- Kilometro – Sarah Geronimo
- Say You Love Me – Jessie Ware
- Two Weeks – FKA Twigs
- Dyosa – Yumi Lacsamana
- No Erase – James Reid & Nadine Lustre
- Sana – Lee Grane
- Left Hand Free – Alt J
- Blank Space – Taylor Swift
- No Rest for the Wicked – Lykke Li
- You Know It’s You – Slow Hello
- Break Free – Ariana Grande
- Fireproof – One Direction
- Girls Chase Boys – Ingrid Michaelson
- Queen – Perfume Genius
- Somebody to You – The Vamps ft. Demi Lovato
Karl De Mesa’s non-fiction collection, Report from the Abyss, offers plenty of terrifying tales that will make you want to lock yourself up in a fortress or in a brightly lit room. Far from the full-on phantasmagoria of his fiction (the novella collection News of the Shaman, and the short story collection, Damaged People: Tales of the Gothic Punk), De Mesa’s latest tracks down horrors that we encounter every day. These are stories that you’ve heard of in the news magazine shows, ripped from the hazy corner of a yellowing tabloid.
It’s easy to slide into pulp territory given the slippery nature of these incidences (indeed, two of the essays in the book are written in attention-grabbing tabloid vernacular) but De Mesa wraps them all up in crystalline prose while still thrumming with the eerie spirit of the weird and the occult.
For about half of the book, De Mesa takes us on a tour of his life and how each incident revolves around his manifesto to write about the horror and the macabre. Each part of his world that he lets us in harbors unique forms of terror that are far more harrowing than the supernatural. He reports from conflict zones; from his room while held up with a bad case of the flu (which becomes a brief rumination on how we transform after each disease that occupies our bodies); from a cramped prison camp where dreams are dissolved into transgressions and despair.
It only makes sense that the deadening brunt of the real world pushed De Mesa into writing horror. In his account of his coming of age in the Philippines starting from the pre-martial law era—an exorcism of a childhood spent in secrecy, communicating in codes and shuffling from one house after another — he lists his father’s incarceration as the primary reason for his shift from writing fantasy to horror.
“I wanted to draw the attention of the reader to real life, albeit indirectly, in a manner as subtle as an acupuncture needle being thrust into skin. I didn’t want escape; I wanted confrontation. Horror had it in spades. Plus, I was naturally drawn to the occult, the macabre, and mysterious. I dabbled in witchcraft, magick, psychic powers, energy healing, conspiracy theory, alien abductions, minor spells, conjurations and such esoteric stuff,” De Mesa writes.
See, unlike the coup of characters that wade in the charm of fantasia, ghouls, bloodsuckers and flesh-eating manifestations of fear can only drive us to face the monsters that we harbor within ourselves.
These creatures do appear, although briefly, in the book, and it might just be potent enough like the old world ghosts of a Lovecraftian tale. In “Adventures in the Heart of Darkness,” De Mesa talks to Tony Perez’s Spirit Questors about some of the most interesting cases that they’ve encountered. First, there’s the case of the Spanish poltergeist, which employs some basic scare tactics—doors slamming, footsteps on the floor, glass breaking—but still spooky enough for a haunted house account. Then there’s the case of the tikbalang familiar, something that followed Perez from a previous quest: an angry, 10-foot-tall creature that has the torso of a man and legs of an animal with horns and red eyes. Read it when the light of the day is fading with Eyedress’s ‘Nature Trips’ on loop and you’ll feel trapped in the most disturbing horror film you can imagine. And worse, it lives in your head and lingers long after you’ve turned the last page.
But the most interesting stories in Report are the ones that live on the streets. In the chapter “Friends in Bat Country,” De Mesa walks us through Quiapo, twice. First, at the tumult of the feast of the Black Nazarene, a microcosm of our country’s society and devotion to a higher power; and then in the stalls and vendors of amulets and talismans where people ask for powers that take them beyond this world. He also leads us into the cockpits of Manila, where superstition is a currency and science commingles with the Old Gods.
