This is a direct transcript, in the original Taglish, of three cassette tapes used during two interview sessions with Bienvenido Lumbera, then a Professor of Philippine Studies at the University of the Philippines, Director of the UP Film Center (attached to the College of Mass Communication), and founding member of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Filipino Film Critics Circle); the sessions were held at his office at Room 3104 of the UP Faculty Center. Lumbera completed a doctorate in comparative literature at Indiana University in 1968 and was arrested for alleged subversion during the martial law era. He had published Revaluation: Essays on Philippine Literature, Cinema, and Popular Culture ([Quezon City]: Index, 1984) and Tagalog Poetry, 1570-1898: Tradition and Influences in Its Development (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1986) by the time the published version of the interview came out; his subsequent books would include Likhang Dila, Likhang Diwa (Pasig: Anvil, 1993), Writing the Nation / Pag-akda ng Bansa (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2000), and Re-viewing Filipino Cinema (Manila: Anvil, 2011), as well as a revised version of Revaluation. He would also thereafter win the Ramon Magsaysay Award and be declared a National Artist of the Philippines as well as a UP Professor Emeritus.
The published version of the interview – restructured, translated to English, and comprising only about a third of this transcript – was titled “Bienvenido Lumbera,” and announced on National Midweek magazine’s cover as “Critic in Academe” (April 4, 1990: 20-22, 46). Prior to editing the interview for publication, I had asked him if he wanted to revise or withhold any answers that I had recorded, specifying a now-inactive reviewer that he mentioned; he insisted on keeping everything public. The fact that this and other detours into what appeared to be certain pet issues didn’t appear in the edited (and translated) version of this interview had more to do with relevance and a limited word count. [Many thanks to Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr., founding Chair of the Young Critics Circle and my then-cohost in DZUP’s “Kritika” program, for help in formulating the questions; and to Theo Pie for assisting in the transcription and revisions.]
Session I: January 10, 1990
Let’s begin with your directorship of the UP Film Center. Is there anything new that you intend to do?
Well, I came to the Film Center as a director who was expected to put into effect the attachment of the Film Center to the College of Mass Communication. And this meant that I was entering the center anticipating certain problems. The previous director and her staff had resisted the attachment to the CMC for a number of reasons and therefore, my entry into the scene meant that initially, I was going to encounter certain difficulties in running the Film Center. There is still some lingering resistance to the idea of attachment. However, I’ve been able to get cooperation from the members and the staff. Now, the full implementation of the attachment has not yet been carried out, but I expect that within this academic year, the mechanics of that will have been worked out. Ang unang dahilan kung bakit hindi kaagad maisakatuparan ang attachment ay ang pangangailangan na maisaayos muna ang organisasyon ng Film Center. At yung pagsasaayos na yon ay nagawa na – meron na ngayong organizational structure na siya naming kasalukuyang sinusunod. Merong apat na bahagi ang Film Center, ang administration section, tapos research and information section, then we have archives and cinematheque section, then we have production and training section. So itong apat na section ay bale pagmumulan ng mga proyekto na isasakatuparan sa loob ng darating na taon.
Isn’t it right na kung hindi maisakatuparan ang attachment e hindi maisasagawa ang mga proyekto ninyo?
No, hindi naman sa ganon, pero yung attachment kasi merong signal para sa academic community – na ang Film Center ay hindi hiwalay sa buhay ng akademiya, na ito ay aktibong bahagi ng akademiya, at ang mga program nito at saka ginagawa nito, mga proyekto nito, ay may kinalaman sa direksyon na nais tunguhin ng unibersidad. So, sa tingin ko, nung mga nakaraang taon kumilos ang Film Center na wala namang attachment. So that means it can continue to function on its own. However as I see the mandate that was given to me, ang kailangan ay maiayon ang Film Center sa mga tunguhin ng unibersidad, sa particular, sa mga tinutunguhan ng CMC. Halimbawa, yung pag-ugnay ng Film Center sa industriya ng pelikula sa Pilipinas, isang pagkilala na ang industriyang ito ay may papel na ginagampanan sa lipunang Pilipino, at ang Film Center ay makakatulong upang makaambag ang unibersidad doon sa gawain ng pelikula, bilang isang anyo ng kultura na lubhang epektibo.
May kinalaman ba itong bagong direksyon ng Film Center sa iyong mga mungkahi sa iyong mga nakaraang sinulat?
Oo. Unang-una, interesado ako na ang pag-aaral ng pelikula ay magkaroon ng status sa akademiya. Bale nais kong makita na sa mga darating na panahon, ang pelikula at ang pag-aaral nito ay kinikilalang bahagi ng gawaing pang-akademiko, na hindi ito isang dibersyon, hindi ito pagkahilig lamang sa mga artista, na hindi ito isang pampalipas-oras, na ito ay may mahalagang sinasabi tungkol sa lipunang Pilipino. Ang ganitong pananaw by binigyan ng pormal na anyo nang buksan ang serye ng mga pelikulang Cubano sa Film Center noong Nobyembre o Disyembreng nakaraan, at doon sa pagkakataong yon, pinahayag ng UP Film Center ang oryentasyon nitong pang-Ikatlong Daigdig. Sa programa namin, kinilala ang mga filmmaker na gumagawa ng pelikula sa iba’t ibang bansa sa Ikatlong Daigdig – sa Asya, Afrika, at Amerika Latino. Inaasahan namin na sa mga darating na taon, magkakaroon ng pagkakataon ang mga mag-aaral ng UP at ang manonood ng pelikula sa Kamaynilaan na makakita ng mga pelikulang Afrikano at saka mas marami pang pelikulang Amerika Latino at Asyano.
May mga problema sa pag-aaral ng history ng Philippine Cinema na sinulat niyo. Are you envisioning the Film Center to take charge of these?
Yes. Ang research and information section ay merong research and publication projects at ang isang tinatanaw na gagawin ng section na ito ay ang pananaliksik tungkol sa pananaliksik. Maaaring gawin ito sa pamamagitan ng commissioned research, magkakaroon ng pondo, at maaari rin naming magsimulang ilatag ng mga mananaliksik na kasalukuyan nang nagtatrabaho sa loob ng Film Center. Isang iniisip ko ang oral history ng industriya ng pelikula nung mga dekada ’50. Bakit yung dekadang yon ang napili? Kasi marami pa sa mga artista at mga filmmaker nung dekada ’50 ang buhay pa at pwede pang makapanayam. Kung masisimulan ito at matatapos sa darating na taon, nais ko sanang makita na mabuo ang isang higit na kongkretong kasaysayan ng dekada ’50 nang ang mga studio ay aktibo pa – LVN, Sampaguita, at Premiere at iba pang mga maliliit na studio nung panahong iyon.
So is it valid to say na yung directorship ng Film Center is in line with your intention to do something for Philippine cinema?
Well I do not want to see the Film Center as my own research center, pero totoo na iilan pa ang mga akademiko na nag-ukol ng panahon sa pag-aaral ng pelikula. At itong sukat na pagpasok ko sa Film Center ay wari bagang yung mga dati kong binabalak ay siya kong ipatutupad – yon ay sa kadahilanang sa unibersidad, UP sa particular at sa iba pang mga kampus sa Pilipinas, wala naman talagang seryosong pag-uukol ng panahon sa pelikula, at nandiyan yung Film Center, pwede itong maging sentro ng ganung pagbibigay ng kaukulang posisyon sa pelikula sa loob ng akademiya.
Since when did you have this plan as critic-scholar to take advantage of opportunities to carry out your views on Philippine cinema?
