I had intended this article to be properly pre-anthologized – that is, published in an appropriate venue before its inclusion in Fields of Vision. Unfortunately, the only publication ready and willing to consider it could not maintain its letterpress printing contract due to lack of funds. Since my book manuscript submission deadline was drawing near, it became the first in a long line of scholarly essays I’d written that skipped the journal peer-review process (notably everything in my next book, Wages of Cinema) – although the university press did provide a set of review comments for me to go over. This explains the presence of too-hasty assertions that should have awaited proficient finessing, as well as an embarrassing over-reliance on introductory texts and foreign-film samples. Nevertheless the basic thesis – that martial law-era Philippine film practice observed the mainstream Hollywood-vs.-European “art cinema” dichotomy – provides a panoramic view of local film triumphs from the perspective of its practitioners, who went about their activities, for better or worse, with this consciousness in mind. The essay appeared in the Filipino film critics circle’s 1990s collection but it strangely failed to print the dedication that I maintained as my only condition for its inclusion. To jump to later sections, please click here for:
• French New Wave;
• Outward Ripples;
• Sample Influences (neorealism, cinema verité, film noir);
• Sample Influences (ethnographic sources, folk & popular sources, nostalgia);
• Sample Influences (surrealism & Expressionism, metaphysics & occultism, pure film);
• Sample Influences (reflexivity, film opera, radical politics);
• Sample Influences (sexual libertarianism, feminism, multiple-character format);
• Looking Further; and
• Note & Works Cited.
For Ellen J. Paglinauan
Even when the number of acknowledged quality outputs in Philippine cinema reached a comparatively high level in the mid-1970s, no one had ventured to point out in detail the influences traceable to the international movement known as the New Wave. However, both critical and creative practice did seem premised on this unvoiced realization – that art cinema (which can be reconfigured as a genre unto itself) was a superior order of production deserving recognition and the highest form of support in terms of film-project proposals. Bienvenido Lumbera, writing in 1976, did suggest a beginning of sorts (translation mine):
On the other hand, the Western film industry underwent a revolution, originating in France, of movies classified as “New Wave,” [which] changed the old ways of making movies. It freed directors from traditional techniques, thus giving use to a renewal of energy and consciousness in filmmaking. The arrival of such modern influences from the West in Philippine cinema was slow. But in the last few years of the preceding decade [ca. 1976] can be glimpsed the surface characteristics of the effects of such movies. The anarchic attitude toward social conventions and outmoded institutions, the uninhibited treatment of sex, the colloquial and daring use of language, the on-the-move camera – these typify what our movies today were able to acquire from exposure to products coming from Europe and the United States. (Lumbera, “Nunal sa Tubig Revisited,” 42)
Lumbera further states in the same article,
The effect of the nationalist movement and the cinematic revolution from the West can be seen in the content and technique of four of our new directors [Lino Brocka, Behn Cervantes, Ishmael Bernal, and Jun Raquiza]. According to their relative impact, these films may be classified into two groups – first, those tending toward clarifying topics relevant to a society in ferment; and second, those tending toward treating Filipino topics with techniques drawn from the Western cinematic revolution. (43)
This constitutes the only critical reference to the New Wave by any member of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino and evidenced in the only Urian Anthology published thus far by the group. Although the term “New Wave” was (and occasionally still is) used in reviews and informal or verbal commentaries, no local critic seemed willing or prepared to assert that the recently concluded burst of creativity in Philippine cinema could in fact be considered a consequence of a larger current in world cinema. Possible reasons may have stemmed from an inadequacy in dealing with the topic, or a fear of confronting charges of disparaging local talent by unfavorably juxtaposing their output with their alleged foreign models.
Nevertheless, a few facts call our attention to the reality of foreign influence in local filmmaking. First of all, our filmmakers (and a good part of our audiences) remain exposed to foreign films, even if mostly from Hollywood. The trend had merely been exacerbated during the eighties by the orientation of the short-lived Manila International Film Festival (MIFF) and the so-called revolution in video technology which increased the availability and accessibility of movie products. Second, some of the more creative talents in Filipino film were formally educated in foreign film schools, which by the seventies had generally assimilated the principles and techniques of New Wave cinema. Third, New Wave-influenced filmmaking provided a crucial means by which Filipino filmmakers could justify their criticism of the martial-law regime and its policies.
Filmmaking itself presupposes a Western orientation more inevitable than in the case of other art practices – ultimately because the medium is dependent on First-World technology. Crucial approaches to film technique rely on technological advancements, as in the chronological introduction of sound, color, wide gauges, portable equipment, computerization, video dissemination (including television broadcasting), and digital storage. Since the arrival of such innovations however takes time, particularly in a Third-World setup like ours, the technology comes along with demonstrations (usually in popular feature film format) that prescribe how it may best be exploited.
The catch of course is that such applications are entirely from Western perspectives, and attempts at challenging the resultant criteria merely wind up alienating both the local Westernized elite as well as the lucrative Western market. This has led to an extreme of responses, from a wholehearted welcoming of both technology and technique to their wholesale rejection, as exemplified in acts of censorship from the state and the church.
French literary theorist Roland Barthes, in an excerpt from Writing Degree Zero, mapped out the available options by equating language with a valueless horizon that provides a distant setting of reality (31-38). He distinguished this from style, which he defined as a self-sufficient language with roots in the author’s mythology. Both supposedly exist in a familiar repertory of gestures commonly perceived as nature.
With this assumption of both language and style as objects, one’s mode of writing becomes a function that correlates creation and society. Human intention, in short, links form with history. And although literature cannot exist prior to writing, the history of writing exists – since a writer’s modes are established through history and tradition – “at the very moment when general history proposes – or imposes – new problematics of the literary language, [for] writing still remains full of the recollections of previous usage” (36-37). In effect, what is implied is that a second-order memory of works persists even amid the generation of new meanings.
Furthermore, in his essay “Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives,” Barthes proposed that narrative language be liberated from the impositions of linguistics in two ways: first, by considering discourse, rather than the sentence, as the basic unit; and second, by recognizing the existence of levels of meaning – that is, functions, actions (with characters as actants), and narration, all bound in progressive integration. In turn, functions become the basic unit of discourse, with groups of functions, defined as sequences, performing syntactical roles (251-95).
Barthes also provided characters with a primary structural status, beyond the secondary agency-of-action significance bestowed by Aristotelian poetics. The problem of subject can thereby be approached with a “multiplicity of participations,” where narrative communication involves the sorting out of the speaker from the writer from the character. An ultimate form of narrative can be capable of transcending contents and forms, or functions and actions as defined, while a narrative system can contain both distortion and expansion, mimesis and meaning.
While such a structuralist orientation finds its limits – acknowledged eventually by Barthes himself – in determining the nature of intertextual (and in this instance, intercultural) influences, it provides us with a means by which certain texts (in this context, films) may be compared and examined. The more basic units, functions, or their groupings can be approached according to the characteristics that allow such film texts to be classified or organized, genre being the most obvious one. For the moment, it may be enough to recognize that interactions between cultures and their respective texts do not occur in a rudimentarily reflective manner, much less in directions fully autonomous of power relations. Toward the end of this study, questions regarding further areas of consideration raised in the process of analysis will be brought up. Unfortunately, the answering of such questions will just have to be done in separate future efforts.
The New Wave, as it originated in France, may be seen as constituting positive and negative responses to the so-called French tradition of quality. The basic motivation behind such a practice resembled Hollywood classicism in that it centered on the seamless presentation of an idealized form of reality, observing certain principles associable with dominant belief (Bordwell and Thompson 50-60). Film, unlike still photography, was and remains limited by the amount of exposure time allotted equally to each and every frame; hence, it is incapable of the accurate reproduction of reality theoretically realizable in the still camera through slow exposures balanced with extra-light-sensitive film stock.
Since Hollywood aimed for industrial stability and ideological purity during the early half of the century, when film was largely “slow” in responding to light, it became necessary to increase the amount of light being used for cinematographic purposes to compensate for the medium’s tendency to reduce natural or available light during recording and projection. The resultant image was unreal, which gave rise to another problem: if the shifts from one image to another allowed the audience to become aware of the artificiality brought about by the (eventually standardized) excessive lighting, their mesmerization – and, consequently, their appreciation – of the film would be affected.
The final step in perfecting classical aesthetics lay then in directing the shots and joining one to another in a manner that observed screen continuity. This illusion, this unreality that was being promoted as a new, filmic reality had to be maintained through steady shots and movements that flowed into one another with a minimum of visual distraction and a maximum of natural appearances (Bordwell et al. 194-213). One extreme of genteelism employed by Hollywood practitioners had the camera cutting from one speaker to another without crossing the axis of conversation between the two, observing the Western ethical dictum of respecting the space between gentlefolk engaged in face-to-face conversation.
