Category Archives: Philippine cinema

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]

Statement on the Availability of Filipino Films during the Internet Era

Like other developing countries, the Philippines finds itself at a disadvantage in coping with and adjusting to the manifold challenges posed by rapid technological changes during the current digital period. All predigital media have been profoundly transformed, with positive and negative consequences for each one.

The case of film is instructive and exceptional, since this has been the medium where most Filipino talents tended to converge, given its ability to bestow widespread recognition and financial compensation. Given the call to make as much of humanity’s cultural legacy as readily available as possible, the output of commercial media raises special complications, premised on issues of copyright and fair use.

As critic and scholar, my primary advocacy in this situation would be in favor of the public domain – the theoretical, legal, much-contested entity that lays claim to any true artist’s or author’s handiwork. In the view of public-domain advocates, the right of an investor and/or a creator to profit from her or his product should always be granted, but it should also be proscribed as immediately and urgently as possible when the public interest comes in conflict with it. We see this occur on a regular basis with the expiration of copyright, when any previously protected work forthwith becomes shared public property. Only when this happens does the creative process become complete: the poet, painter, composer, filmmaker, etc. finally yields her legacy, to be claimed and owned by humanity, with the acknowledgment of authorship as the artist’s or author’s only permanent reward.

This is the reason why in any generation in cinema, we find a virtual cadre of workers who continue the tasks of tracking, claiming, preserving, and reproducing titles that have become rare or that might have been lost. The human weaknesses of hoarding and reprofiting off found material has also been part of this tendency from the beginning, but with the formulation and propagation of values anchored on public interest, we are now witnessing collectors of rare material making their items available to all interested parties at little to no cost. This activity is enhanced by the global reach of internet media – a historical juncture that endows present and future generations with artefacts of culture and literature, many of which were previously reserved for only the most privileged members of society.

For the past few years, the Philippines’s most successful film studio, Regal Films, still involved in production though not as actively as it used to, has been deadlocked in its negotiations with the country’s sole remastering outfit, ABS-CBN Film Restoration, effectively freezing hundreds of movies from the 1970s to the present. Some of the most outstanding titles ever made, number among its releases. My personal disclosure regarding my interest in this state of affairs is that a Regal movie, Ishmael Bernal’s Manila by Night (1980), was one of the 20-or-so titles included in the acclaimed Queer Films Series of Vancouver-based Arsenal Pulp Press. I wrote the monograph for the film – but, as the series editors (Thomas Waugh and Matthew Hays) reminded me, Manila by Night was the only entry that was unavailable to foreign scholars.

A far-from-satisfactory DVD edition went out of print several years ago, while copies presumably unsanctioned by the producer may be found online; I have found myself referring researchers to the published version of the full script (translated to English by Alfred A. Yuson) in the August 2012 issue of Ateneo de Manila University’s open-access journal, Kritika Kultura. Obviously none of these measures could subtitute for an adequately remastered and subtitled official version of the film. Ironically Manila by Night may even count itself lucky in relation to all the other Regal Films productions, since it can still allow the public to reimagine how its filmmaker must have envisioned it, based on the substantial traces it has inadvertently left on the web.

In an instance such as this, I would uphold the effort of individuals (many of whom must necessarily remain nameless for now) who sought to make as readily available as possible any reasonably acceptable version of the film, in the meantime that the producer and prospective distributor work out their differences. Since his outlet has taken the risk of providing this service to the public, I mention in particular Jojo Devera, where a translated integral version of Manila by Night resides in a carefully curated and remastered condition – entirely at his own expense, with the help of other public-domain activists – on his Magsine Tayo! website, free for anyone to watch and study. Since I had been making the call to my circle of friends to make this particular title available, Devera’s posting was in response to my request; for this reason, I hold myself entirely responsible for the movie’s free and ready availability on his web page.

I enjoin all other Filipino and Philippine-sympathetic collectors to heed the historical requisite to provide otherwise unavailable materials for present and future generations to pore over, in order to enable everyone to participate in ongoing discourses on the country, its culture, and its achievements and shortcomings. It is our moral duty to assist one another, in effect to strengthen the public domain, in instances when the institutions responsible for releasing rare holdings find themselves incapable of responding to this need.

April 15, 2018
Incheon, Korea

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Bernardo Bernardo: Exchanges on Facebook Messenger

As of mid-March 2018, about a week after Bernardo Bernardo died, all my exchanges with him on Facebook Messenger were inexplicably erased. Fortunately, I had just been tasked with writing an appreciation of him for The FilAm,[1] and I thought of copying and saving our entire FB Messenger history in order to review our history of interactions on the social network. Born January 28, 1945, BB (as he preferred to be called not long after he opened his FB account) had an inherently prominent – and increasingly controversial – presence, marked by his open support for the presidential candidacy of Rodrigo Duterte. When these exchanges began, he was still US-based, working in a hospital. At one point, he took a visit to the Philippines, and wound up staying all the way till the end. Part of the narrative was his gradual immersion in academe and his concern (articulated on his FB postings) for preparing a legacy, primarily in the form of a memoir. All these things showed up in our exchanges.

I will always regret my inability to meet up with him during the several times he expressed a wish for in-person interaction; my excuse was that I was working on a manuscript (eventually published as Arsenal Pulp Press’s Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic) that featured him and his contributions prominently, whose results he deeply appreciated. I do not maintain this explanation as an adequate excuse, but I present our exchanges anyway as a way of illustrating how Bernardo was always more complex than people assumed he was, premised on his preferred self-presentation as a campy, humorous, occasionally cross-dressed yet consistently loyal-to-a-fault supporter of friends and cherished personages. These exchanges are in English, Filipino, and Taglish; please message me (using this blog’s Contacts option) if you need to have any non-English passages translated to English.

February 10, 2011, 7:28 PM

Hi BB (don’t know how to address you now), si Joel David ito, formerly with the Manunuri [ng Pelikulang Pilipino] and [University of the Philippines] Film Institute. I sent you a friend request under my [then] FB name, Jojo Segovia. I’ll be preparing a book manuscript on Manila by Night for foreign publication, so I’ll be interviewing the major participants within the coming months. Salamat.

February 11, 2011, 1:10 AM

Anytime, Joel. [Smile]

May 28, 2011, 9:37 PM

Hi BB, was wondering if you’ll be interested in a writing prospect – unfortunately uncompensated. It’s for Ateneo’s journal, Kritika Kultura, recently listed in the prestigious Thomson-ISI database[2] (much coveted among academics, kaya they could afford not to pay the authors, pero universities give the highest [publication awards] for this…). KK’s planning a special issue on Manila by Night and they’ve asked me to take charge of it. I’ve been looking around for the best people for the job – articulate, smart, and intimately familiar with the film and/or the people behind it. So the question I’ll be asking is: will you be OK with doing a scholarly article on the movie? We could discuss things like a useful theoretical framework later, pero meanwhile what might be of interest is: Bernal’s directorial style, how you interpreted your “written” character (inasmuch as storyline lang yata ang basis, hindi screenplay), how Bernal’s preferred performative style differed from other directors’ approaches, ano yung roots nito in theater and film traditions, etc.

You could shape it as you wish, but in case you’re unfamiliar with the process, these types of academic journal articles undergo blind peer-reviewing. This means that experts unknown to you (and who don’t know who wrote what) will evaluate your contribution and make suggestions for improvements, using global standards in the field. The call for papers will be released soon, and I’ll post a copy in FB, but I’d want to give you a heads-up just to make sure I’ve covered the most authoritative figures on the topic. I’ll understand if you’ll be too busy for it … I’m hoping that eventually a full-length book could be spun off (The Manila by Night Book, à la The Citizen Kane Book) where other types of writing and even interviews can also be included. Either way I look forward to your involvement. Maraming salamat!

May 29, 2011, 12:59 AM

Joel, I would love to do it. That would be one way of honoring a man who guided me through one of my peak experiences in the performing arts. Similarly, I think you’ll have to guide me through the writing process so I can meet expectations – I’ve never written for academic journals. Thanks!

July 17, 2011, 1:37 AM

Joel, natigok yung PC ko. Ngayon ko lang na-email sa ’yo ang Manila by Night [issue] proposal paper.[3] Pasensiya na. Bernie.

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September 04, 2011, 8:42 PM

Hi Bernie, I’ll be checking individually if the people who submitted paper proposals were able to receive my email re updates on the Kritika Kultura forum project. Please let me know kung hindi mo natanggap so I’ll resend it to you, directly this time imbes na group message. Meanwhile, is it OK if I refer the others to your FB postings on Manila by Night (yung 10-part series)? I’ll give them the YouTube links, but I’ll mention that I got wind of their availability from you. Another matter is: we’re being encouraged by the Asian Cinema Studies Society to present our papers (possibly with a special screening of the movie) at their conference in Hong Kong in March. I’m looking at possibilities for funding dahil kasi kung pupunta ka, yung air ticket mo [from US West coast] ang magiging pinakamalaking expense. Sana mai-defray man lang, kung hindi man mareimburse in full, by either the ACSS or Ateneo [de Manila University]. Giving you the heads-up na muna before I send out the info.

