Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sex Blood And Betamax interview 2012

Sex, Blood, And Betamax Tapes

Interview with Andrew Leavold by Don Jaucian, The Philippine Star 21/07/12

When the history books of Philippine cinema will finally be dusted off, rewritten and repurposed for future generations of filmgoers, the entire segment of Pinoy B-movies will probably be relegated to a mere footnote; a fleeting mention of a sprawling narrative about weird creatures, exploitation films, goons dressed up as nuns, and bionic boys shuffling around the world’s film circuit, brandishing the flag of the Filipino filmmaking industry like a leprous cousin.

What’s even more interesting is that these films actually made money and sustained the local film industry for 40 years. Filipino B-movies were in demand worldwide. Filmmakers like Eddie Romero, Gerry de Leon, and Cirio Santiago (two of whom were anointed as National Artists for Film for their more significant works) made a killing with films like Mad Doctor of Blood Island, The Big Dollhouse, and Cleopatra Wong. These films were co-productions with international producers and made with one-tenth of a budget of a regular Hollywood fare. These English-dubbed movies featured mutated humans, bionic boys, gay satanic bikers, armies of Aztec midgets, and nubile Caucasian and African-American women in bamboo cages in the middle of the jungle.

It’s this lowbrow circus freakshow of a film subculture that drew Australian film historian and filmmaker Andrew Leavold to Pinoy B movies.

What The Hell?

“I think initially the ‘What the hell?’ factor drew me to these films; the feeling that these films came out of a parallel universe where the rules of filmmaking have been turned on their heads. As I started watching more films I realized that there was definitely a style of filmmaking which was quite foreign to Western audiences but once you get used to the taste, it’s absolutely exhilarating. It would be like watching Swedish art cinema for the first time,” says Andrew.

Andrew has been going back to the Philippines (which he considers his second home) after meeting Cinemanila Film Festival director Tikoy Aguiluz in an Australian film festival he curated several years ago. This ignited his search for his personal holy grail: a two-foot-nine midget B-movie actor known as Weng Weng. He has since dedicated his life making his documentary The Search for Weng Weng, which until now remains in a thousand pieces after an Australian producer picked it up and mutated into Machete Maidens Unleashed.

Weng Weng

“For me, Weng Weng is so deeply affecting purely because it has become a personal journey,” he relates. “It acknowledges Weng Weng the human being rather than Weng Weng the karate-kicking novelty. I’m uncovering the story that no one in the Philippines seems to have done. I just found it astounding that even the guy who trained and directed him in five films didn’t even know his real name. I met the director of the first Weng Weng film, Dante Boy Pangilinan, two weeks ago. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I embraced him like a lost brother. It was a weird moment. Weird sh*t tends to happen around the Weng Weng saga because I suspect he’s sitting on my shoulder, directing from behind the scenes.”

Andrew is also deeply fond of another actor who made his name in B-movie parodies of Hollywood films, Dolphy. His perspective on the comedy king’s career brings to light an alternative track running amok with comic book heroes, secret agents, and a whole lot of kung fu films. Weng Weng and Dolphy even worked in several films together including Stariray, The Quick Brown Fox, and D’ Wild Weng Weng. Both Dolphy and Weng Weng symbolized the ordinary Filipino in movies, taking on Hollywood clich├ęs and dipping them into a uniquely Filipino perspective. 
Andrew Leavold with Dolphy, 2007
Dolphy As James Batman

“In the parody films, Dolphy’s vaudeville shtick translated perfectly once he started being featured in a starring role in the 1960s. The parody speaks so much about a playful anarchy and guerilla-style tactics taking potshots at Hollywood with a distorted mirror image of what it stole. There’s James Batman, where Dolphy played James Bond and Batman at the same time. That stuff is just genius. There were other films like Adolpong Hitler, Dolfinger. Where in the world would you find films like that?” Andrew explains.

For Y’ur Height Only: In the 1981 Manila International Film Festival, Eddie Nicart’s For Y’ur Height Only, a mockery of the Western spy films, was the only film that was sold to international distributors, beating out films by Fernando Poe Jr. and Lino Brocka.

Five years ago, he had the opportunity of meeting Dolphy for The Search for Weng Weng. The King of Comedy talked about working with the diminutive hero, and his own struggle to become one of the country’s top comedians.

“These were the golden moments in The Search for Weng Weng, sitting at a dinner table with Dolphy, eating pandesal and talking about 50-60 years of being a part of Pinoy experience which I could only experience second-hand. He does comedy well and he gets what the audience wants from these kinds of films. I’ve watched about 50 films of his. I don’t understand everything, but I get it. It’s going to be tough living in a world without Dolphy,” he says.