The historical upheavals that convulsed the Hollywood community, culminating in the McCarthyist witch-hunts after the postwar collapse of the American alliance with the Soviets, was congruent with this obsession with lawful order and propriety. The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, colloquially referred to as the Hays office, issued production guidelines that “made absurd demands on filmmakers … [to the extent of prohibiting] the depiction of double beds, even for married couples” and censoring expletives as ambiguous as “God,” “hell,” and “nuts” (Monaco, How to Read a Film 230). Moreover,
one of the greatest surprises awaiting a student of film first experiencing precode movies is the discovery that in the late ’20s and very early ’30s films had a surprisingly contemporary sense of morality and dealt with issues, such as sex and drugs, that were forbidden thereafter until the late ’60s. The effect is curiously disorienting. (230)
In The New Wave, Monaco traces the movement’s beginnings to the call in 1948 of Alexandre Astruc, a young novelist, critic, and filmmaker, “for filmmakers to realize the full power of their art so that it could become ‘a means of writing just as flexible and subtle as written language’” (5). Astruc called this approach Le camera-stylo or “The Camera-Pen.” A group of male acquaintances frequenting the Cinémathèque Française, which was then under the management of its founder, Henri Langlois, was to venture into film reviewing, criticism, and theorizing in the pages of the Cahiers du cinéma, a journal edited by André Bazin. They then proceeded to apply a loose and sometimes conflicting set of ideals – some already existent, most developed along the way – directly in film activity.
The group was made up of Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer (nom de camera of Jean-Marie Maurice Scherer), and François Truffaut. As Cahiers writers, they were influenced by the tenets of film realism and valorization of neorealism by Bazin. However, through Truffaut’s articulation, they also propounded a “rather passionate, organic – sometimes wild” theory of their own, based on the twin concepts of the politique des auteurs, which posited a central creative intelligence derivable in a given filmmaker’s body of work, and film genres, “the set of conventions and expectations which [a film] shares with other films of its kind” (Monaco, The New Wave 7).
In application, this caused the Cahiers group to enter into a paradoxical relationship with Hollywood cinema: on the one hand the critics and directors-to-be rejected all the technical strictures advocated by classicist practice; on the other, they professed admiration for the products dismissed by the Hollywood establishment as representative of crass commercialism. They opined, in effect, that although the films of such underappreciated practitioners as John Ford, Samuel Fuller, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, Don Siegel, and Raoul Walsh were no match for the wide popularity and award-worthiness of the prestige productions churned out by the major outfits for Academy Award considerations, they possessed the necessary personal factor that set them apart from the assembly-line nature of the bigger productions. In short, each of these films could be studied according to the “signature” of its filmmaker – acknowledged by the auteurists as the film’s director – as well as in relation to the filmmaker’s other films (on a vertical axis) and against other products belonging to the film’s genre (horizontal axis) (Monaco 8).
As filmmakers, the Cahiers critics-turned-directors benefited from opportune developments in film technology, including “fast [or more light-sensitive] filmstocks, lightweight cameras, new lighting equipment, and the liberation from the Hollywood set that all this implied” (Monaco 10). They not only drew uninhibitedly from past instances of the silent-cinema movements (especially Soviet montage, German Expressionism, and French avant-garde surrealism) and the sound-era samples of American film noir and the then-current Italian neorealism; they also innovated with methods considered unconventional at the time, such as jump cuts (notably in Godard’s Breathless), available or natural lighting, hand-held camera work, and graphic imagery. Chabrol was to specialize in film noir and Rohmer in literary comic romances. Truffaut was to implement, to wide acclaim, his proposal of “exploding” genres by combining them, while Rivette would explore the relationship between the medium and theater. Godard would experiment, in what is generally conceded as the most ambitious project among the five, with the multiplexity of film language and its political ramifications, even crossing over at a certain point to the medium of video.
Although its avowals were nothing short of revolutionary, the New Wave was also fortunate enough – or shrewd enough, given the cultural sophistication of the French audience – to be commercially feasible. To begin with, its technical requirements were far more modest compared with industrial standards, so much so that some of the members of the Cahiers group, who were decidedly young and middle-class, were able to arrange the financing of their own and the others’ debut films. Moreover, their penchant for technical and thematic daring, coupled with an inspiration derived from commercial Hollywood films, made their works appealing as alternatives to the studio-bound, dialogue-reliant, and stodgily predictable mainstream releases.
That the French public did happen to be receptive to the ensuing cultural controversies is generally overlooked in most accounts of the movement. Perhaps this is because the Cahiers group, in founding the New Wave, started out by asserting auteurism, thus calling attention to the film artist rather than to the audience. The importance the group gave the artist, as Monaco (The New Wave 7) asserts, lay in the upgrading of the status of cinema. From a mere industrial product, with Hollywood epitomizing the ideal dream factory, faceless and mechanical, it became a medium of personal artistic expression worthy of serious critical analysis, on a footing with achievements in literature and the fine arts. The obvious problems with the popular and mass nature of the medium that this view raised would be addressed later by theoreticians advocating new approaches to mass media and popular culture. Meanwhile, auteurism sufficed to provoke reconsiderations about the characteristics and potentials of cinema as represented by Hollywood.
More important, for our purposes, is the fact that New Wave ideas and methods were more easily exportable than the movement’s Hollywood counterparts, since the latter tended to be tied down to technological developments (i.e., to import a new Hollywood technique also meant importing the new machine that facilitated it). As a consequence of the New Wave, cinema was revitalized in several European countries. Italy, for example, which was already profiting, culturally and monetarily, from neorealism, progressed to the personal spectacles of the younger neorealists such as Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni.
From the perspective of Hollywood, all this was mainly arthouse material, although the success at the box office of several imports subsequently required a reorientation among American practitioners too. Not only was auteurism adopted (and duly shot down, in a celebrated exchange between proponent Andrew Sarris and dissenter Pauline Kael – see Mast and Cohen 650-79), a “new” American cinema could be perceived in the number of products defying the Hays office guidelines during the middle and late sixties. Not surprisingly, this spirit of exuberant libertarianism extended to and was complemented by events in other spheres of American life, including struggles pertaining to civil rights, the Vietnam War, sexual liberation, and feminism.
The Philippines, dependent all this time on American economy and culture, arrived at roughly the right stage for the introduction of New Wave approaches via Hollywood. Lumbera divides Philippine film history into four periods: beginnings and growth (1897-1944), recovery and development (1945-59), rampant commercialism and artistic decline (1960-76), and the emergence of new forces in contemporary cinema (1976 up to the early eighties) (“Problems in Philippine Film History” 193-212). I would propose later the use of the February 1986 People Power Revolution to mark the close of what I have termed the Second Golden Age, which also started in the mid-seventies (David, The National Pastime 1-17).
With the period in question, a number of profound political contradictions involving cinema achieved fruition. Martial law was declared in 1972 by the late Ferdinand Marcos, who utilized film as a crucial component of his presidential campaigns (hence, although seeking to systematically control mass media, he provided moviemaking with both exemptions and incentives, in effect nurturing this medium while suppressing the others). About the beginning of what has been alternately called the New Philippine Cinema and the Second Golden Age, the censors board was purged of its civilian chair and members, and replaced with military officials and underlings. By the start of the eighties, a comprehensive support institution, the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (ECP), had been set up.
Typical of the manner in which the regime tripped itself up, which local film artists in turn were quick to exploit, was the military’s takeover of censorship prerogatives. In my interview with Lumbera, he says,
The censors demanded to see a complete script before they could give a permit for shooting, so they could scrutinize film projects as early as the preproduction stage. Studios turned to journalists and creative writers in order to be able to impress the censors. Young filmmakers and writers saw here an opportunity to break into the industry and inject some seriousness in terms of content. (Qtd. in David, “Bienvenido Lumbera” 21-22)
With the New Wave representing a challenge (actually already successful by then in First-World practice) to classical Hollywood narrative cinema, progressive film artists in the Philippines may have drawn an analogy between this clash of cultural forces and their own struggle against the dictatorship (which encompassed their struggle against the neocolonial support the regime was getting from the US). As I have earlier implied, this adoption of New Wave strategies, however, may or may not have been consciously undertaken. Nevertheless,
in the end we could only grant that a major factor for the occurrence of the Second Golden Age lies in the superstructure itself – more concretely, in the confluence of film artists who somehow attained a level of individual maturity and collective strength within roughly a common time frame – a force, in effect, capable of transforming what would normally be political and industrial liabilities into aesthetic assets. (David, The National Pastime 17)
What follows is a list of certain categories associated with or resulting from the New Wave movement, whether as other movements, trends, genres, or revivals. Sample foreign and local products depicting certain similarities are cited, but more important are the instances where the local versions demonstrated modifications or differences. The list of categories and titles is not intended to be comprehensive. Such a task may not be possible, or even meaningful. In any case, a true-blue cultural historian with the adequate (profilmic) orientation could certainly accomplish much more.
