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.

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,[1] and covered the geography.
  • 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.”
  • 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.

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.]

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My Peque Gallaga Interview

Maurice Claudio Luis Ruiz de Luzuriaga “Peque” Gallaga (1943-2020). [From the National Commission for Culture and the Arts]

I will admit that I tried, for the longest time, to keep distance between myself and Peque Gallaga. During the publicity blitz for his first solo film, Oro, Plata, Mata (1982), I preferred to interview his wife, Madie, the film’s producer who also happened to be the daughter of my mother’s supervisor at what was then the national sugar institute. He had a reputation for being temperamental and I preferred to avoid celebrity types, although I discovered later that I enjoyed studying them. Since this was the “new cinema” moment when the film world lavished adulation on auteurs, and OPM was a star turn more for its director than for any of its actors, Peque became as much the star of one of the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines’ initial productions as Nora Aunor was (then-already) the star of the other, Ishmael Bernal’s Himala.

In fact I’d made his acquaintance earlier, when I had just joined a then-still-studious critics group that decided to invite the members of the newly formed production designers’ guild in order to get pointers on how to properly evaluate their category – for an annual awards system that I also soon repudiated. When the guild president kept insisting that PD practitioners insist on lavish adornments in order to shame producers who skimped on production budgets, Peque spoke out and said that the best kind of mise-en-scène was one that did not draw attention to itself. In effect, he stated that PDs should learn to welcome the challenge of working within narrow budgets, although whether he knew or didn’t, by saying so he contributed one vital brick to the ethical critical structure I was building for myself.[1]


Gallaga directing his films: Oro, Plata, Mata (1982, above) and “Manananggal” segment of Shake, Rattle & Roll (1984). [From Focus on Filipino Films and Ronald Rios]

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On another occasion, in one of those many self-congratulatory receptions the then-booming industry loved to sponsor, I had occasion to mention to him that I attended the rescreening of a film where he participated as actor. This was Mario O’Hara’s Tatlong Taóng Walang Diyos, which came out in 1976, the same year he won the critics’ prize for production design for Eddie Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon … Paano Kayo Ngayon? Over coffee after the screening, one of the founding members asked me if I’d seen it before (I had), and what impressed me about the present viewing. “Peque’s performance,” I said, and he agreed. I said it might be the best of that year for the supporting-actor category, and he agreed again, somewhat sheepishly (I thought, because Peque wasn’t even nominated for it).[2]

About a year later, when the agency provided me with a scholarship to complete a second bachelor’s degree in the country’s first academic film program at the national university, I arrived at the office to turn in my output for the day. The whole place was abuzz with the premiere of the first sex film made by Regal Films, the country’s most successful studio. It wasn’t the first so-called bold film, or even the first locally produced bold film, to be exhibited free of censorship at the Manila Film Center; neither was it Peque’s OPM follow-up, since he’d already exhibited Bad Bananas sa Puting Tabing (made for the 1983 Metro Manila Film Festival) as well as the soft-core historical allegory Virgin Forest, also a Regal production, earlier in 1985. Scorpio Nights promised to be different though, with its title suggesting an overtly and unapologetically sex-focused product.

But the buzz I mentioned was something else. It centered on an event that occurred right before the pricey but expectedly jampacked screening. Those who’d attended said that when it was Peque’s turn to speak, he let go of a volley of curses, naming specific individuals who were officials in the ECP and/or colleagues of mine in the critics’ group. Despite the fact that I’d already forsworn participation in the group’s annual awards after extreme frustration with not just the individual choices but also the hypocrisy and cynicism behind the process, Peque’s outburst made me anxious. At that time, I guessed that it had to do with the backlash by left-leaning critics against OPM, to which our group had given its highest prizes; some of the OPM-bashers were former members, others were later invited to be part of the group.

With some hindsight, I later thought that it also may have had to do with the fact that the cash-strapped ECP bypassed its next year’s second-place scriptwriting contest winner, Flores de Mayo, and favored the third, Soltero (1984), thus ensuring that Flores would never get done: not only was Flores written by Jose Javier Reyes, the same person that Peque recruited to write OPM as well as Bad Bananas, but Soltero was written by an official of the ECP – one of the names Peque had singled out. Friends at the agency however told me that any hurt feelings were subsequently smoothed over via an apology that Peque issued.

I got some measure of assurance later, after I completed the film program and worked up enough nerve to contact him to tell him how much I appreciated Scorpio Nights, how I disagreed with the critics locking it out of their major awards categories, and how relieved I was to drop out of the group so I could finally criticize them as an independent entity. He was effusive with praise for me, pointing out something that didn’t occur to me up to that point: “those people,” he said, “should have done what you did – study the field that they were dabbling in, so they’d know what they’re talking about and earn the right to call themselves qualified.”

Films co-directed by Gallaga: Binhi (with Butch Perez, 1973, above) and Sonata (with Lore Reyes, 2013). [From Ronald Rios and Rappler]

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Academe gave me the time and inclination (though not the funds) to pursue a career as resident film critic of what was then the country’s most consequential newsmagazine, National Midweek. A foreign graduate-study grant became available right after I published my first book, and I stopped communicating with Pinas industry participants for nearly a decade. I maintained contact with some practitioners of a narrative format that I announced as my dissertation topic, but when the most prolific among them, Ishmael Bernal, died unexpectedly, I decided to stay put in the US until I completed my doctorate.

This is my roundabout way of explaining why my most intensive interactions with Peque since the present millennium consisted entirely of social-network exchanges. I knew I could get a great interview out of him, but in the meanwhile what I needed was some information for the book on Manila by Night (1980) that I was writing. I knew some of his stories as its production designer (for which he won his second critics’ prize), and I was aware that he was referring to his work on it when he articulated his principles during the critics’ soirée with the PD guild several years earlier.

What stumped me regarding Manila by Night was a different type of design – film sound. I apologetically brought up the topic with him, expecting him to hint at least that I should focus on his visual specialization. What do you know, he did get involved with the movie’s aural design, confirming my suspicion that the film’s extremely accurate and well-timed voices and noises were actually artifically – and painstakingly – recreated in the sound studio.[3] Much like creating a news report using memory and restaging the incidents one wanted to cover, carefully enough so that the total reality effect was replicated.

So one of my long-term to-do projects was an all-out Peque Gallaga interview, covering the full spectrum of his participation in film and film-related activities: as project conceptualizer, director (for film, TV, and theater), performer, visual and sound designer, theater-guild founder, professor, and whatever else he might remind me. I just needed to muster the guts to handle what I thought was his contempt for film critics, since he never failed to blast my older colleagues even after they handed him a well-deserved life achievement award about a decade ago. I also take every opportunity to point out their shortcomings, so at least we could have that useful convergence as starting point.

Gallaga and Lore Reyes, his co-director since 1987. [From Lore Reyes’s Facebook page]

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The final factor that eliminated all my misgivings regarding his belligerence occurred via a casual conversation I had late last year with his co-director, Lore Reyes.[4] I mentioned, in one of my recollections of the ECP screenings, Peque’s flare-up during the Scorpio Nights premiere. Apparently, according to Lore, everyone else had forgotten about it – but of course I couldn’t, since I had to steel myself for a Peque interview that was never to be, as it turned out. The story involved an otherwise highly regarded personality who was associated not just with ECP but also with the critics group as well as the national university’s film program. I deduced that he was acting with the support or encouragement of people in these institutions, the same people Peque had called out.

From our November 21, 2019, exchange: “Did you know? I caught Hammy [Agustin Sotto] cutting Scorpio Nights near dawn on the morning before its ECP premiere. I told Hammy I was going to fetch Peque, he said go ahead, fetch Peque. So I did. Peque punched him and kicked him in the head. It was a scene straight out of a cheap indie movie: a 5,000-foot reel unspooling all over Jess Navarro’s editing room in [the Regal office in] Valencia as Jess and I tried to stop Peque from beating up Hammy.[5] Later that day, [unknown to Manila Film Center head] Johnny Litton and Hammy, Jess restored all the clips that Hammy had cut (we brought a Steenbeck to the ECP parking lot and bribed the ECP projectionist so we could borrow the premiere print). That was where Peque’s rage was coming from, when he cursed all those personalities who were right there in front of him on the first row. They tried to cut his film without his knowledge.”

Goodness, I realized, I had nothing to fear at all about the man. He would defy hell itself to fight for something he thought was right. About that interview….

Notes

An account of Peque Gallaga’s achievements is recounted in the tribute issued by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts on its Facebook page. An abridged version of this article, titled “Peque’s Rage: A Retelling,” was published in the May 12, 2020, issue of The FilAm.

[1] In Monchito Nocon’s unpublished 2012 interview with Peque Gallaga regarding Manila by Night, Peque quoted Ishmael Bernal’s response when he demanded a reshoot of the Halloween revelers’ frolic at Manila Bay, since the camera operator had forgotten to bring the right lenses: “A film can never be perfect. It has to have a rough edge … a mistake … a human aspect.”

[2] To the credit of the late Mario A. Hernando, with whom I was conversing, he devoted a portion of his newspaper column (Kibitzer, in the now-defunct Times Journal) to raise this very same issue. The incident also alerted me to the dangers of passing canonical judgment based on swift and temporally marked-off considerations such as awards schedules.

[3] Abbo Q. de la Cruz, who played the rebellious peasant in Oro, Plata, Mata, and whose Misteryo sa Tuwa (1984) was the first film completed during the second and final batch of ECP productions, was credited for sound effects in Manila by Night. On a Facebook post that was subsequently deleted by the account owner, Peque mentioned how he and Abbo locked themselves in the sound studio and worked themselves to exhaustion, until they felt they had all the possible audio coverage that the director might require.

[4] Another critical issue that besets the Gallaga credit is the directing partnership he maintained with Lore Reyes. This should resolve by itself as Reyes continues making films on his own, as he has done and as he should continue doing. Gregory Paul Y. Daza, in “The Unsung, Ignored Half of the Gallaga-Reyes Movies” (for the September 4, 2015 issue of BusinessWorld), provided what amounts to a useful primer for the Reyes-Gallaga dilemma.

[5] Tina Cuyugan, in a Facebook comment posted on April 10, 2020, narrated that “Peque did mention that he went to that encounter with Hammy brandishing (although not using, in the end) a cane that had been hand-carved by prisoners in Palawan. The type of precise Bakunawan detail that can stick to one’s memory for 35 years.” (“Nelson Bakunawa” was the name Peque used for his account, bakunawa being a mythological serpentine dragon capable of disrupting weather cycles and causing eclipses and tremors.) My own assessment of Hammy’s extremely conflicted positions as film critic, historian, festival promoter, educator, and aspiring industry practitioner may have to wait until I have been able to ensure my own objectivity about his actuations vis-à-vis the far-from-perfect institutions wherein he operated. For a retrospective report on the production history of Scorpio Nights, from conceptualization to exhibition, see Jerome Gomez’s report, “Coital Recall,” in Rogue (November 2015): 74-81.

