The art of war in the house of the rising sons
ARTMAGEDDON - Igan D’Bayan (The Philippine Star) - November 11, 2019 - 12:00am

And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy...

As far back as I remember, we the tenants of a tiny beige and maroon bungalow on Almendras Drive would usually be all agog whenever there was a new movie featuring Robert De Niro or Al Pacino or both, measuring our lives with coffee-spoons (of Milo or instant coffee) and afternoons with a piece of VHS tape branded with cinematic magic by Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick or Martin Scorsese and rented from a neighborhood store generically named D’Video Haus ran by a balding guy with thick eyebrows whom we called “Higad” or the Caterpillar. The guy used to work in Saudi Arabia, and we kids would marvel at his Telefunken stereo system, recoil from the stun of his gold bling, and be baffled accordingly by his nails with colorless nail polish. The tape cassette would take a bow as VCDs, DVDs and much, much later Blu-rays and Netflix came into the picture, but no matter the format, the protagonists would still be Bob or Al or (on some days) Clint or even a marathon-manic Dustin getting his tooth pulled by a Nazi war criminal asking, “Is it safe?”

The VHS tapes were low-res and snowy, abused and reused repeatedly, pulled from racks alongside Debbie Does Dallas, Miss September, or titles filled with impossible Chuck Norris feats (as surreal as Lito Lapid shooting baddies with one bullet… and a cheese grater), but we handled copies of Raging Bull or Deer Hunter like divining rods or maps to arcane pleasures… didi mao! Our VHS player was a SONY. Our tape rewinder was an Imarflex (with a matching toaster). Ah, the days were long and full of tape hiss.

When did mafia mania begin for us? I point to the day RPN-9 premiered The Godfather on Philippine TV. It was a couple of weeks after Easter, and we had just done a marathon of Jesus of Nazareth (featuring Robert Powell, Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Olivia Hussey, and Ian McShane, among other stellar actors). Its plot is touted as “the greatest story ever told” according to my Dominican School teachers, so it would be an impossible act to follow, right? Everyone in the house watched The Godfather for two Sundays (for some reason, it was, uhm, “serialized” and intruded upon by soap and soda ads), and we got blown away by the screenplay that was almost scriptural and oracular. Those memorable lines reverberated in the Pilar Village house forever: about going to the mattresses, making an offer that can’t be refused, taking the gun and leaving the cannoli, Luca Brasi sleeping with the fishes, bada-bing!

Bada-boom, indeed. Brando was the daddy cool of all the badasses then; De Niro and Pacino, the rising sons.

But like in a Scorsese movie, or a VH1 documentary about the rise and fall of hair metal bands, what goes up, inevitably must come down.

Our old gang’s all broken up now: the trio of Boy, Pity and Dennis went their separate ways, “Fredo” joined the circus in Hong Kong, Bobby the Mustache and our muse Pura have left the building, Tatay Kuno left for the barbershop in the sky. Exit the satellite of acquaintances as well. Joe Palakpak clapped his way into obscurity. Tok Palaka croaked into the void. Pilok the Inscrutable went missing in action. The Sazon Brothers are incommunicado. Le Mia Puccini sang her final aria, clutching her suman and latik. And unknowns have taken over the neighborhood. 

Last month, I went to a Dolby Atmos theater alone in New York City to watch Martin Scorsese’s latest gangster drama, The Irishman, after having black coffee on the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 59th Street. And for one surreal moment — while watching a scene where Robert De Niro (as Frank Sheeran) and Al Pacino (as Jimmy Hoffa) walk as titans of antiheroes once more with the ghosts of godfathers past hounding them — it was dog day afternoon again on almond street, the gang’s all there, and something big was about to go down.

Fire up the electric thermos. Time to make another score at the Caterpillar’s. 

ART OF WAR
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