Book Texts – Metacriticism

FILM CRITICS SPEAK
[Prepared with Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr. & Patrick D. Flores]

To begin with, we observed that the entire spectrum of existent Filipino criticism is evident in film; in short, cinema is the most widely discussed art form in the Philippines. Practically all publications acknowledge this widespread interest by devoting regular sections to film, and film commentary is also making inroads in television and radio. It is the level of commentary, however, that leaves much to be desired. As far as general impact can be gauged, we can safely state that serious film evaluation is performed and sustained primarily by the handing out of awards by various bodies. We cannot deny the publicity mileage this generates, especially since the sheer number of award-giving winners could go on for as long as the very last trophy during the very last ceremony still has to be handed out.

There are six established award-giving groups, as of last count, some of them clearly overlapping in claims and functions. Although one could argue the relative merits of each, we would rather take the larger and more controversial stance of stating that film discussion, although heavily promoted, is also seriously trivialized by award-giving. There is no focus of discussion, except the comparative aesthetic achievements of the nominees – and even then the fact that film is too complex an aesthetic system to be subjected to this treatment is glossed over. We would also like to point out that the movie industry labors under government neglect, particularly when compared with the institutional support provided by the Marcos dictatorship. We do not endorse the kind of self-serving and overscaled meddling suffered by our practitioners during the latter years of the dictatorship. On the other hand, we agree with some of the industry’s advanced sectors that relief from taxation and censorhip, as well as cash incentives for quality productions, no matter how occasional, resulted in an atmosphere of sanguinity then, and would still be welcome features today.

At this point we would like to go into one particular, and that is – the need to implement an honest-to-goodness system of film classification, one that does not result in the tampering of the work on anyone’s part, and that also presumes the liability of the practitioners strictly within the context of absolute freedom of expression. Meaning to say, one should be held responsible for violating our existing laws on the limits of expression, but one should also be allowed to complete the process of expression to begin with. We welcome the role that education plays in making the audience more aware of the nature and potentials of its favorite mass medium. However, we believe that the availability of such education is too elitist to be truly effective. A student first has to reach college and study in particular schools, mostly the expensive ones, in order to be able to take courses dealing with film. To specialize in the field, the student has available to her only one school, the national university. For advanced studies, she has to go abroad.

We enjoin all our fellow film critics to persist in popularizing film discussion without trivializing it. We seek to encourage sober discussions in as wide a spectrum of our audiences as possible, and recognize the cruciality of the role that Filipino film artists have been playing in conducting dialogues, no matter how limited, among themselves, with film commentators, and with the audience. In cooperation with our educational institutions as well as the mass media, we call for the expansion and development of local film scholarship, in order to provide a firm basis for popularizing film commentaries.

Lastly we would like to maintain the manifold advantages of expanding opportunities in film. Government could help a great deal in facilitating our filmmakers’ participation in foreign festivals and markets, counting the costs in terms of additional income and prestige rather than the personalistic self-image of whoever happens to wield power at the moment. We need to have more schools offering film courses and full-blown degrees in the field, as well as higher studies specializing in the medium. We envision the resulting network as a possible venue for alternative film products, with an eventual bearing on mainstream production. We also stand as one with our colleagues in pursuing the thoroughgoing professionalization of criticism in the Philippines, so as to enable serious film commentators to practice and grow in the craft without the distractions of unrelated income-generating activities or the temptations of public relations work that could compromise the formation of well-informed, carefully thought out and expertly articulated opinions on film.

[First published October 3, 1990, in National Midweek]

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TEN BEST FILIPINO FILMS UP TO 1990

Before this report came out as the cover story of National Midweek, canonical surveys of Philippine cinema were extremely delimited, essentially dismissible novelties. The most extensive one I remember was a national daily’s Sunday supplement asking a handful of respondents to list their three “best” films – without any attempt at tabulating the results and arriving at (the semblance of) a group consensus. Among the several quantitative exercises I decided to undertake, this was the one that took off and refused to be shot down despite the limits that inhered even here, the very first attempt. Although these are discussed at length in the article, it still bears pointing out that: the circle of respondents is not homogeneous – a positive quality in terms of diversification of choices, but an essential flaw in the sense that the relative exposure of individuals might have been too wide for comfort; this means that some people might have seen more available (and a few later-unavailable) titles and would therefore be potentially better-informed than others. In discussing the results with some of my colleagues, we speculated that the ideal, in terms of having an “informed” circle, would be to get together a team and watch all the possible canonical candidates to be able to have common premises for deliberation. None of the succeeding internet-era exercises has done this, although all of them attempt to update the list below and a few managed to gather a larger number of respondents. Hence even if my intention was to provide as many examples of film canonizations in order to dispense with them and move on to serious critique, an “ultimate” canonizing project still remains to be accomplished.[1]

Click the pic to open a PDF scan of the original article.

The by-line for the article was “Joel David, with Melanie Joy C. Garduño”; when it was anthologized in Fields of Vision, I included Violeda A. Umali, professor of communication research at the national university, as project consultant, as well as the list of students who conducted the survey.[2] Looking over the now-faded respondents’ submissions, I noticed how I later discussed the answers that my Midweek colleague, Raul Regalado, submitted, and noted in his sheet that he preferred one film to be upheld over the rest of his equally ranked choices. The adjustment has been incorporated in the report below. The Midweek publication date was July 4, 1990 (pp. 3-9), while the inclusive pages in Fields of Vision (which added the helpful qualifier “Up to 1990” in the title) were 125-36.

Ten best lists are sure to secure attention and controversy. The procedure – taking a survey of acknowledged authorities in the field concerned and tallying the data to arrive at a final ranking – is fraught with booby traps, beginning from the issue of whom to take into account as respondents, through the validity of the statistical methods employed, right down to the presentation of results, if not the results themselves. Any activity with intense cultural participation will inevitably provoke the issue of standards and, compared with the challenge of critical writing, survey-taking would seem to be a more exact, though perhaps less lasting (and, in addition, too guiltily easy) resort. The entire science of statistics can be arguably ascribed to this innate passion for comparative evaluation, and nowhere in recent years has this been more heatedly exhibited, outside of economics, than in film.

The standard reference in film listings is the decadal survey by the British magazine Sight & Sound, which has been responsible for the reputation of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane as the best movie of all time – at least for the past three decades, and never mind if the second best onward could not seem to be established, or if one’s viewing gets upended by great expectations unfulfilled.[3] All other critical institutions have their own means of bestowing rank, most visibly the outstanding achievement trophies proffered by every major award-giving body.

In the Philippines, similar attempts at duplicating the Sight and Sound activity have been made, except that the statistical universe, small as it already is, has never been represented comprehensively enough; mostly the respondents were confined to the survey-taker’s circle of acquaintances, if not the survey-taker herself bothering to inform the public of her own opinions and preferences. In 1982, as secretary of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, I undertook such a project limited exclusively to the members of what was then after all the country’s only organized group of film commentators. In the end, after collating and tabulating everything, I had to conclude that the number of respondents was still not enough – that on the basis of sustained industry evidence, there was still a critical community somewhere left unrepresented; leakage of the results found its way to the movie press, but I decided that at that point, silence would be the more sensible course of action to take.

