The society of respected film critics that hands out the annual Gawad Urian in cinematic excellence

Jay: Cinema gets back at television

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By Butch Francisco

Media had always been very useful—at disseminating news and information, providing public service and exposing society’s ills, especially corruption in the government.

Unfortunately, media can also be abused in many ways by its practitioners who are corrupt and by those who slant the news, twist and distort the truth and embellish and exaggerate factual events to get readership (for print) and bring in the almighty ratings (for radio and television).

The indie film “Jay” gives us an inside view of what may be happening behind the scenes in the production of news documentaries on television.

Directed by Francis Xavier Pasion, the story of “Jay” begins when a gay schoolteacher is killed in his house and the suspect is a masseur who provides home service. A news program on TV apparently sees the opportunity to bring in the ratings by doing an exclusive feature on the case. A producer, played by Baron Geisler, is sent to the murdered teacher’s hometown in Bacolor, Pampanga to interview the family and to possibly dig whatever dirt they can find there.

Every angle is exploited from hereon—how the mother receives the news of the son’s death, the morgue scene where family members wail at the sight of the remains, the victim’s homosexuality, his romantic liaison with a former lover (Coco Martin) and that entire scenario we always see in the evening news almost nightly: the arrested suspect being slapped and kicked by the victim or family members with the TV cameras grinding.

After “Jay,” I have a strong feeling that fewer people will believe what they see on TV. “Jay” is cinema’s revenge on television, which from its inception was already a threat to the movies. Today, TV has become so popular and powerful it has succeeded in killing the local film industry. The current big stars, in fact, are no longer on the big screen, but in this medium that was once derided as the idiot box.

But cinema—through this Francis Xavier Passion masterpiece—manages to get back at television big time by picturing it as manipulative and a cheat. Jay is a daring and fearless revelation of television’s ill practices.

And so we see a raiding team being staged for camera purposes, the victim’s mother doing a re-shoot of her wailing scene at the morgue and some little details being altered for more dramatic effect.

Having been with television for over a decade, I know that statements uttered in front of the camera can be edited to make the subject look good or bad or bright or dumb. Or how some interviews may require a retake when there is a technical malfunction—with the interviewer and his subject recapturing the same kind of emotion delivered in the original shoot.

A classic editing trick I witnessed a long time ago involved the widow of a slain action star. Since the TV crew of a now-defunct movie talk show couldn’t get a shot of the wife in grief (maybe because they had been estranged), they captured her smiling and ran the tape on reverse to make her look like she was crying.

These remedial measures employed by most television people today have brought new meaning to the term magic of television that was coined in the ‘50s.

With “Jay” exposing some of the more exploitative tactics done by today’s TV productions, this is going to be a real eye-opener to a lot of followers of public affairs programs. Winner of the best picture prize in the 2008 Cinemalaya (it was also graded A by the Cinema Evaluation Board), “Jay” may yet harvest more trophies for best film in this year’s award’s race—and deservingly so. Its concept is novel and so different from other independent film projects that dwell endlessly on poverty and sex. The story of Jay had long been waiting to be told—exposed is more like it—to serve as reminder to media practitioners that there are limits to be observed and boundaries to be respected when working around even the most sensational of cases.

Even in print, a story may be angled to destroy a person’s reputation—although this may easily be corrected when the offended party comes forward to present his side of what really happened. Fortunately, most newspapers—especially The Philippine Star—are fair and would always be willing to publish the correction in its quest for the truth.

But television—being a more complicated business—can play around a lot more when it comes to presenting the truth. The truth will be revealed in time, all right, but wouldn’t it be better to add a little drama to it or even go way over the top to make the story more interesting to the viewers? In the process, the people involved in the case are unnecessarily exploited, their privacy violated, and their reputation ruined.

And poor viewing public—even they will be taken for a ride. Hopefully, they will watch “Jay” and learn to be more discerning next time they select the program they will watch on television.

Everyone will learn from “Jay” and it is a must-see for television people: producers, anchors, writers, and editors who will surely go Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! as they witness the parts they play in some of the scenes—feeling guilty most probably as they watch magnified on the big screen the machinations they have been doing all for the sake of a scoop.

For the general public, “Jay” is going to be like a tour of the television networks. No, it’s not going to be one of those regular ABS-CBN studio tours where they see production at work on the sound stage. In “Jay,” you go deeper into the seams of getting an exclusive story and how these are dressed up to make it more interesting to the viewers. It’s all about what goes on behind a TV documentary and how the production staff puts it together—unmindful of ethics and morals and who gets hurt along the way.

To make the tour more engaging, “Jay” provides three main characters to show how documentaries on TV operate: First there is Flor Salanga as the victim’s mother, who unwittingly is also victimized by the jaded TV crew that exploits the circumstances of her own personal life and even that of her departed son. Salanga plays the part so convincingly, you’d think she was just plucked from the impoverished side of Bacolor, Pampanga in a last-minute audition and never suspect that she is an advertising veteran who dabbles in local theater in real life.

Coco Martin, a familiar face among TV viewers and moviegoers and the top matinee idol of indie movies, is brilliant in “Masahista.” “Tambolista,” and “Daybreak.” Now add to the list “Jay.” It may be a secondary role, but he still manages to shine, particularly in his scenes with Baron, who exploits everything about him.

Jay will not stand without the presence of Baron Geisler as the producer who will do even the impossible just to be able to deliver his story on television. Always in character, I see him as a composite of all the soft and swishy segment and associate producers I’ve worked with in my TV career. They plead, they bargain, they cajole—threaten if need be—all in the name of exclusivity. Baron has imbibed all the quirks, mannerisms and even flamboyance of these young people behind the camera so realistically you’d suspect he must have done some moonlighting as production assistant or researcher in between acting assignments. But he did not. He really is just a great actor who can be convincing given any kind of role.

“Jay,” a front-runner for best picture, may still run into other equally great works like “Concerto,” “Boses.” and “100.” But for best actor, Baron Geisler in “Jay” is unbeatable.