Wednesday, November 6, 2013

In defense of Jojo Devera

I am resurrecting this blog to address the Young Critics’ Circle’s accusations of plagiarism on acclaimed Filipino film blogger Jojo Devera.  Apparently, he already admitted to the crime, and the subsequent shutdown of his blog just proves the guilt more so, but I’m not here to defend him for that.  What I’m here is to celebrate what Jojo has done and what the YCC has failed to do: make me give a damn about Filipino movies. 

My first interaction with Jojo and his blog came around 2007, right before I graduated from college with a degree in film and right when I consciously decided to be interested in Filipino movies.  I remembered as a young boy watching Darna and Captain Barbell and weepies with Maricel Soriano and wanted to know more about the cinema I grew up with but then forgot about.  Jojo’s original writings were unpretentious and sincerely came from a man who loved them.  It was a far cry from the dry and anemic style that academic film criticism tends to sound like (a style that, admittedly, I used when writing much of the entries on this blog), and it inspired me to want to watch these movies and ultimately to love them. 

After reading more of his reviews, I started to exchange emails with Jojo and found him a passionate enthusiast of Filipino movies, less interested in the socio-political and psychological abstractions and more on the very basic pleasure of watching and sharing these movies with others.  He was also a tireless curator of these forgotten gems, collecting even the lowliest and trashiest of them with no haste or judgments in saving even the most commercial and formulaic from rotting Beta and VHS tapes.  His encyclopedic knowledge of production trivia is inspiring and inspired in me the desire to go out there, too, and save these treasures before they are completely lost.  Once or twice we exchanged copies of movies that filled holes in our collections, and once I even went to New York to watch a retrospective of Filipino movies and felt giddy watching Tubog sa Ginto, a Lino Brocka film Jojo saved from a shuttering Chicago video store encased in a deteriorating Beta cassette. 

Jojo’s passion and dedication helped me to slowly love the beauty of this cinema that he so badly wanted others to appreciate.  His stories of discovering lost films recorded in unassuming Beta tapes gave the whole enterprise the excitement of a treasure hunt, of rediscovering something that was not lost but cruelly forgotten.  More than love the Brocka’s stories, or O’Hara’s lighting or Celso ad Castillo’s mise en scene, Jojo’s fervor made me want to save these movies too and feel heartbreak when I hear of another roll of film turned to vinegar or another memory of a film the absence of which leaves a gaping hole in a master’s cannon. It would not be undeserving to say that Jojo’s work inspired not just me but many others like me to bring Filipino film to the fore and to have the courage to talk about Ishmael Bernal and Truffaut in the same breath. 

I do have to admit that Jojo’s writing did however start to change during the last few years: it became stilted, dry, overly academic and lacking the passion it once had.  It made references to Marxist interpretations, socio-political meanings and over-analyzed symbologies.  Freudian analyses replaced reflections on what made stories sad, character dynamics effective, or resonance to personal experiences of history.  He even started to write in English.  His blog posts became confusing, not because the frameworks of interpretation became overly complex or the web of references became too thick.  It’s because he started to sound like my college professor who wrote a critique of Pasolini’s Mamma Roma as a representation of Italy’s growingly destructive bourgeoisie rather than as a mother who was trapped by her country’s unforgiving march to modernity.  His writing lost the immediacy of a devotee’s plea for others to see the beauty of his much maligned and much disregarded love. 

Therefore, I am glad to hear that the last few years were mere a result of plagiarism and not some cruel joke that Jojo was playing on us.  Hearing the news felt like waking from a bad dream where one of the most impassioned advocates of Filipino cinema had been silenced by academia’s stultifying need to feign importance. 

Because the truth is Jojo achieved far more for Filipino cinema with an underdesigned Blogspot, a Youtube channel and hours on end in video stores than the YCC has done with their pompous critiques and “intellectual honesty”.  In their apoplectic condemnation of Jojo, YCC’s contrived indignance shines through as they crucify Jojo for doing “this community a signal disservice”.  True, he may have done YCC a disservice for stealing the text, but Jojo did us more harm for ever thinking that his voice was not effective in endearing us to the pleasures of our cinema, and that he had to assume the voice of a critical organization the writing of which was as agreeable to read as a thorough enema.  In losing his own voice to assume that of YCC’s, Jojo denied us the unfailing passion that drew us to our country’s movies and to love them like they are our own.  Jojo didn’t gain credibility because he was some sort of interdisciplinary expert on Filipino cinema’s golden age.  (Although in hindsight, the screenshots of Jojo’s comments section does reveal that the guy actually kind of knows his shit.)  He gained credibility because he was unfraid to show that he loved these movies and refused to speak about them using academia’s funerary vernacular.  

(By the way, this excerpt from YCC’s condemnation is interesting: “Where he did not simply substitute his name for that of the author—as in the case of the post on Nunal sa Tubig (1976), which is wholly drawn from an essay by Eulalio R. Guieb III—he went a reprehensible leap further by producing reviews on films that combined excerpts from materials contemplating or assessing completely different issues—as in the case of the post on I Love You Mama, I Love You Papa (1986), which patches together parts from essays by J. Pilapil Jacobo, Nonoy L. Lauzon, and Patrick D. Flores, none of which discuss the Maryo J. De Los Reyes picture.”  Reminds me of Guy Debord: “Ideas improve. The meaning of words has a part in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress demands it. Staying close to the author’s phrasing, plagiarism exploits his expressions, erases false ideas, replaces them with correct ideas.”)

So in the end, I wish that Jojo survives this challenge because it would be an absolute shame if one of our cinema’s greatest advocates fade into obscurity because some academics (who are far too pleased with their own critical contributions) got their honor tarnished.  Personally, the choice is clear between them and a man who was instrumental not only in rescuing many of our films from the dead but also in expanding our appreciation of Filipino cinema not only as a critical object but as an object of pride and admiration.  


leonel said...

Thank you for this post. I can attest that Jojo is a very good person, and his love for Filipino movies is unparalleled. He is generous and will share his movies to anyone, and consider his friendship a gift.

Carlo said...

Thank you for this post too. I do agree that Jojo is a genuine person and a true lover of Philippine cinema. And you are right that Jojo drew me in to the world of Philippine classics more so than any of those "high falutin" works of the YCC.

TheCoolCanadian said...

I couldn't agree more. Jojo de Vera's dedication to saving many Tagalog movies from oblivion is more than enough reason to applaud. Crucifying someone before the bar of public opinion after admitting to his mistake is an overkill. Here's a piece of advice to YCC: stop using the THESAURUS when writing your film reviews. Don't make PAULINE KAEL turn in her grave by your stilted, pompous prose that are so laughable. Your feet on the ground, please.