Between then and now two crucial developments intervened: the Philippines’s first and so far only degree program in film was opened at the University of the Philippines, providing me with the opportunity of exploring (in my various preparations and sometimes with my students) the various forms and directions of critical thinking in local film practice; furthermore, the February 1986 revolution, for a complex of reasons whose long-term worth still has to be determined, placed an effective halt to the intense and concentrated artistic output in cinema which I had elsewhere called our second Golden Age.

In my third year of handling the UP film criticism course, I decided that the students, what with the consistent upgrading of our curriculum’s theoretical foundation, might be ready for a ten-best exercise. Proposed as a class project, the activity generated sufficient enthusiasm for an entire class of about twenty to publish forms and follow up the responses of more than fifty people, using our expanded definition of film critic, to wit: published film criticism (which should be differentiated from film reviewing) is only a small, perhaps even relatively insignificant proportion of true critical activity; most criticism may in fact be unarticulated by both audiences (which would be nearly impossible to tease out, except in terms of box-office patronage) and artists, who provide proof of their capabilities in the progressions evident in their output. Hence the list consisted of a number of practicing writers on film (including Manunuri members), plus those film artists whose body of work could be defensibly classified as exhibiting critical exploration and growth. Necessarily directors and scriptwriters constituted this grouping, with a much lesser number of producers, performers, and technicians.

For a number of reasons not everyone could be surveyed. Within the time frame of the first semester of Philippine academic year 1989-90, some respondents were out of town or the country, or were otherwise indisposed by their work schedules. The whereabouts of a few could not be determined, and some (mostly those contacted by mail) just did not bother to reply. Certain personalities declined on the bases of delicadeza (tact or propriety in Filipino) and apprehension over the consequences of such an undertaking. All in all twenty-eight individuals submitted their lists of Filipino films ranked from best to tenth-best, with three providing no ranking, another three submitting less than ten and six submitting more – the most of which was seventeen. The complete list of lists, so to speak, with titles enumerated per respondent, makes up Table 1.

Numerical values equivalent to the ranking given were assigned the films, with averages given for those titles stipulated to have equal rank (for example, three titles all ranked first would each carry a value of two, the number corresponding to the middle rank). A total of eighty-one titles was tallied, with thirty-three or over forty percent being mentioned only once, and two top-notchers being mentioned sixteen times. To provide as much equal opportunity to each film as possible, as well as clarify the relative rankings of those mentioned against those which the respondents may have seen but did not rank, we planned a second phase in which the complete listing would be returned to the respondents, for them to indicate those which they had seen and to rank these further as carefully as possible. Again, time constraints overtook the execution of such a plan inasmuch as several respondents delayed in submitting their lists. In the end the waiting period took a good part of the semester, necessitating the cancellation of the second phase and leaving the tabulation for me to accomplish.

The list of titles mentioned, in alphabetical order, is given in Table 2, with year of release and director(s) following in parentheses, and films mentioned only once being marked by an asterisk. As might be expected, the most number of films, about thirty, comes from the current (1980s) decade, with even one unreleased title, Orapronobis, listed (Mel Chionglo, who had viewed only the rushes, also gave it special mention). The preceding decades decline in terms of frequency of mention – sixteen titles from the 1970s, nine from the ’60s – until we come to the 1950s, where twenty-three films are named; this may be attributable to the long-standing reputation of that era as the first Golden Age of Philippine cinema. Another surprisingly strong showing, considering that a good part of the decade suffered a shutdown in production because of the war, was the listing of three titles from the ’40s. On a sadder note is the inclusion of one of the three pre-war features still in existence (the only film from the ’30s figuring in the survey); relative to this would be the need to raise an alarm about the condition of all remaining Filipino films – some of which have seen their very last screening (Hanggang sa Dulo ng Daigdig at a Manila Film Center retrospective), exist only in reduced format (Sa Atin ang Daigdig in 16mm.), failed to have their negatives preserved (Sisa being only a duplicate of another positive), or worst of all, persist only in the memory of those who have seen then (Daigdig ng mga Api, among several others).[4]

Thirty-two directors were mentioned, about a dozen of them deceased. Gerardo de Leon heads the list with twelve complete films plus two installments in omnibus projects, followed equally by Ishmael Bernal and Lino Brocka with nine each, Mike de Leon with six, and Lamberto V. Avellana and Peque Gallaga (one codirected with Lore Reyes) with four apiece. Three titles each are ascribed to Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Manuel Conde, and Gregorio Fernandez, while Celso Ad. Castillo, Cesar Gallardo, Eddie Romero, and Mar S. Torres share two titles each. Those mentioned once include Tikoy Aguiluz, Cesar J. Amigo, Augusto Buenaventura, Tony Cayado, Behn Cervantes, Abbo Q. de la Cruz, Armando Garces, Laurice Guillen, Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara, Mario O’Hara, Gil Portes, Maryo J. de los Reyes, Chito Roño, Manuel Silos, Octavio Silos, Artemio Tecson, Carlos Vander Tolosa, and Robert Ylagan. Aside from Gerardo de Leon, those credited with episodes in omnibus films are Avellana, Manuel Silos, and F.H. Constantino.

Given these results, two approaches were possible, providing in effect a two-step procedure. One, the first, was to tabulate the frequency of mention of each film; all the films scored frequencies of two and above except for thirty-three as already mentioned. Next was to total the ranks of each film and divide this by the number of respondents, to get the average ranking. With this operation it would be possible to order each title according to its relative position on a scale from the smallest (i.e., the closest to a perfect “1”) to the largest average ranking, which turned out to be “17.” A comprehensive list would be too baffling without the breakdown and computation of figures, and too overdone with these, so as a sample demonstration, Table 3 contains the ranking of the thirty-three films which had only one respondent each.

In the end there were three types of ranking possible, two of them conforming to the top-ten mode of requirement. The first, with nineteen films in all, is a tabulation of the respondents’ number-one choices. The second is a ranking according to the frequency of mention of individual titles: the top films Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon? and Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag shared sixteen respondents, while the tenth, Moral, had eight, which quite neatly turns out to be half of the maximum. The third and, in the best way, final ranking is that done after the computation described earlier had been carried out, and the list confined, like the earlier ranking, to films mentioned by eight respondents and above; necessarily this would contain the same titles as the second ranking, but rearranged in consideration of the individual values accorded them by the respondents.