1. Neorealism. Actually predating the French New Wave, neorealism as a movement was utilized during its time (1940s in the United States, 1950s in the Philippines) to challenge the supremacy of Hollywood classicism. The difficulty lay in the strictures imposed in the US accruing from Cold War politics. In our case, the principles of neorealism were observed strictly for prestige products, particularly entries to (and winners of) international festivals, directed by the likes of Lamberto V. Avellana, Gregorio Fernandez, and Manuel Silos from LVN Studios. True, non-LVN practitioners like Gerardo de Leon, Cesar Gallardo, and Eddie Romero were able to reach local audiences, but this was toward the collapse of the studio system, when the breakdown in production controls led to the decline in quality associated with independently produced movies.
André Bazin in the second volume of What Is Cinema? recognized in Italian neorealism an effective implementation of his articulation of realism (16-40). Bazin enumerated the use of nonprofessional actors, actual locations, modest budgets and technologies, and sociopolitical themes as neorealism’s main characteristics, supplanting the Hollywood-inspired superspectacles that typified Italian cinema prior to World War II. Like the French New Wave, Italian neorealism succeeded because of the pragmatism of its approach and the international acclaim that augmented the profits gained from its products. Owing to the geographical and philosophical affinities between French and Italian film critics and practitioners, neorealism, already at an “aesthetic impasse” (Bazin 47), became naturalized as one of the many features of the New Wave.
 A peak was realized in Celso Ad. Castillo’s Burlesk Queen (1977), which was more Italian in its stridency and theatrical sensibility than any other Filipino neorealist sample before or since. The preference of the local audience for Hollywood gloss prevailed, however, and much of what may have been passed off as neorealist-inspired works, usually dealing with stories of lowlifes such as gangsters and prostitutes, may actually be regarded as crudely made exploitation products which sought legitimacy via their purveyance of sociopolitical awareness.Similarly, the “new” Philippine cinema had an auspicious realist beginning when one of its major practitioners, Ishmael Bernal, wrote and directed his debut film, Pagdating sa Dulo (1971), in a manner reminiscent of his mentor, Avellana.
2. Cinema verité. Some confusion has been encountered in the local adaptation of foreign documentary trends such as direct cinema and cinema verité: In their original senses, direct cinema seems to have implied direct access to life, while cinema verité allowed or encouraged the intervention of the filmmaker as part of the ‘truth’ being presented. In practice the two terms became rapidly confused with each other” (King 216).
Advancements in approaches to documentary filmmaking were primarily British in origin, from John Grierson’s public-service “First Principles” in the 1930s to Lindsay Anderson’s more formalistically accommodating “Free Cinema” in the 1950s (see “The Nonfiction Film Idea” section in Barsam 13-80). In a sense, the latter movement may also be seen as a response to the New Wave’s catholicity, all set to expand the boundaries set by Grierson by making distinctions between direct cinema and cinema verité.
The fact that the latter term has prevailed implies that the distinctions may not be too crucial in the end. What matters more, especially in the local context, is the fact that nonfiction film in general has encountered resistance at the box office, more than it had in the US, where documentaries occasionally turned in profits through theatrical releases. The last Filipino full-length 35mm. documentary film [ca. the mid-1990s], in fact, was Gil Portes’s 1979 release, Pabonggahan. Two possible implications may be drawn from here: first, the already obvious entrenchment of the classical Hollywood tradition; and second, the need to evolve methods and approaches to transform Philippine experience into the medium of commercial film – a difficulty that obtains even in the practice of feature filmmaking.
Local realists, particularly Castillo and Lino Brocka, have been able to indulge in a predilection for cinema verité by incorporating documentary footage in some of their projects. In Pagputi ng Uwak, Pag-itim ng Tagak (1978), Castillo uses shots of rural Holy Week rituals to underscore the passion and suffering of his star-crossed lead characters, a rebel leader and his lover, a plantation heiress. But where Castillo needed to polish his real-life footage in order to match the rest of his well-lit shots, Brocka has remained faithful to the cinema verité dictum of minimizing technical manipulation. In Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975), urban squalor is amplified by initially being shot in black and white. This is segregated from the rest of the film to serve as its credit sequence, but the first fictional character is planted in the last black-and-white shot, which turns into color as the narrative begins.
This marriage of nonfiction and fiction encounters more difficulty in scenes in Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim (1985) where the main characters appear in the midst of an actual anti-Marcos rally (cf. the staged version toward the climax of Maynila): the difference between the expert professionalism of the actors and the self-consciousness of the rallyists tends to distract from an otherwise well-intended presentation. In Sister Stella L. (1984), done by Brocka’s fellow film activist (and Maynila cinematographer) Mike de Leon, rally footage is appended as a form of coda. This serves to heighten an increasingly realistic presentation, with the dramatis personae directly addressing the camera toward the end. Brocka’s last completed film, Sa Kabila ng Lahat (1991), contains a relatively seamless integration of documentary and fictional footage, facilitated by the reflexive device of setting its characters in the profession of media documentarists.
3. Film noir. Another pre-New Wave trend was film noir. Because Chabrol, one of the founding practitioners of New Wave cinema, opted to specialize in it, film noir also came to be associated with the French New Wave. The association was strengthened by the fact that the term (literally, black film) is French, and that Godard’s Breathless, a film-noir sample, is generally regarded as the first New Wave film, although it was actually preceded by Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. Breathless was also scripted by Truffaut and exhibited, more than The 400 Blows did, an awareness of film tradition (Monaco, The New Wave 113).
The French acknowledged Hollywood gangster films as the source of their film-noir aesthetic – although again, strictly speaking, gangster films were a Hollywood staple only during the first few years of the 1930s, until the Hays office decided to intervene and forbade overt gangster humanization. What became associated with gangster cinema later was actually an assortment of police, detective, spy, crime-caper, and combinative (with horror, musical, comedy, and other genres) narratives. Only after the successful New Wave film-noir revival did Hollywood filmmakers feel compelled to reclaim what they felt was their own – which in turn started the trend in film violence that marked the impact of the New Wave on American cinema during the late sixties.
Aside from crossing continents, the gangster film also underwent a semantic shift in becoming film noir, from a generic to a stylistic designation. As specified by Paul Schrader, one of its theorist-practitioners, film noir in effect could deal with subject matter beyond gangsterism, so long as it maintained the genre’s stylistic properties of utilizing darkness and shadows to evoke an impression of contemporary social alienation and personal peril (“Notes on Film Noir” 169-82). Essential to this definition is the climatic properties of the temperate countries where film noir flourished – the misty atmosphere and grimy surfaces caused by smog and cold weather that tended to acquire brightness and sharper detail in tropical settings.
Hence Philippine samples of film noir, if faithful to the original models, may have appeared too foreign for local audiences to identify with, as evidenced in the poor showing at the box office of Brocka’s Jaguar (1979) and Angela Markado (1980) (Conrado Baltazar, cinematographer) and Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Alyas Baby Tsina (1984) (Manolo Abaya, cinematographer). Brocka, who pioneered in the introduction of film noir aesthetics in the country, later settled for a less authentic (relative to the foreign example) version, retaining the shadows but dispensing with the haze, in what has now become the industry norm for gangster films. In a sense, this merely recalls the earlier black-and-white Filipino gangster films, with the historical continuum disrupted by the transition to color (and the revision in aesthetics this entailed) and complicated by the decline in quality consciousness already mentioned.
4. Ethnographic sources. Considered an important element of early documentary filmmaking, ethnographic sourcing saw filmmakers such as American Robert Flaherty going to Inuk country for Nanook of the North and anthropologists such as Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson traveling to Southeast Asian islands such as Bali in Indonesia (Heider 27-30). Grierson’s critique of “shimmying exoticisms,” particularly in Flaherty’s work, led to the following conclusion:
Theory of naturals apart, it represents an escapism, a wan and distant eye, which tends in lesser hands to sentimentalism. However it be shot through with vigor of Lawrencian poetry, it must always fail to develop a form adequate to the more immediate material of the modern world…. Loving every Time but his own, and every life but his own, [Flaherty] avoids coming to grips with the creative job in so far as it concerns society. (Grierson 19-22)
Along with American World War II propaganda, Grierson’s call for authenticity resulted in a spate of documentary subjects that were literally closer to home and to the filmmaker’s personal concerns. The tension in this position was provided at about the same time, but from the opposite camp, in what have ironically emerged as the most impressive wartime documentaries ever made – Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi-glorifying Triumph of the Will and Olympia.
By the time the New Wave rolled in, opinion was once more swinging to the other, more humanistic end, reinforced significantly by Bazin’s orientation. This swing complemented the internationalist projection of the New Wave, with most of the founding practitioners subsequently adapting on occasion the works of non-French (English, American, German) authors, and with Godard directly synthesizing global issues in his so-called Dziga-Vertov, or intensely political and anti-Hollywood, period. Other French and European filmmakers went further in taking as subject matter the upheaval in the colonies of their respective countries, especially in Africa and Latin America (see Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers and the Caribbean-set Burn!).