Nung magsimula akong mag-research tungkol sa pelikulang Pilipino, nakita ko na hindi pwedeng gawin ang lahat ng isang tao lamang dahil hindi pa nalalatag ang pundasyon ng pananaliksik sa pelikula sa ating lipunan at ang bawat magkaroon ng interes sa paglilinaw sa ilang mga kwestyon tungkol sa impresyon nila sa pelikula ay kinakailangang magsimula sa pinakabatayang pananaliksik. So babalik siya sa mga dyaryo, babalik siya sa mga magasin, makikipag-usap siya sa mga taong gumagawa ng pelikula…. Kailangang mailatag na yon, dahil maraming materyal na pwedeng pagbatayan ng pananaliksik ay marupok na at iilan na ang kopya sa mga library – mga dyaryong luma, mga lumang magasin – saka isa pang marahil dapat banggitin dito, yung mga movie magazines na siyang mapagkukuhanan ng impormasyon ay hindi itinuring ng mga libraries na karapat-dapat tipunin. Kaya kung meron mang mga kopya ng mga lumang magasin tungkol sa pelikula, yan ay mangilan-ilan lamang o kaya maaaring ang mga ito ay matatagpuan lamang sa mga koleksyon ng ilang mahihilig sa pelikula noong nakaraang panahon. So napakalaki ng pangangailangan na matipon ang pinakabatayang impormasyon tungkol sa industriya ng pelikula. At noon, nang sinisimulan kong gawin ito, nakita kong ang panahon ng isang kritiko o isang istoryador ng pelikula ay hindi sapat para magawa niya lahat ng kinakailangan. Yung mga ginawa kong matatawag na historical surveys ng pelikulang Pilipino’y napaka-sketchy dahil batay lamang yan sa aking personal na pananaliksik, dahil limitado naman ang panahon ko. I was essentially a literature teacher, and a part-time student of film at that time. So kokonti lang yung panahong naiukol ko sa paghahanap ng matiyaga. Noon pa man, nang ang Film Center ay hindi pa sumasagi sa aking consciousness, nakikita ko na merong mga organisasyon ng mga mananaliksik – halimbawa noo’y yung Cultural Research Association of the Philippines (CRP), merong mga grupong tulad ng Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino – na pwedeng magsagawa ng pananaliksik. Pero hindi rin nagagampanan yan ng mga ganung organisasyon dahil halimbawa, sa CRP bagamat maraming nanonood ng sine, iilan lang naman talaga ang interesado at may pananaw na ganung kaimportante ang pelikula bilang object of study. So nang alukin ako na maging kandidato para sa directorship ng Film Center, naisip ko na isa itong pagkakataon upang ang mga proyekto na matagal ko nang iniisip ay mabigyan ng katuparan.
Going back to the period of your early years, hindi lang naman yata film ang iyong pinaghahandaan ng foundation. You were also doing critiques on other areas.
Sa katunayan, nagsimula ako sa pag-aaral ng panitikan. Pagkatapos unti-unting nakita ko na ang literature ay isang larangan na may napakaliit na audience, maliit lang yung publiko na naaapektuhan nito. At bunga ng aking pagkilos bilang isang nakisangkot sa nationalist movement, nandoon sa aking isipan yung kamalayan na ang maraming mamamayang Pilipino ay naaapektuhan ng mga anyo ng kultura na hindi sinasaklaw ng pag-aaral ng panitikan. So nandyan yung komiks, nandyan yung telebisyon, nandyan yung pelikula: ang mga ito ang merong malawak ng publiko, at samakatwid, ang mga ito ang merong anyong pangkultura na sa palagay ko ay higit dapat pagkaabalahan ng isang intelektwal na may layuning makapag-ambag sa pagbabago ng lipunan.
This is in conflict with a long-standing policy in our educational system, which is to foster interest in the direction of written literature.
Kasi naman ang educational system natin ay binuo nung panahong ang print talaga ang tinuturing na pinakamataas na ekspresyon ng mga kaisipan at adhikain ng mga mamamayan. Galing pa yan sa sistema sa Europa, galing pa sa Estados Unidos, at dumating dito nang ang privileged medium ay print. Kaya nagdaan ako sa unibersidad, nagsimula akong magturo na ang kamalayan ko ay laging nakatuon sa print medium. Nito lamang magkaroon ako ng political consciousness, nakilala ko na ang higit na dapat pagkaabalahan ng isang intelektwal na nakikisangkot sa isang kilusang naglalayon ng pagbabago ay malawak na bahagi ng sambayanan. Siyempre this creates problems for a critic or a teacher because the norms by which he had read in the past were developed as part of the print culture. Yung paglipat tungo sa popular culture necessitates chipping away at the norms that one had previously held, and it’s very difficult to completely divest yourself of what you had learned when you were in school and as you were teaching. Ang naganap sa kaso ko’y reorientation, and I’m glad na this happened at the time when more and more young people were getting drawn to a serious study of popular culture. Because the things that I cannot do by virtue of my background and my education and my age, the young people can do.
Is this part of a belief that for the popular culture critic, age can be a liability?
Liability only in the sense that if you hold on to what you had learned in the past as the truth, as the unchanging core of information and insights that you’re going to live by, you’re going to get isolated as the years go by. As society changes, cultural change brings about changes in norms and orientations, and everyone has to be ready to accommodate himself to these changes.
Can you give any example of how someone else has gone beyond what you yourself had begun?
In the case of, say, literary studies, I think young people whom I taught and are now teachers and practicing critics have gone beyond what they learned from me. They have moved into areas that we did not even envision at the time when we were in the classroom together. Iba na yung kanilang pananaw tungkol sa panitikan at tungkol sa kultura, at kung paano ito nagbabago sa loob ng isang lipunan.
The fact that you can recognize the reality of change – does this mean that you had to adjust your original perceptions as well?
I think so, very definitely. The first time I wrote [an article] about film – this was about the early 1960s – what I tried to do was explain why Filipino films could not be as good as foreign films. So I was in the sense looking for qualities that I had found in foreign movies, in films that I saw in the Philippines. Of course, when I look back on that article now, I see that that was a foolhardy thing to do because I had not taken into consideration the history behind these films, the culture out of which these films were born. I was only seeing them as texts removed from the cultural context in which they functioned. Between then and now, I’m glad to say that I have revised my views considerably. Like noon ang hinahanap ko yung what I called the logic of irony, which noon was not to be found in the Filipino movies that I surveyed. There were only one or two films out of siguro mga eight or ten that I talked about which I thought answered my demands for that logic of irony.
What were these titles?
[Cesar Gallardo’s] Kadenang Putik and, I think, [Gerardo de Leon’s] Huwag Mo Akong Limutin. Later I realized, kung ang ginagamit kong pamantayan ay ganito na ilan lang ang nakapapasa, then there must be something wrong with the norms I’m using, so I had to revise that. Initially I though that that was what was originally to the taste of the masses, of the uneducated. But it’s been seen that when you have a set of norms, and the norms do not allow too many samples of specimens to pass through, then there’s something askew. Fortunately by now I think I’ve gotten over this.
Are you implying however that a lot of critics or even scholars are still trapped in that frame of mind with which you started out?
It’s very difficult to break out of that what-you-call trap because the source of film culture in the Philippines is not only local. It’s heavily foreign – through videos, imports, film series such as what we see in Goethe-Institut or the British Council or Alliance Française. What we get are inputs that are largely foreign and therefore, it’s very difficult to begin to look at Filipino movies as a product of a very specific culture. So, that’s true: na marami pang critics and reviewers who are operating under the culture created by all these films that they have seen outside the things that came from Philippine society. But I think ang importante is that more and more young Filipinos in the universities are watching Filipino films, and these are students who also get exposed to the questions that can be traced to Philippine culture vis-à-vis the culture of the West and colonial powers and so on. Ang kanilang awareness is in fact different from that of one who came out of the 1950s, like me, na in a society such as I lived through walang politicization na nagaganap sa consciousness ng mga tao. Ngayon yung mga bata, whether they were conscious of it or not, who went through a university education in the ’70s and ’80s are students who have a more sophisticated understanding of society. Therefore when they look at Tagalog films, they have begun to see how these films relate to the realities in our society.
Can you say that this has been your contribution so far to creating critical awareness in the Philippines?
I do not want to make that claim. What I certainly hope is that that’s one of the effects of my writing, but I would not want to see it as my sole personal contribution. Several other people – the Manunuri [for instance] – were of the same mind as I, and I think through interaction we have together come up with certain ways of looking at Filipino movies. That I think those who have been exposed to the writings of the Manunuri and its former members more or less have shown.
Are there certain other things that you wanted then that you see have been realized today?
Yung sinasabi kong more serious look at Filipino movies – I think now we see the application of theory, largely drawn from Western theory, in the films that are shown. Ano’ng kahalagahan nung paggamit ng theory? – ibig sabihin, pagka nanood ka ng pelikula, hindi mo na lang tinitingnan yung pelikula bilang isang anyo ng aliwan; meron na itong sinasabi tungkol sa isang kultura’t lipunan, sinadya man o hindi, diretsahan man o hindi sa pelikulang napapanood. Sa palagay ko yon e bahagi na nung pagseryoso sa pelikulang Pilipino. From the reviews that one finds in such publications as the Collegian, makikita mo na kung hindi man akmang-akma yung kanilang ginagamit na paglalatag ng teorya, nandun yung pagtingin sa pelikula bilang isang anyong pangkultura na mahalagang seryosohin.