The value of the first ranking, the number-one choices, is that these are the titles that the respondents felt strongest about during the survey; it would be safe to say that each individual respondent wouldn’t mind finding her choice of number one making it to the magic circle, if not the very top. The second ranking is more independent of subjective opinion, since the films mentioned here presumably came about after the more emotional issue of determining the top-rank holder had been settled. On the other hand, such a ranking did not take into account the relative opinions of each respondent: most, for example, mentioned Ganito Kami Noon and Maynila, but does this mean they’d give either title top-rank as well? The answer is provided by the so-far final ranking, in which Manila by Night, mentioned by ten, turned out to be higher in their esteem.

In keeping with further categories formulated by James Monaco for a decade-wide survey, I checked the individual respondents’ respective lists against the final ranking and came up with originality quotients, wherein none or the least number of choices tallied with the results, and accuracy quotients, wherein all or the most number of choices did.[5] Agustin Sotto had a perfect originality quotient – more remarkable since he also had the most number of titles, seventeen. Next in line were Marra PL. Lanot with one choice out of ten, Armida Siguion-Reyna with two, and Ishmael Bernal, Vic Delotavo, Nestor U. Torre, and Romeo Vitug with three each (although Torre listed only five Filipino films in all). No one on the other hand had a perfect accuracy quotient, but Butch Francisco, Christian Ma. Guerrero, and Nicanor G. Tiongson came up with seven correct titles, followed by Mario Hernando with six, and Marilou Diaz-Abaya with five out of seven. Petronilo Bn. Daroy, Laurice Guillen, Nick Lizaso, and I also scored with five choices, while all the rest – Mario Bautista, Mel Chionglo, Isagani Cruz, Nick Cruz, Justino Dormiendo, Jose F. Lacaba, Bienvenido Lumbera, Antonio Mortel, Tezza O. Parel, Raul Regalado, Eddie Romero, and Raquel Villavicencio – selected four each, roughly the average performance of the entire body of respondents taken as a whole.

The final outcome can of course be subjected to criticism in various ways, but at this point I believe two things must first be pointed out: the individuals who submitted their lists took the risk of opening themselves to all manner of dissension, and not everyone would have the courage or conviction to do the same; more important, such results as presented should be regarded as the beginning of healthy debate, rather than the final word on the matter. Among the urgent by-products that should begin to see light would be the already-mentioned need for archival preservation of this vital aspect of our cultural heritage, and the development of the practice of revaluation, which may be generally (and mistakenly) perceived as too much of a luxury for these times of crises that we live in. A more or less regular revision of a ten best list would belong to this agenda, and that should probably be the primary context of this existing ranking – as the first, not the last, of its kind.

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Table 1. List of Individual Choices

Mario Bautista [submitted 2 titles listed as #10]: 1 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 2 – Nunal sa Tubig; 3 – Ikaw Ay Akin; 4 – Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo; 5 – Insiang; 6 – Manila by Night; 7 – Bayan Ko (Kapit sa Patalim); 8 – Sister Stella L.; 9 – Bukas…May Pangarap; 10.5 – Brutal; 10.5 – Moral.

Ishmael Bernal: 1 – Sisa; 2 – Anak Dalita; 3 – Kundiman ng Lahi; 4 – Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo; 5 – Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang; 6 – Boatman; 7 – Burlesk Queen; 8 – Moral; 9 – Kisapmata; 10 – Genghis Khan.

Mel Chionglo: 1 – Jaguar; 2 – Batch ’81; 3 – Bona; 4 – Kisapmata; 5 – Himala; 6 – Salome; 7 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 8 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 9 – Burlesk Queen; 10 – Sister Stella L.

Isagani Cruz: 1 – Itim; 2 – Jaguar; 3 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 4 – Himala; 5 – Manila by Night; 6 – Genghis Khan; 7 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 8 – The Moises Padilla Story; 9 – Badjao; 10 – Portait of the Artist as Filipino.

Nick Cruz, S.J.: 1 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 2 – Sakada; 3 – Sister Stella L.; 4 – Insiang; 5 – Miguelito: Batang Rebelde; 6 – Hinugot sa Langit; 7 – Batch ’81; 8 – Himala; 9 – Broken Marriage; 10 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?

Petronilo Bn. Daroy: 1 – Genghis Khan; 2 – Nunal sa Tubig; 3 – Manila by Night; 4 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 5 – Anak Dalita; 6 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 7 – Orapronobis; 8 – Insiang; 9 – Hubad na Bayani; 10 – Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo.

Joel David [submitted 11 titles]: 1 – Manila by Night; 2 – Moral; 3 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 4 – Malvarosa; 5 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 6 – Sa Atin ang Daigdig; 7 – Miguelito: Batang Rebelde; 8 – Kakabakaba Ka Ba?; 9 – Virgin Forest; 10 – Himala; 11 – Orapronobis.

Vic Delotavo [submitted 14 titles]: 1 – Daigdig ng mga Api; 2 – Hanggang sa Dulo ng Daigdig; 3 – El Filibusterismo; 4 – Noli Me Tangere; 5 – Ifugao; 6 – Sanda Wong; 7 – Dyesebel; 8 – Medalyong Perlas; 9 – Bicol Express; 10 – Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo; 11 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 12 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 13 – Insiang; 14 – Pahiram ng Isang Umaga.

Marilou Diaz-Abaya [submitted 7 titles]: 1 – Manila by Night; 2 – The Moises Padilla Story; 3 – Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang; 4 – Kisapmata; 5 – Moral; 6 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 7 – Badjao.

Justino Dormiendo: 1 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 2 – Nunal sa Tubig; 3 – Salome; 4 – Kisapmata; 5 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 6 – El Filibusterismo; 7 – Daigdig ng mga Api; 8 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 9 – Insiang; 10 – Badjao.

Butch Francisco: 1 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 2 – Kisapmata; 3 – Manila by Night; 4 – Hinugot sa Langit; 5 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 6 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon; 7 – Anak Dalita; 8 – Batch ’81; 9 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 10 – Relasyon.

Christian Ma. Guerrero [submitted 12 titles]: 1 – Burlesk Queen; 2 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 3 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 4 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 5 – Anak Dalita; 6 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 7 – Himala; 8 – Insiang; 9 – Itim; 10 – Aguila; 11 – Virgin Forest; 12 – Misteryo sa Tuwa.

Laurice Guillen: 1 – Sisa; 2 – The Moises Padilla Story; 3 – Insiang; 4 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 5 – Salome; 6 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 7 – Kisapmata; 8 – Ifugao; 9 – Anak Dalita; 10 – Burlesk Queen.

Mario Hernando: 1 – Anak Dalita; 2 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 3 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 4 – Manila by Night; 5 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 6 – Sister Stella L.; 7 – Batch ’81; 8 – Kisapmata; 9 – Nunal sa Tubig; 10 – Bayan Ko (Kapit sa Patalim).

Jose F. Lacaba: 1 – Daigdig ng mga Api; 2 – Anak Dalita; 3 – Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo; 4 – Nunal sa Tubig; 5 – Himala; 6 – Insiang; 7 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 8 – Salome; 9 – Brutal; 10 – Bona.

