Sunday, March 30, 2014

The book club discusses the screenplay of a classic Filipino movie

The requisite close-up photo with the book
No stranger to reading screenplays, I am.
Sometimes, the book club pushes itself outward and talks about material that we wouldn't normally read ourselves. That's what happened this weekend, when we met one afternoon to talk about a screenplay of a much-beloved Filipino classic—"Himala." So I'm sharing with you pictures of the event, dear reader. I'll reserve my thoughts on the screenplay for another post. Anyway, you can click on the pictures to enlarge.

Of course, one does not simply organize a discussion by just coming up with the discussion questions. This month's facilitator, Orly, made sure that he kept up with the book club tradition of giving away bookmarks and other related items. For "Himala," we each received these wonderful bookmarks and the anahaw fans with the words "Elsa saves" and "Elsa loves you" printed on them. These phrases are the arc words of the screenplay.

I am an Elsa fan.
The fan can be quite useful, especially now that it's officially summer.
The books, the DVD of the restored version, and other stuff
Always a good conversation starter
Orly did a wonderful job facilitating the discussion. He even invited Gilbert, one of his friends who was involved in the creation of the coffeetable book Sa Puso ng Himala. That particular book had the screenplay we're going to discuss, plus a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff about the production of the movie. The BTS stuff had very juicy bits about the crew and the talent. Very gossipy and quite fun to read!

Before we delved into the discussion proper, Orly showed us a few slides about the screenplay. He talked about the screenwriter Ricky Lee, the history of the film's production, the movie's very important place in Philippine cinema, and even the personalities involved in the movie. It was a very informative and engaging presentation. Lots of questions thrown around by the members even if we haven't officially begun discussing the screenplay.

We were actually given 2 books to choose from for this discussion—Sa Puso ng Himala and Si Tatang at ang Himala ng Ating Panahon. Both contain the screenplay, but the former focuses more on the movie, while the latter is a collection of the screenwriter's works. I bought both books though, as I couldn't help myself. But for the discussion, I decided to go with Sa Puso ng Himala. I figured I wanted to know more about the movie rather than the writer.

Orly (in white) and Gilbert (in yellow)
As expected, with Orly as the facilitator, the discussion was livelier than usual.
One of Orly's pre-discussion slides
This one shows the screenwriter, Ricky Lee. 
The rare movie postcards given away as prizes.
I won one of them! The one with Elsa, the lead actress. 
Now we're on to the discussion proper. Of course, the usual questions were thrown to the group. Which themes in the screenplay struck you the most? Who were the characters that created a strong impact in you? How was the experience reading a screenplay? How is it different from reading a play or watching the movie? From a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate the screenplay? It all feels very structured at first.

But you know what? From the discussions we've recently had, the moderator just poses a few standard questions, and then the discussion takes off from there. So really, the moderator simply steps back and just makes sure that everyone is given the chance to participate. In the end, we usually end up answering one another's questions. The members are a talkative bunch, and a good number of us can be quite opinionated.

My good friend Orly
He's the perfect guy to facilitate this screenplay discussion.
A few members share their ideas about the screenplay
Here we have Doc Cecille, Gege, Jeeves, and Czar. 
Lots of lighthearted moments during the discussion
Here's R. doing a goofy face. To his right is Sana. 
When asked for my favorite characters, I chose the 3 principal women:
Elsa (seated), Nimia (the one to her right), and Chayong (above Elsa).
Anne and Honey
Some of the questions were deeply profound. We had to pause and think. 
Ms. Raquel Villavicencio, the movie's production designer, joined us!
She shared lots of insights about the movie's production.
We were given copies of the original and final drafts of Elsa's speech.
Truly, writing a screenplay requires several drafts.
Busted! My good friend Marie.
Finishing the last 2 pages of the screenplay during the discussion
Oh, and it wasn't just a discussion. Orly facilitated a screenplay writing workshop by the end of the afternoon. Actually, it's in preparation for the group's Christmas party this year. I know, I know, it's still March, but we do have something big planned for this year. The theme for this year's Christmas party is the movies! For that project, members were sorted into teams and each team was tasked to make a 15-minute movie following a specific genre.

Anyway, for the screenplay writing workshop, Orly listed the deleted scenes from the movie. Then each group was assigned one of these scenes. The groups were then tasked to write the screenplay (with the speaking parts, the blocking, the description of the setting, etc.) for that particular scene. To think that some of us have no experience with moviemaking, much less with writing a screenplay, I think the final outputs were awesome.