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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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Authoring Auteurs: A Bibliographical Essay

Note: This article makes extensive reference to the “Comprehensive Pinas Film Biblio,” listed by author(s), that I posted in two versions. To find any title in the bibliography via its alphabetical arrangement, please click here, and to inspect the categories I used as well as the titles within them, please click here. To jump beyond the introduction, click here for: Methodology; Beginnings; Initial Attempts; Potentials; and Notes.

Click on pic to enlarge. Exact totals may have shifted since the date of posting
(updated to February 2020).

This pair of graphs will be as good a place to start as any. They don’t purport to depict the entire range of books written on Philippine cinema, although as far as I can surmise, they’re as exhaustive as I’ve been able to get so far. I started working on my list, in earnest, over a year ago, although I always had a “comprehensive bibliography” to-do folder on my desktop a few months since I launched Amauteurish! over five years ago. I imagine some pre-2020 titles might be added here and there, and even fewer titles may be deleted.[1]

In my announcement of the project on Facebook, I mentioned that I wrote about Philippine film books a few decades ago, and didn’t need more than a few pages to list everything available then.[2] As it turned out, a few more titles with aspects of Pinas film production as their coverage were printed before the generally acknowledged “first” Filipino film book, Vicente Salumbides’s self-published Motion Pictures in the Philippines, came out in 1952. The Salumbides text continues to stake a qualified claim nevertheless, since it was the country’s first non-institutional film book, although its subjective and self-lionizing perspective didn’t impel me to take better care of the photocopy I made of the now-rare original.

Why two graphs when only one history’s being described? The answer lies in the unusual abundance that crowds the upper graph’s right side. For a more logical starting point, I focused on the portion containing the film-propelled – and film-supportive – presidency of Ferdinand E. Marcos: just as his pre-martial law regime marked the peak period of Philippine film production, including three years (1965, 1970, and 1971) when local output exceeded 200, his martial-law dictatorship (1972-81 though actually extending to 1986) also appeared to coincide with an increasingly active production of books on Philippine cinema, from one or nothing in the beginning to over twenty in the last couple of years.[3]

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Methodology

My personal collection formed a core of references that I used every so often in the articles I wrote, so the list actually began as a more in-depth annotated bibliography I drew up in fulfillment of a special projects class I took under my dissertation adviser, Robert Sklar. He had planned to incorporate some data in a future update of Film: An International History of the Medium (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993). As I narrated in my introduction to the 2014 digital edition of Wages of Cinema: Film in Philippine Perspective, my soft copy of the file was irretrievably lost because of a highly unstable system of digital storage, coupled with my usual carelessness. A far more immeasurable loss, and not just for me, was Professor Sklar’s death from an accident in 2011.

The e-book format enabled me to collect (and, more important, lug around) far more books than I could physically carry in their dead-tree editions. So it would be small exaggeration, at most, to say that I literally held (or beheld) more than half of these texts. I managed to cull a number that were initially unfamiliar to me, although they showed up in one of several online catalogues, and subjected as many as I could to actual confirmations – with their authors, whenever possible, or with researchers or collectors. I also managed to acquire or confirm basic publication details in the same way, with file photos of title and copyright pages.[4]

I devised an admittedly subjective list of categories that I later carefully uploaded to Excel spreadsheets, to be able to watch out for questionable entries and, in one case, determine when the most active publisher, Anvil, moved from one city to another. With two chronological sortings, one for the entire bibliography in general and another for books within each category, I managed to come up with the graphs I mentioned (using the former) and a list of firsts (using the latter). The trickiest qualifier I must disclose is that several titles, foreign as well as local, are not primarily film-specialized, or even film-oriented.

I made a separate list comprising film books as strictly defined, but the more recent publications successfully challenged the assumptions behind such a purist approach: not only because screen cultural studies is definitionally interdisciplinary, but also because authors from other countries and specializations find no problem in interweaving Philippine cinema in their narratives and analyses of nation, culture, and language. Hence I capitulated to the more pleasant (because easier) option of counting each entry as one, regardless of whether it was entirely on cinema, with or without full emphasis on the Philippines.

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First of the Firsts

I already mentioned Vicente Salumbides’s book as still-qualifiably the first Filipino film book. Prior to his publication, what we have is a fascinating array of colonial material – American and, at one point, Japanese. The US publications focus on the industry and its relation to government policy as well as on profit-generation, while the Japanese film book (by Abe Yutaka and Hitō Hankengun) more impressively looks into a singular government production, Abe Yutaka and Gerardo de Leon’s Dawn of Freedom (Eiga Haikyūsha & Toho, 1944). When regarded as colonial models for scholarship, it would be possible to say, discomfortingly for those with even a passing acquaintance of our foreign colonizers, that the US film books in the Philippines set a frankly deplorable and persistent orientation premised on moral anxiety – a continuation of a prefilmic Hispanic tradition, actually – while the Japanese book hewed closer to the tenets of aesthetic film appreciation, notwithstanding the propagandistic intent of the film it covered.

Salumbides’s book should have been followed by similar (and better) texts, but something about its period of emergence – the First Golden Age of roughly the 1950s – was inconducive to such a trend. (Unfortunately, I must give over any further interpretive prerogative here to scholars of Cold War culture. Too many cats to skin, or horses to shoe, or cakes to bake.) It remained then for the country’s self-styled counterfeit messiah and his former aspiring-starlet of a First Lady to provide the impetus for film-book publications. Fortunately, culture was the only area where they were most benign, or least rapacious, and film provided a high-profile means of displaying the democratic values they supposedly upheld.

The first formal film study in book form appeared as a chapter by critic-filmmaker T.D. Agcaoili, endorsing New Criticism, in a textbook co-edited by Gloria D. Feliciano, founding Dean of the then-Institute (now College) of Mass Communication in the national university. Like Agcaoili, none of the Nouvelle Vague-styled aspiring filmmakers who emerged right afterward to write for the Manila Chronicle, comprising Ishmael Bernal, Nestor U. Torre, and Behn Cervantes, had their own book publications, unless we count Torre’s monograph on history for the Cultural Center of the Philippines’s Tuklas Sining [Art Discovery] series as well as Bernal’s planned autobiography, Pro Bernal Anti Bio, passed on to Jorge Arago and completed by Angela Stuart Santiago.

With the declaration of martial law in 1972, one name appears and marks the rest of film-book publication in the Philippines thereafter. For three successive years, a book bore her name, starting with Jose Martinez Reyes’s Nora Aunor: Tagumpay sa Bawat Awit [Triumph in Every Song] during the final pre-martial law year, followed by Rustum G. Quinton’s Ang Tunay na Kasaysayan ni Nora Aunor, Superstar [The True Story of Nora Aunor, Superstar] in 1972, and culminating with Herbert L. Vego’s Getting to Know Nora. With primarily political texts by Guillermo de Vega, Simeon G. del Rosario, and Primitivo Mijares intervening, Aunor figured once again in a series of books by Nick Joaquin (writing as Quijano de Manila), who headlined, as it were, each book with a star interview as its main attraction. Despite spotlighting the youngest entrant (Joaquin’s other books featured Amalia Fuentes, Gloria Diaz, Joseph Estrada, and Fernando “Ronnie” Poe Jr.), Nora Aunor and Other Profiles became the bestselling entry and most prized collectible of the series – a vindication for Joaquin, who once narrated that he was cajoled by his colleagues for opting to write on a bakya or masscult figure.[5]

The abidance of what we may call the Aunor effect continued through the years, and when it might end may be impossible to determine. The first multi-volume non-anthological film book was a biography of hers, written by Baby K. Jimenez. The first auteurial anthologies dealt with a producer (Monina Mercado’s, on Narcisa B. de Leon) and a director (Mario A. Hernando’s, on Lino Brocka) – both of whom, incidentally, were gone by the time the books appeared – but the first anthology on a Filipino performer was Nestor de Guzman’s Si Nora sa mga Noranians [Nora to the Noranians].

Only filmmakers, led by Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, and Kidlat Tahimik, have showed up in scholarly book collections overseas, with Nora Aunor nearly the only actor mentioned by name; in one instance, a study of Sharon Cuneta by Bliss Cua Lim (in Andrea Bandhauer and Michelle Royer’s Stars in World Cinema), the article is titled “Sharon’s Noranian Turn” – an indication of Aunor’s iconic stature. The first special journal issue (which I edited, for Kritika Kultura’s August 2015 issue) to focus on Philippine stardom was titled On Nora Aunor and the Philippine Star System. A tell-all memoir by Ricardo Lee is in the works, and several other scholars have signaled their intention to provide further book-length entries to the Noraniana Collection (incidentally the name as well of the special section in the Iriga Public Library that features available media materials on Aunor, as well as a Facebook page of de Guzman’s, fully titled the Noraniana Collection Project, that provides information and updates on said materials).

The larger consequence of the Aunor effect is that more books on Filipino film auteurs – almost 80, as of the current count – have been published than in any other category; this includes a number of Who’s Who-styled collections, of which a number that only incidentally feature showbiz personalities might still show up sooner or later.[6] Histories (in the arrangement I provided) follow quite some distance behind, while screenplays managed to catch up only after I included teleplays, novelizations, and behind-the-scenes accounts. I found I also needed to combine books on screen cultural studies and political economy, as well as personal anthologies of reviews and criticism, in order to have totals in each category that did not depart too excessively one from another.

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The Other Firsts

The same year, 1983, that Baby K. Jimenez’s two-volume Ang True Story ni Guy [The True Story of Guy] came out, two anthologies of reviews and criticism were published. The first, Readings in Philippine Cinema (ed. Rafael Ma. Guerrero), deserves to have a longer-lasting impact because of the scholarly usefulness of its selections; the second, The Urian Anthology 1970-1979 (ed. Nicanor G. Tiongson), has become better-known mainly because the critics’ group behind it continued to spew out decadal installments. (Personal disclosure: I was a member of the organization and appeared in some of the later volumes long after I left the group.) The Aunor effect was palpable even in the non-biographical texts: she was the first Best Actress awardee in the critics’ annual awards, and was featured in the only celebrity article, “Cinderella Superstar,” written by National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario (a.k.a. Rio Alma) and anthologized in the Guerrero collection.[7]

The obvious gap left to fill would be for a singular-author anthology – which came out the next year, in Isagani R. Cruz’s Movie Times. Several other authors (including the present one) followed suit, and even writers creating or compiling materials in other areas made sure to include a chapter, if not a section, on cinema. With the banishment of the Marcoses, a new sociological trend, premised on qualitative analysis and engagement with poststructuralist theory, began to make its presence felt. Many of the personal anthologies acknowledged this swing in film studies, although the first volume dedicated entirely to the approach was a slim and now-rare collection published by the Cultural Center of the Philippines, titled Unang Pagtingin sa Pelikulang Bakbakan: Tatlong Sanaysay [A First Glance at the Action Film: Three Essays] and written by Zeus A. Salazar, Agustin Sotto, and Prospero Reyes Covar.

