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Mababangong Bangungot


Steve Wetzel, artist and lecturer.

Perfumed Nightmare, 1977
Why is the eye of the white caribou so cold?

The White Caribou is rare.  It is born against nature. 
The White Caribou is beautiful. But inside it is cold and
aggressive.  One day, Kidlat, you will understand that
the beauty of the White Caribou is like the sweetness of
the chewing gum the American soldiers gave you.

Through either Portia Cobb or Cecilia Condit, he can’t remember which one, both were professors of his at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Department of Film, a dear friend of mine, Didier Leplae, recommended a film about a Filipino guy who takes his taxi (jeepney) to France, “Perfume Dreams or something.”  I saw it and my jaw dropped, never really closed.  It’s rare to experience a film, or any work, that feels genuinely idiosyncratic.  Several years later, this past semester, some time in February, 2009, the Union Theater filled to nearly no capacity one Sunday afternoon as a 35 millimeter print of Perfumed Nightmare made at least one other jaw drop.  It was scheduled as part of an ongoing ethnographic series but could have been part of any series. 

Kidlat Tahimik’s smiling face is boundless, and the treatment of circumcision in his village, Balian, is just as much biographical poetics as it is ethnographic observation.  The overall narrative, disrupted with jump cuts and great non-linear spatial leaps, ad hoc reenactments of scout leaders meeting on Jamboree Island to discuss international inflation, Kidlat’s father’s death myth, ritual self-flagellation among Filipino Catholics, the construction of the last onion tower in Germany and the expansion and dissolution of a gumball industry in France, feels less like a structure of intention and more like an imagination exploding—round in thorns—with the politics of colonialism and globalization.  And more.

I was in a class once … even the ones I didn’t attend, the ones I just read about in the course schedule.  Juri Tvisean held court in film studies, or media studies, or some study of moving pictures and sound.  He was tall and handsome in jeans.  During an office visit after one of his classes, Close Film Analysis, he declared The Fearless Vampire Killers as unserious.  I can’t remember what he said, but I think he thought, “because formally [it] does not hold water.”  I understood what he meant but I wrote about it anyway.

Kidlat Tahimik in Perfumed Nightmare, 1977

9.20    Hard audio cut from distant bells to loud insects or frogs; white caribou on horizon next to a single tree, both against an empty gray sky

9.35    Hard audio cut to radio; extreme close-up of Kidlat’s face, frontal, eyes closed, sleeping; slowly zooms out to wide shot of Kidlat in white boxer shorts; badly dubbed snoring; radio continues in background

9.52    Cut to close shot of poster in Kidlat’s room, Evolution of the Filipino Flag; snoring loudly; radio moves to the foreground with Yankee Doodle Dandy; camera wanders left to a beauty pageant poster; “This is the Voice of America …”

10.09    Child approaches Kidlat, shakes his shoulder gently; Kidlat resists; “Washington D.C., U.S.A …”

10.19    Cut back to white caribou, same shot from 9.20; insects or frogs, no radio

10.21    Caribou disappears from shot, vanishes in one frame, “Get involved with the Bicentennial …”

10.24    Close shot of beauty pageant poster in Kidlat’s room: Miss Manila, Philippines, 1974

10.26    Beauty pageant poster continuous; Kidlat: Good morning, darling of my life

10.29    Wide shot of Kidlat scratching head and kissing poster, badly dubbed kiss; neighbors pass by Kidlat’s open-air room in the background; Kidlat leans left and reaches into his boxers to adjust penis

10.38    “Bicentennial …”; cut to 2 boys carrying a dozen large green fruits tied to a piece of bamboo; Kidlat’s mother sweeps dirt path with a small handmade grass rake; radio cuts to village sounds, a fire crackling, conversation

10.50    Kidlat enters medium shot and sits on plastic container, dog wanders by; “National Aeronautics Space Administration …  Man’s conquest of space, so if you have space questions send them to us.  It’s the Breakfast Show, Voice of America”; Kidlat unfolds beauty pageant poster and cuts a selection; Kidlat voice-over: Dear Mr. Voice of America: Since I have my transistor radio --

11.12    Medium shot of Kidlat’s mom sweeping; -- I listen to you every day.  However, in 1969, during the Apollo moon landing --

11.18    Cut to close of Kidlat’s hands pressing beauty pageant photo into a small decorative frame; loud scream—either a happy baby or a chicken being slaughtered; camera zooms out to show entire decorative frame with, on the left, a small medieval print of Madonna and Child; -- I had no radio then.  What were the first words your great American astronauts said when they landed on the moon?

11.29    Cut to Kidlat’s mom’s feet on dirt path, sweeping, red open-toed sandals, red nails; Can you please play it for me?  Yours truly, Kidlat Tahimik, President of the Werner von Braun Fan Club of Balian

11.41    Cut to medium shot of Kidlat and mother talking, dubbed; muddy pond in background; Kidlat picks nose, I do not dream of Disneyland anymore mama -- hand on hip, -- I dream of Cape Canaveral

I’m not a terribly emotional person, but there are times, eyes hard and fixed, when my head swells with tears.  Kidlat speaks about his tiny sister struggling to hock popsicles from a giant case nearly the size of her body, She is smart; she goes her own way; not like the boys, always competing.  Or when Kidlat proclaims, while tugging a toy-sized jeepney with both arms slung heavily over his shoulder, I am Kidlat Tahimik; I choose my vehicle; and I choose my bridge.

At one point Kidlat’s father attempts to cross into liberated Manila and is stopped by an American sentry.  With white crumbs on his lips he blows a mighty wind that fells the guard and several other American soldiers.  The sleeping typhoon must learn to blow again … When the typhoon blows off its cocoon, the butterfly embraces the sun.  This is, after all, a deeply romantic and personal film, an individual’s vision about how the world ought to work.

A bridge to a moon.

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