Thursday, May 22, 2014

Now Showing (Raya Martin, 2008)


Now Showing captures the joyful and carefree ways of a young Filipina in the time of That’s Entertainment, a popular talent-variety show hosted by German Moreno.

A fledgling, and possibly young, filmmaker shares a fervent wish via an animated message. The filmmaker/animator wants to be just what every body else wants…you know, to be a star and to be always in the spotlight. The film’s initial scene cuts to a shot of a spotlight. Wait, it is a series of headlights. But, where is the performer? A precocious good-looking tween named Rita comes out from a closet and proceeds to belt out a song. In her birit-best performance, she does a heartfelt interpretation of Celine Dion’s It’s All Coming Back To Me Now. She then segues to acting. This segment is a bittersweet nostalgic trip. Yep, it reminds one of the amateurish talent workshops of That’s Entertainment.

Filipinos are obsessed with celebrities. Several of them join talent shows to pursue their dreams of making it big in the world of showbiz. The world of Rita is a similar world of stars and performers. She was named after sultry Hollywood actress Rita Hayworth. Her grandmother was a former actress. Filipino kids like Rita are coerced to perform in front of relatives during parties.

Director Raya Martin creates a perceptive, three-part coming-of-age story of a post-Marcos baby. The excellent first part features Rita mimicking her favorite celebrities, playing street games, studying at night, and searching for a neighbor’s dog. We do not see her cry even if she was not included by fellow kids in a Christmas presentation. She refuses to let her disappointment with a lackluster birthday party get in her way. The only time we see Rita cry is during an out-of-town vacation. It is not clear what exactly triggers her outpouring of emotion. It may have something to do with Rita’s absentee father or Rita’s grandmother-actress. The segment following Rita’s emotional outpouring gives us some clue on what Martin wants to convey.

Part two of the film deals with the black-and-white movie Ang Tunay Na Ina. The 1939 movie is one of a handful of extant local feature films from the pre-World War II era. Rita’s grandmother might have been one of the characters in the movie. There is a scene in which a group of children performs a song-and-dance act. This scene echoes a similar Christmas scene in Part One.

The second part of Now Showing will most likely be a head scratcher to casual moviegoers and Raya Martin newbies. It consists of black-and-white film images played randomly, backwards, and upside down. It should be noted that Martin is a director obsessed with early twentieth century films. He is fond of using archive materials and found footages in his films. Martin may have been lamenting the poor state of film archiving in the Philippines. Just like the excruciating part two of Now Showing, most of the early local films are incomplete and barely viewable.

Part three of the film shows an older, less fearful, and still staunch entertainment devotee, Rita. The nubile girl tends a pirated DVD stall in Quiapo. Her mom always reminds her to be cautious of boys. At the end of the film, a pregnant Rita shuns the spotlight hoisted on her. She rides a bus back to the province.

Just like other Martin films, Now Showing can be enjoyed at different levels. Running parallel to Rita’s coming-of-age story is the evolution of home entertainment videos. From the distorted audio and video images of a well-played VHS tape, the film looks back at the faded audio and scratchy images of the1939 film Ang Tunay Na Ina, and fast forwards to the crisp audio and crystal-clear images of digital video. Another topic tackled was the irony of entertainment-obsessed Filipinos lacking appreciation for film heritage and film preservation.

If you've slept through the film or walked out during a screening, give the movie another chance to work its charms. Based on my experience, several Martin films get better with every succeeding viewing. From an initial bewildering/exasperating experience, my third viewing of Now Showing has made me a fan. It is so far my favorite work by Martin. 

Original online posting in 2008

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