Kidlat Tahimik Interview Part I:
The Perfumed Nightmare... and then?
Perfumed Nightmare took a long time to finish. Can you tell us about the production and the post-production?
Kidlat: With Perfumed Nightmare, I always said it would take five months, four months, six months, and it dragged for two years. I remember that one night after a projection at the Filmhochschule she threatened to throw the film reels into the Isar. My wife and I had agreed that I had a year to finish the film. And then I would take over little Kidlat, and she would do her "Abschluß" [degree] at the Kunstakademie. So she was expecting by May ’76 that it would be her turn. But the editing of the film took another year.
I think, I finished the almost final version or at least a showable version in April or maybe even March 1977. I started looking for a festival and true to my promise, I told Katrin, I am going to Paris and other places, and I’ll bring little Kidlat along. I just had my backpack, and I had Kidlat in one arm and a plastic bag with my two film reels. We jumped on trains, we hitchhiked to Paris, and Avignon, then we were going to London and Edinburgh. I would just knock on the door and say: “I have a film. Can you look at it?” For me, I really felt the festival was just a way to get an audience? I never thought of winning prizes. I had a vague idea about distribution, but I really just wanted to fill up an auditorium two or three nights and see how people felt about the film.
Why didn’t you stay in Germany?
In 1978, we had moved in with another couple. And we moved to Pöttmes and I started just doing the first shots of the “Yoyo” film. It was a continuation of that motive of the Third World looking at space technology, but this time it focused more on the relationship between me and my son in the film.
Did you use any footage that you already had from Perfumed Nightmare?
No. I shot both films on reversal stock, because you didn’t have to go through the negative process and were able to view your film almost immediately. All the footage was shot specifically for that film.
Alright, but so that means that after Perfumed Nightmare, which took you five years to complete, the production of this film took place during a much shorter time period...
I started shooting in 1978, then I returned to the Philippines in late 1979, and then I finished the film in 1981. So it took about four years.
It doesn’t look like you shot much in the Philippines. It seems as if 80 or 90 percent of footage was shot in Germany.
There are the scenes, when Kidlat was a bit older, the one with the space monster and with the heat shield. They look like the were shot at the farm in Germany, but in fact they were already shot in the Philippines.
Why did you return to the Philippines? You had this unfinished film. You had done relatively well as a film maker. Your first work was received favorably at a major international film festival. So why not stay in Germany?
At that time I was not thinking in terms of "oh, I have an unfinished job to do. " I thought the film would find its own time. Katrin and I had decided that we didn't want Kidlat to have a Wernher-Von-Braun-Education. We wanted him to grow up in a more relaxed, child-rearing country. So we decided to go home. Katrin and I had been I the Philippines before, in the end of 73. In that year, we had driven in the Jeep up to Sweden in summer, and I had tried to finish writing my play. A friend of mine from Norway offered us a little cabin in the mountains. So Katrin and I were there, she was painting, and I was doing my play. When we returned, we said: “Let's go to the Philippines.” And we spent a good month in the Philippines Then we came back to Munich. That was when I had to be in that film of Herzog on Kasper Hauser (Jeder für sich und Gott gegeben alle (1974), English title “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser” – ed.). Just before we left in December, Herzog came to our commune and said he would like me to play a part in the film.
In 1979, you didn't go back to a tropical, relaxed place, you went back to the Marcos dictatorship.
Yes. That’s why I asked Herzog to write a letter telling me to no cut my hair. My hair was really long at that time, and the police were really after people with long hair, because they thought you were an activist. If you have long hair you must be a leftist. If they would stop me, I could say. “Look, I'm supposed to let grow my hair for a shooting.”
I went home in April 1979, Katrin stayed behind a little bit more to finish something and then we were in the Philippines. I was so lucky that I still had the last snow in Germany before I left, and I was able to shoot the final shot of Kidlat running, and I also shot how he watches the space landing on TV. I had at least the beginning and the ending of my film, and what I needed was just time to think about how to build up the story.
Where did you go to in the Philippines?
We went straight to Baguio.
That means that you went back to a place where you didn't have an editing table or any of the other technical facilities that were available to you in Munich?
No, all I had was a Bolex, My editing table only came in 1981, when Ambros Eichenberger from the Catholic Organization for Cinema was able to find a grant for me, and I opted to get the editing table.
So you had a half-finished film and no immediate way to finish it...
