Still from Der Lachende Stern (The Laughing Star) Dir. Werner Schroeter, Germany, 1983, 110 min., German with English subtitles
German auteur Werner Schroeter’s experimental documentary Der Lachende Stern (The Laughing Star)
(1983) screens as part of Melodrama Against Dictatorship
. This two-part programme features films produced in the Philippines during Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship which elaborate methodologies of political consciousness through cinematic means.
Der Lachende Stern interweaves news footage, interviews, and highly-stylised staged scenarios, providing kaleidoscopic fragments of the legacies of European and American colonialism while launching a scathing critique of the Marcos regime and its cultural policy. The film resulted from Schroeter’s visits to the Philippines in the 1980s following invitations from the University of the Philippines Film Center and Imelda Marcos’ second Manila International Film Festival.
Ferdinand Marcos was, according to film scholar Talitha Espiritu, ‘a master of political spectacle, and melodrama was both the mode and modus operandi of his statecraft.’ The Marcos rule was characterized by plunder and crony capitalism in the economic sphere, in combination with a ‘renaissance’ of culture under the auspices of the state, spearheaded by the First Lady Imelda Marcos. Overflowing state support for cultural production and infrastructure was coupled with intensified censorship and repression. Under such conditions, cinema became a particularly fraught site in which the regime attempted to anchor its legitimacy, and through which numerous artists risked staging their resistance.
Just months after taking office in 2016, current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a known admirer of Marcos, successfully pushed forward plans to bury the preserved body of the late dictator at the National Heroes’ Cemetery in Manila. This dramatic gesture of historical revisionism is one of a series of attempts to infuse the present with nostalgia for an authoritarian past and with romance for a neo-imperial future. Continuing to govern in alignment with Marcos’ rule, Duterte could be thought of as another master melodramatist in the contemporary age of digital media.