By E. SAN JUAN,  Jr.

Pigafetta mentions the  slave about five or six times.... Possibly the first man to circumnavigate the  world was a slave...a Filipino. -- Kidlat Tahimik

Despite  having won numerous international awards, Kidlat Tahimik (Eric de Guia) remains  virtually unknown except for a few film aficionados. Recently his name appeared  in Manila newspapers when his 4-story "Sunflower" house in Itogon, Benguet,  burned down. His sons escaped, but his precious collection of art was  destroyed.  Built by his father from recycled wood in 1972, the house is  symbolic for Kidlat: "Only a charred sculpture of an Igorot man playing the  flute remains of the house. It stands by the gate. I lost all my memories in  that house" (The Manila Times, Feb. 16, 2004).

It can be said that Kidlat's films all deal  with memories of creation and destruction. They embody historical recollections  of the national past accompanied by a critical inventory of what is important  and meaningful to be saved for the future. This essay intends to explore the  method in which the colonial past of Filipino society, its current crisis, and  problematic future has been translated into visual tropes and symbolic figures  in Kidlat's two films, Mababangong Bangungot (Perfumed Nightmare, 1977, 91  minutes, winner of the International Critics Award at the Berlin Film Festival  Award), and Turumba  (1981-83, 94  minutes, winner of the Top Cash Award, Mannheim Film Festival). My comments are  meant to provoke questions and arouse interest in the topic of what constitutes  a properly Filipino cinema.

Since 1983, Kidlat has been experimenting with  a film entitled "Memories of Overdevelopment" about Pigafetta, the Malayan slave  who lived after Magellan's death and circumnavigated the world. Meanwhile, he  has just completed a semi-autobiographical film, Bakit Yellow ang Gitna ng  Bahaghari  ( Why is the heart of the  rainbow yellow? 1980-1994,  175  minutes). Aside from personal reminiscence, the film also tries to capture the  texture of political life in the Philippines from the dark days of the Marcos  dictatorship, the "People Power" revolution that overthrew the brutal regime,  the turbulent period of Corazon Aquino's rule and the atrocities committed by  vigilantes, up to the withdrawal of U.S. military bases, the earthquake that  devastated Baguio City, the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, the energy crisis of the  nineties, and the revival of indigenous movements by the end of the century. It  is a panoramic photograph of a historical sequence in the vicissitudes of a  neocolonized people/nation in the process of self-emancipation.  

The Perfumed  Nightmare

For those who have not seen the two earlier  films which I analyze below, allow me to describe them in broad strokes.  

Perfumed Nightmare  involves Kidlat's awakening from the "cocoon of American dreams," a span  of 33 typhoon seasons since his birth in 1942 during the Japanese Occupation.  The "perfumed nightmare" refers to his existence in the lotus-land of American  cultural colonialism. By using the jeepney, a recrafted vehicle left by World  War II GIs, as a symbol of the historical passage from the past to the present,  the Kidlat persona in the film crosses "the bridge of life" into the village  where normal routine is defamiliarized for him by his listening to the Voice of  America broadcasts. This obsession becomes catastrophic but also  educational.

Fascinated by America's space program, Kidlat  becomes the head of a Werner von Braun fan club. His enthusiasm for progress  leads to his managing for an American businessman a chewing-gum ball machine  concession in Paris and Germany. After a parodic enactment of a summit meeting  in Paris, the film leads to Kidlat's disillusionment with progress; he finally  realizes that machines and efficient technology destroy certain values necessary  for human freedom and happiness. He returns to his village, resigning from the  Werner von Braun club, and affirms that he will find his own way to liberation,  even though the idealized past of pre-colonial Philippines cannot be restored.  

Hallucinatory, naively accomplished, humorous  and surreal, Kidlat's fable supposedly demonstrates the native's magical prowess  of producing a substantial art-work for only $10,000 (the cost of the outdated  film stock), with the help of Werner Herzog and Francis Ford Coppola's studio  Zoetrope which distributed the film.


