Concentrated Nonsense (cinema edition) / lino brocka

Jonathan Rosenbaum’s official website has just been launched, containing over twenty years of his writing for the Chicago Readers as well as updates on the publishing of his writing and events he is involved with. It includes a search function – important given how much material has been available – which I immediately put to good to use.

I found a piece, Film on Film: Documenting the Director published on May 4, 1990, about a series of documentaries on filmmakers that screened in the Chicago Film Center. One of the films discussed was the Christian Blackwood documentary Signed, Lino Brocka (which Jonathan graciously lent me after we met), a very interesting film featuring an extremely candid Brocka near the height of his international fame, yet still struggling to make the films he wants to in the Philippines.

It’s especially alarming to note that the only significant documentary that has been made on Brocka, the Philippines most well known filmmaker, was made by a foreigner.

The portion of the Rosenbaum article dealing with Signed, Lino Brocka below:

Signed, Lino Brocka (1987), the first film in the series, was made by Christian Blackwood, a German-born documentarist currently based in New York whose previous subjects have included Eartha Kitt, Zarah Leander (the German movie star of the 30s) and her contemporary fans, and the diverse and fascinating people in various motels, in Motel (1989), his latest feature. Brocka, who is the most talented and important director now working in the Philippines–and probably the most prolific, having directed more than 50 films in less than 20 years–specializes in low-budget melodramas, the most personal ones charged with social and political awareness. To date I’ve seen only a limited sample of his work, and this at film festivals, which are regrettably the main venue for his work in the U.S. so far–a common problem for even the best third world filmmakers, and I’m confident from the little I’ve seen that Brocka is one of the best. The raw emotional impact of his films makes them fully accessible, and I suspect that the absence of big budgets and white stars is the main reason Brocka lacks a bigger American audience.

Blackwood’s film focuses more on Brocka’s life than on his films, and considering the nature of Brocka’s career, this makes perfect sense. (This approach worked less well when I recently saw it applied to Raul Ruiz in a British TV documentary, because in that case the emphasis on how nice a guy Ruiz is didn’t leave much space for dealing with the more subversive aspects of his work.) The film opens with shots of Manila while we hear Brocka on the phone speaking in English to someone in France. Then he explains to Blackwood that he’s responding to a French survey about why he makes films, and he proceeds to read his reply–a lengthy statement that concludes “Film for me recaptures the spontaneous, pure, no-nonsensical relationship I had with the world as a child. That is why later, when I learned what was happening to my countrymen, I decided I also wanted to be part of those who tell the truth–I wanted to cry and I wanted to disturb. . . . Signed, Lino Brocka.”

We cut to Brocka directing a scene from a movie. We learn shortly that Brocka is making the film in exchange for the producer having paid his bail bond when Brocka was arrested in 1985 for his part as a negotiator in a transit strike. He goes on to describe his difficult childhood, his varied background (including work as a monk in a Hawaiian leper colony), his homosexuality (and the controversial impact of homosexual themes on a few of his films), the Philippines and its film industry, his unbridled hatred for Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, and his growing activism; and what impresses one the most through this extended and illustrated conversation with Blackwood are his courage, intelligence, and candor. When clips from his films are shown–apparently filmed directly off a screen or moviola–Brocka translates the dialogue, explains the plots, and offers self-critical comments to Blackwood while we see them. The film assumes as well as demonstrates a direct continuity between Brocka’s passion as a director and his passion as a human being, and while the results can’t completely take the place of seeing a Brocka film, they provide an absorbing and comprehensive introduction.

3 Comments so far
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Saw this belatedly Alex, thanks for posting it. Saw the doc years back, when it was shown in CCP; can’t remember much of it now, except that much of it we all know, from gradual osmosis through the years. Still, it’s the best distillation of his life we know, other than Anak ni Brocka.

Comment by Noel Vera

Hi Noel, thanks for the comment.
“Still, it’s the best distillation of his life we know, other than Anak ni Brocka.”

… which is to say, it’s still the best distillation of his life (in cinematic form) we know.

Comment by Alexis

I love him. I thought it was great that In response to the AFI list of 100 greatest American movies published in 1998, he published his own list [2], focusing on less well-established, more diverse films. It also includes works by important American directors (such as John Cassavetes) who were absent from the AFI list.

In his most recent collection, Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons (2004), he appended a more general list of his 1,000 favorite films of all nationalities, slightly over half of which were American.

Comment by orange county bail

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