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March 19th, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke died today, at the age of 90.

It’s a bad week for film buffs. Just a few days ago Anthony Minghella died.

I took out my new DVD of 2001: A Space Odyssey and watched it again.

It’s a digitally remastered copy. Clear and clean, with great sound. I don’t really ever remember watching it this clearly. I’ve seen it on TV many times in edited and technically terrible condition. This new 2-disc special edition I got a month ago is about as clear as it’s ever going to be, I guess. It’s wonderful. I’m sure Mr. Clarke had a copy of this before he died, and maybe marveled at the digital remastering himself.

No scratches, no jumps. Complete, restored, perfect video in Super Panavision. And the sound, in Dolby Digital, was as crisp as the day it was recorded. Johann Strauss’ The Blue Danube never sounded so beautiful. And the labored breathing of Dave Bowman in his spacesuit as he took apart HAL’s memory circuits spoke volumes without using a single word.

It was a slow movie, and it took its time. The first three minutes is just music, no video, as is the end of the film. Today’s viewers with next-to-no attention spans would go apeshit and jeer and hoot at the projectionist to fix the glitch. There’s even a five-minute intermission in the middle, it’s that old-fashioned. The first 30 minutes of the 148-minute film is practically a silent movie, and the much of the movie is unexplained, with odd cuts and dissolves, title cards and muted acting. On the other side of the coin, the special effects were ground-breaking, even by today’s standards. It’s an odd movie, one of the oddest.

The storyline was oddly thin: an alien slab is found on the moon, and a secret mission is sent to investigate the signal it sends to Jupiter. The exposition came in big odd chunks, almost four separate short films: The Caveman Ooga-Booga sequence with The Bone. The Blue Danube/Heywood Floyd Goes to The Moon sequence. The HAL Goes Bonkers sequence. Then finally, Dave Bowman’s Light-Show Trip. If you’ve seen it before, you can just skip to the chunks you liked (which for me was the HAL Goes Bonkers part) and the film still works.

For the movie-centric fan, it was a Stanley Kubrick piece. For the book-centric ones, like me, it was more an Arthur C. Clarke piece. But for both men, 2001: A Space Odyssey looms large in their legacy, the biggest spike in either man’s creative timeline.

I remember watching it when I was seven or eight years old, when it first came out sometime in the late sixties, in an actual Cinerama-equipped movie theater. (Yes, I’m that old.)

It was Nation Theater in Cubao, near the old C.O.D. Department Store where we used to watch the animated Christmas display every year. Nation Theater was one of two Cinerama-equipped theaters in the city. The other was Cinerama Theater itself, on the corner of Avenida Rizal and Quezon Boulevard, just before Plaza Miranda. It was the moviehouse that was on the corner right above the underpass, and is now a mall. Where Nation was is now literally a large hole in the ground in Cubao.

Cinerama is a special movie projection system that uses three screens for an extra large format. Three separate projectors in sync are required to project the film. Even more interesting is that the three screen-wide projection area isn’t flat. It’s curved, concave from left to right; it’s like you’re watching from inside a can and the movie is being projected on the inside wall of the can, half-surrounding the viewer. Today, without the curved screen, it was just Super Panavision.

It’s cool, but mainly a gimmick. Saw a few more movies in the format – a western, some war movies. War and Peace. After a few years it died a natural death, but Nation kept showing regular movies in Cinerama mode. I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind there on that big, curved screen, and even if it wasn’t made for the format, it added a certain epic look; imagine the Devil’s Tower sequences on that gigantic screen.

2001 was made for Cinerama, and I was fortunate enough to experience it the way Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick composed the film and meant for it to be seen. Watching it now on a large TV from a digitally remastered format, the movie stands well without the Cinerama gimmick.

But I do remember how marvelous that gimmick was, especially to a seven year old. That scene where Gary Lockwood jogs and exercises in the spinning circular room that uses centrifugal force to create artificial gravity looked fantastic in Cinerama. Kubrick’s camera angles and composition was made for the Cinerama format and it burned into the mind of the kid that was me. Seeing it again brought back strong memories. Like seeing that breathtaking, totally unexpected three-million year jump-cut from the twirling femur to the gliding spaceship with the Strauss music.