As for the first history text, again Salumbides’s Motion Pictures in the Philippines may be regarded as an initial book-length attempt, enriched and expanded by several article-length accounts in various collections. A number of specialized histories preceded the first general one, Bienvenido Lumbera’s Pelikula: An Essay on the Philippine Film (1989): a problematic defense of martial-law censorship policies in Film and Freedom (1975) by Guillermo de Vega, Ferdinand E. Marcos’s mysteriously assassinated presidential assistant; Joe Quirino’s projected (though not completed) three-volume History of the Philippine Cinema series opener, Don Jose [Nepomuceno] and the Early Philippine Cinema (1983); and Nick Deocampo’s Short Film: Emergence of a New Philippine Cinema (1985).

The first screenplay published in book form was actually a back-to-back edition of Ricky [as Ricardo] Lee’s Brutal/Salome (1981), featuring Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s 1980 film and Laurice Guillen’s 1981 entry respectively (personal disclosure: I was a member of Cine Gang, the outfit that published the text). As in the case of Nora Aunor, the succeeding screenplays published during the decade were also by Lee: Moral (1982), Bukas … May Pangarap [Tomorrow … There’s a Dream] (1984), and Himala [Miracle] (1982) in Si Tatang at mga Himala ng Ating Panahon [Old Man and the Miracles of Our Time] (1988), with only Bienvenido M. Noriega Jr.’s Soltero [Bachelor] managing to intervene in 1985. Surprisingly, the first novelization – of Romy V. Suzara’s Mga Uod at Rosas [Caterpillars and Roses] (1982) – came out after the millennium; not surprisingly, it was by the film’s scriptwriter, Edgardo M. Reyes, whose other novels served as bases for a number of film adaptations.[8] The WWII-era’s only singular film book (by Abe Yutaka and Hitō Hankengun, mentioned earlier) was succeeded by a still, strictly speaking, non-Filipino behind-the-scenes account, of Gene Cajayon’s The Debut (2000), written by Cajayon, John Manal Castro, and Dawn Bohulano Mabalon.

Book chapters on, or descriptions of, Philippine cinema began appearing in foreign-published volumes on Third World (later Third) film and media, from the late 1970s onward, with Fredric Jameson’s controversial lionization of Kidlat Tahimik’s Mababangong Bangungot [Perfumed Nightmare] (1977), in The Geopolitical Aesthetic (1992), considered one of the early high points. The first foreign-published books on the national cinema were about the Marcoses’ involvement in film activities, both of which were part of the anti-dictatorship movement’s output: Primitivo Mijares’s The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos (1976), with its sensational “The Loves of Marcos” chapter detailing the President’s supposedly multiple dalliances with movie stars and celebrities; and Hermie Rotea’s Marcos’ Lovey Dovie (1983), on the steamy romance between Macoy and Dovie Beams, the American starlet he handpicked to play the woman he loved in Jerr Hopper’s Maharlika (1970), his self-alleged heroic exploits during World War II that were subsequently repudiated by his own US Army superiors. Mijares shortly disappeared under suspicious circumstances, and his teenage son’s corpse was dropped from a plane in a badly mutilated condition.

The first Philippine film book not published in Manila was Stars in the Raw (1982) by Jessie B. Garcia, the same author who wrote “The Golden Decade of Philippine Movies” (1972, reprinted in Rafael Ma. Guerrero’s aforementioned Readings on Philippine Cinema) – the article that first recognized a local Golden Age, in this case the studio-controlled system from after WWII to the 1950s. The book was published in Bacolod, as was his unauthorized Vilma Santos bio Queen Vi (1984), while another book, on tragic sex-film star Claudia Zobel, came out the same year in Iloilo City.[9] Nick Deocampo’s Short Film (1985) was the first non-script film book translated into another language (by Mark Garner and Matxalen Goiria into Spanish), as El Cortometraje (1986).

In the 1990s, two “official” reference materials on Pinas cinema were edited by Nicanor G. Tiongson, then the Director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines: Tuklas Sining [Art Discovery]: Essays on the Philippine Arts (1991) had a chapter by Bienvenido Lumbera titled “Philippine Film” that was in the main a historical summary; while the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art (1994) had a volume, Philippine Film, that was later updated (as simply Film) in the encyclopedia’s second edition, published in 2017. Like the same editor’s Urian Anthology decadal series by the Filipino Film Critics Circle, these publications were bulky, glossy, and extremely expensive even by middle-class standards.

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Quo Vadis

The ubiquity of internet media initially lulled me into thinking that a bibliographic project, even semi-annotated like the one I completed, may no longer be necessary, much less convenient. The constant emergence of new information would be relentless, and the preponderance of false data could prove frustrating to everyone but the most dedicated researchers. Nevertheless, after taking out bibliographical material that I thought were either unwieldy (theses or dissertations) or unnecessary (martial law-era bulletins), I imagined I had a sufficiently manageable list – only to see it growing way beyond the original size I tried cutting down in the first place.

The most active film-book publisher in the country has been Anvil Publishing, which started in 1990 (with The National Pastime, also my first book) and amassed a total of 36 titles, or 43 if we include the earlier National Book Store publications. The university presses come next – the University of the Philippines’s with 31 books, Ateneo de Manila University’s with 16, and the University of Santo Tomas’s with 10. The Cultural Center of the Philippines a.k.a. Sentrong Pangkultura ng Pilipinas had about a dozen, but the title of “most active” can be claimed only by the newly established publishing arms of two studios: Viva Films’ VRJ Books came up with 15 volumes in 2016-19, or nearly four film books per year, while ABS-CBN Publishing had 18-plus books in 2015-19, or about three per year. This would be logical when we consider that both outfits are dedicated to entertainment titles, but it also leads us down another pathway: books that resulted from social-network postings, inasmuch as these sources not only allow drafts to be reviewed (by peers and trolls alike), corrected, and compiled, but also to generate public interest prior to publication.[10]

A so-far final new-media mark is to have books exist exclusively online. At this time, people buy them less and less from on-site stores and book fairs, and increasingly from internet sellers. Younger readers have become resourceful enough to seek out soft copies in a gray area where copyright claimants have become too negligent, or greedy, or both, thereby forfeiting their moral claim to prosecute people who make their products available to less-privileged citizens all over the web. Amauteurish! (pardon the promo) seeks to make as many titles as possible available for free or at minimal cost, while Shonenbat Collective on Facebook provides distribution for a so-far small number of books. These and forthcoming future initiatives have preempted government and academic resources from taking charge of on-the-ground book development, and deserve to prevail for as long as netizens find purchase in discursive activities outside of institutional interferences.

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Acknowledgments

Help in finalizing the bibliography (and, in that respect, this article) came from the following: Deogracias Antazo, Rofel G. Brion, Byron Bryant, Jerrick Josue David, Cristina Gaston, Mike de Guzman, Nestor de Guzman, Patrick Flores, Roumella Nina L. Monge, Eric Nadurata, Jim Paranal, Eduardo J. Piano, Jojo Terencio, Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr., and Boy Villasanta. Assistance for the study was provided by the Inha University Faculty Research Fund.

Notes

[1] The types of books that I took out appear in the introduction to the categorized listing that I posted. Later exclusions included Bela Padilla’s 100 Tula ni Bela [100 Poems of Bela] (Pasig City: VRJ Books, 2017), since it was a literary entry that was not a novelization, screenplay, or memoir, premised on the film titled 100 Tula Para Kay Stella [100 Poems for Stella], dir. Jason Paul Laxamana (Viva Films, 2017), that the author had starred in; and Gemma Cruz Araneta’s 50 Years in Hollywood: The USA Conquers the Philippines (Quezon City: Gemma Cruz Araneta, 2019), which was essentially a history text whose title intended to draw attention to an expression that the author attributed to her mother, Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil. Stanley Karnow’s description in his book, In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines (New York: Ballantine, 1989), of the Philippines spending “three centuries in a Catholic convent and fifty years in Hollywood” (Chapter 1), has become the most well-known appropriation. An exception I had to include was Queen Elly’s Vince & Kath series, described in endnote 10.

[2] In “Film Book Publishing,” Philippines Communication Journal 3 (June 1987): 76-79. One final category that could constitute a bibliography all its own would be the sources, acknowledged or otherwise, of material used in Philippine film projects. (When the films themselves become the source, as in novelizations or published scripts, they’re included in the listing I made.) Anyone who came of age during the Second Golden Age would understand my reticence: the wider critical community, led mainly by literary scholars, became obsessed over the issue of originality, wrongheadedly regarding it as a form of anticolonial resistance. Local film critics were unfortunately – and (I must add) irresponsibly – unaware of the Cinema Novo movement, as explicated in Robert Stam and Ismail Xavier’s “Transformations of National Allegory: Brazilian Cinema from Dictatorship to Redemocratization” (reprinted in Robert Sklar and Charles Musser’s 1990 collection Resisting Images: Essays on Cinema and History). Of particular relevance here is the movement’s valuation of the symbolic function of anthropophagy, where pop-cultural cannibalism (or the local reappropriation of First World exports) is considered a worthy means of educating the audience about the artificiality of material from colonial centers, as well as of replicating the First World’s exploitation of its colonies from the vantage point of the dispossessed. The concept, for those who wish to delve further, is related to and overlaps with the carnivalesque, an even more prominent quality of Brazilian cinema.

[3] For the rate of total local film production, see the “Annual Filipino Film Production Chart,” covering 1919 to 2015, that I posted on this blog. I may have to add here that I have opted for a more liberal definition of what constitutes a book beyond the standard prescription of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization of “a non-periodical printed publication of at least 49 pages, exclusive of the cover pages, published in the country and made available to the public” (“Recommendation Concerning the International Standardization of Statistics Relating to Book Production and Periodicals,” adopted during the 1964 General Conference in Paris; italics mine). Typical of several university press series, a non-periodical monograph or collection shorter than 49 inside pages, which presents basic identity markers overtly or implicitly (such as title, author[s], editor[s], publisher[s], copyright claim, and year of publication), ought to suffice in the Philippine context.

