Delicate, your voice is my music.
Jude Thaddeus L. Bautista
Chen Jing (Xu Lu) pauses by the dreaded door of dorm room 502 and sees the sign: HUMANS STAY OUT. She knocks on the door and introduces herself, no one answers. A string curtain made of pink stars and plastic beads rattle to announce her presence. On a top bunk bed, someone whose face is hidden under a blue hoodie glares at her and immediately texts on her smartphone “Don’t speak to me!” and shows the screen. Chen tries to explain why she’s there. Just then she sees two girls hunched over two laptops playing a game. One has blonde hair the other blue. One of them says, “That’s Sakura, she doesn’t speak. I’m Bei bei and this is Tata.” Chen tries to explain her need to form a band. A hand from a dark curtain grabs Chen’s flyer and a threatening voice, “Do you want to exit through the door or the window?”
You can watch OUR SHINING DAYS and many other award winning Chinese films for free on a first come first served basis. OUR SHINING DAYS is part of the Spring Film Festival organized by the Ricardo Leong Center for Chinese Studies from February 13-18, 2018 at the Shang Cineplex, Shangri La Plaza Mall, Mandaluyong City.
Apart from the film festival there are a number of activities celebrating Chinese New Year that are open to the public and are free (also on a first come first served basis). This year the Chinese Painting Exhibit is at the Grand Atrium. On February 25, the Philippine Ling Nam Athletic Federation will hold an exciting and elaborate lion dance exhibition in the same venue. The Oodles of Noodles food fest will run from February 16 – 28, featuring special noodle dishes with special discounts from participating restaurants.
OUR SHINING DAYS celebrates Chinese traditional music injected with young cosplay inventiveness. Lesser-known aspects of ancient Chinese history, culture and traditional music are highlighted, while the struggles of this generation are dealt with. This gives viewers the best of both worlds. It’s for anyone or any group who has felt the need for acceptance.
OUR SHINING DAYS is an unlikely combination of the Japanese hit movie PRINCESS JELLYFISH and AMERCAN PIE, PITCH PERFECT with shades of GLEE. PRINCESS JELLYFISH is a successful Japanese manga (comic serial) that was so popular it was turned into an animated series that was then turned into a feature film. Its about a group of reclusive women trying to save the house they live in. They fall into a broad category called Otaku roughly translated to nerd or geek. What used to be a derogatory term is now more acceptable.
In China, at least according to this movie, they use the acronym ACG: Anime, Comics and games. These are some of the interests that are related to Otaku, but can be wider, interests can be photography, cars, hence the term, movie geek etc. The movie itself is live action and is combined with animated portions just like PRINCESS JELLYFISH. The connection with AMERICAN PIE is the term ‘band geek’ while the competitive side of music is from PITCH PERFECT or GLEE.
Kim Chiu and Enchong Dee
The main character here is Chen Jing played by Xu Lu. She looks like a nerdy version of Filipina actress Kim Chiu on a consistently bad hair day (at least for this role). There are a number of Filipino actors of Chinese descent like Kim Chiu and Enchong Dee who are very popular. I’ve compared a number of Chinese mainland actresses to Kim Chiu because she has those almond eyes, soft jawline, dainty lips that are attractive Asian features.
Chen Jing falls for Wang Wen (Luo Mingjie) a classical piano prodigy, the star of the Zhong Xian Music Academy who already draws fans through concerts as a junior. Chen Jing excitedly volunteered as his page-turner (one who turns the pages for the sheet music during performance).
After the concert was over she tells him how she truly feels. “I like you. I play the Yang-qin (Chinese Dulcimer).” A visibly irritated Wang Wen replies, “I have no time for anything else other than my music. The Yang-qin, what is that??? Is that even a real instrument?”
So Chen Jing together with best pal, the klutzy, Li You (Peng Yuchang), set out to show her prowess in the instrument Wang knows nothing about. The goal is to make him fall in love with her through her music. To do this they need a band of several traditional Chinese instruments to back her up. The problem is their genré is no longer as popular. The only remaining students left to recruit are a group of reclusive freshmen who are into ACG and are considered Otaku.
The musical instruments are part and parcel of who they are and why they play them. The leader of the newly formed traditional Chinese music band called 2.5 Dimension is Xiao Mai acted by Liu Yongxi who is tall, cropped hair, wearing dark robes.
Her instrument: the Gu Zheng, is the Chinese zither with movable bridges, and is plucked using fingers. The Gu Zheng has also figured prominently in KUNG FU HUSTLE. It was used by one of the assassins to fire invisible blades and needles while he played it.
Lead star Xu Lu as Chen Jing uses the Yang-qin (Chinese Dulcimer), which is also a stringed instrument but is struck with two sticks made of bamboo. The sound is in between a piano and a harp.
Indication of changing times
The storyline of the movie is also a good indication of how things are changing in China. For the longest time there has always been a strong anti-Japanese sentiment there because of atrocities committed during the Second World War. As late as 2005 when Hollywood produced MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA with Chinese superstar Zhang Zhi Yi, it was met with an uproar of protests and criticism. The public then didn’t want to see a Chinese actress portray a Japanese geisha.
These days there’s a strong following for Japanese animation, comics and games or Otaku culture among the Chinese youth. The freshmen attended an ACG Convention showing their popularity.
The theme of legitimacy and acceptance is one that keeps cropping up. The norm in their school is to gain high enough grades and proficiency in their instrument that they qualify for scholarships abroad like Juliard and so on. This works for classical instruments like the piano, violin, cello etc.
While those in the program strictly concentrating on Chinese traditional instruments don’t have that ‘future’ or possibility of progressing abroad. So the classical music majors look down on students like Chen. That’s why there’s this ongoing war between the students of the two programs. In a way traditional Chinese music is fighting for its own legitimacy, as a dying art. (If the story of the movie is to be believed)
The ACG freshmen on the other hand are into cosplay and are reclusive group who have their own need for acceptance. As students they walk around with weird hair and costumes. People around them pressure them to conform. This is the overall theme of the movie that just because something is different or doesn’t conform, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be accepted.
History and Culture
They are rejected because of the way they look and their devotion to this lost ancient art of music. But for them the mastery of the instruments is not an end in itself. They immerse themselves in ancient history together with poetry and literature along with the music. For example, “The Chinese Zither or guqin often referred to as the instrument of sages for the purpose of enriching the heart and elevating human spirit. Confucius (around 600 BC) was a master of this instrument.” From: http://www.philmultic.com/home/instruments/
Maybe in the real world, the youth of today will see how invaluable history and culture is not just in China but in all nations.
Flowers blossom on Mount Nanshan. Moss grows on the fence.
Flowers blossom across the mountains every spring.
The grass on the faraway plains, catkins dance in the wind.
The grass grows on the path every year.
I’ve finally waited for spring to arrive when the grass are green.
I’ve finally waited for the red flower to blossom.
With the flowering of your beauty the river of years flow past.
—From the Chinese traditional song: The Grassy Path, adapted from
“Romantic Dream In A Garden” in Peony Pavilion.
