Corrigenda & Problematics for Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic

The editing process for Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic was the most difficult and complicated I ever underwent – and these included the peer reviews I had to solicit and help finalize for the special journal issues that I edited. The text underwent one extensive revision whose directions I had not anticipated, plus at least one minor overhaul for style and tone. The final editing stage was also difficult in itself: it involved reading through the manuscript with all the changes tracked in Microsoft Word. I still print out my drafts and edit the hard copy at every opportunity, so I thought this would be the digital equivalent of that practice, but gurl was I wrong. This accounts for a few oversights in the final version, while one major wrinkle involved the clarification of a picture source (now listed in the Problematics section). Where the corrections involved the addition of words or punctuation marks, they’re indicated here by highlighted entries.(Since all my other sole-authored books were either out of print or generated from this blog, they benefited from my typically obsessive correcting and updating processes.)

Strictly speaking, corrigenda refer to errors of the author while errata would be errors that arose during the process of production. I prefer the former term for its association with “correction” – i.e., during an earlier analogue period, readers would correct their texts via reference to such a list as this. I use the term problematics to refer to issues that occasionally are unresolved, or that otherwise would be too cumbersome to attend to within the physical and/or editorial limits of the publication. Most of these issues already inhered in the material during the process of its creation, although in one instance, the problem arose some time after publication. They range from the aforementioned complication in attribution, to a queer controversy involving a different film, to the usual quirks in historical interpretation. These are listed below, after the shortish list of errata.

CORRIGENDA

Page 23, second paragraph:

“I was working at the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines…”.

Page 38, Figure 4 caption:

“… (bottom, Sampaguita Pictures’ still of Iginuhit ng Tadhana: The Ferdinand E. Marcos Story [Conrado Conde, Jose de Villa, and Mar S. Torres, 1965]).”

Page 39, second paragraph:

Replace “policies” in “… involved the selective withdrawal of censorship prerogatives…”.

Page 42, last paragraph, second sentence:

Replace “were” in “After Bernal died in 1996, the bulk of the material he had compiled … was lost in a fire….”

Page 72, end of first paragraph:

This sentence must be added: “Meanwhile, out filmmaker Jun Lana has been steadily accumulating a growing record number of Filipino queer projects, performing for the mainstream what Crisaldo Pablo used to do for independent production.

Page 82, Figure 15, last sentence:

Replace “Lee Kumchong” in “Photos: Kumchong Lee (top)…”.

Page 104, second paragraph, second sentence:

“…, in which her character was named Manay Sharon. (Duplex is considered significant among queer scholars of Philippine TV for featuring the first out gay character, performed by the late theater and film director Soxie Topacio.)

Page 114, first paragraph:

“… (… played on park speakers), provides ironic contrast…”.

Page 140, first paragraph, first sentence:

“… a comparison with the genuinely subversive exposés of Manila by Night, with the more recent project paling in comparison.”

Page 142, first paragraph, last sentence:

“… planned sequels to Macho Dancer (1988), titled Midnight Dancers (1994, a multicharacter narrative), Burlesk King (1999), and Twilight Dancers (2006).”

Page 144, first paragraph, third sentence:

The comma after the film title Caught in the Act has to be deleted.

Page 151, second paragraph, third sentence:

“… soft and hard-core gay movies were produced…”.

Page 184, Footnote 23:

Replace “127” in “See Figure 25, p. 125.”

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PROBLEMATICS

Page 50, Figure 9:

The pic came from a framed entry in Cinema Paraiso (Film Paradise), an exhibit of Filipino movie memorabilia with film screenings and lectures, held February to April 2003 at the National Commission for Culture and Arts gallery in Intramuros, Manila. According to historian and archivist Teddy Co, one of the organizers, “It’s actually from my collection of bomba magazines, ca. 1969-70. I cannot find the issue anymore so I cannot name the magazine and what month it was in. The other exhibit curators were Josephine Atienza and Cesar Hernando…. The pic was in a section called A History of Kissing in Filipino Movies, starting from the first smooch between Dimples Cooper and Luis Tuazon to a digitally rendered kiss from Lastikman (dir. Tony Y. Reyes, 2003)” (Facebook Messenger exchange, June 5, 2020). The explanation may be too long for a caption and should probably be written as a footnote.