What would be some other things that disappoint you sa kasalukuyan dahil hindi pa natutupad?
Of course one of the things that I hoped would happen would be for Filipino movies to keep getting better and better. So after 1976, one would hope that as the years passed, more and more films would be of the same weight and quality as the films that were then produced. In spite of my recognition that these are products of an industry, nandun pa rin yung expectation ko na after all, since the industry had been able to produce these films, perhaps in the coming years more of these films would come out – no longer as films made exclusively for elite viewers or that had overt artistic intentions, kundi parang magiging bahagi ng products ng industry yung technical polish, thematic sophistication, o mga subtleties of performance whether in the writing, direction, or acting, yung mga ganun. You would think na magiging bahagi yun ng culture, pero given the conditions obtaining in our industry, apparently ang mga ito, the exemplars from the 1970s, e hindi nagiging bahagi ng tradisyon. Parang essentially mga sinadyang pelikula pa rin. Kumbaga sa damit e hecho-derecho, mga specially made for particular occasions, hindi yung naging bahagi nung pag-iisip, pamamaraan, paggawa ng mga filmmaker. Ang lagi kong binabalikan dito ay yung studio system na nagbigay ng pagkakataon sa mga filmmaker na makagawa ng iba’t ibang klaseng pelikula within one year. Nakakontrata sila sa isang studio, kayat maaaring yung projects na kanilang gagawin e not all highly intelligent or aesthetic pero at least meron silang pagkakataong gumawa ng iba’t ibang klaseng pelikula – sigurado. Sa ating panahon, bawat director e parang bibigyan ka ng pagkakataon ngayon – susubukan pa. Kahit ikaw ay isang [Lino] Brocka o isang [Ishmael] Bernal, titingnan pa rin na “O sige, gumawa ka ng pelikulang ito, kung pumatok yan mapalad ka.” Walang pag-unlad na tinatanaw ang pagbibigay ng assignment sa mga filmmaker. Sa [1950s] sistema ng studio, merong at least potential for growth yung isang filmmaker, pati mga artista, pati mga technicians.
May mga nagsasabi na nag-comeback na raw ang studio system na yan sa kasalukuyan.
Ya, we have … some kind of studio system in the sense na merong malalaking kompanya na gumagawa ng pelikula. The way I size it up, ang Seiko, Viva, Regal, meron silang tinatawag ng stable of directors and actors, pero sa tingin ko, yung kanilang pagbibigay ng assignments sa mga actors and filmmakers e naiiba dahil parang – nandito si Phillip (Salvador), nakakontrata siya sa atin, so kailangang gumawa tayo ng isang pelikula. Ang yung pelikulang dinudumog ngayon ng mga tao? Kung yon ay aksyon, di gagawin nating action star si Phillip. Hindi yung parang meron kang mga talents at tinitingnan nung mga producers kung saan mahusay yung aktor o aktres o direktor na ito. O kailangang meron tayong comedy, meron tayong melodrama, meron tayong musical sa loob ng taong ito. Sino ba yung mga mahusay sa musical, halimbawa? – o itong si ganito, di ilagay natin dito. May latitude noon. Sa tingin ko sa ngayon, essentially exploitative yung paggamit sa mga filmmakers; so ganito ngayon yung pinapasok ng mga tao, bold [halimbawa], nakagawa na si ganito ng pelikulang melodrama pero hindi pa muna kumikita ito, di unahin nating i-release ang bold na lang. It’s a highly manipulative system at present, and I’m tempted to call it unprincipled sa pagbibigay ng assignments. Purely business, purely commercial ang tinatanaw ng mga producers natin ngayon. Now I’m not saying na sina Doña Sisang [de Leon of LVN], Doc [Jose] Perez [of Sampaguita], Doña Adela [Santiago of Premiere] – these were people who were only interested in art; no, mga yan, business people din. Pero siguro during the 1950s mas relaxed yung mga businessmen, mas kampante sila na nandito yung industriya, sa loob ng isang taon ito yung ating line-up, naplano na kung malugi yung pelikulang ito, meron tayong big production dito na siguradong aakit ng maraming tao – yung ganong planning na essentially is a rational kind of capitalist planning. Ang tingin ko sa ngayon parang frenetic exploitative capitalist manipulation ang nakikita natin sa industriya.
Do you think then we should make moves to initiate a return to the old ways?
No, I do not envision a return to the studio system the way it was found in the 1950s. Kahit sa States namatay na rin yung studio system, hindi na nangyari yung naganap. Pero nang mabagsak ang studio system nila, nagkaroon ng pagkakataon yung tinatawag na independent filmmakers na gumawa ng mga pelikula na nung panahon ng studio system e hindi posible dahil hindi umaayon sa plano ng mga kapitalista. Bagamat independent filmmakers na ang umiiral sa US, the standards of technical excellence were carried over from the studio system. Sa kaso natin, walang ganung nangyari dahil nga nung paglitaw nung independent filmmakers, nagha-hire lang sila nung equipment kaya agawan sa mahuhusay na equipment; kung sino yung mas malaki’ng kapital, siya’ng nakakakuha ng mas mahusay na equipment, at kung pwede naming tipirin, ginagawa. So ang nangyari, the people who took over after the collapse of the studio system in the Philippines were businessmen plain and simple. It seems to me that they were no longer truly involved in filmmaking as an industry. They were using filmmaking as a means to make money – which I think is quite different from being involved in it as an industry. Yun bang meron ka talagang interest sa paggawa ng pelikula dahil ito ay isang industriyang nakasanayan mo na, isang industriya na siyang nagbigay ng kayamanan sa iyong pamilya o angkan. Ang mga filmmaker na lumitaw [nung independent period], mga one-shot deals ang sa kanila: o gagawa tayo ng pelikula na siguradong tatabo sa takilya, magi-invest yung isang filmmaker, malulugi siya so sorry na lang, ayaw ko na. Meron naming mga kapitalista na magi-invest sila, malaki’ng tubo so gawa pa uli sila, pero ang kanilang gusto hindi yung similar film na gagana ng husto sa takilya.
That’s what I mean by exploitative filmmaking: nawala na yung iyong pride in the products of the industry, seeing the making of films as simply a business venture. Kung gumana, di gagawa pa tayo ng iba pang pelikula; kung hindi gumana, e ayoko na. Sa kaso ng mga Santiago, mga De Leon, nalulugi rin sila siyempre, pero para silang gumagawa ng sapatos o sombrero; ito’y industriya na kanilang pinalago, so gusto nilang ipagpatuloy – meron silang personal na pagmamahal sa ginagawa nila. Siyempre mahirap sabihin na walang pagmamahal si Mother Lily sa pelikulang ginagawa niya, pero hindi lumalabas yung ganung pagmamalaki na nandito yung kanilang kabuhayan – nagbuhos sila dito ng kayamanan at nagbigay ito ng kayamanan sa kanila at ito ay isang industriya na kanilang pinalago. Ang kanilang nakikita e yung mga pelikulang naging landmark dahil tumubo ng napakalaki, dahil naging pagpapatuloy ng kanilang paggawa ng isang klaseng pelikula. Halimbawa pagka pinag-uusapan e Regal at si Mother Lily [Monteverde], nandun yung Sister Stella L.: sa palagay ko kung binabanggit ito ang naaalala lang kunwari e, napakalaking lugi na sinapit ng kompanya niya at samakatwid, ayaw na ayaw niyang gumawa ng ganyang pelikula. Yung ganung pagtingin e hindi naman maaalis sa mga taong nagi-invest ng pera sa paggawa ng pelikula pero yung ganung pananaw natural e hindi nagpapasigla sa paglikha ng mga pelikulang maipagmamalaki ng mga taong gumagawa.
But filmmakers may claim na kaya nakakatagal sila sa ganitong klaseng sistema e because they could manage to gain additional skills by merely surviving in the system.
That would be very good for the commercial gains that filmmakers get out of filmmaking. I doubt kung me maiaambag ito tungo sa paggawa ng makabuluhang pelikula. Siyempre laging bawat isang filmmaker na seryoso sa kanyang propesyon ay me pangarap na darating din ang pagkakataon na makakagawa siya ng gusto niyang gawin. In the meantime, ginagawa ko muna kung ano’ng gusto ni Mother [Lily] o ni Robbie [Tan of Seiko Films], pero mabibigyan din ako ng pagkakataon. I wonder kung yung ganung pag-asa ay magaganap, given the present system.
