BLITZ REVIEWJuaniyo Arcellana – The Philippine Star

November 28, 2021 | 12:00am

Once in a while it might be necessary to go back to one’s roots, which in the case of cinema is the silent film, most recent instance of which is the International Silent Film Festival Manila, under the auspices of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), just concluded or ongoing is uncertain, one never knows in the age of virtual.

There is, however, a blog or public domain of a website (all access pass if stars are propitious) called film school rejects, where a survey and sampler of the greatest perhaps most influential silent movies can be seen at the click of a mouse, mostly via YouTube archives, among other gems preserved in everlasting cyberspace.

It is through such haphazard surfing that we get to review again An Andalusian Dog, a collaboration of Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, that ushered in the surrealist movement in the late 1920s. Surely celebrations are in store for the dog’s centennial, which forever changed the face of cinema and how we see the art of moving pictures, much like the blade slicing through the eye of woman looking up at the moon being sliced by clouds.

That silent benchmark stumped critics of the time as it still does today post pandemic reviewers, what to make of that series of disjointed images as if leapfrogging from a dream, here given flesh by the first surrealists when the art movement didn’t know yet it was a movement.

Could be a considered a must-see by founders of the defunct progressive publication Tiqqun, and random screenings of which were glimpsed in the late lamented Film box Arthouse cable channel, alongside other silent greats like Nosferatu, Metropolis, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, M, Sunrise, and the films of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, shoo-ins for any canon.

Closer to home maybe, the closest we could get to a silent mode are the early shorts of Roxlee, Ludwig Ilio and the late Cesar Hernando. What comes to mind are the works of the respective aforementioned: Juan Gapang, Lizard, Botika Bituka Butiki. The Juan series Roxlee expanded into Juan Gulay, but already experimenting with found dialogue. Before that, though, was The Great Smoke, animation par excellence ahead of its mumbling time.

Also homegrown, or at least until we find what planet he comes from, is Khavn dela Cruz, not a cineaste known to perform elaborate musical pieces to provide soundtrack to landmark silent works, which on the get-go might seem to defeat the purpose of silent cinema if one were purist. Weren’t these movies essentially made to bring the image front and center of the narrative, and any accompanying sound incidental or secondary if not distracting to the plot at hand, otherwise what use are the signboards for dialogue emphasis or segue device?

Of course, there is always the argument that sound even ambient can enhance what is viewed onscreen, and we can only respect musicians’ experiments while turning a deaf ear. In the old days, there were places like Big Sky Mind in New Manila and Surrounded by Water along Edsa, creative congregations that spawned likeminded flashpoints such as Black Maria in Mandaluyong, shuttered into silence since no warm bodies could enter theaters, but just around the corner comes the much-awaited reopening after the brief transition into vaccination hubs, registration sites, imagine all the people having a 19th nervous breakdown.

That’s why we’re waiting for the first bootleg release of the Brockas, whose music or anti-music sounds tailor made for silent movies, or further research the works of Lirio Salvador, self-described as an “alchemist of object and sound” and his band Elemento, whose rare recordings were done live in Big Sky like a cult of the mind.

Keaton and Chaplin have come a long way into this part of the East, and with them the first Filipinos who put images together without sound, silence bursting forth like the skin of vampires (Nosferatu) at sunrise.

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