[4] A year-long full-time stint, equivalent to a graduate-level internship, where I assisted the editor of the Modern Language Association Bibliography, made me familiar with the basic elements required in bibliographic listings. (Vital missing element in my own sets: total number of pages of body text and preliminaries – generally overlooked in most other biblio lists as well.) The MLA office was just around the block from the Tisch School of the Arts, which would have made it ideal save for the fact that since my coursework was complete by then, I didn’t have any use for its proximity to school. The organization’s political intramurals would be another story altogether, deserving of its own fuller account.

[5] The term “bakya crowd” was coined by director Lamberto V. Avellana to explain why his quality productions did not make money. Supposedly the members of the audience, who were unsophisticated enough to wear noisy bakya or wooden shoes in movie houses, did not have the capacity to appreciate his works. To refute his argument, Jose F. Lacaba wrote “Notes on Bakya: Being an Apologia of Sorts for Filipino Masscult” for the January 31, 1970 issue of the Philippines Free Press, as well as “Movies, Critics, and the Bakya Crowd” for the March 1979 issue of the Art Association of the Philippines Liham [Letter] – both reprinted in his blog Ka Pete (click here for the former and here for the latter). In response, Avellana claimed in his last interview that he was misunderstood – that he intended the term as an endearment, not an insult (Ernie A. de Pedro, “Portrait of a Director: Lamberto Avellana,” Filipino Film Review, vol. 2, no. 1, January-March 1985, pp. 22-27).

[6] Other artists who have written their own overt autobiographical accounts are Daisy H. Avellana, Mark Bautista, Rustica Carpio, Celso Ad. Castillo, Wenn V. Deramas, Jerry B. Gracio, J. Eddie Infante, Maine Mendoza, Pilar Pilapil, Armida Siguion-Reyna, and Jake Zyrus. Film artists who have been written about in book form include, aside from Lino Brocka and Narcisa B. de Leon, Lamberto V. Avellana (by Simon Godfrey Rodriguez, Nina Macaraig-Gamboa, and Wylzter Gutierrez), Gabby Concepcion (by George Vail Kabristante), Manuel Conde (by Nicanor G. Tiongson), Carmen de la Rosa (by Manuel B. Fernandez and Ronald K. Constantino), Dolphy (by Bibeth Orteza), Mona Lisa (by Celine Beatrice Fabie), Robin Padilla (by Deo J. Fajardo), Piolo Pascual (by David Fabros), Fernando Poe Jr. (by Alfonso B. Deza), and Vicente Salumbides (by Boy Villasanta, in addition to Salumbides’s own first-person text), plus the recently terminated love team of Nadine Lustre and James Reid, a.k.a. Team Real (by Christianne Dizon). More biographical accounts are discussed in endnote 9.

[7] Pointed out in a Facebook comment (January 28, 2020) by the same Aunor scholar, Nestor de Guzman, mentioned earlier. I am indebted to this same person for the details of publication (unavailable in standard bibliographic sources, online or in the real world) of several Aunor volumes in this bibliography.

[8] Emphasizing this in an endnote rather in the body text, so as not to sound too insistent: close observers would have noticed by this point that the Aunor effect had already occurred twice. She was the star of Himala [Miracle] and Mga Uod at Rosas [Caterpillars and Roses] (both 1982 films). The Ricky Lee anthology where Himala first appeared was his first book to be reprinted, in 2009; further to that, Lee also republished his script in an exemplary behind-the-scenes volume, Sa Puso ng Himala [In the Heart of Miracle] in 2012.

[9] In relation to endnote 6, special mention may be made here of two cases: the cited book on Vilma Santos, Queen Vi, by Jessie B. Garcia, that was pulled from circulation for allegedly disparaging her parents; and possibly the most innovative semi-autobiography ever published in the country, titled Pro Bernal Anti Bio, initiated by Ishmael Bernal, passed on to Jorge Arago, and completed by Angela Stuart Santiago. Bernardo Bernardo announced he was at work on a memoir before he passed away in 2018, but its printing schedule still has to be disclosed by his heirs. Finally, although Brocka is the most cited filmmaking auteur in the bibliography, Aunor not only preceded him, but also exceeds him by a definitive margin.

[10] As of this moment, I am unaware of any other attempts at creating books compiled from social network posts except for Richard Bolisay’s Break It to Me Gently (2019) as well as (partially) Ishmael Bernal, Jorge Arago, and Angela Stuart Santiago’s Pro Bernal, Anti Bio (2017). Millennial Traversals, the digital book I uploaded in 2015, is an unusual case in that it was reprinted in the University of Santo Tomas journal UNITAS’s May 2015 and May 2016 issues, which in turn were reprinted in 2019 as a back-to-back book edition by Amauteurish Publishing. Another trend in the direction of film production is typified by the Vince & Kath series by Queen Elly, originating as fictionalized Facebook exchanges (labeled a “textserye” and later a “social serye”) among its characters, compiled and published in 2016 as a digital volume by ABS-CBN Publishing, and turned into a film, Theodore Boborol’s Vince & Kath & James (Star Cinema, 2016); the book was then followed by six sequels with individual subtitles: Books 2-5, also titled Vince & Kath, were subtitled Remember, Promise, Walang Titibag [None Can Destroy], and Cheer and Var (Vince and Kath’s nicknames), respectively; Books 6-7, titled Vince & Kath & James, were subtitled The Reunion and The Finale, respectively, but it was Books 5 & 6 that were developed in conjunction with the film (from an email reply dated April 1, 2020, by Roumella Nina L. Monge). For this reason I included the series in the bibliography (see Screenplays, Teleplays, Novelizations, Accounts section).

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Entries in the 2 Editions of the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art

The second edition of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Encyclopedia of Philippine Art, ed. Nicanor G. Tiongson (Manila: CCP & the Office of the Chancellor, University of the Philippines Diliman, 2017), is a noteworthy improvement over the first – except, again, for the exorbitant selling price. Now comprising 12 volumes, including two for literature, it however overlooked several books on film, an area which has been booming way before the millennium and shows no sign of letting up. (Just in time then for my uploading in Ámauteurish! of a fairly comprehensive bibliography on Philippine cinema.) I had the same contributions in Film (Volume 6, ISBN 978-97-18546-62-8) for this edition, plus an additional one in Theater (Volume 9, ISBN 978-97-18546-66-6).

These entries are listed below, starting with a file of the preliminaries of the Film volume, including (for good measure) the page where I’m featured, and ending with General Sources, listing the materials I had written. The same warning I sounded regarding my entries in the first edition still applies: these articles had been co-written, relied on dated auteurist perspectives, and were occasionally outright erroneous. Scanned PDF copies, in order of pagination:

Preliminaries (Vol. 6, Film: cover, frontispiece, title, copyright, staff, contents), to page xv;
• “Aksiyon” (with Lynn Pareja, with notes from Pio de Castro III, Bienvenido Lumbera, & Nicanor G. Tiongson; updated by Mesandel Arguelles), 112-13;
• “Animation” (with Lynn Pareja, with notes from Pio de Castro III, Bienvenido Lumbera, & Nicanor G. Tiongson; updated by Michael Kho Lim), 114-17;
• “Horror” (with Lynn Pareja, with notes from Pio de Castro III, Bienvenido Lumbera, & Nicanor G. Tiongson; updated by Erika Carreon), 134-35;
• “Komedi” (with Lynn Pareja, with notes from Pio de Castro III, Bienvenido Lumbera, & Nicanor G. Tiongson; updated by Mesandel Arguelles), 136-38;
• “Musical” (with Lynn Pareja & Nicanor G. Tiongson, with notes from Pio de Castro III & Bienvenido Lumbera; updated by Johann Vladimir J. Espiritu), 139-40;
• “Acting in Film” (with Justino Dormiendo, with notes from Pio de Castro III, Bienvenido Lumbera, & Nicanor G. Tiongson; updated by Johann Vladimir J. Espiritu), 146-47;
• “Cinematography” (with Nick Cruz, with notes from Pio de Castro III, Bienvenido Lumbera, & Nicanor G. Tiongson; updated by Elvin Valerio and Clodualdo del Mundo Jr.), 161-64;
• “Distribution in Film” (with Rosalie Matilac, with notes from Pio de Castro III, Bienvenido Lumbera, & Nicanor G. Tiongson; updated by Albert Almendralejo), 179-82;
• “Producing for Film” (with Nick Cruz & Rosalie Matilac, with notes from Pio de Castro III, Bienvenido Lumbera, & Nicanor G. Tiongson; updated by Jose Javier Reyes, with notes from Johann Vladimir J. Espiritu), 196-99;
• “Sound Recording in Film” (with Nick Cruz, with notes from Pio de Castro III, Bienvenido Lumbera, & Nicanor G. Tiongson; updated by Rica Arevalo), 210-11;
• “Training and Education for Film” (with Lynn Pareja, with notes from Pio de Castro III, Bienvenido Lumbera, & Nicanor G. Tiongson; updated by Johann Vladimir J. Espiritu), 213-14;
• “David, Joel” (by Rosalinda Galang, updated by Elmer L. Gatchalian), 427;
• “General Sources,” 566-67; and
• “Velasco, Johven” (Vol. 9, Theater, including cover; updated from Bonifacio P. Ilagan’s text), 796.

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For those interested in looking further, the following are my entries in the first edition of the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art, ed. Nicanor G. Tiongson (Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1994), ISBN 971-8546-31-6. Scanned PDF copies, in order of pagination, from Philippine Film, Volume 8 (of 10 volumes), ISBN 971-8546-31-6:

• “Aksyon” (with Lynn Pareja), 82-83;
• “Animation” (with Lynn Pareja), 83-84;
• “Horror” (with Lynn Pareja), 90;
• “Komedi” (with Lynn Pareja), 90-91;
• “Musical” (with Lynn Pareja & Nicanor G. Tiongson), 92-93;
• “Acting” (with Justino Dormiendo), 96-97;
• “Cinematography” (with Nick Cruz), 105-07;
• “Distribution” (with Rosalie Matilac), 112-14;
• “Production” (with Nick Cruz & Rosalie Matilac), 124-28;
• “Sound Recording” (with Nick Cruz), 134-36;
• “Studies and Training” (with Lynn Pareja), 136-37.