Turumba is actually Kidlat's first film. It focuses on one  family's traditional occupation of making papier-mâché animals for the Turumba  religious festival in a Filipino village. Everything changes when a German agent  buys all their stock and orders more for the Oktoberfest celebration in Germany;  soon the family's seasonal occupation becomes a year-round routine of alienated  labour. Eventually the whole village is converted into a jungle assembly line to  produce papier-mâché mascots for the Munich Olympics. With the intrusion of  electric fans, TV sets, Beatle records, and the compulsion of work schedule, the traditional rhythm of family and village life is irretrievably broken.  

Success for the family coincides with the  emergence of a local proletariat whose innocence is ironically shrouded by the  turbulent storm, emblematic of the revolt of nature, that overtakes the whole  village. Is this the judgment of a subliminal conscience, or the ironic comment  of a sagacious historian?  J. Hoberman remarks that the film is "not only  amusedly Marxist but mock German in its low-key nostalgia as the old-time  völkische gemeinschaft succumbs inexorably to the bad, new gesellschaft of  industrial civilization." Just as the first film rejects modern progress and its  dehumanizing effects, Turumba laments the passing of the old sacramental unity  of man and nature, opting for a middle way of compromise: the bricolage of the  film-maker, reusing the past to renew the present and thus initiate a more  imaginative, organic, integral future.

Both Perfumed Nightmare and Turumba use  realist scenarios to project an allegorical rendering of the Filipino experience  under U.S. colonial domination and its disastrous neo-colonial sequel. What  engages my interest here is the vision of the future inscribed in the films, and  how their cinematic methods may hopefully allow popular energies to intervene in  blasting the burden of the nightmarish status-quo--the legacy of colonialism and  corporate globalization -- which Kidlat addresses more directly in his more  politically astute concoction,  Bakit Yellow ang Gitna ng Bahaghari (Why is the heart of the rainbow yellow).  On the  latter film, we can postpone our commentary for another occasion.

Revisiting the Primal  Scene   

The  controversy over the bells of Balangiga in 1998, the year of the Centenary of  the First Philippine Republic, may yield more than a journalistic and diplomatic  fruit. It offers an unsolicited pretext to explore the implication of certain  appraisals of Kidlat Tahimik's film art, in particular, The Perfumed Nightmare,  and its post-modern resonance. This somewhat gratuitous timeliness may in turn  open the closure of ludic Eurocentric postality to its victims. At least, this  will counter the post-modern amnesia regarding U.S.

Shortly after General Emilio Aguinaldo  revolutionary forces inaugurated the Republic in 1898, the Filipino-American War  broke out, resulting in the death of about a million Filipinos, the destruction  of the nationalist government, and the U.S. colonial domination of the  Philippines for over half a century.

One of the few incidents in which the Filipino  revolutionary army inflicted a devastating defeat on the United States  expeditionary forces was the attack at Balangiga, a town in Samar province, on  September 28, 1901. Of the 74 soldiers in the 9 Infantry Regiment of the U.S.  army stationed at the town, 45 were killed and 22 wounded--almost the entire  regiment. In retaliation, Gen. Jacob Smith who commanded the Marine battalion  sent to reinforce the U.S. occupation troops ordered a mass slaughter. The  interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness (Vizmanos 1989: 14). This  unofficial U.S. policy of indiscriminate pacification made the War an  unpremeditated rehearsal of Vietnam and a template for the colonial and  neo-colonial subjugation of Filipinos for the next century. We have not yet fully  recovered from the effects of that howling wilderness which becomes, in Kidlat's  film, the roar of rocket ships and destructive  machines.

