Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Body and City in Film

The Body and City in Film

The body and city are related in terms of both being socio-political geospaces. They are both emblematic and symptomatic of modernization and development paradigms. The city is the center of national development, the model in which the regions are to be developed. The body is the site of national identity formation. In here is where the primary models of citizenship and citizenry are formed and transformed.

As both are primary sites of national development, the body and city also match the nation�s transnational anchoring of national development. They are the also the primary markers of the nation�s uneven development. Although primarily seen through the cultural category of class, the nation�s uneven development is also magnified through discrepancy in gender, sexual, racial and ethnic divides. They do not only harp the nation�s success, more importantly, they signify the nation�s failure to fully develop.

Another important configuration in the relationship of the body and city involves its dialectics. The city obliquely manifests the corporeal development and maldevelopment of urbanized bodies. The body represents the city�s own coming into metropolitan being and its failure. On the one hand, just like the body, the city is corporealized. The high level of respiratory diseases, for example, among urban bodies is similar to the city being a choke zone.

One just has to view the skycrapers of Ortigas and Makati from the hills of Antipolo to see the smog enveloping the city. The city�s clogged lung system, in turn, points to the failure of the Clean Air Law to be fully implemented, the lack of green spaces in urban planning, overpopulation of people and vehicles, the lack of roads, and so on.

Although banned in Metro Manila, the continuing proliferation of leaded gasoline is prevalent in its exteriors. The city is unable to expel its own excessive polluted emissions. On the other hand, the body is also citified. Just as the city acquires the markers of a transnational national development, such as skyscrapers, mass transportation system, skyways, malls and new entertainment complexes, the body also acquires the cosmopolitan and urbanized ways of the city. Transnational toiletries clean and maintain the body. It is also clothed and accessoried by transnational produce sold and bought in malls.

The body learns the ways of citified living. It acquires the necessary skills to compete, survive and triumph in the city. In sports, for example, it is through wall climbing, squash, fencing, table tennis, all requiring use of limited precious space to optimally release tension, or even the machine-driven dance revolution that lets paying clients test dance mimicking skills through computer-generated images and steps. The contemporary body is transformed in the ways of the city.

Film becomes the preferred media to filter the relationship of bodies and cities. Film has been referred to as the art of the twentieth century, a century characterized by mass dissemination of technology. It provides a bridge to the present postmodern experience � imagining fictional identities and identification with reel characters and narratives, ability to internalize the mass medium, probing into individual psyches and collective wellsprings of being, all drawn from the power of the image to transform real experience.

Film provides a historical link between the modern � the unevennes of development �and the postmodern experience � the plurality of identity, fictive subjectivity, eclectic aesthetics, among others. Postmodern aesthetics, after all, can be found in the very characteristics that so define the film medium. Film becomes the collective consciousness that mediates the liminal experience of the politics in the age of excessive consumption, ethical prioritization in the age of plurality, or real pain and anguish in the inability to materialize the simulated ideals. What film provides is a communal translation of the historical and aesthetic moment of development, the experience in which uneven development can be aestheticized.

At the onset of film�s introduction into the country, the city provided the landscape of locating the nation in the new landscape of new global georule under the US. Geared primarily for the American audience, Edison and other producers sent out camera men to shoot footage of exotic landscapes. While Edison also did short feature films on the Philippine-American War, the images seen on screen were shot in its studios in New Jersey.

The �authentic� images of the Philippines dwelled on shots of Manila and its nearby areas. Escolta, for example, showed people and buffalos crossing a bridge. What these films undertook was to orientalize the local scene, to utter them different, and subsequently, to justify colonialism. Such images fused the distinction between city and bodies, drawing attention to their geo-difference from the American colonizers.

Mga Ligaw na Bulaklak (1957) showed the post-war migration of women into the city. Here, two sisters get entwined to Manila�s highly lucrative postwar underground economy. The elder sister works as a clerk in a private office owned by a woman boss. The seeming liberation of women is historical. Women were allowed access into the white collar labor force via the public school system introduced by the American colonizers. Education was disseminated to fill up the American colonial bureaucracy.

Though locals assumed the clerical positions, the employment provided for social mobility never realized before. Thus, the post-war era reified the place of women in the bureaucracy or even beyond. The younger sister is seduced by the material affluence of the woman in the syndicate. Envious of the woman�s private markers of affluence, the younger sister is introduced to the ways of the syndicate, doing menial work for it. In the end, her traditional rootedness gives way to her squealing to the police. She falls in love for the man and allows herself to once again be used by another patriarchal institution. The film closes in a moral positivity � that evil, in the end, is conquered by the forces of good.

In the opening scene, Curacha (1998) stares at her naked body as sounds of the first mass rail transport system in the country is heard. She speaks to herself, locating each bodily part to a section of the city. All sections, however, connote an aberration, a negation of the developmental promise of city parts to be realized. The body of the torera (live show performer) is analogous to the corporeality of the city. Just like the city, the female body manifests the impossibility of development to fully materialize, the disjuncture of corporeal parts to cohere into a benevolent geospace, and the promise of development always dangled yet never fully realized. However, the female body is twice abjected � first, in the performance of sex work, and second, being woman.

The female body is made symptomatic and receptacle of the city. On the one hand, the city is a socializing space for norms of sexuality and gender, and development for its constituent bodies. On the other hand, bodies inhabit the city and imbue it with counter-claims to national, urban, sexual, gender, generational and religious citizenship. Thus, both bodies and city are sites of contestation, each claiming to represent the ideal corporeality that materializes national development.

1 comment:

Bhaskar Sarkar said...

Trying to reach Rolando from sarkar@filmandmedia.ucsb.edu