September 05, 2011, 12:37 AM

This is exciting! Yes, I received your email re updates on the Kritika Kultura forum and I would be more than happy to share anything about Manila by Night that’s available on my FB postings. I am looking forward to the March conference in Hong Kong. Thanks for the heads-up. Ingatz.

April 09, 2012, 8:04 PM

Hi BB, I’m just making my final rounds confirming people’s participation in the special issue of Manila by Night. It’s definitely happening, and at this time pati screenplay balak isama, so virtually a collectible book on Phil. cinema na. Yung mga nag-participate sa Hong Kong conference are all presumably still definitely participating, otherwise sayang lang yung pagod at gastos nila. Among the ones who didn’t go (4 people), two have definitely confirmed pero one conveyed his regret because of a sudden increase in workload. I’m just worried that a major gap might emerge that no one else will be able to fill up. Which means I’m keeping my fingers tightly crossed that you’re still on board, OK? I’ll be emailing a general reminder to the authors later this week about the April 30 deadline, and I’m hoping you’ll be one of the addressees. Basic guidelines lang sa academic paper writing – interaction between theory and data (in your case, biographical and experiential). So siguro, what school(s) of performance were you and/or Ishmael observing or advocating, how did this differ from “typical” local approaches, were there adequate critical evaluations aside from award-giving, how about the other performers, etc.?

Yung standard text for studying film performances is James Naremore’s Acting in the Cinema, supplanting Pudovkin’s Film Technique and Film Acting. Pero actually yung diskurso ng film performance is more intimately tied with star-text studies because of the peculiar ability of the medium to iconicize its performers. Yung output nina Richard Dyer, Christine Gledhill, and Jackie Stacey ang ilan sa mga useful materials. So on the whole be guided na lang by the (unwritten pero understood) requirement to produce “new” and “useful” knowledge, pati sa paggamit ng theoretical material. What this means is, hindi komo existing and accepted ang ideas e automatically “correct” na, so the scholarly author adopts the position of criticizing standard knowledge if necessary, or explaining why they should be maintained if that’s the case. In the end, what we hope to do is be aware of philosophical tensions in the field of film acting, your take on these debates, and how your findings (experiences) affirm, modify, or disprove (as the case may be) your take. Pag nagkataon, actually, what you’ll be producing won’t be just a first for Manila by Night. As far as I’m aware, it will also be a 1st for film acting discourse in the Phil. Good luck sa pagsulat!

April 10, 2012, 1:00 AM

Let me pull myself together. It’s been a strange ride lately. I’ll have a better idea of what I have by the end of the week.

May 02, 2012, 10:44 PM

Hi BB, hope you don’t mind, I just need to confirm whether we’ll be expecting a contribution from you for the Manila by Night special issue. The other articles are already trickling in and I have to start forwarding them already to the peer reviewers. In case you’ll be unable to make it this time, you might want to submit independently to Kritika Kultura, or give it to Mau Tumbocon’s new journal. Or, if we spin off the issue into a book, we could conduct an extensive interview with you re working out your performance strategy in Manila by Night. Basta ma-involve ka pa rin sa project one way or another…. But meanwhile, do we wait or hindi na lang muna? Best wishes and much love.

May 03, 2012, 7:04 AM

Joel, I am working on the article but will not be able to meet the deadline. Not happy with the paper in its current form – I realize now that I need input from people who were working with Bernal in the production (Peque Gallaga, Ricky Lee) who could provide alternative perspective on the birth/creation of the character of Manay. Will definitely exert efforts to submit the paper independently to Kritika Kultura – after I’ve sent you a copy for your feedback. The completion of this paper is something that I would really love to accomplish. Thanks for the opportunity. Echoing your sentiments: best wishes and much love! Bernie.

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May 18, 2012, 9:24 PM

Will be giving you a realistic assessment of prospects for publication. I’m not really with Kritika Kultura, just editing one issue.[4] If you submit later, they might slate it for much later so that it won’t come out too soon after the same subject already was covered. There are other peer-reviewed journals in the Phils. (Humanities Diliman and Plaridel at UP College of Mass Communication) but KK’s the only one that’s ISI-listed. So if the ISI affiliation doesn’t matter much, the other journals would also make good prospects. Kung ISI talaga ang gusto mo, there are a lot of other ones in the US, on film and performing arts. (Film lang yata ang field na merong ISI-listed na magazines – Cineaste, Film Comment, Sight & Sound, etc.) The other prospect, if it appeals to you, would be a book anthology. I’m planning to spin off the special issue into a separate volume, complete with the script of the film, earlier reviews, and popularized versions of the current journal articles.

The only “danger” here is that if your article comes out [in this book first], it would be disqualified from other journal publications. That’s why the usual publication trajectory for an article is to come out in a journal first, before being anthologized. But I’ve been anthologized extensively before, without publishing in journals, and it’s a more satisfying feeling, kasi nga more people read books and these get stored in more places than journals. Sayang lang, for the present issue we’ve had 3 (maybe becoming 4) contributors who won’t be submitting, and deeply felt ang absence. Hope I’ll be able to persuade you again re the book project, if and when it pushes through.

September 13, 2012, 9:31 PM

Ka BB, have you checked Kritika Kultura? Kahit nag-back out ka from writing, prominent ang presence mo doon. Then remember our exchanges on the lost sequences of Maynila ni Lino? I quoted you extensively there as well. Mag-forward ako ng anumang file if it becomes available. Can I send you a token of something? Don’t worry, I’ll still nag you for an article contribution later pag matuloy ang Manila by Night book edition. If you want anything I could purchase via Amazon halimbawa, pls let me know.

September 14, 2012, 8:30 AM

Ka JD, been reading and re-reading Kritika Kultura. Enjoying what the critics saw that I failed to see. Resonating to shared insights. Trying to understand the language, mostly. [Smile] Nosebleed! I was hoping to read something about the cleansing/washing ritual that major characters went through – Ishma carefully choreographed these scenes – and what the reviewers thought of it. Otherwise, it’s awesome that something of this scale would be written about MbN. Maraming salamat for having initiated this. Re Amazon, sige nga – mag-iisip akoh. Hehehe….

April 08, 2013, 12:34 PM

Hello BB, may I know what your email address is? Will be sending you something kasi.

Hi, Joel. It’s <>. Ingatz. BB

Salamuch po sa inyong sorpresang “something,” Senyor D. [Smile] Suplada ang pagka-datungerah – dollars!… Much appreciated. Amazon is one of my favorite online sources for books, CDs and DVDs…. Bless your generous heart, Joel!

Combination of reasons to celebrate – I got tenured dito sa university (probably the 1st Pinoy/Pinay to be granted that stature in Korea, according to the former head of Asia Foundation). Plus 2ng articles ko na ang directly nakinabang sa generosity mo with insights and anecdotes – one on Manila by Night, the other on Maynila ni Brocka (remember, the missing callboy sequences?);[5] not to mention the way I also used some of your points in editing the other articles. So in effect you’re saying “salamat” to me for my saying “salamat” to you. [Smile]

At naglagay ako ng “future” sa message kasi kung magkaroon ng book version yung Manila by Night, we’ll do extensive Q&As with the surviving major participants – you, Ricky Lee, and Peque Gallaga. I’ll try to find funding sources to compensate you with, pero tentatively, baka free book copies lang muna ang maio-offer ng Ateneo. This time real royalties na ang basis ng pag-calculate ng compensation, since the books will be sold naman.

Be well always ha. Whenever I think of my life in America, mostly stress lang ang naaalala ko. Buti na lang you work in the health industry. We’ll keep in touch!

March 14, 2014, 8:20 PM

Joel, nasa Pinas ako. Mukhang nandito ka rin, serendipitous bah? O, magkita naman tayo. Ito ang cell phone ko: [anonymized]. Bernie

Naku kababalik ko lang sa Korea earlier this month, start na kasi ng spring semester! I was there from June last year kasi half-sabbatical ko (fall sem 2013). If you’re passing by Korea on the way back and have a few hours of stopover, I can arrange to meet you sa airport and maybe show you some parts of Seoul. I’m looking at your postings at mukhang ang sasaya! There’s just that major gap in the performing arts scene kasi nga wala ka na, so for now those reunion pics will have to do. Yang bayan naman natin kasi, ang daling mahalin pero hindi marunong magmahal in return. Hope you’ll be able to meet everyone else! And just BTW, tuloy yung Manila by Night book project, which will include an interview with you!

Sayang. We’ll get together yet. Mau and I are in talks about launching a FACINE L.A. We’ll need resource speakers on Phil. films.

I promised Mau I’d be there for the 20th anniversary last year but that fell through – hindi talaga nakayanan ng powers ko. But each year that passes gets easier for me. Sige, FACINE L.A., bring it on!


