You Say You Want a (Digital) Revolution?
It is easy to understand why they call filmmaking the “new rock n’ roll.” Pinoys have been enamoured with Hollywood for more than half a century, but it is only in recent years that filmmaking has drawn this much interest from the youth. It is probably the “new rock n’ roll” in that many young filmmakers aspire for the usual life of fame, fortune and juvenile debauchery with the same wide-eyed innocence as the proverbial 90s garage band.
Which is to say that I think filmmaking today has become quite a popular option for artistically-inclined kids for some very wrong reasons.
Foremost, of course, is the myth that rockstardom is still possible at all in this godforsaken country of novelty songs, Hello Garci tapes, rotten politicians and backward-as-hell countryside. Gone are the days of superstars and The Pinoy Frank Sinatra or The Pinoy Karen Carpenter (she’s now in the public transport business), busy as we are with quarreling over the scraps left at the table of multinational corporations. The myth of the rockstar died with the breakup of the Eraserheads, that veritable 90s icon whose rise to national prominence practically captured the spirit of the generation. We dreamt it, we believed it, but this myth never survived.
What saddens us, therefore, that many young, aspiring filmmakers still buy this bullshit.
Many young filmmakers continue to aspire for fame and toiling in the digital realm, hoping to eventually break into the “big time” – pay a high price for their naivete, ultimately pawning their wide-eyed idealism at the altar of compromise. The best artistic minds are everday lost to advertising agencies, television sitcoms, and other commercial endeavors.
It saddens us, but at the same time, we fully understand. This bullshit has been thrown to us so long we now hardly smell the stench. In our current dispensation, art is just like any other commodity, like tourism, or domestic helpers, that the government can sell to foreigners at discounted rates. The prevailing philosophy in many of our local film festivals has always been to promote and recognize films of “world class quality,” whatever “world class” actually means. Following this philosophy, filmmakers only have to follow foreign trends and compete in “international standards” for fame and fortune to come their way.
But the E’heads never batted for “world class” approval (although they later took their fame too seriously, which may explain the band’s eventual anachronism and abrupt demise). Certainly, neither did Lino Brocka, who looked curious in his anti-Marcos barong he wore to the Cannes. Nor many others who survived the adolescent thrill of passing fame to become serious artists who mattered in their own country.
Brocka, on the other hand, was an extraordnary man of vision and integrity, and had the First Quarter Storm and the Martial Law for his political education. Today’s aspiring filmmakers surely have their own share of genius. But fact remains that Brocka’s generation of “dreamers” never had to put up with the thoroughgoing indoctrination into capitalist philosophy courtesy of the current mainstream multimedia.
Sure, today’s filmmakers are given enough elbow room to flex their creativity with digital technology. But the need for a sizeable audience for their works would necessitate thier assimilation into the putrid world of commercial distribution. More than a decade after the arrival of the first digital camera in the market, democratization has only gone so far as allowing for sleeker home movies and flashier audiovisual (school) reports.
Such is the prevailing “culture industry,” as Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno put it in The Dialectic of Enlightenment over fifty years ago. For it is indeed an industry, a whole network of practices and customs designed to make us all feel better about our miserable, oppressed lives. When we see commercials on television proclaiming new technology which would enhance our lives — or make us better filmviewers or filmmakers — it certainly delivers. That is, as long as we do not deviate from its practices.
(This opens up a debate about movie piracy, which starts out innocently as a subversion of approved filmviewing practices, only to eventually reinforce capitalism itself. In this social order there’s always something in the market for everyone, even those incapable of buying original DVDs.)
The very idea of democratization (everybody can be a filmmaker with a DigiCam) as marketed by the mutinationals (Sony, et al) would lead us into believing that everything — every image, every moment — can be worth capturing in megapixels, even the most private moments (think those video scandals). A clearly captured clip of artistas cavorting can be as powerful as images of, say, a violent dispersal of a workers’ picketline. Or a home wedding video as potent as a video exposing government corruption. In the capitalist marketplace, all images and ideas have equal weight, whoever morally repugnant and materially oppressive half of them really are.
This “de-moralization” of cinema manifests in most inocuous ways for skilled filmmakers: the lure of advertising. So inocuous, in fact, that it is usually passed off as the most natural thing. Take, for instance, the UP College of Fine Arts’ Visual Communications program, which in actual practice mainly promotes the sort of visual communication commonly found in advertising.
Horkheimer and Adorno explained the raison d’etre of advertising in a capitalist society: “Advertising is its [culture industry] elixir of life. But as its product never fails to reduce to a mere promise the enjoyment which it promises as a commodity, it eventually coincides with publicity, which it needs because it cannot be enjoyed. In a competitive society, advertising performed the social service of informing the buyer about the market; it made choice easier and helped the unknown but more efficient supplier to dispose of his goods.”
Of course, we don’t see Adorno and Horkeimer’s ideas competing in the “marketplace of ideas,” getting equal airtime as the countless advertisements promoting the “better life.” What our young filmmakers constantly see and buy is the promise of a “rock n’ roll” career, bereft of the stifling obligations of social responsibility and enlightenment.
Given this scenario, then, can we still proclaim “digital revolution”?
We submit the answer to be a precarious yes, not only because despite the temptation to sellout digital filmmakers continue to increase in number, but also because the technology has presented for many of those already going against the grain of dominant culture a unique opportunity to change the practice of filmmaking in the country. One can even venture to say that a social-political movement outside cinema gaining ground would compel many filmmakers to confront social realities from which this social-political movement sprang. Thus, we have an ouvure of provocative filmmakers, from the Red brothers, to Lav Diaz, to people like Khavn, confronting themes of poverty and oppression, in historical contexts or present-day scenarios. We also have a host of young audio-visual groups from Southern Tagalog Exposure to Sine Patriyotiko (SIPAT) with activist agenda and their own system of bootleg distribution.
Khavn said in an interview with SINEWAYA that filmmakers like him would not have been able to make films at all had it not been for digital technology. Which only means that technology per se has never been the enemy of the artist. Its development only gave the filmmaker better tools with which to create. Seen in this light, we realize that “digital revolution” will not really free our sights from dominant cinema, the “revolution” in it an anticipation of more sweeping revolutions to come.# Kenneth Roland A. Guda