Andrew Leavold next to export specialists Cine Suerte's van, 2008
A F*Ck You To Hollywood

Despite the ridiculousness of B movies and parodies like Dancing Master, Terror is a Man, and TNT Jackson, these are all cudgels of cinematic heritage that academics and film historians shouldn’t overlook. They might be low-grade spectacles of blood, sex, violence and slapstick catering to a lower class of audience, but these are great examples of the Filipino ingenuity in filmmaking, producing highly marketable films made with very low budgets and were distributed in drive-ins, theaters, and homes around the world. These co-productions became the training ground of Filipino filmmakers, however shoddy the resulting films were, guided by international standards that trickled into local cinema.

“Let’s talk about pulp and commercial cinema [in a way] that isn’t condescending; in ways that actually do recognize achievement,” Andrew relates. “More than anything, Weng Weng represents a ‘f*ck you’ to Hollywood; that they were able to take on Empire Strikes Back, in the West Indies in Christmas of ’82 and beat them. It is the little Pinoy guy saying we can do it on our terms even if we have to steal the James Bond idea and have a midget James Bond with a small budget and still come out a winner. I think that’s incredibly cool. These were the Filipino guys who are able to do some amazing things on their own terms and resources. They showed such ingenuity and pioneering spirit, forging distribution channels rather than piggybacking on the Hollywood dream machine.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

You Me And Imelda article 01/09/12


You, Me and Imelda: Brisbane Filmmakers' Unexpected Philippines Adventure

Dan Nancarrow’s interview with Andrew Leavold and Daniel Palisa in Brisbane Times, 01/09/12
The crowd of celebrity well-wishers, foreign dignitaries and family members had gathered for Imelda Marcos's elaborate 83rd birthday party in the Philippines in July this year.
Trudging through the mass were two wild-haired Brisbane filmmakers, looking less than glamourous in damp black t-shirts.
Jim Gaines Jr and I on the sand dunes of Fort Ilocandia waiting on a phone call from Mrs Marcos
Andrew Leavold and Danny Palisa had arrived in the Philippines a few days earlier with the hope of interviewing the country's former First Lady on camera.
And now here they were, dripping wet after a sightseeing expedition in stifling heat, being welcomed into her inner sanctum. Mrs Marcos had called them over and introduced them to her closest friends and family.
"We're sitting in the VIP section expecting to be asked to leave," Palisa said.
"Everyone is looking at us like they were saying, 'Who are these guys?' ''
It's a story as outlandish as the storylines of the B-films Leavold and Palisa adore. But it's the sort of occurrence the pair have gotten more and more used to as they delved deeper into the Filipino movie industry.
Daniel Palisa (right) and I in the front seat of a Laoag jeepney, Ilocos Norte

The two filmmakers have been embraced by the Philippines' splendidly bizarre film community over the past six years. They've found a niche in the Southeast Asian country by chronicling its film history - all the while making friends in high places.
Their journey through the country began six years ago, when Leavold, the ex-owner of the now-closed West End cult film emporium Trash Video, went searching for traces of film star Weng Weng.
Weng Weng, a dwarf born Ernesto de la Cruz, is the Filipino James Bond whose face Leavold has tattooed on his upper left arm in mock-religious tribute.
Leavold's documentary on the star of For Y'ur Height Only and The Impossible Kid has been screened before in earlier cuts at film festivals. It sees him interviewing Weng Weng's co-stars and film crew trying to track down the whereabouts of the star, who died in 1992.
While Leavold eventually found the resting place of Weng Weng, he felt he needed a more fitting ending and tribute to the martial artist/actor. And went about remedying that situation earlier this year.
"I could still finish it but I needed something to tie the whole thing together and that was this bizarre quest to track down Imelda," he said.
In 1990, Weng Weng was recognised for services to the Filipino film industry by Mrs Marcos. After she presented him with the award, he reportedly joined her on stage and they sang a duet of My Way. [Incorrect, Mr Nancarrow - you’ve fallen victim to recycling urban myths!]
After an exchange of emails with Mrs Marcos's press secretary the pair were told to go to Manila "and wait further instructions''.
They then successfully negotiated plans to see the First Lady there and somehow found themselves invited to Batac, where Mrs Marcos would be celebrating her 83rd birthday.

Meeting with Mrs Marcos in her Batac mansion the day of the celebrations, Leavold and Palisa found it hard to extract anything insightful from her on camera, with preparations for the party going on in the background.
"The sound was terrible, the picture was dodgy and all she wanted to do was talk about anything but cinema," he said.
"At the end of it I thought I had nothing, at the most a couple of pub stories. Even if we go home now it's sort of been worth it.
"Then she taps me on the arm and says 'Let's do this again tomorrow. But meanwhile would you like to accompany me to my 83rd birthday party?' "

With their minder and Jeepney driver, they were escorted to the neighbouring sports stadium were the festivities were being held.
"We walked in and we thought we were going to be sitting up at one of the very back tables, but we're marched past the mayors and the provincial aides and the governors and such, past the band who are looking at us like 'Who the hell are these guys?'," Palisa said.
"Then we're walked into the VIP section behind the band and seated one table away from Imelda among the Marcos clan, the Chinese ambassador to Laoag and heads of banks."

