (its spirit and/or text) for several types of "state terrorism" via legal abuse. Whoah! The polysemy (and geography) of that Reamillo linguistic construct (in white text!) gets more pregnant.
As for Reamillo's post's rectangular background, it's amazing that a Christian-democrat orange color at its bottom there bleeds into a socialist pink at its lower middle before finally turning royal violet at the top half of the shape. Now, join this color contextualization of ours with that shape curving upwards that definitely looks like a big, big snake . . . and what do you get?
album cover art for Run the Jewels' RTJ4 album
RTJ4. (Released 3 June 2020, Jewel Runners/BMG)
THE Vulture and Vox reviews were quite erudite and convincing. Let us pass their story on to you, but flavored with our own purple jam about this album's push towards a new Battle of Magenta against the new American monarchs.
Run the Jewels, if you still need to know, are Killer Mike and El-P, both 45 years old now. The former's got a sharp, private version of a realpolitik. The latter's got silly-surreal down-to-earth negativity, on-the-gibbet comedy, and ominous-thumps production concepts bugging his brain. The duo combine to create . . . an anthropological documentary? A parody? Realist photography? Expressionist groaning? All of the above? And El-P and co-producers Little Shalimar and Wilder Zoby together declare a favor in RTJ4 (the duo's new album out since last June 3) for a library of tastes waved against the limiting sonic trends being vetted by the fashionable set. The result is an album that's more art than fashion, more creative politics than somebody-already-said-that complaining.
"Yankee and the Brave (Ep. 4)," for instance, opens the duo's album with a scene that has them parodying the buddy cops film, although it could actually be re-dramatizing the Christopher Dorner situation and shootings. That's straight to the topic, then, without a time-wasting intro. And that is just right, given that their last collection was in 2016 when things were not yet deep into the Trump era of coaxed white nationalisms.
"Ooh La La" (featuring Greg Nice and DJ Premier) follows. It's where El's lyrical photos warn of a globe hurtling towards a new world order helmed by greedy autocrats while poverty-stricken black men in America content themselves with getting rich by mere crack. It's here as if to offer evidence of where we already are, because we're still partying, as Killer Mike would lampoon this apathy of ours in his verse, while there've already been a thousand homicides committed by police.
KM grew up in the midst of the Atlanta child murders of 1979-1981. His father quit the police force at the cusp of the Nixon-launched war on drugs. El, meanwhile, grew up in NYC and saw how the murders of Michael Griffith and Yusef Hawkins shaped his frown in the mirror. Or how the eight months for Bernhard Goetz and the 7-12 years for the Central Park Five gave a clear contrast for the black-and-white photo portraits of KKK-hearted America. Fast forward to the present, with your Michael Browns and George Floyds, and you'll have the rationale for songs like "Walking in the Snow," "Ju$t," "Pulling the Pin," and "A Few Words for the Firing Squad (Radiation)," our favorites for their more universal clarity.
From "Walking in the Snow" we've got lines like “Every day on the evening news, they feed you fear for free / And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me / And till my voice goes from a shriek to whisper ‘I can’t breathe’ / And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV.” Nah, George Floyd's "I can't breathe" wasn't the first, in case you need to know. But the strongest lines here, perhaps, are “Funny fact about a cage, they're never built for just one group. / So when that cage is done with them and you still poor, it come for you. / The newest lowest on the totem, well golly gee, you have been used. / You helped to fuel the death machine that down the line will kill you too (Oops). / Pseudo-Christians, y'all indifferent, kids in prisons ain't a sin? Shit. / If even one scrap of what Jesus taught connected, you'd feel different.” By the way, in Canada "walking in the snow" means deciding to resign.
With "Ju$t," featuring Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha, love the line “Got a Vonnegut punch for your Atlas shrug,” among other gems Ayn Rand won't be happy with (or would be proud as an alt-rightist of). “Look at all these slave masters posin' on yo' dollar,” goes the track's chorus, reminding everyone of the fact that Harriet Tubman was supposed to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill this year.