We Catholics live in “God country” and it isn’t surprising that different forms of magic make their way into our lives until now. The plethora of anting-anting vendors just within reach of a Catholic church do say something about how we turn to folk wisdom and the old world when things stop making sense.
Ultimately, Report confirms that ours is a colossal world of hurt and decades of gore and horror films have taught us that the ills that we encounter on the page and on screen are powerful reflections of turbulent times. De Mesa understands this and his documentary work is a testament to the strange conventions of the reality that we have to live in.
This article was originally published 12 October 2013 in The Philippine Star.
Alex Gilvarry’s acclaimed debut throws a Filipino fashion designer into the snarling jaws of New York’s fashion world.
The title of Filipino-American Alex Gilvarry’s debut novel, From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant, can be a little intimidating, or as Random House president Howard Kaminsky pointed out in the book’s testimonial video, annoyingly problematic. Its cover is grim: a mascot-looking prisoner reading a fashion rag as the darkness of his prison envelops him, the seven-word title stamped throughout the cover like a protest or a plea. It sounds like the kind of book that should only be read by anyone whose idea of a good time is watching CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera.
But Non-enemy Combatant is actually funny. It’s about a Boy Hernandez, a Filipino designer who moves to New York, and sets out to conquer the fashion world. Mostly everything goes according to plan — until Boy’s ties with a terrorist are uncovered and he is taken away to “No Man’s Land,” a notorious prison the likes of Guantanamo Bay.
From inside a six-by-eight-foot cell, Boy recounts his foray into fashion, name-dropping big designers such as Alexander McQueen, Carolina Herrera and Diane Von Furstenberg. His confessional was later compiled by fashion journalist and editor Gil Johannssen, who introduces the heavier political threads that surround Boy’s case — and corrects Boy’s misappropriations (Boy, for example, attributes a Nietzsche quote to Coco Chanel and mistakes Flaubert for Proust).
Boy’s similarities to certain Filipino fashion industry figures, namely Bryanboy and Timothy Garcia, have led people to think that Gilvarry based his protagonist on these larger-than-life characters.
Gilvarry explains, “I wrote about half the novel when my friend Liz Moore said ‘You know there’s this guy Bryanboy. I don’t know if you know about him. He kind of looks exactly like the character you’re writing about.’ So I checked him out and his website. I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ The similarities were crazy. Bryanboy sort of looks like the man I had been imagining as Boy.
“Bryanboy was one of the blogs I started reading more and more as I finished the novel so probably a little of him filtered in. In fact, I wrote him in the book, I mentioned him a few times. He’s one of the bloggers who writes about Boy to make him a little more famous in the Philippines,” Gilvarry says.
Gilvarry, a Norman Mailer Fellow who has contributed to The Paris Review, is striking in a Fil-Am sort of way (later, some people would tell me they picked up his book because he is “so gwapo”). He stands 6’3” and his warm voice makes for a perfect NPR commentator. He occasionally visits the Philippines and researching for Non-Enemy Combatant brought him more often in familiar places such as Manila and Samar, places that eventually became Boy’s past. Despite being born and raised in Staten Island, New York, Gilvarry admits his Filipina mom allowed him to grow up in a half-Filipino environment. He doesn’t speak Tagalog but his mom’s way of speaking English made him aware of the rhythms of the immigrant language.
Thus, Gilvarry’s Boy reeks of basic Filipino nuances — he maligns idioms and pronounces f’s as p’s or v’s as b’s. But Boy also bulldozes stereotypes in a world where Overseas Filipino Workers are usually portrayed as hardworking laborers who juggle jobs just to send money home; their voices clipped with Americanized English while hanging on to a hard Filipino accent as a crutch and a lifeline.
Non-Enemy Combatant comes at a period in the US where legalities surrounding immigration have formed a heavy cloud in an already volatile socio-political atmosphere. It has been the subject of many polarizing discussions, particularly now that the US presidential election is looming.
“America is a country of immigrants in some ways. Of course, now we don’t see it that way, people there don’t see it that way. There’s a big fear of the immigrants more than ever in recent history, I think. It was really just from inspiration and you can get a lot of metaphors out of the story of migration,” Gilvarry says.