Finally, a batch of material I forgot about and recently rediscovered from the same encyclopedia edition’s Volume 9, Philippine Literature, ISBN 971-8546-32-4. Most were written by me, but I included the entries on my first book as well as on me as author, as well as a film-book entry (Bien Lumbera’s) that I did not write:

• Isagani R. Cruz’s Movie Times, 473;
• Joel David’s The National Pastime, 474;
• Emmanuel A. Reyes’s Notes on Philippine Cinema, 475;
• Rafael Ma. Guerrero’s (as ed.) Readings in Philippine Cinema, 484-85;
• Bienvenido Lumbera’s Revaluation: Essays on Philippine Literature, Cinema and Popular Culture (entry written by M.T. Wright), 485-86;
• Nicanor G. Tiongson’s (as ed.) The Urian Anthology 1970-1979, 495; and
David, Joel (entry written by R. Galang), 575.

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Showbiz Babylon: A Tribute-of-Sorts to the Barretto Sisters

Pique and pulchritude: Claudine, Gretchen, and Marjorie (left to right), the protagonists of the Barretto family scandal, 2019 edition. (Instagram collage courtesy of ABS-CBNNews.com.) To jump to later sections, click here for: New Blood; Trophy BFs; Weaker Sex; and Notes.

“La dénonciation du scandale
est toujours un hommage rendu à la loi.”
– J. Baudrillard[1]

Since celebrity scandals observe the same cycle of fostering fatigue among the public after a period of intense engagement, don’t be surprised if the latest Barretto family intrigue has mellowed, if not dissipated, by the time you read this. Before the first member of the family emerged on the national stage, “Barretto” used to be better known as the location of a coastal drive along Subic Bay, where girlie bars featuring women from all over the country catered to American GIs willing to spend their precious dollars for rest and recreation (even if they wound up getting neither).

This made the Barretto clan locally prominent citizens as far as any red-light area could bestow respectability. (It might help to remember that the illustrious residents of Malate also reside adjacent to another former red-light district, Ermita.) Hence Gretchen Barretto, or her handlers, did not feel the need to use another family name when she was launched as part of the second batch of mixed-gender Regal Babies. Unfortunately, the rival Viva Films studio had just launched its monstrously successful all-male Bagets batch, and Rey de la Cruz had an all-female troupe, the Softdrink Beauties, claiming whatever (frankly prurient) interest could be generated in good-looking women.

So the Regal Babies II were destined for certain oblivion, with a bravely determined Gretchen languishing in supporting roles.[2] She was barely noticeable in Lino Brocka’s Miguelito: Ang Batang Rebelde (1985), for example, banking on her classy features but limited by her narrow range as a performer. By the 1990s, she had shed enough of her premature flab and gained enough height to look alluring enough for male-gaze purposes. Robbie Tan, founder-manager of Seiko Films, profitably deduced that the public had tired of sex sirens who looked and behaved like they came from the wrong side of the tracks. He devised a series of projects that objectified seemingly unattainable porcelain beauties led by Gretchen, turned his outfit into a major player in the process, and made the first Barretto star (Figure 1).[3]

Figure 1. Gretchen Barretto in one of Seiko Films’ early “sex-trip” hits, Abbo Q. de la Cruz’s Tukso: Layuan Mo Ako (1991).

New Blood

Another Barretto quietly took Gretchen’s place as constant second-stringer: Claudine, her younger sister. Unlike her predecessor, Claudine handled her years of relative obscurity as an opportunity to hone her performative skills. Her walk in the sun had a healthier component to it, by conventional moralist standards: she came of age when romantic comedies succeeded in displacing all the other then-profitable local film genres – horror, action, comedy, even her elder sister’s soft-core melodramas – and managed to prove her mettle alongside the peak capability of Vilma Santos, in Rory B. Quintos’s Anak (2000).

An accident of fate though propelled Claudine to a stature never attained by Gretchen. It was, unfortunately, a tragedy, the first indication that the Barrettos could only really soar on the wings of bad news. Just as Gretchen became a star by shedding her clothes, Claudine captured the public imagination when she broke up with her buena-familia boyfriend Rico Yan, grandson of a former army chief and ambassador during the presidency of Ferdinand E. Marcos. The heartbroken beau repaired to a Palawan resort, where he failed to awaken on an Easter Sunday, of all days, after a night of heavy drinking (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Claudine Barretto’s Instagram memento of the last note sent her by Rico Yan, posted after the latter died.

The public response was hysterical, with Yan’s wake and funeral march overshadowing those of two National Artists for Music, Lucio San Pedro and Levi Celerio. A reporter from the rival of Yan’s home station happened to be at the resort and scooped its competitor, which in turn avenged itself by preventing all other TV stations from occupying vantage points during Yan’s wake. Best of all, for Claudine’s fortune, her co-starrer with Yan, Olivia M. Lamasan’s Got 2 Believe (2002), had just opened in theaters, with Yan’s death catapulting it to record-blockbuster status.

Trophy BFs

This made of Claudine an even bigger star than her Ate Gretchen, and acrimonious vibes from the sisters’ perceived rivalry began getting airtime, with then-incipient social media paying due interest. Gretchen became the constant partner of businessman and media mogul-aspirant Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco, while Claudine linked up with and eventually married another alumnus of De La Salle University, Raymart Santiago (of the well-known brood fathered by producer-director Pablo Santiago, preceded in showbiz by his elder brothers Rowell and Randy). Their mother Inday declared her preference for Claudine – a position eroded by her daughter’s on-cam pummeling of one of the roughneck Tulfo brothers (Figure 3) and her later separation from her husband amid speculation of excessive drug use, with Gretchen openly declaring her sympathy for Raymart.

Figure 3. Screen cap of mobile phone video taken by onlooker of Claudine Barretto and Raymart Santiago beating up Mon Tulfo for allegedly recording a quarrel they had with airport personnel.

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Which brings us to the latest teapot tempest. The situation could not be more high-profile, with the country’s chief executive, a family friend, attending the wake of the just-deceased Barretto patriarch. Gretchen and Claudine had patched up their differences, and Gretchen attended ostensibly to reconcile with her mother. A third Barretto showbiz aspirant, Marjorie, who never attained the same level of stardom as her younger sisters, refused President Duterte’s admonition to greet Gretchen, alleging that her niece, Nicole, was traumatized by Gretchen spiriting away a lover, businessman Atong Ang.

In a sensational tell-all TV interview, a remarkably articulate and sensible-sounding Marjorie acknowledged that after the collapse of her own marriage to Dennis Padilla (actually Dencio Padilla Jr., son of a late well-loved comedian), she bore a love-child to Recom Echiverri, a former mayor of Caloocan City; this was by way of her pointing out that Ang was also very much married, and that Gretchen was thereby being unfaithful to Cojuangco, who similarly was married to someone else.

Predictably, Gretchen denied any physical relationship between her and Ang (Figure 4), a sufficiently credible assertion when we consider how she never balked at admitting any of her past indiscretions. The clarifications and counter-accusations will continue for some time, until the family arrives at a level of accommodation acceptable to the major players in the current fracas.

What conclusions can we draw from the situation? One is that the Barretto sisters are smart and determined enough in stretching their media mileage, notwithstanding the occasional evidentiary recordings of such social slip-ups as Claudine’s fistfight with Mon Tulfo or the screams and hair-pulling (with the Presidential Security Group atypically befuddled) that erupted during Miguel Alvir Barretto’s wake.

Marjorie’s subsequent TV interview effectively effaced an earlier scandal caused when her daughter, Julia, admitted boinking hunky star Gerald Anderson, who was supposedly committed to another star, Bea Alonzo. Julia claimed that she had broken up with male starlet Joshua Garcia (just as Anderson’s relationship with Alonzo had supposedly ended), but also subsequently wound up denying that she was the mistress of another elderly entrepreneur, Ramon Ang.

Figure 4. One of Gretchen Barretto’s series of socnet posts mocking the charges made by her elder sister Marjorie and referencing Recom Echiverri.

Weaker Sex

Another conclusion we can make is that males involved in any capacity in this dustup will be better off keeping quiet. Atong Ang appeared in one of those obviously staged “ambush interviews” coddling his legal family while declaring he had never diddled any of the Barrettos. Assuming he was truth-telling, he was also effectively saying (awkwardly, at that) that some of his Barretto friends were lying. The family patriarch, in contrast, was ironically better off reposing in a coffin: even with Gretchen recapitulating her accusation that he had molested her, no one will want to continue speaking ill of the dead.

As pointed out by the late film scholar Johven Velasco in his book article on Rico Yan,[4] a number of influential talk-show personalities were penalized by their TV stations, after they revealed that the deceased young star, upon learning that Claudine had allegedly been unfaithful to him, had obtained Ecstasy tablets to counter his depression.

An even more significant conclusion that Velasco makes, echoed by social experts looking at the current familial flameout, is that the scandal’s staying power derives from what it says about us, more than about the family itself. It’s women claiming for themselves what moral authorities used to say only men were entitled to: the privilege of behaving badly (“war of the courtesans,” to use a semi-complimentary description by expat artist Therese Cruz). The scope even has the trigenerational impact of classical Greek tragedy, a curse being passed on from parents to children to their children’s children.

A fast-declining generation might remember when a similar phenomenon used to command the attention of the media and public, not just in the Philippines but also overseas: the Marcos family saga, from the patriarch’s womanizing and his wife’s philistinic overcompensation, through their rebellious daughter’s romance with an oppositionist scion (including a kidnapping and fall-guy killing that foreshadowed the murder of Benigno Aquino Jr.), to their exile and triumphant return to a country that seemingly, masochistically, has not had enough of their excesses. Thankfully, the worst that the Barrettos can visit on themselves and their public will never be as malevolent as their higher-profile media predecessors had been.

Notes

First published October 28, 2019, as “The Barrettos and the Privilege of Behaving Badly,” in The FilAm. An abridged version of this article was reprinted in the December 2019 issue of The FilAm: Newsmagazine Serving Filipino Americans in New York. (Click on pic below to open PDF file.)


[1] From Jean Baudrillard, Simulacres et Simulation (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1981): “The denunciation of scandal always pays homage to the law,” trans. Paul Foss, Paul Batton, and Philip Beitchman (Los Angeles: Semiotext[e], 1983).

[2] Incidental disclosure: some time after completing my second undergraduate degree (film, at the national university), I was a freelance production assistant in a Regal Films project, Emmanuel H. Borlaza’s Asawa Ko Huwag Mong Aagawin (1987), a Vilma Santos-starrer that featured the 1960s tandem of Amalia Fuentes and Eddie Gutierrez; Santos played the mistress of Gutierrez (and rival of Fuentes), while her much younger boyfriend was essayed by Gabby Concepcion, an original Regal baby. A then-deferential and reclusive Gretchen Barretto was cast as one of the older couple’s neglected children.

[3] In line with the introduction of an early martial law-era term, “bold,” by Regal Films, the country’s longest-running major studio, to distinguish its soft-core entries from the pre-martial law period’s more overtly sex-themed “bomba,” Robbie Tan sought to distance his productions from the late Marcos-era’s hard-core “penekula films” by first appropriating “sex-trip,” abbreviated as ST, and later coining an English term, “titillating film.”