Thinking they'd be asked to leave at any point they were pleasantly surprised when Mrs Marcos called them over and introduced them to her family.
They stayed for four hours, watching Mrs Marcos's introduction the to crowd as "the most beautiful woman in the world, Mama Imelda" and soaking up the entertainment which included a 1970s crooner doing a duet with Mrs Marcos. Lastly they took part in a ritual where the former First Lady sat on a throne surrounded in flowers while each guest lined up to hand her a single rose.
"I handed the rose over and gave her a kiss on the cheek and thanked her for letting us come to her party," Leavold said.
"She said it was her pleasure. She had charmed the pants off us. She completely disarmed every expectation we had about her."
Leavold and Palisa had clearly endeared themselves to Imelda too.
Roy Arabejo and I watch the unfolding festivities
The next day the pair interviewed Mrs Marcos again, but not before they were taken to the mausoleum where Ferdinand Marcos's frozen body is kept, where the former First Lady planted a kiss on the glass box that encases him.
But as surreal as their trip had been, the filmmakers did manage to get some work done.
Over the course of two interviews (after a much more open exchange with Mrs Marcos the next day) the pair got the ''money shot" their Weng Weng documentary needed for completion.
"On the first day I asked her, 'Do you remember Weng Weng?' and you could see that it shook her out of her pre-prepared loop," he said.
Confirming that Weng Weng had been a visitor to the Marcos palace, she said he had been invited because he made the couple laugh.

"She then started delivering this beautiful soliloquy about how Weng Weng was the 'little Filipino' who overcome his disability to become something extraordinary," he said.
But the artistry of Weng Weng wasn't the only issue the pair wanted to put to Mrs Marcos.
The pair are working on another documentary - The Most Beautiful Creatures On The Skin Of The Earth - centred on the Marcos family's relationship with cinema.
The documentary looks at the political and cultural importance of cinema to the Marcos's grip on the Philippines throughout their 20 years in power, beginning with the successful campaign film that help skyrocket Ferdinand Marcos to high office in the 1960s.
In particular Mrs Marcos, the driving force behind the creation of the Manila Film Centre, was asked about the films produced through the centre in the 1980s.
"In the early eighties, after the [Marcos critic and Filipino Senator] Benigno Aquino, Jr. assassination, Marcos's opponents - in particular the Catholic Church - started to gain ammunition against Marcos, who had a tenuous grip on power at the time," he said.
"All of a sudden pornography reappears - but state-sanctioned and state-funded pornography courtesy of the Manila Film Centre.
"If you imagine films would have been the panacea to soothe a troubled population then you can say that escapist films and films that make it look like the government supported arts and culture would be a good distraction from what was really going on in the Philippines - assassinations, endemic poverty and a real Communist uprising.
"It's pretty well agreed within critical circles in the Philippines that porn, along with horror, was the great distraction."
Combining extreme sex and violence, the films of the eighties were lapped up by the general population and the era is critically regarded as the last golden age of Filipino cinema.
"I asked her how she reconciled the pornographic films that the [government-owned] Experimental Cinema of the Philippines was funding?" he said.
She told Leavold that a pornographic film could be made as long as it ''corresponded to the true, the good and the beautiful''.
"So you could have a pornographic film as long as it was 'beautiful', or if it told 'the truth' about something," he said. "If it was artistic than it told a truth. If it was something that was anti-Marcos than it clearly wasn't about the truth.
"Her mantra was easily adaptable."
Leavold and Palisa are among those filmmakers who hold many of those experimental Filipino films of the '80s in the highest regard.
Which makes their third project possibly the most attractive to the pair.
Through their contacts they have made in the local industry they have scripted a film, Blood Red Sea, which has been taken on by the Film Academy of the Philippines, that reunites some of the country's action stars of the 1980s.
In the coming months Palisa is moving to the Philippines to work on the project, a prospect which he admits is quite daunting. But the pair shouldn't have anything to fear.
As Mrs Marcos might remind them, they have friends in high places.
"The thing about the Philippines is it is a weird and magical place," Leavold said.
"If you allow things to happen they will.''
The final cut of The Search for Weng Weng is expected to be released next year.
Production of The Most Beautiful Creatures On The Skin Of The Earth is ongoing.

Daniel Palisa under an enormous tiled portrait of Ferdinand
Mrs Marcos says hi to Daniel's camera
Jim Gaines Jr (left) and Dani with Mrs Marcos and her assistants, on board the bulletproof Marcos bus

Roy, me and Jim on the verandah of the Malacanang Of The North