Pages 53-59:

I ought to express with utmost care the dynamics behind censorship as a political process during the Marcos martial-law era. When the Philippines began to acquire a higher global profile and a then-upstart studio, Regal Films, made its bid for overseas presence via Manila by Night, only someone with the right combination of motives and connections could step up and make sure that the powers-that-be develop an animosity toward the film. Why against Ishmael Bernal but not against the Cannes Film Festival celebrants, Lino Brocka and Mike de Leon? The person in question may have been connected as much with Brocka, or at least with the Philippine Educational Theater Association, as with the Marcoses. Brocka, Bernal, and de Leon may have worked for this person’s then-aging outfit, but Bernal had a celebrated falling-out over his film project. This means that reports of the behavior of this person in mediating between the conflicting sides in the censorship controversy must be subjected to intensive critical scrutiny.

I had the opportunity to observe, as an insider in the Marcos film agency, how this person opted for the program that directly handled the disbursement of funds to favored film projects. When a project she produced potentially conflicted with the output of Bernal’s associates, I heard her make the same claim to mediating between the creative team and the forces of censorship. The artists carefully demonstrated deference for someone who was after all part of the inner circle of the First Lady, but condemned her in the strongest terms for once more finding ways to advance her political and financial standing at the expense of some of the most outstanding films of the time. The Philippine critical community continues to hold this person in high esteem, mainly because of her association with a noteworthy period in film history; for this reason it may take some time before she can be named and directly denounced.

Page 56, second (parenthesized) sentence:

Bernal’s familiarity with official government communication policy derived from his working relation with another functionary, similar in terms of access to power as the two-faced censoring agent in the preceding entry, but benevolent for a change. Marita Manuel, whose tracks since the end of the Marcos dispensation have become scarce, ran Metro Manila Commission, one of many agencies that accommodated people with radical backgrounds who needed to be “rehabilitated” after a spell in political detention. By this means Marcos was able to harness talent that would have otherwise remained dormant or that would have returned to underground activities. In 1980, apparently as a means of mollifying the government, she initiated a “documentary” project titled Manila, with Bernal directing and several of the Manila by Night talents appearing. Rediscovered in 2018, the 45-minute curiosity was more of a travelogue that purported to attract foreign viewers to tour the city. See Edwin P. Sallan, “Ishmael Bernal’s ‘Lost’ Manila Docu Evokes Nostalgia,” Daily Tribune (July 8, 2018).

Page 61, end of 1st paragraph:

The out-of-court settlement between the author of the novel Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag and the production team of the film adaptation Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag may have involved a demand from the novelist to delete the improvised gay-hustler sequences. The current existing product, including the Blu-ray versions released by the British Film Institute and the Criterion Collection, contains the section from Julio (Rafael Roco Jr.) wandering the Metropolitan Theater’s adjacent Mehan Garden, where he is befriended by Bobby (Jojo Abella), through his first night at Bobby’s apartment where he witnesses Bobby accommodating a client, to his initial attempt at gay-for-pay sex in the brothel where Bobby works.

We may be allowed to speculate here (based on scriptwriter Clodualdo del Mundo Jr.’s account) that Edgardo Reyes, the novelist, demanded that the entire rentboy detour be excised, while Lino Brocka held fast on retaining its opening section. The fact that a literary figure insisted on anti-queer censorship while a filmmaker immersed his material in homophobic imaging – both artists left-identified and left-supported – may be reflective of a period when perversion was regarded as immoral rather than potentially transgressive. Hence unlike Manila by Night, Maynila’s censorial difficulties were internal, waged by one progressive side against another, one outraged by the attempt “to sissify a manly novel about an ever-masculine city” (actual words used by a defender of the novelist’s claims) and the other insistent on presenting the underworld of male hustling in the worst possible light.

Page 88, Figure 18:

