You've got to admire the debut of an article-heavy gay magazine after Icon, L, and Generation Pink have folded. Damn, we miss those, don't we? Invoice announces itself as a "GLBT Business and Advocacy Journal" (what a mouthful!), and it's serious about being serious. It doesn't even employ the sexy come-on tactics as those previous literate rags -- no naked men portfolios! Which is not totally a bad thing, but must the layout be unsexy too? The content is not exactly meat and potatoes facts and figures as the cover suggests. With features on outstanding role models and an especially helpful spotlight on gay hang-outs in major cities in the Philippines, Invoice reads like an interesting lifestyle magazine trying to dress up as an old politician's operation manual. It could benefit from a little more flair. Even the name is dry. For a gay magazine, Invoice is a little too straight. The plus side is that it does look discreet when you read it in the train or at the doctor's office.
Special mention goes to an article about gay indie films, and not only because The Bakla Review is cited as a reference, hehe. I have a few beef to raise with the chronology of its historical facts and simplistic generalizations, but that's because I'm anal about the subject. Maybe a discussion about it some other time. However, the research-based approach to talking about movies is welcome, especially amidst lazy top-of-the-head thoughts that pass for writing in media today. The aforementioned focus on gay clubs and bars is a better gauge for what's good about this issue -- not exactly the writing (which is sometimes bordering on ass-kissing PR), or the photos (which can be more striking), but for the general direction of its inclusive, non-Manila-centric outlook, and its promise that a GLBT publication can offer information you didn't know you wanted to know, tackle issues seriously, and possibly, please dear god, possibly have fun.
Answer: Technically not a question. But it provokes one: Is there a gay film without nudity?
There's at least one among recent Filipino films. When Timawa Meets Delgado stars Kristoffer Grabato as a gay nursing student who pines to be reunited with his former boyfriend in the U.S. There is no nudity in the film. Not even an attractive guy taking off his shirt for that sexual effect. Granted, his story is only half of the entire narrative, which is really about the nursing diaspora.
But then, if a film is not about gay sex and it doesn't have nudity, is it even a gay movie? It may be hard to imagine, if our definition of gay is gender identity that's linked to sexuality. It makes sense that so many gay films have a sexual context. Don't most people equate gayness with attraction to the same sex in the first place? Seen in this light, nudity is not a cliche. The sight of male bodies in whichever state of undress and its instant primal effect on a person does seem like an organic part of the gay experience, and therefore gay cinema. But let's dig the libraries, and we can probably name documentaries, abstract films, animations, even commercial genre movies, also stories about transsexuals, that may contain no nudity, but still be "gay". However, I don't think I'll ever get tired of the flashing of male flesh in movies. I think it's a treat. Keep 'em coming.
Answer: The simple answer is technology. With the development of digital filmmaking came a drop in cost and easier access to tools. Because the mainstream studios weren't making personal gay films, it was simply a matter of time before new voices told their unique stories from the ground up.
But it's what filmmakers did with the technology that brought us to the explosion of today. In 2003, Cris Pablo not only independently produced his debut feature Duda/Doubt, he also self-distributed to movie theaters using a digital projector. What he did basically was to prove a film that depicted the realistic concerns of realistic homosexuals could find an audience and be financially successful. When people call Cris Pablo a pioneer, by god they're not kidding. By 2005, when Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros) and Masahista (The Masseur) both took similar risks, somewhat simultaneously, "blowing up" their digitally shot materials to 35mm prints for commercial runs in movie houses, winning international awards, thereby capturing the interest of a larger Filipino public, we knew a new order had been tapped.
Other institutional developments were the additional push, such as the establishment of more digital venues, especially the Robinsons IndieSine, and a growth in film festivals as enterprises, opportunities for international distribution, and the co-opting of commercial players, including studios and video companies. Suddenly filmmakers know where and how they can find their audience, and this is encouragement to make more films. It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that the Philippine independent cinema we know today -- gay or otherwise -- has been pushed into mainstream consciousness, for better or worse, thanks to queer sensibility. What we're enjoying right now is the geyser phenomenon: Something repressed for many years has finally been released. Naturally, it's a tremendous overflowing of power, steam, and noise. Inspiration begets inspiration and so on and so forth, and there will be out-of-the-box personal movies for as long as people watch them.