Pero hindi ba me continuity yung system na pinag-uusapan natin ngayon at yung naglabas nung ’70s ng napakaraming quality products?
Alam mo ang ’70s were a conjuncture of several factors. Nandun yung pagpasok ng mga young scriptwriters in the industry; nakapasok sila dahil kailangan ng industriya ng mga magsusulat ng script kasi hinihingi ng mga board of censors na merong dapat na finished script. So merong yung magkakaibang tunguhin: iba yung gusto ng mga censors, iba yung sa mga studio, iba sa young filmmakers, pero sa pagtatagpong iyon, nagkaroon ng posibilidad na makalikha ng mga pelikulang makabuluhan, so there was a burst of energy. Then … ay, hindi pala kumikita yung mga pelikulang ganito, so nag-backtrack na yung mga producers. From that point on, yung mga nakapasok na sa industriya e nakapuwesto na, so pwede na silang gumawa ng script na mas makabuluhan kesa sa nauna. Yung mga direktor, meron na ring foothold in the industry. Sa kasalukuyan, yung mga nakapasok are disadvantaged by the fact na ang mga producers nga ay sigurista – gusto na lang nila e yung siguradong magpapasok ng malaking income. Nandiyan din siyempre yung taxes, both national and local, na nagpapabigat sa gastos sa paggawa ng pelikula. Maiintindihan natin kung bakit ang laging target ng mga producer ay iyong megahits, blockbusters, dahil tunay naman na kapag gayon lang ang iyong target, saka ka gagana, tutubo sa paggawa ng pelikula. Wala yung idea na hindi naman malulugi, yun bang gagana lang yung pelikula – hindi pwede yung ambisyon na ganun lang, na yung gagawin mong pelikula e yung sasapat lang para magkaroon ng konting tubo. Sa tingin ko, wala yan sa consciousness ng businessmen na gumagawa ng pelikula. Kasi nga napakalaki ng investment, napakalaki ng mga gastos na dapat tugunin – taxes and so on, so kailangan talagang ang iyong target a napakalaking tubo. E ano yung mga pelikulang maaaring tumubo ng ganun? Halimbawa’y Last Two Minutes [ni Mike Relon Makiling]: siyempre nung gawin yan ang target talaga diyan to make a hit, para bang to break box-office records. E pagka gayon ang iyong layunin – narito yung direktor (dapat alam niya yon) at meron ka diyang mga big stars at mga patok na eksena, so [kailangang] me mga sexual titillation or very plotty scenes, o violence that outdoes that of other films – yung ganung mga gimmicks ang napagtutuunan. So yung filmmaker na nakagawa na ng mahuhusay na pelikula, ayun ngayon yung kanyang kinakailangang tugunin para maging big hit yung kanyang pelikula. Wala na yung mga modest pictures, mga little movies that are not going to create a lot of income for the company pero hindi naman malulugi. Sana kung magkaroon ng ganung pagkakataon ang mga filmmakers na hindi sila laging obligado na ang [dapat] gawin e yung mga box-office hits, siguro magkakaroon pa tayo ng mas mahusay na climate for making films.
Other industry people say na itong paghina sa paggawa ng pelikula e bahagi lamang ng isang international trend – yung tinatawag ng video revolution.
I think that’s definitely true in First-World countries. Pero sa palagay ko sa Pilipinas hindi pa ganyan ang reality. Sa Japan, tunay na kumonti na ang mga nanonood ng pelikula nila. Bakit? – kasi yung mga artista’t direktor sa telebisyon na nagtatrabaho, [kaya] pwede nang makita yung mga performers sa mga TV shows. Sa kaso ng mga Pilipino, bagama’t ang telebisyon ay gumagamit sa maraming movie stars o directors, hindi pa rin naaabot ng TV shows ang naaabot na audience ng pelikula. Ano yung audience na ’yon? – those away from city centers like Manila, yung mga taong uuwi pag Sabado o Linggo para mamili sa bayan at bago umuwi’y manonood muna ng pelikula. Palagay ko, yung audience na yon e malaking bahagi nung para sa pelikulang Pilipino. Sa ating mga moviehouses, ang dami pa ring nanonood – at napupuno, standing room, ang mga ito. Sa foreign countries, hindi na ganun ang phenomenon kaya nga lumiliit nang lumiliit ang mga sinehan. Pero sa atin, sa tingin ko, despite the fact that even with video na pwede mong marentahan, ang dami pa ring pumapasok sa sinehan: one, because people outside of Manila have no access to video players; isa pa, ang nasa video players e mga foreign movies mostly. E ang Tagalog movies ang talagang pinapanood ng mga Filipino.
So is it in this context of hopefulness dahil pinapatronize pa rin ng masses ang pelikula and on the other hand the desperation of the industry in surviving that you expect academe to step in and make changes?
I don’t know if academe can do anything about that. Siguro ang tangi lang magagawa – on this, I can speak with some degree of certainty – ng academe ay seryosohin ang products ng industriya, whether ito ay artistic o hindi. Yung ating pinag-uusapan previously e yung mga factors na nagmi-militate against the making of finer movies. Ngayon, sabi ko nga academe cannot intervene actively and has no power to compel capitalists to make better movies. Yung nakikita kong serbisyo ng academe e suriin yung mga produkto ng industriya regardless of aesthetic quality and read these products and give a report of what these products tell us about Philippine society.
Wouldn’t you say there has been a trend, at least in politics, to link up with academic institutions – like in the hiring of personnel, making consultations, and so on, at pinapayagan din ng industriya dahil me difference na pulitika lang naman yan at hindi negosyo?
Ang gobyerno naman ay walang malinaw na pag-unawa sa industriya, tinitingnan lang nito bilang a source of revenue. They get bothered by films that they think will disturb people, tulad ng Orapronobis, tulad noon ng Batch ’81 at City After Dark, pero isolated cases yan. Sa kanilang consciousness itong pelikula’y ginagawa para magkakwarta yung kapitalista kaya kinakailangang magkaroon ng kabahagi yung gobyerno. I think those are the simple facts of thinking among bureaucrats about the film industry.
But wasn’t there an attempt to be more supportive on the part of the previous regime?
Nung panahon ni Marcos na nagkaroon ng Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, nanduon yung layunin na mag-intervene ang gobyerno para makalikha ng mahusay na pelikula. Yung intervention na yon was spurious dahil alam natin na that was purely to mask other forms of exploitation of the industry and the Filipino people by the Marcos regime. Gusto ni Imelda ng international film festival, kaya kailangang bigyan ng justification ang pagpasok ng gobyerno sa ganung napakagastos na venture, so ginawa yung ECP [Experimental Cinema of the Philippines] – which was a good idea, but it was a very indulgent luxury that the government went in for. Tunay na hindi kaya ng gobyernong Pilipino na magkaroon ng isang opisina na ang tanging layunin e makagawa ng mahuhusay na pelikula dahil magastos ang paggawa nito. Hindi laging nababawi ang puhunan. And ang pamahalaan natin cannot really all the more afford the luxury of subsidizing films the way the ECP did.
Does this mean that it’s closer to the ideal now na hindi na nakikialam ang gobyerno sa industriya ng pelikula?