When the American veterans of the Indian Wars  and the Philippine pacification campaign returned, they brought with them  three bells confiscated from the Catholic Church in Balangiga two of which  are kept at Francis Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. On the occasion  of the Centenary, the Philippine government requested Washington to return one  of the bells and a copy of the other; the military has so far refused. A retired  general who is civilian adviser to the base justifies the refusal: We don't have  to rewrite history and give back the bells because, yeah, our men were involved  in atrocities too. Those bells were used to make the attack against our troops  (Brooke 1997: A6).

Genealogy of  Fantasy

For whom the bells toll is a question that has  been answered by John Donne, Hemingway, and others. It is a question Kidlat  Tahimik revived in 1975-77 when he was composing Mababangong Bangungot (my  literal translation is Fragrant Asphyxiations). The background is significant.  It was the period of the Marcos dictatorship characterized by the wanton  violation of human rights and the plunder of the economy by foreign corporations  aided by comprador oligarchs and semi feudal landlords. It was a regime of  violence sanctioned by the U.S. government which subsidized Marcos and his  Pentagon-advised generals with an average of $100 million foreign aid from 1972  to 1986. The assassination of Benigno Aquino, and the return of the old ruling  elite has reinforced the neo-colonial stranglehold of the United States, making  The Perfumed Nightmare less a retro, nostalgic film than a reminder of what has  been missed or forgotten.

At the center of the film is the image of the  bridge passageway of animals, people, and machines connecting past and future,  reality and dream, countryside and city, tradition and modernity.  It also  symbolizes for Kidlat, the narrator-protagonist, the ever-present possibility of  self-fulfilment: I chose my vehicle and I can cross all bridges. Werner von  Braun and space travel (from the Philippines to France and Germany) form part of  the cluster of themes expressing the drive to modernity, or in general the  impulse to transcendence. Space-time compression, the assertion of the national  right to self-determination, and the affirmation of community intersect in  Kidlat's dream of journeying to the United States, the site of Cape Canaveral  and the Statue of Liberty. 

The dream of space travel aborts into an  escapade in Europe as petty bourgeois middleman. Kidlat becomes a willing  captive of the American businessman whose chewing-gum machines evoke the myth of  entrepreneurial individualism associated with the figure of Werner von Braun.  But soon the bridge metamorphoses into enclosed spaces of escalators, fortress  interiors, and narrow urban streets, impelling Kidlat to fantasize: his jeepney  becomes a winged horse traversing boundaries and flying above the ruins of  modernized Europe.

The trope of the bridge easily links the local  and the global, individual and society.  It is a marker of continuity  amidst change. Associated with it are the image and voice of Kidlat's father,  veteran of the revolution against Spanish colonial tyranny, whose absence marks  the substitution of authority figures in the film. Kaya, the hut builder, evokes  his independence and creativity. His father's revelry at managing a horse-drawn  vehicle anticipates Kidlat's gusto as jeepney driver around whom secular and  sacred activities gravitate.

Tragedy evolves into a bizarre metamorphosis  of images. After the father is killed on the San Juan bridge in August, 1898,  the incident which sparked the Filipino-American War, the mother gives to Kidlat  the figure of a wooden horse carved from the butt of his father's rifle. This  symbol of revolt then appears perched on the front of his jeepney, occupying  center-stage at the last sequence when Kidlat returns to the supermarket after  blowing away leaders of the industrialized West at the farewell party of his  American patron; it appears in the last shot when the mother closes the window  of the nipa hut and foregrounds the wooden horse atop the toy jeepney Kidlat  gave to his sister. His fathers presence, mediated by Kaya and the mother,  signifies the desire for autonomy and freedom, the weapon of his breath likened  to the winds blowing from Amok mountain, an immanent force of nature.  

The film-maker intervenes. We hear the  refrain: When the typhoon blows off its cocoon, the butterfly embraces the sun.  Messenger from the domain of the rural third world, Kidlat blows through the  chimney of the supermarket, transforming the fragment into a rocket like  apparatus that dismantles the alienating technology of the modern world and  guarantees the superiority of human will-power against machinery and business.  After this, he declares his independence and resigns from the Werner von Braun  Club which he originally founded. The credits at the end register the impact of  Western technology around the world in the postcards celebrating Werner von  Braun and space exploration. Has Kidlat really escaped the seduction of Western  technical mobility and differentiation?