The local version of the reality gameshow Survivor, which premiered this week, appears to be an exact replica of the U.S. format -- but with an advantage: Pinoy brown skin looks damn good in a tropical island setting.
I almost don't care what happens, as long as the hot men keep strutting their shirtless torsos at the beach, exerting their muscles to their physical limits, exposing armpits during tribe meetings, and speaking with testosterone passion. The show is daily eye candy, and already an achievement in focus group casting. The automechanic is a model (John Lopez), the basketball player is a model, though it's never mentioned (JC Tiuseco), the businessman was a Cosmo magazine bachelor (Kiko Rustia), while the driver, sewing machine technician, gym instructor, and sales person (Cris Cartagenas, Emerson Dino, Jace Flores Jr., and Rob Sy) might be models as well, if models acted like real men. Even the 48-year old web designer (Gigit Sulit) is probably a model, a fine daddy specimen. The most plain of the male castaways, looks-wise, is a waiter who's heavy in the midsection (Marlon Carmen), but also seems interesting in his own right. Is it a coincidence that the least hunky guy is also played up to be the main dissenter with a sour attitude?
Grouping and in-fighting are expected story angles, and it looks like it will be a predictably "surprising" season. But what I'm really jonesing to see is how much hotter the men will become as their beards overgrow, their bodies get stinkier, and hunger eats away their stored body fat. If the plot gets boring, or worse, if the personalities turn limp, I can still watch this thing with the mute button on. Oh, the women are hot too, but you didn't hear that from me. The pilot week is barely over, and I'm already waiting for the DVD.
Question: Contemporary gay movies are generally tragedies. How do you think this irony relates to the real lives of gay people? -From Dawnson (Question originally appears here.)
Answer: Tragic endings are a staple not of gay films per se, but of erotic films. It's all that sex -- whether gay or straight -- that "warrants" a death by murder or suicide or total calamity. There's something about Philippine culture, our religious, predominantly Catholic upbringing that tells us all that promiscuity and forbidden desire on display must somehow be punished by film's end. As viewers, we must be purged of the guilt of watching by restoring order through common morality. For the longest time, homosexuality has been part of that which is sinful and must therefore be thwarted by a downer ending.
I find it disheartening that many filmmakers today still think this is the way to make a movie, uncritical of their own positions on sex and homosexuality. Similarly, many viewers still sometimes prefer the taboo gloom of these negative movies. Notice the popularity of the tragic and heavyhanded Ang Lihim Ni Antonio over the light and unapologetic Kambyo. I'm sure fans will have different justifications for their preference (quality, technical merit, etc.), but I'm betting it's largely a function of tone. So maybe we still need these homosexuality-leads-to-death movies if only to see something onscreen that resembles our true feelings about our own experiences. It's possible many people still believe relations with the same sex is a dirty indulgence that must be kept in check. On the other hand, I smile everytime I hear a viewer complain about stupid endings. I see it as a sign that more gay Filipinos are now envisioning a more positive future for themselves, one in which we can live happily ever after. I think what we ask for is not a ban on tragedies; We're simply hungry for movies that are more imaginative, intelligent, and forward-thinking.
The commercials think outing homosexuals is funny. I would say wait, in real life, it's potentially very serious matter to the gay person, especially if the outing is not by his own initiative. But these admakers sure do make it funny.
In an all-male table meeting, an office dude tells his mates that someone is hiding a secret, and that he has just the thing to make him squeal. He proceeds to open a box of KFC, and, alas, someone indeed squeals. The image that follows is a few short seconds of performance comedy gold. Who is this actor who plays the closet office worker? With quivering fingers and a face tangled in knots of anxiety, he makes the surprise revelation work. Kudos, too, to the actor who does his nervous voice: "May shrimp na sa KFC, pare."
