Doy del Mundo on a Controversy over Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag

This is the source interview for an article I wrote, titled “Thinking Straight: Queer Imaging in Lino Brocka’s Maynila (1975),” published in the August 2012 issue (volume 9, issue 2) of Plaridel: A Philippine Journal of Communication, Media, and Society. The respondent, Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr., was a founding member of the Filipino film critics circle and a retired professor of communication at De La Salle University. He is known as the scriptwriter for the majority of Mike de Leon films, but he first made his mark with the screenplay of Lino Brocka’s Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag [Manila: In the Claws of Darkness]. The interview was conducted via email in mid-2012, as a way of seeking out supplementary information for the article.

I drafted a paper for a special issue on queer media. I mentioned special early cases of controversies on queer politics in Philippine cinema. In looking at the case of Maynila, I remembered an article that came out in The Literary Apprentice, the journal of the University of the Philippines Writers Club. I re-read it once more and I was surprised at how offensive it sounded this time, in spite of its best intentions. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions regarding the film adaptation of [Edgardo Reyes’s novel] Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1967)? I hope you could provide some insights and/or correct any misimpressions I might have.

I saw the original run of Maynila (in July 1975), but ever since then, from its reissue after sweeping the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences awards to all subsequent rescreenings and video transfers, it’s been missing several sequences. That’s why when the article mentioned that 1/4 of the movie consisted of the gay-hustler underworld, it becomes accurate only when the point of reference is the original cut. Does this first version still exist anywhere or was there a conscious and/or official decision to trim the film? If it’s the second case, then would you know if the missing footage is lost for good?

The first version was re-edited by [Maynila’s producer and cinematographer] Mike de Leon for foreign exhibition (e.g. film festivals). I don’t think Lino was consulted about it. I did support Mike in doing the re-editing. Basically, the gay segment was shortened – it was unnecessarily long. I doubt if the first version exists anymore.

One recent academic paper claimed that Edgardo Reyes sued Lino for changes done to the narrative (presumably including the detour of Julio Madiaga into Bobby’s profession). It seemed, even from the still-existing scenes, that the dialogue-writing differed from the rest of the film. How improvisatory were these scenes – i.e., were you required/requested to provide scenes or lines or an entire narrative arc?

When Lino made the suggestion to add the excursion into the gay underworld, I asked him and Mike to clear it with Edgardo Reyes. I doubt if they did. Anyway, Lino and I talked about his ideas. Finally, I scripted it myself. The dialogue would naturally differ from the rest of the film. The character of Bobby belongs to a different group. The dialogue separates him from the world of the construction workers.

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The article I mentioned proceeded from a homophobic framework – that the novel, like its protagonist, was masculine, and the film adaptation “emasculated” it. (Strangely, the way the author expressed it sounded extremely homoerotic – a deep affection for Julio, representing Tondo, representing Manila, representing the country, in unconscious synecdochical distensions.) He identified Lino and you as responsible for the changes he regarded as unworthy of the source material. Yet the depiction of the gay underworld was similarly and ironically homophobic. I don’t remember this kind of discussion being conducted in mainstream media, but were these issues being raised in venues outside of a university journal? For example, in tabloids or in seminars? Or was this the only instance where the gender “shortcomings” of the movie were brought up?

I think the “homophobic” readings did not happen at the time. I could be wrong, though. The main concern, then, was how faithful was the film to the original source.

Lino’s interview with Hammy Sotto (published in the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ commemorative volume) seemed to assume that the original, extended version (ending with a beach scene where Bobby attempts to seduce Julio and the latter walks out on him in disgust) was still in existence. Interestingly, Lino explains that the purpose of providing the Julio-as-hustler scenes was to make the character as “fallen” (my interpretation) as Ligaya. The author of the article found this offensive, saying in effect that it’s unfair to “reward” Julio with a quickie in a cheap hotel room, a scene which he described as hackneyed, preceded as it was by a viewing of a Holy Week Christ’s-passion movie. Was this departure from the novel in the original draft of the script? How involved was Lino in revising the material?

The Julio-Ligaya sequence is in the original screenplay. Lino changed the location, though. In the screenplay, after the chance meeting in Santa Cruz Church, Julio and Ligaya move to a moviehouse (the movie was the production designer’s touch – based on what was available at the time). Then, they move to a restaurant. Lino changed the location to a motel room. It’s a credible change and it adds a dimension to the characters of Julio and Ligaya. My reading was more romantic – Ligaya’s storytelling was more subdued, controlled, perhaps more subtle. Lino had a different idea. Ligaya’s unfolding was more emotional, more direct (forget subtlety at this point of the film). I respect Lino’s change of location and consequent interpretation.

Lino wanted to create a metaphor for a different level of exploitation. Julio is exploited not only economically, he is exploited physically and spiritually. Your “fallen” interpretation is an interesting one. I agreed with Lino – he was the more experienced among us and had a better understanding of his audience. The film would have not been done if Lino did not have his way. My best alternative was to be involved in writing the script.

Portions of the article ridicule you for not being prepared (in the sense that you weren’t a Tondo native, among other things). I wanted to formulate questions around these but I found these assumptions too objectionable to even dignify. I had a few occasions interacting with a certain group of writers to which the author might have belonged – they generally taught university courses, wrote criticism and fiction (including poetry), and were insufferably masculinist and unapologetically homophobic as a consequence. I just concluded that their indulgence in the less-“masculine” professions of teaching and writing induced this kind of neurosis – essentially confirming the typical psychoanalytic finding that phobes are projecting on others certain qualities that they fear in themselves. No questions coming up about this, I’m just sharing my own annoyance with that type of mentality, thankfully no longer in mainstream vogue from what can be observed in the younger generations.

Yeah, I remember the author’s critique that I was not familiar with the setting of the novel so much so that I had to “visit” the places like a tourist. I visited the places to help me visualize the scenes. The novel appealed to me for its cinematic qualities and significance. I regretted (then) that the author and company did not appreciate a middle-class screenwriter tackling a proletarian novel.

In one school tour that we did during the showing of Maynila, I remember the same critique being asked. I just said that I was glad that I did not have to collaborate with the reigning administration in doing my work (the author of the article was working in a Marcos agency at the time).

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About Joel David

Teacher, scholar, & gadfly of film, media, & culture. [Photo of Kiehl courtesy of Danny Y. & Vanny P.] View all posts by Joel David

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