On Pretentious Art

What makes “pretentious” art?

Obviously not in the art itself, not in its formal aspects, not in the way a cinematic shot takes fifteen-minutes long and not the more standard five seconds in Hollywood, not in the way a black square is superimposed on a red rectangle, not in the way sentences are cut short in the midd, not in the way language calls attention to itself, say, by changing mula Filipino to cambiar, grammar notwithstanding.

Pretentious art becomes in the manner of seeing, the tools in analyzing and judging.

Pretentious because there is an expectation of honesty from art, of art knowing what it is trying to achieve, trying to articulate, of art knowing the limits of its powers, harnessing its chosen forms and techniques to match with what it is trying to achieve, trying to articulate. INSTEAD OF SOMETHING THAT PRETENDS TO KNOW WHAT IT IS DOING WITH THE VISUAL POEM? THE ERRATIC MONTAGE IN FILM? THE ABSENCE OF SOUND IN MUSIC?

Less pretentiously on my part, pretentious art is made by the lack of the proper and necessary education and venues for conversation to make sense of, grapple, grasp and fondle such works of art. This kind of education is not a very humble thing to ask given the millions who do not even know how to read or write. Pretentious art is made by the lack, or more aptly the inequality of access to these works of art of cultural works. Access to these things not a very humble thing to ask given the millions who do not even have access to food or clean water.

I see Vice Ganda dancing all day and then one day I see Lav Diaz opening a movie with a scene where nothing happens for 88 minutes.

For some—or most?—“pretentious” art is even an anomaly. Majority of artworks, of cultural works—from a ten-peso rental of a Precious Hearts Romance to Arundhati Roy’s much-awaited The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Kathniel’s kilig flick from Star Cinema to Lars’ Nymphomaniac—are not a pretense to them. It is a luxury.

That famous image from Un Chien Andalou

Sometimes, Lav and Noe and Malraux hold hands and they do not see each other

When there is no distinct feature, no recognizable object or expression is being accentuated in a movie scene, something must be happening elsewhere, by other means. For a medium whose communicative power is mainly visual, blocking out almost completely the visually distinguishable can be very telling.

There is a scene in Lav Diaz’ “Ang Babaeng Humayo” where Horatia first met Hollanda. The former was wearing a cap and a jacket which she will later offer to the ailing cross-dresser. The streets were dark and Hollanda was struggling wildly to move; it was then that Horatia came to help. We see just the outlines of their bodies during this first meeting that flirted with the tender. We do not see the features of their faces as they talked; no faces seen in this first meeting that flirted with the tender. At one point, the camera focused on the jeepney behind them, an inert witness to this first meeting that was tender. In offering this tenderness, Lav went against the primacy of the visage, demonstrating instead the palpable in the auditory. The visual is not utterly negated, for the outlines of their bodies and their movements are still barely perceptible. But in this scene, much of the power of the scene is rendered by what is heard.

In Gaspar Noe’s “Love,” something similar is at work. But here, dialogue is absent; it is mostly the dimmed contours of the characters—the lovers Electra and Murphy—against the accentuated background. It is neither through their facial reactions nor their exchange of words that we witness their reconciliation. The outline of their bodies sufficed.




As much as sight is significant, it also always verge on being overrated. When I can hear the coming of the color red, I will hear it. I wish I can also touch the meaning of redemption. I imagine myself tasting that scene when Summer saw Tom in the parking lot again after she has married. Sometimes, it is good to smell the drums announcing exuberance.

When Hollanda and Horatia first met in “Ang Babaeng Humayo.” Screenshot from: https://livelovecinema.wordpress.com/2016/10/02/cine-reviews-ang-babaeng-humayo-the-woman-who-left/

When the protagonists have fallen towards the end of Malraux’s Man’s Fate, I know I can live with less of my eyes apprehending all the noises and meanings. Katov was being sent to her place in the prison, waiting for death. He mused: “all those who were not yet dead were waiting for the whistle.” They were whispering—these people awaiting the whistles of their respective deaths—and there they were able to sense a feeling of oneness, however futile or meaningless. Then Katov lose the cyanide in his hands and in the darkness, struggled to find it on the floor: “Their hands brushed his. And suddenly one of them took his, pressed it, held it. ‘Even if we don’t find it…’ said one of the voices. Katov also pressed his hand, on the verge of tears, held by that pitiful fraternity, without a face, almost without a real voice (all whispers resemble one another).”

Sometimes, I do not want to see faces.

I want to feel fraternity that is pitiful with a hand that is bloody and livened by thick veins.

I want to feel love with tears of two having a union in their places.

I want to touch compassion and kindness, like this summer heat presses on our harrowed napes.

Sometimes I want to see your face in your tired feet, or your paper doodles.

Let us touch each other there.