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April 14, 2014, 12:58 PM

Ka BB – would you mind if I request a favor from you? As always and as before, if I quote from you I’ll acknowledge you as the source. It’s for a paper on Nora Aunor that I’ll be preparing for a conference in Macau and as well as for publication. (Also, I’ll find a way to say thanks afterward….) Regarding ito ke Ate Guy. Magandang contrast kasi you started with formal training, sya the other way around. And I ask this purely as someone na walang clue on the specificities of performance. Meron bang difference sa inyong “attack” on role and character? When you interact, how do you work it out? From your observation in the current film project compared with your earlier one (Carnival Song nga ba? yung binanggit ni Mau Tumbocon), ano yung differences, comparing today with 40 years ago? From her films that you’ve seen, were you able to perceive trends, adjustments in her style? And finally, what do you think would be ways that she could improve her performance, if any?

Pasensya kung “pinipiga” ko yung opportunity na ito. Rare kasi for a knowledgeable person who can articulate the nuances of performing arts who’s in the position of observing someone like her. (Someone should “study” you too – ang hirap lang kasi walang gustong mag-theorize at mag-critique ng performing arts, not in the sense of theater review, but in the sense of close reading ng performance per se.) Lastly, just for a light exercise, sino yung ika-canonize mo as among the “best” Pinoy performers? Yung elite na circle lang, living or dead, in any medium, excluding you and her (since given na naroon kayo already). Maraming salamat!

Holy Week meditation. [Kiss] I love this. Ano’ng deadline natin?

Too soon ba kung after Holy Week? Kung oo, kahit after next week (weekend of April 25-26). And I’m reminded of another opportunity, pero this one’s out of my hands. Is there any one (meaning, any institution) that’s maximizing your presence there by requesting you to conduct master classes? (With matching documentation dapat, for posterity’s sake.) You could presumably do it on your own, pero malaki sana’ng magagawa if there’s an org behind it. Pero kung maengganyo ka namang bumalik-balik, that could probably be worked out in a future trip….

Sige. Will work on it. Inspired ang Lowlah. [Kiss]

April 29, 2014, 9:25 PM

Sumabit ang inspiration. Pasensiya na. Naging hectic ang rehearsals, workshops, and shooting – and my laptop died. [Cry] Malabo na ang mata ng Lowlah kaya hindi umubra ang iphone for the write up. Finally got to borrow another laptop. Aabot pa ba?

Yes na yes. Aabot pa. Many thanks!

Great. [Smile] Thanks. Working on it.

May 04, 2014, 10:42 PM

Please don’t give up on me. The laptop I borrowed froze and has been dead for the last 4 days. I finally picked up my repaired Vaio from SM Megamall this afternoon.[6] Gasping in the heat between rehearsals and classes but happier here. Almost there, Joel. Ilang iri na lang.

That’s all right. Nahirapan din yung notebooks ko nung dinala ko dyan. Sobrang humidity yata.

August 07, 2015, 9:53 PM

Joel, nasa Maynila ka? Kita naman tayo. My phone number: [anonymized].

The Nepaleses [Ruben & Janet] of LA are here as well. Maybe we can all have dinner at Brillante Mendoza’s Filmfest Cafe.

October 27, 2015, 11:29 PM

From Sylvia Morningstar: People, I’m sorry. I just found out that this is a fake story. A friend in the U.S. checked it out with, as I should have. Those who shared this, I recommend you delete as I’m doing now. [Headline: “Pope Francis Endorses Bernie Sanders for President” – USAToday]

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December 28, 2015, 9:30 PM

BB, is it OK if I sent you a request for a paid interview? Hindi live (video or aural) recording, strictly written. I just finished typing out the questionnaire. Will await your response before I proceed.

I’ll be in Korea through the winter BTW. I’m resolving to myself that during my next trips to Pinas, strictly bakasyonista na ako … although it might take at least a year before that can definitively happen.

December 29, 2015, 1:07 AM

Sure. Join. [Smile] Balita ko you were here kailan lang – tama ba? – hindi man lang tayo nagkita. Next time kitakits. Will wait for your email. Ingatz.

December 29, 2015, 8:17 PM

Hindi email, BB. Pwede namang i-attach dito yung questionnaire so that’s what I’ll be doing. It’s for a monograph on Manila by Night that I’m writing for Arsenal [Pulp] Press in Canada. There are spaces after each question where you can type your answer. No minimum or maximum lengths, no obligation to answer everything. When you finish, I might raise some follow-up questions. When everything’s over, I’ll arrange to provide you with the equivalent of US$200 for your trouble. [A friend of mine] can contact you and bring it to you in the form you prefer – cash or check, dollars or pesos. Pls don’t feel hesitant about accepting this because it’s part of a budget for the book that my university approved. Pasensya nga actually because we have limits on the amounts we could pay out. So eto na sya, and if you could provide answers within next week, that would be wonderful. Maraming salamat and Advanced Happy New Year! [Attachment provided]

January 10, 2016, 8:24 AM

[Attachment provided] Joel, here you go. Meron akong tatlong tanong na hindi sinagot. Otherwise, all the other questions are covered sa replies ko. Let me know kung okay na. [Smile] Have a good day!

January 10, 2016, 2:42 PM

Just read your interview responses and they were tremendous! Pwede nang stand-alone Q&A article in fact. How do we arrange payment for this? Would you like a check, in dollars or in pesos, that I can mail to you? Or can [a friend] arrange to meet you and hand over the equivalent amount in pesos? (I’ll be dropping by later this month for a quick research stint – I can hand it to you in person as well.) If you wish to get this out as an article, please let me know. I can place a short introductory description, and it can be with your by-line. I just don’t know any publishers right now so you might do better shopping it around to contacts you might know; any payment they make goes to you as well. The surest way it can be “published” (but no publication fee) is if I post it in its entirety on my blog, minus the unanswered questions. But I’d rather leave all these options up to you. And here too, once more, yung plea namin nina Mau Tumbocon and other friends: please get started on your memoir, or if you have, please finish it soon!

January 10, 2016, 4:09 PM

Thanks, Joel! [Smile] We’ll deal with the publication options a little later. Re the honorarium, I will wait until you get here so we can meet. Actually, if you are interested and can find the time, maybe you can help me finish my memoirs. Maybe the interview format would work best for me. Parang conversation lang (pero I can edit). There’s so much kwento in me kasi. With a list of questions, I can focus on my experiences with the National Artists and other outstanding Pinoys in the performing arts like maybe Artists, Legends, Myths & Queens: Up Close with BB. Or, Confessions of a Former Movie Queen: A Staged Life. What do you think? With questions from you, I can finish faster. For sure. My life in the performing arts involved such luminaries as Lamberto V. Avellana, Ishmael Bernal, Nick Joaquin, Bienvenido Lumbera, Zeneida Amador, Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos, Dolphy, Ryan Cayabyab, Regine Velasquez, Baby Barredo, and so many more. Kalokah!

January 21, 2016, 12:47 AM

[Attachment provided] Hi, Joel, I just sent you a slightly tweaked version of our Q&A. I’ve decided to submit the article to either Gibbs Cadiz of [the Philippine Daily] Inquirer or Ricky Lo of Philippine Star.[7] They’re both my friends and they’ve been very supportive. I thought it would be apt to publish it locally, now that I’m preparing to leave for the Berlinale as one of the leads in Lav Diaz’s Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis. Thirty-six years ago, my Berlinale dream was aborted when Madame Imelda [Marcos, then First Lady] banned MbN from participating. Maybe the title could be, “After 36 Years, Manay Revisits Ishmael Bernal’s Manila by Night.” It would be nice if you can write the intro and about how the Q&A came about. Let me know what you think.

Looking forward to your visit. The Universe truly conspires, the honorarium you will give me will be part of my “baon” for the Berlin trip. [Smile] LOL. Thanks!

Oh I’d be honored! I’ll try to draft something by tomorrow evening. So would you like the honorarium in Deutschmarks or US dollars? (In this case I’ll have to hand-carry it.) Or I could transfer the amount in pesos so it can be handed over to you before I arrive.

Don’t worry about having it exchanged. I’ll probably just deposit it and use my debit card for travel. That is, unless it’s really easy to get Deutschmarks or US dollars where you are. Either way would be fine. [Smile] Excited na akoh!

I’ll check with my bank tomorrow, then I’ll let you know.

January 22, 2016, 8:41 PM

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[Attachment provided] Hi BB, eto na yung text, with an intro that I tried to keep as short as possible. I took out the questions that you didn’t answer, and adjusted some phrases. The most notable is your self-description as “homosexual” during the period of MbN; I placed “queer person” instead, since mas fluid and transgressive ang sexuality ng queer folk; pansexual, omnisexual, and bisexual would be other possible technical terms, but these also indicate “fixed” positions. Please feel free to restore your original terminology if you feel [the change] violates your identity. I also had a sentence that said something like “abangan na natin ang memoir ni BB” but I didn’t know if you wanted that announced this early so I took it out.

