J. Pilapil Jacobo
It is rather amusing that Ekstra can imagine the debacle of its cinema as something like a most excessive accomplishment.
The plot tracks the forlorn effort of Loida, a “talent,” to follow her star, in spite of the culture industry that reduces her aspirations to a “fee” that would allow her daughter to finish college. That the screenplay had chosen to zero in on the commodity fetish of stardom through that figure of the “extra” is nothing novel. Neither is the critique of the photography that creates the mass media aura that entitles a consciousness to misrecognize the falsity as authentic spirit. Recent pretenses which allowed the exploitation of thespian Eugene Domingo and horror genre veteran Lilia Cuntapay need to be mentioned here, less for citing advance guard aesthetics in these parts than for iterating the futility of archiving a vapid independent filmography. Joji Alonso, Charo Santos-Concio, and Laurice Guillen can only be mistaken in assuming that a form of immanent critique is possible from their megalomaniac machineries. And Jeffrey Jeturian is no longer the filmmaker that can perform the role of a critic, much less that of an immanent imagineer. He has lost all manner of intimacy with an idea and dexterity with the image.
The writing sounds so pedestrian in its attempt to be contemporary, and the direction that intervenes in this foolhardy reportage can only be impoverished. The style is culled straight from the comedy club, a colleague quips. Now wonder it can elicit the most vulgar amusement from an alumnus of the bar who has joined the gallery of freaks entrenched in a prominent media company. The film narrates and describes the market compromises a soap opera production unit needs to internalize to survive the etiquette of commodity. This cinema’s choice to inscribe itself through televisual form cannot be argued to be strategic. Bereft of conscientious humor that casts irony as a “principle of structure,” the joke is on the signature, comedy. Not even the high camp that is delivered by performers such as Cherie Gil and Pilar Pilapil can prevent the thought that comes after the failure of critique: television has reduced film to a narcissistic implement. This is hardly the cinema that is purported to thrive in self-reflexive practice.
The figure in question, the “extra,” should have been inspiring enough to yield a neo-realist argument on a crisis of cinematic representation in the post-colony mired in “combined and uneven development.” The“extra” should have performed a project of arresting articulation from the mass media product that is the “star” by letting herself act out the intellect of her marginal visibility. Stardom could have been laid bare as the surfeit of appearance in an exposure of the superfluous violence on the body hoping to be rescued from disposable labor and negligible talent. Instead, what the film does to this figure is fashion her into a victim of the predatory methods of a third world capitalist media outfit whose work ethic is based on product placements and the bonuses released for those who perpetuate this licence. She is subjected to the minutiae of abuse, which includes the defiles of slapstick. The productive possibility of allowing her to foreground the agency of the underside is annulled by exploiting the bathos of such a displacement. As a consequence,the argument on the extra as that irreducible—indeed the supplement that is no longer the addition, nor the replacement, in an anatomy of the motion picture that runs on delirium tremens—all that disintegrates among the debris of directorial neglect. The extra remains an aspect of the dismissible, almost the nil. Her humanity must be subtracted for fumbling over Anglophone legalese in a final confrontation scene. In an industry that favors the labors of antipathy, her fault is the sensible failure of a mechanical delivery.
Vilma Santos, whose star’s premise encompasses age, climate,even time itself, portrays this “extra.” It is time to report that the brilliance has failed. The consistency of her light years has been credited to a vigor whose basis is melodramatic competence. With the genre demolished at primetime, every night of our lives, the actress looks dissipated in the rehearsal, and what she can afford to muster is a middling energy. There was a time when her powers largely depended on this “extra,” which can be derived from the “over-” in her “overacting.” Even without training from the Peking Opera, Santos repeated this shrill technique from one project to another, for the manner somehow worked at the box office. Manner became the mannerism that launched a star most distantiated from the repertoire of an ensemble and the theater of an environment. Ekstra ultimately fails in Santos’s inability to inhabit the supplementation that she has triumphantly supplanted, with total industrial patronage, all these absolutely industrious years. Her “extra” is a “surplus”: a defective product that deserves to be remaindeered. The catatonic performance in last year’s The Healing should have warned us of the affliction in Ekstra. She is never “Loida”; she doesn’t possess the sentimental history to locate the interiority of such victimage. Frame after frame, “Vilma” remains the star who became an actress, by aspiration, then capitalist scheme, and, perhaps, through bureaucratic accident. The only feeling Vilma understands from Loida is despair, having realized that the industry has lost its charms to restore whatever has remained of recognizable talent. We can only hope Santos has known the extent of such violation, with those final eyes of a rather infinite regret.