Eggsy (Taron Egerton) was excited to get out of the Kingsman tailoring shop and have a quiet dinner with his young, loving girlfriend. Two steps from the Kingsman vehicle disguised as a black London cab, a familiar face confronts him. Charlie (Edward Holcroft) holds a gun to his neck and forces him into the car. Eggsy appears to give in, just as the car door opens he flips Charlie into the backseat and tries to electrocute him with a hidden Taser. Charlie responds, “That’s not going to work on me anymore.” Charlie’s right sleeve burns and reveals a robot arm and punches Eggsy who gets out of the way. Eggsy screams at the driver to “Just drive!” Just then Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ starts blaring out the speakers as they try to kill each other, the car runs a hundred miles per hour through London’s busy streets.
As they struggle in the back seat, Eggsy sees another car speeding beside them. The back door swings open as Eggsy hangs on. Before an oncoming car hits the door, Eggsy leaps out of the way and he lands on the door skimming on the street like a spinning surfboard. The attacker’s car following them tries to run over him. Just before he gets run over, he grabs the trunk handle, opens it and gets in. He hits Charlie through the cushion and starts the fight all over again.
Kingsman The Golden Circle has it all: cars being driven underwater, ordinary looking eyeglasses that allow video conferencing, robot dogs that tear people apart to electric lassos and bullet proof umbrellas, hands down the best action movie of the year. The first film established it as James Bond to the nth power with a little bit of Austin Powers mixed in. Golden Circle tops all that and much more.
Combining high tech action and dry British comedy had the expected result: a hit earning $192.2million worldwide after the first week of opening. In the U.S. it has already out grossed the first film. But what was even more remarkable is how it dealt with something that was perfectly relevant to Filipinos. The message seems targeted or specifically tailor made for the Philippine situation.
Nowhere in the film does it even mention the phrase or acronym EJK or extra judicial killings because it goes way further than that. The film breaks the fallacy of two very clear generalizations that have been the norm in our country: 1. All drug users are criminals 2. All criminals deserve to die.
Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons were the two comic book creators originally called The Secret Service. But both Writer/ Director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman should be praised and congratulated for making the story and dialogue for The Golden Circle beyond an action blockbuster. They injected something pertinent most especially with the current situation in our country.
Before anyone can say spoiler alert, in this section of dialogue no character is revealed to have died nor the result of their plans. It does reveal the mindset and intentions of the U.S. President convincingly played by Bruce Greenwood. The scene is after nemesis and Drug Lord of the World Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) has poisoned millions of people in America and the world with an additive in her drugs that ensures a painful death. She also offers an antidote if the President will end his War on Drugs and legitimize her business.
President (Bruce Greenwood): What I’m proposing is we appear to agree to her demands to prevent global panic. And then let the junky scum go down in flames! Hehehe Yeah! Let this Poppy cancer go down with them. No drug users, no drug trade! Win-win situation here. Chief of Staff Fox (Emily Watson): But sir we’re not talking about a handful of hostages here. We could be looking at the deaths of hundreds of millions worldwide. President: Hundreds of millions of criminals a burden to society! Am I right McCoy? General McCoy (Mark Arnold): Absolutely sir.
Chief of Staff Fox: What about people who were just experimenting or self-medicating? Functioning professionals? Kids? President: Don’t give me that crap Fox! The fact is this presidency has just won the war on drugs! General McCoy: Congratulations sir! President: Thank you! And that deserves a toast! Chief of Staff Fox: This is totally unethical sir. President: Fox shut up! McCoy declare martial law we need to maintain control. Commandeer stadiums, schools, civic centers order a press black out. Put the military on standby…
Champ (Jeff Bridges): Whether they committed a crime those people are human beings. Great God, right now Tequila is in deep freeze because of this. Whiskey (Pedro Pascal): We can’t make it personal sir. Champ: Personal? Agent we can’t stand by and let folks like him die. These people, we’re they’re only hope…
Although the President was not the direct cause of the ‘deaths’ of drug users, it is crystal clear that he is more than happy to let them die, even when he had the chance to prevent it. According to the morality, logic and common sense of the film because of this he was still criminally liable. It’s the universal consensus in laws of man – Constitutions across the world, laws of God – in different religions from thousands of years is the sacredness of human life.
If this is common sense and is a universal consensus how is it in our country that all drug addicts are considered criminals? And how is it that all criminals therefore are deserving of summary executions? How is any of that acceptable? How was it made as a viable solution to our country’s ills?
If the U.S. President in this film can be held accountable for letting people die what more if a President is the actual cause of these people’s deaths? It may not be in the millions but it’s already in the thousands here in the Philippines. Then that President is without a doubt criminally liable.
The War On Drugs is not the only political statement of the film. There are many but one of the most traditional is the use of the U.S. flag. The symbolism of inserting it in cinema is even older than Hollywood. In my Documentary Film class (many, many years ago in DLSU) was taught by Dr Doy Delmundo. He is one of the esteemed screenwriters and filmmakers in the Philippines. He showed us one of the earliest films ever produced here during the Fil-Am War of 1898.
U.S. soldiers were marching, carrying Old Glory. He talked about the positioning, front row and center. As it got closer to the camera the stars and stripes filled almost the top half of the frame. That simple composition impresses upon the viewer the dominance of America or as an emerging superpower from a silent-era documentary film.
More than a hundred years later, the theme and technique still live on albeit with more special effects. In one scene from KINGSMAN the good guys pull a ripcord releasing a parachute. Emblazoned on the whole fabric the unmistakable Stars and Stripes. The U.S. flag almost explodes on to the whole silver screen as air hits the chute expanding it. The message here is slightly changed, with America being the world’s savior.
Think and Ask Questions
Whether it’s the War on Drugs or American role in the geopolitical landscape, no one has to subscribe to any and all of the ‘political statements’ or ‘propaganda’ intentionally or unintentionally made in KINGSMAN THE GOLDEN CIRCLE. What it should do to us as viewers is make us think and ask questions. Why do we believe the things we do? What is my stand on this or that issue and why? And if a movie is able to make me think this way and ask questions while at the same time entertain using incredible action scenes with Prince and Elton John blaring in the background, then so much the better.
Guardians 1 Ending
GUARDIANS Awesome Mixtape
There’s been a recent trend in blockbusters of using music from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Yes it has been done countless times before. But the recent success of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (the first one) has even more action and sci-fi flicks turning to the older hits that millennials are completely ignorant of. GUARDIANS was nominated for a Grammy, AMA & Billboard for their soundtrack while winning Best Music Supervision for Films Budgeted Over 25 Million Dollars (Dave Jordan) from Guild of Music Supervisors Awards and HMMA Best Soundtrack Album.
GUARDIANS last scene even included an old tape deck, on a space ship for that matter playing AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrel, before that scene MOONAGE DAYDREAM from David Bowie and even the Jackson’s ABC during the credits. STAR TREK BEYOND followed with Beastie Boys SABOTAGE for its climactic scene.
