Afterthoughts About The Movie-Viewing Habits of the Pinoy

My wife and I like watching movies. It’s one of those things that we tend to enjoy together. After watching the last Twilight Saga movie (Breaking Dawn Part 2) and then seeing the Jason Becker movie trailer over at YouTube, it led me to conclude how vacuous the tastes of many Pinoys with regard to their movie viewing choices.

Breaking Dawn Part 2 was entertaining, something that many Filipinos appreciate in their movies but content-wise it was thin. I never even bothered reading the books after my wife reported about how bad Stephanie Meyer’s prose is (she apparently shares the same opinion that Stephen King had with Stephanie Meyer). See, in our household while I am the authority regarding music, my wife is the authority with regard to literature so I tend to listen to her suggestions and opinions regarding prose. Going back to the movie, it was mere entertainment or something that a completionist would do. It’s just that I’ve watched every single Twilight movie and I wanted to see how it all wraps up. To sum up the whole shebang, the Twilight Saga is entertaining in its depiction of teenage angst in a world where vampires and werewolves are different from the traditional folkloric concept of such creatures. Again, it’s entertainment and nothing more. It does not compel anyone to go deep into serious thinking about symbolism and intellectual themes. The Twilight Saga could never merit an intellectual discussion anyway.

And so the theaters were filled with this movie and some other local flick which I wouldn’t bother watching. A day after, I once again saw the trailer for Jason Becker’s biopic “Not Dead Yet”. Being a musician, such a movie sparked a great deal of interest in me and wondered why such a story would never make its premiere in the Philippines. And then I suddenly recalled those other trailers of Justin Bieber and Katy Perry movies in local cinemas. The question now became, “Why do Philippine cinemas show such vacuous movies rather than movies that compel people to think or imagine?” It’s bothersome that majority of Filipinos only prefer mind-numbing entertainment rather than information that would provoke them to think big and be creative. Philippine theaters would prefer to air vacuous movies like Justin Bieber’s and Katy Perry’s rather than a Jason Becker movie.

Consider this. Which of those music-related flicks would prove to be more inspiring? If I would compare the trailers for each of these flicks, in terms of overcoming challenges and obstacles, the Jason Becker movie would just sink those Justin Bieber and Katy Perry flicks to the bottom. While the two would continue to dominate music charts with their vacuous pop crap, Mr. Becker churns out wonderful, imaginative music to this day using only his eyes. If we examine the backgrounds of these artists, it seems to me that all of them stem from middle-class North American families. I don’t understand why the Justin Bieber and Katy Perry trailers seem to whine about the “obstacles” they face while they churn out millions and millions of dollars every single night, complaining about being “different” and living in a “repressive” environment. I don’t really see how different they are from every aspiring teenager who wants to make it in the music industry. It looks like all of them grew up in similar suburban settings so with the exception of Jason Becker, I don’t really see what they’re whining about.

Jason Becker, in contrast, is burdened by a real challenge. Being one of the top-notch guitar virtuosos of his time, he suddenly fell ill to Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig disease. He can only move his eyes, his jaw and to some extent his mouth, but he can’t move and can’t speak. His musical and artistic mind is trapped inside a body that many people would easily give up on. Despite the enormous challenge, he still can write music through his eye movements that control his computers and sophisticated software.

I seem to be going off tangent but I’m trying my best to illustrate a point here. That being Philippine cinemas would rather feature shallow entertainment than something that is truly inspiring. The Jason Becker movie has that sort of story that I think many Filipinos would like, since many Filipinos are suckers for that kind of feel-good-underdog-rising-against-the-odds movie. It’s sad that it would never be shown here. The reason could be easily demonstrated in a following imagined scenario:

Me: Uy manong, nagugustuhan nyo po ba yung mga kanta ni Justin Bieber at Katy Perry (Hey mister, do you like songs by Justin Bieber and Katy Perry?)

Manong: Ay oo, gusto ko yun. Madaling sayawan at nakakaaliw. Gustong gusto nga ng mga bata yun e. (Yes. I like their songs. They’re very amusing and danceable. In fact, a lot of kids like them).

Me: Eh manong, yung si Jason Becker ba kilala nyo? Magaling na magaling gitarista yun. (Manong, what about Jason Becker? Do you know him? He’s a very good guitarist.)

Manong: Jason Becker? Sino yun? (Jason Becker? Who’s that?)

Me: Magaling na gitarista yun noong dekada ’80. Nagkasakit, di na makagalaw, pero nakakapagsulat pa rin ng kanta. (He’s a very good guitarist in the ’80s. He got sick, became paralyzed but is still capable of writing music)

Manong: Talaga? Ewan ko. Di naman mapapanood sa Wowowee yun e. HindiĀ  sikat. (Really? I don’t know. I can’t watch him on Wowowee. He’s not famous.)

The point in this illustration is that most Filipinos are only attracted to what’s popular. That person or entity may have all the kind of skill and talent in the world but if he/she is not popular, she wouldn’t make a dent into the Filipino psyche. Many Filipinos tend to admire only what’s popular, even those without any sort of substance whatsoever. This is one fatal flaw in Filipino culture that has resulted into a messed up government, substandard education (Nationalist sentiments promoting Tagalog in public general education, despite the language’s divisiveness, inefficiency to articulate scientific and intellectual concepts, and lack of economic value), and the lack of entertainment options that are intellectually stimulating. And that includes movie choices folks.

The Value of Consistent Practice as a Musician

This is pretty obvious for people like me but you just can’t take for granted the value of consistent practice as a musician. As an instrumentalist, I would always like to build up my chops. By doing so, it takes me one step towards realizing musical ideas in a more tangible manner.

I was reminded of the value of practice when I was watching an episode of Matt Groening’s Futurama. This particular episode featured Fry in his attempt to become a performer and composer. He was trying to learn an instrument called a Holophoner (a sort of clarinet that also produces holographic images). He sucked at it and so he made a deal with the Robot Devil which involved exchanging his human hands for the Robot Devil’s hands. It was an amusing episode with plot devices similar to every work of art involving a deal with the devil and redemption.

With all the humor aside, what struck a chord in me in that Futurama episode was the fact that Fry said, “There’s so much music in my head but my stupid hands can’t keep up.” Well, I could relate to that very well. As a composer, I want to accurately express what’s in my head using my hands playing my instruments. It is very frustrating when you find yourself being unable to do that. Should I go on a bargain with the Devil for that? Of course not. Whatever is acquired without hard work often fades away fast. Becoming a virtuoso doesn’t happen overnight, and that’s why practice is very important.

Consistent practice is the only way any musician can take their chops to the next level. As an example, all of the musicians in Dream Theater wouldn’t be the virtuosos that they are if they didn’t practice. Unlike stories people typically hear of rock stars, these guys have practice rooms with instruments and metronomes backstage. Their bassist, John Myung, is an excellent model of commitment to practicing. He warms down by playing bass before a show and then cools down by playing bass again after a show. That’s the reason why he can shred like John Petrucci and keep time like Mike Portnoy.

So is the point of practicing just for building chops and be able to perform face-melting wankery? Of course not. It’s just a means to an end. Imagine how it could be easier to be able to write and record music if you could play in an instant what’s been ringing inside your head. As a composer, achieving such is a dream come true. Nothing could be more satisfying as a composer and musician than hearing your ideas come to life as you hear it in your head.

Whether you want to build your chops on the piano or guitar or you want to build your compositional skills, practice will always get you closer to becoming the best that you can be. That is the value of consistent practice as a musician.

Now, please excuse me while I get back to practicing piano, guitar, etc.