List of Textual Problematics for Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic

Textual Problematics is the term I use 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 affect pages 11-12, 36-38, 53-59, 56, 57n10, 61, 64, 88, 111, 128, and 148-49. For discussions of illustrational problematics, click here. To return to the corrigenda page, click here. The problematics are listed according to the order they appear in the book; for a topical list of issues linked to the discussions:

Availability of First Golden Age titles
Bernal, Ishmael
11011Cooperation with the Metro Manila Commission
11011Traumatized in his first film project
Book writing process, including close reading
Censorship politics during the Marcos presidency
Manila by Night (1980)
11011As a comedy film
11011Erroneous title (Manila after Dark)
11011Production design problem
11011Storyline
Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975), missing sequences of
11011Internal censorial troubles
11011Similarity with Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Pito ang Asawa Ko, Huwag Tularan (1974)
11011Falling out with film producer
11011Homage to a François Truffaut film
Smorgasbord movies
11011Iginuhit ng Tadhana (1965), elements in
11011Partial list of prototypes

Pages 11-12:

I prepared for the project by rereading some of my favorite volumes in the British Film Institute Film Classics series (renamed BFI Film and TV Classics) as well as some of the recent Queer Film Classics texts. As far as I could tell, their approaches reflected their respective authors’ scholarly concerns. What they all had in common though was close readings of the specific films after which each volume was titled. In anticipation of this exercise, I drafted a detailed account of Manila by Night’s plotline, running several pages long. To my relief, the editors described it as too long and asked for a story summary instead. (I posted on Ámauteurish! the said extensive storyline.)

11011In writing out the book, I had to provide expositions of the Philippines and its cinema in the first of the standard three chapters, so I thought I could do the close reading in the second chapter. But then I wound up explicating Philippine queer cinema and the auteur I was covering, and in the final chapter I had to explain how the multicharacter movie functioned as a politically responsive genre product. I provided some relevant technical observations and decided to see where the editors might think I could insert the missing close reading of the entire film. To be honest, though, I thought that any scene-by-scene analysis would disrupt the textual flow, if not stanch it altogether. So once more I was relieved when their list of revisions did not include the specification I dreaded.

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Pages 36-38:

In a manner of speaking, the first Ferdinand Marcos biopic that Sampaguita Pictures produced had the trappings of a smorgasbord production (see page 88) – multi-episodic and multi-directed – except where it mattered: it featured a singular (pseudo-)heroic character. I am only certain of the availability of few of the proto-smorgasbord Sampaguita films in this listing, Tony Cayado’s Mga Ligaw na Bulaklak and Kaming mga Talyada, Armando Garces’s Sino ang Maysala?, as well as the final one referenced here, Iginuhit ng Tadhana: The Ferdinand E. Marcos Story. All the other ones are apparently lost. Will update if any of the others surfaces. [Update: An apparent smorgasbord-movie predecessor, produced by LVN Pictures and more aligned in fact with the late-1950s bad-boy Lo’ Waist Gang trend initiated by Larry Santiago of Premiere Productions, has surfaced: Barkada [Gang], a 1958 release directed by Lou Salvador Sr., may be accessed at Mike de Leon’s Citizen Jake Vimeo page.]

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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, Marichu Vera-Perez Maceda, may have been connected as much with Brocka, or at least with the Philippine Educational Theater Association, as with the Marcoses. Brocka and de Leon worked for Maceda’s outfit. Bernal however had a celebrated falling-out over Huwag Tularan: Pito ang Asawa Ko, the film project he completed with Sampaguita Pictures, the studio run by her father, after the latter shot additional scenes without the director’s approval. This means that reports of her behavior in mediating between the conflicting sides in the censorship controversy must be subjected to intensive critical scrutiny.

11011I had the opportunity to observe, as an insider in the Marcos film agency, how Maceda 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 Marilou Diaz-Abaya, an associate of Bernal, I heard her make an excessively dramatic claim to mediating between the creative team and the forces of censorship. Bernal 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 after she left, 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 Maceda in high esteem, mainly because of her association with a noteworthy period in film history; for this reason the many significant accomplishments of her family’s studio (active during and beyond the First Golden Age) will have to be qualified with the underhanded intrigues she fomented during a period when opposing figures of power carried inordinate political, professional, and personal risks.

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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 aimed to persuade foreign viewers to tour the city. See Edwin P. Sallan, “Ishmael Bernal’s ‘Lost’ Manila Docu Evokes Nostalgia,” Daily Tribune (July 8, 2018).

