Thursday, August 09, 2007

Finding a Little Crime in Your Life

(I know, I know... I'm supposed to be working on the damn webspecial. But the discussion on finding the Philippine mystery genre has been really interesting and I've some ideas I've been mulling in my head...)

There's been some interesting discussion about local crime fiction here and there (well, it started here but you can find all the links here). What's interesting is some of the congruence of ideas the discussion touched on that have started moving around in my head.

Okay, first point: to rephrase, FH Batacan stated that Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes were a mirror to Victorian society (its values, fears, traditions, prejudices) and the relationship between the values of a society and the crime and mystery fiction that spring from these, is an enduring one.

Later on, in a discussion at kyu's blog (and my own), skinny pointed it out that those movies by action star Fernando Poe, Jr. you watched on TV?-- well, they're a pretty good representative of local crime fiction. I scoffed at this but later thought that maybe he has a point. As he states, "those films are our version of crime fiction. the structure may be Western, but these are essentially vigilante crime thrillers. sure they aren't mysteries, but that's another subset of the genre."

To quote skinny again:

take Infernal Affairs again. it's so much more introspective, almost mystical in its approach. and the great Asian works of fiction seem to be either romantic or historical, and almost always philosophical without using the micro-cosmic crime/mystery format to explore those philosophies, and i'm not just talking about literature.

So maybe the unique angle of Philippine crime stories (as kyu wonders) is the vigilante fiction?

After all, what are those FPJ movies anyway (as well as a lot of other action movies starring Lito Lapid, Eddie Garcia, etc.) but of the solitary man standing against the powerful or the many? Of the powerless trying to regain some semblance of power or control over their own lives? Sounds famliar , right? That's the Philippine society with its poor being ground by the rich and powerful in a nutshell.

Some food for the mystery thought. I, for one, find the idea of vigilante fiction fascinating. Yes, I know such a concept isn't limited to the Philippines. But adding the local sensibility and making it more than about shoot-em-ups and the crime itself-- ah, there's the trick.

And has anyone thought that Gerry Alanguilan's Wasted could also be regarded as a crime story?


dodo dayao said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dodo dayao said...

Actually if we talk about movies, there's a very strong noir element in many local movies,particularly from the 70s. In many ways, Gerry De Leon's 48 Hours, Mike De Leon's Kisapmata, Lino Brocka's Angela Markado , Peque Gallaga's Unfaithful Wife and even Carlo Caparas' utterly terrible Massacre movies right up to Mario Cornejo's Big Time are ostensibly of the crime(noir) genre. They hew close to Clouzot
(Diabolioque) and Hitchcock (and in Cornejo's case Tarantino) whose films took a lot of fuel from the works of people like Cornell Woolrich ,etc. I'm not sure, though, if we have an equivalent to the crime movies of Jean Pierre Melville unless we count those vigilante movies which are sort of kindred and emerged in the late 70s and early 80s, I think, probably as a reaction to American movies like Death Wish and Walking Tall and taps into that societal mindset you talked about, banzai.

As for crime fiction in literature, here's a particularly blasphemous proposition - - -most of these movies came from Tagalog komiks serials by people like Caparas and Ravelo. Between them, there's a wealth of crime fiction in there, vigilante and noir and everything else in between and probably had a big hand influencing Gerry's Wasted (good call on that). Of course, those are komiks and probably doesn't count but half the nation did read them.

Ayen said...

all right, 'crime fiction' is a larger umbrella that subsumes detective fiction. so fh batacan's novel is crime fiction, in that the disequilibrium in the story happens to be a crime (it may have been an inner discontent, a broken heart, separation anxiety, etc. but that might not have the aspect of needing the state's police intervention, and a subsequent expectation of justice.)

her novel is detective fiction in the sense that there is great investment (in plot and character) on the manner in which knowledge of how to find the villain comes to the protagonists. deductive and inductive reasoning through clues and maybe some small bit of luck are all the detectives have. yeah yeah yeah the sleuths and the villain should be credible and engaging. yeah yeah yeah, but that's character build up.

but in this setting, unlike in the vigilante-justice pinoy films, fh batacan had to sell to the readers the idea there exists a reliable apparatus to trace crimes to perpetrators, and that that apparatus gives authorities license to hunt, hurt, and haul perpetrators to prison. the apparatus is forensic science.

the novel begins with two world views or two takes on the series of crimes. one is that of the atenean priest-detectives', whose mounting killer-profiles and analyses of physical evidence get them closer to finding the killer. the other world view is that of the killer's. the book is a hunt and an escape story. will the sleuths find the killer? will the killer be cunning enough to get away? what bridges the two worlds is the detective work. no detective work, no detective fiction.

the vigilante films do not invest in the how, just the chase. a woman is dead. husband wants blood. husband knows who did it. husband gets shotgun. chase ensues. cue cliché-chase music. insert bad acting. unrepentant killer dies. roll credits.

if this were proper detective fiction, the evidence and the witness testimonies would have to be sifted through. the main suspect might actually have been an evil person, and he might have killed dozens of people, but that doesn't mean he actually killed the woman in question. no amount of brooding, macho, gun-totting, cliché dialogue, can replace hard detective work.