In other cases they had no choice, as when dictatorial regimes in East, Southeast, and Southwest Europe overtook democratic spells of creative film production. As in the flight from Nazism of some of the more outstanding German film Expressionists, many of these practitioners sought refuge in Hollywood, but others produced their projects in whatever country obliged them at the moment, or organized coproductions involving as many as five financiers of various nationalities. Finally, international recognition bestowed on non-European films, starting with those from Asian countries like Japan, India, and the Philippines, added to the legitimization of non-Western topics for film discourse.
The equivalent of ethnographic subjects in Philippine cinema would be issues that are not urban-centered or -related inasmuch as Manila – and at one time or other in the past, Cebu and Baguio – has been the primary center for Filipino film production. The logical problem – presumption of familiarity with but actual alienation from the subject matter, leading to an unacceptable mix of naïveté and condescension – is compounded by the logistical and budgetary difficulties caused by out-of-town and even interisland exotic locales. A perfect example from the early part of “new” Philippine cinema is Gerardo de Leon’s last completed film, Banaue (1975).
During the latter portion of Marcos rule, the depiction of tribesfolk became commercially viable on local screens. But this was due to the cynical encouragement from martial law authorities, who exempted from censorship open sexual practices and female breast exposures if shown as part of tribal customs and costumes. Certain products like Ed Palmos’s Ang Babae sa Ulog (1981) and Lito Tiongson’s Hubad na Gubat (1982) took advantage of this ruling, but these premature forays into tribal topics did not convince audiences of the authenticity of the portrayals. When a controversy over ownership of intellectual property led to the simultaneous release in 1979 of Celso Ad. Castillo’s Aliw-iw: Ang Pinagtaksilan ng Panahon and George Rowe’s Ang Dalagang Pinagtaksilan ng Panahon, both works flopped dismally. Since then, such subject matter has been generally considered financially infeasible.
5. Folk and popular sources. Folk sources of material for filmization observe roughly the same rationale outlined for ethnographic sources. Both contain the same tension between exotic and realist elements, and both have lately been delimited, but this time in differing ways. Folk sources, which during a more restrictive past provided recyclable subject matter, now have to compete with a wider array of potential topics containing just as much (if not more) sex, violence, and fantasy fulfillment. As in the Euro-American bluebird-of-happiness and Japanese 47 rōnin stories, Philippine cinema used to have its Ibong Adarna tale, of which every film generation until the sixties expected to see a sober version. In fact, a pre-war Ibong Adarna film first betokened the arrival of color in the country. With the easing of limitations on choice of topic and increasing sophistication on the part of the local film audience, folk sources were utilized, but in a distant, self-referential manner, often expressed in the form of comic treatments.
On the other hand, popular sources have managed to constitute a staple, specifically in print-to-film crossovers provided by so-called komiks stories. The melodrama genre, for example, is practically dominated by the komiks sensibility. Most local melodramas are komiks adaptations, but even the original ones are infused with certain elements carried over from the printed medium, notably the episodic developments and changeability of character traits. Certain types of komiks film material have also tried to assume the appearance and origin of folk sources. Notable contemporary examples are Jun Raquiza’s Zuma films (1985 and 1988), but earlier sources, particularly movies featuring the Dyesebel or Darna heroines, have proved even more durable. Recycling, however, will probably become more and more difficult in the future, partly because earlier versions may now be stored (in videocassette and probably digital format later) and thereby serve as bases for comparison (for example, a future Dyesebel version will have to reckon with the graphic nudity of the 1990 installment). Rather than play the intimidating game of meeting rising expectations, producers seem to be resorting to the contemporary Hollywood strategy of doing sequels and spin-offs instead – perhaps until the industry becomes financially capable of outdoing its past achievements.
6. Nostalgia. Period films have been a staple of most major national film centers, with the Guinness Book of World Records listing for many years the Hollywood product Gone with the Wind as the box-office winner of all time. As for nostalgia films in particular, they became a realization in mass media only with the advent of rock ‘n’ roll. This is primarily because rock ‘n’ roll and the more generic rock music that followed were successful expressions of the antiestablishment sentiments of Western youth – who would later grow up to become nostalgic baby boomers. The success of George Lucas’s American Graffiti made possible the transformation of the period film into not merely an accurate reconstruction of a bygone era, but also an evocative recollection of its emotional essences. In a sense, American Graffiti was predated in the West by Truffaut’s autobiographical Antoine Doinel cycle (including his debut, The 400 Blows), a series of standardized works whose power lay in their capacity to summon a specific individual’s well-remembered and fully felt past. Moreover, as Monaco says,
it is through the control of his idiom that Truffaut overcomes the potential excesses of his sentiments. It is the dialectic between what he says and how he says it that allows him to make a private film about film language at the same time as he makes a public film about the loves and labors of Antoine Doinel (The New Wave 36)
The difficulty with nostalgia, especially for a Third-World country, is similar to the problem faced by the filmmaker dealing with ethnographic or folk sources: the creation of an inaccessible or nonexisting (actually a bygone) reality. Unlike the other possible sources of film scenarios, however, nostalgia holds a stronger appeal to an audience because it refers to a personal past, internal rather than external, its link with viewers supplied by the viewers themselves, via the simple process of memory. This explains why nostalgia pieces remain more popular than other kinds of period films which require larger production budgets. In fact, even certain “epic” melodramas or action films are scripted to contain expository passages or flashbacks that depict past periods, while wholesale nostalgia productions like Maryo J. de los Reyes’s first film, High School Circa ’65 (1979), have been proving profitable for their financiers.
It would be easy to postulate that if the production of nostalgia pieces were financially possible, then there would be more local period films made. An alternative, however, has been suggested again by postmodern US experience, where the demand for nostalgia became so insistent that a form of instant recycling has emerged. For instance, a fad or trend product is packaged with a nostalgic slant, thus ensuring that those who patronize it will not only have strong or fond memories of it in the future (when it can be reissued) but also be motivated to remain faithful to it, perhaps even endorse it to family and acquaintances. In film terms this translates to applying romanticization techniques (soft or shallow focus, color desaturation or B&W sepia tinting) and devices to contemporary subjects, thus presenting the present as if it were already past. Again, a de los Reyes film, Bagets (1984), has proved successful in this kind of pursuit.
7. Surrealism and Expressionism. One paradoxical element about film history is the fact that postrealist developments preceded realism. Actually the seminal filmic tendency was to capture reality in motion – an imperative based on the historical subsequence of cinema as, in effect, an extension of photography. But since early cinema could not be real enough, lacking both color and sound, prevalent notions of the fine arts naturally took over in countries where “high art,” as it was then considered, was in cultural dominance – such as surrealism in France and Expressionism in Germany. Between the two, Expressionism was to have a wider impact, partly because the severance from reality of its milder samples was not as extreme as that of surrealism and partly because its practitioners transplanted themselves to the world film capital, Hollywood, after their exile from Nazism. Expressionism also found its way to France – through the stylizations of both Hollywood musicals and gangster films. Surrealism, meanwhile, remained largely an avant garde concern, with only one practitioner, Luis Buñuel (whose career spanned several countries and all the major phases of cinema – silent and sound, pre-New Wave and after), managing to make an impression on the mainstream.
Buñuel’s first films, Un chien Andalou and L’age d’or (the first codirected and the second coscripted with Salvador Dali), can be called surrealist primarily because of their imagery. However, their content was conventionally expressed, at least enough to generate widespread controversy, with the second film getting banned for its frank anticlericalism. After a more experimentalist middle phase that included some well-received documentaries, Buñuel embarked upon his last salvo, a series of commercial successes that were at the same time critical and festival winners – Belle du jour, the trilogy comprising The Milky Way, The Phantom of Liberty, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and his last film, That Obscure Object of Desire (see Mellen). Viewed in this regard, the Buñuel oeuvre demonstrates a progression from a “fine” visual application of surrealism to a more literary and ideological thrust, wherein the visual aspect appears to be generally real or at least generic enough but the plot, characterization, theme, and logic could be entirely out of the ordinary.
Unfortunately, in the Philippines, surrealism remains fixated on the visual plane. Hence, where Buñuel was able to construct entire comedies out of surrealist material, graphic surrealist touches in Filipino movies are employed strictly for comic interludes, one of the better examples being the musical numbers in Mike de Leon’s Kakabakaba Ka Ba? (1982). Perhaps with a boost from a New Wave offshoot, film opera (subsequently listed), mature Buñuelian surrealism may yet be locally realized. Already the works of film opera practitioners Peque Gallaga (with codirector Lore Reyes) and Chito Roño indicate promise in this direction.