Like me, you may argue that an effeminate reaction doesn't necessarily mean a guy is gay, and that it's just another old stereotype used by marketers who want to say they include people like us in their agenda. But then, nowhere in the commercial is "gay" ever mentioned, so maybe the copywriters have pulled a clever trick on us -- winking at something we conclude for ourselves. More likely, the spot is aimed at the young urban office demographic, no matter which gender. Who can't relate to having a co-worker with a secret?
You may also wonder why his business buddies would want to out him in the first place, except only to have an excuse for a group hug, and to reassure him (and each other) that "We accept you." I guess that's the consolation. Outing is funny business, but it becomes feel-good with acceptance. Let's ignore the excuses that the guy makes as the advert closes. Maybe he's not ready yet, even though the good-looking men around him seem too eager to press their bodies against him. The great positive message in this commercial is not in the homosexual who comes out, but in the straight men who are unafraid to express tolerance and intimacy.
Overall an improved list from last year's, mainly because not everyone is a model this time. In Cosmopolitan Magazine's 69 Bachelors 2008, there are plenty students/models. And when they're just plain students, I bet they're actually angling to become models, if they aren't already in the roster of a modeling agency. How else were they able to assemble such a large cast if not for agents and auditions? Also, I really have to wonder why some are just plain "students" while others are specialized, like "mechanical engineering student" or "financial management student". Exactly what kind of courses add to papa appeal?
It's great to see a couple of working nurses in there, because it's a sign the editors considered the larger population. So, what, no call center agents? Not a hot enough profession for you? It's also nice to see someone over age 30, finally. And a dentist who's 19 -- What?! And a couple of musicians, who actually play rock, so I wonder if "musician" now sounds hotter than "rock star". But the winner judgment is in including seven professional rugby players in one spread. Because, although we're sure these guys are yummy individually, we know what this annual special called Cosmo Men is really about: abundance.
The ten centerfolds are hit-and-miss, as always. The only real surprise is basketball player Macky Escalona, who's a student athlete but not a model, or not yet, in a slightly more conservative version of Paul Artadi's naked balls-y pose in 2003. He looks like he's not enjoying the photo shoot, which makes it simultaneously adorable and annoying. Hip-hop artist Billy Crawford, though a cool choice, botches it with a shot that doesn't know what it wants to show us. Undereye shadows and an arm tattoo in a formless slouch? He, with two others, Paolo Contis and coverboy Derek Ramsay, are photographed only from the waist up, which is a boring cop-out considering about six dozen other men are half-naked too.
Finally, since this magazine is supposed to be for the ladies, I have to ask: Do women find it sexier when men are photoshopped to look like porcelain molds? What's wrong with pores? And, do none of you ever fantasize about blue collar workers? Is this absence from year to year indicative of the Pinay's perception of an ideal mate or simply the editors' narrow-mindedness? And, aren't you just bored of everyone talking about girls when you really know better?
Writer/Director/Producer Crisaldo Vicente Pablo's most indelible films (Duda, Bath House), and even some of his lesser ones (Bilog, Moreno), depict urbania as cynical, harsh, and sometimes bitter, then pits this environment against a person's romantic idealism. "What is the plight of the gay guy who wants to love in today's seemingly loveless world?" He always seems to be asking. His films are really about values. The incisive, thoroughly modern social dimension of his body of work is unjustly underpraised.
In his latest, Quicktrip, Metro Manila is a city where casual sex among strangers is easily started and just as easily terminated -- a world of quick sex trips. In one brilliant sequence, he details the step-by-step rituals of gay men inside a movie theater: the glances, the advances, the constant horizontal to's-and-fro's, the shift of loyalties, and the emotional ups and downs. Almost wordless, it's staged like a comic ballet.
At the heart of this unromantic milieu is Cris (Topher Barreto), Cris Pablo's most romantic surrogate yet. (His lead characters are always named after himself.) Cris is a minimum wage waiter and family breadwinner who is dumped by his call center agent boyfriend for essentially being unable to keep up with his lifestyle. As the movie follows Cris in one day, in which he desperately tries to win back his boyfriend, stumbles into the quicktrip scene for temporary relief, and meets Andro (Andro Morgan) who joins him in a quest for a private make-out spot a la Trick, Quicktrip depicts Cris as a walking bleeding optimist, an uncorrupted angel, the last modern romantic. Barreto, who makes his acting debut, is a find. Watching him, I dare you not to believe his inner goodness. When he disappears into the sunrise (not sunset), I want to cheer for his quiet resilience.