It was what got me into science fiction in the first place, and a kid could do no better than being tag-teamed by Clarke and Kubrick. I had just learned to read books, and was starting a classic education – Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and the like, when I got to see 2001. That movie jump-started my love and appreciation for the genre, and fast-fowarded my education light-years ahead in the space of a little over two hours. A bit like Dave Bowman’s light-show trip near the end of the film.

That seven-year-old didn’t understand that movie on the bigger than big screen. And to some point today, at 46, I still don’t. I don’t mind, I’m in good company. An added feature on the DVD, some documentaries, had people like Steven Spielberg admitting they still didn’t get a lot of it, but sensed the power and structure behind the cryptic images, and the implications of the concepts. To some extent, the kid did too, which is why he would be caught up by the siren song of sci-fi for the rest of his life.

The movie is called Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but Arthur C. Clarke should be credited as much, if not more, for the movie. Stanley created the visuals, but the ideas, Clarke’s, stayed with me longer. Kubrick didn’t even like science fiction. Later in life I’d cut my teeth on Clarke’s books. Rendezvous With Rama, for example, boggled my mind and had me thinking for weeks.

Let’s be fair. Beside today’s firebrands and stupendously imaginative, creative and talented sci-fi writers, Clarke is a dinosaur. A slow, often pedantic style of writing, an old-fashioned manner, he’d be a bit unremarkable beside today’s household names with their stream-of-consciousness narratives, their wild, improbable concepts and action set pieces that went like gangbusters. But these household names are what they are because Clarke helped put them there. Serious, thoughtful, intelligent fiction, abstract ideas made concrete, forward thinking – Clarke was there first, and everyone sought to catch up.

He’s one of those folk you’d expect to always be there, a constant presence, coming out steadily with books with mature, thought-through ideas, explained and told rationally and with authority, year after year. Something science-fictiony happens in the news and they all try to get a Clarke soundbite from Sri Lanka, where he relocated, to see what he thinks. But no more. He’s gone now.

Arthur C. Clarke died forty years after the release of 2001, and seven years after their movie stopped becoming forward-looking and became quaintly retro, at least title-wise. While a lot of the tech didn’t come true as he had envisioned, his ideas, on the whole, are still relevant and current, not just for his movie with Kubrick, but for his other stories and novels.

I learned of his death today from a friend, another sci-fi nut, who texted me what at first I thought was just a joke:

Arthur C. Clarke went to heaven. There was a sign at the gates that said “No writers or directors allowed.” St. Peter said, “Sorry, man, but no way.” Suddenly a scruffy-looking bearded man passed him and was let through quickly. Arthur said “Hey! That’s Stanley Kubrick! Why’d you let him in?” St. Peter said “Nope. That wasn’t Kubrick, that was God. He only THINKS he’s Kubrick.” R.I.P. Arthur C. Clarke. March 19, 2008.


It was irreverent, it was disrespectful, but it was apt.

Arthur C. Clarke would have loved it.

March 1st, 2008

Hey. I'm back.

Been an atrociously crummy couple of weeks after my birthday, and I've been feeling pretty down.

To cheer myself up and conjure up a bit of fleeting esteem-by-association, I tried to remember brief and strange encounters with famous people I've had over the course of my life, while staring at the ceiling at 4 in the morning.

You might notice I'm not explaining who's who. If you don't recognize some names (like, do you know who Ben Burtt is? Shame on you!), google them; I'm not elaborating. Some of these were so brief I sometimes wonder if they really happened; I think they did - I'm not yet that far gone. And yes, I admit it. I'm mababaw and kilig with these things. So sue me.

I've had more, but only these come to mind now. Over the course of the next few months, I'll expound in more detail on some of the following incidents in the occasional post, and the others I can eventually remember. (A lot of them was when I was an FM radio DJ; I don't go around harrassing celebs visiting the country. They come visit me.)

If there are any you'd like me to make kuwento first, just holler; otherwise I'll just pick at random.