8. Metaphysics and occultism. The fascination with the exotic, coupled with the profitability of spiritual treatments, has resulted in a dialectical quandary. Since Christianity had been appropriated by Western political enterprise, how can progressive artists satisfy the supposedly innate quest for visionary enlightenment? Thus spiritual impulses in the films of the founders of the New Wave were expressed in metaphysical terms, largely through the pursuit of ambiguities and the deployment of a style that after the movement’s spread was eventually labeled “transcendental.” Other followers, especially those in Hollywood, were in turn compelled to seek possible answers in other systems of belief, whether supernatural or pseudoscientific. The upshot was a spate of extremely commercially viable American science-fiction products, including the output used by the so-called Hollywood Brats to wield some clout in the industry – Lucas’s Star Wars trilogy and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET the Extra-Terrestrial.
It would take a considerable economic miracle before such feats could be duplicated here, but meanwhile a pre-Star Wars Hollywood top grosser, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, strongly suggested that deviations from regulated religious expressions could result in greater financial profitability. Hence, while the approximation of a transcendental style – more in the sense of “[eschewing] conventional interpretations of reality” than “[maximizing] the mystery of existence” (Schrader, Transcendental Style in Film 10) – had been pursued for a time by Ishmael Bernal, occultism found its way in the local horror genre, which had previously been Judeo-Christian or lower-mythological (or a combination of both) in nature.
Curiously, after Castillo confirmed the feasibility of new approaches to the horror genre with a trilogy comprising Bakit Dugo ang Kulay ng Gabi? (1974), Patayin Mo sa Sindak si Barbara (1974), and Maligno (1975), many similar efforts were done during the Second Golden Age by debuting directors: Lupita Kashiwahara with Magandang Gabi sa Inyong Lahat (1976), Mike de Leon with Itim (1976), Mario O’Hara with Mortal (1976), Butch Perez with Haplos (1982), Briccio Santos (in his first 16mm. work) with Damortis (1986), Tata Esteban’s experimentalist Alapaap (1984), and selected segments of Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata (1982). Among these new names, it is Gallaga who, along with Lore Reyes, has opted to specialize in horror filmmaking, but with the incorporation of the more indigenously sourced older framework, possibly because of the generally uneven showing of occultist items, Mortal and Itim having been outright failures at the box office.
9. Pure film. Montage was the first film theory that claimed to be unique to the medium. It involved the application of dialectical principles to the (ca. silent era) elements of shots and cuts. Each shot was considered as existing either in relation or in opposition to other shots, so the juxtaposition of one with the rest constituted the synthesis of filmmaking (Andrew 51-53). Such an approach was modified to a great extent by two later developments: the arrival of sound, since the details of a scene that would have been normally shown in successive shots were now suggested instead by their sounds; and the introduction of deep focus, the basis of Bazin’s theory of realism, where the details that needed to be seen were now visually perceivable in a single shot because of the expansion of the plane of action to include foreground and background.
Montage, however, acquired a romanticist aura in Western democracies because of its suppression in the USSR in favor of the formalistically old-fashioned socialist realism (which was itself arguably highly romanticist from the get-go). Hence, montage has historically managed to persist, but in a less vital form, as in the television practice of indicating a temporal transition through a series of shots. The founders of the New Wave maintained a notion of cinema as primarily, sometimes exclusively, visual, since most foreign films in Langlois’s Cinémathèque were not dubbed or subtitled in French and therefore had to be appreciated mainly for their visual content. Most films by the members of this group contain passages distinguished by either the absence of dialogue or the relegation of human sound to secondary importance.
Bernal is the only major Filipino director who has used montage in this manner. Most local directors resort to TV-style montage, in which the visuals are usually accompanied by theme music. Bernal’s primarily visual (and thereby partially or entirely silent) works – Nunal sa Tubig (1976) as a whole, most aspects of his portion in Bakit May Pag-ibig Pa? (1978), and the ending of Ikaw Ay Akin (1978) – raised the question of the appropriateness of a style that was branded by some members of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino as “Western” in nature (see Lumbera, Pelikula 240-43). A more practical reason why the attempt has not persisted to the present is the fact that the said films, despite the presence of commercial elements like sex and superstars, were disappointments at the box office. A permutation of pure film, however, can be seen in a newer type of execution, film opera, which will be tackled later.
10. Reflexivity. Film semiotician Christian Metz, in “Mirror Construction in Fellini’s 8 1/2,” used the term “inescutcheon construction” in referring to “works of art that are divided and doubled, thus reflecting on themselves” (300-02). On the other hand, translator Michael Taylor opted for the term used in the essay’s title (mirror construction) to avoid the somewhat delimiting description of “a smaller shield placed at the center of a larger shield, and reproducing it in every detail, but on a smaller scale.” Metz so valorized 8 1/2 that if one were to adhere strictly to his well-argued appreciation, there would be one and only one movie conforming to his ideal at that point – none other than the very same film he was discussing. To be able to use Metz’s insights more productively, it may be better to look toward as wide a definition of this principle as possible, which Robert Stam offers in both his usage of the term “reflexivity” and his definition of it as “the process by which texts … foreground their own production, their authorship, their intertextual influences, their reception, or their enunciation” (xiii).
To be sure, the New Wave critics-practitioners were more expansive in their willingness and capability to exploit their considerable store of knowledge on film. Every film they made, in a manner of speaking, was a film on film (that is, the principles of the medium). One of the Hollywood directors held in high regard by them, Billy Wilder, had come up with Sunset Blvd. during their emergence – an act ascribable, according to Stam, to the filmmaker’s awareness of an earlier Cahiers debate on the capability of screenwriters as film authors (89). Fellini, for his part, had virtually threatened to wrest the sensation they had caused with his literally “personal” masterpiece. In the end, Godard, during his Dziga-Vertov period, directly and aggressively confronted the issue of how films create what they say, while Truffaut, already in open conflict with Godard by then, directed what may be regarded as the equivalent of New Wave classicism, Day for Night, a film more obviously (and in this sense, less formally) about the making of a film than 8 1/2.
Metz acknowledged the existence of films that “only partially deserve to be called ‘mirror-construction’ works.” On the other extreme, he maintained that good reflexive films should be “doubled in on themselves,” thus suggesting that the outer and inner films reflect endlessly on each other. Between these two options lie a number of successful films on filmmaking, and perhaps the best example in Philippine cinema is still Bernal’s (preferred) debut entry, Pagdating sa Dulo (see neorealist section). Brocka attempted a satirical attack first with Stardoom (1971) and much later with Kontrobersyal (1981).
If we expand a consideration of the reflexive device to include other forms of mass media, then both filmmakers had actually been using self-referential portions in some of their better-received works. These, in chronological order, are: Bernal’s Nunal sa Tubig, Manila by Night (1980), Himala (1982), and Broken Marriage (1983); and Brocka’s Jaguar and Bona (1980) (preceding Kontrobersyal), Palipat-lipat, Papalit-palit (1982), Bayan Ko, Macho Dancer (1989), Orapronobis, Gumapang Ka sa Lusak (1990), and Sa Kabila ng Lahat. Practically all the other major filmmakers of the Second Golden Age, including Celso Ad. Castillo, Mike de Leon, Peque Gallaga, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Laurice Guillen, Mel Chionglo, Maryo J. de los Reyes, and even post-Second Golden Age practitioners, like Chito Roño and Carlos Siguion-Reyna, had at one time or another similarly employed such techniques in strictly isolated instances.
11. Film Opera. As related in the introduction, the New Wave helped revitalize film activity in several European capitals, even in those which had recently undergone intensive aesthetic explorations in film. Italy is probably the best example. Before the war, Italian cinema had relied on superspectacles patterned after (and presumably determined to exceed) Hollywood. These historical fictions were highly reliant on
a taste, and a poor taste at that, for sets, idealization of the principal actors, childish emphasis on acting, atrophy of mise en scène, the dragging in of the traditional paraphernalia of bel canto and opera, conventional scripts influenced by the theater, the romantic melodrama and chanson de geste reduced to an adventure story. (Bazin 18)
The parallelisms with the Philippines under the Marcos regime are truly revealing. Fascist rule in both cases sought to provide as much incentive as possible for filmmaking, including the founding of such institutions as the Centro Sperimentale at Rome (Experimental Cinema of the Philippines in Manila) and the Venice Film Festival (Manila International Film Festival in our case).
Unlike in the Philippines, however, sensible film production in Italy outlasted the regime. This it managed to do by a transformation that amazed even observers who were already familiar with the French New Wave phenomenon. The younger neorealist practitioners, led by Fellini (with La dolce vita and the reflexive 8 1/2) and Michelangelo Antonioni (with his existentialist trilogy L’avventura, La notte, and L’eclissi), returned to the aesthetics of the previous era, but with their neorealist and New Wave-influenced sensibilities intact. This resulted in visual spectacles that, instead of carrying the custom-built trademark of earlier Italian cinema, were intensely personal in nature, either immensely involving in the case of Fellini or strongly alienating in the case of Antonioni.