The members listening to Orly explain the screenplay writing workshop.
We take things way too seriously, which is a good thing. 
Gege, Sana, and Iya
The ladies discussing the deleted opening scene of "Himala." 
Joko, R., and Jewel
I was aiming for a candid shot actually.
Jeeves and Mike
They're just 2 of the members of the all-male team.
Standing: Czar, Don, and Orly; seated: Doc Cecille, Jan, Anne, and Honey
The fabulous ladies are doing their own version of brainstorming.
And during the discussion, Marie gave me the hat I asked her to make.
My birthday's St. Patrick's Day! I love this supersized leprechaun hat!
It was truly a wonderful way to spend a weekend afternoon. It feels like I haven't seen my friends from the book club forever, even though we do make it a point to meet at least once a month. Till next time, fellow bibliophiles. And to you, dear reader, isn't it time you join a book club?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On a book-ish high in Singapore

So I turned 40 last St. Patrick's Day, and I decided to celebrate it away from Manila. So off I went to the Singapore with R. and a couple of other friends. I've been to the Lion City so many times for work-related stuff, but this is the first time I went there purely for some R&R. The trip also marks the second time I travel abroad with R.

Singapore is very friendly to bibliophiles. Lots of awesome bookstores. Some bookstores in Manila may be having financial troubles, but they seem to be thriving in the Lion City. I see people reading everywhere—trains, caf├ęs, restaurants, and parks. I visited 4 bookstores in Singapore, and I saw that there's always a line at the cashier.

The first bookstore that we visited was BooksActually. Their flagship store is in the trendy Tiong Bahru district, which is lined with artsy eating places and other hipster-friendly establishments. It's actually my 2nd time to be in BooksActually, and I was looking forward to getting more Penguin mugs. Unfortunately, they ran out of them.

BooksActually is such a quaint bookstore that I've fallen completely in love with it. The staff's friendly and accommodating, and their selections are awesome. But like most bookstores in the city, their books can be quite pricey. I drooled over their collection of vintage Penguin paperbacks. In the end though, R. bought me a Jane Eyre tote.

The 1st time I was in BooksActually, I never thought that there's be non-humans living inside the store. So I was surprised when this cat suddenly appeared out of nowhere and just contentedly settled himself on top of the piles of books. We learned that the cat's name is Cake, and that there were 2 more cats hiding in the bookstore.

The 2nd bookstore we went to was just a few stores away from BooksActually—Woods in the Books. It's more of a specialty bookstore, stocking only children's books. So lots of picture books in that store. Again, still pricey. And boo-hoo, they don't allow people to take pictures inside the store. Still a good place to visit though.

It was a rainy afternoon when we went to Tiong Bahru. We couldn't get a cab, and we couldn't possibly walk to the train station without getting terribly wet. So we whiled away the time in this coffee shop called Poteato, where 2 of the staff were Filipino. Very friendly bunch. And they had the best white chocolate cheesecake ever!

As soon as the rains stopped, off we went to Orchard Road, where one of my favorite bookstores can be found in Takashimaya mall—Kinokuniya! Oh, Kinokuniya, why can't I quit you? You breaker of budgets, you destroyer of wallets. I think I might have browsed the shelves of the fiction section of Kinokuniya no less than 3 times.

When we left Orchard Road to have dinner, I had 4 new books in my backpack. Yes, only 4. Because, I repeat, books in Singapore are pricey. I had to make sure to get those titles that bookstores in Manila wouldn't have. Was thinking if I should get the hardcover cloth-bound Penguin classics. I held off though, as I wouldn't want to pay for excess luggage.

And then the last bookstore we went to was Relay, which was at the airport. Compared to BooksActually and Kinokuniya, Relay carries fewer titles. But they do have those beautiful Irish editions of classics, which were also reasonably priced. I bought 2—Heart of Darkness and To the Lighthouse. Woolf is my planned W in my dead guy challenge.

So it was a very enjoyable trip, undoubtedly. I went back home with 6 new books, and my luggage was within the 15-kilo limit. (My check-in luggage weighed 14.7 kilos. Yay!) Of course, the 1-week trip didn't just involve book-hunting. We naturally had to act all touristy and see the usual sights. Till next time, Singapore!

