Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘History’

Maratabat, Memory and Maguindanao

December 16, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, History, Movies No Comments →

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In Maratabat, the first film by journalist Arlyn de la Cruz, one family—Abubakar—rules a fictional yet familiar province in Muslim Mindanao. The father is Governor, the eldest son Congressman, the younger son Mayor. Their power appears to be absolute; they don’t so much govern the province as hold it hostage. Early on the Governor (Julio Diaz, switching between charm and malevolence so fast it makes your head spin) has breakfast with a young relative. All is friendly until the younger man confirms that he intends to run for mayor against the Governor’s son. The Governor casually shoots him in the head and leaves. No witnesses come forward—“It happened so fast.”

Motherhood, Money and Medicine

How many movies have we seen in which a bitchy, overbearing woman is revealed in the end to be a tender-hearted softie hiding behind a veneer of toughness? Thankfully, Zig Dulay’s M (Mother’s Maiden Name) is not one of those movies.

Zsa Zsa Padilla is terrific as Bella, a successful lawyer and single mother who discovers that she has late-stage cancer. “How did that happen?” she asks her doctor. “I eat expensive food. I seldom drink, and only expensive liquor.” Thus she sums up her upper middle-class notion that her lifestyle will protect her from anything really terrible. That’s what she thinks. In M, everyone is vulnerable to illness regardless of socio-economic class; however, money will determine the quality of medical treatment.

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Today’s reviews are brought to you by the letter M.

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M (Mother’s Maiden Name) and Maratabat will screen at the New Wave (in other words, indie) section of the Metro Manila Film Festival, December 17-24, 2014 at Glorietta in Ayala Center, Makati and Megamall in Mandaluyong.

Naked Headhunters and Dogeaters: The Filipino Freakshow of Coney Island

December 03, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History 1 Comment →


“The Lost Tribe of Coney Island: Headhunters, Luna Park, and The Man Who Pulled Off The Spectacle of The Century” by Claire Prentice is the story of 51 Igorots shipped to the US by impresario Truman K. Hunt to perform “native rituals” in a mini-tribal village at an amusement park in Coney Island. These included wearing their traditional costumes in the cold, slaughtering and eating dogs bought from the local pound, chanting and dancing, weaving, and fighting mock battles recreating their headhunting practices. Hunt, a brilliant promoter, promised the American public nearly-nude headhunting dogeaters, and he delivered. Prentice doesn’t use “sideshow” or “freakshow” to describe the proceedings, but that’s what it was.

The Igorots, jarringly referred to as “Igorrotes”, complained about their diet: they ate dog on special occasions, not every single day. But Hunt had promised the spectators savage, spear-wielding dogeaters. News reports of missing dogs were orchestrated to stoke public interest. The crowd also watched in horrified fascination as they beat a chicken to death. Remember that movies were a new invention at the time, and there was no TV yet.


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Historian Resil Mojares lectures on Class, the Santo Niño, Headhunters and Noir at Ateneo

December 02, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Announcements, Books, History No Comments →


Aargh, we missed Resil Mojares’s lecture on Andres Bonifacio yesterday. He’s giving a series of lectures at the Ateneo de Manila as part of the Master Teacher Visiting Program of the School of the Humanities.

Professor Mojares is the author of Origins and Rise of the Filipino Novel (1983), The War against the Americans (1999), Waiting for Maria Makiling (2002), Brains of the Nation (2006), and Isabelo’s Archive (2013), among other books on Philippine history, culture, and literature.

Here are the scheduled lectures for 2015, which we intend to attend. Seats are limited. RSVP 426-6001, loc. 5340.

January 12 (Monday), 4:30-6:00 pm, Faura AVR

The lecture demonstrates the value in analyzing “symbolic action” (enactments on a symbolic plane of social desires and fantasies) in large masses of Philippine literary texts, as a way of understanding Filipino popular mentality. It takes as its example an analysis of Cebuano short stories built around the “poor boy-rich girl/poor girl-rich boy” (gugmang kabus) plot formula, and the meanings that can be drawn from this body of texts about the realities of class division in Philippine society.

January 20 (Tuesday), 4:30-6:00 pm, Faura AVR

This lecture traces the history of Cebu’s Santo Nino devotion (including the sinulog dance), from its introduction in the sixteenth century to the present. Exploring the tensions between church and state, official and popular practices, and the competing communities (and their divine patrons) in Cebu’s weakly aggregated urban zone, the lecture discusses the claims and counterclaims in the shaping of a popular devotion that has become a symbol of the Cebuano community.

January 26 (Monday), 4:30-6:00 pm, Faura AVR

The lecture revisits the mostly forgotten story of Pascual Racuyal, the quixotic “nobody” who ran for Philippine president in elections from 1935 to 1986, challenging incumbents from Quezon to Marcos. Commonly cited as the iconic “nuisance” candidate, Racuyal (the lecture argues) deserves more respectful remembrance, as the sad clown who appears on stage to show up the idiocy and farce that characterize much of Philippine politics itself.