Analogues of Uneven  Development

Can we hazard formulating a thesis for the  film? The Perfumed Nightmare is, in historical context, an allegory of the  Filipino artist's quest for self-determination and claim to recognition. It  tries to recuperate the suppressed energies of the revolutionary tradition  through parody and ad hoc quotations: for example, witness the boy scout  jamboree where the American delegate was rebuffed. But this collective project  is sublimated in various ways: in folk religion, in the image of Kaya and the  hut builders, in the circumcision and flagellation rituals, and most memorably in  the long sequence on the Sarao jeepney factory. 

In the most famous commentary on this film,  the leading American Marxist critic Fredric Jameson focuses on the quality of  Kidlat's cinematic technique the use of 8mm color movie camera, nonsynchronized  sound, characters from real life, etc.---and the postmodernist bricolage that  evokes the wonderment of sheer reproduction and recognition. This follows clues  suggested by the German philosopher Friedrich Schiller  who once  distinguished between poets who create instinctually and depict reality as is,  and sentimental poets who try to embody an idealized nature in form.  

Neither naive nor sentimental, or both at  once, Kidlat Tahimik typifies the artist from an unevenly developed,  neocolonized formation where capital operates in a way different from that in  the metropolitan societies. For example, the demise of handicraft exemplified by  the Zwiebelturm in Germany, or the phasing out of street vendors in Paris, is  vestigial compared to the destruction of homes and whole forests to make room  for a highway in Balian, Laguna. Tahimik's art registers the symptoms of a  cultural production over determined by capitalist private property (the ice  factory), communal modes of  work ( hut building, bayanihan), archaic  ideology (flagellation, patriarchal standard of manhood), petty commodity  business (jeepney transport), and feudal-bureaucratic arrangements (police,  martial law). The film bears in its montage, cuts, shots, lighting, and other  stylistic devices the signs of all these combined modes of production and  reproduction.

Interrogating  Orthodoxies

We need to go beyond  the formulae of rhetorical analysis and deconstruction of tropes. Instead of  engaging in the customary hermeneutic gloss on the film (which simply replicates  New Critical formalism in this area), I would like to comment on why the film  text lends itself to a wide variety of interpretations. Can this film be  considered a specimen of third world postmodernism?  What kind of  audience-position does it offer and what kind of reception does it enable? Can  we make use of this film as a pedagogical agency for social enlightenment and  transformation?  In short, can Kidlat Tahimik be simply judged on the basis  of his class affiliation, or can his films be deployed for emancipatory  purposes? What follows is a preliminary review of possible  answers.

It seems that what has provoked the animus of  Filipino intellectuals is the kind of colonizing patronage instanced by  Jameson's treatment of “The Perfumed Nightmare”.

Obviously, Jameson is searching for art-forms and cultural  practices that resist late-capitalist commodification and reification, hence his  theoretical constructs of national allegory, naif, Soviet sci-fi films, and  American conspiracy film genre. His framework is the totalizing (but not  absolutizing) mode of cognitive, geopolitical mapping by means of which he and  other citizens in the West can find a position to understand the global  relations of forces and grasp possibilities of social transformation in a time  when all spaces (nature, the unconscious, and even the third world seem to have  been pre-empted by the enemy. 