The penultimate track, "Pulling the Pin," has El-P getting sublime on many of these frustrations, but, after Mavis Staples sings “There's a grenade in my heart and the pin is in their palm” in the chorus, Killer Mike's expressionism speaks for millions when it goes, “Why the fuck must I be miserable? / The devils, they do the despicable. / And still they move like they invincible, / These filthy criminals sit at the pinnacle, / Doin' the typical, keepin' us miserable.” It soon declares the possibly inevitable, a Christian jihad against the "pseudo-Christians": “Like Jimmy Savile, they cheerfully kill kids in a ritual. / I'll murder the miserables, I'll make it all biblical. / I'll cut off their heads, they'll beg for their life and I'll put it up digital. / Fuck the political, the mission is spiritual. / A murderous miracle that was sent here to just punish the terrible.”
Closers are supposed to be anticlimaxes, but "A Few Words..." go on to paint the darkness of our times like it's the rationale. “I used to wanna get the chance to show the world I'm smart (Ha ha ha ha),” it goes. “Isn't that dumb? I should've focused mostly on the heart / 'Cause I seen smarter people trample life like it's an art, / So bein' smart ain't what it used to be, that's fuckin' dark. / You ever notice that the worst of us have all the chips? / It really kinda takes the sheen off people gettin' rich.” As an iteration of "Pulling the Pin"'s proposal, the track promises: “When they got you feeling like a fox running from another pack of dogs, / Put the pistol and the fist up in the air, we are there, swear to God.” It and the album finishes with “. . . when the chips are down / I really don't think you wanna bet against / Yankee and the Brave,” Yankee referring to New Yorker El and Brave referring to Atlantan KM, singing that last verse with a cadence mocking white country music's.
Is the era of playing the victim over? Are those types of times, when a fist is all you have against a racist with a gun, on its way out? Why else is this endgame reality being seemingly pushed on the CD cover over a socialist-pink square, looking like a declaration of what ought to be declared now? Yes, that declaration. Unless people stop helping “to fuel the death machine that down the line will kill you too” now.
7 (Street art)
Screenshot of Alaa Elassar's May 30 report on edition.cnn.com
The report titled "They're weaving their culture into the fabrics of their face masks" by CNN's Alaa Elassar. (Published 30 May 2020, edition.cnn.com)
THE state and city quarantines in the United States may have been loosened due to demands to open up by a chunk of the American population even as the number of infections in the country continues to climb. But one thing for sure, the other half of the country's citizenry aren't taking any chances and are still practicing, as per Anthony Fauci's advice, the wearing of face masks outside. Let's not talk here about that other half mocking the science behind all these requirements, or the leaders leading that mockery. Let's limit ourselves to that half of America that continues to wear masks. Here's where we'll let CNN's Alaa Elassar's report come in:
Because much like the balcony that gave an outlet for music talents to announce their presence to their multi-storeyed neighborhood (and then, via YouTube, to the world), the face mask requirement, according to Elassar, seems to be providing a wall for a number of members of indigenous groups in the US to exhibit their groups' fabrics or fabric designs on.
As far as we know this is the first such display of indigeneity or ethnicity on the homemade face mask during this current pandemic (please correct us fast if we're wrong), thus might be temporarily regarded as another first from the American nation. However, it must be noted that this display also definitely demonstrates anew the fact that the US is both multicultural and "multinational," and is in fact the richer for it (just as Argentina is). This display definitely conflicts with the white nationalism currently ruling the US government's thrusts at the federal and many state levels, so, good job, Ms. Elassar.
Pinoy Sunday English trailer. [Uploaded 27 Aug 2010 by Rita Chuang]
Pinoy Sunday on Netflix. (Launched 8 June 2020, Netflix Philippines)
PINOY Sunday, the 2009 Filipino-language Taiwanese film directed by Malaysia-born director Ho Wi Ding, just got launched on Netflix Philippines last 8 June. Hooray!
This is the debut feature-length film of Ho, which he co-wrote with Ajay Balakrishnan. Ho went on to win the Panorama prize at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018 with Cities of Last Things. But even before helming Pinoy Sunday, two of his short films, Respire and Summer Afternoon, were already selected to appear at the Cannes Film Festival, where the former won in 2015 both the Kodak Discovery Award and the Young Critics Award at the International Critics' Week.
Ok. For those who don't know it yet, Pinoy Sunday, starred in by Epy Quizon and Bayani Agbayani with support from Alessandra De Rossi and Meryll Soriano, is not a Filipino film in the usual Netflix sense. It is, as we said above, a Filipino-language Taiwanese film with Taiwanese-Japanese producers (except for now-California-based Filipino Mark Meily, who is a co-producer).
