Feature by: Tiffany Limsico
Featuring Love Letters from:
Khavn De La Cruz
Khoo Gaik Cheng
Kiri Lluch Dalena
Lourd de Veyra
May Adadol Ingawanij
Tan Bee Thiam
Tan Chui Mui
Tan Pin Pin
Criticine: Love Letters.
The idea for the ‘Love Letters’ issue of Criticine arose at the end of a day spent driving across Manila in late November 2008. That year’s edition of the Southeast Asian Cinema Conference had just wrapped. It was a Sunday. Alexis, relieved of his organizing duties on the conference, drove the three of us around the city – May, Ben and Davide. We were his guests, and he was keen to show us the city he loved. There were several destinations: Fully Booked (Manila’s biggest book shop), a gated community where something needed to be dropped off - and we stayed for tea and sunset, a restaurant in a mall; but inevitably, because we were in Manila, we spent a lot of time in traffic. Stuck in the car, the conversation never seemed to stop. A long, rambling discourse full of gossip, anecdotes, character attacks and appreciations, rambunctious and enjoyable debates, jokes, rants, affirmations. It was frank and unselfconscious – some of us had only just met – but it didn’t matter, we all knew Alexis, and he was behind the wheel. Mostly, cinema was the focus of the chatter – after all, we were film people.
Sunday became Monday, and we were still talking. This time in a franchised coffee joint somewhere lively at one in the morning. At that moment, Love Letters seemed like a natural idea to be discussing with the founder and editor of Criticine. As Raya Martin says of Alexis in his letter, “he never wrote about a film he hated, because he thought it was a waste of space. He was out there to champion.” Although he didn’t mention it that night, Alexis had already produced the mother of all love letters a few months before, the long, uninhibited piece about his relationship with film and the Philippines that he’d written for Rogue magazine, which took the form of a letter to his partner, Nika Bohinc. In it he wrote, “The first impulse of any good film critic, and to this I think you would agree, must be of love.”
The principle of Love Letters was: forget about being ‘objective’ or ‘comprehensive’, just get stuck in and say it loud - isolate the thing, the moment, the body, the fragment or memory. And write to it, the old-fashioned way.
After the idea had spent some time on the back-burner, finally, in July 2009, we sent out the following email to a list of potential contributors:
“It’s not easy to declare your passions. To critique, tear something apart, find flaws and faults is often the first impulse. Even when we come to praise, we may dwell on weaknesses (and end up halfway up the fence in a sitting position). From “There are problems with…” to “It’s absolutely dreadful because…”, we are often attracted to write about what fails far more than we are about what works, or more specifically, what works for us. Pinning down exactly why something succeeds, and better still, why we love it, is a tricky and interesting business, partly because it’s so personal. Criticine: Love Letters is an attempt to address this lack of open statements of adoration about films, film-makers, actors, scenes, moments, images. That doesn’t mean we are looking for gushy collections of superlatives. These ‘letters’ should be constructed with all the real rigor and careful thought you would put into a message intended for a loved one. We also hope your letter will speak of the things that you hold to be of real value in cinema. Contributors can write about anything related to SE Asian cinema that you have fallen for.”
In the weeks that followed some of the first letters arrived. They were good stuff. Alexis was getting more and more excited about the issue. On 1 September, there was an email from him about the latest contribution that he’d been sent, “it turned out quite nice.” A few hours later, he and Nika were gone.
One thing we knew, even on that first day of grief, was that Love Letters had to be completed. As an editorial concept, it was such a pure distillation of all that Alexis had been doing up to that point in regards to his writing on Southeast Asian cinema. The bringing to light, the articulating of qualities overlooked, the explication of context – the understanding.
When time had passed we got in touch with those who had submitted and those who had not. Of course, many chose to write their letters to Alexis himself. Now we have 21 letters, two poems and two short films. More letters will be added as they arrive. About half are addressed to or refer to Alexis. Together, they form a tribute to him and the energies that drove him to create Criticine. His unceasing passion for cinema and the places it could illuminate.
Thanks to all the writers.
Ben Slater & May Adadol Ingawanij, January 2010
Thanks to Darlene Lin for sending the Love Letters image.