Crazy Elton John
KINGSMAN THE GOLDEN CIRCLE took it a step further when they actually cast one of the biggest songwriters from 70s and onward: Sir Elton John as himself. His scenes are the craziest you’ll ever see him. He plays to nearly all of his past real life tabloid exploits and emotional meltdowns dropping f-bomb after f-bomb. His fans and most people won’t be surprised at his ease in comedy. What is a revelation is his adeptness in the fight sequences. Youth of today will get a great intro to his work: DANIEL, SATURDAY NIGHT’S ALRIGHT FOR FIGHTING and Trump’s favorite ROCKET MAN.
He wasn’t the only 70s icon honored too. Mark Strong who plays the gadget man Merlin had a very touching rendition of TAKE ME HOME COUNTRY ROADS by John Denver.
Official KGC trailer
Kingsman The Secret Service represented everything that’s quintessentially British from dapper suits to scotch whisky. The Golden Circle adds their American cousins in Jeff Bridges (Champ), Channing Tatum (Tequila) and Halle Berry (Ginger Ale).
Pedro Pascal is unrecognizable as cowboy/agent Whiskey. Fans know him as the Mediterranean, Middle Ages Prince Oberyn in an unknown TV series called Game of Thrones. Here he has an electric lasso. Pascal was able to transform himself looking and sounding like a young Burt Reynolds with a southern accent. Pascal was born in Chile but grew up in Orange County, California and San Antonio, Texas.
The Golden Circle may seem like pure escapism with international locations, huge stars, super visual effects and awesome soundtrack but it also has some food for thought us Pinoys are in dire need of.
As Harry Hart (Colin Firth) imparted to Whiskey: “Manners maketh man.”
“Men wished to lay fortunes at her feet, and celebrities vied with each other to be seen and photographed with her. Tribute was collected from men of rank and fame, the most famous actors wished to have her as their partner, producers and directors couldn’t wait until they could work with her, and her circle increased to include the top writers and creators of her day. Dukes and generals and even the heads of nations wanted her to grace their tables. One journalist, quoted in one of the many books devoted to her, not only raved about her beauty but ‘rated her brains on a par with those of Napoleon, Caesar, Mussolini and Lenin’. Opposed to this pinnacle of glory was her position on my stage. Here was no enthusiast, but a cold-eyed mechanic critical of every movement.
If there was any flattery, it was concentrated in a ‘That’s fine, it will do.’ More often she listened to ‘Turn your shoulders away from me and straighten out … Drop your voice an octave and don’t lisp … Count to six and look at that lamp as if you could no longer live without it…Stand where you are and don’t move; the lights are being adjusted’.” One gets the sense that von Sternberg loved the exposure and the success their relationship brought them, but his intimate relationship with Dietrich was becoming increasingly complex. Writer James Hancock describes the connection between screen icon and director in his article ‘The Brilliant Doomed Romance of Marlene Dietrich and Josef Von Sternberg’. The quote from Von Sternberg is from his autobiography FUN IN A CHINESE LAUNDRY.
Filipino audiences have the great privilege of catching a very rare screening of Marlene Dietrich’s early work CAFÉ ELECTRIK with live music by RIVERMAYA in the 11th Silent film festival for free on September 3rd, 3pm at the Shang Cineplex, Shang Rila Plaza Mall. Entry/ seats are available on a first come first served basis so check schedules and come an hour early.
The fest running from August 31 to September 3, 2017, features a total of 9 Silent films from 9 different countries accompanied by esteemed musicians from the local scene. Opening the fest is EL GOLFO (1918) from Spain- Instituto Cervantes on 8 PM August 31 with music by TALAHIB.
September 1st has Anthony Asquith’s UNDERGROUND (7:30 PM) from the U.K.- British Council with music by GOODLEAF; THE NEW ENCHANTMENT (9:30 PM) from France accompanied by Helouise La Harpe. September 2nd has A PERFECT FAMILY (3 PM) from Italy- Philippine Italian Association / Emb. of Italy with live score by TOM’S STORY; Yasujiro Ozu’s DRAGNET GIRL (5:30PM) from Japan – Japan Foundation with live narration from benshi Ichiro Kataoka and music by THE CELSO ESPEJO RONDALLA; Gym Lumbera’s TAGLISH (8PM) from the Philippines – FILM DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL OF THE PHILIPPINES with music by KAPITAN KULAM. September 3rd has CAFÉ ELECTRIK (3PM) from Austria with music by RIVERMAYA; PANDORA’S BOX (5:30 PM) from Germany – Goethe Institut Philippinen with music by SANDWICH and Buster Keaton’s THE GENERAL (8PM) from the U.S.A with music from FLIPPIN SOUL STOMPERS.
MUST SEE from every country
Every title from every country has its own ‘must see’ attraction. The Japan Foundation for example will bring in a benshi or traditional narrator Ichiro Kataoka combined with the very Filipino classical musical sounds of THE CELSO ESPEJO RONDALLA. They will be performing to DRAGNET GIRL (1933) from one of Japan’s most revered filmmaker in Yasujiro Ozu.
The International Silent Film Festival Manila on its 11th edition has garnered some praise from abroad. Pordenone Silent Film Fest programmer and VARIETY film critic Jay Weissberg said, “One of the wonderful things about the festival in Manila is that everything is accompanied by live music exactly in the way these films were originally screened. Music too is an important part of any silent film. The program that you will be seeing is also exceptional. You have wonderful films, one of my favorites Anthony Asquith’s UNDERGROUND a truly terrific drama, thriller. The program goes beyond Europe and the United States of course Japan. And relatively more recent films from the Philippines prove that filmmakers even today are experimenting with the pure visual beauty of what it means to make a silent film as always with live music.”
Weissberg is referring to the recent work of Gym Lumbera’s TAGLISH (2012) and from Filipino-Italian filmmaker Ruben Maria Soriquez: Una Familia Perfetta A PERFECT FAMILY (2017).
Two Female Icons Plus
Two countries have set themselves apart by having a strong female icon in their cast. Austria has CAFÉ ELECTRIK from 1929 with Marlene Dietrich. Viewers have the chance to see a rare glimpse of the screen legend before she achieved stardom.
Dietrich is considered to be the ninth-greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema as ranked by the American Film Institute. In the same list on the male side is Buster Keaton ranked 21. One of Keaton’s biggest films THE GENERAL (1926) is also part of this fest as an entry from the U.S.. Soul and funk music from FLIPPIN SOUL STOMPERS will accompany the biggest budget action comedy movie of its era.
The second female icon is from a German film: Louise Brooks (as Lulu) stars in George Wilhelm Pabst’s PANDORA’S BOX (1929). Goethe Institut Philippinen has likewise chosen a high stature band in SANDWICH to provide the live score. Both RIVERMAYA and SANDWICH are established Filipino bands with a long list of hits. RIVERMAYA guitarist/vocals Mike Elgar has said that they will be choosing from their library of music and play the best songs to fit the soundtrack for CAFÉ ELECTRIK.
First Female-to-Female Kiss
Marlene Dietrich was born in December 27, 1901 in Schöneberg, now a district of Berlin. Her screen name is a combination of her given name Marie Magdalene with a nickname Lena. So the pronunciation is MAR-LEE-NA. She came from a cabaret background in 1920s Berlin that was a more open and tolerant scene.