- Trying hard to explain the tragi-comedy that is Philippine politics to a curious Neil Gaiman.
- Andrea Corr putting her arm around my waist and me putting mine around her shoulders.
- David Pack explaining to me why he's got diarrhea (he had some 'bag-ong' for lunch).
- Noel Pointer destroying a chair in my booth during a radio interview by sitting on it.
- Asking Lea Salonga who this newbie Christina Aguilera was co-opting her Mulan song.
- Saving Earth, Wind & Fire's ass by explaining onstage to 20,000 angry people why their concert was starting 2 hours late - and getting hell for it.
- Telling Shaquille O'Neal to duck his head coming through my office door.
- Shooting the breeze over the phone with Tina Arena long-distance for almost an hour.
- Jewel being exceedingly rude to me in a Taipei hotel room.
- Sir Ben Kingsley brushing off my attempt to get an autograph by saying he had to pee.
- Getting Ben Burtt's autograph.
- Chatting with Patrick Stewart for ten minutes in a mall corridor in Hong Kong.
- Asking Mark McGrath if the breakfast buffet was good at our Kuala Lumpur hotel.
- Running into Quentin Tarantino on the escalator in Gateway in Cubao.
- Asking Sir Richard Attenborough a stupid question at a press conference.
- Pissing off Gloria Estefan with a rude question at a press conference.
- When forced to make small talk with Brooke Shields, asking how she found the weather.
- Asking Lisa Loeb what she looked like without the glasses - and Lisa obliging by taking them off.
- Seeing Stephen Bishop do something unspeakable in a soda glass in Megamall.
- Corinne Drewery holding my arm during their entire interview at my radio show.
- Asking Basia how the hell one pronounces her surname.
- Telling Peter O'Toole we don't normally roll up the sleeves of a barong tagalog.
- Having half a beer with Oliver Platt in a bar in Malate.
- Asking Bobby Brown to have his muscle please leave the booth during our interview.
- Almost choking on Russell Hitchcock's BO and trying not to show it.
- Almost choking on Beck's BO and trying not to show it.
- Shaking David Coulthard's hand.
- Angela Chow co-hosting an entire episode of my radio program.

December 29th, 2007

Just because

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My wife had planned a dinner with a friend, Eliza (who's here for the holidays from China) at a little Italian place in Cubao called Bellini's. Mano and Eli decided to bring me along.

While we were at it, we thought to invite a couple of other friends - Carlo and Nina.

And our other friends thought to invite our other friends, and they in turn called other friends, and pretty soon we were surprised to find our intimate little dinner was a now a virtual party potentially almost two dozen strong.

Most of us got to know each other through our Mac user group many years before, and we used to hang out in that context. But last night I was pleasantly surprised to realize that we were friends now separate from that old connection, and hardly any of us even made that association any more.

We were all just plain friends. None of us were related to each other, which is the usual framework for these groupings (except for the married couples - some spouses had been willingly assimilated into the group, like Mano), and we were a group of friends basically because we just liked each other. As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, Eliza was my friend first - she just got to know my wife through me, and now the two are even closer to each other than I ever was to Eli.

Even some friends I hardly see had made it - Kelvin the musician was there, Gabe the comedian, my namesake Doc Adel, photog-turned-ad-guy Miguel, sometime-neighbors Brian and Kris.

Four couples didn't make it in the end - Ditoy and Iya, Vic and Cyn, Toto and Pierra, and Myles and Ria, but we had a nice time anyway, and closed the restaurant down last night.

In the intervening years since PhilMUG some of us got married to each other (or will be), and some of us even got to work with one another. I used to edit a US-based magazine and worked with Carlo who was our art director. My wife, who edits a magazine too, has used pro photographer Kai for some shoots. Kai's girlfriend Sharon has used my wife as a voice talent for some radio commercials. I used to work with Liza, Elbert's wife, in a big publishing company. I've traveled with Elbert out of the country a few times - the last time was when we watched the F1 Race together in Malaysia earlier this year.

We don't see everyone all at the same time though the year, and at that, we see some more than others, but somehow we all gravitate towards each other during Christmas, for several years running now. Like last night.

I really don't know why I'm compelled to write about this, other than the fact that I am just happy that in this crazy and impersonal world, some nice and personal things still happen, just because.


Pic courtesy of Eliza Santiago

December 27th, 2007

Grocery Hell

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It's always a pain doing the holiday groceries - getting the fruit cocktail and cream, the grapes, the ham, the soda...

Everyone figures the day before Christmas is the best day to go, and as a result supermarkets become virtual sardine cans on these days.

We've repeatedly suffered through a few years of this agony, so this year we figured we'd go first thing in the morning, even before the supermarket opens, so there'd be ample parking, and we can enjoy the calm that comes before the storm.

The rest of the world seemed to figure this out this year too.

At 9 am at the grocery near the house, the parking was already full, and there was a mob waiting for the doors to open. And when the doors did open, the mob rushed in and made a mess of the shopping cart bay, where no one could move because the ones who got there first trying to pull out the carts were trapped by the slower ones crowding behind them. Later, the checkout lines would be two dozen deep.