Yes. I don't plan forward. I was just thinking: It's not like you've got investors behind you, pushing you, rushing you. It was going to happen on its own time. There was no video at that time, so I had to work with 16 mm. I arranged to have a workshop at my house in Baguio, supported by the Goethe-House in Manila, a film workshop so that they had an excuse to bring in my Steenbeck editing table. That was a big help because, because I could not have afforded the airfare. It went through customs without any problems, because it was a Goethe-House diplomatic shipment.
Again, the Philippines were under martial law at that time. Did that affect your work or this workshop?
Yes that was still in the martial law period. The workshop was in 1982. We had about 15 people who registered and who later became the film scene in Manila. They spent the whole month in Baguio watching Karl and me edit Turumba. I got to keep the Steenback and a Cinema Products 16mm camera, which is a silent camera, that was my fee. With this I could shoot Turumba. Turumba is the only sync-sound film that I ever made. All the other films were shot with my Bolex. I became self-sufficient in Baguio to work on my time. I don't have to worry about renting, or editing or even making my initial transfers, and I could do everything when I was ready. And with my final copy, I could go down to Manila for a sound mix in a big studio.
Charlie Fugunt is frequently listed as your editor until 1990, so it seems like it's a very important collaborator.
Yes, Charlie had a small sound studio. He was a self-made man, he never went to school. In those days people just learned their craft and worked for technical companies or big productions. He was working for ARD, for “Die Sendung mit der Maus” [a popular children´s program – ed.]. He allowed me to use his editing room, but I had to wait until after the last shift. So I would arrive about eight o'clock in the evening, and there were these guys who were editing these porno films.
How did you meet him?
Originally, there was another filmmaker who allowed me to use his editing room, named H.P. Mayer. I would leave him some Philippine bowls, some ceramics and other leftover stuff that I had, just so I could use his editing room when he was not using it. And he introduced me to Charles Fugunt.
Charlie is this very openhearted person. He never charged me for anything. And he had his connections. He was a catholic, and he hooked me up with Ambrose Eichenberger from Switzerland who was the head of OCIC organization. They helped me setting up my independent equipment in the Philippines. So in a way, the prize that I won at Berlinale for “Perfumed Nightmare” – although I wished for some cash – were useful in getting set up...
What was his input into your films as an editor?
I learned from him how to create a scene so that my mother could understand it. I was always doing structural editing, then he would smoothen it, give it basing and help me with the sound. Since I didn't have a script, I would just first edit, let's say, the music, just to have an internal rhythm and a sequence. And then I would decide to put the narration. He showed me different tricks, of how to get rid of the oohs and ahs, or how to correct a sentence that was improperly recorded. He was so finicky about that. In a sense he taught me a very German precision. I could feel that he'd be as interested as I am in the final quality.
He came to visit you to work on your other films...
Yes, he came once a year. But it was a very strong friendship; he was a member of the household. He was the godfather of my second son. He would also try to do little projects so he could earn his trip.
Was there any budget for Who invented the Yoyo...?
No. It was like “Hey, I got an idea!” Then I just I would sell a few more Waldis, and buy another film roll and shoot with my Bolex. Or I rented a sound camera at this rental house in Munich for a long weekend. I would wait for a four-day weekend, like Ascension, so I could get four days of rental for the price of one.
If we compare Perfumed Nightmare with the Yo Yo film, the subject of Third World versus First World seems to be much more important in the first. I think Yo Yo is also a strong film, but you never released it...
I always considered Perfumed Nightmare my sophomore film. It doesn’t have the innocence of the fresh one. That's why I never really presented it. I am sure Les Blank would have included it into his selection.
But after the success of Perfumed Nightmare, I think it would have been important to have a new film ready for the festival circuit. You also put four years of work into it...
If I would think like an MBA that would be right. I would do more pushing, but I felt that the film was not finished. I think the same thing about the “Yellow Film" [Why is Yellow at the Middle of the Rainbow?, ed.]. I always felt like the last part needed a little bit more work. I had very dark scenes. But I was living life as a father, and I thought I could continue doing other things and I was not stuck on getting this film out right away. Time is so fluid, it feels like rubber to me, and I didn't even realize how it went by, and how it took me 35 years from start to finish of a film.
Another subject that's very important in this film is Christian religion. But again I feel that the criticism could be much sharper, much more satirical...
I think I was much more concerned with colonial cultural displacement. I think I prefer to joust with the issue of First World and Third World in very general terms rather than focus on details, like what the Catholics did to our shamans. It is only one of the many elements of cultural imperialism.
But it is a very powerful one, especially in the Philippines, a very important one.
Definitely. The first thing the missionaries did was to translate the Bible into a local dialect and language. But the kind of spiritualism that the people had was different from the organized religion that the missionaries would impose.