The Aunor Effect in Philippine Film Book Publications

Certain friends whose opinions I value have been asking me to elaborate on the “Aunor effect” – a term that immediately came to mind when I uploaded the categorized bibliography on Philippine cinema to a spreadsheet and sorted the data chronologically as a whole as well as per category.[1] The impetus for me to explain the Aunor effect further strengthened when the text I contributed to the Pinoy Rebyu blog’s Filipino Film Person of the Decade survey came out. The full text I submitted (which was duly reprinted on the website) was as follows:

Until a few days ago I kept going over the list of movers and shakers in local cinema during the past decade, then during the present millennium, then during the last few years of the past century. When I drafted an essay to accompany the Philippine film bibliography I posted on my blog, I was surprised to find a name I associated with all-time influence on Philippine cinema. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Nora Aunor remains as important today, though no longer as a box-office attraction, as she did when she started out. Nevertheless I still felt as humbled as I was fascinated: here was someone whom I felt I was upholding by making sure to acknowledge her superiority as film performer – when in fact I was the one (along with everyone else) she was bolstering, by ensuring that local film-book publication could begin and become sustainable through the decades.

Her political significance is also as unstable and unresolved as her artistic importance is beyond dispute: this is the only way to read her exclusion from the Order of National Artists under two successive administrations that regard each other as mortal enemies. What compounds the situation is that the Marcos oligarchy, now seeking to recapture its glory days, would be most likely to acknowledge her excellence, if the clan members are (atypically) sincere about restoring Ferdinand Sr.’s best practices. This isn’t the only irony attending Aunor’s existence in our lives, nor will it be the last. She deserves to be the decade’s Film Person, if only to remind ourselves that upsetting conventions and defying cherished notions will always have its place in the Filipino artist’s endless striving for meaning.

In a “Authoring Auteurs,” a bibliographical essay I published on January 18, 2020, on this blog, I cited the first film books to come out at the start of a mostly uninterrupted trend that kept growing to the present: these were titled Nora Aunor: Tagumpay sa Bawat Awit (ed. Jose Reyes Martinez, 1971), Ang Tunay na Kasaysayan ni Nora Aunor, Superstar (Rustum G. Quinton, 1972), and Getting to Know Nora (Herbert L. Vego, 1973). A few years later, Nick Joaquin (as Quijano de Manila) titled his compilations of feature articles according to “headline” star interviews – Amalia Fuentes and Other Etchings, Ronnie Poe and Other Silhouettes, Joseph Estrada and Other Sketches, Gloria Diaz and Other Delineations; the strongest seller in the list was Nora Aunor and Other Profiles, no longer a surprise by then.

In 1983, two “installment” texts came out. One was the first Urian Anthology covering the 1970s, which was followed by other anthologies covering the other decades since. The other was Baby K. Jimenez’s Ang True Story ni Guy, Unang Aklat and Ikalawang Aklat – both comprising a satisfying auteur biography that people tend to overlook because of its subject. I would maintain that ATSG 1&2, along with Ishmael Bernal, Jorge Arago, and Angela Stuart-Santiago’s Pro Bernal, Anti Bio (2017) and Jerry B. Gracio’s Bagay Tayo / Hindi Bagay (2018) are my favorite celebrity bios – engaging, finely detailed, honest about their subject. If Ricky Lee’s long-gestating no-holds-barred biography finally comes out, then Aunor, who already has several books devoted to her, would have the most impressive biographies of any Filipino auteur, alive or dead.

A third 1983 volume, more historically significant than the critics’ anthology, was Rafael Ma. Guerrero’s Readings in Philippine Cinema. Nestor de Guzman, possibly the most assiduous Aunor scholar hereabouts, recently pointed out how National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario (a.k.a. Rio Alma) wrote a celebrity article only once, and the text, “Cinderella Superstar,” was anthologized in the Guerrero book. De Guzman’s own anthology, Si Nora Aunor sa mga Noranian, was not, strictly speaking, the first of its kind; two other anthologies, Monina A. Mercado’s Doña Sisang and Filipino Movies (1977) and Mario A. Hernando’s Lino Brocka: The Artist and His Times (1993), preceded de Guzman’s 2005 collection, but then both subjects had died when the book projects were initiated as tributes to them. Moreover, de Guzman also took charge of the Iriga Public Library’s Noraniana Collection, a remarkable compendium, the only one of its kind, of media texts (books, videos, recordings, posters, etc.) on Aunor. In 2011, Kritika Kultura came out with its special issue titled On Nora Aunor and the Philippine Star System (August 2015), containing the sequel of Wilfredo Pascual’s Palanca Award-winning essay, “Devotion.”[2]

While further describing other “firsts” in film-book publication, two matters came up. The first novelization of a Filipino film was Edgardo M. Reyes’s 2010 adaptation of his script for Romy V. Suzara’s Mga Uod at Rosas (1982), a film that starred Aunor. The other centered on Aunor’s most famous project, Ishmael Bernal’s Himala (1982): Ricky Lee’s first republished book was his innovative prose collection, Si Tatang at Mga Himala ng Ating Panahon (1988, 2009); and although another script of his was first to be reprinted (Salome in 1981 and 1993) and behind-the-scenes accounts of other films were already available, Sa Puso ng Himala (2012) is by far the best example of a lavishly annotated and illustrated book centered on one title.

