Transcript of a Mobile Phone Interview of Peque Gallaga by Monchito Nocon

The following material was provided by Monchito Nocon for the research I was conducting on the making of Ishmael Bernal’s Manila by Night (1980). On the occasion of Peque Gallaga’s demise on May 7, 2020, I requested Monchito’s permission to post the content on Ámauteurish! for its research value. Everything that follows is as he provided. To further enlarge on some of his points, I added some excerpts from interviews he gave for the Brocka, Bernal, and the City exhibit at the De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde in 2019; these appear as endnotes.

Background: In 2012, I was connected with the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), where I was in charge of the Media Desk that, among other responsibilities, published the official newsletter, with me serving as editor-writer. Prior to this in 2009, the Philippines was presented a most generous gift by the Pusan International Film Festival: a scanned copy (2K) of Manila by Night.

The FDCP was thus looking at completing Manila by Night’s full restoration, leading up to a possible premier on the big screen. It was to be a potentially big event, and I was tasked with doing a cover story on the film for the newsletter. So I immediately sent an email to Peque Gallaga, Manila’s production designer, who graciously promised to write me something posthaste.

However, as it happened, Peque was in the midst of moving house in his native Bacolod, and, in the frenzy, couldn’t find the chance to sit down and write. He offered instead to do a long-distance phone interview, which I welcomed and arranged (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Email reply from Peque Gallaga.

The following is the transcript of that interview, which I did on my own volition. As there was no way for me then to record a mobile phone conversation, I had to transcribe everything in real time, by longhand! I also took the liberty of adding headings to make it more comprehensible. Alas, I failed to save the article draft, the publication of which was eventually scrapped as the restoration project never got off the ground.

Peque gives a behind-the-scenes peek into working on Manila by Night

  • [I first worked] with Bernie in Girlfriend – it was love at first sight! We got along well and I brought with me my Bacolod team.
  • It was an ambitious project!
  • [Scriptwriter] Ricky Lee – he marked the whole year [in the film] through the feasts
  • Douglas Quijano, I, and Bernie went to all the night spots – it was an eye-opener – to pick up information.
  • All scenes were shot in Manila after midnight – at 2 a.m. – with the crowd directed [to appear as if it was earlier in the evening].
  • We recreated the vibe [of Manila].
  • We went to a masahista [massage] joint.
  • Bernie did a sit-down with the masahista – did an interview – picking up on what they do. He got into the daily minutiae.
  • She [Cherie Gil] ran the whole stretch in different takes, and covered the geography.[1]
  • They really swam in Manila Bay!
  • [Quotes Bernal in relation to a scene Peque wanted to have reshot – the one with floating candles on Manila Bay. Sergio Lobo, the DOP, failed to properly get his instructions in shooting that scene, and instead of a fuzzy, surreal scene, you could actually see the candles afloat]: “A film can never be perfect. There has to have a rough edge … a mistake … a human aspect.”[2]
  • Does that scene (referring to the above) make sense to you? Concerned with reality.
  • [Along] San Pedro etc. – William [Martinez] pours water over his head – a cleansing – a religious statement.

Peque on Manila, the city

  • It’s not the Manila that it used to be – [you now have] drugs, fringe elements. It just shows that Manila hasn’t changed – the city that hasn’t worked.

Peque on Bernal’s directing style

  • [Bernal] wanted to show reality, not a polished version.
  • He was very classical – close-ups with actors – makes them more dramatic.
  • Long shots tell the story.
  • [He would] sit down with the actors to talk with them regarding the script.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask them [the actors] the most intimate questions.
  • [He created] an intimate bond with performers – not on a boss-employee level but something more personal.[3]

Note

[1] When her character Kano starts being chased by narcotics police, she runs from Sauna Turko along Roxas Blvd. toward Rizal Park, turns right at Mabini Bridge (the side street that traverses the estero of Fort San Antonio de Abad between Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and Ospital ng Maynila Medical Center) and around the former Harrison Plaza, until she gets cornered and caught at the intersection of Mabini and Vito Cruz (now P. Ocampo) Streets. [Thanks to Dr. Juan Martin Magsanoc for determining the formal name of the Mabini Bridge stretch.]

[2] “I talked to Sergio Lobo who was the cameraman [for Manila by Night]. I said, ‘For their LSD sequence what I want to do is to get those little cups for the candles and float them by fitting them in small Styropors. But is it possible if you can put Vaseline around your lens so that it will just be out-of-focus lights and it’s only the faces of Cherie and William that are going to be seen, so that all of a sudden these lights come on?’ He said ‘Yeah just paint the Styropor orange so that the lights would still be warm.’ So we bought about 200 [candles on Styropor] and on two [small outrigger boats], we lit each and every one of them and swept them with bamboo so that as the scene goes on these things start floating in. When we saw the rushes, I said, ‘Bernie, that’s shit! He didn’t defocus it in any way!’ All of a sudden they were surrounded by stupid candles and Styropors. ‘It’s ridiculous. This is really bad. We have to reshoot it!’ He said ‘No, just remember this scene will keep you humble the rest of your life.’” [From “Brocka-Bernal Interviews, 2018-2019,” for the exhibit Brocka, Bernal, and the City, January 24 to April 29, 2019, at the De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde’s School of Design and Arts.]

[3] “It’s very funny. He called me up and said ‘Peqs! Listen, I’ve been talking bad about you okay, but you have to understand, I’m the old guy, you’re coming up, your movie’s beautiful, I’m jealous, and … it’s only human, OK? We’re still friends.’ And I said, ‘Okay Bernie. I haven’t heard you say anything about it.’ He answered ‘Well I’ll be quoted … but beyond all that, I love you.’ I said ‘I love you too Bernie.’

“I don’t think I saw him after that anymore. So much so that when Marilou Diaz-Abaya called me up and said, ‘We need your help, Bernie’s dead,’ I said, ‘I’m busy, I can’t make it, I have to finish something first.’ She said, ‘Come on, that’s Bernie, he’s your friend.’ I said ‘I’m sorry I can’t make it, I can’t make it,’ so she hung up [after] she told me where it was. I stayed there for a while and I said ‘That’s right, Bernie’s my friend.’ So I got in the car and went, not to the wake. His body had just been brought in [to the morgue]. Mel Chionglo was there, Marilou, one or two others. And they said, ‘Oh you’re here, you should be here, we’re his friends.’ I said ‘Yeah, what do you want me to do?’ ‘Well we’re choosing coffins now and everything we seem to choose are six figures – 300,000 [pesos], 250,000. We have to work this out, what can you do?’ I said, ‘I’ll watch his body.’ So I went and sat down and I watched them not only dress him up, but put the big needle to remove all the dead blood, wash him, et cetera. I just stayed there until everything was done and they dressed him up and I remember combing his hair. That’s the last time I saw Bernie.” [From “Brocka-Bernal Interviews, 2018-2019,” for the exhibit Brocka, Bernal, and the City, January 24 to April 29, 2019, at the De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde’s School of Design and Arts.]

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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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