Roland Tolentino has competently surveyed the  objections to Jameson's approach and also expressed reservations about certain  of Jameson's observations, for example, the conversion of the jeepney from  parody to pastiche, Kidlat as clown, the utilization of body imagery, and so on.  Tolentino is correct in taking Jameson to task for a literalist instead of the  properly historicizing view:

When Jameson mentions that Perfumed  Nightmare is not a direct intervention to Marcos dictatorial regime because of  its lack of connecting images to the regime, he is limited by his lack of a  native informant position.  In the film, the town's patron saint is St.  Mark, known locally as San Marcos.  The cultural regime of   rituals  can therefore be paralleled to the political culture of the Marcos  dictatorship (1996: 123). In addition, the American boy scout who rides Kidlat's  jeepney (eventually pushed out to the carabao sled at the back),  the  figure of the policeman, the reference to discipline and uniformity echoing a  well-known slogan of the martial law regime, the Marlboro Country billboard in  the barren landscape, and others, all index the atmosphere of regulation under  the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship.

Such traces or indicators escape the  understanding of the hegemonic intellectual unfamiliar with the historical  specificity of the only U.S. colony in Asia. The obsession with a totally  administered and commodified society has obsessed Jameson and Frankfurt Critical  theory to the degree that only a negative dialectics (Adorno) or a messianic  utopian break (Benjamin) can remedy this fatality. 

Despite his stress on utopian space, Jameson  shares this flaw with the platitudes of Western Marxism. This time, instead of  Kidlat Tahimik's film being read as a national allegory where the private  dilemma resonates with public meaning, it is selectively construed to reinforce  a first world/third world binary, as already noted by the aforementioned  critics. I am surprised that nothing much is made of the white carabao  (beautiful outside but ugly inside), the speaking role of the Virgin Mary, and  above all the wooden Pegasus-like horse that becomes an icon at the prow of the  jeepney. The motif of resistance against U.S. imperial domination and liberal  market ideology becomes secondary or completely obscured when the focus on  bodies and Foucauldian genealogy  of exoticized details (circumcision)  preoccupy the critic.

Limits of Postmodernist  Absolutism

We can adduce here the usual arguments  against postality theories (Ebert 1996). Postmodernism focuses on pastiche and  bricolage over against Bakhtinian multiaccentuality or Brechtian distanciation.  For his part, Jameson enthusiastically celebrates the novelty of a refunctioned  handicraft mode of work inscribed within an industrialized system of production  which distinguishes uneven development. The film sequence detailing the Sarao  factory workers performing their specific functions and roles in the assembly  line stands out for Jameson as exemplary:

Unlike the natural or  mythic appearances of traditional agricultural society, but equally unlike the  disembodied machinic forces of late capitalist high technology which seem  equally innocent of any human agency or individual or collective praxis, the  jeepney factory is a space of human labor which does not know the structural  oppression of the assembly line or of Taylorization, which is permanently  provisional, thereby liberating its subjects from the tyrannies of form and of  the pre-programmed.  In it aesthetics and production are again at one, and  painting the product is an integral part of its manufacture.  Nor finally  is this space in any bourgeois sense humanist or a golden mean, since spiritual  or material proprietorship is excluded, and inventiveness has taken the place of  genius, collective cooperation the place of managerial or demiurgic dictatorship  (1992: 210).

Jameson's  observations are suggestive though somewhat tangential.  As the Filipina  critic Felidad C. Lim (1995) has pointed out, this is not only false to the  empirical situation but also a distorted and misleading interpretation.   There is a grain of validity in her objection.  Instead of being  cooperative and  pleasure-filled, the Sarao factory is perhaps more  alienating and dehumanized than firms in the notorious free-trade zones since  here semi feudal patronage conceals exploitation, the violation of minimum-wage  labor laws, sexism, and other excesses. What looks like bricolage is really  systematic cannibalizing of dead labor in the interest of profit. On the  surface, this refunctioning of waste materials can serve to emblematize Kidlat's  theme of converting vehicles of war into vehicles of life. But a long time had  already elapsed since World War II when U.S. army jeeps were first refunctioned  as civilian passenger transport; such jeepneys are now produced from other  sources. 