Re your request that we collaborate on your memoir the way we did the interview, eto yung misgiving ko: I could draw up good enough questions for Manila by Night because that was something I studied closely and obsessively – closing chapter pa nga ng doctoral dissertation ko. Pero I won’t be able to presume that I could do the same for other realms of experience, lalo na sa teatro. Ayokong matulad sa history professor na sumabak sa shooting ng telenobela’t namura ng katakot-takot, tapos magsusumbong sa social network for something na hindi nya dapat basta-basta pinasukan in the 1st place. [Smile] But I can provide you with as much support as I can muster: if you need a reader or editor, and you think I can do the job, I’d be glad to be of assistance, gratis et amore.

Re the honorarium, I requested the bank to provide the equivalent of 200 US dollars in Deutschmarks, and they said it would take a day to do that. When I checked today, they said that wala na yung DM currency, euro na (and I should have known so kunwari I knew all along). Also, the equivalent total was 185 euros, which I got in cash. If I’d known na merong 15-euro difference, I would have requested for 200 euros na lang para rounded off, but it would be too late already to do that dahil sa Monday na yung byahe ko. So I’ve got 185 euros in cash, which I’ll hand over to you when we’re able to meet next week.

Maraming salamat, Irog! [Smile] See you when you get here. Safe travels.

Just started teaching Acting for the Camera at UP Diliman. Neck deep ang Lowlah sa pag-prepare ng materials for the students. LOL. Habol! [Smile] Also teaching History of Philippine Cinema (that I practically grew up with!) – so that’s a whole lot of research, too. I understand your concerns about the collaboration regarding memoirs. But would be very greatful to have your assistance/feedback as reader/editor when I finally have my memoirs in some kind of reader-worthy shape. In other words, medyo hilo. Kaya pasensiya ka nah. [Smile] Love yah!

Hay I forgot to add your stint as teacher sa intro! I was on the verge of mentioning MINT College. Too late pa bang maghabol ng sentence sa intro? Kahit gawin na lang 2 paragraphs. Re being hilo – basta masaya, OK lang. Great na nasa UP Diliman ka, dyan na lang kita dadaanan.

Dinagdag ko na, last sentence sa intro. Pls correct whatever errors you think are in place. Pakipost din ng link sa iyong page pag napublish na. Ang daming matutuwa, for sure!

BB – hinanap ko sa CRS (computerized registration service) ng UP Diliman yung kursong hawak mo pero wala akong makita. Is it under Film, Broadcast Communication, or Theater Arts? I just wanted to know kung ano yung class schedule para ma-block off ko next week. Salamat!

Thursday afternoons 1-4 p.m. ang classes ko sa UP Film Institute right beside Plaridel Hall. Si Sari Dalena ang bagong head. We have a merienda thing for the faculty members to meet @ 4 pm on January 27: Ricky Lee, Roy Iglesias, Ed Cabagnot, and others will be there. Come and join us!

OK, I will, salamat![8]

January 25, 2016, 12:31 AM

Joel, I’ve meditated upon our Q&A and decided that it belongs in your book and in your blog. “Publish” it anytime. [Smile] BTW, the UPFI merienda is on Wednesday January 27 @ 4pm – just making sure in case my previous hilo message (à la Adele) was unclear. See you, Kapatid!

Two minor tweaks: “MINT College” sa Intro and “flat-out fascinating characters” for the final paragraph. [Attachment provided]

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March 27, 2016, 2:57 PM

Joel, [a film critic] got a link from Lav to watch Hele so he could review the film. Would you like me to try to make arrangements so you can view it online?

I’ll do that last-minute na lang, if I can’t get an opportunity to watch it in a theater this year. I know most of the critic-bloggers watch that way, but it doesn’t work for me. Nawawala yung dynamic of understanding it along with a real audience. Plus I have to see all of Lav’s other films in order to know where he came from – and that would be like a few days of non-stop viewing. So far yung napanood ko lang were his 2-hour films plus Batang West Side and Norte. So I’ll just make an effort to watch out for Hele. Malamang sa specialized venues siguro like UP Film Theater. If I prefer to write a review and require a 2nd screening, then I’ll contact you or Lav by then. So sorry I’m too far away right now to make a difference. And I also don’t mind not being the first to write a commentary – which can be its own disadvantage. I always make it a point to encourage indie talents who’re able to cross over into mainstream distribution, rather than the ones who prefer foreign-festival screenings. That’s why I reviewed Norte when it came out. Tamang-tama na rin sana for something like Hele, but the stars just didn’t align this time.

Malay mo, baka biglang mapanood mo sa Korea! [Smile]

March 21, 2017, 9:59 PM

BB, nasa stage na ako of revising the monograph on Manila by Night na ilalabas ng Arsenal Press ng Canada, as (probably) the final entry in its well-received Queer Films Series. Very enthusiastic ang editors, ang daming pinapadagdag na materials kahit lampas na sa maximum word count yung draft. Two of their requests have to do with you: First, they’d like the “Interview with Manay” that we conducted to become part of the book, as an Appendix. Since it’s now posted on my blog, that means I’ll be taking it out from there shortly before the book comes out. Second, which will involve a direct contribution from you – gusto raw sana nila ng “beefcake shot of Bernardo Bernardo.” O di ba?

I’m guessing something from publicity shots created especially for Manila by Night, pero kung wala, anything from the same era would do. (Maybe from one of your “naughty” dinner-theater presentations?) I’m guessing “beefcake” means shirtless, at least; but if that makes you uncomfortable, anything sufficiently attractive for the target readership will be OK. Yung editors nung Queer Films Series by the way are Matthew Hays (who’s active on Facebook) and Tom Waugh. Both are well-respected and prolific scholars and professors in the field of queer cinema. Marami kaming binasang output nila when I took my gender courses at NYU grad school. Ito na muna and best wishes as always!

March 22, 2017, 6:43 AM

Masaya at magandang balita to wake up to. Let me see what photo I can dig up that’s fairly close to the MbN period. [Smile] Bests, BB

May 17, 2017, 9:43 AM

[Five pics attached] Hi, Joel – medyo late na ang pagpadala ko nito. I have no high-res copies of these photos but baka may hi-tech solution to improve res? Also, some of these photos were taken some years after MbN was released. Bests, BB

May 17, 2017, 1:10 PM

No prob – delayed din kasi yung pagrevise ko ng book. I hope they’re not mad with my slow pace.

Maraming salamat as well. The pics look smashing! Very BB! [Smile]

July 14, 2017, 9:02 AM

Hi BB, I was looking for pics of Cherie Gil during the Manila by Night era, then I saw this one, sa isang interview nya sa Would you mind if I ask: was this for MbN publicity? Or did the two of you appear in a play, dinner theater kaya? [Pic attached]

Hi, Joel – This was for a dinner theater presentation (Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park”). [Smile]

Many thanks! Meron pang isang “discreet” query. Would you be all right if we include your pic posted on your FB wall with Chanda, and describe the two of you as an item during that time? (If you want something more specific, like live-in partners, pls let me know.) Mas angkop daw kasi sa ideal of queer, rather than gay, yung hindi nagpapakahon sa categories gaya ng race, gender, (in this case) sexuality, etc.

Yes, Joel, it would be quite all right to use the photo and describe Chanda and me as “an item” during that time (two years!) [Smile] Are you in town? If so, kitakits naman.

Yes, will be here till late August. If you’re watching any of the forthcoming festivals, we can meet up at the theater. Swamped kasi with writing assignments kaya I try to spend whatever free time I have watching whatever’s showing. [Cry]

Got word from Roselle Monteverde, BTW: Manila by Night will definitely be remastered next year. Happy yung editors ng Queer Film Classics series – they really want the films in the series to be readily available sa readers nila.

I also ran a word count sa libro. After Ishma, pangalan mo yung pinakamadalas mabanggit.

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I love you na talagah! [Laugh] Hope to see you soon. Met Roselle and mentioned MbN remastering a couple of months back. So did Noel Ferrer. [Heart] Marami tayo na pushing for it. LOL!

Confidentially – I sent her a letter saying na I got a message from a foreigner who read all the scholarly articles on MbN, kaya binili raw nya yung Blu-ray, pero bakit ibang-iba sa description sa articles? Sabi ko ke Roselle, that’s how I found out na merong 2ng Blu-ray editions ang Maynila ni Lino this year, and it’s confusing Phil. film observers kasi MbN ang well-covered ng maraming scholars (including the Queer Film Classics book I’m finalizing), pero ibang movie yung readily available. And it’s not such a bad film – hindi lang comparable sa achievement ng MbN, which is immense kahit saang study context mo ilagay. As a piece on “network” narrative (term ni David Bordwell), queer politics, 3rd-World aesthetics, thirdspacing – hindi sya patatalo.

Yung Maynila, sa women & queer politics pa lang, taas-kilay na. Pretty images nga, pero hindi naman urgent achievement yan sa 3rd-World film texts. Yung sa canon project that I’m working on for [anonymized publisher], pina-tone down ng editor yung writeup ko on Maynila dahil masyado nang kawawa si Lino compared ke Ishma. She didn’t say I was wrong, and my declaration of MbN as the best we’ve ever achieved remained. Be kind na lang daw to Lino, so OK naman, it was the best he could do at that time. I hope Roselle & Mother realize what a precious jewel they have in their hands. Konting push lang, tameme na si Martin Scorsese and the Cannes cabal about who the great Pinoy film talent really was.

