Quentin Tarantino riding the padyak is a small, funny anecdote to the director’s eventful Philippine trip: a collection of anecdotes, in fact, that involved a couple of tropical storms, a filmfest, some Pinoy delicacies, and Tarantino travelling from one “rat-infested place” (as Hollywood actress Claire Danes once rudely put it) like Cubao to another, like Malacañang. In fact, Tarantino had been quoted as saying he enjoyed the pedicab ride — he really seems to be having a blast.
But somehow, I feel odd about seeing Tarantino, the irreverent director of such films as Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Kill Bill, here in Manila. He does not seem to me like someone who would be interested in a crazy, westernized third-world country like ours. Sure he said he loved Eddie Romero films. And more importantly, he’s crazy about our B-movies. But not in a way that we would like to be appreciated, for you’ve got to have a heightened sense of irony to appreciate our 1970s-1980s Tagalog films which were mostly cheap copies of Hollywood. Conversely, I don’t think Pinoys have the sensibility needed to appreciate Tarantino’s films.
I’m sure direk Tikoy Aguiluz meant well when he invited Tarantino to grace Cinemanila. After all, he’s Tarantino the maverick Hollywood auteur. I, for one, swears by his work, especially Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, despite being a being a bigger fan of writer bell hooks who criticized Tarantino’s reactionary, “cool cynical” view of the world. (Hooks argues that Tarantino, like his hip characters, brands every human endeavor from religion to revolution as mere “gigs” or “rackets”). She’s got a point there. But in terms of filmic forms, Tarantino is pretty revolutionary to me.
Even in a third-world setting where postmodernism does not exist outside coffe shops and academia, there is something oddly powerful about Pulp Fiction’s irreverence and utter disregard for conventional narratives, storytelling forms, and sympathetic characterizations. Stripped of its ability to delude you into believing that what you are watching is reality or a close proximation of reality and its rules, Tarantino’s films can be appreciated in much the same way that French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard’s films are appreciated — Brechtian, revolutionary in form, though completely elitist and sectarian as a whole.
Anyway, Tarantino getting a “lifetime achievement award” from both Cinemanila and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo just does not sit well with me. For one, there’s our so-called president, the lying, scheming woman who hates films of social value (she once called Jose Reyes’ realist film Toro “soft porn”) and hates the film-watching masses even more, handing out Tarantino the award. For another, there’s the incompatibility: we Filipinos just don’t view violence in much the comical, ironic way that Tarantino sees it.
It’s no secret that Tarantino’s films are violent. Filipinos, too, are violent. In fact, Tarantino has visited the country just as government troops were commencing punitive attacks on Moro rebels in Basilan and Sulu. A lot of our better films are violent, too — Peque Gallaga’s Ora Plata Mata first comes to mind. What differentiates, Tarantino from Gallaga, though, is the former’s film’s gratiuitousness with which violence is portrayed. For instance, unlike the carnage of war during the Second World War (which was the setting for Gallaga’s Oro), violence in Pulp Fiction et al is never a necessary abnormality; in fact violence is normal, you could get your head blown off anytime, even when you’re in the middle of a sentence or in the middle of shitting. Unlike an unjust war where violence is calculated and directed towards enemies and their sympathizers, Tarantino’s violence is always indiscriminate, even black gangsters get butt-fucked by rednecks.
I always await Tarantino’s films in our theaters with anticipation, but just don’t see the same interest in him in many other movie-going Pinoys, except maybe the select few who love animei. I watched Pulp Fiction, in fact, the day it came out here in Manila — three days later it was out of the moviehouses.