for Alexis #2


A year or so ago, I wrote some of the only personal words on this blog in remembrance of Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc. Today marks the first anniversary of their death. The sentiment of those words still stands, although I'm sure I'd now select different images. A few weeks ago, clearing out deadwood, I stumbled across a feature in Sight & Sound drawing attention to 75 overlooked films, each accompanied by a short text. Alexis's contribution follows:

Known in the West as a director of B-movie and Blood Island films, in the Philippines, among the informed, de Leon is revered. With a charismatic supporting performance by deposed president Joseph Estrada, The Moises Padilla Story is based on the true story of a former lieutenant who dared to challenge the ruthless Rafael Lacson in his bid for re-election as governer of the province of Negros, Occidental. Tracking Padilla's brutal treatment by Lacson after losing the election (no doubt an unfair one) and his relationship with Estrada's character (once a friend, now a chief of police), the film displays its central character's courgaeous will to stand up to the prevailing tyranny. It's as impressive for its brilliant composition and blocking as for the complex psychology of its characters, and its political themes still resonate today. Sadly, however, the film is missing close to ten minutes, including a sequence in which Estrada's character orders the gouging out of Padilla's eyes. The missing footage is in the possession of film historian / detective / archivist Teddy Co, who is willing to return it should arrangements for its restoration be in place. Are you listening, Martin Scorsese World Cinema Foundation?

--Alexis Tioseco, Sight & Sound 17.8, August 2007, p. 26.

A couple of other contributors make note of cuts imposed upon their chosen films, or the poor condition of extant prints, but Alexis's stands out as the only call for concrete action. It is more striking in this respect than any other: a measure of what we've lost. Alexis always reminded us that criticism is an act of responsibility, not just an informed mode of discourse or a series of well-meaning gestures (stemming from passion, enthusiasm, love) that so often can, and do, end up becoming grist for the mill. As access to cinema history continues to increase (now easily circumventing under-funded or wilfully dismissive official channels), it seems many of us spend our time – our cinephilia –< worrying about what to see, what to consume, recording our thoughts and opinions regardless of what might be at stake. But we would do well to address the structures that enable and control those processes, ones that often lead to both exploitation and neglect (at least when we let them fall into the wrong hands, which is more often than we like, or no doubt care, to acknowledge). For me, one of the most important pieces of film criticism published since Alexis and Nika's deaths is Nicole Brenez's essay in the last issue of Framework (50.1-2), a militant call for the writing of counter-history, the excavation and restoration of exiled films, and a reconstruction of every canon. Its appeal: to save cinema, but also to save cinephilia from itself. This is precisely the impulse that lies behind Alexis's brief plea for Moises Padilla, one which is all too rare.

We still miss him; both of them.

[The picture of Alexis and Nika above is captured from a recording of the Q&A following a screening of Lav Diaz's Heremias Book II (rough cut) in Bangkok, July 2009. Edwin and I plan to publish a transcript elsewhere soon. Oggs has written on The Moises Padilla Story here, and further information on its preservation history can be found here. Also, a recent article suggests that, in the year since their murders, the hunt for Alexis and Nika's killers has not been conducted with due care and diligence. It makes for harrowing reading.]


Anonymous said...

Well put, Matt.

One might even say that saving cinema/cinephillia is more genuine an act of love, a 'phillia', than it would be a militant crusade.

Matthew Flanagan said...

Next issue of Criticine: call for papers on archives and film preservation.