She was used to wearing men’s clothes. She made quite a splash with her Hollywood film MOROCCO (1930) wearing a tuxedo, top hat and tails. She capped off those moments with the first ever female-to-female kiss in the lips on the silver screen. The 30s were also the time when talkies became popular where sound had accompanied film.
Biographer Steven Bach said, “I still think that’s the most startling star introduction in the history of motion pictures. Marlene was the first great star to be created in the sound era. And how did he (Josef Von Sternberg) do it? She sings a French song from the turn of the century, dressed in men’s clothes. Turns, gives a very obvious lesbian kiss to another woman…This was the Marlene Dietrich he wanted us to remember.”
Later on she would deny ever making a silent era film, although she did at least two in Europe. She eschewed being identified with the older silent era stars. “Only Garbot and Gish made silent films , I never..” That’s why her appearance here in the Austrian made CAFÉ ELECTRIK is a very special and rare opportunity for Filipino audiences. They will be able to compare her performance from that time to her more popular and known film work.
PANDORA’S BOX in 1929 actually predated MOROCCO and was more significant going beyond a mere kiss. Louise Brooks was an American who was cast in a German production. Director George Wilhelm Pabst describes her, “Brooks had both innocence and the ability to project sexuality without coyness or premeditation.” And for the character of Lulu, this magical combination was essential. [From: The Style Essentials: Louise Brooks written by Kimberley Truhler]
It would be years later when PANDORA’S BOX would be recognized for breaking barriers: “This film is notable for its frank treatment of modern sexual mores, including one of the first screen portrayals of a lesbian. Brooks then starred in the controversial social drama Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), based on the book by Margarete Böhme and also directed by Pabst, and Miss Europe (1930) by Italian director Augusto Genina, the latter being filmed in France, and having a famous surprise ending. All these films were heavily censored, as they were very “adult” and considered shocking in their time for their portrayals of sexuality, as well as their social satire.” [From: Louise Brooks Wikiwand]
Creatively PANDORA’S BOX was also considered as a landmark achievement in terms of the visuals. The lighting, mood made it a precursor to the famous film noir genre. Kimberley Truhler writes, “G.W. Pabst is a legend of early cinema. The composition of his shots was elegant and ahead of its time, especially when combined with the lighting of cinematographer Gunther Krampf. Together they used shadows to create drama and, especially toward the end of Pandora’s Box, a somewhat sinister mood. Some scenes in the movie included filtering light through window blinds, which would later become a staple of film noir style. In the 1930s, directors like Josef von Sternberg continued to refine the look; his cinematography with Lee Garmes and James Wong Howe for 1932’s Shanghai Express, for example, shows even more of the evolution. And when film noir hit its stride in the 1940s, directors Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity), Carol Reed (The Third Man), Michael Curtiz (Mildred Pierce), and Alfred Hitchcock (Notorious) all admitted their admiration for Pabst and Pandora’s Box. “There’s no question,” says Film Noir Foundation founder Eddie Muller, “that German Expressionism was one of the strongest roots from which film noir grew.” [ from: The Style Essentials: Louise Brooks written by Kimberley Truhler]
Bob Cut and Jean Patou
Louise Brooks had a unique style all her own. She had a very distinctive short bob cut that became a trend and was copied by other actresses of her time. But its impact can still be seen today, such as Katie Holmes and Linda Evangelista. “Other fashion trends that stem from the movie include Jean Patou’s tank dress, which became a staple of 1930s style and resurged in popularity once again in the 1990s. Pandora’s Box fan Calvin Klein included them in collection after collection that decade. And Prada is still remembered for dressing Uma Thurman in one for the 1995 Academy Awards. At this year’s Oscars, we saw another 20s-30s trend with jewelry draped down the back of some stars, which brought to mind Patou’s bejeweled razor back dress for Lulu.”
The same article continues, “Lending to Lulu’s seduction are the all-important costumes of Pandora’s Box. Though the wardrobe was overseen by (and credited to) Art Director Gottleib Hesch, Louise’s clothes were courtesy of Jean Patou. Patou is one of the legendary European couturiers of the early 20th century, already dressing Louise and other international stars such as Gloria Swanson both onscreen and off. Along with Coco Chanel, he is considered the inventor of our modern casual attire, especially in the area of sportswear.”
Both Louise Brooks and Marlene Dietrich were known to have many lovers, men and women. But they seem to prefer men, having a greater number and more intimate male sexual relationships. Dietrich’s biographers seem to agree with this and in Brooks’ case her own memoirs.
But it’s the lesbian angle that seems to titillate a lot of fans, even historians who have studied their lives. For example, Dietrich’s female lovers have included a lot of high society names, movers and shakers in Hollywood.
“Sewing circle was a phrase used by Dietrich to describe the underground, closeted lesbian and bisexual film actresses and their relationships in Hollywood. In the supposed “Marlene’s Sewing Circle” are mentioned the names of other close friends such as Ann Warner (the wife of Jack L. Warner, one of the owners of the Warner studios), Lili Damita (an old friend of Marlene’s from Berlin and the wife of Errol Flynn), Claudette Colbert, and Dolores del Río (whom Dietrich considered the most beautiful woman in Hollywood). The French singer Edith Piaf was also one of Dietrich’s closest friends during her stay in Paris in the 1950s, and always rumored something more than friendship between them.” [From: Marlene Dietrich- wikiwand.com]
Neither Bi nor Lesbian
The sources for most of Dietrich’s intimate details of her life are from her daughter Maria Riva who wrote tell all book and biographer Steven Bach. Brooks however, was more open about her past, with a few interviews and even through her own writing.
“Brooks enjoyed fostering speculation about her sexuality, cultivating friendships with lesbian and bisexual women including Pepi Lederer and Peggy Fears, but eschewing relationships. She admitted to some lesbian dalliances, including a one-night stand with Greta Garbo. She later described Garbo as masculine but a “charming and tender lover”. Despite all this, she considered herself neither lesbian nor bisexual:
I had a lot of fun writing ‘Marion Davies’ Niece’ [an article about Pepi Lederer], leaving the lesbian theme in question marks. All my life it has been fun for me. … When I am dead, I believe that film writers will fasten on the story that I am a lesbian… I have done lots to make it believable […] All my women friends have been lesbians. But that is one point upon which I agree positively with [Christopher] Isherwood: There is no such thing as bisexuality. Ordinary people, although they may accommodate themselves, for reasons of whoring or marriage, are one-sexed. Out of curiosity, I had two affairs with girls – they did nothing for me [From: Louise Brooks – wikiwand.com ]
Dietrich’s Modern Marriage
Dietrich however, had a rapacious sexual appetite that would make Madonna look ‘Like A Virgin’. Brooks was more just unlucky in love. She was unable to marry the great love of her life in George Marshall. Brooks became a noted film critic and writer later on.
In 1923 Dietrich married Rudolph Sieber and had her daughter Maria a year later. Maria Riva in an interview for the documentary NO ANGEL – A LIFE OF MARLENE DIETRICH, said, “Ménage trois we understand. But ménage quatre (4) and ménage cinq (5) was very normal in our house.” Steven Bach added, “Dietrich had a famous affair with Douglas Fairbanks and it was reported the two moved in with Rudy (Sieber) and his girl friend. These two were modern people even by today’s standards”.