Penekula was, to Filipino speakers, a readily recognizable portmanteau of penetration and pelikula (film), so as in the case of ST, titillating film was discreetly abbreviated as TF (not, as amateurishly claimed in one author’s studies, TT film – cf. this article in an avowedly left-leaning publication, which is highly problematic in many other ways). This was because TF played on the popular showbiz abbreviation for talent fee, and it did not make sense for Tan’s drive for gentrification to succumb to using “titi,” the Tagalog word for penis, when it could already be articulated in the polysyllabic English modifier titillating – the same way that ST merely and rather coyly mimicked the slang term for an aroused male, “standing titi.”

The apparent motive for moving from the merely misleading ST to the more risqué TF was to take advantage of “more relaxed censorship laws,” as recounted by José B. Capino in “Soothsayers, Politicians, Lesbian Scribes: The Philippine Movie Talk Show” (in Planet TV: A Global Television Studies Reader, eds. Lisa Parks & Shanti Kumar [New York University Press, 2002], 262-73). Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr., founding chair of the Young Critics Circle and founding director of the San Francisco-based Filipino Arts & Cinema International, ascribes these terms to the promotional strategies of the late publicist Oskee Salazar.

[4] “Rico Yan: Posthumously Recognized and Constructed,” in Huwaran/Hulmahan Atbp.: The Film Writings of Johven Velasco, ed. Joel David (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2009), pp. 24-38.

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Manoy Takes His Leave

The sudden end to the long and productive life of actor-director Eddie Garcia was unnecessarily tragic, with corporate negligence compounding the foolhardiness of an artist too game to retire at an age when most other people would have completed two or more entire careers. The evaluation of netizens is on the mark in this case: Garcia’s willingness to take risks, typical of his approach throughout an extended and colorful career, should have been tempered by the studio that had apparently bet on countering the most successful serial program of the moment by showcasing, among other novelties, the physical agility of the country’s oldest active action performer.[1]

First appearing as a contract performer by the most star-obsessed among the 1950s First Golden Age studios, Garcia’s unconventional attractiveness positioned him a degree apart from full star stature: he could occasionally headline a project, but never the romantic leads that required the Euro-mestizo prettiness claimed by any number of now-forgotten actors. Having decided to make the most of a range of skills that allowed him to dabble in genres as disparate as horror, action, comedy, even soft-core melodrama, as leading man or villain, he settled on making himself indispensable as a competent ensemble performer who could draw on reserves of brilliance in case the role happened to demand it of him.

His filmography of over 650 film appearances (a possible local record) attests to the success of his strategy, but he had a higher purpose in mind: to be able to carve out a parallel career as film director. His choices were informed by the same principle of populist entertainment that he maintained for his acting career. One can see how his efforts could be occasionally penalized for being too mainstream, in a system that prized (then as now) “independent” efforts: when his best film, Saan Nagtatago ang Pag-ibig? (1987), came out, the Filipino critics’ group declared that no film during that year was worth considering for its annual prizes. Saan Nagtatago has since then been regarded as one of the high points in Pinoy melodrama.

Observers were also prone to concluding that his expertise as director accounted for his actorly acumen. This may be safely accepted as conventional wisdom, in conjunction with his pronouncement that his original dream was to be a military official. His work ethic, arriving about an hour ahead of call time, lines already committed to memory, was typical of performers of his generation, and those of theater-trained actors even today. Yet there were fault lines in this ultra-professional approach, and it occasionally showed up in his filmmaking record. He directed (and won his first directorial award for) the second biographical campaign movie of Ferdinand Marcos, Pinagbuklod ng Langit (1969). When later, the then-newly founded directors’ guild declared a boycott of the film projects of Gabby Concepcion, Garcia defied guild president Lino Brocka by accepting a Concepcion assignment for Viva Films.

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Ironically, Garcia’s acting projects with Brocka constituted his most rewarding body of work. He had memorable roles in the first few films of Ishmael Bernal, showed up in some of Eddie Romero’s more ambitious projects, and endeared himself to camp fans in the sex-comedies of Danny L. Zialcita. But as the most politically committed Filipino director, Brocka required effective representations of political villainy, and no one delivered the goods as well as Garcia, in a series of acclaimed works: Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (1974), Miguelito: Batang Rebelde (1985), and Gumapang Ka sa Lusak (1990), among others. Their collaboration was cemented early on, in Brocka’s second film assignment and first serious work, Tubog sa Ginto (1970), still arguably the highest peak in male Philippine film performance.

The mystery in Tubog lies in how Brocka managed to create his best queer film during the period when he still had to come around as an openly queer artist. His later “out” movies, notably Macho Dancer (1988), pale in comparison to the early work. People tended to ascribe some credit to Garcia, to his admission that he conducted intensive research among colleagues in the industry, plus his earlier attempt in essaying a comic version of the closeted authority in Kaming mga Talyada (1962), affirmed by his subsequent willingness to tackle similar roles (comic and dramatic) even in his old age – including his last film assignment, Rainbow’s Sunset (2018). To be honest, the results were always mixed and not as definitive as Tubog itself; in a comic ensemble work, Mga Paru-parong Buking (1985), he was upstaged predictably by Bernardo Bernardo and unexpectedly by George Estregan.

Eight years ago, in one of those confluences that make pop culture an endlessly fascinating phenomenon for its devotees, several identifiably masculine actors admitted to past same-sex experiences. One of them was Garcia, who said that his own episode occurred early, when he was 15, as part of a quest to determine his own preference. One could look at the group of confessors and note for the record that they were all extremely accomplished performers. Yet the measure of the audience’s distractability, as well as Garcia’s own volatility, is that most people remembered his queer performances, but not his own acknowledgment of the roots of his appreciation. All in all an occasionally spotty record then, but generously strewn with gems worth treasuring: rarely have we been so lucky.

Note

[1] In the wake of the tragedy, the studio, GMA-7, announced that its series, Rosang Agimat, was shelved. The new program was intended to challenge ABS-CBN’s long-dominant Ang Probinsyano, where Garcia had (ironically) also been a featured player.

[First published June 23, 2019, in the The FilAm]

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Meta-Kritika! (Ámauteurish turns 5!)

Launched on June 13, 2014, Ámauteurish! observes its fifth year of more-or-less continuous existence and offers its readers the chance to own a signed copy of author Joel David’s latest book publication, Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic. How? By joining the Philippines’s first Meta-Kritika Contest. Here are the rules:

  1. The contest is open to college undergraduate students (regardless of nationality) in Philippine universities. Associate or vocational students, foreign students on exchange in a Philippine university (or Filipino students on exchange abroad), and out-of-school youth who have completed high-school-level education or its equivalent, will all also be eligible, though not people who have completed at least one bachelor’s degree.
  2. The prospective contestant should select one readily available current or past Filipino feature film, as well as one piece of published commentary by any author (regardless of nationality) on the film; said commentary should be a review, at least, although it may also be a longer critique. “Filipino feature film” refers to any film dramatization with distinctive Philippine issues, whether released locally or overseas. “Published commentary” may include material uploaded on the internet, excluding audio-only or audiovisual presentations. Only one film may be paired with one commentary, and each participant may submit only one entry.
  3. The contestant should provide critical commentary on the film in relation to the commentary on it. In effect, she or he should respond to the film as well as the review or criticism written previously on the same film.
  4. The contestant should complete at least two single-spaced pages, but no more than five pages of writing, using a form that may be downloaded here. Notes and citations may be elaborated via footnotes, if necessary, using the Modern Language Association’s writing guidelines. Entries may be submitted in English, Filipino, or any variation of Taglish; commentaries may also be originally printed in any of the specified languages.
  5. The contest entry should be in MS Word format (as either a .doc or a .docx file) and should be submitted as an email attachment, with “Meta-Kritika Contest submission” in the subject line. The contestant’s name should also be the file name of the entry.
  6. Entries will be evaluated by a specially constituted Board of Judges, using standard nonfiction criteria (accuracy, fairness, originality, expressive creativity). The Board’s decision will be considered final.
  7. All entries will be treated as shared copyright material by the contestant and Ámauteurish Publishing. Winning entries and excerpts from the other contributions may be published in a special folio by Ámauteurish! at the publisher’s discretion.
  8. Writers of the best five entries, as determined by the Board of Judges, will be sent one copy each of Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic, signed by the book author.
  9. The deadline for entries is midnight (Philippine Standard Time) of October 31, 2019. Winners will be announced in Ámauteurish! on or before December 1, 2019.

Some tips: Resist the inclination to prove your superiority over the film and/or article that you’ll be selecting; avoid as well providing a mere summary of the (film and published) texts. For this reason, it may be better for you to pick out texts that you feel can challenge your analytical ability. There will also be a wide variety of possible responses beyond agreeing or disagreeing with the material. Assume that your readers are familiar or will familiarize themselves with your material, so there won’t be any need to extensively synopsize or summarize what you’re writing about. The minimum expectation is that you will be triangulating your own position vis-à-vis the film and the article. Reading up and watching related materials will ensure that you will be better prepared for the exercise.

Possibly the most difficult challenge of all would be to try maintaining a light, conversational tone, rather than a hectoring or argumentative voice. Spend some time on the opening section of your article; often, achieving the right stylistic mix in raising the issue (just one, please), identifying the texts to discuss, and plotting your own course in pursuit of your position will already help speed you along, once you’ve nailed it. Try anticipating at least one other critical voice in your head, pointing out possible weaknesses in your argument, so that you’ll be able to ensure a rigorous output for yourself.

After completing your draft (preferably using this template), pause long enough until you feel distant from it, then go over it mercilessly, looking for ways to improve it further. Remember that, in writing on material that required technical skills to be expertly created, your own technique will also be subjected to inspection; make sure to use software checkers for spelling and grammar, if available, as well as any available source (starting with the internet, which you should also approach critically) for fact-checking.

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Auteurs & Amateurs: Toward an Ethics of Film Criticism (Lecture Version)

Many thanks to the International Association for Ethical Literary Criticism for inviting me to deliver a plenary lecture on ethical film criticism. I may not also be everyone’s idea of a film critic, especially if you bump into me during more casual occasions than a literary conference. In my own feeble defense, I would begin by mentioning that what we might count as the basic output of a film critic, the movie review, was one of my earliest articles as a campus journalist, over forty years ago (David, “Birds of Omen” 43-45) – but let’s keep that scandalous detail to ourselves, shall we.

