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04 January 2015

Defending “Praybeyt Benjamin,” its Audience and Puto with Crème Brûlée

Rationale for the use of non-free media, click this
(Updated 9:00 pm, 1/4/2015) 

Advisory: This essay is full of mangled syntax and sloppy arguments. It is a satire on film critics as myself. 

It is not a surprise that Wenn Deramas’ “The Amazing Praybeyt Benjamin 2,” which stars Vice Ganda, received bad reviews. Bad is the kindest word that is used so far to describe the film. However, regardless of the critics’ derision against the film, it does not change the fact that “Praybeyt Benjamin” continues to top the box office. In fact, all Vice Ganda/Wenn Deramas productions have amassed millions of pesos. Furthermore, the other films trailing behind “Praybeyt Benjamin” are also earning millions, and they all received mixed reviews from critics.

The common rationale is that the typical Filipino moviegoers do not know any better. They are willing to waste their hard-earned money to see “crap.” You do not need further research to validate this supposed fact. Just look at the countless “outstanding” independent films that died at the box office after just a few days in the theater. 

Is it really the moviegoers’ fault? In the past, I used to believe that but I also learned that some of my intelligent co-workers, friends, and family members honestly enjoyed Wenn Deramas/Vice Ganda movies. Are some of my friends and family members stupid? All of them are college educated and some graduated from “prestigious universities.” (Quotation marks intended). How can these people hold important high-level jobs, raise children properly and, on occasion, give sound advice when some of my friends have personal problems? Are these people suffering from some form of episodic “cinematic mental illness?” Are they movie dyslexic?

It would be reassuring for us obnoxious “Intellectual Elitists” (with emphasis on the capital I.E.) if only people living in the slums, er, I mean, informal settlements, and the so-called uneducated in Western-style education were the only ones flocking to see “Praybeyt Benjamin.” In the first place, spending 200 pesos to watch a movie is a waste of money. They can buy pirated copies that are sold on the streets for just 50 pesos or less.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Just look at the long lines in cinemas. Those people lining up do not resemble Neanderthals or orcs from “Lord of the Ring.” They wear nice clothes. They seem to have nice children, and they look genuinely sane. 

While I was in a bookstore pretentiously browsing some highbrow books from Mishima, Murakami and Saramago, I overheard two middle-class looking women talking.

Woman 1: “Have you watched ‘Praybeyt Benjamin?’
Woman 2: “Hindi pa? Kamusta naman?
Woman 1: “Wala lang, kung gusto mo lang matawa?”
Woman 2: “Plano ko sana, haba lang ng pila. Panoorin ko na lang sa second week, I’m sure showing pa.”
Woman 1: “Watch natin next ang  Bonifacio.”
Woman 2: “Alam ko na story ni Bonifacio, Shake Rattle and Roll na lang.”
Woman 1: “Tingnan natin kung may seats pa available, kain muna tayo sa Bigoli.”

Perhaps, this conversation best explains the success of films like “Praybeyt Benjamin.” The moviegoers are not dumb. They just know what they want or they may have different reasons to watch a particular film. I know some people who enjoyed Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" and Deramas' "Bekikang" but they will never admit enjoying the latter. Or perhaps, many Filipino moviegoers may not regard film the way some of us uppity critics look at film.

Perhaps to the typical Filipino moviegoer, film is not art; film is entertainment.

One Brun critic countered my statement, he said, “Because our art education in school is not good, that’s why.” There you go again. Let us blame the audience. You are not educated properly so you cannot differentiate good from bad.

One friend who is very knowledgeable about history commented on Facebook that “Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo” is not authentic, whatever that means, Robin Padilla just played Bonifacio as Robin Padilla. However, another Brun critic, who also makes TV documentaries, responded,

“But it is a film and so the issue of authenticity or accuracy is already compromised. It is so twentieth-century to demand authenticity. Once you film something, everything is a set up, even in news documentaries on TV, because the network is also concerned with many other factors. How much airtime do we have? Will people watch it? Is the story compelling? That topic has been done many times, let’s try a different angle.”

He further added,

“The idea that mass media give us the truth is a myth. People should view media with suspicion. Everybody has an agenda to push. Information comes from the elite, who panders to the middle class, and the middle class emulate the elite, that’s why we have so many malls, and buy stuff that the elite have, and try to live lives that the elite have. We dream of weddings like the ones Marian and Dingdong have, and our celebrities look white because white means upper class. We all want to be upper class. What the upper class defines as high art, it becomes the prescribed high art.”