Now, Pinoy Sunday is a comedy-drama film that could also be read as a tragicomedy, depending on where your politics lies (bourgeois or anti-bourgeois?).
We'd like to confess that we prefer tragicomedy to dramedy as a type, if only because it's where the comedy would actually become just the filmmaker's development-communication vehicle for a serious message, in the same way that magic realism had been the development-communication tool of many LatAm writers with very important political agendas to impart within their storytelling. The difference is really just in the context; in other words, dependent on the contextualizing viewer (or critic) who decides what to tag a comic-dramatic product as: dramedy or tragicomedy.
You see, in comedy drama, "drama stuff" progress in the story, but lightened up by entertaining comedy; or, to put it conversely, there's comic stuff going on around a developing drama. Easy, right? That's it, really. It's entertainment!
Tragicomedy is a slightly different animal, or rather, an entirely different point of view: it recognizes a tragic flaw beneath all the comedy intermittently appearing. At the film's ending, a tragicomic view would not necessarily be harder on the chest with the protagonist's realization of something, but it would certainly offer a deeper understanding. This is certainly the case with Italian neorealist (or Italian social realist) films like Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves, of which, incidentally, Pinoy Sunday may be Ho's colorful (pink socialist) variation.
(OUTSIDE OF THE PLOT TEXT YOU CAN READ ON WIKIPEDIA, THERE ARE ALSO SPOILERS HERE BELOW)
A film on migrant workers, Pinoy Sunday focuses on two friends from the Philippines (Manuel and Dado) who travel to Taiwan to work at a Giant Bicycles factory. The film implies that many foreign blue-collar workers in Taiwan (and, by assumption, other countries) live in dormitories owned by the companies that hire them, and that compliance to dormitory rules such as curfew may be as strict as avoidance of tardiness at work. This situation makes it hard for migrant labor to separate their work life and home life. However, this is still deemed by many as a better situation than being in their country of origin where they might be enjoying the freedom to do anything in their own homes, going out and coming in at whatever time they please, but without work, unemployed.
Manuel de la Cruz (Quizon) is a sort of dreamy person who can't adhere to strict rules. But being naturally imaginative, he can find ways to soften the factory-compound guard's heart and get away with his tardiness, unlike his friend Carros (who was with him and Dado when they arrived at the train station from the airport) who would later be dismissed from work and then go on hiding to escape deportation. It is later revealed that Manuel used to be a musician in a band that obviously got him nowhere, thus his decision to join the Filipino workforce in Taiwan. Although resourceful and ambitious, his character is also revealed to be a bit unlucky with women, even though he is always enamored with someone (who, it turns out, would usually not be enamored with him).
Dado Tagalog (Agbayani) is Manuel's best friend and erstwhile bandmate who tagged along with Manuel because, like Manuel, nothing was happening to him in their hometown. Unlike Manuel, however, he is not unlucky in love and, in fact, soon falls into a relationship with someone in Taiwan, even though he is also revealed to be quite the family man who also misses his wife and daughter. He worries when his wife is rushed to the hospital after a minor accident involving a motorized tricycle. (The Philippine motorized tricycle here becomes a symbol of Dado's family―Dado, his wife, and their daughter, thus a motif that reminds people of one of the most affordable family vehicles in the Philippines in this early part of the film, while later during the film's end scene it becomes a symbol of something else).
In the opening railway station scene, Dado goes to the restroom where he meets a countryman in handcuffs due out in what is obviously a deportation case. When Dado witnesses situations like this that Manuel doesn't, could it be to give us a reason for Dado's being the realist one between the two?