Since then, my odyssey as a Filipino film critic was marked by a few firsts: first fresh college graduate to be invited to the Filipino film critics circle, first former student activist to work in the Marcos dictatorship’s film agency, first and only graduate of the country’s undergraduate film program (my second degree actually), first to publish a local prizewinning book in film criticism, first Filipino to be accepted to a doctoral film program, first director of the national university’s film institute; although one last first – to teach a graduate course in pornography and feminism – will again be probably not to everyone’s liking or appreciation.

I take this personalized narrative-based mode because the lessons I learned about ethical practice in film criticism were hard-earned and initially defiant of then-existing values and ideas. But before we move on to what those insights might be, allow me to point out a problem, more of a kink really, in the expression “ethical practice in film criticism.” What I mean by this is that, contrary to commercial practitioners’ expectations, and in line with the thrust of the conference, film criticism always-already presumes ethical practice. This would be its most vital, though also most obvious, resemblance to literary criticism.

I may also need to make clear this early that I depart from the premise of what we term ethical literary criticism in a crucial manner. One way of understanding why this distinction must be made is in the industrial definition of film production as opposed to literary activity. To better comprehend the comparison, let’s consider each sphere during the recent past when media technologies had yet to begin converging in digital formats, and were therefore distinct from one another. In literature, the entire manufacturing activity comprising the use of all types of printing and copying machines, plus binding and distribution systems, can never be fully equated with actual literary production. A significant, unknowable, but possibly greater amount of literature is necessarily created privately, almost entirely by individuals, and an invaluable amount resides in the collection and maintenance of written material, not all of it printed in the still-contemporary sense.

Film, on the other hand, is emblematic of what we should really call the post-literary mass medium, in the sense that without the presence of an industry, it would not exist – except, at best, as theater. From beginning to end of the filmmaking process, one or more machines are operated by technical specialists, even in the case of the simplest possible type of production, the home movie. In fact the most distinct type of movie we recognize today, the film event, is premised on industrial spectacularization, with its megabudget appropriation, cast of thousands, reliance on preexisting commodities such as hit prequels or comic books, and global distribution system, with a showcasing of the latest digital-graphic applications as an essential component of its attraction.

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My sentimental education regarding this matter proceeded from my stint in the Marcos-era film agency, heightened by my film-school internship, and concretized in the year-long freelance work I conducted, in effect replicating what I did right after completing my first degree, in journalism. Allow me to interject here that freelancing in media is the one thing I would never recommend to any fresh graduate, unless she or he has a masochistic streak. Nevertheless, I had enough of a background in student activism and government service to sustain me with a few overweening delusions: first, that scouting the field for the best option can be done while earning a living; second, that media outfits would be fair enough to reward hard work rooted in academic training; and third and most unreasonable of all, that a free radical could effect some changes significant enough to improve the system.

In my short autobiographical account of my stint as production assistant for a mainstream studio, I mentioned a notion I’d hoped for that somehow became a reality: today, graduates of any of the country’s few film programs get hired by film and media outfits on a regular basis (David, “Movie Worker” 13). An even luckier few of these degree-holders manage to skip an on-the-job training process and make local and sometimes global waves with their first few film projects. Yet the lesson that impacted my practice as film critic did not appear in this account I wrote. It was something I formulated later, after returning to film commentary by being designated the resident film critic of a prominent weekly newsmagazine.

I will admit that I wished that when I first stated my newly formulated ethical premise, my colleagues hailed me as harbinger of a useful and progressive insight. In reality, I collected a number of verbally abusive responses then, and still do so occasionally today. Strangest of all, for me, is the fact that these almost entirely come from representatives of the national university, bastion of claims to Marxist ideals in the country. My aforementioned premise runs as follows. Because of its industrial nature, film practice enables individuals to support themselves and their families and acquaintances. We kid ourselves if we merely focus on the high-profile examples of celebrities and producers and major creative artists: the majority of people working on any sufficiently busy project would actually be working-class, as I had been when I worked in the industry.

When a project ends, one could sense a festive atmosphere, with people simply relieved that the struggles and headaches that they sustained through several weeks, sometimes months or even years, of mostly physical labor, have finally come to an end. Yet on the ground, there would also be palpable anxiety: which upcoming project can they latch onto, in order to be able to continue maintaining a decent source of income? Corollary to this is their hope that the project they just finished earn back its investment, if not become a hit, because this means the producer would be able to bankroll a future film, with the strong possibility of rehiring them.

I tracked this logic to its extreme conclusion and realized that its ethical core was solid enough to apply to any kind of project. Even a supposedly aesthetically dubious undertaking, like a genre film, or a socially disreputable effort, like a trash or pornographic entry, still represents a godsend to any impoverished member of the film crew. And if the said dismissible output makes a killing at the box-office, this may be unwelcome news to society’s moral and aesthetic guardians, but it certainly portends nothing but glad tidings for the project’s collaborators – its producers and artists, of course, but its workers as well, silent though they may be.

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I was taken aback, and still tend to have the same response, by the magnitude of the hostility exhibited by academe-trained experts whenever I attempted to articulate this critical premise. In retrospect, of course, I can see where my should-be colleagues were coming from. The class-based orientation of orthodox Marxist training behooves them to focus on the role of captains of industry – producers, financiers, investors – and subject their judgment of a film product to the moral depredations wrought by capital. As a consequence, profitability, according to this view, should be its own reward already, so a movie that hits pay dirt ought to meet higher expectations or face critical dismissal. Bound up with this judgmental mindset would be the known political sympathies of the major entities behind the production, as well as the operations of narrative formulas, with genre projects suggesting a questionable set of motives, and “low” or “body” genres confirming the producers’ and filmmakers’ surrender to decadence.

The one auspicious and relatively recent development on this front is that a progressive strain in feminist thinking, which we might call the sex-positive anti-censorship school (Kleinhans and Lesage 24-26), has set out to recuperate these modes of practice that once resulted in what we might term film detritus, or types of movies that so-called respectable experts and institutions would have jettisoned from any canon-forming activity; some of the more familiar examples would include pornography, horror, tearjerker melodrama, toilet-humor and slapstick comedy, home and diaristic movies, even advertising and propaganda.

This development was affirmed on several institutional fronts during the last few years of the 20th century. For example, of the over 200 titles classified as “condemned” or “offensive” by the US Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency from 1936 to 1978 (Catholic News Service), several showed up in the so-called Vatican Film List (SDG), which were supposedly endorsements to the faithful of nearly 50 titles, presented by the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications on the occasion of cinema’s first centenary in 1995. What this meant was that movies once regarded as immoral by religious standards, were later admired as insightful windows into the human condition. When I was in the process of completing my cinema-studies doctorate, the top-ranked American film schools started announcing courses on US skinflicks of the 1970s, now regarded as a Golden Age in porn production; a previously X-rated film, John Waters’s Pink Flamingos (1972), was an arthouse hit, as was an even earlier entry, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), described as Russ Meyer’s tribute to bosomania. Films with outright pornographic sequences can at present be submitted to compete in the A-list film festivals of Europe, and even win major awards for the effort.

What this made evident to me was the fact that in popular culture, no pre-existing judgment is guaranteed to last forever. Just as the historical heroics and Biblical epics and costume dramas that once dominated US Academy Awards are only screened for camp amusement today, and the downgraded B-movies of that same era are now considered essential to studies on the development of film language (Monaco 7-10), so can we indulge in the engaging exercise of identifying which contemporary forms of audiovisual media happen to endure the disapprobation of authorities in government, academe, and corporate-sponsored institutions. Only those among us who still cling to beliefs in eternal verities in approaches to popular culture, will be dismayed by the constant revision and repudiation of standards that mark contemporary evaluations of film and cultural artefacts, and will probably be surprised when today’s so-called trash items become tomorrow’s objets d’art.

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I might need to clarify, however, that my insistence on recognizing the cruciality of continuing film-production activity to the sustenance of an industry, does not imply that I desisted from formulating negative commentary during the six-year period when I had to turn in reviews on a weekly basis. What my premise precluded, in my personal practice, was the use of sweeping condemnations like “worst movie ever made,” unless I could mix in tonal shadings of irony or camp. Put another way, anything that could lead to the conclusion that such-and-such a release should never have been made would make me think more than twice: I could just as well be commenting on the potboilers I had worked on, and if they’d never been made, how would I have survived?

How then should I evaluate the moral worth of a film that I had to review? The answer to this entailed a two-stage procedure, one building on the other, and once more provoking unusual controversy. The first necessitated a bout of critical self-awareness on my end, a condition that applies as much to resident critics as to contemporary bloggers, especially those who set out to cover sudden concentrations of new or old releases, such as film festivals or retrospectives. When an editor or publisher stipulates that the critic must review everything on a given slate, the latter ought to initiate a constant negotiation regarding which releases are accordant with her level of competence or interest, and which ones lie beyond the scope of her abilities. I was fortunate during my resident-critic years that the movie industry was churning out up to four local releases a week, not to mention the far bigger amount of foreign releases that were being distributed. So picking out a film or two or more, out of five to ten choices, was a far better ratio than the one-to-one requirement imposed by some internet websites on their reviewers.

The second stage, as I mentioned, was when troubles would arise – not with my casual readers, but with my self-appointed critics. The method I observed took shape after the usual formal-slash-sociological, form-and-content approaches I used, left more questions than answers in their wake. Mostly these would revolve on another bout of self-doubt: how sure was I that any declaration I made was certain to hold up through an unpredictable future? As an example, a canon-creation project for Philippine cinema, ongoing for nearly a decade already, yielded several surprises when we went through the few major films of the past half-century (David and Maglipon). Among the movies released during the martial-law period of 1972 to 1986, for example, several titles acclaimed for their political daring felt, in retrospect, like melodramas in desperate search of significance. What stood out today, with some of them increasing in stature and integrity, were the honest-to-goodness flat-out melodramas, dismissed by film critics of the time for being flighty, apolitical, decadent, tending toward camp, and produced by a studio suspected of reveling in covert sponsorship from the dictatorial regime.

The ideal critical approach would therefore set down any conclusion we can make about a movie as strictly provisional, subject to further developments in cultural and political history. But what about the more problematic film-texts I mentioned earlier – i.e., the movies that enjoyed popular patronage? Would there be a means of presenting findings about these releases without falling into the trap of the high art-vs.-low culture binary? The only method I could think of during the time was to contact actual members of the mass audience. When I’d encounter friendly get-togethers in the congested neighborhoods where I resided, I’d approach the people I knew and chat about the movies they just watched or were planning to watch. Refreshingly, these were people who were unconcerned about my academic intent or the impression they would give about themselves among the intelligentsia. So when I asked them for the reasons behind their choices, they never felt obliged to genuflect before the altar of moral worth or aesthetic significance. What they’d provide instead was a unique though residual form of cultural logic, more helpful in elucidating why any current box-office hit was raking it in, regardless of its critical standing.