Perhaps the most concrete proof that the neorealists had reverted to the past was that Luchino Visconti, one of the original neorealist filmmaking trinity that included Vittorio de Sica and Roberto Rossellini, had made nothing since except realistic films revolving around the theme of social decadence (Monaco, How to Read a Film 273-75). Even including more modest undertakings by the likes of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Francesco Rosi, the next generation of Italian filmmakers has continued the trend, starting with Bernardo Bertolucci and Marco Bellochio (who first earned for their works the descriptive term film opera), Ermanno Olmi and the brothers Vittorio and Paolo Taviani, and Lina Wertmuller and Liliana Cavani.
The emotional and theatrical affinities between Italians and Filipinos, overlaid by the expressive nature of the Latinate culture introduced by the Spaniards, no doubt contributed to the confidence of our local serious practitioners in adopting a neorealist pose, which however proved no match for the vitality (or, as blinkered nationalists would argue, vulgarity) of American film products. Film opera, in this respect, has enjoyed greater audience acceptance than neorealism, although, again, certain film sectors would look askance at an alternative that seems premised on certain characteristics of the very thing it seeks to supplant. Peque Gallaga has been the closest we have had to an authentic Italian film opera “composer,” with a trilogy of epics – Oro, Plata, Mata, Virgin Forest (1985), and (with Lore Reyes) Isang Araw Walang Diyos (1989) – that revel in panache without too much strain on credulity.
More than their Hollywood counterparts, Filipino practitioners feel compelled to assert a status as “major” by indulging in stylized operatic gestures. Castillo has done so with a series of sociosexual metaphors, Bernal with Gamitin Mo Ako (1985), Brocka with Macho Dancer, Mike de Leon with Batch ’81 (1982) rather than the rock-operatic Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, Marilou Diaz-Abaya with Karnal (1983) and Alyas Baby Tsina, Laurice Guillen with Salome (1981), even Maryo J. de los Reyes with Tagos ng Dugo (1987) and Elwood Perez with Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit (1989). Among the newer generation, however, it is Chito Roño who, with Private Show (1986), Itanong Mo sa Buwan (1988), and especially Bakit Kay Tagal ng Sandali? (1990), seems capable of executing a kind of film opera that is intrinsic to the filmmaker’s style, not dependent on the usual (and expensive) distension of resources.
12. Radical politics. A significant event during the French New Wave years was the attempted ouster of Henri Langlois from the Cinémathèque Française by then Culture Minister André Malraux. It was early winter 1968 during the government of Charles de Gaulle:
Led by Godard, Truffaut, and their colleagues, the French film community took to the streets in support of the orotund, genial packrat. Not a few historical commentators regard those February demonstrations as the first manifestation of the spirit that was to bloom in May and June of that year. A political revolution had begun with an argument over film! (Monaco, The New Wave 11-12)
Of course, by this time the response by the Cahiers group was not entirely unexpected. Alain Resnais, considered a fellow proponent of the New Wave, though not a critic-articulator like the others, came up with Hiroshima mon amour in the year The 400 Blows was released. His was a more overtly political film debut than those of any of the Cahiers critics. Resnais followed through with La guerre est finie, about the aftermath of the Communist antifascist resistance in Spain. The New Wave founders similarly exhibited a left-leaning political sensibility that almost never really became the focal point of their works, except for Godard. This occasioned the predominance of Marxist politics (plus a renewal of Freudian psychoanalysis, as we will see later) in all the other national contexts where the New Wave was to take hold.
The Philippines was ripe for such a confrontational positioning between film artists as good guys and the martial law government as the villain, with the audience as the perceived victims and industry bigwigs as essential enemies but also potential tactical allies. The New Wave fortunately provided, in a system that claimed to be liberal and democratic, the best kind of defense available: artistry. It had been successfully invoked in the US to justify the importation of an allegedly immoral European movie, Vilgot Sjoman’s I Am Curious (Yellow), and the libertarian indulgence (whether in terms of importation or production) that followed extended to politically controversial material. Filipino filmmakers followed suit during the early seventies with a series of sex films, but after martial law, political commentaries accompanied the revival of sexual treatments in local cinema.
Brocka was, of course, the instigator in this regard, with Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag expanding on the small-town critique proffered by Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (1974); Jaguar, PX (1982), Miguelito: Batang Rebelde (1985), and Bayan Ko were all to follow in an increasingly open denunciation of Marcos rule, but even less overtly political works like Insiang (1976), Bona, Angela Markado, and Cain at Abel (1982) implicated the regime for its ethos of violence and the widespread poverty in the country. Right after Maynila but before the militarization of the censors board, Filipino filmmakers were emboldened to embark on political (and sexual) critiques on film. Behn Cervantes did Sakada (1976), which was subsequently banned, and much later shared a stint in prison with Brocka, who was then agitating for his own prohibited work, Bayan Ko. Lupita Kashiwahara dealt with the abuses traceable to the presence of US military bases in Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo (1976), shortly before going into self-exile, ironically in the US. Mike de Leon followed Brocka’s example (and shared his Cannes limelight) with a series of politically consistent though generically disparate titles – Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, Kisapmata (1981), Batch ’81, and Sister Stella L. Castillo, whose Burlesk Queen angered the cultural establishment for its castigation of moral hypocrisy, tackled rural unrest in Pagputi ng Uwak, Ang Alamat ni Julian Makabayan (1979), and Pedro Tunasan (1983).
Bernal’s near-abstract approach in Nunal sa Tubig did not distract its critics from noting its execration of the government’s industrialization policies, while his formally innovative discourse (see last section) on lumpenproletarian issues, Manila by Night, was also banned and subjected to the worst mangling of any local movie ever. Subsequent Bernal titles, notably Ito Ba ang Ating mga Anak? (1982), Himala, Relasyon (1982), Broken Marriage (1983), Hinugot sa Langit (1985), and the post-Second Golden Age Pahiram ng Isang Umaga (1989), shared a melodramatic bent, but within an atypical framework of social disillusionment. Other filmmakers – notably O’Hara with Kastilyong Buhangin (1980), Bulaklak sa City Jail (1984), Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak (1987); Gil Portes with ’Merika (1984), Bukas … May Pangarap (1984), Andrea, Paano Ba ang Maging Isang Ina? (1990); Roño with Private Show, Itanong Mo sa Buwan, Bakit Kay Tagal ng Sandali?; Diaz-Abaya with Brutal (1980), Moral (1982), Karnal, Alyas Baby Tsina; and Guillen with Kasal? (1980) and Salome – worked in a similar vein.
However, even Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon … Paano Kayo Ngayon? (1976), which was criticized for being too conciliatory for the interests of nationalism, drew from leftist historian Renato Constantino’s thesis on the evolution of the term “Filipino” (147-48). Gallaga, whose epic trilogy (see film opera section) was deemed reactionary, provided sufficient political ambiguity in portraying the moral decline of the bourgeoisie, the mercenary motives of imperialists, and the inhumanity of right-wing fanatics. Final proof of the politicization of local film artists lay in the antiestablishment attitudinizing assumed ironically by a class of works, sex films, reviled by opposition forces themselves for supposedly contributing to the regime’s objectives of providing a semblance of freedom while at the same time forcing the mass audience to lose sight of the issues at hand.
13. Sexual libertarianism. A straightforward approach to sexual topics had long been a component of European, and especially French, art and literature, fortified by the rise of the realist movement. In cinema, the inhibition brought about by the public nature of the medium, compounded by its susceptibility to establishment control, was swept away, along with other unreasonable (and perhaps a few reasonable) restrictions, by the New Wave. The resulting openness had an air of defiance about it at first, later settling down to nonchalance. In cases, however, where the threat of repression remained, the depiction of sexuality retained its tone of defiance, as witness the sex films from the US, Italy, and the Philippines against those, for instance, from France and Sweden: “If, in today’s sex films, the ‘pornographic’ element predominates, this is because they are produced within the context of a sexually repressed society. The huge financial success of the hardcore films cannot be explained in any other manner” (Vogel 219-20).
In the Philippines, the usually exploitative genre of sex films was itself exploited by Ferdinand Marcos, who may yet prove to be the most accomplished media manipulator among all Philippine presidents thus far. Lumbera (“Pelikula” 216) has suggested a reconsideration of the premartial law bomba film as “a subversive genre in which the narrative pretends to uphold establishment values when it is actually intent on undermining audience support for corrupt and outmoded institutions.” The description, however, may apply more appropriately to the late Marcos-era movies exhibited, often exclusively, at the Manila Film Center (MFC). Sometimes out of sheer desperation, these managed to reflect artistic aspirations, if not genuine artistry, in their presentations.
