An idol of iconoclasts worldwide, a pioneer of the postcolonial essay film, and the grandfather of the Philippine New Wave, Kidlat Tahimik has made a career of—as he puts it—“straying on track.” Born Eric de Guia and educated at the Wharton School of Business, Tahimik renounced both career and name to become Kidlat Tahimik (roughly translated as “Quiet Lighting”) and embrace a filmmaking aesthetic unabashedly personal and defiantly political, filled with both warmth and fire.
Tahimik’s postcollege sojourn in Germany resulted in a friendship with Werner Herzog (who cast him in The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser), a marriage, and a deceptively ramshackle debut film, Perfumed Nightmare (1977), whose easygoing interrogation of neocolonial identity, Philippine culture, and global economies turned it into a surprise international “hit.” Praised as “the joyful discovery of blasé film buffs from Berlin to Belgrade and beyond” (SF Chronicle, 1980) and “likely to become some sort of classic” (Village Voice, 1980), the film is now heralded as a key text of both Third World Cinema and the personal essay film, offering a pairing of politics and pleasure that has continued throughout Tahimik’s oeuvre. Never shying away from embracing a proud, postcolonial identity, yet always grounded in personal observation and a quiet, understated humor, Tahimik’s works take special joy in highlighting the indigenous cultures and history of the Philippines and beyond, whether honoring Tahimik’s beloved bahag loincloth, profiling local craftsmen and women, or recounting tales of Magellan’s Filipino navigator/slave. Assembled from countless hours of filming, drawn from months and years worth of work, “my footages are like tiles in a mosaic,” he writes. “You shuffle them, change them around. In my process, nothing is permanent.”
“My best friend always mispronounced the word ‘indigenous,’” Tahimik noted in an interview in the book Philippine New Wave. He’ll say ‘indigenius.’ I would always call it cosmic mispronunciation. . . . The genius of the indigenous culture is still within us. We just have to recognize it, and let it flow out.” Committed to documenting the “indigenius,” yet always iconoclastic enough to “stray on track” to capture the wonder of life around him, Kidlat Tahimik is one of cinema’s true originals.
Jason Sanders, Film Notes Writer