NO ANGEL – A LIFE OF MARLENE DIETRICH
Dietrich would even show the letters of her lovers to Sieber. He would have a mistress later on in life with the knowledge of Marlene who at one time brought them to California. Sieber and Dietrich although living apart, would remain formally married until the time of his death in 1976.
In 1930 she made her first film with Josef Von Sternberg, THE BLUE ANGEL and the same year MOROCCO. The brilliant director was madly in love with her. The problem was she tended to have affairs with co-stars, which broke his heart. They continued to make films 7 in total, some argue is the most successful team up of actor director creatively. Their best work was undoubtedly with each other as Dietrich shot to stardom after MOROCCO.
Because of her fame the Third Reich had offered Dietrich to come back home to Germany and produce propaganda films. To this Dietrich flatly refused despising what the Nazis had done to her homeland.
“In the late 1930s, Dietrich created a fund with Billy Wilder and several other Germans to help Jews and dissidents escape from Germany. In 1937, her entire salary for Knight Without Armor ($450,000) was put into escrow to help the refugees. In 1939, she became an American citizen and renounced her German citizenship. In December 1941, the U.S. entered World War II, and Dietrich became one of the first celebrities to help sell war bonds. She toured the US from January 1942 to September 1943 (appearing before 250,000 troops on the Pacific Coast leg of her tour alone) and was reported to have sold more war bonds than any other star.”
“During two extended tours for the USO in 1944 and 1945, she performed for Allied troops in Algeria, Italy, the UK and France, then went into Germany with Generals James M. Gavin and George S. Patton. When asked why she had done this, in spite of the obvious danger of being within a few kilometers of German lines, she replied, “aus Anstand”—”out of decency”. Wilder later remarked that she was at the front lines more than Eisenhower.” [From: Marlene Dietrich- wikiwand.com]
For the Cause
The documentary also dealt with her war efforts, “Narrator: It wasn’t just her talent she gave. Fact was she was willing to lay her body for the cause. A dedication extended to fulfilling the servicemen’s fantasies. [Footage of Dietrich surrounded by crowds of servicemen, sometimes crowd surfing them]
Riva said, “It was part of the romanticism. If you were going to face death don’t you want to live one time? Really magnificently before you face death? Right? She felt that if a young man, a soldier from Arkansas, the South, somewhere, would sleep with a movie star who was beautiful and giving and loving. Was that not the proper way to prepare for the mourn of his demise?” Narrator: She didn’t restrict herself with enlisted men she had a long affair with James Gavin the youngest general in the army. He was described as a cross between ‘Henry Fonda and Gary Cooper’.
Her affair with Gavin would be the cause of her rift with her long time lover, French man Jean Gabin. Even in later years she was still capable of seducing co-stars. “Ex lover Michael Todd directed AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, the 54 year old Dietrich had 3 others in the cast who claimed to be her old flame: George Raft, David Niven and Frank Sinatra.”
For her War efforts Dietrich received the Medal of Freedom, from the U.S. in November 1947. She said this was her proudest accomplishment. She was also awarded the Légion d’honneur by the French government for her wartime work. She would become the first woman and German to receive the Israeli Medallion of Valor in 1965, “in recognition for her courageous adherence to principle and consistent record of friendship for the Jewish people”.
Dietrich was the true embodiment of glamor. To this day we continue to be fascinated with her work in film, as singer and recording artist but even more with how she lived her extraordinary life.
The 11th International Silent Film Festival is made possible in partnership with Shangri-La Plaza, Para sa Sining, the National Film Center of The Museum of Modern Art of Tokyo, the Embassies of Italy, Japan, and Spain, Filmoteca de España, Institut Français, JEC Philippines and Marks & Spencer London . All screenings will be open to the public on a first come, first served basis. Watch and listen as we score the silents again!
For more information on the schedule and inquiries, please check our Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/InternationalSilentFilmFestivalManila or you may also check our websites:
Embassy of Austria :
The Japan Foundation, Manila
Embassy of France
Embassy of the USA
The 11th International Silent Film Festival is made possible in partnership with Shangri-La Plaza, Para sa Sining, the National Film Center of The Museum of Modern Art of Tokyo, the Embassies of Italy, Japan, and Spain, Filmoteca de España, Institut Français, JEC Philippines and Marks & Spencer London . All screenings will be open to the public on a first come, first served basis. Watch and listen as we score the silents again!
For those who love me
Mia (Emma Stone) stopped Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) in his tracks with what she said next. Mia: We might as well get this out of the way–I hate jazz… You ok? He immediately takes her to a smoky jazz club. Seb: It’s just that when people say they hate jazz they don’t have context. They don’t know where it comes from. Jazz was born in a little flophouse in New Orleans. People were crammed in there spoke five different languages. The only way they could communicate was with jazz.
Mia: But what about Kenny G? What about elevator music? You know jazz music that I know? Seb: What about it? Mia: I find it relaxing. Seb: It’s not relaxing. It’s not. It’s not. Sidney Bechet shot somebody because he was told he played a wrong note. It’s hardly relaxing. Mia: In where I grew up there’s this station called KJAZZ 103. People just put on that station when they had a cocktail party. And everyone would just talk over it.
Seb: I know I think that’s part of the problem. You have to hear it. You have to see what’s at stake. Look at the sax player he just hijacked the song. He’s in his own trip. Every one of these guys they’re composing they’re rearranging. They’re writing and playing the melody. Now look the trumpet player he has his own idea. It’s conflict and its compromise. Its new every time. It’s brand new every night. It’s very, very exciting. And it’s dying. It’s dying Mia. And the world says let it die. It had its time. Not on my watch.
Mia and Seb at first glance aren’t remarkable people. What they do have in common is that they live for their dreams. It’s almost impossible not to fall in love with them when you see their eyes light up talking about their passions.
Mia is obsessed with old Hollywood. She sleeps under the gaze of Ingrid Bergman whose image is the size of her bedroom wall. Her love for movies inspired her to become an actress. Meanwhile she’s a barista at the Warner Brothers lot, which has a lot of film history.
Sebastian or Seb for short is an extremely talented musician but is having a hard time making ends meet. He finds difficulty in compromising his art and passion for jazz. There’s a huge gap between what he wants to do and the music that he’s paid to play in his gigs.
Hollywood isn’t just about fame and fortune, although it doesn’t hurt having them. LA LA LAND shows that Hollywood is still about having a dream and going after it against all odds. Theirs is the struggle of thousands of Angelenos, dreamers searching for that big break. That’s why the story is so inspiring and entertaining in the most classical sense. They made old Hollywood come alive and relevant in a magical way. They harkened to a time when musicals were king and was considered the best way to tell the story. Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly and the recently passed Debbie Reynolds would be proud of the song and dance work in LALALAND.
Featurette- homage to Musicals – filmaker’s own words
Millennials who are not able to relate with Hollywood’s glory days are given a lyrical and eloquent introduction. Hopefully they’re infected with the same passion that Mia grew up with and was inspired by. After all movies like CASABLANCA, BRINGING UP BABY and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE are now just a YouTube click away.