Aside from the ironical innuendo on the  duplicity of Sarao, the film's jump-cut to the toy gift that Kidlat paints for  his sister performs a shift in discursive register. It elides the process in  which the machine changes from a utilitarian or commercial means to a symbolic  one when it travels to Paris and Germany: its last notable service was to ferry  his pregnant wife to the hospital. The jeep thus indeed becomes a vehicle of  life, enabling him to finally break off from the mystique of Werner von Braun as  he leaves Germany. 

Another point may be stressed here. When  Kidlat in Paris declares his independence from America and the West--he  resigns from the von Braun Club--the site where he "blows" away the  Western leaders gazing down on him resembles the old hoary ramparts of San Juan  bridge where his father confronts the U.S. aggressors and meets his death. What  needs underscoring is the running commentary that his father and millions of  Filipinos refused to be bought for $12 million dollars--the price the U.S.  paid to Spain for ceding the Philippines at the Treaty of Paris. An alternative  history is thus proposed.

Something More Beyond Sight

We have already noted earlier the  bricolage nature of Kidlat's cinematic technique. Realist classical cinema  flagellants with bleeding flesh, the block of ice sliding out of the jeep, the  circumcision process, and so on, may be found aplenty here. But the whole  construction of  The Perfumed  Nightmare  may be described as  modernist and avant-garde. It follows Brecht's rule of  interrogating the  reason of the status quo by interrupting narrative, underlining contradictions  within an emerging unity by distanciation and displacement--the  defamiliarization or estrangement of what is accepted as normal, natural, routine. 

This is where Kidlat's films differ from  conventional or commercial productions. The principle of montage and strategic  cuts in the two films serves to question the illusionistic or auratic power  of representation found in classic realist cinema which interpellates  individuals into bourgeois subjects. According to Stephen Heath, montage aims to  overcome mimesis, introspective psychology, the hero as unified consciousness,  and the need for identification. What critical cinema of this kind seeks is the  ushering of subjects into permanent crisis so that reality can be questioned and  transformed. Aside from montage, the production of  a third meaning through  the friction between image and diegesis (following Barthes' semiotic analysis  [1977] ) can be explored. Kidlat Tahimik follows modernist and avant-garde  methods not by choice but more by necessity. In one interview, he describes his  method of composition:

"The way I make my films is like collecting images;  it's like making a stained glass window. You collect colored pieces of glass  over the years. Today I may find a broken beer bottle, tomorrow I may find a  7-UP bottle. I'll have all these in a box and maybe two years later, I start  sorting them out and I may find a pattern: if I like a landscape or profile, I  pursue that and I finish the film by shooting any holes that are still missing  in that stained glass mosaic. Maybe I'm just an accumulator of images and sounds  and then I make tagpi-tagpi [patching up] and sew them together. I just work  with images and I put my sounds on and then I put a flow of thoughts and start  juggling the sequences back and forth.  I don't try to find surrealist  images even in the way it happened in Perfumed  Nightmare. I was a madman when I  was making that film and I still am.  I sometimes wonder how certain  elements enter the film" (Ladrido 1988: 38).

This craft of allowing found  materials may be naive at first glance, but the spontaneous gathering and  invention of images gives way to the next stage of conscious organizing and  synthesizing.  Kidlat Tahimik exploits the objective richness of his  materials, but this does not mean allowing the unconscious or automatic instinct  to take over. In fact, the opposite is the case: the conscious investigation of  experience forces attention to the modalities of representation. This becomes  patent in the scenes depicting the meeting of the von Braun Club, the passport  picture-taking scene, the ceremony of Kidlat's leave-taking, and so  on.

Stylization and self-referential techniques  predominate. Thus instead of sustained dramatic sequence the longest ones are  the flagellation and circumcision scenes -- we get individual and short shots  combined in an extended temporal structure. This structure also prevents the  formation of aesthetic aura by risk-taking cuts, as in the shift from wide shots  of rice field to Kidlat's sleeping face, from shots of carabaos in mudpools to  the Virgin Mary in procession, even while continuity is provided by radio  transmission of rocketship launchings, rock music, and the Igorot chant that  sutures disparate scenes together. One result of this seemingly random splicing  is the prevention of boredom or ennui.