Marra PL. Lanot [submitted without any specification of order]: 5.5 – Bona; 5.5 – Brutal; 5.5 – Himala; 5.5 – Hinugot sa Langit; 5.5 – Inay; 5.5 – Jaguar; 5.5 – Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising; 5.5 – Sakada; 5.5 – Tatlong Taóng Walang Diyos; 5.5 – Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang.

Nick Lizaso: 1 – Noli Me Tangere; 2 – Tatlong Taóng Walang Diyos; 3 – Himala; 4 – Itim; 5 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 6 – Badjao; 7 – Anak Dalita; 8 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 9 – Kisapmata; 10 – Anak Dalita.

Bienvenido Lumbera: 1 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 2 – Nunal sa Tubig; 3 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 4 – Kisapmata; 5 – Noli Me Tangere; 6 – Isumpa Mo, Giliw; 7 – Kundiman ng Lahi; 8 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 9 – Kadenang Putik; 10 – Bayan Ko (Kapit sa Patalim).

Antonio Mortel: 1 – Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo; 2 – Badjao; 3 – Anak Dalita; 4 – Noli Me Tangere; 5 – Kisapmata; 6 – Itim; 7 – Himala; 8 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 9 – Ito ang Pilipino; 10 – Isang Araw Walang Diyos.

Tezza O. Parel [submitted 9 titles]: 1 – Himala; 2 – Moral; 3 – Jaguar; 4 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 5 – Itim; 6 – High School Circa ’65; 7 – Kakabakaba Ka Ba?; 8 – Kisapmata; 9 – Broken Marriage.

Raul Regalado [submitted in alphabetical order but subsequently specified one “all-time favorite”]: 1 – Moral; 6 – Boatman; 6 – Burlesk Queen; 6 – Kakabakaba Ka Ba?; 6 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 6 – Manila by Night; 6 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 6 – Private Show; 6 – Scorpio Nights; 6 – Virgin Forest.

Eddie Romero: 1 – Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang; 2 – Kisapmata; 3 – Manila by Night; 4 – Moral; 5 – Scorpio Nights; 6 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 7 – Hinugot sa Langit; 8 – Salome; 9 – Tatlong Taóng Walang Diyos; 10 – Paradise Inn.

Armida Siguion-Reyna: 1 – Insiang; 2 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 3 – Miguelito: Batang Rebelde; 4 – Hinugot sa Langit; 5 – Virgin Forest; 6 – Brutal; 7 – Relasyon; 8 – Bayan Ko (Kapit sa Patalim); 9 – High School Circa ’65; 10 – Working Girls.

Agustin Sotto [submitted 17 titles]: 1 – Mga Ligaw na Bulaklak; 2 – Sanda Wong; 3 – 48 Oras; 4 – Geron Busabos: Ang Batang Quiapo; 5 – Hanggang sa Dulo ng Daigdig; 6 – Juan Tamad Goes to Congress; 7 – Luksang Tagumpay; 8 – ₱1,000 Kagandahan; 9 – Apat na Taga; 10 – Jack en Jill; 11 – ROTC; 12 – Sino’ng Maysala?; 13 – Cofradia; 14 – Dyesebel; 15 – Badjao; 16 – Giliw Ko; 17 – Ibong Adarna.

Nicanor G. Tiongson [submitted 11 titles]: 1 – El Filibusterismo; 2 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 3 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 4 – Insiang; 5 – Jaguar; 6 – Broken Marriage; 7 – Anak Dalita; 8 – Himala; 9 – Moral; 10 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 11 – Sisa.

Nestor U. Torre [submitted a list of “15 Good Movies” including 10 foreign titles]: 1 – El Filibusterismo; 2 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon; 3 – Itim; 4 – Manila by Night; 5 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag.

Raquel N. Villavicencio: 1 – Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang; 2 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 3 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 4 – Badjao; 5 – Sakada; 6 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 7 – Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo; 8 – Jaguar; 9 – Itim; 10 – Insiang.

Romeo Vitug: 1 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 2 – Anak Dalita; 3 – Hanggang sa Dulo ng Daigdig; 4 – Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo; 5 – Insiang; 6 – Relasyon; 7 – Salome; 8 – Burlesk Queen; 9 – Paradise Inn; 10 – Karnal.

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Table 2. Alphabetical List of Titles
[Asterisks indicate films mentioned only once – see next Table]

Aguila (1980, Eddie Romero)*
Anak Dalita (1956, Lamberto V. Avellana)
Apat na Taga (1954, Mar S. Torres)*

Badjao (1957, Lamberto V. Avellana)
Batch ’81 (1982, Mike de Leon)
Bayan Ko (Kapit sa Patalim) (1985, Lino Brocka)
Bicol Express (1957, Gerardo de Leon et al.)*
Biyaya ng Lupa (1959, Manuel Silos)
Boatman (1984, Tikoy Aguiluz)
Bona (1980, Lino Brocka)
Broken Marriage (1983, Ishmael Bernal)
Brutal (1980, Marilou Diaz-Abaya)
Bukas…May Pangarap (1984, Gil Portes)*
Burlesk Queen (1977, Celso Ad. Castillo)

Cofradia (1953, Artemio Tecson)*

Daigdig ng mga Api (1965, Gerardo de Leon)
Dyesebel (1953, Gerardo de Leon)

El Filibusterismo (1962, Gerardo de Leon)

Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon? (1976, Eddie Romero)
Genghis Khan (1950, Manuel Conde)
Geron Busabos: Ang Batang Quiapo (1964, Cesar Gallardo)*
Giliw Ko (1939, Carlos Vander Tolosa)*

Hanggang sa Dulo ng Daigdig (1958, Gerardo de Leon)
High School Circa ’65 (1979, Maryo J. de los Reyes)
Himala (1982, Ishmael Bernal)
Hinugot sa Langit (1985, Ishmael Bernal)
Hubad na Bayani (1977, Robert Ylagan)*

Ang Ibong Adarna (1941, Manuel Conde)*
Ifugao (1954, Gerardo de Leon)
Ikaw Ay Akin (1978, Ishmael Bernal)*
Inay (1977, Lino Brocka)*
Insiang (1976, Lino Brocka)
Isang Araw Walang Diyos (1989, Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes)*
₱1,000 Kagandahan (1948, Gregorio Fernandez)*
Isumpa Mo, Giliw (1947, Gerardo de Leon)*
Itim (1976, Mike de Leon)
Ito ang Pilipino (1966, Augusto Buenaventura)*

Jack en Jill (1954, Mar S. Torres)*
Jaguar (1979, Lino Brocka)
Juan Tamad Goes to Congress (1959, Manuel Conde)*

Kadenang Putik (1960, Cesar Gallardo)*
Kakabakaba Ka Ba? (1980, Mike de Leon)
Karnal (1983, Marilou Diaz-Abaya)*
Kisapmata (1982, Mike de Leon)
Kundiman ng Lahi (1959, Lamberto V. Avellana)
Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising (1977, Mike de Leon)*
48 Oras (1950, Gerardo de Loen)*

