Sunday, May 9, 2010

15 minute Critique

Fame usually is a twin association of fortune. If one is famous, one would also be, inevitably, as if a natural consequent, rich. This would explain the proliferation of variously themed reality shows which would provide a “normal Juan or Maria” is 15 minutes of fame, which SHOULD be followed by fortune. I remember Direk Jose Reyes in a Pinoy Dream Academy scolding a PDA scholar, “Akala mo paglabas mo dito, pagkakaguluhan ka na ng tao,sikat ka na?” Well, he as a point there, afterall a short uneventful stint on TV is hardly any guarantee that showbiz will come knocking on your door, presenting you with limitless raket opportunities.

However, an unusual achievement or life-long passion with a flair for the dramatic might catch the eye of the media. The weirder, the better. Or worse, the gorier, the better. Remember a cinematic history which had an era of dramatizing the chop-chop ladies and rape victims. But worse, is the “demand” for the life stories of convicted killers, like Baby Ama, Crisologo and the like. The films which only serve to glorify these anti-social beings cannot but send a mixed message. Is it bad to kill people, burn down houses and rape women, or is it cool to be able to do such things in defiance of social norms?

As John Herzfeld’s 15 minutes sought to explore, the media is a very powerful tool. In a time when almost everything is judged according to one’s projected image, the media, indeed, is crucial.

15 minutes opens in a long queue for people entering the United States. It shows two men, Emil Slovak (Karel Roden) and Oleg Razgul (Oleg Taktarov) , talking to a US officer. Oleg explains that he is “here for movies.” True enough, he ended up robbing a video equipment store in broad daylight just to get himself a nice video camera that can “document their trip.”

Things start to fall apart for the two when they found out that their share in a bank stick-up they got busted for has already been spent by another partner in crime. Oleg ended up documenting how Emil lost his temper and ended up killing their third partner and his wife.

Enter our main protagonists, Eddie Fleming (Robert de Niro) and Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns), a famed detective and a fire marshall respectively. Eddie is a seasoned detective who is well-loved by the community and the media, while Jordy is an experienced fire marshall who seems adverse to media. They develop a close relationship while solving a case they share, third partner and wife were killed then set on fire.

Meanwhile, Oleg and Emil, imbibing American culture, have thought of a new way to raise money anew and be famous too. They have decided to “document” Emil killing a famous person, and selling its rights to the media. But not until they have tied up some lose ends, such as the witness (very beautiful Vera Farmiga playing Daphne Handlova)totheir previous crime.

15 minutes is far from the usual detective story. It injects humor in it via Oleg’s character, a film buff , slightly dull criminal with a soft spot for women (they got caught in the bank job because he was hitting on a teller). Until his very last breath, he never forgot to capture it on video.

Such is the convoluted plot of 15 minutes based on a very simple premise, the power of media. Despite its tongue-in-cheek humor, 15 minutes is a sharp critique on how the media can be tool for deceiving people rather than a speaker of truths. And this, all for the glory of scoops, exclusivity, high ratings and profit.

This, incidentally, reminds me of philippine politics. How everyone seems to joust for a 15 minute TV spot or something. How people play-up their images as packaged by “image consultants”. A covert mudslinging right hand while the left hand remains clean for the public to see.

Barely 2 weeks until the final say-so, the circus has indeed come into town.

Let 15 minutes remind us that nothing is ever what it seems. The truth can be as elusive as the river eel for the untrained and dispassionate about it.

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