Oo, pero alam mo sa kasalukuyan, sa isa ngang pag-uusap ng mga manunuri tungkol sa pelikula, lumabas ang obserbasyon na nung panahon ni Marcos, mas posible pang maglabas ng mga pelikulang lumilihis sa gusto ng gobyerno. Sa ngayon, mas nahihirapan na makagawa ng ganung pelikula. Siyempre nandiyan ang board of censors at ang napaka-devious reasoning ng mga censors sa pagbibigay-pagmamatuwid sa kanilang paghihigpit. Pagkatapos, nandun yung control ng distributors sa mga exhibitors sa pagbibigay-daan para ang isang pelikula’y makita ng maraming tao. Siyempre meron silang business na pinangangalagaan at nag-aalala sila na kung sila’y magiging maluwag sa mga pelikulang hindi nagugustuhan ng censors at samakatwid hindi rin magugustuhan ng mga nasa kapangyarihan, maaaring malagay sa panganib ang kanilang economic interest. So ganun din ang mga distributors: ingat na ingat din sila sa pagpapalabas ng mga pelikula na maaaring maging ugat ng di-magandang pagtrato sa kanila sa mga darating na araw. At siyempre nandun yung uh, goodwill ng publiko sa gobyernong Cory Aquino; parang tinitingnan ng mga distributors at producers na ang mga taong ito ay maaaring magalit kung sila ay maging maluwag sa pagpapalabas ng mga pelikulang kumakalaban sa mga di-makatwirang patakaran ng pamahalaan. Nung panahon ni Marcos, me censorship, me fear for business pero marahil na ang isang decisive factor sa panahong yon e malawak at malalim ang diskontento ng mga mamamayan laban sa umiiral na diktadura. At samakatwid, merong nangangahas na magpalabas nung kanilang tunay na opinion tungkol sa nangyayari sa bayan. Sayang naman kung pagkaraan lang ng dalawampung taon ng Cory regime e [saka pa lang] magkakaroon ng lakas ng loob yung ating mga filmmakers at producers na magpalabas ng mga pelikulang may malalim na pagsusuri sa umiiral na realidad sa ating lipunan. Sayang kung ganung katagal [tulad ng kay Marcos] ang paghihintay natin. Kasi sa panahon naman ni Marcos, medyo matagal din bago nagkaroon nung mga pelikulang talagang bumabatikos sa diktadura. So nuon na lamang kalagitnaan ng dekada ’80 nagkaroon ng mga truly anti-fascist anti-dictatorship films. Sa ating panahon, napaka-volatile ng political situation. Mga kapitalista are very sensitive to the trends ng business. Pero totoo yan, mas nahihirapan yung mga pelikulang tulad ng Orapronobis [ni Brocka] o kahit yung Birds of Prey ni Gil Portes na makaabot sa mga mamamayan dahil maraming mga di-tuwirang balakid na nakaharang sa daan ng mga progressive filmmakers.
If it was the repressive nature of the Marcos regime that incited filmmakers to be more creative, and filmmakers in other countries tend to benefit more from political freedom, would you say that this indicates a peculiarity in the Filipino psychology?
I think yung nangyari dito sa Pilipinas e hindi naman individual initiatives lang nung mga filmmakers. There was a groundswell them of public discontent and there was organization going on, so there was a movement in contrast to countries where there might be discontent among artists but it remains private or individualized. Sa kaso natin, the movement gained much support as a result of the [Aquino-Galman] assassination, and it is on this groundswell that directors and scriptwriters who were doing, let’s call them “protest” films, “political” films, rode on the groundswell of public discontent na naorganize na. Why should that be significant? – kasi, ang artist, bagamat may discontent yan, pag wala namang tumutulong sa kanya from, let us say, outside of his circle, madaling mawala ang kanyang discontent kasi ang nangyayari, hihintayin na lang niya yon and it becomes a private protest. By inclination, the artist tends more to reflect upon himself than to go out and join groups. Pero pag malakas na malakas talaga yung movement, he would be encouraged to participate. I think ganun yung nangyari in the case of Mike de Leon’s films. Mike is a very private person, as claimed by those who observe the local film scene. Pero ang kanyang mga pelikula leave no doubt na meron siyang political consciousness operating, and I would attribute that simply to the fact na alam niyang – medyo corny, pero – hindi siya nag-iisa, merong ibang taong kumikilos at sumasabay lang siya doon sa kilos na yon. Now, assuming a situation whereby there is no movement, nandyan lang si Mike de Leon: I doubt if he would have the inclination to put down on film his discontent with the situation.
So are you saying na wala na ngayon –
Kasi ngayon, as a result of EDSA, the energy of the movement has been dissipated, fragmented ngayon yung pagkilos. Now we have the centrists, the extreme Left, and the amorphous majority. I think sa ganung pangyayari, hindi focused as the protest was during the Marcos period when it was directed against the dictatorship – so whether you were centrist or extreme Left or whatever, sama-sama. And then since then there has been an awareness on the part of artists na walang malinaw na alternative na lumilitaw. Nandyan si Cory: we may not be completely happy with what she is doing to the country, but in lieu of her, sino ang susuportahan? Yon ang pwedeng what EDSA has created – the toning down of political content.
Can this framework also explain why for example between Brocka and Bernal, the one who had a better international alternative was able to sustain his political concerns in film?
Lino, in the case of Orapronobis, did a film for a foreign company which did not have to be as overtly careful as a local producer, so he was able to give full expression to his political discontent. Si Bernie [a nickname of Bernal], meron pa ring political statements. Maski sabihin ng iba medyo pilit halimbawa sa Pahiram ng Isang Umaga, he introduced the element of multinationals – how this had bankrupted local entrepreneurs like the mother of the Gabby Concepcion character, or the poor folk at the seashore talking about the high cost of living. That is an opening, a gap that Bernal saw, and pinasukan niya ng political comment. Now the entire movie is not political but humahanap din siya ng pagkakataon para mahayag yung kanyang niloloob. Saka sa kaso ni Bernal, meron siyang organizational work – so sumasali siya sa mga pagkilos sa hanay ng mga cultural workers; his participation in Bugkos has made possible stage productions na siya ang ang nagdidirek. So nung hindi siya pwede sa pelikula, he went into organizational work.
How would you compare the present crop of filmmakers – the ones who emerged during the ’80s – to the previous one?
Yung mga nag-emerge nung ’80s, ibang klase ang mga directors na mga ito. Halimbawa, kung ating iisipin si Peque [Gallaga], si Laurice [Guillen], si Marilou [Diaz-Abaya], iba yung kanilang paggawa ng pelikula; offhand, napapansin ko, parang sa kanila merong pagbibigay-diin sa mga katangian ng film medium – specific qualities of the medium. Kay Ishmael, Lino, at Eddie Romero noon, pwede mo pang ipag-separate yung form and content, makikita mo yung narrative nila, me kinukwento ito. Itong mga tulad nina Marilou’t Laurice and even Peque, you don’t remember them for the materials that they handle – like yung narratives; but instead you remember what they did to the medium, like yung attempt as in [Guillen’s] Salome – kahit sa Kasal [her first film] nandun na yun e, yung page-explore sa levels of reality and motivation ng mga tao. Sa tingin ko, yan ang kinaiiba niya doon sa mga filmmakers na older sa kanya and who entered the scene earlier. Parang ang group nila have prescinded from the overtly philosophical, political telling of materials; sa kanila, makikita yung pagbusisi sa mga detalye that one finds in reality. Mahirap ma-plot out yung kanilang political and social concerns, dahil nga it’s not so much the material anymore but the approach to reality.
Would you say this has had an effect on film practice?
I would say it is an advancement. Nakita nila na sina Lino’t Ishmael meron nang nagawa in the past, so they’re trying to go beyond what had already been done. Magkaiba yung direksyon: now, it is hoped that there would be an integration of the kind of filmwork done by the earlier masters in the direction of a more complex use of narrative, if possible, in the future. But more and more, I think mawawala na yung pagka-serious, where the artist does a narrative na me line na madaling ma-plot out.
What was the role of film critics in this kind of progression?
Wala, kasi naman critics –
– were ignored by the artists?
Oo, saka strictly speaking, we cannot talk about intensive critical activity in the local film world. Bakit? – dahil outlets were not available for the critics, and the critics do not work full-time, pasawsaw-sawsaw lang sila when the occasion arises. Siguro that is something that will have to be worked at, possibly in academe: to make critical activity more productive of critiques and reviews; pero kung ang aasahan mo yung media na nagbibigay ng outlets, mahirap nagkaroon ng ganung active critical scene.
Would it be possible to say that Filipino artists have assumed the functions that should have been performed for them by critics, in terms of evaluating their work and integrating the lessons in their succeeding output?
Actually ang critics naman talaga sumusunod lang after a body of work has been created, historically. Ang artists ang nagse-set ng direction for what they want to be doing – assuming that the artists live in a society which provides them with a sense of history. I would not want to give critics that much credit – yung setting the pace; merong, after let us say, 1976, when films were discussed “seriously.” Then some directors, sina Lino’t Ishmael, became self-conscious as artists, including some young directors. Pero yung taking the cue from critics, I don’t think that has ever happened. The fact is in our country, laging sinasabi ng mga tao, “Sino ba’ng nagbabasa sa mga critics? Sino’ng nakikinig sa kanila?” One very important development I think in contemporary use of media e yung pagsusulpot ni Gino [Dormiendo] and Mario [Hernando] as TV critics. Ito talaga merong naaabot na audience; pero yung mga nagsusulat, ang audience niyan very minimal – others who are equally interested in film criticism. Ang talagang me audience, mass audience, ngayon e yung TV critics.