Manuel is the optimistic fantasist, a stand-in for a part of the Filipino populace that continues to dream of having one of the best-looking women or men there is for a girlfriend/wife or boyfriend/husband (a showbiz-struck tragicomedy by itself). Those fantasists would also endlessly be dreaming of a luxurious life as if all you need to own is hard work ("sipag"), perseverance ("tiyaga"), and a bit of strategy ("diskarte") to get there. At their Taiwan dormitory's roof deck, Manuel expresses a desire to get a soft couch for that deck spot where they drink their beer, instead of just being content to sit on wooden chairs. Dado ignores him. Manuel's delusionary attitude is also portrayed as extending to his perceptions on a blossoming relationship (or what he imagines is a blossoming relationship) with a woman, as in the case with nightclub girl Cecilia (De Rossi) in Taiwan. Because he is delusional, it's only natural that he would also be confident. On a bus heading for Taipei Manuel tells Dado, "Siyempre, pagdating sa babae, dapat tayo ang nagdadala" (With women, we should take the lead). This is one statement that points us to Manuel's confidence as a tragic flaw.
It is on a Sunday when Manuel and Dado take that bus to leave their city (we assume they're coming from Dajia, Taichung, where the Giant Bicycles factory is) and head out for the Catholic church in Danshui in Taipei to hear mass. In Danshui they are also supposed to meet Dado's girlfriend, personal care assistant Anna (Soriano), and possibly also Manuel's crush, Cecilia. However, the priest at the church preaches about everyone's going back to their respective families "in a faithful way," which may have pushed Dado, apart from his wife's little accident, to end his fling with Anna (during this Sunday, Anna's birthday) and buy presents for a balikbayan box to send to his family. Thereafter, Dado witnesses their friend Carros' apprehension by the police (again not witnessed by Manuel).
Meanwhile, Manuel experiences his first harsh realization in the film: he's been a fool towards Cecilia, who―without telling Manuel―turns out to be not in any bit interested in him (or in men of his financial stature).
Then we come to the ultimate motif in the film, the sofa left by an arguing couple, which Manuel embraces as a gift from God. We won't tell you the bunch of things that happen next. Suffice to be told that the two struggle to bring the couch to their dormitory roof deck in the rest of the movie as a trope for their class' desire to reach a certain level of luxury usually reserved for the propertied classes to enjoy. (Their journey back to Dajia, Taichung by foot gets some poetic license, however, considering that Taichung is 139 km. from Danshui, Taipei.)
In the end, the dramedy turns into precisely what we prefer you to think of it as: a neorealist tragicomedy. The struggle doesn't reach a fulfillment of the desired end, and Manuel's fantasies turn into realizations now in the level of Dado's pragmatic kind of relatively realist vision, drifting away in the river water like a dreamy song by Christina (the name of their defunct band, which somehow rhymes with Christianity, that poor-loving theology around tests and graces).
Dado calls Anna, who earlier expressed anger at Dado's news during her birthday, and she promptly tells Dado she completely understands him, telling us how similar she and Dado are.
The comedy doesn't end with the "tragedy" of the two's Taiwan "gig," however (which makes it more of a Chaplin product than a De Sica one―incidentally, Quizon's father Dolphy used to play a Philippine version of Chaplin). In the end scene, after drinking at a beach hut (with a wooden bench and table) back in their hometown, the two go home on their motorized tricycle (likely bought from the meager money one of them was able to save―the tricycle now as symbol of realistic thriftiness as well as of contentment, as well as Dado and his wife's semi-adoption of still-reeling-from-disillusionment Manuel). On the tricycle the two joke about what they should cook for lunch. They start by mentioning the squid adobo, then the pork adobo, then finally the kangkong adobo, presumably as the healthier option, although we suspect/know this last was really what they already settled for from the start because it's the most affordable of the three adobo types.
So Manuel is going to be joining Dado (Diosdado, God-given, God's real gift to Manuel) and his wife and daughter for lunch. Presumably because Manuel is still going through the results of having lived the life of an unlucky dreamer. But now we know that Manuel is a different person, or on his way to completely becoming one, and that his next life as a more mature figure (a new Manuel Quizon, get it?) would be in this film's possible sequel.
an embed of illustrator Ray Nazarene Sunga's online story "Bukas Ulit" (click on the Facebook icon to see the entire "strip")
"Bukas Ulit". (Posted on the artist's Facebook page 11 June 2020, reposted by Rappler on its Facebook page 22 June 2020)
WE don't know if illustrator Ray Nazarene Sunga heeded that call by Rappler to submit cartoons for its opinion page, but the artist definitely got the news website's attention with his posting on his Facebook page of a visual story he titled "Bukas Ulit." That story consisting of 16 comic book panels/frames triggered the website to re-post Sunga's entire work on its own Facebook page.