The “first” smorgasbord title is nominal; Sampaguita Pictures had been known for multi-performer presentations as early as the late 1950s, with Tony Cayado’s Mga Ligaw na Bulaklak [Wildflowers] (1957). A sampling of titles up to and including the year of Maraming Kulay ang Pag-ibig [Love Has Many Colors] (1966), featuring large casts in “epic” narratives: Ding M. de Jesus’s Ginang Hukom [Madame Judge] (1960); Octavio Silos’s Mga Kwela sa Eskwela [The Cool Kids of School] (1963); Tony Santos’s Pinakamalaking Takas (ng 7 Atsay) [Biggest Escape (of 7 Helpers)] (1963); Mar S. Torres’s Bathing Beauties and Mga Bata ng Lagim [Kids of Horror] (1964); Tony Cayado’s Mga Batang Iskwater [Slum Kids] and Pitong Desperada [Seven Women Bandits] (1964); Octavio Silos’s Mga Batang Bakasyonista [Vacationing Kids], Mga Batang Milyonaryo [Millionaire Kids], and Mga Batang Artista [Showbiz Kids] (1964); Conrado Conde’s Apat na Kagandahan [Four Daughters] (1965); Octavio Silos’s Mga Batang Turista [Tourist Kids] (1965); Jose de Villa’s Paano Kita Lilimutin [How Will I Forget You] (1966); and Luciano B. Carlos’s Jamboree ’66 (1966).

Closer to the multiply directed example of Maraming Kulay ang Pag-ibig would be Sweet Valentines, directed by Tony Cayado, Conrado Conde, Rosa Mia, Octavio Silos, Carlos Vander Tolosa, Jose de Villa, and Romy Villaflor (1963); and Umibig Ay Di Biro [Love Is No Joke], directed by Emmanuel H. Borlaza, Luciano Carlos, Conrado Conde, Rosa Mia, Octavio Silos, Carlos Vander Tolosa, and Romy Villaflor (1964). All were produced by Sampaguita Pictures and/or its subsidiary, VP Pictures; in the instance of Pinakamalaking Takas, Sampaguita linked up with a rival studio’s subsidiary, Dalisay Pictures. Pitong Desperada was by Ambassador Productions, but its talents and stars were all also identified with Sampaguita. In a manner of speaking, the first Ferdinand Marcos biopic that Sampaguita produced (see pp. 36-38) had the trappings of a smorgasbord production – multi-episodic and multi-directed – except where it mattered: it featured a singular (pseudo-)heroic character.

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Page 111, 1st paragraph:

Around the time I was drafting the book, Manila by Night production designer Peque Gallaga reminisced, on his own and on others’ Facebook posts, regarding his participation in the project. He expressed extreme frustration with the cinematographer’s failure to use the proper filters for the breakwater sequence. Ishmael Bernal also mentioned this as one of the scenes he wanted to trim for the print expected to be finalized for the film’s Berlinale participation – which Moritz de Hadeln overruled (see page 55).

Gallaga’s recollection of his problem went as follows: “I talked to Sergio Lobo who was the cameraman. 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’” (“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).

Page 127, Figure 26:

Upon the prompting of a close associate of the accused comedians (one of whom had died), I reread available material on the controversy and was surprised to find that the case for reasonable doubt was strong. Pepsi Paloma advanced her accusation of rape in the media on the basis of a photograph where she was apparently being kissed against her will. The photographer, an actress who was also a ward of talent manager Rey de la Cruz, has since refused to speak on the matter, as do the surviving accused. The rape story attracted renewed attention from an extended article that was subsequently withdrawn by the Philippine newspaper that published it, after the current Philippine Senate President, who was part of the comedy team but not present during the incident, successfully contested the timeline of events claimed in the article.

I had to conclude that the rape accusation may have been one of the publicity gimmicks de la Cruz was known for. Since the softdrink beauties and the comedy trio had regular projects with Regal Films (also Manila by Night’s production outfit), and the production company severed its ties with de la Cruz and his talents, this would have indicated that the accused had enough of a strong case to demand that Regal take their side or risk a lawsuit. The circumstances behind the incident, where the alleged rapists invited the actresses to visit a room in a five-star hotel, had no indication of coercion or the use of an incapacitating agent; each side claimed that the other was enthusiastic about extending invitations to visit the room. The last few weeks before Paloma announced she was dropping her case, only de la Cruz continued to denounce the comedians. The Senate President, unfortunately, is a right-wing pro-Church bigot with the expected irrational trains of thought; the condition gives rise to less-informed liberals readily believing that he shares the same type of malevolence with his associates – which, according to people within showbiz circles, is far from true.

Page 148-49, paragraph in common:

I ought to have proposed considering Ishmael Bernal as a comic filmmaker, with Manila by Night as black comedy. The perspective would have been unthinkable for people who approach the text with advanced knowledge of its censorship troubles. The notion of laughter as subversive force, however, would have considerably explained why its persecution by the Marcos administration exceeded that of the other city movie, Lino Brocka’s Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag. This would also have enabled me to raise issues of masquerade and irony more logically.

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Á!

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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