Talking Movies (Or Why I Stopped Being a ‘Film Critic’)

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I never liked being called a “film critic.” It was a burden that I didn’t want in the first place. It meant that every piece I wrote had to be coated with a thick sludge of seriousness. Thoughts became proper and each turn of phrase sharpened with a sense of responsibility to the reader and, by extension, the filmmaker — if they happened to chance upon the real estate where my words were being farmed out. I tried taking up this challenge a few times, calling on the ghosts of the film critics I admired so I could somehow do their profession justice. My attempts were meager, stuttering efforts on being firm and authoritative. My writing was never meant to hold such weight, a fact that I accepted early on in my short-lived post as a film reviewer. Why should I continue when there were better and more powerful figures out there, more adept and skilled at conveying the experience of watching films? There was just too many of us around, stomping and grunting, thinking we had something significant to say. And when you’re just another voice bellowing out into the wilderness, maybe it’s finally time to stop.

Pelikula was an enjoyable exercise bolstered by the excesses and ambitions of youth. Tumblr was young and we were just a couple of kids who had time to kill, curious about like-minded people online. The climate was of ecstatic discovery. People collaborated, driven by a sense of community, no matter how small it was back then. When we started Pelikula, Tumblr, as a platform began growing, and as year-end film lists were starting to dominate our dashboards, we thought it would be cool to introduce a film blog with a local perspective. We managed to run the blog steadily for three years. Enthusiasm wore out, people got busy and priorities were restacked. The blog gathered dust, pumped back into life by our occasional attempts to resuscitate it. It’s been eight months since we last posted something. Perhaps we’ll get back to it, now that we’ve grown up a little bit, certainly with a bit of editorial experience that was lacking when we first started. But it’s good to see it once in a while, if only as a reminder that we were once kids, thriving on recklessness and bursting with ideas that we thought would change the world.

What’s your greatest achievement? ”Someone asked me that in an interview. I drew a blank. Nothing. It was a simple question and for someone just two years out of college, I should have had an answer. What does it mean? Is it an award from school? Graduating with honors? No. That’s for nerds. What then? Publishing a book! Directing a film. I have none! All the responses streaming around my head — careful enough not to tumble out of my mouth — were the kind of sad replies from someone who hasn’t done sh*t. I wanted to say “co-creating Pelikula” and it should have been because it was “the little film blog that could,” at least in the three years that it was consistently running. Eventually, I was honest enough to say that I hadn’t really “achieved” anything yet. I told the interviewer about my plans of publishing a book on Philippine cinema and how I think life is actually a never-ending quest for the ultimate achievement: enlightenment.

Nope. I’m totally kidding about that last part.

There was a time, when we still had Pelikula, that I would watch an average of two films a day and post my thoughts/reviews online. Writing about films then was almost a reflex for me. Getting copies of Filipino films became a bit of a quest for me. I loved going to Quiapo, looking for classic films by Mike De Leon, Ishmael Bernal, Marilou Diaz Abaya, Celso Ad. Castillo, and even recent Cinemalaya films I didn’t get to watch. I attended film festivals religiously, shelling out hard-earned money for tickets, festival passes and, in some cases, repeated viewings of films I loved.

I don’t get to watch a lot of films these days. It’s funny because I have better access to films than before. There are always plans to watch Slant’s 100 Best Horror Films or Indiewire’s Best Films of the Decade(So Far), but I almost always end up sleeping on weekends or binge-watching a TV show that I’ve already watched ten times over. Film festivals now sound like a chore, especially the prospect of sitting through three bad films just to get to a good one.

More than anything else, it’s just the deluge of deadlines and the constant stream of responsibilities that get in the way. It’s hard to appreciate a film when your brain has been turned to mush by five days of work, which is probably why I turn to mindless/light entertainment when I feel exhausted. You’d have to chain me to a chair and stick an IV drip into my arm to make me watch another arthouse film.

Originally published in The Philippine Star (August 8, 2015)

Author: donjaucian

25 year-old film nut.

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