Through Boy, Gilvarry weaves a gripping tale of post-9/11 New York, a city that has learned to stand ground and lick its wounds while still bracing against semblances of threat that hang in the air. The landscape may have changed and an enemy has been taken down but for Gilvarry, New York is still charged with the climate that has pervaded over the past decade.
“The biggest change was Osama Bin Laden is now dead, right? And I found that the climate hasn’t changed as much as we think it has, even though it has been 11 years since 9/11. We’re still at war with terrorists, we’re still very afraid of them,” Gilvarry says.
Non-Enemy Combatant not only skewers post 9/11 distrust and discrimination, it also addresses the dearth of the Filipino voice in American literature, something that he has always sought out as a publishing editor and as a reader of immigrant novels.
“I don’t think Filipinos are very well understood in literature and in American Literature, too. I feel like in the US, they already have Korean-American literature, which calls to mind a bunch of authors. Chinese-American literature, that calls other authors to mind. But we don’t really have Filipino-American Literature. But of course there are many who are coming around now. But I wanted a Filipino-American novel to tell that story because I don’t think it has been told enough, at least.”
As Filipino-American writers like Gilvarry, Miguel Syjuco, Lysley Tenorio and Gina Apostol pave the way for Filipinos in the greater fabric of world literature, we can only expect that the stature and myth that surrounds us Filipinos will expand to broader horizons, and that we will be known not only for our labor exports and YouTube cover songs.
“I think editors are now more aware of Filipinos and Filipino American literature and it’s only gonna get better and better for everybody as we build our canon,” Gilvarry says.
This article was originally published 22 September 2012 in The Philippine Star’s Supreme
Philippine Cinema is back on its feet, so declares its most rabid supporters—even tottering off to a new Golden Age. Given a much-needed adrenaline shot by Erik Matti’s On the Job, finally rousing the middle class to troop to a local film, things have been pretty upbeat for homegrown films and this time it’s not just people in the industry who are flaming the cinematic fire. It’s the triumph of Norte, The End of History, On the Job and by association, Ilo Ilo and Metro Manila that got onlookers curious about Philippine Cinema once more. While the ninth edition of Cinemalaya went well, with more commercial-ready films at its wing, and tried-and-tested success of It Takes A Man and A Woman swept the nation off its feet, it’s when the Philippine delegation to Cannes 2013 sounded off with critical acclaim that the year became one hell of a time for Philippine Cinema.
Two new film festivals—TV 5’s CineFilipino and the Film Development Council of the Philippine’s All-Masters Festival—debuted this year, with Salamindanaw International Film Festival joining by the wayside. By the time CineFilipino wrapped up its screenings, prognosticators were all too happy to list a preliminary Best Filipino Films of 2013 because the crop of films were that good, you can actually fill a ballot up to 20. Some films got out of the indie circuit, thanks to distributors who still take a chance on little films. Films like Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin or Sana Dati were released alongside mainstream releases and Hollywood blockbusters. Although the numbers were still small, the fact that these films tried to exist outside film festival and onto a wider audience was enough to gain a glimmer of hope for better films.
Ultimately, this year’s best films dealt with the terrible embrace of the human condition: Norte’s nihilistic punch in the gut; Bukas Na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na’s reshaping of our dark history; and Badil’s slow-burning tale of terror and corruption. But at the other end of the spectrum, there lies the light hearted toying on hot-button issues: Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita’s charming portrayal of young lesbian love; Lukas Nino‘s mythic plunge into young ambition and mythmaking, Blue Bustamante’s spin on 90s nostalgia and the OFW phenomenon; and Iskalawags’s gritty but tender take on small-town dreams and childhood fears. And then, there’s Sana Dati, a deconstructed tale of love fraught with familiar strains longing and loss.