Some people would say that you cannot pursue in TV yung lengths na kaya sa print medium.
That’s correct, pero ang punto diyan, you get the mass audience used to criticism, no matter how instant or superficial, narun yung someone who has watched a movie and is talking about it and telling us that this was the way he saw it. Yung audience na regularly nakakarinig diyan, I imagine, begins to think in critical terms, so hindi na sila magiging completely passive as in the past. Now those who write criticism for print – ang audience nila are perhaps film students, fellow critics, and a few professionals. These are people who maybe in the future can exert influence on the film industry pero sa ngayon, hindi sila pinakikinggan, di katulad nung mga taong nanonood ng telebisyon, yung mga taong pagkatapos ng opening day or preview iinterbyuhin – yun ang mga taong whose opinions matter to the producers, who in the long run are the ones who decide on what we’re going to see.
What about the artist as part of the critic’s audience?
That’s a noble purpose for the critic, pero I do not think that, uh … ewan ko –
That the artists would take kindly to –
Oo, and that they would care to pay that much attention to the critics – I’m talking about our local directors. I think they [the directors] think that they know better than the critics, who might be talking purely on the level of theory, “We are the ones working with the nitty-gritty,” and anumang sabihin nila [the critics], it’s okay when they say nice things about a movie. But ang tingin nila, “Alam natin yung ating ginagawa, better than all these people who tell us what we should have been doing.”
I remember in the Manunuri when we had some feedback from the industry saying na kaya lang some of us were into criticism was because gusto nating magka-break eventually sa pelikula.
I don’t think that’s something that should be begrudged any film critic. One reason why a film critic goes into analysis of film is that he’s interested in whatever it is that makes a good film. Sa kaso natin, we do not make a strict separation between the practitioner and the theoretician. Kung yung film critic eventually feels confident enough to direct a film, that should not be taken against him. Ngayon I think the real criticism is that merong mga manunuri na kaya lang nagki-critic is so that the producers would take notice, and they’d say bad things about certain movies so that the producer will mollify them. Ang suspetsa ko diyan, point of view yan ng mga movie writers, mga publicists – the movie press who have taken advantage of their position in order to advance themselves in the industry, pero kung ang pag-uusapan e tunay na interesado sa film art, there should be no reason why we should carp about film critics who’d eventually go into filmmaking.
Would you say that this was the same reason why you maintained some creative output – writing for the stage, translations and librettos – and performing occasionally?
Sa akin kasi, I never made a strict separation between the creative part of me and the analytic part. Yung pagsusulat ko for the theater derives from an original urge to do creative writing – that was what I wanted to do at the very start when I was in college then, immediately after college; then I got into teaching, so I began to be more analytical, but essentially, I guess I saw myself as a creative artist. And then when I became a teacher, for a while I toned down the creative side of me and did criticism, history.
Because it was hard to survive on creative writing?
There are very few opportunities for you to make a success of yourself as a creative artist in the Philippines. Masyadong maliit ang universe for creative artists dito sa atin. When you’re a teacher, meron kang job, meron kang audience, so you have a stable, secure, respected position; in contrast to being a creative artist na talagang ang buhay mo e to write lang, you cannot survive simply as a creative artist.
Is it possible for an essentially creative person to find fulfillment in criticism? In short, can there be creativity in criticism?
[Laughs.] Yah, I think so – the fact that you try to analyze the creative process, each time that you think about it when you’re confronted with a literary work or a film allows you to give expression to your creativity. Pero ang tinutungo nuon ay hindi yung pagbubunga nung creativity, so parang you’re analyzing somebody else’s work and you give play to your creative powers – trying to understand how it came about, what could have been done that the artist did not do. Hindi yan ang nagdadala sa iyo sa paglikha. Maybe it would later spur the critic to active creative production.
During the period of the 1986 revolution, you weren’t around. Did your absence affect the views on politics and culture you held before you left?
During the three years that I was in Japan, I honed my film sense by watching a lot of Japanese films and foreign films available there, in movie theaters and on television. It was a period during which I boned up on film art as found among the Japanese and other foreigners. I think therefore mas malawak ngayon yung aking pinaghahanguan nung mga sinasabi ko tungkol sa film, in comparison with the years when I was Philippine-bound. Ang pinaghahanguan ko nuon e memories of what I had seen when I was outside the country, what I had seen in the Philippines, and the local films that I was watching. So that’s with regard to sensitivity to film art. Being away from the Philippines especially during the last years of the Marcos dictatorship and then the first year of the Aquino regime: ang nangyari naman dito, even though I was in Japan, I continued to keep up with what was going on in the country. As a matter of fact, I had speaking engagements before Japanese audiences wherein I analyzed the Philippine situation, to give them an idea of how to look at our realities during those years. Ang EDSA revolt took place while I was out so marahil it gives me a sense of detachment from the experience. That has its own disadvantages: I know when I talk about EDSA I cannot say “I was there!” – madalas yang ginagamit nung mga people-power warriors. Pero at least what I think I have is that sense which allows me to analyze the personalities and events from a more objective point of view.
Has it provided you with any conclusion about the role of popular culture in this specific political phenomenon?
Yes, definitely, I think there is something there. EDSA has made me conscious of the need to study popular culture, to include it in finding explanations for what goes on in Philippine society, one of which is how popular culture becomes a source of power among the people by providing the ordinary people – the vast majority, those who are not academics – with images and motives that help them make crucial decisions about their lives as a community. These images and motivations in our case come from religion, popular music, komiks, movies – these all came together in giving the individual Filipino a fund of information, of insights from which he had drawn when he had to make a decision about his life and the life of the community. Yung pagiging bloodless nung revolution, which was something that one could extol, I think is an indication that it was not a revolution in the true sense of the word – one that changes structures. It was bloodless precisely because the same old structures remain. And I think pagka ang nakataya is not something na napaka-crucial sa iyong buhay, then it’s possible to have a bloodless revolution – kung totoo ngang matatawag na bloodless iyon. Pagkatapos kasi noon, ang daling nawala nung EDSA spirit na tinatawag. So people talk about euphoria, the atmosphere.… Hindi naman artificial, it was just passive, parang rebolusyong hindi natuloy, revolution manqué, hindi naisagad. Kaya nga the idea of a coup ngayon is an indication that so many things were left unresolved by the EDSA revolt. Ang na-resolve lang nuon ay yung issue of the dictatorship when Marcos was thrown out. But the structures that supported him, that made it possible for him to keep the Philippines under him for a long period of time, nandun pa yun.
Session II: January 29, 1990
You keep mentioning the scriptwriter prominently when you talk about film.
Palagay ko merong mga tututol doon sa aking pagbibigay ng emphasis sa mga scriptwriters, how their entry into the film industry shortly before 1976 changed certain things. Sa palagay ko, it’s a fact na sa pagpasok ng mga writers who had not had any previous hands-on film experience e nagkaroon ng sense of content yung ating industry. There was a time in the past when the screenplay was considered na parang guide lang for a performance. Of course meron diyang mga scriptwriters like Cesar Amigo na talagang sumusulat ng full script; Eddie Romero, Pierre Salas, although corny talaga yung kanyang mga scripts. Pero ang mga ito, sumusulat sila in an industry prior to 1976 that did not think it was important to have a filmscript. In 1976 as a result of that ruling by the board of censors, nakita ng mga producers – “Kahit na hindi namin sundin itong mga scripts, mapapakinabangan din itong mga scriptwriters kasi kaya lang aaprubahan ng censors yung aming pelikula kasi nandiyan yung buong script.” Only those who had been writing short stories, poetry, drama, or whatever could come up with a finished script. Dahil pumasok ang ganitong mga writers, nagkaroon ng papel yung scriptwriter sa paggawa ng pelikula. As it would turn out later, yung mga scripts na ginagawa e hindi rin igagalang nung producers at saka directors. Pero the fact was that nakapasok ang mga writers na ito, natutuhan nilang makibagay sa film industry. I think classic example si Ricardo Lee: talagang manunulat yan, with very definite ideas about the writing of fiction. Nakita niya na hindi niya maigigiit yung kanyang dala-dala nung pumasok siya sa film industry, so he had to learn the ropes. I think this accounts for Ricky’s durability as a scriptwriter; people find that some of his scripts are not as good as the previous ones, some of them are not far above the quality of the regular scripts that one finds in the industry, but the fact is he has been able to produce scripts that became the bases for significant film works: Himala, mga pelikula niya kay Marilou, [Gil Portes’s] Bukas … May Pangarap – these depart from the stereotypes of the past.