It's a simple COVID-19 lockdown-period narrative starting with the end of a day's work for a construction worker. It follows him on his journey home and ends with his killing a candlelight before he goes to bed.
What's special about this visual story is the fact that it got us to recall those black-and-white film scenes that incorporated color as a focusing device. Like when, say, Steven Spielberg used the color red in his black-and-white Schindler's List to follow a girl who went to hide from the Nazi police.
That same device is used by Sunga in his story with utter sensitivity. If someone would want to treat these frames of his as a screenplay and storyboard ready for short film adaptation, yes, we would be grateful. But we're already happy to see them as is.
Lara Downes: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert. [Uploaded 31 May 2020 by NPR Music]
Lara Downes: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert. (Uploaded 31 May 2020, NPR Music)
GOOD call by NPR Music to have Lara Downes in their Tiny Desk (Home) Concert series now, five days into the ongoing rallies (and riots) around the killing of George Floyd.
People, listen up. California-based Downes is a pianist who has been exploring the more inclusive score shelves that also contain the underrepresented and forgotten names in American music history. It so happens that many of these names are African-American, and Downes has acknowledged that the very first real American music, apart from the Native American, were those spirituals and working songs (and then the freedom songs) that came from the slaves. From this springboard of a thesis she found herself championing many African-American composers' work, and in her latest album project, titled Some of These Days (released just this April), she gathered music that “pulls at so many parts of me—and pulls them together. The part that is a strong woman; the part that is an audacious artist. The part that is a brown girl. The part that is my father’s daughter with roots up in Harlem. This is my history.” The blurbs for the album in her website describes the project as “a musical reflection on social justice, progress and equality.”
For her May 31 from-home concert for NPR, Downes chose three compositions featured in that album: Margaret Bonds' “Troubled Water,” Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's “Deep River,” and Florence Price's “Some of These Days.” Also watch and listen to her talk about the river as metaphor in this March video:
Lara Downes: About Some of These Days. [Uploaded 4 March 2020]
11 (Political satire)
Is College Still Worth It? | Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj. [Uploaded 15 June 2020]
"Is College Still Worth It?". (Released 14 June 2020, Netflix; 15 June 2020, YouTube)
SOMETHING'S different. Last year Hasan Minhaj would do this show's episodes in a giant studio in front of an audience. That was so for the Volumes 2-5 of his Netflix series Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj.
The comedy part of this revolutionary show's Vol. 6 has now been left to each of us. That is, all the laughter would now have to come from you and whoever's with you while watching this in these lockdown months―there'd be not much groupthink in the laughter this time. But the progressivist strong opinionating from Minhaj and co-creator Prashanth Venkataramanujam is still there, and it's gone stronger in light of the visuals coming from all parts of the video, still thanks to director Richard A. Preuss, instead of solely from the usual videoscreen within Minhaj's stage performance before that now-absent studio audience.
The reason why we were prompted to include this episode, "Is College Still Worth It?" from Volume 6, in this, our present month's picks list, is . . . it very much looks like a Part II to 2019's "Student Loans" episode from Vol. 2, which we recommended February last year in our picks list for that month. Read what we wrote in that prompt to see our socio-philosophical rationale for this present episode's inclusion.
12 (Curating, Art history, Art criticism)
Screenshot of the calvertjournal.com page containing the June 4 article by Victoria Gyuleva reporting on Bulgarian cultural activist Vesselina Sarieva's overview of Bulgaria's modern art history from 1974 to the present
Cultural activist Vesselina Sarieva's exploration of 12 artworks from Bulgaria's past and recent past as contained in an article-project for The Calvert Journal, with text written by Victoria Gyuleva and titled "12 era-defining artworks that trace shifting perspectives in modern Bulgaria". (Published 4 June 2020, The Calvert Journal)
ART historians (and art critics invoking art history) are best measured not just by the artists they mention (and the reasons they'd give for mentioning those artists) but also by the particulars of these mentions, viz., the specific works that would function as evidence of the worthiness of those very mentions. For how can we talk about Picasso at a party without the bringing up of at least a single oeuvre by the master and expanding on the significance (or insignificance) of that piece? Such a mention, after all, is solely what would qualify the merit of our continuing regard for the man (or the man's works), at least during that party.