Vocals and Choreography
It’s hard not to fall in love with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. They have that combination of adorable and sexy as a couple. Their previous rom com CRAZY STUPID LOVE with Steve Carrell and Julianne Moore was a hilarious hit. They were also a pair for period film GANGSTER SQUAD. Gosling though, could be seen more as the top romantic lead after THE NOTEBOOK with Rachel McAdams.
Their vocals weren’t spectacular but were definitely moving. Neither of them may not necessarily be the next Luciano Pavarotti nor even to the level of co-star and executive producer John Legend. But both of them sang with such sincerity that audiences can’t help but be drawn to their performances. There’s the longing in CITY OF STARS by Gosling and heartfelt AUDITION (The Fools Who Dream) by Emma Stone. Of course John Legend had his stellar START A FIRE performed in a huge concert scene.
START A FIRE performed by John Legend
Where Gosling truly shines is his newly acquired skill on the piano. He trained for 3 months and called it “his most fulfilling pre-production experience”. John Legend (known for his piano playing) in turn also had to learn the electric guitar as Keith.
Ryan and Emma also excelled in the dance portions with choreography that paid homage to the sequences from SINGING IN THE RAIN and other classics. The sequence in A LOVELY NIGHT where it was just Mia & Seb during sunset was memorable although not as complex as the others.
A LOVELY NIGHT
Mandy Moore Cameo?
There was some confusion when Writer Director Damien Chazelle credited Mandy Moore as choreographer during his Best Director acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. It turns out that their choreographer Mandy Moore is the (exact) namesake of the pop star. Mandy, the actress/singer, is currently starring in the TV show THIS IS US. She also had a concert here in EASTWOOD CITY MALL (Quezon City, Philippines) last 2008. Her hits include: I WANNA BE WITH YOU, CRY and performed the official soundtrack I SEE THE LIGHT for Disney’s TANGLED.
The choreographer / professional dancer Mandy Moore is no slouch having worked on SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, AMERICAN HUSTLE, JOY and TV shows SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE and DANCING WITH THE STARS. She is one of many creative people like composer/ film scorer Justin Hurwitz, lyricists Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and cinematographer Linus Sandgren who have made LALALAND the award winning film that it is. Screenwriter and director Damien Chazelle also wrote the lyrics for the song IT HAPPENED AT DAWN.
Almost throughout the movie Mia goes from one dehumanizing audition after another. Although the story celebrates the history and glory of Hollywood, it also sheds light on some the negative aspects. The challenge of the audition is something that all performers go through. Lili Tomlin during her acceptance speech for Screen Actors Guild -Lifetime Achievement, said she’d accept any part as long as she didn’t have to audition. That same night Emma Stone won for Best Actress; it was one of several for her and Ryan Gosling.
LA LA LAND is one of the favorites in the upcoming Oscars after earning 14 nominations. They’ve nearly swept every major category in the GOLDEN GLOBES: Best Picture Musical or Comedy, Best Actor – Ryan Gosling, Best Actress – Emma Stone, Best Director / Best Screenplay Damien Chazelle, Best Original Song – Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Pau and Best Musical Score- Justin Hurwitz. The number of trophies from International and U.S. based awards are too many to mention such as the Director’s Guild of America etc. listed here.
Film History & L.A. Landmarks
In one of the early scenes, her friends in a late night party abandon Mia and she has to make her way home by herself. She passes by a mural and the camera reveals the faces of screen legends albeit in a humorous way: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, child star Shirley Temple sits on the lap of W.C. Fields (who reportedly hated children). The wall Mia passes is a real location: YOU ARE THE STAR MURAL on 1648 Wilcox Ave and Hollywood Boulevard. Artist Thomas Suriya completed it in 1983 and was restored by the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles in 1995.
Production designer Dave Wasco encapsulated the emphasis on location and history when he said, “It was an opportunity to do a movie about a place we deeply loved”. Dave along with wife Sandy Reynolds-Wasco has already won Best Production Design for LA LA LAND from the Art Director’s Guild, Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, Florida Film Critics Circle Awards and Georgia Film Critics Association along with a nomination in the Oscars and BAFTA.
There are so many ways that Chazelle honors the past, the places that Mia & Seb visit around L.A. are landmarks that have been made famous by the movies. There’s the Griffith Observatory (REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, THE TERMINATOR, TRANSFORMERS), The Light House Café where they shot the jazz club scene is near Hermosa Beach and was made famous by Miles Davis. Check out the list with photos of film locations made by Conde Nast Traveller here.
After more than a century of filmmaking, Hollywood is still a city of dreamers that can still make you fall in love. As Mia sings in Audition (The Fools Who Dream)–
“A bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that’s why they need us”
So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays
And here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make
AUDITION (The Fools Who Dream)
Leo Selomenio (addresses a crowd of Filipino maids): Wag niyong isipin katulong lang ako binabayaran lang ako ng amo ko. Nandito ako dahil may sahod akong dollar may ipapadala ako sa Pilipinas. It’s not that. Isipin ninyo sa sarili ninyo manager kayo! Syempre ako nag mamanage ng bahay ng amo ko. Bakit kayo hindi? O? Tatawa sila. Bakit kinahihiya mo trabaho mo? Sabihin mo muna manager ka. Siyempre titignan ka niya from head to foot. Oo may nakasabay ako sa eroplano. Anong ginagawa mo sa Hong Kong? Manager. Manager? Manager ka ng ano? Manager ako ng amo ko. O tinapat ko nga i-phone ko ha! Manager? Tapos tinignan niya ko from head to foot.
(Don’t think of yourselves as mere helpers. You’re here just for your salary to send back home. It’s not that. Think of yourselves as managers. Of course I manage my employer’s household. Don’t you do the same? They laugh at me. I met someone on the plane and asked my job. Tell them you’re a manager. They look at me from head to foot. You’re a manager? Yes I manage the affairs of my employer. Then I whip out my i-phone. Then they look at me from head to foot.)
SUNDAY BEAUTY QUEEN is a touching love letter to all mothers, sisters, aunts anyone who has sacrificed something to make us who we are. When you think about it, it’s for every Filipino, for any parent and child, family in the world. It will make you want to hug every woman in your life.
Directed by Babyruth Villarama Gutierrez, it is the only documentary to ever win BEST PICTURE in the history of the Metro Manila Film Fest Awards. It also garnered BEST EDITING- Chuck Gutierrez, GATPUNO ANTONIO J. VILLEGAS CULTURAL AWARD, CHILDREN’S CHOICE along with SAVING SALLY and VINCE & KATH & JAMES.
It’s a story we’re all familiar with regardless of race. There’s someone a mother, an aunt, a sister, a father, a provider who sacrifices themselves so we can go to school, have food to eat, clothes on our back. They are stories that don’t attract million-dollar blockbuster excitement, its not necessarily Gal Gadot of WONDER WOMAN or Hugh Jackman as LOGAN for 2017. More often than not they are the people we take for granted and not really think about.