The montage seems jerky at times, especially  in the sequence of urban traffic, where repetition of motifs is absent. But the  overall impression is not the polyphony of decontextualized voices  characteristic of post-modern films like Blue Velvet which seek to recreate the  cultural experience of past eras. 

Pastiche may perhaps describe the sequence  happening in Paris and Germany where Kidlat ceases to have control over his  vehicle (that is, his life) since its direction is determined by the American  entrepreneur who dangles before the von Braun admirer the bait of a visit to  America, the land of von Braun and rocket ships. But pastiche is foiled with the  counterpoint of an underlying historicity that is interrupted: the death of  Kidlat's revolutionary father, the loss of control of the vehicle of  independence by Filipinos.  This is the unifying theme that undercuts the  temporal discontinuity and generic heterogeneity of the whole: the potential of  decolonization, the possibility of socialist revolution.

Toward a  Tentative Reckoning

It may be instructive to compare The Perfumed Nightmare with  Kidlat Tahimik's later film, Turumba.  Mike Feria considers this latter  film technically the best mainly because of a clear narrative line punctuated  with disquieting humor (1988: 36). The theme of  Turumba, as I noted  earlier, is the destructive and unstoppable power of modernization. It unfolds  in the change of the traditional way of life of a family in Pakil, Laguna,  who makes papier-mâché dolls for a living; the family's dream of wealth is  nearly fulfilled at the cost of disrupting their organic solidarity: the father  becomes bureaucratic manager who abandons his role in the annual turumba  festival, the grandmother becomes a quality control officer.  

In hindsight, Kidlat Tahimik believes that it  is my smoothest film to date, more like canvas instead of collage, with color  elements and the sound and everything blending. He also testifies that except  for his nephew Kadu, all the characters are real people who played themselves in  their actual work as blacksmith, cantore, Aling Bernarda who fixed the clothes  of the Virgin, and so on. Kidlat confessed that he was always fascinated with  the blacksmith because of the way he made Mercedes-Benz shock absorbers into  real beautiful bolos (Ladrido 1988: 42).  

In this film Mang Pati, the blacksmith, functions as  the  bricoleur , the free spirit,  who converts the scrap iron of rusting Japanese war vehicles left in the jungle  into useful tools. He stands for the independent artisan resisting the  encroachment of the baneful capitalist division of labor that seizes hold of one  family and destroys the enchantment of life centered on religious ritual and  intimacy with nature's rhythms.

A third meaning often insinuates itself when  various forms of signs and sounds the family playing together, the father  conducting the band, the cable transmitting radio and TV signals, the sounds of  nature and traffic intrudes into the unfolding of the business routine and  demystifies its rationality. We are then led to reflect on the mode of  representation as images. characters, and actions are distanced and displaced  from their natural environment. We begin to discriminate between what is made up  and what pretends to be natural or inevitable.

One more point needs to be  emphasized. Despite the ingenious and witty cuts, the film follows a logic of  causality based on the presence of the market and media of communication (radio,  TV, highway traffic, exchange of goods). The narrative intelligence centered on  the curious and dutiful son of the  cantore provides the unifying consciousness that allows a degree of  identification; in the midst of the accelerated pace of the assembly line  production, the shots are dragged on to suggest psychological introspection. A  voyeuristic element insinuates itself in certain scenes when suspense  develops will the family meet the production deadline? What will happen to  the turumba festival in the absence of the father?

But despite this tendency to classic  expressive-realist cinema, the invocation of a disruptive nature the typhoon  winds distracts us from the failure of the film to present the unrepresentable,  the Munich Olympic festival, scene of international carnage. We are brought back  to the immemorial present: the festival procession of the Virgin Mary winding  back into the cavernous womb of the church, surrounded by the chanting and  singing of the people, the undying matrix (in Bakhtin's dialogic thought)  of  vitality, resourcefulness, creativity. It is  not far-fetched to say that Kidlat Tahimik overcomes the seduction of technology  and speed by a suggestion that what is complete is really uncomplete and  unfinished. In this, Turumba rejoins the pioneering first work in asserting the  auteur's control and shaper of a critical dialectic based on the transforming  movement between production and representation, the disclosure of social  relations as historical and changeable. 