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Beyond these samples, we have a number of Who’s Who type of anthologies, of which I have so far confirmed the following as including Aunor in their list of subjects: Yen Makabenta’s Book of the Philippines (1976); Joy Buensalido and Abe Florendo’s 100 Women of the Philippines (1999); the Cultural Center of the Philippines in cooperation with the Centennial Commission’s CCP Centennial Honors for the Arts (1999); and the Sulong Pilipina! Sulong Pilipinas! volume of the National Centennial Commission’s Women Sector (1999). Needless to say, several other titles may turn out to contain features of Aunor.

More intensive inspections have been provided in such articles as Ambeth Ocampo’s “The Nora Aunor Mystique” in Bonifacio’s Bolo (1995); Marra PL Lanot’s “That Gal Named Guy” in The Trouble with Nick and Other Profiles (1999); Leonor Orosa Goquingco’s reviews of Aunor’s performances at the Philippine Educational Theater Asociation in Curtain Call (2001); Danton Remoto’s queer-inflected appreciation in Rampa (2008); and Patrick D. Flores’s “Hanapbuhay sa mga Pelikula ni Nora Aunor” in Consuelo J. Paz’s Ginhawa, Kapalaran, Dalamhati (2009).

Aunor’s status has long been iconic, for anyone who wishes to delve into that aspect of her signification. This can be gleaned in book chapters or sections devoted to her or her films, especially Himala: Neferti Xina M. Tadiar’s “The Heretical Potential of Nora Aunor’s Star Power” in Fantasy-Production (2004), Sumita S. Chakravarty’s “The Erotics of History” in Antony R. Guratne and Wimal Dissanayake’s Rethinking Third Cinema (2003), as well as Renato Perdon’s upholding of the film as a sample of religious expression in Footnotes to Philippine History (2008). A remarkable instance of a scholar using Aunor’s iconography to reflect on another Philippine star is Bliss Cua Lim’s “Sharon’s Noranian Turn: Stardom, Race, and Language in Philippine Cinema,” in Andrea Bandhauer and Michelle Royer’s Stars in World Cinema (2015).

There may have been no Aunor book or article during the last four years, although several (in varying degrees of development) are in the pipeline.[3] And as in the case of most of the other Pinoy auteurs such as Gerardo de Leon, Lamberto V. Avellana, Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, and Fernando Poe Jr., more material can be expected to emerge after she dies. At this point, the only other living auteur whose name gets cited in several bibliographies is Kidlat Tahimik, discussed in four book chapters with one book, a film festival brochure, devoted entirely to him. Even if we assume an unlikely scenario where the Aunor effect already permanently ended in 2015, there still has not been any other Filipino who impacted publishing as she has, except for José Rizal and (possibly) Ferdinand E. Marcos.

A final note, irrelevant as far as I’m concerned, but urgent to many Aunor observers: all the filmmakers mentioned in the previous paragraph are National Artists. Even when regarded strictly as a scholarly issue, the honor means nothing when the most significant among them is excluded from their circle.

Notes

[1] Encouragement for me to write out this mini-essay came from Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr., Nestor de Guzman, Cristina Gaston (pseud.), Patrick D. Flores, Deogracias Antazo, Juan Andres Nolasco, [more to come]…. Most of these books appear in the auteurist section of the categorized listing of the bibliography that I posted on January 18, 2020. To search through an uncategorized alphabetical listing, please click here. Of several other Aunor titles reported as published, I have been able to confirm their stature as books along with details of publication via the Noraniana Collection Project’s highly responsive overseer, Nestor de Guzman.

[2] In the comprehensive bibliography, I had to exclude nearly all theses and dissertations. However, it would be remiss to ignore the very first (and presumably not the last) doctoral dissertation on Aunor, written by the country’s leading art critic and cited in Wilfredo Pascual’s “Devotion”: Patrick D. Flores successfully defended “Makulay na Daigdig [Colorful World]: Nora Aunor and the Aesthetic of Sufferance” at the University of the Philippines in 2000.

[3] As if anticipating the need to prove my misgivings wrong, the latest Aunor publication came out within a month after this article was first published. This was the first issue of this year’s Bikol Studies: Perspectives & Advocacies, the Ateneo de Naga University’s journal, titled Nora and edited by popular-culture and gender expert Jaya Jacobo.

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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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