My stash

Friday, March 21, 2014

G is for Gotthelf

I love a good horror story. And after reading mostly the Victorians in my dead guy reading challenge, I believe the time is now ripe to go beyond the British realm. So I picked up Jeremias Gotthelf's The Black Spider. Gotthelf is a curiosity. He was a Swiss pastor who was a contemporary of Edgar Allan Poe. According to his biography, one difference between Gotthelf and Poe is that Gotthelf believed in the reality of the demon he created in his short stories. This thought gives me goosebumps, as the monster he created in The Black Spider is quite the character.

Upon opening the novel, which was published in 1842, one might think that it isn't a horror novel at all. The opening lines paint a picture of quaintness and the mundane. Gotthelf begins with a very vivid, albeit poetic, description of the town of Sumiswald, where the events of the novel take place.
Above the mountains rose the sun, shining in limpid majesty down into a welcoming but narrow valley, where it woke to joyous life creatures that had been created to take pleasure in the sunshine of their days. From the forest's gilded edge the blackbird trilled its aubade while the amorous quail intoned monotonous minnelieder from amid the flowers sparkling in the dew-bespangled grass, and high above the dark firs, lusty crows danced nuptial roundelays or else cawed tender lullabies above the thorny little beds of their unfledged chicks.
But all will not be well at Sumiswald, for in The Black Spider, a dark period in the history of that little fictional town will be told. It begins with a brutal knight, one Hans von Stoffeln, who makes a most inhumane demand on the farmers of his estate. It's a demand so impossible for the residents of Susmiswald that one of the women, Christine, is forced to make a pact with the devil. The devil in The Black Spider is one I haven't encountered before. No horns, fangs, and serpertine eyes and tails here. What Gotthelf conjured is a tall, red-beared huntsman dressed all in green and with a red feather in his cap. All he asks in return is an unbaptized child.

So the knight is made happy and all seems well in the little town. Until the first child is born. Christine takes it upon herself to get the child and bring it to the devil. But she is thwarted, as the child is baptized as soon as it is born. Then the second child is born, and the same thing happens. All this time, a black mark has been growing on Christine's face. The mark grows and grows till little spiders come out of it and kill all the cattle in Sumiswald. When the third child is born, Christine hurriedly goes to the mother's house and steals the child. But alas, when she was about to hand the baby over to the green huntsman, a priest sprinkles holy water on these two. The devil flees, and Christine shrinks and transforms into a small spider, which the priest casts aside in rescuing the poor baby.
The story does not end here. It's too clean, yes? The black spider wreaks havoc in the town, appearing in one house, killing people, and then disappearing instantly, only to appear again in another place. It's at this point that I begin to think how The Black Spider is very similar in theme to the story of the pied piper of Hamelin. But instead of people realizing their fault and correcting it by doing what has been previously agreed on, the people of Sumiswald resort to their faith. (Gotthelf, after all, was a pastor.) Of course they can't give a child to the devil, whether it's baptized or not. It was up to one of the residents of Sumiswald to outwit the black spider and trap it in a wooden post.

Gotthelf's novel is a quick read. It's just a little over 100 pages. One assumes that this tale, written in the mid 1800s, would have a plot that took its time to unfold. No. The Black Spider's narrative pace is a hectic one. And an atmosphere of dread and creepiness pervades throughout the pages.

Nightmarish—that's how I would describe Gotthelf's novel. I couldn't help but look over my shoulder every now and then. Just to check whether an 8-legged thing is slowly finding its way into one of my pockets. Don't get me wrong, I love spiders. They kill pests, and they'd mostly leave you alone if you leave them alone too. But the spider in this novel is something you'd wish you'd never meet. You might as well practically kill yourself if you do. There's just no escaping it. It's evil incarnate.

Again, I'm grateful that NYRB has published this forgotten classic. It's wonderful reading about the traditions and customs of small towns in ages gone by. There's an opening scene about a baptism that's about to happen. I never knew that there was so much eating involved before and after the ceremony. I guess in olden times, one stuffs himself silly when a baby enters the Christian world. Fascinating trivia.

