Kidlat Tahimik, Champion of Third-World Cinema

On the occasion of the screening of Kidlat Tahimik’s latest movie Balikbayan #1 Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III at the Berlin Film Festival and him winning the Caligari Prize (see the trailer and hopefully soon a review in German at, I post this stream of thoughts I wrote down last summer after I got to know about this fantastic filmmaker (to many Is…).

Kidlat Tahimik @ Cinematheque KOFA, presenting an installation after his movie screening

Kidlat Tahimik @ Cinematheque KOFA, presenting an installation after his movie screening

It was by chance that we got to see Perfumed Nightmare (향기어린 악몽, 1978), the debut film of Kidlat Tahimik (키들랏 타히믹), at the Cinematheque KOFA (한국영상자료원, a great place for watching free movies!). The movie was stunningly great, hard to tell whether personal travelogue, experimental self-study in film-making, coming-of-age-story about a dreamy space-buff (and head of the Philippine Wernher von Braun Fanclub), or – as I suspect – ironic comment on the experiences of a “Third-World”-cineast. That’s a movement closely associated with Kidlat Tahimik (a pen name meaning “slow lightning”). Or, that’s what I found out about him on Wikipedia afterwards (more details on WikiPilipinas). You can have a look at the first few minutes of Perfumed Nightmare on Youtube.

As a follow-up, we went to see Who Invented the Yoyo? Who Invented the Moon Buggy? (누가 요요를 만들었나? 누가 월면차를 만들었나?, 1979/1982) the next day, a “spoof” of Nightmare that Kidlat Tahimik shot after receiving some money, as he freely admits. And, once again by chance, we got to see – and hear – the master himself!

Kidlat Tahimik, A Tale of Two Goddesses of the Wind - Inhabian of Ifugao and Marilyn Monroe of Hollywood (installation detail)

Kidlat Tahimik, A Tale of Two Goddesses of the Wind – Inhabian of Ifugao and Marilyn Monroe of Hollywood (installation detail)

As the closing credits swept across the screen, someone’s voice, chanting some all-familiar song, could be heard from the back. Kidlat Tahimik was walking down the stairs towards the stage, the “Torero March” from Carmen on his lips. The performance he delivered, with the help of some figurines that were part of an installation he had brought with him (see above), was a manifesto for local storytelling in cinema, against commercial blockbusters and the formula their based upon (S+V=P). In his performance, he depicted the constant struggle between two goddesses, the lure of Hollywood and the possibilities of independent cinema to tell local stories, that every “Third World”-filmmaker faces.

Maybe the Third World in cinema lies not so much in language or location, but in the way we create. (quoted from memory)

Kidlat Tahimik was referring especially to improvisation, a technique that seems to be all over his works, at least those two I’ve seen so far. (But then, what is improvisation anyway? …) I found the short-circuit between the dichotomies of 1st- and 3rd-world on the one hand, Hollywood commercialism and indy-spirit on the other, a bit of an oversimplification – and quite romanticizing the precarious situation of many filmmakers, too. His own background, as he openly notes, is of uper-middleclass and he still can rely on support by his parents.

Rather than putting the focus on improvisation (although a distinct feature of his films), I’d rather stress Kidlat Tahimik’s relentless—and successful—attempts of appropriating whatever he can get. He makes everything part of his story, whether he draws from Philippinean traditions and the country’s twisted colonial history or dubs the rather restrained enthusiasm of the children who join his space-race-fanclub with the applause from, presumably, a soccer stadium. He uses the cityscape of Paris, the wide variety of the “Zwiebelturm” (onion-shaped churchtower) that he finds in Germany, and a pregnant woman he meets there. He even casts his own son as—well—himself, the German-born son of the protagonist-character.

So, is the “Third World”-way of doing cinema a radically personalized melange of idiosyncratically appropriated and re-interpreted people, gestures, sounds, and images? Certainly not the only one… In fact, classical “Third Cinema” seems to reject individual expression (such as in “auteur”-arthouse films) for collective solidarity…

And what happens when the Empire strikes back—isn’t creative appropriation also a viable method outside of “Third World”-cinema?

In the end of his talk, Kidlat Tahimik identified himself as “A storyteller who merely uses film as the medium” (also from memory). Well, he uses film in a wonderful way, I think. The only other artist I can think of that comes close would be Helge Schneider (big post coming up sometime—spoiler: we saw his latest movie in Berlin, and it’s great!).

To close with Kidlat Tahimik: “The kosmos will provide!” (verbatim) Let’s hope his words will prove right.

– 15 & 16 Aug. 2014 (金 & 土)

  • Mababangong Bangungot / Perfumed Nightmare (Philippines 1977, 93 minutes). IMDB
  • Sinong Lumikha ng Yoyo? Sinong Lumikha ng Moon Buggy? / Who Invented the Yoyo? Who Invented the Moon Buggy? (Philippines 1979/1982 ???, 95 minutes) IMDB
  • Balikbayan #1 Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III (Germany 2015, 140 minutes) IMDB

About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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