Mga Ligaw na Bulaklak (1957, Tony Cayado)*
Luksang Tagumpay (1956, Gregorio Fernandez)*

Malvarosa (1958, Gregorio Fernandez)*
Manila by Night (1980, Ishmael Bernal)
Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975, Lino Brocka)
Medalyong Perlas (1956, Lamberto V. Avellana, F.H. Constantino, Gerardo de Leon, and Manuel Silos)
Miguelito: Batang Rebelde (1985, Lino Brocka)
Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo (1976, Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara)
Misteryo sa Tuwa (1984, Abbo Q. de la Cruz)*
The Moises Padilla Story (1961, Gerardo de Leon)
Moral (1982, Marilou Diaz-Abaya)

Noli Me Tangere (1961, Gerardo de Leon)
Nunal sa Tubig (1976, Ishmael Bernal)

Orapronobis (1989, Lino Brocka)

Oro, Plata, Mata (1982, Peque Gallaga)

Pahiram ng Isang Umaga (1989, Ishmael Bernal)*
Paradise Inn (1985, Celso Ad. Castillo)
Portrait of the Artist as Filipino (1966, Lamberto V. Avellana)*
Private Show (1985, Chito Roño)*

Relasyon (1982, Ishmael Bernal)
ROTC (1955, Octavio Silos)*

Sa Atin ang Daigdig (1965, Cesar J. Amigo)*
Sakada (1976, Behn Cervantes)
Salome (1982, Laurice Guillen)
Sanda Wong (1955, Gerardo de Leon)
Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo (1952, Gerardo de Leon)
Scorpio Nights (1985, Peque Gallaga)
Sino’ng Maysala? (1957, Armando Garces)*
Sisa (1951, Gerardo de Leon)
Sister Stella L. (1984, Mike de Leon)

Tatlong Taóng Walang Diyos (1976, Mario O’Hara)
Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (1974, Lino Brocka)

Virgin Forest (1985, Peque Gallaga)

Working Girls (1984, Ishmael Bernal)*

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Table 3. Ranking of Films Mentioned Only Once

1    Mga Ligaw na Bulaklak

2.5  Ikaw Ay Akin
2.5  48 Oras

4.5  Geron Busabos: Ang Batang Quiapo
4.5  Malvarosa

7    Inay
7    Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising
7    Private Show

10    Isumpa Mo, Giliw
10    Juan Tamad Goes to Congress
10    Sa Atin ang Daigdig

12    Luksang Tagumpay

13.5  P1,000 Kagandahan
13.5  Medalyong Perlas

17.5  Apat na Taga
17.5  Bicol Express
17.5  Bukas…May Pangarap
17.5  Hubad na Bayani
17.5  Ito ang Pilipino
17.5  Kadenang Putik

23.5  Aguila
23.5  Isang Araw Walang Diyos
23.5  Jack en Jill
23.5  Karnal
23.5  Portrait of the Artist as Filipino
23.5  Working Girls

27    ROTC

28.5  Misteryo sa Tuwa
28.5  Sino’ng Maysala?

30    Cofradia

31    Pahiram ng Isang Umaga

32    Giliw Ko

33    Ang Ibong Adarna

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Table 4. Ranking 1: Number-One Choices

Thrice mentioned:

Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag

Twice mentioned:

Biyaya ng Lupa
Daigdig ng mga Api
El Filibusterismo
Manila by Night
Sisa
Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang

Once Mentioned:

Anak Dalita
Burlesk Queen
Genghis Khan
Himala
Insiang
Itim
Jaguar
Mga Ligaw na Bulaklak
Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo
Moral
Noli Me Tangere
Oro, Plata, Mata

Table 5. Ranking 2: Frequency of Mention

1.5. Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?
1.5. Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag

3.5. Insiang
3.5. Kisapmata

5.5. Anak Dalita
5.5. Himala

7.5. Manila by Night
7.5. Oro, Plata, Mata

9.    Biyaya ng Lupa

10.  Moral

Table 6. Ranking 3: Integration of Individual Rankings

1.    Manila by Night
2.    Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag
3.    Anak Dalita
4.    Biyaya ng Lupa
5.    Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?
6.    Moral
7.    Kisapmata
8.    Himala
9.    Insiang
10.  Oro, Plata, Mata

Note

[1] After I drafted this introduction for the digital edition, Pinoy Rebyu, a website managed by Skilty C. Labastilla of the Ateneo de Manila University, started performing an aggregational function for contemporary Filipino film critics and has been impeccable so far in this capacity. Professor Labastilla is also a member of the Young Critics Circle.

[2] The survey team comprised Jesselyn Aldea, Jonathan Aligada, Andrea Angala, Concepcion Ante, Michael Antigua, Alejandro “Kim” Atienza, Felisa Basco, Ely Buendia, Joseph de Guzman, Elaine Eleazar, Nolan Estacio, Raul Guerrero, Domingo Landicho Jr., Gerard Legaspi, Jenina Limlengco, Rafael Lukban, Marjorie Neri, Lorenza Salcedo, Patricia Sim, Jennifer Tanseco, Cristina Uykim, Joanne Ybiernas, and Manolito Zafaralla.

[3] While preparing to finalize my dissertation, I received an email from Sight & Sound, inviting me to participate in the 2002 survey cycle. I decided to take a stab and wound up with some unexpected results, which I wrote about in “Sight & Sound 2002,” in Part II: Expanded Perspectives of Millennial Traversals: Outliers, Juvenilia, & Quondam Popcult Blabbery (Quezon City: Amauteurish Publishing, 2019), pp. 88-94 (also available online as the May 2016 issue of UNITAS: Semi-Annual Peer-Reviewed International Online Journal of Advanced Research in Literature, Culture, and Society).

[4] Since then, all the other semi-available titles mentioned in this list are, for all intents and purposes, missing: Hanggang sa Dulo ng Daigdig has not been recopied while Sa Atin ang Daigdig has been lost via the all-too-typical case of an irresponsible borrower losing the last tracked VHS copy.

[5] Originally titled “What’s the Score? The Best of the Decade” and published in the July 1978 issue of the Canadian magazine Take One, the survey covered the decade 1969-78. James Monaco reprinted the article as “Critics and Critical Choices: The Best Films of the Decade,” in American Film Now: The People, The Power, The Money, The Movies (revised edition, New York: New York Zoetrope and New American Library, 1984), on pages 441-53, with the table of originality and accuracy quotients appearing on page 452.