We feel and see the ‘sacrifice’ through the experiences of Leo Selomenio (Science Education Graduate), Rudelie Acosta (IT Graduate), Mylyn Jacobo (AB English Graduate), Hazel Perdido (Computer Science Graduate) and Cherrie Mae Bretaña (Hotel Management Graduate).
They are all Overseas Filipino Workers who work as domestic helpers in Hong Kong but have found meaningful activity during Sundays. Leo is an organizer of pageants and other events specifically for Filipina OFWs since 2008. The rest of the subjects are the candidates. The pageants are held only on Sunday as their one free day in the week.
We go through their typical day, hear their stories and even hear from their employers. As you can see from their college degrees they’re actually overqualified for the position of domestic helper. That doesn’t protect them from experiencing verbal abuse from their employers or looked down upon even by their own countrymen. Even as the government hails our OFWs Overseas Filipino Workers as modern day heroes, other Filipinos sometimes look down on domestic helpers.
Just like the joke that Leo shares above, SUNDAY BEAUTY QUEEN isn’t just a tearjerker but more of an inspirational journey. We see that they cope with loneliness through mutual support, performances and yes beauty pageants.
Ju-Chen Chen, an Anthropologist at the University of Hong Kong was at first puzzled at their efforts, time and passion for these activities even after an exhausting workweek. Chen witnessed firsthand the camaraderie during an event.
She discovered that they literally carry the Philippine flag through the performances of cultural dances, pageants and concerts. There are elaborate costumes, choreography. They are proud bearers of Filipino identity. Chen realized that the fulfillment they get is far greater than their day-to-day difficulties. Through their gatherings, performances, they find a greater sense of self worth. In the face of stressful or often discriminatory work environment, they take the one-day they should have for themselves and still find the energy to put on a show for others.
There’s no doubt that domestic helpers in Hong Kong have a vital role. Long time TV producer Jack Soo was interviewed and said, “I live alone by myself. Mylyn is the only one taking care of me in my daily life…Let me tell you something. IF Hong Kong has no foreign helpers Hong Kong will be in trouble. Just imagine those family without a foreign helper. How are they gonna work how will they take care of their children? How are they going to do their daily lives? So if the Philippine government stop all the helpers in all of the country, the whole world will be in big trouble without helpers. There’s a big problem.”
Not everyone though has a glowing opinion of foreign domestic helpers. In April of 2015, Executive Councilor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee made some derogatory comments against Filipina domestic helpers accusing them of seducing their employers. The comments on her blog and official facebook page were particularly painful knowing the abuse that a majority of foreign domestic helpers endure. Some of them have even suffered physical and sexual abuse. For Filipinas who sacrifice so much this is has the potential to damage their familial relationships back home.
The issue came up in the Q&A portion in one of the pageants. Mylyn Jacobo very ably replied: “It’s a big insult to us that most Filipina OFWs are called prostitutes. I will cite something what Mrs. Regina Ip told us. We Filipino domestic helpers are working here to provide the needs and support our families in the Philippines. Whatever you do abroad you should think twice.”
2 Week Rule
Documentaries put important issues to the forefront because viewers see real people in real situations not actors. In this case it’s the policies of the HK SAR concerning domestic helpers. This affects not just the DH themselves but their wards, the elderly not to mention their own families back home reliant on the money they earn.
Discrimination against foreign domestic helpers is built into the system. A clear example is what happened to Rudelie Acosta. After one of the pageants she was late coming back to her employer and went over her curfew hours. She was fired on the spot and was asked to leave the only lodgings that she had. Even after pleading to at least spend the night her employer refused and kicked her out without a roof over her head. On top of this she only has 2 weeks to find another employer or lose the right to stay in Hong Kong.
Although the termination was abrupt and unfair, because of the 2-week rule there’s almost no recourse to file a complaint and immediately find a new job. Rudelie’s case is an example of the unfairness and injustice that thousands of foreign domestic helpers find themselves in Hong Kong.
Different foreign workers associations of Indians, Indonesians, Thais, Malaysians, Nepalese, of course Filipinos have banded together to formally complain against the 2 Week Rule since the late 1990s. But HK SAR has stuck to its guns allowing this discriminatory and racist policy to continue.
A comprehensive article entitled Maid in Hong Kong: Protecting Foreign Domestic Workers explained clearly how the 2 week rule is unjust: “Beyond cramped housing conditions, isolation of domestic workers means that abuses by employers often go unreported. A 2013 survey conducted by another Hong Kong-based group, Mission for Migrant Workers, found that 58 percent of the more than 3,000 workers surveyed experienced verbal abuse in the home, 18 percent physical abuse, and 6 percent sexual abuse.”
The report continues, “Another policy, the “two-week rule,” mandates that once foreign domestic workers quit or are let go, they must depart Hong Kong within two weeks. This policy, critics say, discourages domestic workers from seeking justice, for fear they could lose their jobs. It also makes finding a new employer difficult, as this process can take from four to six weeks. Moreover, a visa extension, the length of which varies by case, costs HK $190 (US $24), and during the extension application period migrants cannot work and must pay for their housing and food. Many domestic workers, therefore, choose to stay silent about abuses.”
Interestingly enough a possible solution also came from one of the victimized helpers in the documentary. She theorized that no less than our own Philippine government along with other nations like India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and others should negotiate in behalf of their workers with the Hong Kong authorities to abolish the 2 Week Rule.
SUNDAY BEAUTY QUEEN is another meaningful and significant creative contribution from executive producers Vincent R. Nebrida, Fernando Ortigas and E.A. Rocha. These are the same executive producers who brought us the historical hit HENERAL LUNA and the enchanting KANA THE DREAMWEAVER. In a short period of time they have established a winning track record of award winning and critically acclaimed films.
Director Babyruth Villarama’s loving and supportive husband Chuck Gutierrez is both Producer and Editor. Chuck has added yet another BEST EDITING award from the MMFF to his wins in Cinemalaya, Cinema One and many others.
Dexter Dela Peña as cinematographer also deserves credit in being able to make everyday scenes more cinematic. Even though it was a run and gun style we were able to see the character of the city and more importantly the beauty of the contestants. Babyruth must have also handled the secondary camera. The trio of Babyruth, Dexter and Chuck have already been together for several projects including JAZZ IN LOVE another documentary that was part of Cinemalaya in 2013.
Watching SUNDAY BEAUTY QUEEN is so enriching and educational in so many ways and levels. There are many touching moments between the families that helpers literally care for. Employers address Leo as ‘he’ even if he is biologically a woman. They see him as who he is, as a person. If you bring every family member, every maid, yaya, kusinera, labandera to this movie you will all come out richer for it. Respect and kindness truly goes a long way.
Leo uses the earnings from the pageants to help domestic helpers who were abused and need emergency assistance. In truth he has given those who participate in them and even those who watch something more valuable. He has given them a chance to see and feel the beauty they have. You can see the pride in the costumes, dances, unique to their provinces and hometowns in the Philippines. This pride extends not just to participants but to the audiences as well.
Written and photographed
By Jude Thaddeus L. Bautista
Ballet Philippines calls the 47th season WINGS and the opening salvo makes it soar high. Audiences will be captivated by a very wide range of pieces put together in one stage called FIREBIRD and Other Ballets running from August 19-21, 2016 at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo, CCP Main Theater. There will be two shows each day of the weekend on the 20th and 21st at 2pm and 6pm.