Excerpt from a discussion among
Brun critics about Filipino comedies versus
other smart comedies
I said, “So I guess, in a way, the individual viewer must rely on himself or herself to look for the truth, and he or she must not be dictated, trust his or her value judgment on what is good and what is not. Like we both said many times. First, the artists are dead, now, the critics are dead.”

Perhaps if the typical moviegoer decides to watch movies like “Praybeyt Benjamin,” instead of “Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan,” he should not be chastised for it. I know what I want. People do not have any right to tell me that I am watching “crap,” and I should watch this because it is “art.” It is an intelligent movie. Do not tell me that I am not intelligent for watching this? Who asked you to measure my intelligence?

Maybe it is time to criticize the critics.

As I watched “Praybeyt Benjamin,” I had an epiphany.  This film provides clues on what Filipino film narrative may look like. Examine the audience. What form of narrative do they appreciate in relation to their lives? They do not need to be educated regarding their poverty or their state of powerlessness. They do not have five hours to spare watching the dire state of the nation. They live it 24 hours a day.  That is longer than any Lav Diaz's films. They enjoy the absurdities and senselessness of movies like “Praybeyt Benjamin.”  In fact, “Praybeyt Benjamin,” like “Magtiwala Ka: A Super Typhoon Yolanda Story,” is ripe for deconstruction than well-made independent films that are almost flawless so you cannot say much but to praise them. 

Maybe the challenge for filmmakers is how to intellectualize (for lack of a better word) films like “Praybeyt Benjamin,” used its ingredients, its lack of cohesive narrative in the Hollywood or western traditional sense, and respect the genre and use it to reach the people. "Praybeyt Benjamin" is escapism and escapism is always regarded as low. But can't we put self-mockery and self-deconstruction on escapism? How is escapism lower than defeatist art like "Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan?" Oh, "Praybeyt Benjamin" has Vice Ganda, "Norte" has Sid Lucero blurting out "post-modernism" chuvaness. 

As one Brun critic points out,

“Everything is about cohesive narrative even non-Hollywood slow narrative, meaning and aesthetics chuvaness; they have been done many times in the past. Slow cinema is just Yasujirō Ozu on extended play (name drop alert!).We are not pushing the medium forward. Maybe it is time for anti-drama, anti-narrative, anti-something. All these artsy things blatantly disregard the audience because some filmmakers claim the audience has disregarded them by pandering to ‘trashy’ films.”

“Praybeyt Benjamin” is funny but its kind of empty comedy is not the problem per se. The problem is its emptiness does not have a higher goal. Everything is on the surface to be enjoyed, but the surface does not slap us hard enough. It makes us laugh but it does make us laugh at the right people. On the contrary, it makes us love the wrong people. This also works the other way around, so-called highbrow comedy is not superior if it is simply "smart' on the surface, but it only prescribes the truth of one class. To quote Slavoj Zizek, “We should aim at the higher goal..., precisely in order to be able to enjoy the surface.” This is true in life, and so in film, comedy or drama. 

Excerpt from a discussion
among Brun critics
about intelligent Pinoys

If you are struggling to earn money selling crème brûlée but customers are flocking to buy rice cake. Perhaps you should devote your time and money making the best and most unique rice cake so that even the French will drop their crème brûlée and line up to buy and gobble up your gâteau de riz, that is French for “puto.” The product is not important but your higher goal.

As a child, I always felt excited when I heard a vendor shouting, “Puto! Puto kayo dyan!”

It makes me wonder, why I gave up puto for crème brûlée. The latter is just basically cream, sugar and eggs with a fancy name while the former reminds me of my happy days with my grandmother as I helped her make puto, palitaw, minatamis na kundol, halaya, maja blanca and many other Filipino sweets that foreigners relish eating.

Now if you grew up eating stuff like crème brûlée, then you will never get the point of this essay mon amour.

As one friend commented, “Ito lang pala ang crème brûlée, eh, leche flan lang pala iyan. Nakapag-abroad lang, iniba na ang pangalan. Leche!”

Let’s make “puto,” in all sense of the word, its pun, its _____. Fill in the blanks…


Friend: "Rob, nag-aaral ka ng French. Bakit? Hindi mo naman kailangan."
Me: "Wala lang, pang-mata sa mayayaman."

Comic Strip posted on January 9, 2015

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you to everyone who took the time to read this sloppily written amateurish Juvenalian satire. We were surprised by the number of readers. This article has become one of our most popular posts. Usually, most of our articles die from lack of readership after just a few days. It does not really matter whether you agree with the piece or not; the important thing is this slightly increases our readership and that will help increase our earnings from our advertisers. We hope to earn enough to be able to buy books for public school libraries. Thank you again.

    Here’s to irony :-)


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