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ONE-SHOT AWARDS CEREMONY

This attempt at what I originally titled “Great Philippine All-Time One-Shot Awards Ceremony” (with due acknowledgment of Alfred A. Yuson’s Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café [Quezon City: Adriana, 1988]) arose directly from the objections I raised with the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino or Filipino Film Critics Circle’s reliance on fixed-category annual award-giving. The intent was semi-satirical, indicated by the titles (of the article as well as the award itself – so kindly avoid quoting in earnest any of the results as a “Joel David Award” or some variation thereof). This was originally printed in National Midweek’s February 20, 1991, issue (pp. 28-29), but by the time it was anthologized in 1995 in Fields of Vision, I wished I had updated it with a category I thought I could subsume under, or list after, Cinematography. Just for the sake of demonstrating the flexibility of the exercise, I added the new award, for Production Design, for the digital edition, and note that the post-Manunuri group I helped organize uses a variation of the description I provided in the Performance category.

With the 1980s’ decade-end approaches the prospect of yet another season of award-giving. Traditionally there’ve been two questions associated with this practice – both of which lend themselves to a whole lot of seemingly intellectual and deliciously controversial debates: first, who’ll be the top-grosser(s) in tems of trophies? and second (and more important, in the eyes of serious observers), which body will be the most credible in its choices?

I must admit I’d indulged once or twice in these issues in the span of my short critical career thus far; moreover, I found the ready response of readers, regardless of their professed distance from my position, spirit-stirring. Actually I suspect any Filipino critic will be overwhelmed by any form of reader response, judging by the sheer rarity of feedback activity in this field. On the other hand, after an entire decade of witnessing award-sweepers and award-giving bodies multiplying like loaves in fishnets, one eventually gets to wondering about the purpose of the miracle: it’s fish that belong in fishnets, and loaves that ought to be on well-serviced tabletops. In short, when what we need are various species of opinion, what we get are not-too-dissimilar spheres of judgment rendered in the exact same format of formal ceremonies that dispense sets of identical statuettes.

I suppose an entirely new distinction lies in store for the first award-giving body that owns up to this state of affairs. If it weren’t too painfully paradoxical, I’d suggest a trophy-in-waiting for the first such body that consciously and willingly folds up, in recognition of the superfluity of having too many, and even functionally overlapping, award-giving groups, as well as the need to advance filmic discourse beyond the scope of absolutist pronouncements.[1] Toward this end I’d also strategize by exploiting another parallel paradox, the ultimate awards ceremony, the one that should end all others, at least up to this point in history. This we can do by opening at least the most basic categories to all existing achievements in Philippine cinema, deciding on winners to the best of our ability, then holding the main event. Since the last would be the most difficult for me to accomplish, I’d like to presume, on the basis of my being this idea’s proponent, the sole execution of the first two procedures.

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So without much ado, not even your usual performance numbers and acceptance speeches, attend herewith the Joel David Awards for Excellence in Philippine Cinema:

Best Film. Regal Films’ Manila by Night (1980), a vote seconding that of the biggest majority of Filipino film critics and experts – including myself and supervised by myself again – the survey results of which helped sell out the magazine that published it. The film had one of the most precarious origins among local movies, with the original version banned and later mangled and its title changed (to City after Dark) by Marcos-era censors.[2] The integral version was later released, this time by another Marcos-era film body, the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, due to a providential cultural quirk: the ECP had to justify its exemption from censorship and taxation by resorting mainly to artistically defensible activities.

It won’t be much of a surprise then to discover that some of the other winners in this here’s batch were in some way or other connected with the organization; not that I was once connected either (I was with the public relations department), but this was also the period in which local artistic expertise was at an admirable acme. Manila by Night is figuring out as the central example of a formal discourse on local cinema that I’m attending to and I’m sure that most other types of theoretical activity won’t be able to deny its masterliness as well.

Best Direction. Logically, the best film is always the best-directed. Ishmael Bernal, whose censored version of Manila by Night won the Urian best-film prize, lost in the best director category by a slim margin for an unusual reason: the film had a defective plastic surface, which was compounded by its mangled condition. This form of logic was subsequently and successfully challenged by the release of the integral version (apparently intended for the film’s aborted international screening), which benefited greatly from careful laboratory supervision. No more cruel twists of fate this time, the wind being presumably clear of cultural and critics’ politics: Ishmael Bernal in Manila by Night has done the most impressive local directorial job ever – thus far.

Best Screenplay. I cast my vote for Ricardo Lee in Moral in 1982, along with only one other member in that year’s Urian body, and I could say that if there ever was a Manunuri member who had integrity and renown, it was (and still is) him, Bienvenido Lumbera. Moral itself can be defended in retrospect as its year’s best film, but on the level of the category under discussion, the screenplay’s been published in book form for everyone to judge for herself. Lee has labored under a lot of early conquests and later rebuffs, with his pre-Moral scripts for Jaguar (co-written with Jose F. Lacaba) and Salome winning Urian awards and the back-to-back book edition of Brutal and Salome copping a special prize from the first National Book Awards batch of the Manila Critics Circle.

Moral (an ECP Film Fund-subsidized product and official Manila International Film Festival entry) is cast in the same multiple-character mold as Manila by Night, but it delimits itself by concentrating on fewer and female characters and compensates thorugh a whole lot of impressive characterization and intelligent structuring. The screenplay (and its published version) did not receive any recognition whatsoever, except from the Metro Manila Film Festival, which also holds the distinction of awarding by its lonesome the next category’s winner.

Best Performance. When we speak of actor, actress and their respective supports we actually refer to performance one and all. In this category the winner was easy for me to determine as early as the year she was competing for the Urian – and, as in the instance of Moral, she lost. No other performance, male or female, lead or supporting, comes close, and all later screenings of whatever other films may be in contention bear this out: the entry, produced by ECP and directed by Ishmael Bernal and scripted by Ricardo Lee, is Himala, and the performer is, of course, Nora Aunor.[3]

For the record, several times did a vociferous La Aunor bloc demand a recount in the Urian, but we just could not muster the extra vote that would alter the decision. Himala qualified for the same international festival where Manila by Night almost competed, but the ECP refused to send the actress on her terms; again, she lost by a single vote. I may be perceived as kind in championing such lost causes, but my fearless prediction is that history will be far kinder. Already Himala, wherever it is being re-screened, is eliciting the same reaction: what a difficult role, and what a transcendent performance.

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Best Cinematography. The best Filipino cinematographer who ever lived has died, but not before perfecting his transition from black-and-white to color, and attaining his peak – and that, by simple extrapolation, of Philippine cinema as well. All that had to happen was for Peque Gallaga, who did the epic ECP production Oro, Plata, Mata, to recruit Conrado Baltazar, who was then already being credited for making a series of Lino Brocka films noirs seem larger than they actually were, for Regal Films’ Virgin Forest.