Read this book if:
  1. You have a thing for classic horror stories.
  2. You love spiders.
  3. You're looking for a quick and scary read.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

F is for Fowles

Twenty years ago, as soon as I finished reading The Magus by John Fowles, I can still remember my feeling of elation. It was my first Fowles, and I thought that I got mind-fucked by the novel. With its seamless transition between reality and fantasy, The Magus was an exercise in patience and stamina. Finishing it was a rewarding experience indeed. I never planned to read another Fowles novel, but I needed a letter F for my dead guy challenge. So, Fowles's debut novel it is. (Flaubert, I will tackle you another time. Promise.)

Ah, The Collector. What a totally satisfying thriller you are. You're still quite a suspenseful read, even though you were first published in 1963. And I now understand why you were the debut that brought Fowles to everyone's attention. You do remind me of those movies that feature deranged serial killers and psychopaths ("The Silence of the Lambs" and "Psycho"). But what sets you apart from these thrill-a-minute films is how erudite you seem to be. Reading you wouldn't just satisfy one's craving for a sickening story; you also allow us to go deep into both the minds of the characters—the captor and the captive.

The novel, all 300 pages of it, features just two characters. Frederick Clegg, the lonely clerk who collects butterflies in his free time, and Miranda Grey, the art student whom Frederick develops an obsession on. And Fowles just gives us 4 chapters. With the first chapter, it's all about Frederick's point of view. It recounts his unhealthy attraction to Miranda, his winning a substantial amount of money in a lottery, and his meticulous planning of Miranda's kidnapping. Frederick is the collector referred to in the novel for obvious reasons. We just know that, probably, not everything is right in his calculated mind. With his money, he buys a cottage with a basement where he keeps Miranda.

Cut to the next chapter and we get to know Miranda a bit more. The Collector isn't just about the battle of wits between Frederick and Miranda. It's more of an exploration of the minds of its characters. With Frederick, it's all about obsession and how he's determined to make Miranda a part of his collection. In Miranda's chapter, we read about Miranda's life before her abduction, her willingness to be romantically involved with an artist 21 years her senior, her plans of escape from Frederick, and her eventual desperation at the futility of all her attempts. Her chapter made us feel for Miranda, and we really hope that she would have escaped by the novel's end.
One just can't imagine what prison is like from outside. You think, well, there'd be lots of time to think and read, it wouldn't be that bad. But it is too bad. It's the slowness of time. I'll swear all the clocks in the world have gone centuries slower since I came here. 
I shouldn't complain. This is a luxury prison. 
And there's his diabolical cunning about the newspapers and radio and so on. I never read the papers very much, or listened to the news. But to be totally cut off. It's so strange. I feel I've lost all my bearings. 
I spend hours lying on the bed thinking about how to escape. 
Endless. [page 250]
The Collector messes up your brain too, in a beautiful way. The sexual tension between the two characters is just nail biting, even though Frederick and Miranda never really do it. Well, almost. There was this one time when Miranda attempts to seduce Frederick, but it doesn't go as planned. Frederick couldn't perform. Somehow, a psychiatrist has told Frederick that he'll never be able to do it with a woman. And it is at this point that you get to thinking—just what the hell is wrong with you, Frederick? Why couldn't you get it up? And why do you do a complete 180-degree turn when the object of your obsession offers herself up to you? All of a sudden, you think of Miranda as a charlatan.

I should read more John Fowles. Such a deft writer, that one. Comfortable in varied writing styles. Frederick's narrative is an exercise in control and in looming terror. Miranda's, on the other hand, spirals downward from being whimsical, introspective, and then surrendering. You literally feel her descent into madness and despair. It's a truly chilling account.

Read this book if:
  1. You love psychological suspense.
  2. You have an unhealthy obsession of things and, possibly, of certain persons.
  3. You know that that seemingly harmless dude sitting next to you in the bus keeps a woman prisoner in his basement.

Friday, March 7, 2014

I stopped reading the books, but the TV series is another matter

I have lots of love for George R. R. Martin's wonderful series A Song of Ice and Fire. The 1st book, A Game of Thrones, is still a favorite. I love how GRRM makes you fall for characters and then violently tear your heart out by killing them. #yeahbitch

But I stopped reading the series though. I made it halfway through the 3rd book, A Storm of Swords, when I decided to just stop. Eff it! With the writing pace GRRM, I'll be 50 by the time the series is complete. So, plenty of goddamn time. Years! Probably a decade even.