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Page 57, footnote 10:

This may well be an unnecessary inclusion but I’ll just be placing it here for thoroughness’s sake. Manila by Night’s still-ongoing troubles begin with its title, which for some reason left-identified Pinas cultural officials refuse to use. City after Dark was the military censors’ designation, so any film screened with that title should be considerably shorter and replete with aural deletions of cusswords and references to the capital city. The claim I made however that another moniker, Manila after Dark, does not exist anywhere in Philippine cinema now has to be qualified, as of mid-2021, with the streaming release of Joel C. Lamangan’s Lockdown. It’s a meta-detail though, since it’s a fiction within a fiction, fascinating in itself and utterly attuned to the world envisioned by Manila by Night. A police-protected proprietor’s illicit vidjakol website – which provides erogenous solo-male or man-on-man displays for paying customers – is depicted as using the title in question, as screen-capped below. (The internet-specific coinage vidjakol, a pun on “video call,” is a portmanteau conflating “video” with the Tagalog slang word for masturbation, jakól, from the word “ejaculate.”)

Screen cap from Joel C. Lamangan’s 2021 film Lockdown.

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Page 61, end of first 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 Madiaga (Rafael Roco Jr.) wandering the Metropolitan Theater’s adjacent Mehan Garden, where he is befriended by Bobby (Jojo Abella), through Julio’s 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.

11011We 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 in an article written by a defender of the novelist’s claims) and the other insistent on presenting the underworld of male hustling in the worst possible light.

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Page 64, second paragraph, third sentence continuing to next page:

The Ideal Theater sequence recalls a similar episode in John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969), where Joe Buck (Jon Voight), broke and homeless after being fleeced by “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), agrees to be fellated by a student (Bob Balaban) in a movie theater. Afterward the latter reveals he has no money, angering Joe but ending with him letting the kid go. Midnight Cowboy turns out to have a broader connection with Maynila, in the sense that, symptomatic of their era, their moralism and homophobia were in effect rewarded by top industry prizes in their respective countries.

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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: Armando Garces’s Sino ang Maysala? [Who Is to Blame?] (1957) 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 Kaming mga Talyada [Who Who Are Sexy] (1962), 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).

11011Closer 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.

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Page 111, first 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).

11011Gallaga’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 [Gil] and William [Martinez] 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.

11011“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, excerpted from “Peque on Bernie: Full Interview,” posted on YouTube by Benilde Campus Art).

11011A further insight that necessarily entails provisional and speculative conclusions was provided by one of Bernal’s colleagues, who must remain anonymous for now: Bernal was bullied by the cinematographer on the set of his first film assignment, Ah, Ewan! Basta sa Maynila Pa Rin Ako! (I am indebted to the innovative and dedicated archivist Jojo Devera for this exclusive bit of information.) Apparently angered and/or traumatized enough to refuse directorial credit (too late for the celluloid print, but observed in all the film’s print announcements), Bernal’s maltreatment may account for his hesitation in trying out other directors of photography until years later, when younger filmmakers could assure him of the reliability of their own cinematographers. Once more, homophobia (on the part of the house staff of Virgo Productions) may have factored in their engagement with the then-newbie. (See footnote 15 on page 99.)

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Page 128, second sentence of second paragraph:

Not a correction, more of a reminder for myself. I heard of Huwag Tularan: Pito ang Asawa Ko years before I saw it, which meant I’d seen most of François Truffaut’s films by then. I vaguely remembered a connection between a Truffaut film and this specific Bernal title, so I concluded that it must have been L’Homme qui aimait les femmes, since their main characters resembled each other. (Pito ang Asawa Ko is privileged by the same queer twist that appeared in a near-contemporaneous Truffaut film, La nuit américaine, and I insist on following the popular practice of dropping Huwag Tularan since it was imposed by the censors and was not present in initial publicity announcements.) In writing the Queer Film Classic text I checked the usual sources, and was flabbergasted at how my memory had tricked me: The Man Who Loved Women (as it was known in English) came out three years after Pito ang Asawa Ko.

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Pages 148-49, paragraph in common:

I ought to have proposed considering Ishmael Bernal as a comic filmmaker, with Manila by Night as black comedy – similar to the way that a review of Robert Altman’s Nashville was anthologized in The National Society of Film Critics on Movie Comedy (ed. Stuart Byron, New York: Grossman, 1977). 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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