Does this indicate any disagreement that you hold with the practice of ascribing a movie to the director as its primary creative intelligence?
I will be talking mainly from a purely personal viewpoint. Mahirap na i-attribute sa writer lang yung isang pelikula. The mere fact na pag natapos nung writer yung script, hahawakan yan nung line producer, ihahanap ng mga lalabas, yung mga mapipili e mga particular histories in the film world, me particular images – meron nang modification na magaganap sa script. Hahawakan pa yan ng direktor na may kanyang sariling perceptions ng mga situations na nilikha ng writer. Maaaring ikonsulta niya yung scriptwriter pero pinapasok niya yung kanyang gusto. Alam niya sa kanyang karanasan kung ano yung magugustuhan nung mga manonood sa pelikula. Alam niya kung ano’ng kayang gawin nitong artistang hahawakan. So diyan pa lang, yung script nung writer nabago na, natabunan na. Kung ang project ay nakasentro sa pagsasapelikula nung ginawa nung writer – halimbawa natin, dahil si Bienvenido Santos ay isang ginagalang na awtor, merong producer na gagawa ng pelikula na ang gusto talaga yung sinasabi ni Bienvenido Santos, tauhan niya, kanyang mga sitwasyon ang palitawin – maaaring mangyari na malaki ang maging papel nung manunulat sa paggawa ng pelikula. Pero dahil si Bienvenido Santos e hindi makakasulat ng script, merong scriptwriter na papasok diyan, meron nang pagbabago doon sa mga konsepto ni Bienvenido Santos. Pero iyon ay nagsimula na ang gustong isapelikula ay si Bienvenido Santos at ang kanyang nobela. Sa tingin ko, mahirap mangyari na sa pag-uusap tungkol sa pelikula, ang bigyang-pansin lamang ay ang manunulat. Laging dapat mangyari ay banggitin ang direktor saka ang scriptwriter – yung pagtutulungan nila.
Pero hindi ba ang contribution ng writer e mas definite, mas maka-quantify kesa sa direktor na nago-overlap sa mga technical at performance elements?
I’d feel awkward talking about, let us say, mga pelikula ni Ricardo Lee, na tila baga siya mismo ang tumiyak kung ano ang kalalabasan nung mga film projects na tinanggap niya’t binasura. But I would – siguro sa orientation lang yan – be able to talk with more authority kung ang aking ipapaliwanag e mga pelikula ni Ishmael Bernal; I can even completely forget the scriptwriters he has worked with, but I think I’ll still be able to talk about Ishmael Bernal’s films with a greater assurance that I am not simply imagining the qualities that I would attribute to those films.
I remember once in the Manunuri you were recommending T. D. Agcaoili for an outstanding achievement award.
Kasi, being an old man, I remember T. D. was one of the early serious commentators on Philippine film. He was a movie writer who wrote about people in the industry, who knew its workings; pagkatapos he was a creative writer who had taken an interest in film. From his writings one could tell that he was not just inventing the things he was saying about films. Here was someone who had been reading about film, studying books about filmmaking. Then he went into directing. Yung mga katangian na yon I think are enough to make him a landmark figure from the past. Sa Pilipinas naman hindi mo magagamit yung pagsusulat ng isang tao ng film criticism. One cannot ask that T. D. Agcaoili in his time produce a body of criticism on which you could base your award for him as a film critic. Kailangang tingnan mo yung totality nung kanyang involvement sa film to be able to appreciate his contribution to the development of film criticism in the Philippines. Sayang na hindi siya nabigyan ng ganung pagpupuri bago siya namatay. I remember one objection was that T. D. had gotten involved in the Marcos bureaucracy during the last years of his life – sa board of censors, some hackwriting for the regime. Sayang na these came in the way of his being recognized for his contribution. I still think na dapat siyang makita bilang landmark figure in the development of – let’s call it – serious commentary on film in the Philippines.
Meaning during his time, he was actually the best there was?
Oo. For his time, at least he was able to get serious film discussion in print going. From a period when film was treated simply as a business, as a form of entertainment, there was T. D. Agcaoili, serious writer, giving attention to a form that was still in some kind of disrepute during this time.
So chronologically, we could say that Bien Lumbera followed after T. D. Agcaoili?
Yes, I think so.
Who would you say were you contemporaries who were devoting similar serious attention to film?
Cesar Amigo – although he did not write too much criticism, he had articles that he wrote aside from his output in scriptwriting. And then Eddie Romero – his contribution was substantial as a critic, or you could say a director who talks about the craft of directing.
These people you mention were mainly practitioners.
E kasi yun nga, nung panahon ni T. D. Agcaoili.… D. Paolo Dizon was there; he was also a movie writer. From creative writing, he went into commenting on film. In the 1960s, Danny Villanueva was essentially a movie writer.
And Pete Daroy?
Seventies na yan, the Manunuri period. I don’t remember Pete writing about film prior to the martial law period. I doubt kung nanood siya ng Tagalog movies prior to this period. [Most of the Manunuri founding members] were people who came out [as film critics] in the late ’60s – sina Behn [Cervantes], Nestor [U. Torre].
Some practitioners I heard were also into criticism before they went into active industry work.
Ishmael [Bernal] wrote some articles on film, now I remember, for the magazine Balthazar.
What would be the qualities of a good film critic?
Mahilig yan sa pelikula, maraming pelikula na yang napanood, di lamang lokal kundi pati foreign films. Mahusay ang mata – yun bang pag meron siyang nakita sa screen, natatandaan niya yung mga detalye at nakikita kaagad kung ano ang relasyon ng mga iba’t ibang sangkap nuong image na yon. I think that’s very important for the film critic. Saka, siyempre, marunong na siyang magsulat. Kailangan ang kanyang writing style allows him to communicate his insights into what he’d seen. Very important, sa tingin ko, na meron siyang respeto sa intended audience for his film criticism. Ano’ng ibig sabihin ko ng respeto? – he assumes na intelihente yung kanyang audience na pinagsusulatan. Once a critic assumes ha siya lang ang talagang marunong at ang mga manonood e kanya lamang binubugahan ng kanyang nalalaman, magiging offensive ang dating niya sa reader of the reviews. There enters a sense of condescension, a know-it-all [attitude], na nakakabigat.
Hindi kaya maaaring saluhin yan ng critic na me command ng estilo ng pagsulat?
Oo, pero sa palagay ko, meron nang dapat built-in sense of respect for the audience one’s writing for – which is why I cannot stand [then-popular reviewer] Elvira Mata! Ang kanyang feeling is a very narcissistic kind of reviewing, parang “This film was made specifically for me and I don’t like it.” Bakit, films are not made for critics; I mean that’s bunk, a concept that has been realized over and over again by anybody who writes about film – that it’s made for a mass audience. Ngayon pagka ang iyong attitude diyan e kailangan ang pelikula’y tailor-made for my prejudices and my sensitivity, ang resulta niyan e wala kang magugustuhan sa iyong panonoorin.
Is it possible that her presence in the publication merely reflects a larger perception na mas mahalaga ang ibang bagay, like politics, so kung movies lang ang topic e pwede nang maging pabaya?
Yes, of course that’s true. Pero kung pinag-iisipan niya yung kanyang trabaho, makikita niya na yung kanyang tono is not what a writer should assume. As a matter of fact I had once begun to write a letter to the Daily Globe. Right after Christmas she wrote this article about street children and how they annoy drivers. Parang sinasabi niya na parang mga hayop ang mga ’to, basta na lang sumusulpot diyan. Pagkatapos sinabi niya sa pagtatapos ng kanyang pagkwento na she has this vision na yung isang kotse tumigil, nagkukumpulan yung mga namamalimos, and then the window opens and a magnum pistol e lalabas sa bintana at babarilin yung mga children who were annoying the driver; yung daw mga jeep nagtigilan at ang mga tao nagpalakpakan. It’s a fascist mentality I cannot abide. Natapos ko na yung sulat pero sabi ni Shayne [nee Cynthia Nograles, Lumbera’s wife] masyado raw sarcastic, bakit daw parang tinitiris ko siya – which was really what I wanted to do. So I began revising it pero afterward sabi niya napaka-wala namang power yung writing; since then nawala na yung interes ko sa gagawin ko. Pero kasi, she represents the kind of commentator on Philippine films that we can dispense with. In the past that was how Gino Dormiendo, who was writing about film, sounded: talagang cutting and not only completely cruel but with downright delight in criticizing what he does not like. Pero I think he has mellowed. Of course, Elvira’s young, I understand. I imagine na she’s going to grow up, but has to be told some time.