Now, a most recent model for this devil-in-the-details ideal approach might be in this project for The Calvert Journal with text from Dateagle Art editor Victoria Gyuleva. In the project, Gyuleva articulates Bulgarian curator and gallerist Vesselina Sarieva's take on recent Bulgarian art history, focusing on an exploration of no more than 12 singular artworks. This is why we're pushing this: the mini-curation that happens here reminds us that the global ideal we tried to give voice to above is there for cultural workers (or people who want to work for culture) to showcase their reasoning (and depth) within, beyond their usual capacity to conjure a peacock-words treatment for a money-making PR job or for another mere promotion of their blogged tastes.
13 (Documentary film)
The official trailer for Disclosure. [Uploaded by Netflix Film Club, 19 June 2020]
Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen. (Launched on Netflix, 20 June 2020)
WE plead guilty to some of the latent prejudice alluded to here. Such an educational outing on a subject we thought we were already quite educated about!
embed of the nbcnews.com report on the painting of Black Lives Matter Plaza by the office of Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser's order to create the Black Lives Matter Plaza. (Ordered and implemented 5 June 2020)
WHAT happens when activism (accompanied by artivism) and government power combine?
Activism implies actions from outside or below official positions of power. Therefore, actions promoting political reforms from inside government office positions cannot be in this category. Activism-like actions by people or groups in power (whether they be leftists, centrists, or rightists) cannot be deemed of activism, even when they are not in the level of mere sloganeering but are sincere and resolute in their use of government resources for desired program ends. Propaganda by those in power aimed at opposition to a program in calendar, however correct that propaganda may be (as seen from a certain position of valuation), also cannot be counted as activism.
Unless, of course, one is not in the highest office and finds oneself using his/her low office's rights or prerogatives to support a certain activist intervention or belief aimed at a higher office. That is precisely what happened when Washington, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser, who is not known for being an activist prior to working for government, renamed the two-block-long section of 16th Street NW in her city's downtown as Black Lives Matter Plaza Northwest, simultaneously ordering the city's Department of Public Works to paint the area's street ground with 35-foot yellow letters that spell "Black Lives Matter" and to place street signs with the road section's new name. Upon her announcement of the renaming, the mayor said, "Breonna Taylor, on your birthday, let us stand with determination."
This is no ordinary street in the city. The street leads to the President's Park and to the White House, a building presently occupied by the U.S. president increasingly seen by the American population as a racist, thanks to actions (or inactions) as well as statements that would convince even the giver of the thickest benefit of the doubt of the correctness of the reading on the person of Donald Trump.
We are not applauding the plaza alone that Bowser created. We are primarily saluting Bowser's act of activism in office that resulted in her artivist product. This is because her action of intervention is more astounding than the resultant plaza, or, rather, the plaza cannot be appreciated independent of the interventionist action. This is our treatment of it, given that the product artwork would still be living a precarious life within the toxic dynamics of current American blue-red politics. Already, for instance, Bowser's actions are being contested in court, and this challenge is a mere part of a large war between two sides of America currently at each other's throats over the reclaiming or preservation or destruction of symbols both static (e.g., slavers' monuments) and kinetic (e.g., BLM kneeling to the flag).
Having said that, we hope the plaza lasts, knowing that it's only a yellow flag planted on a "hill" in a continuing war where police reforms are still on a slow march to the biggest battlefronts in America.
The front cover for Sault's album Untitled (Black Is). [Photo from saultglobal.bandcamp.com]
Untitled (Black Is). (Released 19 June 2020, Forever Living Originals)
ALBUMISM: "Just as D’Angelo’s Black Messiah landed at the perfect time, so this monumental piece of work [by Sault] arrives with a bible in one hand and balled fist in the other to demand equality and freedom for all at exactly the right moment."
