Love Worth Declaring
The unexpected and tragic passing of Filipino/Canadian film critic, Alexis Tioseco, did not go unnoticed amongst filmmakers and aficionados in Southeast Asia. How could it? Not especially when Alexis was their tireless advocate – writing, talking, encouraging, defending, and declaring his love for them and their visions, since returning to Manila in 1996. Southeast Asia cinema as never found a step-child this drunk and smitten by its textured cultural history before, whose embracing vision was channeled into Criticine, an online cinema journal aimed at ‘elevating critical discourse in Southeast Asian cinema.’
It takes the rare vision of a very few individuals to look past the protectionist nationalistic agenda that is so central to the formation of Southeast Asia regional identity, building bridges across the maritime waters of our region, traversing space (geography) and time (history). We can count with our hands the number of artists who have attempted at deconstructing these boundaries.
For those who were able to look back to our pre-colonial past to realise the labyrinthine ties and relations among various city states in our region, a much more complex tableau of our shared cultural history emerges. And no doubt, in a region where most governments play an insignificant role to encourage independent thinking and creative exploration in the arts, self-initiated projects/activities seemed to be leading the way in forging new dialogues amongst arts practitioners in the region.
In memory of a kindling flame extinguished at too early an age, Ben Slater + May Adadol Ingawanij continue to complete a series of ‘Love Letters’ for Criticine, which Alexis was working on before his demise. The lack of open adoration for filmmakers, films, scenes, dialogue, masked by a desire for objectivity and impartiality in critical writing is perhaps what love letters hope to undo, with contributors coming out to simply write little vignettes of affection. Mawkish, tender, amorous, erotic. Together, ‘Love Letters’ perform a litany for what appears, and seldom acknowledged, to be a diverse community of cinephiles.
It is one instance that I am reminded of the power of filmmaking, most aptly described by Susan Sontag in her essay ‘A Century of Cinema’, ‘Each art breeds its fanatics. The love movies aroused was more imperial. It was born of the conviction that cinema was an art unlike any other: quintessentially modern; distinctively accessible; poetic and mysterious and erotic and moral – all at the same time. Cinema had aposltes (it was like religion). Cinema was a crusade. Cinema was a world view. Lovers of poetry or opera or dance don’t think there is only poetry or opera or dance. But lovers of cinema could think there was only cinema. That the movies encapsulated everything – and they did.’
‘Love Letters’, at the same time, put Sontag’s assessment in the wrong. Cinephelia has never died as Sontag claims. It lives on in pockets of community, with its apostles preaching continuously to those who would bother to listen. In Manila, this gathering of filmmakers and enthusiasts can be found in the first floor of Mogwai, a bar that dedicates its upper floor to film screenings and its lower floors to the endless debates of drunk cinephiles that echoed into the deep Manila nights.
I am jealous of cinephiles, for their unwavering commitment and naivety. Just as I am envious of those who have met Alexis. My acquaintance with him was only through correspondences to realise a screening of experimental videos in Kuala Lumpur, in which he curated the Filipino section. I promised to visit him the next time I am in town. Or perhaps the next next time. Or the next next next. But Manila traffic and other work appointments got in the way.
But I am comforted that others took from their encounters with Alexis (as well as other esteemed auteurs from Southeast Asia) an enriched understanding of cinema, which also unequivocally meant, an understanding of life.
‘Love Letters’ stay with us as a lasting document of a relationship dedicated to love, life and cinema.
Click here for ‘LOVE LETTERS’ with contributions from Amir Muhammad, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Azharr Rudin, Benedict Anderson, Ben Slater, Cyril Wong, John Torres, Tan Chui Mui, Tan Pin Pin, Vinita Ramani and many others.
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Top image from an article by Alexis Tioseco in Rogue magazine, which took the form of a letter to his partner, Nika Bohinc.
Bottom image taken from Criticine. Credited to Darlene Lin.
This article was first posted on the original Arteri site on 30 January 2010.