July 14, 2017, 8:42 PM

Bow na ako talaga sa iyo. [Heart]

September 15, 2017, 2:00 AM

Hi BB, am finalizing the Manila by Night manuscript based on editors’ prescriptions. As I must have told you earlier, with Ishma gone, parang ikaw yung naging auteurial focus ng book, and the editors seem to be closet fans of yours (atin-atin lang ha). Nung nakita ng proofreader na ang kapal na ng manuscript because of the Manay interview, binasa lang muna nya, and she decided – yes, we’ll keep it, uncut. O di ba naman. I just mean to ask you a question, at medyo sensitive, considering how polarized and toxic ang political discourse sa Pinas at this moment. Would you like to include an answer to a question about your position regarding local politics? Something like “What do you think about the controversies surrounding the current Philippine presidential administration?”

Pwedeng ganung ka-general lang so that you can outline the journey you took, as an anti-Marcos figure (as represented by Manay) from then to the present. If you want, you can formulate the question yourself, and I’ll just find a way to include it in the interview. Or if you prefer, we don’t bring it up na lang at all. I’ll leave this all up to you, basta we remain aware of the movie’s significance and the potential for people to disparage your presence on the basis of political differences. Pag naiplantsa ko na yung revision (which will be the final step before layouting), I’ll make a PDF file and send you a copy. But if you’re considering making a statement, I’ll hold off muna on submitting the revisions until this weekend.

September 15, 2017, 11:55 AM

Still in deep thought about this. [Smile] Right now, I feel like the retelling of the MbN journey during the dark years of Martial Law is significant enough to stand on its own, without touching on the “cautionary tale” aspect and possibilities of “history repeating itself” during the current dispensation. Dark elements abound in the current administration in its first year, but the situation is fluid and evolving in real time. I hesitate because part of me says: maybe it’s too soon to tell, and quite possibly I’m not the right fit for the Cassandra role.

Hindi rin ako apologetic about the political positions I make, and I believe in letting artistic & literary work stand on its own. Ang nangyari lang kasi, in writing a conclusion to the book, I took some scenes from the movie & juxtaposed them with “ripped from the headlines” photographs (Ade after being strangled tapos si Christina Padual’s pic, Manay & company in the morgue beside a family mourning an EJK victim). It looked a bit provocative, but my position on it was along the line of “development exacts a high price from its people.” I get criticized by friends sa FB for refusing to follow their logic na dahil implicated ang admin, kesyo dapat ibuwag o palitan. Restoration of due process lang for me ang bottom line, with the realistic assessment that seeking justice will take time.

I’ll understand if you decide to stand apart from any contemporary issues, because it’s what I’d also do, and I don’t feel comfortable being “topical” for the sake of being relevant alone. Just making sure in case the matter occurs to you and you might have something to say about it. I hope to finish going over the revisions tonight so I’ll try to send you a copy of the draft. Ang dami nang napalitan since the original submission. Mahusay yung editors pero ang kukulit. Obsessed sa simula with the big picture, ngayon naman yung details ang tinutukan, and it continues to influence the content – in positive ways palagi, nakakapagod nga lang. No wonder ang gagaling ng foreign academic books compared sa atin (but pls don’t quote me on this, hahaha).

Sorry if I affected your equanimity in any way today. Siguro dahil nanggaling kasi ako sa tarayan over that controversial blacklist issue nung isang foreign-based writer na naglista ng names ng mga taong dapat daw turuan ng leksyon or something because of their support sa admin. The people I recognized on it (kasama ka) were those that I respected, more than a few of my oppositionist friends. Kaya when someone said na dapat bigyan ng halaga ang blacklisting, nag-init ang ulo ko. Fascism can come from anywhere – was my 1st response, tapos in effect ang sinabi ko, I know my bottom line and I know those of my friends, but dialogue is more important than militance. Been there done that na ako sa pagiging dogmatic, and it never amounted to anything good as far as I was able to assess.

Sabi ko sa PM to [an FB friend], mas matino pang kausap ang non-trolls na pro-admin kesa ilan sa mga opposition, na kahit kilala mo na e worse pa than trolls. I understand na mas masakit para sa mga nakaramdam ng pagkatalo, pero hindi uubra sa akin yung mag-insist on blind loyalties. Sori napahaba ang exchange. Let’s give the issue more time na lang to work itself out.

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I love it, Joel. [Heart] But as I said, I’m still thinking about it. Pag medyo malinaw na sa isip ko. Puwede hanggang bukas?

I love what you just wrote.

Yes, tomorrow will be fine. Ang hirap kasi na nasa polarized situation tayo di ba. Drowned out na yung sensible voices. Yun na lang sa MMFF, na naging all-art vs. all-conmerce. Tapos yung pro-art side keeps saying “mabuti pa nung time ng martial law” – e once lang naging all-art ang MMFF noon (year ng Burlesk Queen), highly controversial pa. Mas typical yung 50/50. Even the supposedly commercial films could sometimes have integrity, gaya ng Brutal o Panday. Nawala na yung ganung mode ng filmmaking ngayon because of the uncompromising positions ng mga tao. I know you’re also figuring out these issues of where we came from & where we’re headed, and it’s not easy. Pati yung generation ninyo na dapat sana enjoying their retirement years, caught up pa rin in all these upheavals. (Which is why I’m not looking forward to retirement, haha.) Sige, will await your word tomorrow. Be well lagi & much love.


September 16, 2017, 8:58 AM

BB, katatapos ko lang, nonstop since yesterday afternoon. Maraming small errors kasi, mostly misplaced punctuation. Hindi talaga magaling sa ganun ang mga puti, hahaha.

September 17, 2017, 2:40 AM

Joelsky, one minor correction lang sa “Manay Revisits Manila by Night”: Bernal was planning to cast me a macho butcher (matadero) in Belyas [Belles].

Also, I’ve decided not to make a statement regarding the current state of affairs in Manila under the new dispensation. After those years of depression in the US, I think it’s healthier for me to cling to a more hopeful outlook. Eyes wide open. [Smile] Love the book, Joel. [Heart] So proud and honored to be a part of it. Maraming, maraming salamat.

Oh now I get it – Belyas was different from The Belles Are Swinging (which you directed, right?). Yes, I agree with your decision. It might make you vulnerable for a while with the people who believe in blacklisting, but let them write their own monograph, di ba. Also, UST agreed to consider the Philippine reprint of the book. So even this early, congratulations na – and hope you finish your memoirs soon! [Smile]

Wonderful! [Smile] Mabuhay and congratulations!

November 23, 2017, 11:37 AM

[Happy Thanksgiving greeting]

January 22, 2018, 6:02 PM

BB, can you provide me with your mailing address and phone number so I can speed-mail to you a copy of the Manila by Night book that just came out? I might visit Pinas in February pa and I’m not even sure yet about the date, so mas mainam na ipadala ko separately the copy I got for you. Advanced Lunar New Year & Happy Valentine’s Day![9]

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[1] To read a copy of the article, please see “Farewell Farewell, Bernardo Bernardo.”

[2] Now owned by Clarivate Analytics.

[3] The proposal title was “Bernardo as Bernal: Conflict, Crises, and the Collaborative Creation of the Manay Character in Manila by Night,” with the author describing himself as “Stage actor, writer, director. Litt.B. Journalism graduate, University of Santo Tomas. MA in Dramatic Arts, University of California Santa Barbara. MA in Education, University of Phoenix.” The content would be

An analysis of the collaborative work and improvisational methods implemented in the creation of the character Manay, the alter ego of film director Ishmael Bernal in Manila by Night. The paper will explore the symbolism and nuances of character developed by Bernal and Bernardo in creating a conflicted and deliberately non-stereotypical gay character to represent the “conscience of Manila.” The author will also present insights on Bernal’s own conflicts and creative crises as an artist under a repressive regime as reflected in the character of Manay.

[4] Four years later (in 2016), I became an International Advisory Board member of KK.

[5] These articles were “Film Plastics in Manila by Night” in KK 19 (August 2012): 36-69 and “Thinking Straight: Queer Imaging in Lino Brocka’s Maynila (1975)” in Plaridel 9.2 (August 2012): 21-40.

[6] Strange coincidence: during my next half-sabbatical in first half of 2017, my laptop – a new, SSD-outfitted Viao – also stopped working. The repair fee was exorbitant, so in retrospect I appreciated the difficulty BB went through. In fact I refused to get it repaired, and opted to purchase my tried-and-tested Dell brand instead.

[7] The article eventually came out in the Slant section of the November 2016 issue of Rogue, and was posthumously reprinted online as “Bernardo Bernardo on Manila by Night and the Role of a Lifetime.”

[8] I did manage to meet up with BB finally, but I typically showed up one day later than the date he had specified, and was fortunate enough to bump into him at the institute; my embarrassment about absentmindedly getting the date wrong overcame me then and there.

