Brockas’ Manila by Night sends regards to cutie-cutie

BLITZ REVIEW - Juaniyo Arcellana - The Philippine Star
Brockas� Manila by Night sends regards to cutie-cutie
The main strength of Manila by Night by filmmakers Khavn dela Cruz (Bembol Brocka), Roxlee (Akira Brocka) and Lav Diaz (Pugot Brocka) is that it showcases each’s worldview in a newfound, parallel medium, and they come out none the worse for wear. Recorded in Berlin in the spring of 2022, the album is part-cinema verite and part-subversive MTV, with appropriate references to past works and experiments. – PHOTOS FROM KHAVN DELA CRUZ AND THE BROCKAS’ FACEBOOK ACCOUNTS
STAR / File

Return of the primitive is what first comes to mind upon hearing the Brockas’ Manila by Night, the latest long-playing album of the band of filmmakers, who happen to pick up musical instruments, write songs and record them gung-ho style in the age of digital, K-pop and AI. Not that this signals a throwback to analog though the sensibility may well be, but Khavn dela Cruz (Bembol Brocka), Lav Diaz (Pugot Brocka) and Roxlee (Akira Brocka) have grasp of music slightly above rudimentary, and they put this to good use.

The main strength of Manila by Night is that it showcases each filmmaker’s worldview in a newfound, parallel medium, and they come out none the worse for wear. Recorded in Berlin in the spring of 2022, the album is part-cinema verite and part-subversive MTV, with appropriate references to past works and experiments, including Bembol’s series of demo tapes and soundtracks for silent films, Pugot’s predilection for emo and black-and-white renderings, and Akira’s admirable one-of-a-kind graphic novel, Planet of the Noses.

The point is we have not been here before, even if snatches and excerpts may be alternately verisimilar and/or serendipitous, the three horsemen of Philippine independent cinema are in fine form much like their progenitors Cesar Asar, Flash Asoge and Syokoy Ronald.

Bless You starts out proceedings in ambient manner, and as Ravi Shankar once said in the Concert for Bangladesh, if you appreciate the tuning so much, we hope you like the playing better. Don’t get too excited with musicians’ tuning of instruments, even if in fact such may verge on the religious. Or is it vertigo.

Akira shifts into gear with Two Birds that humorously takes issue with the popular expression hitting two birds with one stone, and that whoever invented this saying showcasing cruelty to birds should be put in prison and accused of treason, the harmonica on the prowl with attendant absurdity though the band appears to be serious, ending with a tribute to Yoko Ono at her despalinghado prime that dares the listener to shut the record player. Might be reminded of that track from Roxlee’s The Ghost of Rocker Janis with the verse that goes, “bulate ni cutie-cutie/ parang spaghetti.”

Another way of whispering a song is presented by Pugot in tracks three and five, Pagtahan and Uniberso that are necessarily the most introspective, and reminds the listener of how the director’s films first cast the likes of Banaue Miclat (Ebolusyon ng Pamilyang Pilipino) and Dolly de Leon (Historya ni Ha), and while those films were hours long, his songs in Manila by Night are short. Brevity is key when Pugot sings, kasama kita sa gitna ng panaginip, because what else is cinema but the dream made flesh.

Track 4, Jingle lang ang Pahinga, is the album’s midway point and bridge, about the travails of a musician on the margins, but no less passionate about the craft even if forever outside the mainstream, whether by choice or circumstance. Could also be an indirect acknowledgment of the chordbook magazine from which a generation learned to play guitar, and they’re still playing until bladder is close to bursting.

The last two, tracks six and seven, may well be the showstoppers: Delubyo, which in its redacted version loses none of the power of the more than 20-minute long original posted on YouTube, and Nakalimutan ko Na that is vintage from about a decade ago, which has Bembol in all post proto punk glory.

Delubyo may have taken a page out of Yano’s Bawal, although the Brockas throw all structure out the window, preferring an anarchic delirium that best approximates Akira’s legendary primal scream that to this day raises the hair in beer gardens and their long-lost jukeboxes. The verse, kumain ka ba ng pizza, is no less existential as it is indicative of the Pinoy condition after the so-called drug war, as if to suggest that one must destroy everything in order to find what will be left standing, even if it means demolishing all the pizza.

As for Nakalimutan ko Na, why does the singer Bembol seem so upset about having forgotten the ladylove, except maybe for the reason that he hasn’t really forgotten? If memory is the gist of most art, the art of forgetting (and perhaps laughter) may be that medium’s most elusive trait, and which the Brockas celebrate and make us wonder if the superior culiculi and inferior culiculi live happily ever after.

Finally, here’s John Berger from his essay The Primitive and the Professional from the book About Looking: “I hope I have now made clearer why the ‘clumsiness’ of primitive art is a precondition of its eloquence. What it is saying could never be said with any ready-made skills. For what it is saying was never meant, according to the cultural class system, to be said.”

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