February 3 (Tuesday), 4:30-6:00 pm, Faura AVR

What does beauty have to do with headhunting? Drawing from the ethnographic studies of Renato Rosaldo and Michelle Z. Rosaldo on the Ilongots of Northern Luzon–in particular, headhunting and its rituals–the lecture teases out an indigenous conception of beauty that has important implications for aesthetics, politics, and social life in the contemporary

February 9 (Monday), 4:30-6:00 pm, Faura AVR

The recent publication of Manila Noir (edited by Jessica Hagedorn) by New York’s Akashic Press, as part of a successful series of noir stories about cities in the world, raises the question: Is there a Philippine noir in fiction? And what is distinctive and local about its stance and style in representing noir’s associated notions of crime, violence, law, morals and urban society?

February 16 (Monday), 4:30-6:00 pm, Faura AVR

From his 1880 “El Consejo de los Dioses” to his unfinished “third novel” of 1891-92, Jose Rizal wrestled with the idea of a “national literature,” and sketched the conditions needed for its creation. The lecture shows how the discourse on a national literature has been carried forward, elaborated, contested, and enacted in the decades after Rizal.

How to understand the French Revolution

November 09, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Design, History, Places, Traveling 2 Comments →


Visit Versailles, the former royal palace, 30 minutes from Paris on the train.

Noel, it makes you look like a minimalist.

Seeing how the absolute monarchs of France lived while their people starved is more effective and visceral than any history book. Sheesh, we’d cut off their heads ourselves.


The ridiculously wealthy (and those who wish to be identified, however mistakenly, as such) ought to think hard about flaunting their possessions in society magazines and other media. The people might get ideas.

The Marquis de Sade and the Borgias: now sexing up the museums of Paris

October 31, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, History, Places 5 Comments →


The Borgia exhibit at the Musee Maillol doesn’t have an English text, but everything is familiar because we’d seen the TV show The Borgias. The museum exhibition is the prestigious historical tie-in to the TV show, except that the real Borgias and their associates, as painted by artists from the Renaissance, were not as beautiful as the actors. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo are mentioned in the title, but they are barely represented; however, there’s a display of costumes from the series. Tsk, tsk, how commercial. It’s almost American.


The same could be said of Sade: Attacking the Sun at the Musee d’Orsay which, judging from the crowd waiting to get in, is a blockbuster. The show is massive, and the pieces impressive on their own—the Rodins are especially awesome—but their connection to the writings of the mad Marquis are tenuous at best. (Have you tried reading Justine or 120 Days of Sodom? We recommend them for insomniacs. Take two pages every night and you will sleep like the dead. However, our friend recommends his Philosophy in the Boudoir as “charming”.)

The curators imply that every major artist from the 19th century onwards was secretly influenced by Sade. The influence must’ve been so secret, the artists weren’t aware of it. Fine, the Surrealists championed Sade, so they should be there, but anything sexual or violent in the work of Goya, Gericault, Ingres, Rodin, Picasso, Munch is presented as proof of this influence: “It’s obvious!”

What is most obvious is that museum curators, like filmmakers, appreciate the uses of shock value. If you promise the audience decadence and depravity, they will come. The innermost room of the Sade show is called The Chamber of Perversions, and the fact that the viewer can come away unshocked is perhaps the most shocking thing of all.

See their NSFW exhibition trailer.

In the cemetery where Truffaut lies buried

October 30, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Cats, History, Movies, Places, Traveling 3 Comments →


There’s a Francois Truffaut exposition and retrospective at the Cinematheque Francaise. Like the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Patrick Modiano (whose books are in every bookshop window, taunting us), it exists to make people who don’t speak French feel bad. “But we’ve seen The 400 Blows lots of times, we already know the plot, so we can watch it anyway,” we consoled ourself. But The 400 Blows and the Antoine Doinel movies aren’t showing this week. Noooo!

In the meantime we visited Truffaut’s grave at the Montmartre Cemetery. We’re staying at our friend’s apartment, which is within spitting distance of Sacre Coeur, but only if you’re on the hill or if you’re an Olympic-level projectile spitter.

van gogh

On the way to the cemetery, we stopped at the house where Vincent Van Gogh lived with his brother, Theo. (There’s a plaque on the side of the building.) Sad story. In your lifetime your devoted brother, an art dealer, can’t sell any of your work, and then after your death your paintings go for zillions.

Still, the letters the brothers wrote to each other are wonderful. Read them. Vincent not only had the eye, he had the ear as well. One of them.


The map at the cemetery entrance lists the famous dead on the premises: Theophile Gautier, Edgar Degas, Hector Berlioz, Edmond Goncourt and so on. Even if we have no sense of direction, we couldn’t miss Truffaut’s grave.


Visitors leave their metro tickets on it. The Last Metro, get it? Granted, it is easier than leaving 400 Blows or a piano player with a bullet through him.


We like cemeteries, they’re quiet. A fat stray cat walked in front of us, but refused to be photographed.

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Cat of the Day: Prince, of the Del Fierro-Bouyers.Tried to eat our cake because it had lots of butter.