[9] BB’s condition was deteriorating quickly from this point onward. When I found out that other friends could not get a reply from him either, I held out for the slim possibility that a remission might yet overtake his illness. He would surely have announced it and people would have been glad to pay him a visit again. On the morning of March 8, 2018, his niece Susan Vecina Santos announced on his Facebook page that, at age 73, he had died.

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The Storyline of Ishmael Bernal’s Manila by Night (1980)

I wrote the following synopsis for my contribution to the well-received Queer Film Classics series of Vancouver-based Arsenal Pulp Press. The film I proposed to cover was (what else) Manila by Night. Since overshooting publishers’ expectations and revising by cutting down is easier for me than adding more material, I made the entry as detailed as I could. As expected, the editors (Matthew Hays and Thomas Waugh) told me to drastically reduce what I presented – necessarily violating the plotline: the synopsis now found in the book is an enumeration of the names of the major characters and the most significant events that happened to each one. For those who wish to refresh their memory of the film without having to watch it all over, and who also won’t have the time to go through the full-length screenplay at Kritika Kultura, here’s the account of Manila by Night’s narrative as I had drafted it:

Virgie, a middle-class housewife, rushes her family so they can attend her son Alex’s folk-music performance. At the club, Kano, a lesbian drug pusher, sells some goods to Alex’s friends while Manay, a gay couturier, develops a crush on Alex – whose performance is interrupted by a gunshot and the ensuing melee. Kano proceeds to a massage parlor where a blind masseuse, Bea, is her girlfriend; Kano interrupts Bea’s profanity-laden quarrel with another masseuse, and offers her some weed to calm her down. Along with Gaying, Bea’s Girl Friday, they light up at the parlor rooftop overlooking the city lights where Kano declares her love for Manila.

Meanwhile at a Chinese restaurant, Febrero, a taxi driver, picks up Baby, his waitress girlfriend whom he keeps promising to marry. After Febrero drops off Baby and gets home, his wife Adelina arrives, takes off her nurse uniform, and starts having sex with him; one of their children wakes up and, their moment interrupted, they have to prepare baby formula. The next morning, Virgie prepares her children for school, scolding Alex for failing to budget his allowance and warding off her policeman-husband’s amorous advances. Her maid announces an unexpected visitor: Miriam, Virgie’s former co-worker in the sex trade, who requests that Virgie ask her husband to provide police protection for her circle of sex workers; Virgie scolds Miriam for being unable to improve her lot in life.

An assistant awakens Manay, the gay couturier, since some guests had already arrived at his atelier; among them is Evita, a name-dropping socialite who regales the other guests with her account of kinky sex the night before. Manay hides the man he brought home for the night and welcomes his lover Febrero, the taxi driver. Febrero asks Manay for money for his sick child and, as Manay hands over some cash, tells him he heard about Febrero’s new girlfriend, a bumpkin waitress. Alex, Virgie’s son, waits for his girlfriend Vanessa’s dismissal from her Catholic-school classes. They go to a motel for sex and drugs and Alex presents her with a necklace, from the money he bought using the additional allowance he wangled from Virgie.

Bea, Kano’s girlfriend, bids farewell to her live-in boyfriend Greg Williams, who’s going to Saudi Arabia as an overseas worker, Greg promising to send for her as soon as he gets a foothold in the Middle East kingdom. Nighttime, Manay has gone to Febrero and Ade’s house, to bring them some groceries. He discreetly asks Febrero for a date, helps Ade with her nurse uniform, and offers to take her to the public hospital where she works. In Manay’s car, Ade tells Manay how she loves Febrero for his willingness to take care of her and her children by other men. At the restaurant, Baby is accosted by Sonny, a customer who says she can make more money if she agrees to take on Japanese customers. Offended, Baby breaks away and tells Febrero what the man said; Febrero challenges the pimp to a fistfight but the stranger overpowers him.

Alex and his friends try to score some pot from Kano, who tells them to wait for her; the guys go to an outdoor disco where they watch working-class transvestites having a good time. After they complete the transaction with Kano, she recommends that they try out Bea for sex service. At Alex’s home, Virgie massages her husband, but because of her anxiety over Alex’s whereabouts, she pauses to take a tranquilizer. At the massage parlor, Alex, while enjoying a scrub-down and erotic massage from Bea, asks her about her blind condition; Bea replies that she has no regrets about her profession, and that she’s looking forward to working abroad when her boyfriend sends for her. In a slum district, Kano negotiates with some potential clients, then tells them to beat it when she notices plainclothes police trailing her; she evades them by disappearing up a narrow alleyway.

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At a crowded disco, Alex dances with Vanessa but acknowledges Manay’s signals to him. He excuses himself to go to the restroom, followed by Manay, the two of them agreeing to meet up after he brings Vanessa home. In a parking lot, Febrero and Baby are engaged in heavy petting in his taxicab, with Febrero convincing Baby to put out by claiming to love her and promising marriage as usual; their session (and those of other necking couples) is interrupted by a security guard who uses a megaphone to tell everyone to get off “private property.”

Meanwhile, after having had sex, Manay makes Alex promise to have no other gay lover; Alex agrees, but asks Manay to get help for Bea’s blindness. Manay goes to the massage parlor as a heart-attack victim is being carried out and bumps into Kano. The two of them have a discussion about true love, with Kano confessing that Bea’s her true love although she couldn’t extract the same level of commitment from her, and Manay stating that he doesn’t believe that love is more than just an illusion. While taking Bea to her home in Chinatown, Manay admits to being cynical about people’s claims while Bea tells him she just ignores anything that’s irrelevant to her; they agree to go later to Ade’s hospital to look for an eye specialist.

At the driveway of the hospital where Ade works, Manay, Bea, and Gaying are accosted by a mystic, who tells Bea that she (in an earlier existence) was an infamous 18th-century coquette who broke men’s hearts – hence blindness as her punishment. The three ogle a movie shoot being set up but are shooed away by a policeman. At the hospital reception desk, Manay approaches the head nurse to call for Ade, but the head nurse as well as the other nurses couldn’t find Ade’s name in the employees’ logbook, prompting an exchange of words between them and Manay. Ade is in fact at an abusive rich man’s home, quarreling with the guy because of his jealousy over her promiscuity.

At the Luneta, the people’s park, Manay tells Febrero that Ade has been deceiving all of them, while his friends discuss how in love he is with the taxi driver, and as some cultists pray to the spirit of light and a poet extols the city to street urchins. When Febrero gets home he waits for Ade but responds coldly to her advances, causing her to confess how truly she loves him. At Alex’s home, Virgie takes another tranquilizer and goes outdoors; her husband steps out to comfort her, and she tells him how she misses their son’s youthful innocence.

Late at night near a desolate slum canal, Kano encounters her girlfriend Bea, but the latter pushes her away. Gaying (Bea’s assistant) explains that Bea’s depressed because Ade turned out to be a fake nurse. Kano comforts Bea by giving her some cough syrup. They step into a pushcart and make love while Gaying steals some underwear from a neighbor’s clothesline. At the red-light district, Febrero and Baby are stranded in a traffic jam caused by a car collision; Baby tells Febrero that she’s pregnant but he erupts in anger, scolding her for failing to take precaution. While cleaning house, Virgie discovers a stick of pot and the stash it came from in Alex’s cabinet drawer, and she and her husband take turns beating him up; all bruised and bloodied, he runs away from home.

In the restaurant, Sonny, the same pimp who beat up Febrero, tells Baby that her lover won’t be returning now that she’s pregnant; he points out how the Chinese restaurant owner has thrown out his waitress-girlfriend in the rain, and tells Baby that she should play smart if she wishes to survive. In a residential slum district, as Bea quarrels with a neighbor, her supposedly foreign-based boyfriend Greg Williams suddenly shows up. She follows him indoors and he explains how his labor recruiter abandoned him and his fellow workers in Bangkok, en route to Saudi Arabia, and how he had to work as a waiter while borrowing money so he could come home. Bea snaps at Gaying for having been gone too long, then starts to blame Greg for his failure.

Religious devotees bring an icon of Our Lady of Fatima to Vanessa’s family. Virgie asks Vanessa where she could find Alex and Vanessa tells her that he’s staying with a gay couturier. Virgie goes to Manay’s atelier to fetch Alex; while waiting, she listens to Manay’s friend, Evita, narrate how she came down with vaginal herpes and had to fend off a horny doctor who wanted to take advantage of her in the hospital. Manay wakes up Alex and brings him to his mother, but Alex runs out and Virgie goes after him. Manay tells Evita and his gay chums how Alex’s mom used to be a former prostitute who became first the mistress then the wife of a powerful police officer. Outdoors, Virgie pleads with Alex not to run away again.