12. Blue Bustamante (Miko Livelo)
10. La Ultima Pelicula (Raya Martin and Mark Peranson)
9. Quick Change (Eduardo Roy)
7. Sana Dati (Jerrold Tarog)
6. Lukas Nino (John Torres)
4. Iskalawags (Keith Deligero)
3. Ang Huling Cha-cha Ni Anita (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo)
2. Badil (Chito Rono)
1. Norte: Hangganan Ng Kasaysayan (Lav Diaz)
My gateway drug into the hyperkinetic world of pop culture was Titanic. Yes, thatTitanic—yes, the $200-million James Cameron movie which also doubles as an approximation of his dick and ego. And here’s the most baduy thing about it: Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On was the reason I tuned in to MTV every freaking day. It may sound terribly jologs, but a blockbuster film like Titanic makes for a perfect introduction to pop culture. Its immensity covers all the great films that existed before it, sharing the weight of historical epics such as Ben Hur and the sweeping romance of classics like Gone with the Wind.
My Titanic years (which approximately lasted for two years) were pretty intense: I scoured newspapers and magazines and clipped any mention of the film — the ‘90s version of an aggregator or Twitter link (the news clippings are still kept in a red folder somewhere in our house). While waiting for Celine Dion on MTV, I got introduced to musicians like Tori Amos, Madonna (who was at her post-‘80s prime in 97’s “Ray of Light”), Bjork, U2 and Jewel. Everything else followed suit: Top 40 pop, American Film Institute’s 100 films (courtesy of the Newsweek special with the AFI 100 commemoration that featured a Martin Scorsese article mentioning Titanic), Academy Awards, film soundtracks, and magazines (Vanity Fairand Entertainment Weekly).
Four years after, this ridiculous cycle of obsession was repeated when The Lord of the Rings came out. This was a longer phase, marked by a close reading of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy and The Hobbit, learning to write and read in Elvish and other Middle Earth languages (the Cirth rune was a particular favorite), and visiting filmtracks.com for translations of the choir texts Howard Shore used in the trilogy’s soundtrack.LOTR ushered in the science fiction/horror/speculative fiction phase of my reading life. Unlike my Titanicphase, this was easier because there were blogs like Andrew Ty’s Atrocity Exhibition LiveJournal or Banzai Cat’s blog that referred me to authors like China Mieville, Iain M. Banks and Thomas Ligotti.
Because you kids arrived on this earth in the time of the Blessed Reign of the Holy Internet, getting access to all the cool and obscure pop culture stuff is pretty easy. Even a quick visit to a Wikipedia page of a film, book or album leads to a treasure trove of information via citations and footnotes. But the case here is all about careful curation of content. Your online existence will be relatively easy if you know which sites to go to for your pop cultural consumption. Going past The Daily What, I Can Haz Cheezburger, or Animals Talking in All Caps (probably the most intelligent animal-related meme blog on the web), here are four websites and an artist discography that has helped shaped my cultural consumption over the past decade or so. I hope this list will be helpful, particularly to those who want a different pop cultural perspective this 2013.
Combining excellent writing with sharp pop cultural observations, Slant champions the great and the underappreciated in film, music, television and (more recently) video games. Their 100 Essential Films list has Bela Tarr’s Satantango share sacred space with divisive cult classics like Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls. All their staff lists, like The 25 Best Horror Films of the Aughts and 100 Best Films of the 1990s are essential reading for film enthusiasts.
It may be a bit twee or over-enthusiastic for some but Maria Popova’s website is a repository of curiosities and interesting finds on science, history, literature, politics, and everything in between. Some of their interesting posts include The Best Science Books of 2012, Susan Sontag on Love, and “British vs American Politics in Minimalist Vintage Infographics.”
The discographies of Sufjan Stevens and The Decemberists
These folk rock contemporaries are commandeered by men who have painstakingly pored through little-known lore, urban legends and kilometric epic poems, as reflected in their respective discographies. Stevens, known for his ambitious Americana albums, mixes gritty narratives (his song John Wayne Gacy Jr. is about empathizing with the titular serial killer) and Christian-folk sensibilities (particularly on his album “Seven Swans” which featured a track about the transfiguration of Christ) while Colin Meloy, the lead singer and songwriter of The Decemberists, incorporates Japanese legends (such as “The Crane Wife”) and indie rock operas (in The Hazards of Love) as tributes to his literary heroes. Their albums and the succeeding unraveling of their influences and Easter Eggs are great introductions to lesser-known tales.
