Feature by: Tiffany Limsico
To King Kong with love
From Rolando B. Tolentino
I was a pre-schooler when I had my first experience watching in a moviehouse. It was a sudden decision by my parents to take us kids along. As they were dressing us up, we were told to behave properly. No tantrums, no getting scared in the dark, no wanting to go home in the middle of the movie. I do not remember being told, however, not to be scared by the movie.
Alongside these prohibitions, we were also told about the film. “A blockbuster,” my mother told us, we would “surely enjoy it.” The late evening invitation was welcomed. The only time we dressed up was to go to mass on Sunday evenings. There was something exciting in the preparations, not as ritualistic as the Sunday affairs.
I remember snippets of the evening. We entered in the middle of the movie. It was pitch dark, and I had to hold my mother’s hand tightly. Or she was holding my hand tightly. Me walking in the dark cavernous space, sitting by myself in a large reclining cushioned seat. I had to kneel in order to see the giant screen in front of me. Loitering after some time in the dark moviehouse. And tagging along with another adult to buy donuts.
I remember the donuts, packaged in pairs. One was sprinkled with sugar-coated bits, the other was covered with shredded coconut. The colors were bright, but I remember not liking the taste. Tasted like cough syrup flavors. I had to decline from finishing my share.
I remember snippets of the movie. It was the black-and-white King Kong. The giant ape caught my attention only when I was seated in my chair. I was too busy with the newness of the experience that I could only remember the giant close-ups of the gnarling beast. Or his climbing up the Empire State Building, fighting for dear life amidst the savagery of fighter planes pounching him with bullets.
It was a dream-like night. I remember talking with others who also watched the film as we drove back home. I remember discussing the film again as we undressed and changed to pajamas. It was a night like no other night.
As a teacher of film now, I will ask my students about their ‘first time.’ They too have vivid memories of their first encounter. Almost sexual—but always remembered in a pleasant way—watching a film for the first time remains part of our own primordial memory. A social memory of sorts, something we all share even though we have come to contact [with cinema] in different times and spaces.
I was not scared by King Kong, as I was seduced into the image and experience of my first film. Hazy, in bits and pieces, maybe embellished with what I had wanted to actually remember, or even forget, the first time is always remembered with fondness and wonder. It was a simple moment in an already complicating era of my life.
My parents had just uprooted us from provincial Nueva Ecija to study in the more progressive Manila area. Like most middle-class, this was the natural flow of all aspirations. A decade later, people would be going overseas, primarily to look for work, or to study, including myself, again in the national portrait of things and events.
King Kong would be this ghastly yet gentle agreeable beast who would draw me back to the moviehouse over and over. Returning to the experience of what I would later learn as modernity over and over.
To return to the Love Letters click here.