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At a side street, Baby sees Ade walking by and asks her to get Febrero to help her, saying that Febrero promised to marry her. Ade says Febrero’s married, but not to either of them, and that he also has a gay lover, so she (Baby) would be better off terminating her pregnancy. After unsuccessfully searching for drugs in his room, Alex joins his gang at the breakwater of Manila Bay. They discuss with Kano how exciting they find life in Manila. A troupe of costumed revelers arrives and the druggies decide to join in by undressing and jumping into the water, where they hallucinate about fireworks and being surrounded by floating candles.

Unable to share in the spirit of revelry, Baby stays home and, upon being advised by her mother to seek an abortion, confesses that Febrero (who should shoulder the expense) had stopped contacting her. Febrero in turn tails Ade to the inexpensive hotel she enters in her nurse’s uniform, and waits until she emerges, all dolled up for escort work; he continues to follow her to the whorehouse where she finds her clients. Greg takes Bea on a date to a working-class fairground and tells her how he found a job in the city, one which will enable them to work together.

At the restaurant, Sonny tells Baby to come with him to look for Japanese customers. He brings her to the same place where Ade works and fetches a Japanese john; when Ade arrives later and recognizes Baby, Ade drags her out to the garden and threatens to kill her if she tells Febrero about her illicit profession. Having selected Baby, the Japanese brings her to a hotel room, but while undressing her she gets nauseated, throws up all over him, and finally faints from the prospect of sex work.

In search of drug money, Alex visits Vanessa at her home and asks for the necklace he gave her so he could pawn it; when she refuses he attempts to pull it off her, they tussle, and Vanessa’s mother orders Alex to leave. Alex next goes to Sumpak, a gay bar where Manay and his friends watch go-go boys; after attempting to mooch some cash, Alex is taken by Manay outdoors where the latter berates him for his addiction. At Alex’s home, his family is having Christmas Eve dinner without him. Virgie’s husband tries to cheer everyone up by telling stories about a gay client in the courtroom, but Virgie erupts in anger at her youngest daughter for failing to use her utensils properly.

Meanwhile at the tourist belt, Greg is leading Bea to their new workplace, but she hears a hawker announcing a live-sex performance; realizing that she and Greg will be the performers, she kicks and screams but cannot escape from him because of her blindness. Outside the tourist belt cathedral, Baby spots Febrero and runs to him, asking him to help her with her pregnancy; Febrero runs away, and Baby curses him and screams about Ade being a call girl who services Japanese clients. Going home in her nurse’s uniform, Ade walks down an abandoned alley, gets dragged by an unknown assailant and strangled to death, with the New Year’s Eve fireworks drowning out her cries.

At the morgue, Manay with his gay friends, along with a grieving Febrero and a drugged-out Alex, asks the mortician to present Ade’s body so they could pay their respects; the mortician shows a corpse of an old woman wearing a nurse’s uniform, causing Manay to argue with him. After checking his records, the mortician apologizes to them and says it’s someone with a similar-sounding name, and that Ade’s body was flown to another island but the funeral parlor will arrange to return it immediately. Febrero faints when he hears the news and Manay runs out and has a nervous breakdown.

At the massage parlor, Alex is harassing Bea by borrowing money from her. Kano, being chased by plainclothesmen, runs inside to ask Bea to hide her but the latter refuses. When Kano, followed by Alex, escapes through the rooftop exit, Bea tells the plainclothesmen how to find them. Kano and Alex run through the streets chased by three cops. Alex eludes them by hiding in a dark corner but Kano (who’s their actual target) gets cornered and caught, struggling against her captors. Alex walks toward the people’s park, washing his face along the way in a pail of dirty water. We see glimpses of Baby, heavy with child, returning home from the restaurant, Virgie addicted to tranquilizers, and Manay turning desperately to religious worship. Amid the sunrise, with the city waking up and some people heading for work as others perform Oriental martial exercises, Alex lays down on a bed of flowers and falls asleep.


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A Festival in Flux

The Metro Manila Film Festival is one of those annual exercises where the public can be guaranteed some displays of controversy. The 2016 edition is distinctive, in that the controversy has started this early, before the event itself has commenced. As a way of reminding (warning, in fact) ourselves that 2016 has been a year of incivility, the exchanges even reached the level of name-calling on the social network. Moreover, reminiscent of this year’s presidential election, the sector that felt marginalized in the past is the one now raising a hue and cry.

This kind of controversy has an immediate benefit, in the sense that the public’s attention has been focused on the issue of worthiness. But since mostly extreme sides of the issue are being articulated, we wind up with polarized perspectives once more (as we did during the election). On the one hand, the producers complain that this year’s batch of entries has no family-friendly fare, by which they presumably mean genre films, especially children’s movies. On the other hand, the indie-supportive group (including the selection committee) asserts that the festival had abandoned the pursuit of quality for too long, so this year would be as good as any to provide an opportunity for “serious” cinema to have a fighting chance in mainstream venues.

It did not take long for what we may call the commerce side (as opposed to the arts side) to strategize in favor of their own releases, which were excluded from the 2016 MMFF lineup. First was their announcement of a pre-festival exhibition, which in effect mimicked the previous MMFF editions: sequels of the usual franchises (Enteng Kabisote and Mano Po, though no Shake, Rattle and Roll), a horror film, a melodrama, and the latest bromantic outing of the reliable Vice-Coco tandem. Another blow came in the form of exempting non-Metro Manila theaters from exhibiting only 2016 MMFF entries during the festival period.

The lesson here is that when art and business, like ideals and politics, are forced into a life-or-death struggle, art (like ideals) won’t stand a chance. In fact, for a too-long spell about a decade ago, “commercial appeal” was introduced as a major criterion for selecting the best-film winners. You can bet that if all the other non-commercial standards could be safely eliminated, the MMFF’s administrators would have done so yesterday.

One would have to peer far into the mists of history to see that this all-or-nothing perspective was not always the case. In fact, nearly four decades ago, the MMFF (then only on its third year) featured works that were regarded as entirely prestige projects: a literary anthology, a social-problem film, a contemplation on the consequences of violence, a period political drama, a critique of performing arts, another critique of family values, a coming-of-age narrative, a cautionary tale on addiction, a crime-of-passion saga.[1] Yet these films had the era’s top stars, sufficient doses of sex and violence, feel-good moments still remembered fondly by those who’d watched the screenings, plus at least one stone classic and definitive performance in the same entry, Vilma Santos in Celso Ad. Castillo’s Burlesk Queen (1977).

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That MMFF also happened to be the first controversial one, but the firestorm had more to do with the awards process than with the selection of entries. The best-film winner also became the top-grosser, a trend that has persisted in more cases than we care to remember, since most of the more recent MMFF editions made a spectacle out of outdoing each previous year’s box-office performance. In a sense, we can lament that that period, where commerce and prestige could coexist in the same project, may be next-to-impossible to recapture; non-MMFF crossover cases like Aureus Solito’s Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (2005) or Jerrold Tarog’s Heneral Luna (2015) would actually be so rare (in relation to the substantial number of indie releases per year) that these would be exceptions that prove the rule.

Before we conclude that there is absolutely nothing to be said for producers, I would suggest that we look at the political economy of the festival itself. The MMFF is the only period in the Philippine calendar when local productions are guaranteed protection from foreign competition – and this protection is the highest possible, 100 percent. (To give credit where it’s due, the Marcos administration valiantly resisted pressure from the Motion Picture Association of America to dispense with this arrangement.) Thus Philippine releases experience a schizophrenic situation, from zero protection during the rest of the year to full protection during the festival’s ten-day run. If we think in terms of producers, not only in maximizing personal profits, but also in sustaining companies where entire families depend on the regularity of assignments, then the impulse to take hold of this opportunity becomes more rationalizable.

But once more, we have to ask: why settle for such a polarized system? A year-round screen quota like that of Korea, where theaters are required to exhibit local films at a 20-percent rate (or 73 out of 365 days), is acknowledged by observers as the primary reason why Korean movies continue to feature the very same property that we once enjoyed, where films with serious themes and messages still had the objective and the potential to connect with broad sectors of the mass audience. Local Korean products compete with foreign imports all the time, but since they’re guaranteed a long-enough run to make their mark, they seek to outdo the (mainly Hollywood-sourced) foreign films in terms of purveying sense and pleasure, and take advantage of the filmmakers’ homegrown orientation. The filmmakers as well make an effort to figure out the audience’s concerns and anxieties, instead of dismissing local screenings in favor of Western (especially European) film festivals.

This then may be an area where both producers and artists in the Philippines can see common ground: a revival of film-protectionist efforts. Yes, a revival: believe it or not, right after the aforementioned 1977 MMFF, a bill was introduced during the Marcos-era legislature by Assemblyperson Gualberto Lumauig (now a retired professor).[2] It proposed, among other things, a modest screen-quota system, but was predictably shot down by the intervention of the MPAA’s Jack Valenti. It might even be worth giving up the 100-percent Pinoy-film quota of the MMFF, if this dynamic of oscillating between not-for-profit indie filmfests and the for-profit-only MMFF can be moderated (once more) into the year-round pursuit of audience-accessible prestige projects.


