Sunday, June 18, 2017

Film Talks with Nick de Ocampo. Part 1: Comedy

Professor Nick de Ocampo is featured in Ayala Museum's trilogy lecture series on film. I'm not a film buff nor a film-maker but I wanted to spend my Saturday afternoons educating myself culturally. So I ended up taking a seat in his film lecture series.


Comedy is a genre aimed at making us laugh, to suspend our reality to help us to temporarily forget our problems in real life. As I listened to Nick talk about comedy, I learned that comedy is not just one big funny bone; there are sub-genres, some laugh-out-loud and some require more mental work for us to see the humour in them.

He started off his lecture with the slapstick comedy. Charlie Chaplin was his example, demonstrating that music and gestures are enough to change our mindset of a very depressing situation (they were so desperate that they were down to eating the leather of Charlie Chaplin's shoes) to see it as a funny scene. Thought-provoking. I suddenly remembered Fiddler on the Roof because that movie was also about a very depressing moment... with none of the comedy.

Then Nick talked a bit about Dolphy's Banayad Whiskey commercial. We were laughing at how Dolphy's character slowly but surely became drunk while repeatedly shooting takes of the commercial. I think that this commercial could be classified as a parody... a comedy sub-genre that Nick's audience found funny. I guess that's because it's composed of people who prefer this type of comedy to slapstick.

He then posed a complex question: Why were we laughing? What did we find funny in the sequence? What does it say about us?

For instance, the most popular comedies these days include Vice Ganda's "The Unkabogable Praybeyt Benjamin" and Raymond Lee's "Zombadings: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington". I haven't seen either of these movies, so I can't say anything about them. These receive the longest queues during film festivals (of course, taking exemption from the popular series featuring Vic Sotto's Enteng Kabisote), which seem to indicate that the Filipino find queer people funny. The LGBTQ then bank on this taste of humour to build their own comedic brand. Back in the day, audiences also found people with disabilities funny: midgets, giants, people with speaking disabilities, and the list goes on. It, therefore, seems that we find people different from us as funny. 

As a scholar, it wasn't surprising that Nick found comic value in a serious 1970s movie entitled "Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?" which was directed by Eddie Romero. In the film, he found comedy after a deep study on the cinematic value of the script, the production design, and the acting style of the actor playing the protagonist, Christopher de Leon. It's such scholarly humour that not everyone will find it. In fact, the movie has been classified as a musical drama with historical undertones.

This made me wonder: If the Philippines found an audience for intellectual humour and masterpieces such as "Ganito Kami Noon..." in the 1970s, why the degeneration of comedy back to themes on deformities, abnormalities, and the queer starting in the 1980s?

The answer must lie on what the masses, the major money-making machine of the movie industry, perceive to be funny. After all, movie companies make movies to make money; they weren't set out to educate people primarily. And so, understanding what movies will tick require understanding the Filipino psyche. A tough call but something a film scholar can take on as a challenge. 

After this afternoon at the museum, I wonder if my view of comedy has changed. Will I still laugh at the same jokes? Will my British-laced taste in humour still favour Fawlty Towers and Monty Python?  Or will I start laughing out loud at movies like V for Vendetta (which I already find humorous, just not laugh-out-loud)?