Jeez. There is no winning.

Here's a pic of the "calm before the storm" at 9:30 am:



Such fun. We'll be doing it again in a couple of days.

December 19th, 2007

Sweeney Depp

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Am listening to the Sweeney Todd movie soundtrack, and I'm conflicted about liking it or not.

Since the early 80s, I've listened to a half dozen Sweeney Todds, including George Hearn (twice, a 1982 performance and a 2001 re-do), Michael Cerveris, Len Cariou, Junix Inocian and a couple more whose names escape me, and with their performances and the libretto imprinted into the folds of my brain, I am incapable of listening with complete objectivity to the Johnny Depp version. I catch myself too busy being too critical and comparative rather than just sitting back and listening to the damn thing.

Not having seen the movie yet, I'll have to settle for the album for now. Initial impressions - lush orchestrations, some liberal cuts and jumbling about that I'll save judgment on until I see the film (hey, it might improve the movie - or not); Jayne Wisener does an arresting and haunting Johanna; Sacha Baron Cohen did better than I expected him to as Adolfo Pirelli (but he still sounds like Borat); Alan Rickman's Judge Turpin needs a bit more voice lessons and his Severus Snape will be the death of him, and Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp lack a considerable bit of weight and gravitas. Audally anyway. And while we're on the topic, is it me, or does everyone have thin voices these days?

My album is just the highlights (US$17 on iTunes - at today's rates, not too bad), so I'll wait to hear the rest of it before I say anything definitive.

All I can say is, I'm enjoying this immensely, and I can't wait for the movie.

November 1st, 2007

Revisionism Tourism

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I had the chance to visit Vigan last month, and I made a trip to Calle Crisologo to see the famous Spanish era street. Did the the touristy thing and took pics.

Then on the way home I passed through the PAL airport in Manila and saw a wall-sized poster of where I just was.

Dunno, was a bit disturbed by how different the two places looked. See for yourself:

Airport Poster:


My Pic:

September 25th, 2007

No words needed II

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September 12th, 2007

No words needed

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August 11th, 2007

Raping Harry Potter

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I was rooting around in Powerbooks Megamall Friday night, and passed by the display stack of the new and final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. For each of the five times I walked by that table, there was at least one person reading the last few pages, trying to find out the ending without reading - or buying - the novel. At one point there were even two, a woman and a teenaged girl, both turned to the last few pages of the hardbound.

What the hell?

I normally wouldn't care, but each time I passed by I got more and more incensed. What kind of people would do such a thing? Barbarians. Or, as Captain Haddock puts it more colorfully, Bashi-bazouks! Pithecanthropuses! Diplodocuses! Odd-toed ungulates! Visigoths!

I speak from a writer's point of view here, from the perspective of someone who writes for a living. I know how it feels to craft a story, put effort into the plot and stucture and buildup, all for that wonderful frisson at the end, that cathartic conclusion all writers work for and care for and lead up to. But jumping to the end just negates all that blood, sweat and tears. It's like coming without any foreplay or preamble.

More to the point, what it is is rape.

Yes, that's precisely what it is. Raping a book. Getting what you want by brute force, instant gratification without deserving it.

I don't think it'd be so bad if you bought the book, took it home and just read the epilogue. Who cares, you paid for it, it's yours now to do with as you wish, and if you wish to trash all that work JK Rowling put into it, all the thousands of pages in seven volumes just so you can satisfy your curiosity, then go ahead. But this?

Worse yet, these people walk up to a public display in a bookstore, brutally rip the plastic off, crack the book open to the end and forcibly take what they want quickly, roughly, brazenly standing right there in the store, in public. And then, sated by their illicit quickie, they put the book back on the shelf, walking out smug and shameless.

Rapists.

Grrr. A pox on you! May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits! May Dementors give you a big wet one! May you forever languish in Azkaban with only a phone directory for reading material - you can read that ending over and over for all I care!

Tarantino

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I was within two feet, in the flesh, of one of my cinematic idols this afternoon. Another small life goal done. My one regret is I didn't get a picture taken with the man; my memories will have to suffice.

I just find it so mind-numbingly surreal to have met filmmaker Quentin Tarantino ...in Cubao.

Truth is really stranger than fiction sometimes.
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