Reverberations from  Quiet Lightning

Ultimately, despite his deceptively elitist or  naif pose, Kidlat Tahimik should be judged as an adequate or deficient makeshift  artist mediating between the containment strategy of a nativist romanticism  proud of one's ethnic heritage and a radical critique of colonial mentalities  and neocolonized sensibilities that block change and liberation of individual  potential. To be sure, this judgment is very hypothetical; Kidlat's career is  not yet over, so the verdict may not be forthcoming for some time  yet.

Lacking a full assessment of Kidlat Tahimik's  other works and those in progress, I can only provisionally conclude here by  speculating on what audience position and effects the films may have. So far the  consensus is that Kidlat's films are primarily addressed to a Western  metropolitan audience and critical consciousness. They have never been  commercially shown in the Philippines; only the  government's Cultural Center of the Philippines has  exhibited them at certain times. Our interest approximates the reasons why, for  example, Teshome Gabriel  (1994) once speculated on the possibility of  a  distinctive third world cinema patterned after the three stages of the  national-liberation struggle theorized by Frantz Fanon.  

However, despite some analogies, I do not  think Kidlat Tahimik is concerned with indigenization, combatting the world  cinematic language of Godard and Coppola (Copolla is his North American  distributor), or vindicating the folk/oral art of the Igorots and other ethnic  groups in which spirit and magic predominate. There is indeed spatial  concentration in both films demonstrated in wide and panning shots, long takes,  graphic repetition of images, with few intercutting between simultaneous  actions, rare close-ups except for comic touches, with lots of witty  juxtapositions and humorous parodies. 

Kidlat's filmic practice, however, cannot be  categorized as 'third world'  throughout; it is a mixed and unevenly developed practice which, for the most part, stimulates critical reflection by techniques of displacement and  distanciation. Only rarely does it summon hypnotic identification with heroic  protagonists because the illusionistic power is always undercut or decentered by  the devices we have noted. Its realism is intermittent, adhoc, conjugated with  stylized self-reflexive gestures and idioms. The audience-position it allows, I  think, will chiefly be sceptical, inquisitive, and partisan even wrong headedly  utopian as Jameson; it can at best contribute to catalyzing an agency that can  raise consciousness and maybe mobilize a critical mass for the collective task  of radical social transformation. In any case, any thorough evaluation of  Kidlat's cinematic artistry will have to defer to the critical sensibility of  Filipinos who are involved in the process of the popular struggle for national  liberation and democracy--the masses of workers, women, peasants, intelligentsia,  and professionals--without which art such as Kidlat's films cannot be properly  appraised and fully appreciated.


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E. SAN  JUAN, Jr. was recently visiting professor of literature and cultural studies at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan and  lecturer in seven universities in the Republic of China. He was previously  Fulbright professor of American Studies at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, fellow  of the Center for the Humanities at Wesleyan University, and  chair of the Department of Comparative American Cultures, Washington State University.. Among his recent books are BEYOND POSTCOLONIAL THEORY  (Palgrave), RACISM AND CULTURAL STUDIES (Duke University Press), and WORKING  THROUGH THE CONTRADICTIONS (Bucknell University Press). Two books in Filipino  were launched in 2004: HIMAGSIK (De La Salle University Press) and TINIK SA  KALULUWA (Anvil); his new collection of poems in Filipino, SAPAGKAT INIIBIG KITA  AT MGA BAGONG TULA, will be released by the University of the Philippines Press  in 2005. A shorter version of this article may be found in my book AFTER POSTCOLONIALISM (Rowman and Littlefield, 2000).

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