Marilou Diaz-Abaya's Macho Gigolo (Lotus Films), a film shuttling between the metropolises of Olongapo and Manila, locates the transactions of the flesh not just on the level of anonymous bodies but on the plane of familiar subjects. Familiar, as the encounters plot out the prosaic itineraries of corporeal selves negotiating affects which are by turns sensible, sensational and of course sensory. Familiarity is a condition the film aspires for so that what can only come to the fore is a vision of the concrete, revealing the various social thickness deep down a seemingly dichotomic surface. Once a city that catered its women of excess to American military officers, Olongapo in the film provides the surplus of male sex work to a capital region whose herd seems to need tending from an ever-willing pack of virile males. Manila completes the eretopolitics of Olongapo by providing the new base from which trafficking of the flesh is negotiated. Instructive in this discursive field is the notion of excess, as it names the diasporic movement of male sex work from the country to the city in legionary terms, ascribing to the flight a force best expressed in the idiom of swarm, horde and yes, stampede. In the metropole, the excess of male bodies need not threaten the balance of trade. If we consider the clientele, who in desiring only produces a suplus of longings, the omnipresence of male sex work will no longer astound us, for we finally come to understand why there is a mass production of male sex work in the city because they perceive the setting as one overflowing with the capital that would free them from a condition of economic scarcity. Macho Gigolo particularizes the male sex worker that services the metropolitan context by singling out an expert, the male escort. The choice to identify the said type answers the question of why the film dwells in the familiar, to make more palpable our reckoning with the urban estrangement, social immobility and albeit elaborately, spiritual retreat. The alienation takes place when maleness becomes an indefinite undertaking for Manny (Lito Lapid). If his performance falls short of the expected display of prowess, then musculature need not be a primary criterion in purchasing the goods of masculinity. If the pleasure of the visual matches that of the performative, only then can an man preserve his mythic wholeness.
Marilou Diaz-Abaya's critique departs from the imaginings of Lino Brocka's Macho Dancer (1989) who has worked through the question of male sex work under the social realist paradigm. A film leaning towards the latter will have to dramatize a range of social forces which restrain and finally disable the individual to rise out of the condition of poverty. With or without the dream of the good life, Macho Dancer portray the male sex worker as someone left without any choice but to sell his body. The pathos that this premise conjures is obtuse, for it rests on a false humanism, the bourgeois lamneting the perils of the lumpen throng, as if the former has not contributed to the latter's dispossession. Such philanthrophic guises are not found in Macho Gigolo, whose society works out its poignant tragedies in the humble energies of the everyday and not through the grand forces of messianic history. The film's settings are open milieus whose unruly arrangements tangentially capture political terrains and not cordoned locations whose insularity exaggerates by way of allegory, the unlikelihood of politicized and politicizing landscapes. Residing in these locales are Flor (Josephine Manuel), Manny's girlfriend, Chaca (Celia Rodriguez), a transvestite night club performer and Jake (Mark Gil), a hustler who are inhibited by the imbalance in the social ecology and not just non-iniates stripped of their virtues in a morality play. Portrayed is human interaction, conflict only arises because of the clash of desires and interests and not just because of individual mores and manners sticking out of the social fabric. In other words, Macho Gigolo evinces the ethnographic, a mode that most aptly configures a context, breaking down familiar experience into the perceptive and the perceptible, those details, patterns and motions of local knowledge. Such a framework goes beyond the defiles of expose and the shame of exposure, but remains within the bounds of cinematic exposition, or the visual essay. Celia Rodriguez carries a body that tacitly wishes to disappear. In the film, she is untouchable and she knows it. Josephine Manuel whose concept of body acting is limited to a grimace can only arouse pity. We understand that her character is supposed to state an oxymoron, but what happened with the contradiction? If there was any advantage Mark Gil had as an actor in the film, it would have been hindsight. Gil seems to have misunderstood why Abaya chose him for the role, to complete the path he has traversed as an actor in the genre playing the part of a hustler providing an ironic twist to its typicality. Lito Lapid plays the eponymous character with utter vitality. Lapid is rather limited by his face but the psychological restlessness he invests into the role glows, enabling him to release a persistent sexuality. At some point, Lapid is rather unsexed and therefore miscast but the hunger is there, an authentic one that makes him a savage aesthete. This understanding of emptiness must be the reason why Lapid knows when to go before he is singed by his own advances. His seduction is by turns sly and timid, one that draws very near to escape.
Directed By: Marilou Diaz-Abaya
Written By: Oscar Miranda
Director Of Photography: Manolo R. Abaya
Film Score: Jun Latonio
Film Editors: Manolo R. Abaya And Mark Tarnate
Production Design: Don Escudero And Edmund Ty
Produced By: Lotus Films, Inc.
Release Date: March 20, 1981