Among the bomba era’s quality outputs, only a handful – Castillo’s Nympha (1971), Bernal’s Pagdating sa Dulo, and Brocka’s Tubog sa Ginto (1971) – may be considered worthy of comparison with the MFC’s integral presentations of Bernal’s Manila by Night and Gamitin Mo Ako, Diaz-Abaya’s Moral and Karnal, Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata, Scorpio Nights (1985), and Virgin Forest, Castillo’s Paradise Inn (1985), Mel Chionglo’s Sinner or Saint (1984), and Tikoy Aguiluz’s Boatman (1984), among many others. Even well-received post-Second Golden Age titles like Roño’s Private Show and William Pascual’s Takaw Tukso (1986) were apparently also intended for exhibition in the same (but now defunct) venue. From the intervening period (referred to as the “bold” era) are titles that include Bernal’s Mister Mo, Lover Boy Ko (1974), Ligaw na Bulaklak (1976), and Nunal sa Tubig, Castillo’s Burlesk Queen, Diaz-Abaya’s Brutal (1980), and Guillen’s Salome. Brocka, although repudiating the MFC, did not shy away from such subject matter, as evidenced in Insiang and a number of lesser works that include Init (1978), Hot Property (1983), and White Slavery (1985).
More significant was Brocka’s tackling of homosexuality at regular intervals, from his early Tubog sa Ginto to Ang Tatay Kong Nanay (1978) in his middle period (with peripheral gay characters in Maynila, Mananayaw , and Palipat-lipat, Papalit-palit ) to Macho Dancer in 1989. The gay character assumed a more realistic, if not always sympathetic, treatment during the Second Golden Age, scoring points in otherwise straight milieux in Scorpio Nights and Moral, and assuming lead-character capability, in all his flaming glory, in Manila by Night. Gays managed to sustain high visibility afterward, but at the risk of comic treatments bordering on ridicule, culminating in the rise and fall of Roderick Paulate. Lesbians also had their share of exposure, but in a different manner.
14. Feminism. An unintentional byproduct of the sexual libertarianism of the New Wave was its catalysis of questions on women, especially in Hollywood cinema. At a time when dominant views and values held sway, women’s roles could be seen from a lesser-of-two-evils perspective: better a weak woman character, who at least conformed to Judeo-Christian prescriptions, than an exploited actress.
But with the successful breaking down of barriers on basic taboos such as the filmic presentation of nudity, foul language, and sexual activity, the so-called defenders of morality premised their case partly on the exploitation of women as sex objects. The return to an era of repression, however, never came about, since most international New Wave entries were artistically superior and because these same films, not to mention countless inferior ones, proved good for business. Hence, the issue of the exploitation of women, once it was raised by latter-day feminists, assumed an urgency that was informed with an enlightened perspective without the puritanical objectives of the earlier objectors.
In a comprehensive study of political film theory, Robert Lapsley and Michael Westlake argue that
the politics of gender has effectively displaced the politics of class within film theory. The impetus for this shift came from the resurgence of the women’s movement in the late 1960s, when, in addition to such longer-standing concerns as women’s economic exploitation, political exclusion, and cultural disadvantaging, questions of feminine identity and of the representation of women were perceived to be of central importance. (23)
Lapsley and Westlake continue by describing the feminist project in cinema in two consecutive albeit possibly overlapping stages (23-24). First, there was consciousness raising, comprising “a denunciation of the greater part of Hollywood’s output,” the conduct of debate regarding the value of current American films claiming to be responsive to women’s criticisms, and the recovery of “a lost history of women’s filmmaking in various capacities … paralleled by a condemnation of the industry for its near-total domination by men in these crucial productive sectors.” Second, there was a diverging of ways into poststructuralism on the one hand, where “there is no possibility of a final word, no encompassing meta-discourse,” and into a potential impasse on the other hand, attributable “to the anti-essentialism common to both structuralism and poststructuralism” and posing to those inclined in this direction the risk of appearing to indict or critique patriarchy “only on the grounds of some kind of aesthetic preference” (30-31).
In the Philippine context, a residual form of female predominance, attributed to pre-Hispanic ideologies (see Infante), may be acknowledged as the source of the shape and direction of certain significant aspects of contemporary cultural, religious, and social life, including the current ascendancy of women in political affairs. By way of proof, most old Filipino films (at least those still in existence) provided major roles for women. The emergence of feminist film consciousness during the 1980s has only served to strengthen women characters, and threatens to demolish the last bastions of machismo in local cinema (that is, the action and sex film genres). It is also possible to assert that gay awareness has somehow served to complement female, if not feminist, imperatives in cinema, as witness the increase in sexual aggressiveness now allowed women protagonists, coupled with the demand for physically desirable male performers (compared with those of earlier film decades) even in action and sex films.
Alongside this heightening of feminist (or at least womanist) awareness was the breakthrough of two women directors, who managed to live up to the unfairly higher expectations brought to bear on their sex: Laurice Guillen and Marilou Diaz-Abaya. The two followed the more politically positioned Lupita Kashiwahara (and Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo scriptwriter Marina Feleo-Gonzalez) of an earlier film generation. Guillen and Diaz-Abaya, the latter especially, profited from an association with Ricardo Lee, who began a series of discourses on the Filipina with the scripts he wrote for both directors. The two leading Philippine female stars, Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos, also came around to appropriating strong roles and investing these with competent, sometimes brilliant, interpretations. The rest of the major Filipino directors and actresses followed suit, and the transformations have been practically all-encompassing. Now martyr wives or mothers are expected to eventually take command of their fates and families. The women of action heroes may still settle for supporting capacities, but compensate for lessened screen exposure by coming on strong (as domineering wives and mothers and demanding girlfriends or mistresses). Even morally wayward seductresses are no longer expected to always redeem themselves through tragic comeuppances.
Diaz-Abaya’s Brutal was hailed upon its release as the first feminist Filipino film, although it was actually preceded by a number of prowomen, if not strong-women, titles including Bernal’s Mister Mo, Lover Boy Ko, Lumapit … Lumayo ang Umaga (1975), Dalawang Pugad … Isang Ibon (1977), Lagi na Lamang Ba Akong Babae? (1978), and Aliw (1979); Brocka’s Insiang, Inay (1977), Mananayaw, Rubia Servios (1978), Ina, Kapatid, Anak (1979), and Ina Ka ng Anak Mo (1979); Danny Zialcita’s Hindi sa Iyo ang Mundo, Baby Porcuna (1978); O’Hara’s Tatlong Taóng Walang Diyos (1976); Castillo’s Burlesk Queen; and, of course, Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo. Brutal, however, offered a systematization up to that point of the character types of women in local cinema (and popular culture as well), plus an unqualifiably prowomen synthesis of the contradictions they encounter in Philippine society.
It would help to recall that alongside the other local films on women released before Brutal were several Hollywood titles with an analogous orientation, notably Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, Martin Ritt’s Norma Rae, and the Jane Fonda starrers, Alan J. Pakula’s Klute and Comes a Horseman, Hal Ashby’s Coming Home, Fred Zinnemann’s Julia, and James Bridges’s The China Syndrome. These, perhaps more than the debut of American filmmakers Claudia Weill, Joan Darling, and Joan Micklin Silver, helped confirm for Philippine filmmakers and audiences the viability and validity of women as subjects in cinema.
Succeeding Brutal was a more formally daring (see next section) film by the same director, Moral, and by Guillen, Salome. All three titles were scripted by Lee. Diaz-Abaya’s subsequent films on women, though, seemed to have been sidetracked by an obsession with film opera stylizations, in effect presenting purportedly realist material in an unrealistic, albeit impressive, manner. Bernal, for his part, overtook Brocka with highly sympathetic depictions of the plights of various Filipina professionals caught up in social contradictions: the middle-class mistress in Relasyon, the rural faith healer in Himala, the business-district employees in Working Girls (1984), and, in 1989, the dying executive in Pahiram ng Isang Umaga. Mike de Leon delineated a nun’s awakening toward political activism in Sister Stella L. O’Hara had underworld types in Condemned (1984), Bulaklak sa City Jail (the only notable feminist film scripted by a woman during this period), and Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak. More important, the censorship-exemption spell instituted by Marcos profited to a significant degree from such consciousness, notwithstanding the expressions of outrage from moralist sectors. The relevant titles mentioned in the sexual-libertarian section, for example, were more often than not careful in providing women characters with sufficient motivations and humane (if not politically viable) resolutions.
Complainants, of course, zeroed in on the exceptions, which similarly profited from a cynical exploitation of women’s issues in order to justify graphic portrayals of female anatomies in near or outright pornographic situations. Another problem was the appropriation of feminist exigencies in the pursuit of reactionary-propagandistic ploys. Finally, the portrayal of lesbianism also lagged behind the gains posted by male gays in local cinema. Zialcita’s T-Bird at Ako (1982) saw its queer female character being converted by a casual encounter with an exponent of machismo, a treatment to be repeated in Pepe Marcos’s Tubusin Mo ng Dugo (1988) and reveling in its inequity in the various Roderick Paulate films that paired the star with Maricel Soriano (that is, the lesbian turned straight while the gay remained gay in the end). Meanwhile, the lesbian in Moral, though not condemned outright, was also accorded less significance than the gay male couple who interacted with one of the major characters. Most other lesbian characters, including one in Diaz-Abaya’s Alyas Baby Tsina and a leading role in Ben Yalung’s Basag ang Pula (1983), were assigned villain roles, while another in Carlo J. Caparas’s Celestina Sanchez, Alyas Bubbles (Enforcer: Ativan Gang) (1990) observed tragic film-noir progressions. Only in recent releases, notably Chionglo’s Isabel Aquino: I Want to Live! (1991) and Portes’s Class of ’91 (1991), have lesbians acquired recognizable dimensions and maintained their sexuality consistently throughout – possibly a long-overdue indication of better things to come.