The CD front cover double insert (stored folded) for Deerhoof's new album Future Teenage Cave Artists
Future Teenage Cave Artists. (Released 29 May 2020, Joyful Noise Recordings)
IN 2013, Yoko Ono became Meltdown festival's curator of the year. Among the acts she personally picked was San Francisco band Deerhoof, who by that time had already released their 12th studio album. The band currently consist of founding member Greg Saunier (whom Rolling Stone put alongside Brian Chippendale and Zach Hill as together composing "a generation of trailblazing 21st-century avant-rock percussionists"), bassist Satomi Matsuzaki with the lullaby and Ono-ish singing manners, and guitarists John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez sparring for a Captain Beefheart-esque brew. Under that lineup, Deerhoof have enabled themselves to continue with their foray into challenging music (they cite The Shaggs' Philosophy of the World, once oft-regarded as one of the worst albums ever recorded, as an influence), maverick theme takes, and the combining of noise punk's homages to the philosophy of Edgar Varèse, art pop's melodies, as well as lyrics-writing absurdism with announced allegoric intents.
Welcome to their fifteenth full-length studio product (three years since their last), Future Teenage Cave Artists, released by Joyful Noise Recordings. A postmodernist concept album about a dystopian future, many of the instrument and vocal tracks here were recorded on a laptop's built-in microphone to give us that DIY-in-the-future atmosphere or a DIY-in-the-present anti-establishment taste of subversion.
The most useful review of the album we've read so far? Pitchfork's, although you can maybe also take a peek at Joyful Noise's longish website "blurbs" on the album.
But if you want our own guide notes, here goes:
In the opening title track, which is actually Deerhoof's introduction to the magic realist "sci-fi" that's about to happen, Matsuzaki sings about leaving a mark that will outlast all of the present's and the future's empires (likely because these empires won't pay that mark any notice). She invites us to "try" this sci-fi―"You'll want it, yeah, you'll see," the song promises. "But you stopped me," the song or Saunier counters, "you stopped me," likely talking to the deniers in our present, but also possibly because it's not really sci-fi (that one can try to see "just for fun").
"Sympathy for the Baby Boo" suggests a bit of futurist maternal violence with "Took a little trip, Wild West view, / Baby Boo, Baby Boo. / Blew his little chance to bring you, / Baby Boo, Baby Boo. / Now his little girls lose theirs, too, / Baby Boo." Although the song may be talking to a baby likely here represented by an image of a fat-cheeked Monokuro Boo pig, in one line it slips in the clause "baby, boom boom," indicating perhaps that the scene is another postwar baby boom time. But unlike the late 1940s-onwards one, it's now the kind where women are getting impregnated by men who themselves have little chance of surviving and may have been led to eat babies. It mentions a broke-down car (symbolizing a post-fossil-fuel age?) and talks of humans gone wild, though cars and fossil fuel have themselves always been associated with 20th-century wildness of another dumb sort (advanced by boomers). . . . Then, remember that the Monokuro Boo is not one pig but is actually composed of twin pigs, one black, one white. Is Baby Boo a mulatto whose father with the little chance was black? Is that why the track has the word "sympathy" in it, cognizant not only of the future that Baby Boo will be facing but also of what shall happen shortly to Baby Boo's father's "little girls"?
"The Loved One" comforts a community whose concept of God has gone kaput. "O Ye Saddle Babes" mocks a cowboy as a corporate invention whose cattle may have helped hasten the planet's climate change reaching catastrophic heights, then implores everyone, all "little doggies" now, to just get along.
"New Orphan Asylum for Spirited Deerchildren" brings in allusions to the eating of young animal meat and to a country that celebrates its children's animation films about young animals while it glorifies the hunting of the same. Could it also be referencing the case of someone like, say, Jeffrey Epstein (or R. Kelly) who "shot" a lot of Bambis, killing their future? When Matsuzaki sings "You gotta be good," is she imagining herself as a realist storyteller to children in an orphanage of the future?
"Zazeet" celebrates the end from both the Gaia hypothesis' non-anthropocentric view and in a cosmic way, while "Farewell Symphony" appropriates that event around Joseph Haydn's composition-of-the-same-name where his musicians in 1772 were told to pretend to leave their patron's house one by one in order to join their spouses. In Deerhoof's song, with the artists gone, the arts are celebrated in people's imaginations.
"Reduced Guilt" is not so much a song about survivor guilt than about the absence of a reason to go on living. The penultimate track, "Damaged Eyes Squinting into the Beautiful Overhot Sun," and the final cut, "I Call on Thee," a Bach prelude, seem to both pray to the Sun God either for a miraculous redemption or an equally redemptive death.