The headline among 4 different pieces is FIREBIRD with choreographer George Birkadze and elaborate costumes designed by Mark Higgins. Truth of it is every piece is able to stand on its own and is vastly different from one another.
There’s no dull moment. The accompanying music literally sets the tone for the performances. For example there’s the romance of Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major for MOVING TWO, the energy shifts to the unique vocals, rhythmic string and singular violin of Iva Bittova’s NE NEH LEDEJ.
Pachelbel’s Canon in D
MOVING TWO is choreographed by Dwight Rodrigazo and performed by Victor Maguad and Katrene San Miguel / Jemima Reyes. NE NEH LEDEJ is choreographed by David Campos. The performers for each piece is shared among dancers of Ballet Philippines such as Jean Marc Cordero, Gilliane Gequinto, Victor Maguad, Denise Parungao, Lester John Raguindin, Jessa Tangalin, Erl Sorilla, Monica Gana, Garry Corpuz and Sarah Anne Alejandro.
SHIFTING WAIT choreographed by Carlo Pacis also has JM Cordero and Jemima Reyes. SHIFTING won Outstanding Choreography for Modern Dance from Gawad Buhay in 2010. This version is expanded to six dancers from four. Along with the expanded cast there is experimentation in the pairings: female to female, male to male.
How the dancers are able to change 180 degrees from one choreography to the next is a testament to their skill and versatility. Just like actors they have to inhabit moods and emotions in the characters they portray. They have to do this in less than a few minutes or as quickly as they can change costumes.
Has the ingenious design of handles in the torso. This allows dancers to be lifted in different ways. Pulling them using the large handles can also be jarring not just for the dancer being dragged but also for audiences. When a jealous lover suddenly yanks on the handle away from another the effect can be heart rending. The lighting is one directional with high contrast which adds to the drama of movement. Carlo Pacis has to be given credit, there seems to be a more equal treatment between genders. Women also carry men instead of just the usual way.
Highlights the synchronous movements of a pair in this case and Jemima Reyes and Victor Maguad. Jemima is also in the title role of Firebird while Vic is Koschei the Immortal. Conductor Olivier Ochanine has modified Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major into a slightly faster tempo. This gives the oft-used melody for weddings seem more exciting at the same time retaining its romance. Having the grand sound of all the instruments in the Philippine Philharmonic makes it a moving experience, enhancing the already powerful performance of Maguad and Reyes. Jemima is sometimes interchanged with Katrene San Miguel. The matched height and frame of Vic and Jemima adds to the fluidity and timed movements of the pair.
NE NEH LEDEJ
This is also the title of the track by Czech singer and violinist Iva Bittova (not performed live unlike Philharmonic). She has a very unique style where she scats. There’s almost a beat box quality to the vocals creating rhythm along with plucking her violin string. Nearly the whole BP Company joins in this piece. The huge cast has a more powerful effect especially when they leap and bound at the same time. There’s a lot of athleticism as with all ballet but even more so here.
This was a hit production for BP back in 1978 and featured the best dancers of the country. This version is reimagined from the spectacular costumes by Mark Higgins, the set by Ohm David. Russian trained, U.S. based choreographer George Birkadze also modified the main character of the FIREBIRD as well. Olivier Ochanine conducts Stravinsky’s FIREBIRD with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra fresh from their stint from Carnegie Hall.
For this all-star creative team FIREBIRD is a true labor of love. Mark Higgins said, “People were asking why don’t you sell the pieces (to make it feasible) no. 1 I don’t think I can repeat a head dress like this. 2. The whole point of doing this is I want to support the dancers well and put them in something lavish. There’s a real psychological effect from my clothing.” In 1998 Higgins collaborated wth Ballet Philippines in designing costumes for choreographer Agnes Locsin’s FOUR LAST SONGS. He has been co-director of SLIM’s Fashion and Art School since 2009.
Birkadze talked about their concept, “This Firebird is really from Asia. This Firebird is authentic, unique. Mark did such a great job, Ohm did such a great job. Everything in this firebird lets say 99% transmitted to the stage. Even the choreography, I studied Filipino dance, Indonesian dance we did deep research. Its not just choreography we’ve achieved something very special.”
BP Artistic Director Paul Alexander Morales explained why they chose FIREBIRD,“ We only have 4-5 shows this season. We really have to be deliberate about which particular show to comeback and also because we have so many pieces. So at the moment Ballet Philippines has a repertoire of about 500. It’s hard to prioritize which piece to do. In the history there is so many interesting pieces. With Firebird, internationally they did it 2011 about 5 years ago. Firebird premiered 1911 and also Stravinsky’s centennial. For this side it’s the spirit of it. You will see it’s like the original where there’s a big emphasis on the design and overall schematic. This is with the purpose of creating exciting work for the audience. On one level there is artistic priorities. The other level is what we think would be interesting production to create. We always discuss the seasons back and forth and many times. There’s a factor of fate on how everything comes together. Napapanahon siya the same with Swan Lake. Swan Lake was the first production I performed in as a dancer for Ballet Philippines. That’s the root of why I’m a dancer and why I’m still here because that first production we had with Mia Barredo and Morishita with Nonoy Froilan for me that’s a life changing experience. As director I wish we could also achieve the same for the audience. So we can have more people supporting the ballet.”
BP President Margie Moran adds, “Margie: We make sure that what we choose is palatable to the audience. Its something that will excite the audience to come and watch the show. We have a very good pool of dancers and we want to put them in a position to where they can really excel and go to the next level as dancers. Although every year we lose talent most of whom go abroad. But we have young ones that come up in the ladder. We’re also excited we have very good dancers. We want to bring out the best in them. The past years we’ve been successful. We’ve done very well in showcasing our best masterpieces. It has given us financial rewards we are able to produce better shows and train our dancers well.”
While FIREBIRD is the first show of the season BP’s Principal Soloist Cyril Aran Fallar announced this will be his last for the company. He thanked Morales for his long term support and mentoring and thanked Birkadze for entrusting the role of Koschei The Immortal to him.
Firebird: Rita Angel Winder, Jemima Reyes
Pearl Merchant: Jean Marc Cordero, Garry Corpuz
Spice Princess: Denise Parungao, Monica Gana
Koschei the Immortal: Cyril Fallar, Victor Maguad
fb fan page:
fb fan page:
Jude Thaddeus L. Bautista
They both have unique names but have similar features. From Manila’s elite circles Leica Carpo is a former Sunday Inquirer Magazine publisher, L’Oreal Exec and now Public Relations Executive in the U.S. Her chinita eyes, luscious lips bears a striking resemblance with K-POP star Heo Solji who is a member of the group EXID. The group’s name is short for Exceed in Dreaming. Solji has the most technically polished vocals in the group. She actually started out as their vocal coach before becoming an official member.
In 2015 she won the King of Mask Singer TV competition garnering more attention for EXID. Leica however, is also a famous runner having participated in the Boston and New York Marathons as well as being a consistent triathlete.