A film like Rakenrol isn’t for everyone – it’s cliquish, insular, and riddled with private jokes – but for the people it meant to speak to, it is irreplaceable. A coming-of-age romance with the cadence of a quirky rockumentary, the 2011 film was helmed by two people with front-row seats to the continuing unfolding of Pinoy rock: writer-director Quark Henares, whose family ran Manila’s most transformative rock-format radio station (the now-defunct NU 107), and screenwriter Diego Castillo, guitarist for Sandwich, one half of DJ-ing duo The Diegos, and all-around scene mainstay.
While the film served as influential indie vehicle for its leads – Jason Abalos (who plays lovelorn Odie) and Glaiza de Castro (the starry-eyed Irene) – Rakenrol is largely a love letter to Manila’s vibrant indie music scene in the mid-aughts. In celebration of its 10th year, Rakenrol began streaming via Netflix on February 4, providing a time-machine ride to the years of supergroup Cambio, rock bar Mag:Net, and erstwhile gigs like Meiday and Admit One, among other hallmarks of the period.
Henares and Castillo are longtime pals, and it was the more senior guitarist, in fact, who turned the filmmaker on to cinema. “I was, like, 12. He showed me Reservoir Dogs, then Scorsese,” Henares shares. One title among Castillo’s many recommendations stood out: John Schultz’s Bandwagon, a little-known fictional band movie from 1996, which became – in addition to cultural landmarks like Singles and The Commitments – the blueprint for Rakenrol.
It may not be the most polished in Henares’ multi-faceted filmography, but what Rakenrol lacked in sheen, it made up for in emotional resonance (and a hearty serving of shits and giggles). With fiction and history doing a frantic tango, the film lends the viewer an opportunity for some vicarious roleplay. It’s where the band Hapipaks, melodically memorable but shoddy at best, can call Ely Buendia a fan; where a ridiculous, self-centered maniac like Jacci Rocha (played by Diether Ocampo) enjoys an adoring following; where self-styled artistes like video director Flame Tigerblüden (Ramon Bautista) and conceptual artist Yagit (Jun Sabayton) can flourish, no questions asked.
“I’m glad, in a crazy way, that we did it when we did it. It feels so outlandish [to imagine] that it could be made today!” Castillo exclaims.
NME caught up with the creative duo behind Rakenrol to relive the film’s making, as well as clue us in on real-world inspirations behind its lovable oddballs.
The film is like historical fiction, to an extent. With the social capital and the huge network between you two, did you ever consider doing a straight-up documentary? Or was telling the love story equally important?
Quark Henares: You know what? We’ve always wanted to do a docu, and we actually did start shooting it! Of course, eventually, work got in the way. But we’re both feature-film guys, so we really wanted to do a script together.
You are both such huge devourers of music. How did you arrive at certain key decisions, like what kind of band Hapipaks should be, and which real-life bands should be in the tapestry of the script, and so on?
Diego Castillo: I think [Hapipaks] was just like how any other upstart band starts, but we did want certain elements, like [Ketchup Eusebio’s character] being in an older band which both Irene and Odie were fans of, so we could have someone navigate not just them but the story as well – seeing how he had some semblance of success with Titik-O, whose song was actually from a real band I was friends with in college called Screwheads.
“Half of the lines in Rakenrol we can’t even claim we wrote, because they really happened or were said by someone else!” – Quark Henares
There are so many great music details in it, including Odie saying that Teeth’s ‘Shooting Star’ was the pivotal song for him.
QH: I know there was some math involved with ‘Shooting Star.’ So, if he’s in third or fourth-year college in 2008 when we shot it, he had to have heard something in high school that changed his life, as [the Eraserheads’] ‘Pare Ko’ and [Rivermaya’s] ‘Ulan’ did me. And I remember we looked at the breakthrough songs of 2000, 2001, and 2002, and ‘Shooting Star’ was our favorite because it wasn’t too dark or edgy, but also not too mainstream or pop.
DC: Maybe on a personal note, my affinity with Teeth also had a lot to do with it. They were the ones who I grew up with who I saw really make it in the music scene.