The film itself incribed a semi-cricle in Gallaga’s career by being screened at the ECP venue, the Manila Film Center, where his earlier release (also by Regal), the sex film Scorpio Nights, had acquired for him a strong measure of notoriety from both establishment and opposition moralists. Virgin Forest, despite being Gallaga’s best film ever, bore the brunt of the backlash, Baltazar’s work along with it. Baltazar’s expertise can be gleaned by inspecting a near-contemporaneous project, Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Sensual (1986), where he made credible use of (feminine) colorist textures worthy of Romy Vitug, although he never found another such oppurtunity on the same scale: both Gallaga’s and Brocka’s next significant epics, Isang Araw Walang Diyos and Orapronobis respectively (curiously dealing with the same subject matter of rural vigilantism), were to be made almost simultaneously the year after his death.

Best Production Design. How fitting that a belated addition acknowledges the variability of film presentations. The winner in this category, in contradistinction to the rest, never had a regular theatrical run. This was not so much because it was shorter than most regular releases (since, as most film historians will be capable of confirming, early films tended to observe far shorter screening times than they do today); it was because the product itself was unclassifiable by standard-release categories, with fictional and documentary elements, and with its achievements ascribable to both the filmmaker as well as the subject/performer, attaining the status of “art film” not just aesthetically but by literally presenting the subject’s art work onscreen.

The complete title of the work as originally released in 1991 was Yuta: The Earth Art of Julie Lluch Dalena, with Hesumaria Sescon listed as director, although the Internet Movie Database shortens the secondary title to The Earth Art and includes Dalena as co-director. The members of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino declared this their “best short film” for the year, but Kritika, the short-lived critics’ organization I participated in, listed it and Elwood Perez’s Ang Totoong Buhay ni Pacita M. as Gold Prize winners.

Best Editing. A kink came up in this category, after a discussion with a film expert who, for some important reason, shall remain unnamed. My choice was Lino Brocka’s Orapronobis, which was edited, as per its credits, by George Jarlego and two non-Filipinos, Sabine Mamou and Bob Wade. The complication isn’t so much the fact that the film may have been finished counter to its makers’ preference, although some amount of hush-hush talk to this effect once circulated. The issue dwells more on the reality that certain types of material may seem less expertly edited precisely because of the greater ambitions they aspire toward. Manila by Night and Moral, for example, may be sprawling and ambiguous in parts, but this could only certainly be ascribed to the necessity of letting go of pure or perfected technique in order to allow some non-plastic aspect of the material to develop.

In this respect my source suggested Mike de Leon’s Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, which won the Urian directing and editing trophies over Manila by Night. I find both positions valid: Orapronobis is as editorially perfect as anyone has ever gotten hereabouts while Kakabakaba is as editorially ambitous in the same sense. Both were done by brothers, Kakabakaba by Ike Jarlego Jr. The phenomenon of tie-giving has its place in our awards system, so my preference is for both titles – and, in effect, for the gifted clan that has been putting together some wonderful films for several generations now.

Best Sound. Another clan holds fort in this area, the Reyeses. Luis and his son Ramon teamed up for some impressive sound-studio results, mostly in Mike de Leon films. The elder Reyes had also worked with, among others, Gerardo de Leon, while the younger one continues the tradition with some of our better filmmakers. Technically I’d say that a Gallaga film, Oro, Plata, Mata, which credits Ramon Reyes for sound, would be one of the best I’ve seen – and the best I’ve heard, in the strictly plastic sense.

But in an interview with Ramon himself, he avowed that his ideal of good film sound is one that draws from the more difficult live-recording than from the more controlled studio-dubbed system. Over the years I’ve learned to appreciate what he meant: you give up some amount of crispness and clarity in exchange for ambience and authenticity, and a good soundperson can always make the tradeoff preferable. Reyes held up as an example Brocka’s Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag, which he and his father worked on, and I still have to find a better live-sound (and living-vision, which is of course directorial) film. Even the music, done by the precocious Max Jocson, was as unprepossessing yet eerily natural as the film’s aural design. The Reyeses earned a well-deserved trophy from the 1975 Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences for this film, and they earn mine all the way too.

Best Music. I’d settle for a Jocson score, with its incomparable admixture of minimalist principles and observance of the primacy of natural film sound. On the other hand, we’re really speaking of music here as distinct from sound, so I guess this could justify a score that heralds itself as unabashedly Orphic, capable if necessary of existing independently of the film that it accompanies.

The many times I watched Tikoy Aguiluz’s Boatman, whether at the MFC, a downtown theater, or on videotape playback, it’s the lush, expressive, achingly beautiful music I always wound up appreciating. Jaime Fabregas did some other highly competent scoring before and after this film, and even won an Urian for a relatively minor accomplishment in Scorpio Nights. Boatman was in the running the last year I was a voting member, but the prejudice against “bold” MFC films was then going too strong. This time around Fabregas in Boatman still gets my vote, man.

Sequitur

The problem with such state-of-the-art criteria is that early-state entries get excluded. The earliest awardee, Brocka’s Maynila, is from only fifteen years back, while the latest (prior to a post-publication addition), Orapronobis (another Brocka film), still has to be locally released. As problematic proof of its cyber-age existence, Orapronobis also happens to be the first Filipino film made available in laser-disc format.

Maybe someone else should come up with a qualified set of awards, like the best silent work (if anyone can remember or find any such thing) or black-and-white title. I would be very much embarrassed to hand out qualified awards though, much less receive them. I would rather stick to my list, and draw up a new one once the scenario changes too significantly to be ignored. Who knows? It could be as soon as the next couple of film releases, or as far away as, heaven forbid, the closing credits of our lifetime.

Notes

[1] In fact the last critics group I participated in, named Kritika, stopped functioning after a few years of handing awards using pragmatic, liberal, and flexible criteria of selection and recognition. The reason was simple and straightforward: the members had to leave for overseas residence – work, migration, or (in my case) study. The innovations I remember were: specifying a category only if the year’s output demonstrated productivity in it, designating more than one winner if such a number proved deserving, and specifying any number of output for any artist who merited the recognition. Individual citations were contained in a critical summary for the year under consideration.

[2] Queries from all over (including from foreign scholars) proceed from the appropriate title for the film: it appears that the members of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino insist on using other titles – City after Dark and even Manila after Dark, which never appeared on any of the film’s celluloid or print credits). Since these people took charge of cultural and educational institutions after the collapse of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, the movie’s censored title, rather than Manila by Night, kept appearing in “official” records. The historical narrative though remains transparent and unambivalent: when the producers applied for a permit in 1979, the local censors board, after imposing a total ban for months, disallowed any reference to Manila in the film as one of the conditions for its release, so the badly mangled print screened in Philippine theaters in November 1980 had the City after Dark title. Weirdly enough, the MPP opted to nominate this version for its annual awards and effectively penalized it by withholding the award for director from Ishmael Bernal (personal disclosure: this was my first year as a voting member, and my questioning of awards logic since then has only intensified through the years). So this is the version that the MPP wishes to uphold? Sadly the group, despite its claims to the contrary, is so anti-reflexive that we may never find out exactly what goes on in its members’ brilliant minds. Worth reiterating here is the fact that even the Marcos government’s own official film agency restored the Manila by Night title when it allowed the integral version to be screened at its venue.