So I channeled all my fanboy juice to the TV series. A Game of Thrones is awesome! It's one of those few shows that I watch religiously. And when I mean religiously, I mean by myself, in the dead of night when I couldn't be disturbed, and on an empty bladder.

It's just a few weeks away before season 4 of A Game of Thrones and I just can't wait no longer. This must be one of Dante's circle of hell, yes? The agonizing wait, the feeling of helplessness due to anticipation, the bubbling fandom frenzy.

For the meantime though, while counting the days till the first episode of the latest season, I'll while away my days playing solitaire. And what better way to play than with a deck of cards with my favorite GOT characters. Because, Jamie Lannister's jawline is a character on its own. Respect, man, respect.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

E is for Eliot

And I've finally read my first Eliot! Although I initially planned to read Middlemarch, I had to shift to Silas Marner while I was midway into the former. I wasn't getting the feels for Middlemarch. And besides, Silas Marner is reportedly the author's favorite among her novels. I still plan to go back to that doorstop that is Middlemarch but not until the latter part of the year though.

So the eponymous Silas Marner is probably the most sympathetic, the mostly easily likeable, character I've come across. The short novel (just a little over 200 pages) is really his story of redemption. It's a tale involving his fate because of the actions of the people who have wronged him and of how the presence of a child can force our humble character to make a 180-degree turn and look at life in a more positive light.

Because Silas Marner, a weaver, is really like Scrooge in the earlier parts of the novel. Having been falsely accused of stealing, he leaves the town of his birth and decides to live in the town of Raveloe. In that town, he amasses a somewhat substantial fortune from his daily toil of weaving. He spends every night holed up in his cottage and running his fingers through all that gold and money. (Well, honestly, I would do that too. Who wouldn't, yes?) Silas now chooses isolation, as he's been betrayed by people in his former hometown.

Enter a two-year-old girl, who finds her way to the cottage of Silas Marner after her mother dies from exposure. Silas decides to raise the girl as his own, thinking that the baby, who he named Eppie, is a blessing from above. At this point, Silas somehow has the idea that this baby rightfully belongs to him—that the baby is owed him, in fact. But there's more to Eppie though. It turns out that her dead mother was the wife of Godfrey Cass, the eldest of the two sons of a very wealthy person in Raveloe. At that time, Godfrey had his eyes on marrying Nancy Lammeter.

When Eppie was discovered by Silas who brings him to the village pub, Godfrey immediately knew that she was his daughter. Fearful that his marriage prospects to Nancy would be ruined, he decides to  keep his mouth shut. Godfrey's younger brother, Dunstan, has been missing as well. And we know early on that it was Dunstan who entered the house of Silas and took the money away.

The disappearance of the money and the arrival of Eppie have profound effects on the life of Silas. Before, it's as if the money served as all, screening off Silas from the happenings in the town. The townsfolk left him alone and considered him to be an eccentric. When they find out about the robbery, they reached out to Silas. They gave him food. They offered their advice. They acted neighborly and Christian. When Eppie came to his Silas's life, people were no longer afraid of him. With Eppie, Silas came into his own as a member of the community. No longer was Silas lonesome.
In old  days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth towards a calm and brighter land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child's. [page 150]
Cut to 16 years later, and of course there must be a wedding. Our Eppie has blossomed into a fine young woman, and she has received a proposal from Aaron, her childhood friend and the son of Mrs Dolly Winthrop. Aside from Silas, it is Mrs Winthrop whom I particularly like. Early on, she was always there to lend comfort to Silas, and it was she who was instrumental in bringing Silas to the Christian fold.

Towards the end of the novel, it is revealed to Eppie that her real father is Godfrey. This revelation serves its purpose of easing the guilty conscience of Godfrey, who have hidden this secret from his estranged daughter and his goodly wife. But Eppie will have none of it. She loves Silas, her working-class father. She loves living among the working class. She will not be made into a lady. And at this point in the novel, I admire Eppie for her chutzpah.

I really enjoyed Silas Marner. Eliot shows us a forgotten time in provincial England, where people take no hesitation in helping people in need. It's a time when you know all the people in the pub at the end of the work day. It's a time when it was relatively easy to start with a clean slate. Silas Marner is that kind of novel that you close with a feeling of hope. And these days, we all could be a little more hopeful.

Read this book if:
  1. You like novels set in provincial England.
  2. You know that people inherently are good.
  3. You believe in angels.