Their website’s “about” page puts the reading experience succinctly: “mental_flossmagazine is an intelligent read, but not too intelligent. We’re the sort of intelligent that you hang out with for a while, enjoy our company, laugh a little, smile a lot and then we part ways.” The magazine poses questions and answers to things you never thought you’d be interested in: investigations on newt toxins, how paperbacks changed the way Americans read, and stories behind famous cocktails. You may not give a sh*t about these things but after reading mental_floss, you will want to tell everyone (i.e. your Facebook friends list and Twitter followers) about it.
Three quarters into Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue, one of his broken-down characters proclaims, “Lots of bad things happen once you start to get old.” It’s not quite as profound like the other chunks of wisdom Chabon scatters across his book but its basic, eleven-word grip hovers above the characters heads like a godforsaken slogan written in Dayglo colors. Chabon, who previously won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, splits this realization into the two halves of his story: one about fatherhood and the other about professional struggle.
Chabon builds Telegraph Avenue as a sprawling view of pre-Obama America. It’s 2004 in the titular NoCal avenue (which connects Berkeley and Oakland) and Nat Jaffe and Archy Stallings find themselves in a battle against retail giant Dogpile, which threatens to eat up their independent vinyl record store, Brokeland Records. Their wives are also having a hard time as birth partners and will soon descend into some sort of professional limbo after birthing hiccup with one of their clients. These characters will soon hang out with then Senator Obama in one of his political fund raising gigs in Berkeley. His cameo sets off the signifier for change—something that will be faced with a good amount of reluctance and opposition.
Much of what Chabon mines here is the stuff of Obama’s promised wave of change: racial dynamics (Nat is Jewish and Archy is black), health care, corporate sleaze versus small businesses, communal development, and homosexuality. There’s even a little bit of immigration tucked here and there. Chabon frames all this in a Blaxploitation perspective, via Archy’s dad Luther who used to be a B-movie action star. He occasionally lapses into a mixtape of the African-American history, jazz and soul worship, violent outbursts, and the existential state that we share with our collectibles, mimicking the filmic stylishness and attribution of Quentin Tarantino, whose work figures widely in the book.
Telegraph Avenue towers with ambition. It hints at an exercise of making the new Great American Novel that approximates the socio-political climate of the era, an impression that is reinforced with each giddy reception of the book. Heavily immersive passages (watch out for the one-sentence chapter), pockmarked with bursts of obscure references may sometimes mar the reading experience but once Chabon unleashes a bevy of swift literary Kung Fu moves, he hooks you in from page to page, crackling with fetishistic brio and sense of direction. It may be a slow burner but Telegraph Avenue reveals itself as an unlikely field guide to pop cultural dreams and easing up into the complexities of adulthood.
Gay relationships on TV and film always fall down a slippery slope. Hordes of “indie” films have whittled homosexuality into its most banal and visceral forms, so we’re forced to turn to other reliable sources for a more sobered portrayal of the dynamics of a gay relationship.
Enter GMA-7’s My Husband’s Lover, a teleserye that serves up a different kind of gay drama. The fact that its title presents a problematic scenario adds to the pressure that the show is facing. But what makes My Husband’s Lover unique is its central struggle — that of a wife witnessing the disintegration of her marriage with her closeted gay husband, whose failure to come to terms with his homosexuality gives Filipinos a venue to discuss pressing LGBT issues.
This show also takes a risk by casting “hunky” actors as its leads. At the central conflict we have Tom Rodriguez and Dennis Trillo playing Vincent and Eric, star-crossed lovers whose relationship begins as high school sweethearts. Victor Basa, meanwhile, plays a supporting character David, Vincent’s confidant and former lover. Tom, Dennis, and Victor are all aware of the pressures and expectations about the show.
“There’s a lot of pressure because you don’t want a caricature of a person,” says Victor. “It’s a drama, not a comedy. You don’t want your audience to feel a disconnect. If it’s not truthful, what’s the use of what we’re doing? Hindi makakaabot yung message sa mga tao if it’s very shallow. We take our work seriously.”