[3] This selection, a reaffirmation of a throwaway subsection in The National Pastime’s opening essay “A Second Golden Age,” was so widely echoed that it became entrenched as some form of virtual dogma during the internet era. It was referenced when the film and the central performance were separately recognized in region-wide assessments that I only remotely became aware of afterward. My own reassessment of Nora Aunor’s record pointed to a different-though-related outcome, which I outlined in “Firmament Occupation: The Philippine Star System” (Kritika Kultura 25, August 2015, pp. 248-84): while her superiority to all other Filipino film performers had been evident for the past several years, Himala was one of several peaks in a run that has arguably continued to the present, spilling over to stage, television, and new-media presentations. An Aunor peak can be defined as a major project whose achievement is enlarged or boosted by her delivery. The coverage is admittedly slippery, since flawed or outright potboiler material can be rendered amusing, engaging, or at least tolerable because of her skills display. For this reason, I would now opt to identify an entire body of work, ironically culminating in her abandoned auteurist project, Greatest Performance, where the title’s claim is adequately fulfilled.

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LEVELS OF INDEPENDENCE

The current catchword in film circles is independence, and it’s a measure of how far film awareness has progressed when the sector laying claim to the term intends it to refer to a format-based difference vis-à-vis commercial-gauge products. But first a few technical clarifications. The fact that [circa 1990] film exists in varying formats, measured in widths, is ascribed to the practicality of various industry-based purposes: super-8mm., an improvement over 16mm.-halved 8mm., was home-movie stock until video became far more economical; 16mm. serves specialized industrial purposes, mainly advertising; 35mm. is for what may be called mainstream production, normally national but preferably international in scope of distribution; outside the country lies the possibility of 35mm.-anamorphic projection (which expands to twice the image width with the use of the proper lens) plus its real-thing equivalent, 70mm. wide-screen, for roadshow presentations.

Such a convenient availability for most conceivable filmic requirements belies the historical origins of the medium. Film formats differed not because usages varied, but because every investor who had the money and foresight was racing to get his standard – which may have been the first clear instance of the desperate competition that the medium has been exhibiting since, without letup, this first century of its existence. One way of providing some value to the numbers is by scaling them from least to most, and assigning some factors that observe the same principle of ascension or descension. Super-8mm., 8mm. and 16mm. provide maximum individual freedom at minimum cost, while 35mm. and 70mm. provide maximum profitability and audience exposure.

From the extremes it becomes immediately clear that both sides could formulate claims to the ideals of independence, presuming that such an ideal matters in this sort of undertaking. A practitioner in super 8mm., or even video (a non-filmic medium which could accommodate certain basic principles anyway), could point to the minimalization of authorship problems on the basis of the fewer workforce requirements of such a format; on the other hand, a mainstream person could counter that the essence of freedom is material-based, and so only those with sufficient financial, industrial, distributional, and popular support could achieve social change – which, after all, is (or should be) the goal of independence.

Proponents of 16mm., including film-educational institutions, have come up with their rationalization for its increased usage: assuming that both sides of the extremes’ arguments are valid but not necessarily conflicting, 16mm. offers a resemblance to mainstream technology at considerably affordable cost; though several times more expensive than super-8, it also happened to be more accessible in this country since 1985, when Kodak Philippines phased out local Super-8 processing.

Within mainstream practice, however, the issue of independence also assumes as many possible claims as there are self-conscious institutions. “Independence” actually originally referred to the production outfits that were relegated to the fringes during the post-war heyday of the studio system up to the early 1960s; once the majors were weakened by internal problems (talents’ dissatisfaction leading to labor problems) and external pressures (busting of production-and-distribution monopolies), the so-called independents closed in and instituted a system, if the word could still apply, of free-for-all enterprise. A subsystem of outfits based on stars, who were eventually distinguished from the rest of the constellation by the term superstars, has proved more enduring – and in fact constitutes what we can consider the mainstream independents of today.

Of course, the big three – Regal, Viva, and Seiko – in our current studio-dominated system all started out as independents relative to now inactive or defunct production houses. As mentioned earlier, any of these giants could claim, if they had a mind to do so, to being the true exponent of independent cinema in the country: all they have to do is admit that they don’t care to exercise this prerogative at the moment, and offer a genuine industry break to anyone who’d challenge their stature. The mad scramble for assignments in itself could serve as proof of the dissenters’ double-minded acknowledgment that, yes, enslavement to filthy lucre does liberate one from the poverty of cheap formats.

Meanwhile, there are the past and future processes of mainstream independence to contend with. Until as late as the early 1980s certain filmmakers could break free of, well, the Filipino language at least, by doing regional cinema in the Cebuano or, though rarely, Ilocano tongue. The system of distribution – outside the Tagalog region (and the attendant demands of Metro Manila moviegoers) – also enabled drastic reductions in budget costs and the use of non-stars: the profitability of such an option is still being realized by today’s countryside-circuit penekula or hard-core sex-film investors; in fact, the first color Cebuano film (and one of the last as well) was actually shot in super-8 and blown up, grains and all, to commercial-gauge 35mm., reportedly clobbering Manila and even foreign releases at the box office wherever it was shown. There’s a disturbing analogy somewhere, though, for future film scholars to ponder on: since we could say that regional movies have been replaced by sex films, does this mean that our provincial folk have “progressed” in their preference for spoken language to the inarticulate dictates of the, er, heart?

Finally, the most promising aspect of independence thus far almost became a local tradition were it not for the reckless conduct of an international film festival by the previous regime during the early 1980s. Exhibition in foreign film circuits proved favorable for Filipino directors fortunate enough to have been invited by patrons, but the problem is actually greater than the sanguinity of local producers in the sufficiency of the local film makers: Filipino authorities are pathetically simple-minded about the prospects of exporting our most impressive cultural body of work, preferring to dwell on the implications for the national image, as if that were all that the medium is good for.

The opening up of international film opportunities (confirmed by a corresponding ferment in film-theory circles) to Third-World cinema might find the Philippines typically left behind in an endeavor where we were in a sense pioneers – cf. our participation in foreign festivals during the 1950s. It’s a good thing that certain individual practitioners have gone as far as preempting both local producers and officials, notably the censors, in getting their dream projects produced not by themselves or by fellow Filipinos, but the foreign entities who’d have better access to worldwide distribution.

Such a notion of relying on foreigners for institutional support is, of course, profoundly antithetical to the concept of independence in the political scheme of things – which only goes to prove that the ideal of film may be more than merely material, or even political. In Japan, the world’s most economically independent nation, the best directors (Akira Kurosawa and Shohei Imamura, among recent examples) look toward non-Japanese investors for aesthetic salvation. Tokyo also happens to be the closest capital where we can get super-8mm. films processed. Something like having one’s sushi and sashimi, too.

[First published April 25, 1990, in National Midweek]

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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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