There is a dose of cruel reality to the turn of events -- something that might be expected from Pablo -- but I won't reveal it here. I will, however, mention the spicy humor in scenes where less masculine, less attractive gay men make flamboyant speeches about longing and heartache. In casual, funny ways, Quicktrip comments on the hierarchies of gay hook-ups: the poor versus the moneyed, the hottie versus the undesirable, the honest versus the pretentious, and the conflict in labels: the bisexual, the bakla, the tripper. There is also a strong progressiveness in its representation of the homosexual poor. Too often, our movies have pegged homosexuals as people with money to spend on impoverished straight men. There is always that rigid gender/economic divide. Quicktrip shatters the cliche by focusing on an underrepresented point-of-view. Cris is gay and poor. He's going out of his way not because he can afford it (he can't), or he's horny (he holds out on the quickie to get to know his partner better), but because of an emotional need. He can't even see what an asshole his boyfriend is. The movie is supposedly based on a true story.
The scenes are breezy, observant, and direct, some of the best in Pablo's oeuvre, or in any of the gay movies this year, with brisk editing and the wistfulness of Isha's minimalist music. There's not much actual sex or nudity, but the director's original cut (one you can't see in commercial theaters) includes an onscreen cumshot by Andro Morgan. Seemingly simple, with a soulful core, Quicktrip has magic.
In summer of 2008, a controversial video on YouTube, in which surgeons and hospital staff were seen and heard making fun of a patient as a deodorant canister was pulled out from his rectum, went viral. Much of the controversy revolved around professional ethics -- such as, why is it even allowed to video a patient inside the operating room? -- but of course, people were also curious about the story behind the, you know, insertion. The issue of disrespect for homosexuals was also raised.
The movie Eskandalo is centered on a similar event: A pen marker is inserted in a gay guy's rectum and a video of the act causes a scandal. An opening disclaimer tells us the story is completely fictitious, and true enough, the film did seem like it was pulled out from someone's ass, not from real life. It shifts the focus from the ethics of laughing at someone's misery to -- what exactly? It made me wish a film had been made about the true event instead.
As a film about a scandal, Eskandalo is toothless and not the slightest bit provocative. The victim (Emilio Garcia) is a 35-year old virgin who is essentially pure of heart. A scandal is waiting to happen because he's a teacher, belongs to a well-off family, whose father is a military man and mother is an active Catholic. The pen marker insertion is essentially an act of rape. And the guy who did it (Andrew Schimmer) is a callboy who temporarily went insane during that moment because of a life-long insecurity with his small penis. This is a story that doesn't raise questions. Of course, we will root for a virgin who gets raped. And of course anything can happen when some kind of psychosis is involved. Eskandalo doesn't have an issue to tackle; it only thinks it does. Would our feelings for the victim be different if he were a homosexual who freely practiced his sexuality? Would he still be called a victim if he were a willing bottom, and there was no rape, but thousands of people watched it on the net against his wishes? By being safe and obvious, the film avoids any real thought or discussion, which is a disservice really. Offhand, it seems to say gay men deserve our pity only when they're chaste and only when they're brutally violated. And whether or not the movie was based on a real incident as seen on YouTube, I still bemoan the choice not to confront the timely concerns staring us at the face, given the material.
However, some viewers may relate to Emilio Garcia's torment and repression. He speaks directly to the camera to express the self-pity and shame of a gay man who's not getting any younger and still feels trapped by his sexuality. His tearful confessions may be cathartic to some, and so too might the ending, when he finds his rebirth at the end of the scandal tunnel. But I still couldn't recommend a movie that packages the sentiments of a repressed homosexual into a shrug: That you're a scandal waiting to happen, and when it does, you move on; You're just being overly dramatic, but we'll cry with you through the movie's duration anyway.