All three of them work hard to steer their portrayals away from how we usually see gays on TV — which is typically the loud, parlorista comedy bar homosexual. Tom approached his character with a more emotional bent, seeing that the usual nuances of a gay man do not necessarily define how a character is. “I wanted to focus more on the emotions of Vincent’s character kasi yung takot ko ayaw kong magingcartoon siya eh, or a caricature, that it will be offensive,” explains Tom.
“Mahirap paniwalaan yung mga lalakeng umaarte na bading,” Dennis, meanwhile, says. “Kailanganipakita mo rin yung best mo. Maganda na naniniwala yung mga tao, siguro dahil we believe in what we do.”
Victor’s David is the sound of reason between the three of them. He’s helplessly fallen in love with Vincent before. He knows that Vincent’s marriage to Lally is a sham, that he was just forced to marry her because he got her pregnant: a one-way ticket to hide his true identity in the folds of a happy marriage. But as Vincent tries to burrow himself even more in his lie of a heterosexual life, his marriage slowly goes in shambles, with Lally gradually uncovering her husband’s hidden life: a photo of Eric hidden in a picture frame beside the bed, late, lonely nights, and the growing distance between them.
My Husband’s Lover gives us the macho gay man tangled in the typical web of emotional and familial struggle of a typical gay man. With every homophobe we encounter on the show (such as Vincent’s dad who threatens gay men by pulling out his gun because he wants gyms and golf clubs homo-free), we have Chanda Romero as Eric’s supportive mom, the kind of person that every gay man and woman should have as their Sherpa up the mountain of gayness. We get one cliché after another in the show and we only hope that these clichés are present so it could be bulldozed and dismissed.
LGBT advocates have praised My Husband’s Lover for the risk that it takes in telling such a story on free TV. Ron de Vera of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHO) outlines the key points that the show got right:
“From an advocacy perspective, it is good that the portrayal of ‘gays’ departs from the stereotypical loud cross-dressing effeminate male (which is technically a transgender). Hopefully, with a little more push, this will help educate the general public about the distinction between gays and transgenders,” he says.
There’s also the situation that brought Eric and Vincent’s together. Ron says, “I like that the two gay characters are/were in a relationship based on emotional bonds and not economic dependence. It shows that masculine men can actually be attracted to other men (regardless of gender expression) without financial compensation.”
But the catch is that, again, from the show’s title, the gay relationship is the antagonist of the show. If Eric and Vincent end up together, it might portray gay men as homewreckers, something that isn’t intrinsic in all homosexuals. And whatever the ending is, as Ron puts is, the gays lose.
“I’m actually kind of worried about how it will end because both scenarios (that I can think of right now) will put gays in a bad light. On one hand, if the married couple ends up staying together, the gay lover will turn out to be the loser. It will send the message that gays can choose to be straight and stay with their ‘chosen wives’ and ‘chosen lives,’ and gay lovers have no hope in life (boohoo). On the other hand, if gay husband leaves his wife and runs away with gay lover, then the message will be, that gays are homewreckers (more boohoo),” Ron explains.
Ray of light
My Husband’s Lover could very well be a new chapter in the LGBT advocacy. It can show bigots and closed-minded people how gay men and women aren’t lustful, sex maniacs or low lives. But all this posturing and pontificating could eventually lead to propaganda where homosexuality can be “cured” by marriage, starting a family, and overcoming “lustful tendencies.”
But all this withstanding, the show is about love. And love knows no gender, as we are told. Love is the heart pounding at its core and all those who tune in, whether they are straight, transgender, bi or gay, are pinning their hopes on the show for a realistic portrayal of how it is to be in love; to understand how it’s like to love in a world where everything is at stake. In the process, the show could become a dialogue on LGBT issues, transforming the platform as a different and more accessible way to reach more people.
“We’ll just see if it’s a tragic love story or a happy ending,” says Tom.
* * *
My Husband’s Lover airs weeknights after Mundo Mo’y Akin on GMA-7. Originally published in Supreme (22 June 2013)