Kung madagdagan ang knowledge at expertise niya, would that be enough?
I hope she’s trying pero the way she talks parang alam na niya lahat. Para siyang si Prufrock [sa “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” ni T. S. Eliot] – “I have known them all already”! Ganun ang kanyang dating.
[Awkward pause.] Mel Chionglo once told me that a liberal arts preparation is crucial to a filmic sensibility.
Yes, I think it’s very important na merong fund of insights and information from previous exposure to the arts na masasandalan nung writer. Kasi kung ang magiging batayan lang nung writer yung kanyang personal na prejudices, the narrow concept of art na kanyang makukuha sa pagbabasa ng ilang libro, hindi talaga magiging malalim ang kanyang sasabihin…. One time nung nagsalita ako sa CCP tungkol sa theater, sinabi ko – ang aking lecture e mga dos and don’ts – na kailangang huwag magpabilanggo sa kakyutan o katarayan. I think that’s a very strong tendency when one is beginning to write. Yun bang you fall in love with a way, an expression, a point that you wanted to make: you put that across and sacrifice the object you’re talking about kasi nagandahan ka doon sa iyong sasabihin. I went through that experience when I was younger. Time magazine in the 1950s had very beautiful stylists. Kaya yung kanilang mga reviews, mga comments were always quotable, memorable. Pagka nasanay ka sa ganung kagustuhang to be quoted, na mapag-usapan yung iyong sinabi, ang tendensya mo e kalimutan yung iyong primary objective which is to talk about this particular work.
I have always found my practice to begin with a perspective that is always personal, always subjective.
Masasabi natin na yung framework e personal in the sense na yung critic ay nagbasa, nag-aral, nagsuri, at batay dito meron siyang particular na pananaw na nilalapat niya dun sa kanyang nakikita. Pero kung ibig sabihin na purely personal e ganito ako talaga – masungit, pihikan, gusto ko lang yung mga pure works of art – that’s not the kind of framework that will help film criticism. To be confined solely to what is personal is to renege on the elementary level of comment.
How much farther does criticism have to go bago maging satisfactory ang papel nito sa industriya ng filmmaking?
Hindi ang criticism ang kailangan [na magbago], kundi ang sistema ng media’t industry. Pa’no yon? – kailangang ang media maging receptive to serious comment on film. Ibig sabihin, hindi lang kahit na sino ay pwedeng gawing film reviewer, o kaya ang media ay bukas sa criticism na maaaring ikaiinis o ikagagalit ng producer. Pagkatapos, kailangan din merong pagbabago sa economic structures ng lipunan natin para me mga taong pwedeng maging professional critics – [gaya kung] newsman ka, ang trabaho mo, ang iyong pag-uukulan ng pansin, ang beat mo ay movies, at yung iyong mga reviews are the results of the discharging of your responsibilities as a member of the press. That means that one earns one’s keep by being a critic; that will not come to be until the country has achieved more than economic stability, a certain degree of prosperity para yung tao’y – “hindi na kailangang ako’y magsulat ng press releases, hindi na kailangang ako’y maging agent ng isang artista para matugunan ko yung aking mga pangangailangan bilang isang indibidwal na naghahanapbuhay.” For as long as the economic conditions are so bad na kailangan mong magkaroon ng iba’t ibang trabaho para sumapat ang iyong kita, film criticism cannot go anywhere. Ngayon, maganap muna yung mga pagbabagong iyon, then maganda na yung tatakbuhin ng film criticism.
You’re implying that theorizing in film will also have to wait, since the practice of film criticism will take some time before it can flourish.
Not wait in the sense na huwag na muna ngayong mag-theorize –
– o mag-criticize –
– kailangan lang makita ng mga nagte-theorize o nagki-criticize na wala pang magandang puwang sa lipunang ito sa kasalukuyan; na pwede mong gawin yung iyong theorizing at criticizing, pero huwag mong asahan na yan ang iyong ikabubuhay, na yung industriya ay tutugon sa iyong mga hinihingi, na ang buong lipunan e susuporta sa iyong ginagawa. As long as the theorist, the critic is aware of the limitation, pwede siyang magpatuloy. Pero he should not have any illusions about the receptivity of the industry to consider even the viability of his profession.
Isn’t your scenario rather grim?
[Smilingly.] Really, there’s no other word for it: it’s a grim world that the Filipino critic lives in. So the less illusions he has about the viability of his profession, the better for him. Kahit na nasa academe siya – well maybe it’s in academe where such a person can thrive – kailangan din niyang makita yung limitations ng kanyang magagawa within.
Has this been something you have always accepted in your years of practice?
Of course. The reason I’ve been able to stay with the Manunuri [ng Pelikulang Pilipino] is that I do not have any grand illusions about the ability of the group to change matters in the film world. I am interested in film, I like to talk about it with people who are equally serious, so I accept the parameters of the exercise of criticism, and therefore I’m able to put up with such a group. Any improvement kung mangyayari man e will be for the time to come when the critic can exercise his function and make a profession out of it. Hindi pa yon mangyayari, so iba-iba yung levels ng mga taong pumapasok sa Manunuri, iba-iba yung angles of vision. Given this handful of people who share an interest in serious comment on Philippine film, this is a group that I would want to be with, with whom I can interact regarding films. One would be hard-put to find such company in spite of the fact that there are many who see Philippine movies.
Do you think we’ll be able to realize a theory on film that we could call our own?
Well, not in my lifetime because I only have a few more years to live. Right now we have not yet come up with a definitive film history, and you need history in order to be able to propose or suggest a theory of film. The fact that LVN could show a lot of its old films, and Sampaguita also has some of its films left – these are good signs, these are the texts that students will study. From such a study maybe the beginnings of a theory can be proposed. There’s no other substitute [for this procedure]. When I saw some films in the 1950s and even earlier in the late ’40s, I was watching them not as a critic or even as a student of film. I was just an ordinary movie fan who followed the films of certain actors and actresses whom I liked. So that when I look back on these films, I don’t remember them as works of art, I simply think of one as a movie in which Oscar Moreno appeared, another in which Paraluman played this kind of role – yun ang natatandaan ko. I began to think of film more seriously only in the 1960s, and even then my interest in serious discussions of film was sporadic. It was not until the 1970s that I began to think of it as a field of study. So kahit nakita ko yung mga pelikula nina Gerardo de Leon in the 1940s and ’50s, hindi reliable yung aking memory of those films dahil nga I was a teenager then. I remember for instance yung movie ni Gerardo de Leon, Isumpa Mo, Giliw: among the movies of the past that I vividly remember, that was it – Elsa Oria, Angel Esmeralda, Fely Vallejo, and I found it a very moving film. Pero hiwa-hiwalay yung aking memory of it, so I cannot recall the totality of the film. Even when I talk about it I cannot discuss it as a work of art – that’s a problem with film, it’s such an ephemeral experience. And once the text is lost, it’s difficult to reconstruct. After that, marami ka nang pelikulang nakita, natabunan na yung iyong previous experience with that film. And unless you had written about the experience immediately after you had seen it, pag binalikan mo yan hindi na reliable. I may have seen early movies nung iba yung pagtingin ko noon.
This means na for purposes of historical study, ang pwede lang pagbasehan e yung mga na-preserve lang?
Yung mga hindi na ma-trace are as good as never having been made?
Oo. Para yang prehistory: history begins with facts that can be verified. Pero mabuti nga ngayon, marami pang pelikula from the 1950s, like [especially what] LVN has preserved. Pero LVN lang yan, and LVN was not the best source of the most interesting films – that was Premiere. E Premiere hindi pa nate-trace yung mga pelikula na nawala sa sunog at karamiha’y nasa kamay ng individual collectors. Sa akin nuon, when I was a young moviegoer, LVN was number three. It was Premiere that to me showed the most exciting films, [while] Sampaguita was for entertainment and LVN, kung wala ka nang makitang iba pa. Well, kahit papano, LVN na lang ang me [napreserbang] body of work. Kaya one important [archival] task is to retrieve all the Premiere films that are still available. Gerry de Leon’s 48 Oras (is at least still available) and Sanda Wong which might be available in Hong Kong as people say it is. People generally think that Ramon Estela is one of the better directors of the period na kasabay nina Gerry.