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Even today, one could see this deplorable and potentially tragic separation between the chattering classes, which would include all of us here, and the mass audience, or the public at large, or what we increasingly recognize as the majority of online netizens. When confronted with the reality of inconsistencies in voters’ choices, our colleagues would tend to explain this away by describing them as uneducated, unsophisticated, devoid of higher moral senses, vulnerable to petty corruption, oblivious to the consequences of their decisions. This type of academically acceptable though horrifically anti-progressive approach was what I attempted to evade via the admittedly casual anthropological research I conducted before setting out to articulate my responses to any contemporary film release during my time as resident critic. Once again, for reasons that I cannot (and prefer not to) fathom at this time, colleagues tended to react violently when I set this out as a prescription.

The first time I laid it out, rather than used it as a means of explicating specific popular films, a trend in Philippine cinema was arousing the ire of people across various political divides, even opposing ones. This was during a time, a few years after the world-famous February 1986 “people power” uprising, when the surest guarantee of box-office performance was for any movie to resort to toilet humor (David, “Shooting Crap” 109-10). Characters would be seen on prime-time TV trailers clutching their tummies or butts, rushing to toilet cubicles, with diarrheic sounds emanating from inside and characters in the vicinity responding to what appear to be unpleasant odors. The exponent of this funky trend was a comedian named Joey de Leon, still-popular today, whose latest exploit was a wildly successful comic-romantic setup that played out during the real-time real-life segment of a noontime variety show (Zamora).

Gamely accepting the challenge to defend his use of toilet humor on a TV talk show, de Leon found himself confronting the right-wing pro-Church chair of the censors board, as well as a leftist academic famed for being occasionally censored and thrown in jail by the martial-law government of Ferdinand Marcos. During a time when the members of the left-leaning Concerned Artists of the Philippines were conducting a series of rallies to protest post-Marcos censorship policies, this was the one remarkable moment when representatives of both sides came together for a common cause – to castigate de Leon’s reliance on a borderline-obscene strategy for provoking audience laughter. I criticized the spectacle via the following remark:

to question a person on the basis of principle is a simple thing to do, but when that principle happens to enjoy popular support, then the possibility of claiming to be better than the majority, antithetical to the democratic premise of raising questions on their behalf in the first place, emerges. This puts the … “critic” in a position too awkwardly similar to that of the cultural censor, who derives his raison d’être from the perverse notion that the people, even (or especially) in a democracy, could not know what is good for them. (David, “Shooting Crap” 110)

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One direct aftermath was that a few years later, I encountered the aforementioned artist-academic during my graduate studies in the US, and got berated by him for violating some code of bourgeois behavior that I could not decipher. I later figured out that it might have been because of the article I had written: I had taken extra care not to mention him by name, but there was certainly no denying the widespread coverage of his full-on theatrical performance as offended moral guardian on live TV. What I could have explained, if he had been able to simmer down and engage in a sober discussion, was that the moviegoers I had talked with certainly did not regard themselves as cultural dupes longing or willing to be taken in by a possibly cynically motivated comic talent. The key lay in the still-prevalent euphoria over the people-power event, when the country’s major artists all focused on projects that would commemorate the ouster of a long-entrenched tyrant and the restoration of democratic institutions.

The movie audience responded to these predictable and frankly sanctimonious texts by withholding their patronage of local film releases. As a result, from an average of nearly 170 films produced during the Marcos years, sometimes hitting as high as over 230 productions in one year, the local industry came up with 120 titles the year after people power and barely 100 the year after (David, “Annual Filipino Film Production Chart”); many of these in fact were sex films intended for the minimally policed rural circuit. The country’s most successful studio, Regal Films, managed to persuade audiences to resume their movie-going habit by providing comic fantasies featuring a breakout child actor, Aiza (now Ice) Seguerra (“Aiza Seguerra”). While these appealed to women and child viewers, Joey de Leon found a means of filling the gap for more mature audiences, including males, by seizing on a deliberately uncouth rejection of the spiritualistically inspired religious revivalism induced by what people still refer to today as the “miracle at EDSA.”

The difficulty of pursuing this particular configuration of critical framework cum method is further complicated by the stylistic demands it makes on expression. The principle I follow stems from the differentiation between academic writing and criticism. The only Filipino film critic recognized as a National Artist, Bienvenido Lumbera, prescribed an approach to writing criticism that conflated it with scholarship: “the writer must not be imprisoned by cuteness or [snark]. I think that’s a very strong tendency when one is beginning to write, when you fall in love with a manner, an expression, a point that you want to make, and you put that across and sacrifice the object you’re talking about” (Lumbera 72).

My own response, as a graduate-studies scholar confronted with the demand to observe an “objective” and “impersonal” presentation of research findings, was to constantly seek ways to query, if not subvert, this requirement, rather than allow an entire arsenal of literary possibilities to go to waste. In doing so, I managed to realize that the process of deconstructive jouissance can operate beyond analytics, via the mechanics of style. In criticism, especially in reviewing for a general readership, the playpen covers a far wider territory. The expressive demands may be greater, but the potential to involve the reader in formally discursive challenges, with the commentary providing a fixed reflexive coordinate to the film or films being discussed, would be worth the extra effort of drafting what we may call the creative critique.

The ideal to strive for would be an industrial intervention, where the critic helps articulate, for the artist as well as the audience, the film-text’s historical significance and significations, the development of the project’s auteur or auteurs, the industrial limits posed by budget, technology, and training, and how these may be overcome, and the larger social, political, cultural, regional, and global concerns (if any) where text, auteur, and audience may position themselves in pursuit of further insights or benefits. Such instances of intensive interactions among critics, creatives, and consumers have been few and far between, in the experience of Philippine cinema. Nevertheless, they have been known to happen, and have generally proved fulfilling for all parties concerned. The goal in observing a useful and progressive ethical approach to film criticism would be to ensure that critics’ contributions to the growth and development of cinema become a more-or-less permanent feature of creative cultural activity.

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Works Cited

Aiza [sic] Seguerra.” Wow Celebrities! (August 1, 2008).

Catholic News Service (Media Review Office). “Archived Movie Reviews.” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. No date.

David, Joel. “Annual Filipino Film Production Chart.” Ámauteurish! (February 25, 2016).

———. “Birds of Omen.” Philippine Collegian (July 26, 1978): 3, 6. Reprinted in Millennial Traversals: Outliers, Juvenilia, & Quondam Popcult Blabbery (Part I: Traversals within Cinema) in UNITAS: Semi-Annual Peer-Reviewed International Online Journal of Advanced Research in Literature, Culture, and Society 88.1 (May 2015): 43-45.

———. “Movie Worker.” National Midweek (November 4, 1987): 15-16. Reprinted in Millennial Traversals: Outliers, Juvenilia, & Quondam Popcult Blabbery (Part II: Expanded Perspectives) in UNITAS: Semi-Annual Peer-Reviewed International Online Journal of Advanced Research in Literature, Culture, and Society 89.1 (May 2016): 13-16.

———. “Shooting Crap.” National Midweek (April 4, 1990): page(s) unkown. Reprinted in Fields of Vision: Critical Applications in Recent Philippine Cinema (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1995): 109-12.

David, Joel, and Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon. SINÉ: The YES List of 100+ Films That Celebrate Philippine Cinema. Summit Media, 2019 (forthcoming).

Greydanus, Steven D. “The Vatican Film List.” DecentFilms: Film Appreciation and Criticism Informed by Christian Faith. No date.

Kleinhans, Chuck, and Julia Lesage. “The Politics of Sexual Representation.” Jump Cut 30 (March 1985): 24-26.

Lumbera, Bienvenido. “Critic in Academe.” Interview. National Midweek (April 4, 1990): 20-22, 46. Reprinted in Millennial Traversals: Outliers, Juvenilia, & Quondam Popcult Blabbery (Part II: Expanded Perspectives) in UNITAS: Semi-Annual Peer-Reviewed International Online Journal of Advanced Research in Literature, Culture, and Society 89.1 (May 2016): 65-74.

Meyer, Russ (director). Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Scriptwriter Jack Moran. Performed by Tura Satana, Haji, Lori Williams, Ray Barlow, Susan Bernardo, Mickey Foxx, Dennis Busch, Stuart Lancaster, Paul Trinka. EVE Productions, 1965.

Monaco, James. The New Wave: Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette. Oxford University Press, 1976.

Waters, John (director & scriptwriter). Pink Flamingos. Performed by Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivan Pearce, Mink Stole, Danny Mills, Edith Massey, Channing Wilroy, Cookie Mueller, Paul Swift. Dreamland, 1972.

Zamora, Fe. “Netizens Go Gaga over AlDub.” Philippine Daily Inquirer (August 17, 2015).

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A Salute to Our Pinay Filmmakers

While preparing for the end, Marilou Diaz-Abaya gave a series of interviews worth re-reading once in a while. Respect the audience, was her admonition to indie practitioners. Work to develop their preferred product, which then as now meant rom-com films.

Responses by local gatekeepers melded with Euro-festival jurors to ensure that this crucial bit of advice be downgraded and ignored as quickly as possible. Only high-art, alienating, complex-but-inconclusive films were fielded to foreign filmfests & local critics’ competitions, where they dominated the prizes for the past several years. Filmmakers (often women) who so much as deviated from the poverty-focused extreme aestheticizations that these taste-mongers upheld, were scolded for supposedly betraying progressive ideals.

As it turned out, it was women (with an occasional male director or two) who laid the foundations of the Pinoy rom-com in the 1990s, another batch who strengthened it in the 2000s, and still another group hard at work during this decade in transforming it.

One would have to be an ideologically arrested thinker to believe that their output is automatically invalidated by the popular acclaim that it so rightfully earns. For one thing, several of the current practitioners did dabble in indie work, and (as if observing Diaz-Abaya’s advice) brought over what strengths they developed to tweak, improve, and revise the rom-com format.

The fact that the most prominent Pinoy international film festival, San Francisco’s FACINE, wound up honoring a rom-com entry, its jurors smitten by its unexpected warmth and delicacy, affirms that our women filmmakers are on the right track. The Young Critics Circle also gave their major prizes to women working in documentaries – and in a rom-com project.

If progressive is seen as any effort that upgrades the public’s habits by meeting its demands halfway, and regards genre exercises as a means of conveying new insights and possibilities, then this is certainly a trend worth attending to. The promise of viewing pleasure would just be icing on the cake, a reward for finally coming to terms with an audience that is truly our own.

[Posted March 25, 2019, on Facebook]