(parenthetical: two things about fh batacan's novel are clues as to why detective fiction in the country might be hard to swallow. one, she chose priests as detectives. priests come off as morally untainted, compared to cops. so their pursuit of justice might be more believable. and since they are rich priests, they can't be corrupted. how convenient. the other is that the killer doesn't make it to court. a legal process might open the idea that the interpretation of facts that the hard detective work and the forensic science have assembled can be questioned, discredited, and the actual evidence destroyed or withheld.)

so, no. i don't think our own vigilante fiction is our version of detective fiction.

Charles said...

Actually I was already thinking that crime fiction was present in other mediums (TV, film, komiks) but I think the question is, whatever happened to it in fiction. (And it's not like we have a shortage of action movies.)

skinnyblackcladdink said...

ayen: our 'vigilante fiction' isn't 'detective fiction', no, and it was never meant to be implied as such. it is, however, 'crime fiction'. i would propose that 'subsets', in terms of 'literary genres', can be thought of as the manner in which a particular umbrella or bracket set (in this case, the more inclusive concept of 'crime fiction') is expressed. the relevant question, therefore, might be why we seem to prefer this mode of expression to something, as you point out, if i may reduce your descriptions of 'detective fiction' to a word, more 'intellectually-oriented'? which leads logically to the questions i'm about to ask bc to ask.

bc: you're beginning to come up against the usual limitations of these definitions; how much do you include, and when do you begin to exclude certain items in our catalogue? it might be useful, therefore, to look back on our cultural psychology and examine how it is we tend to perceive the concept of 'crime'. what is 'crime' to the Filipino? how does the Filipino mind deal with the concept?

charles: there's an important question as well--no, i don't believe there's necessarily a dearth of 'crime fiction', though Q has a point when he talks about 'prose fiction' in particular, and ayen when she sets her sights on 'detective fiction'. so, yeah, good question: why not in prose?

dodo: i would count komiks, actually--and they fall in with my original point about an outlet for crime fiction already existing in the country. i'd like to ask though, not being that well versed with what *is* out there...ok, there's noir stuff, and there's vigilante crime fic...are there examples of the detective fic ayen has defined for us? apart from the few examples already mentioned that make an exception to what Q's worrying at?

banzai cat said...

aaagh, sorry for the delay. bloody work stuff. though one thing nice about this place is all the people who know more than I do. ;-)

dodo: thanks for the heads-up on the local noir movies. ironically, I can see why quentin tarantino is so cool on filipino movies. and good note on the tagalog komiks serial, I completely forgot about them. (which is a shame since I used to read a lot of those while waiting for my haircut at the barbershop!)

ayen: oy, thanks for the clarification on the definitions of the genre. yeah, I figured there are differences though I wonder if these can be regarded as subgenres like SFF has its own subgenres. but you just proved a point that maybe instead of detective fiction, it would be better to focus on crime fiction since that's what we're more used to.

(funny enough, I usually see security companies that supply the ubiquitous security guards have the function of private investigations also and I wonder what stories-- if there are any-- can be gathered from there.)

charles: another good question. though maybe like speculative fiction, crime/detective/mystery stories got waylaid in some backalley by social/realist stories? ;-)

skinny: You have so many good points (especially what questions that should be addressed if one were to study local genre fiction) in your comment that I'd rather state that I agree with you muchly-- except for ayen being a girl, that is. ;-)

dodo dayao said...

If memory serves, what little straightforward detective fiction the komiks dabbled in back in the day were mostly hommages to the Chandler/Hammett school. Not much cultural resonance and not very memorable. There hasn't been a glut of that in any form of fiction nor movies since. WI'm not sure if we really have a tradition of fictional detectives in any platform the way the US and Japan do. The closest I can think of at the moment is Budjette and Kajo's Trese which, despite its supernatural bent, seems to hew to the structures of conventional detective fiction. I wonder if we could count something like Julio Cortazar's Blowup (the basis of the Antonioni film) as a piece of detective fiction since it's ostensibly about the process of investigating a crime . . .but not solving it.

banzai cat said...

Yeah I did remember Trese but I figured it's a bit on the modern side. Likewise, there's also the specfic/supernatural side to their stories. Am wondering if we have any other precursors to the form that sticks to the realist as well (which kyu prefers).