The official lyric video for the album's title track. [Uploaded 25 March by Joyful Noise Recordings]
The music video for "Farewell Symphony." [Uploaded 20 April by GregFromDeerhoof]
17 (Interior design)
Coming in hot with a plentitude of flowers, well angled french door look, is @JuliaEAinsley with the 10/10 https://t.co/0BZzvnVrth pic.twitter.com/AUFTxf0jx9— Room Rater (@ratemyskyperoom) June 29, 2020
embed of a Room Rater post
Room Rater (@rateyourskyperoom) (Twitter account started early May 2020) as the subject of Apartment Therapy's report titled "This Twitter Account Rates Zoom Backgrounds, and It Hates Your Color-Coordinated Books" (Published 30 June 2020, apartmenttherapy.com).
HOW we wish sometimes a painter would just let his/her work say what it's saying, instead of the painter expounding on what the painting should evoke. This is when there's a feeling that all that's being said about the picture cannot really be forced on it, being mostly not there.
And then there are times when we get what the painting is saying, but we sense that somehow the concept is wrong somewhere. We might wish the painter had the sensibility to either add more elements or otherwise subtract an excess.
It is in the latter paragraph's situation that we wish the painter took a program other than Fine Arts, even if it's merely from the university of the streets that would grant him an angsty focus. That focus from the heart and on what one knows so much about, after all, is what often rounds out one's statements instead of jumbling things with either so much artistic contrivance or conceptual pretense from ignorance. Such contrivances or pretense from ignorance are decidedly what make certain creative actions betray a painter's forcing a route to acceptability or recognition. . . .
Well, guess what. That issue in painting exists in the other arts, including interior design.
For instance, the New York City-based blog Apartment Therapy founded by an interior designer and a new media businessman has been devoted to home design and decor. Now, it would be understandable if your quick prejudice leads you to think that this is a project by people who put decor over substance, like painters who put prettiness over and above the facts of reality. It might, after all, be all you know about interior design. So, let us expound on this a little further.
The abovementioned and linked article from Apartment Therapy is by the site's senior associate editor for news and culture, Nicoletta Richardson. She is not an interior designer. She, however, majored in English and minored in art history and anthropology. No wonder she would be attracted to an interior-design side project on Twitter by a long-distance couple who both don't have a background in interior design. One is the founder of Mad Dog PAC, Claude Taylor, whose former art was as a travel photographer, while the other is his girlfriend, Jessie Bahrey, who's the office manager over at Muldoon Greenhouses in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia.
The couple found themselves putting up Room Rater (aka @rateyourskyperoom on Twitter) as "a fun little thing we did for giggles." "Everybody was talking about (the backgrounds) but not doing the rating," added Bahrey. The account-holders soon got a lot of calls from people wanting their Zoom or Skype backgrounds rated by the couple. As of this writing, Room Rater already has 253.3k followers. No small feat for a Democrat activist and a gardening manager to suddenly become interior styling authorities on the Web.
But now, listen. Their opinions' popularity cannot actually be separated from the thumb-up from such people as those at Apartment Therapy who themselves would like everyone to know that interior design is not all about pretty colors. It's actually primarily about making sense, like how architecture should be. There are, in fact, interior designers now known for their philosophy more than just their designs, like Ilse Crawford.
So, when Room Rater tells you you'll get a 3-rating for your room because you placed books with red binding on a shelf to coordinate their color with your room colors, their ID philosophy is actually saying you're telling people you don't care for what's inside the books' covers. And when you get surprised by a 9-rating because you placed yourself in front of a clutter of books that looks honest, their ID sense wants to tell you that good design is all about what feels true.
Now, Apartment Therapy's people, who after all are from backgrounds other than ID, did ask to interview Room Rater because they wanted to give the latter their thumb-up, as we said. That should be your signal to get off your prejudice about interior designers' being all about decor over substance, like painters who put prettiness over and above the ugly voices of reality. That prejudice only says more about the amateur interior designer in you.
How not to be amateurish at a dabble in interior design and get a feel for what serious interior design today might really be all about? Well, to promptly get you out of your innocence, maybe you ought to become an activist and a gardening manager first, or major in English with a minor in anthropology. Maybe then you'll get that taste for the substance behind or within every decor and finally get that thumb-up from ID experts.
Text (c) copyright 2020 diskurso art magazine