Raymond Red’s “Pelikula” (Cinema) and “Ang Magpakailanman” (Eternity) at the 5th Silent Cinema Festival, screened alongside Diwa de Leon’s live performance
Tessa Maria Guazon
Screened on the third day of the 6th International Silent Film Festival in Manila were two of Raymond Red’s films from the eighties. Shot in black and white stock, Pelikula (Cinema) dates back to 1985. Ang Magpakailanman (Eternity) on the other hand shot earlier in 1983 and first conceptualized in 82 was recorded on Super 8 film and digitally remastered to black and white befitting the director’s original intention. In a short talk before the screening, Red spoke of both films as experiments in form, of imagining the filmmaker transported to another time context or how it must have been to make a film within the constraints of a given period.
Through this approach, Red casts time in two ways: time as filmic element, and time as gesture beyond cinematic frame. The latter to me is a reflexive wielding of time, crucial to the works originally devoid of sound. The director pays homage to a tradition of silent cinema and imagines making films in unfamiliar contexts. During the screening Diwa de Leon lent his music to both works, and in turn endowed them buoyancy and tension.
Pelikula is montage of a man’s mundane routines and shots of a home’s stairwell, railings, hallways and rooms. Inserted within this beautiful arabesque of domestic space were scenes of muted lessons on both piano and violin. The setting dates back to the late forties and early fifties if we take architecture, dress and automobile as cues. One presumes the man who alighted from the car and entered the house, a musician. In between his arrival and departure, the camera lingered on the intricate interlace of the balcony railing, the coiling depth of a spiral staircase and the shadowy pale of empty corridors. Images of a teenage boy awkwardly performing toilet routines and a boy of about seven refusing to enter the bathroom were interspersed with fleeting images of Hollywood couples and superheroes. Diwa de Leon’s delicate, precise and agile rhythm succeeded in suspending these images in ether, a patchwork veil inviting a hovering curiosity; the kind we do not exactly wish to satisfy lest we puncture its beguiling mystery.
Ang Magpakailanman’s narrative is concise and riveting, made even more poignant by de Leon’s music. In around eight sequences, a character named Jose lives through time that spans the expanse between dreaming and death. The jittery movement of both camera and performers, characteristic of early silent cinema here adapted by the director do not distract from his ability to tell a compelling story. This eloquence marks what he himself would call a ‘formalist’ venture by way of silent cinema. The twenty-five minute film tells the unfolding of the life of Jose; beginning from his harrowing dream of being crucified and his relentless pursuit of a real-life ambition. We witness his frustration after being rejected twice. The narrative reached its pinnacle in the segments following this scene, where we witness two murders and a chase. Jose encountered a mysterious woman inside the hallowed spaces of a church, but this only heightened his confusion. His own search for eternity seemingly not found in places where he expected it to be, led him to a book from whence he got the formula for his own escape. While guards banged (comically, robotically) on his door, he hurriedly drank the potion that brought him eternity and that most eternal of silences – death.
The title card relays the time and locale of the film, 3 Goto 2265 inside the head of certain Jose. While these are disconcerting prompts because they lead us to the future and inside the elusive workings of another person’s mind, we instantly recognize the film’s mise-en-scene as dating back to the nineteenth-century. It is at this point we acknowledge these as weak cues, as the scenes all succeed to engulf us by way of narrative instead.
Ang Magpakailanman astutely reflects on time by welding unseen future (which cinema is able to make visible with unnerving clarity) with what little remains of a past that is unfamiliar, which cinema likewise is able to reconstruct with precision. Red frames cinema’s ability to morph time within the film maker’s dilemma of how exactly to depict it as filmic element and setting. During the talk, he recalls how he tinted shots for Magpakailanman to render its scenes the patina of old. This struggle to depict time was for Red, experimentation with technique adeptly illustrating his thorough familiarity with his medium. Yet this familiarity with form doesn’t take away from his ability to craft a narrative – stories that are engaging as they are discomfiting because they relay the fragile and unpredictable condition of humanity.
Red’s exploration of narrative and form continues, as this year he makes another film that orbits around these early works. He speaks of Kamera Obskura as a “tribute to the Filipino silent film” having conceptualized this at the time of the making of his first short film in 1983. He likens the experience to “complete [-ing] a 30-year journey”. For someone who gauges success as the ability of his films “to inspire, provoke, or influence”, one cannot help think that the journeys that Raymond Red’s films take do not necessarily include a terminal destination. This looking back through the gesture of time within and beyond cinematic form is a path that persists and is worth plodding through several times over.
 Sallan, Edwin. 23 July 2012. “Raymond Red makes films ‘to provoke thinking’, not win awards” in Interaksyon.com http://www.interaksyon.com/entertainment/raymond-red-makes-films-to-provoke-thinking-not-win-awards/ Accessed 27 August 2012.
 Arevalo, Rica. 18 May 2012. “Raymond Red pays tribute to silent films” in Philippine Daily Inquirer, http://entertainment.inquirer.net/41371/raymond-red-pays-tribute-to-silent-films accessed 27 August 2012.