15. Multiple-character format. The adaptation of novelistic techniques to film, heralded by Bazin in his critique of the neorealist film The Bicycle Thief (58-59), actually had much farther to go even then. Stream of consciousness, for example, could not be effectively carried over into classical cinema beyond the too obviously literary voice-over narration of the character(s) involved. A similar dilemma appears in the issue of how best to portray, if it were ever possible in the first place, magic realism in film. On the other hand, the medium was a natural from the very beginning for many other storytelling devices, particularly the usage and development of symbols, the shifts in perspectives and points of view, and the poetization of even the most realistically mundane imagery.
An older story format was the multiple-character narrative, utilized in bare linear form in such canonic Western samples as The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales. Cinema proved receptive to this method, with the French themselves coming up, on the eve of the New Wave, with works like Max Ophuls’s La ronde and Rene Clair’s Beauties of the Night. But then novelists, with complementary efforts from playwrights, were seeking to further refine multicharacter presentations in the direction of allowing each character equal emphasis throughout the work, rather than giving them mere episodic prominence that makes way for the next lead and episode. In cinema, this entailed technical developments that were to be attempted during the New Wave and perfected in its American arrival.
Bazin’s theory of realism (expounded in “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” and “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema” in 1: 9-16 and 1: 23-40 resp.) postulated the supersedure of montage by deep-focus technique, since the need to cut from detail to detail within a scene could now be fulfilled by simply arranging all the necessary elements according to the maximization of foreground, middleground, and background. Works like Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane and Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game were cited as exemplifications of this principle. However, Bazin’s assumption rested on the perception that film was a visual medium, no more, no less.
It was the Cahiers group’s tinkering with film sound, especially in the works of Truffaut and Godard, that suggested that further innovations could be realized in the aural dimension. While Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel may be considered a relatively fulfilled precursor, it took an American, Robert Altman, to demonstrate (sometimes at the expense of getting fired from film assignments) the workability of having two or more equally important lines of dialogue delivered simultaneously. From MASH, a Cannes festival winner, he progressed to increasingly complex films. His Nashville had twenty-four characters act and speak out their stories, often at the same time and to stunning effect. Prior to this, other filmmakers had already taken the cue, albeit on smaller scales – Lucas with American Graffiti and Truffaut with his reflexive Day for Night; Altman himself was to attempt the Nashville pattern more than once thereafter, but never seemed to be able to muster the right combination of innocence, exuberance, political sophistication, and affection for character that Nashville displayed.
The multiple-character format, in its outward spread, became a supergenre of sorts, since each character could be associated with an appropriate film style or technique unique from the rest. Also, even relatively impoverished industries could utilize it, since all it really required was the careful execution of in-depth composition and simultaneous film sound, both of which are minimum modern-day industrial capabilities in the first place. The Philippines saw a predecessor in Gregorio Fernandez’s Malvarosa (1958), but the first conscious emulation of Altman’s triumph in Nashville can be seen in Bernal’s Nunal sa Tubig and Brocka’s Lunes, Martes, Miyerkules, Huwebes, Biyernes, Sabado, Linggo (1976). Although Nunal sa Tubig was the bigger flop at the box office (partly because it was bigger-budgeted), it also managed to stir up some critical exchanges among the members of the Manunuri, mainly because of its philosophical and pure-film orientation.
Between Bernal and Brocka, it was the former who would thereafter pursue the creation of multicharacter Philippine movies, coming up with Aliw, Menor de Edad (1979) Manila by Night, Bilibid Boys (1981), Ito Ba ang Ating mga Anak?, The Graduates (1986), and the Working Girls movies (1984 and 1987). Brocka would make what appears to be a reluctant attempt with Miguelito, while Diaz-Abaya would fare much better with Brutal and Moral. The format itself characterized the more mature outputs of filmmakers during their career peaks, as can be seen in Gallaga’s epics, O’Hara’s Bulaklak sa City Jail and Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak, Mike de Leon’s Kakabakaba Ka Ba? and Batch ’81, and de los Reyes’s Bagets and High School Circa ’65. Even extremes of mainstream outputs, like Castillo’s sex films and Zialcita’s comic melodramas on the one hand and alternative format and media items on the other, attest to the flexibility of the approach and the maturation of an audience capable of attending to what is after all a complex audiovisual narrative presentation.
Running through this enumeration of fifteen samples of film trends are a number of insights (not to mention film titles) that tend to recur. Three of these may be taken up as areas for further consideration, inasmuch as their bearing on Philippine cinema extends to the present, and any modifications or qualifications of their respective conditions would tend to have great impact on local cinema as both artistic and industrial endeavor.
The first concerns what may be termed the Hollywood route. The influences of international film movements have, for better or worse, consistently entered the local mainstream through their Americanized versions. In a sense, this can be argued as investing non-Hollywood innovations with inherent disadvantages relative to Hollywood classicism. In fact, at least one local argument, that of Emmanuel A. Reyes, avers that our prominent neorealist and social-realist titles actually observe the norms of classical Hollywood narrative cinema, while the mainstream products are inclined to violate certain principles of the “unified, logical and tight structure of the classical narrative” (9). This view glosses over the fact that it was the local mainstream that sought to emulate Hollywood, and that its peculiarities were merely provisional concessions to local audience demands, since further “developments” since then have tended to approach the Hollywood ideal. Moreover, classical unities were properties generally shared by the output of both Hollywood and neorealist practitioners, so one would need to look into other aspects of the work (the choice of subject matter, first of all) in order to arrive at final distinctions.
At the moment the pressing challenge from observing the Hollywood model lies in industrial, rather than aesthetic, terms. American film currently can be approached as an extension of video and television, and the implications for product realignment have been overwhelming. Films produced according to such a system should ordinarily be more intimate and make allowances for possible breaks in packaging and broadcasting. In addition, topics should be selected and treated according to how well they can balance attention in relation to both presentation and other home-viewing activities, without either one succeeding in distracting the viewer from the other. In the Philippines, the incursion of film producers into TV may betoken an acknowledgment of the Hollywood trend, but whether this means a coping with or a copping out – is the question.
The next problematic area comprises physical and cultural contexts. To be sure, certain specialized sectors of the Philippine audience – film artists, educators, buffs even – maintain awareness of the original circumstances and ideologies behind particular movements in cinema, especially when these present implications for local applications. Both the spread of video and the increasing mobility in and affordability of overseas travel conspire to promote a more accurate global awareness of trends and situations alien to one’s own specific contexts. But since we acquire our filmic innovations (along with the requisite technologies) more or less directly from Hollywood, with a view toward such other Asian film centers as Japan and Hongkong necessarily as much Hollywood-bound as Hollywood-devouring, the transformation of a non-American influence becomes all that much harder to trace, much less rationalize. How much of the change between, say, a New Wave feature and the Philippine version was furnished by Hollywood, and how much simply resulted from the attempt to make it acceptable to Filipino viewers? More important, what is the significance of any specific innovation of foreign non-American origin, and how will it fit and fare in this country, assuming it arrives one way or another?
The last area concerns the role of institutions. Without doubt the intervention of government during the Marcos years affected the course of local film aesthetics and production, just as the growing wave in current film education promises to play a similar part in future. The relationships are more complex and contradictory than they might appear on the surface. It is easy to conclude, for example, that the Marcos government was actually supportive of Filipino film artists, on the basis of the consistently high quality of output during the Marcos years. Historical responsibility however requires us to go beyond an inspection of the products themselves, to the policies and machinations of the institutions in force during the period. In certain cases, admirable projects were produced despite overt restriction and covert harassment, then the restricting institution would turn around and encourage some form of productive or even creative activity and yield just as admirable productions. Further complicating this issue is the role in both local production and local and foreign exhibition played by an entity that, for the sake of convenience, may still be called Hollywood, and represented in the Philippines by a highly influential lobby of foreign-film distributors.
All that this makes clear is the reality that the study of Philippine cinema still has some lengths to go in order to provide more useful lessons and insights for the future. The scope and complexity may appear daunting, but perhaps what should be kept in mind is the fact that there has been no medium more controversial, popular, and rewarding – and in several senses as well.
 Ishmael Bernal’s first directorial assignment was Ah, Ewan! Basta sa Maynila Pa Rin Ako! (whose script he had written) from 1970. He rejected the credit when the film came out, but by then his name appeared on the now-lost film. Print materials for the movie list Luis Enriquez (real name of actor-producer Eddie Rodriguez) as the movie’s director.
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