Tuesday, November 20, 2007

[The Periphery Strikes Back] Perfumed Nightmare (Mababangong Bangungot) (1977)

Screening History: The Periphery Strikes Backis the National Museum’s 120th Anniversary film programme which looks at colonialism and the different ways the East and West view and influence each other through the medium of film.


Filipino filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik calls Perfumed Nightmare his "magic carpet", as over the last 30 years, his first film is still bringing him to countries and film festivals around the world, reintroducing the film to new audiences and film students when it's screened in universities. An unconventional film, it is quite hard to believe that this monumental effort is a first film, having captured life in the village, before going overseas to Paris and Munich for the latter half.

Kidlat Tahimik stars as himself, in a semi-autobiographical way, that traces the life of a village boy, and his journey to the outside world. It's like a coming of age story with relevance to today still, with the impact of globalization more keenly felt as the modern world feels more like a global village, and with the almost inevitable assertion and influence of dominant popular cultures over traditional values.

Kidlat (the movie character) is a Jeepney driver, who is an aeronautical buff, having hailing himself as President of the Werner Von Braun club in his village of Balian. A fan of the Voice of America radio show, he gets offered to go to Paris by an American on a botched jamboree (which was then, and still is now, a very keen inclusion of the said country's foreign policy style), to work in the gumball vending machine business. That basically forms the gist of the outline as imagined by Kidlat the filmmaker, who worked on this without a prepared script.

The opening shot where a vehicle crosses to and from a narrow bridge, set the mood of the film - fun, eccentric, unpredictable, almost a mirror of Kidlat's character. Shot on Super 8, the special effects that he had included, and the various narrative techniques incorporated into the movie, makes you marvel at the rather innovative ways a filmmaker with a shoestring budget, gets his story told. I liked very much the fantastical sequences he had put in to tell the back story of his father, as well as the very horrific, almost documentary like style of capturing a village circumcision ritual, which must be seen to be believed, how it will actually would make you reel and feel pain (and you thought the Hard Candy one was bad enough).

There is no doubt that his passion and exuberance shone through this charming, imaginative film, which won him the International Critics Award at the 1977 Berlinale Forum of New Cinema. For those who missed the screening tonight (on 16mm film projection), you can cross your fingers as to a DVD release, possibly as early as next year!

Kidlat himself was present to grace the screening today, and shared quite candidly how he came to be a filmmaker, which was quite by accident, given that he's an economist by training, working in Paris. In a summarized account, it was in part a failed attempt in his trade during the 1974 Munich Olympic Games, where tragedy struck the Games and rendered his trinkets of the mascot unsold. Then he met an American film student, and began to tag along the student's film shoot, from whom he mimicked and learnt some tricks of the trade.

The film was shot in a shoestring budget of $10,000, and he recalled that when Francis Ford Coppola (who released the film in the USA) told an audience it was made with that amount, Kidlat joked that it was probably the amount spent by Coppola in Xeroxing his scripts! In fact, the low cost was also attributed to Kidlat having used expired film stock(!), bought from a friend (at 25% of the cost) who kept them in the fridge because it was expired and didn't have the guts to use it.

Shot in 2 months in the village, it was done without a script, and only with a 2 page treatment of sorts. Kidlat shared that most producers wouldn't go near him with a 10 foot pole, that making films without a script was probably his method - he had only scripted once, and that was for a film for German television. Kidlat had loads to share, like how originally the idea was for Kidlat to be driving his Jeepney in Paris to ferry the American, now an advertising agent, and encounters the many sexy ladies going for shoots, to becoming a gumball vendor, having been extremely curious about who and how these machines actually got refilled - he had staked one of them out until late at night to witness it, but to no avail!

But the highlight of Kidlat's presence tonight, absolutely had to be that little epilogue that he presented after the end credits rolled (which was a creative use of postcards), where he appeared as a "film graduate" hauling his wares consisting ofan array of old film cameras, to shedding his toga for traditional village garb, and showcasing his treasure for the night, a film camera made from bamboo, complete with music and dance! Wish I had recorded that performance :-)

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