You are slightly different people now. Music has changed, attitudes about it have changed. The scenes and cliques have changed, and bars have shut down. Viewing it as men who are 15 years older – if we count from the year you wrote it – how do you feel about it now?
QH: I honestly need to watch it again. I think it’ll be really bittersweet. Rakenrol is so personal to us because it’s based on people we know and relationships we’ve had. Half of the lines in that movie we can’t even claim we wrote, because they really happened or were said by someone else! And yeah, all these places, faces, and events that were so important to us – like Mag:Net and Meiday – they were all there.
DC: I, too, haven’t seen it in a long time, and it’s probably like having a drink with an old friend that you’d spent a lot of formative years with – because it is semi-autobiographical, in a sense. Like Quark said, half the film are lines that were really said! [laughs] The Mayrics scene is based on a show Mike [Dizon] and I saw in college, with the idea being, if it’s your first time at [Club] Dredd or Mayrics, kids would go out of their way to be nice to you.
On that note, on the earnestness meter, you guys obviously didn’t want to be too damn serious with it, if you take the mere existence of a character like Jacci Rocha alone. But also, having “caricatures” like that is a statement in itself: that there are asses disguised as artists, and so on.
QH: You said that. [laughs]
DC: Your words, not ours! [laughs]
Without changing core elements, what would you tinker with, given the chance?
DC: I think the story is there and I love it, but if we had a bit more time and money, maybe I’d have a little more stuff in it. But in the end, it’s a snapshot of a time and place that we were in – so I think it’s perfect as it is!
QH: I’m the opposite, though! [laughs] But I don’t know. Objectively speaking, it seems we really had too much fun with it and put too many insider things in it, so I was going to say the filmmaker in me would cut it down more. But also, as Quark-and-Diego, this is almost like our home movie.
DC: No, no, I agree! But it isn’t and shouldn’t be for [everyone], too. I mean, we could’ve made it much tighter and less polarisng, but alas! It is ‘The Quark and Diego Show’! [laughs]
“We could’ve made it much tighter and less polarising, but alas – it is ‘The Quark and Diego Show’!” – Diego Castillo
But wait, when you say “less polarising,” what awful things were usually said about it then?
DC: I read some reviews saying it had “too many inside jokes”. And they’re right!
QH: Somebody said I was “venomous” for writing Jacci Rocha! I’ve never been called “venomous” before. [laughs]
Did you want to give [Jacci] some redeeming qualities? Just to make it possible for people to root for him even in the slightest?
DC: But… he didn’t really have any. [laughs]
What would Rakenrol be if it were made today, you think? Would Hapipaks make a Soundcloud?
DC: They’d cut a seven-inch!
QH: The path of bands is different now. And if you want me being fatalist, do bands even matter anymore? Maybe Odie and Irene would just do home recording as an electric duo!
I was re-watching Kevin Smith’s Mallrats the other day, for the first time since the late ’90s. And I realize I couldn’t relate to it anymore – and this made me a little sad – but it still made me laugh and I enjoyed it in the end. I feel it’s because the core me is still in there. That’s sort of how I felt when I saw Rakenrol again.
QH: People come up to me, or even my wife, to tell us that they left their desk jobs to pursue their dreams because of that Ely [Buendia] speech [in the movie]. It really makes me feel so happy that it inspired people to be filmmakers, or to stick with their passions. Actually, now that you’ve mentioned Mallrats, I’m sure that Stan Lee speech had an influence on this one, too! [laughs]
How do you feel about people saying it didn’t hold up well?
QH: There was a review that said that as a piece of cinema, it’s flawed. But the heart is so apparent. And I think Diego and I tend to agree. That’s why when you asked if we would change anything, we gave different answers!
DC: If we’re going to be honest, [that] is spot on. It doesn’t hold up well in sections, and perhaps just like Quark and I, have grown out of some of the humor we put in. But I think you can feel that it was made with so much love, too. It was who we were at that time of our lives.
Rakenrol is on Netflix now