Pelikula

In Tagalog, the word for movie or film 
is pelikula, which borrows from the Spanish 
pelicula; this leans, in turn, toward 
the Italian pellicula, typically meaning 
the place where people go to watch the latest 
movies. Before Netflix or Hulu, the projectionist 
leans out of his overheated second-floor booth, 
impatiently waiting for the runner to arrive 
from the next town, panting as he hands over 
the second reel. It gets there just in time 
for him to feed the film into the sprocket-
lined rollers, in time to fend off jeers 
and insults peppered with whistles and boos 
from the restive audience. In the old days, 
this was also the way films were distributed 
in the Philippines. My father once told me 
as we drove through Pangasinan on the way 
to Manila that a town at one end of a bridge
was named Carmen, and the one at the other
end was named Rosales, after a Filipina
actress considered the queen of cinema
in the '40s and '50s. When not playing
the sweetly pliable girlfriend, Carmen 
was cast either as flirt or unbending 
matriarch but was one of the highest
paid actresses of her time. I was surprised 
to learn that in WWII, during the Japanese 
Occupation, she became a guerilla and 
sharpshooter, sometimes donning a fake 
mustache during forays— which proves once again 
that one should never underestimate a woman, 
in film or in real life. Like woman or girl,
pellicula is also a diminutive— related to pellis, 
meaning a rough blanket of skin or hide scraped 
from an animal's body. It makes me think of summer 
evenings when neighbors might hang a dropcloth 
over their garage doors and bring out a cheap 
portable projector so everyone on the street 
can bring their kids and friends over for some 
al fresco viewing. Under a proscenium arch
of stars or a canopy of trees, we can hide
our faces in each other's arms, watching sky-
scrapers topple like paper models as floodwaters 
pour through cities at the end of the world. 
We could graze cheeks tenderly, as the mutant 
hero writhes in agony when blades spring from between 
his adamantium-coated bones. He changes form: a kind 
of werewolf; a versipellis, meaning skin and turn.  

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