[1] These descriptors refer respectively to the following 1977 entries: Joey Gosiengfiao’s Babae… Ngayon at Kailanman, Augusto Buenaventura’s Bakya Mo Neneng, Eddie Romero’s Banta ng Kahapon, Mario O’Hara & Romy Suzara’s Mga Bilanggong Birhen, Celso Ad. Castillo’s Burlesk Queen, Lino Brocka’s Inay, Mike de Leon’s Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising, Gil Portes’s Sa Piling ng mga Sugapa, and Ishmael Bernal’s Walang Katapusang Tag-araw.

[2] See Nestor U. Torre Jr.’s “Lumauig Bill: Pro and Con,” in The Urian Anthology 1970-1979, ed. Nicanor G. Tiongson (Manila: Morato, 1983): 86-93.

[First published December 22, 2016, as “MMFF: A Festival in Flux” in Philippine Daily Inquirer]

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Cold Word Wars: Philippine Film as a Critical Activity

2016 FACINE Gawad Lingap Sining Lecture
Diego Rivera Theater, City College of San Francisco
October 18, 2016
(Photo courtesy of Daniel Park)

Many thanks to Filipino Arts & Cinema International, Philippine American Writers and Artists, and the Philippine Studies Department of the City College of San Francisco, plus an additional expression of gratitud y apreciación to the memory of the great Diego Rivera. I might as well provide a necessary personal disclosure in case you might wonder: Mauro Tumbocon Jr. and I have been acquaintances since the early 1980s, when I was working with the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines and he was with a pharmaceutical company, writing film reviews and articles on the side. We mirrored each other’s experiences as members of the Filipino Film Critics Circle, and when we found out we had similar misgivings about the group, we set out to found alternate critics’ groups. One of them, the Young Critics Circle, is still active to this day. We have had some differences, as all healthy friendships should have, but I think our similarities always somehow enable us to surmount them. Just don’t get us started talking about our goddess, Nora Aunor.

I had originally planned to look into what we may describe as trouble spots in the course of the development of film criticism in the Philippines, but as I understand, this venue, the City College of San Francisco, has both a film program and a Philippine Studies program. I also read up once more some of the basic texts, mostly on literary criticism by Terry Eagleton, but these seemed too distant and quaint today, except for a fairly recent text titled Outside Literature, by Tony Bennett[1] – the Australian professor, not the Italian-American crooner. In the end I decided to just confine my lecture to the less-obscure controversies that people in this setting might be able to recognize. Not to go too far off-tangent, but if you’ve been monitoring developments in the Philippines, you might have noticed that people there have been polarized since the election campaign period that started a year ago, and the situation has never eased up, and probably even worsened. There are two main voices: one, the newly empowered, or some might say re-empowered, people in the administration of Rodrigo Duterte; and another, the group of people identified with the previous administration of Benigno Aquino III, who see themselves as marginalized by the present government.

For me, the predicament is a simple one. If you object to certain or all of the current government’s policies, could you still be called a supporter of the Duterte administration? The way that the existing discourse has worked out, the answer is no. Either you’re pro-Duterte and accept everything he had set out to do, including discarding due process for drug suspects and restoring Ferdinand Marcos to a position of prestige, or you object to these two things, plus maybe Duterte’s propensity for cursing and appointing some less-than-stellar officials, and advocate for his impeachment so he can be replaced with a more “acceptable” option. Now I’ve witnessed the overthrow of two Philippine Presidents in the past, and the aftermath has never been lovely – sometimes it even gets worse in some ways than before. But I also cannot abide people getting killed just because of a problem that is really social and psychological in nature, and that has been solved in other countries only by radically turning its premise upside down and legalizing drug use. But try insisting loudly enough, say on Facebook or Twitter, that you want this and other government policies revised or discarded, but by the same government, not by a new one. I and similarly minded friends share the same stories of experiencing bullying of various degrees – from both sides, the pro-government and the anti-Duterte factions.

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Why am I bringing this up in a discussion of criticism? Because it is precisely the absence of critical thinking that leads to such a disastrous state of affairs, on a national and maybe even overseas scale at that. For people like us who’re familiar with the process, it seems entirely plausible that one can accept a leader but not certain of her or his policies. Yet this fairly simple turn of logic will be seen by many Filipinos, even those outside the country, as implausible and even nearly blasphemous. Philippine cultural training, as implemented by its educational institutions, is still reliant on the top-down dissemination of knowledge and the propagation of assumptions that are meant to be beyond questioning, or what we now call deconstruction.

So when you engage in the practice of criticism, you actually benefit yourself and your readers, if your goal is to keep growing as a practitioner. But you also have the potential of applying your skills to a wider cross-section of the body politic, evaluating issues of varying complexities, according to how the solutions can best benefit the widest and most needful sectors of society. Just close your eyes and imagine you’re watching a multidirectorial melodramatic saga by Lino Brocka, with multi-stranded plotlines from Ishmael Bernal, focused on the dispossessed as Brillante Mendoza does, and with an endless running time courtesy of Lav Diaz; that would be a great and scary and funny and tragic movie, and that would also be Philippine politics, or maybe even American politics, who knows.

We’re all aware that discussions of politics are always in danger of intensifying without ever being resolved, so let me pretend to be subtle and diplomatic, and switch gears without warning, hoping that no one notices. Regarding our topic, Philippine film criticism, the first thing that I think any entry-level person should be aware of appears to be something that many practitioners lack. They can’t be blamed for it because the issue remains shrouded in the mist of colonial history. But it would be indispensable if we were to devise a means of distinguishing the practice from its global counterparts. What I refer to here is the fact that film, in particular, was originally introduced during the late Spanish era, in the 1890s, by investors who wanted to turn a profit, as they still do today. But when the Spaniards were shortly thereafter replaced by the Americans, the fast-evolving media of photography, and later film, were deliberately deployed by colonial officials, led by Interior Secretary Dean Worcester, to rationalize the colonization project.

Worcester and the periodicals that reviewed his output, including the New York Times, participated in this acknowledgment of the righteousness of the US occupation of the Philippines.[2] This is of special historical import, because when you read up on state cultural policy for cinema, this detail is overlooked in favor of a later development, when Vladimir Lenin declared that film would be the means for the Soviet Union to propagandize for international socialism. Thus when we speak of critical commentary on turn-of-the-century Philippine-produced photographic and cinematographic products, we are really talking about a perspective with two characteristics that were typical for that situation: first, it assumes the supremacy of visual technology; and second, it considers the interest of the Philippine subjects, who provide the raw material for these products, as incidental at best and insignificant at worst.

I wish to emphasize that this situation, which I’d call sordid if you’ll allow me to be subjective, applied to both the production of film and the output of criticism. And from over a hundred years ago, I would like to abruptly bring us all to the present, where film had just ended its reign as the country’s primary means of entertainment, its “national pastime,” to use the title I provided for my first book. It was so successful that at one point, during the 1980s, Filipinos appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most avid movie-goers in the world.[3] As an industry, the medium was always one of the first to bounce back during the several periods of wartime and peacetime upheavals, even after the IMF-World Bank Asian crisis of the late ’90s demolished most of the country’s medium- and small-scale industries. In fact Philippine cinema’s latest recovery is a testament to its people’s ability to make do with whatever resources are still accessible to native practitioners. Just as the Soviet filmmakers responding to Lenin’s call turned a shortage of film stock into the rapidly intercut juxtapositions that we identify with Soviet montage, so did Filipino filmmakers confront the prohibitive cost of celluloid production by simply junking it and making do with far more affordable video technology, initially setting up their own projectors in film theaters just to be able to screen their work.

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All this will sound like over-valorizing a trend that has somehow become standard by now, but at that time, I had just returned to the home country after completing my graduate studies in the US, and I can attest to the anxiety and humiliation felt by the digital-filmmaking pioneers, who thought that what they were making was not “authentically” film because it was not in celluloid. The celluloid-to-digital transition was completed in the Philippines before it was undertaken everywhere else, and succeeded so overwhelmingly that the industry was able to develop an industry-within-an-industry, a burgeoning independent-cinema scene, complete with its own series of competing festivals, auteurs and canons, and critical appreciators. The connection with the early years of US colonization becomes apparent when we look at an orientation that bothered a few mature critics and some young ones as well. Films were being finished for the explicit purpose of making a splash in overseas festivals, with a preference for those in Europe, and any record of rejection by the Filipino audience could be spun around into the claim that the artist, like the messianic biblical prophet, was without honor in her or his own country.

In that way, and at that moment, we managed to achieve American self-colonization, producing cultural artifacts that made use of the local audience’s real lives as raw material, but which were never intended for their own consumption and appreciation. The complicity of contemporary film commenters was troubling enough so that the then-chair of the original critics circle went on record to denounce them, preferring to call them film bloggers rather than critics, and demonized as well their propensity for scrounging for perks, in the form of free trips to foreign film competitions, as members of the jury (Tolentino 184).[4] I use the past tense in describing this state of affairs, because the situation has peaked, and with that peak, its possible closure has become discernible. This peak actually occurred in recent months, when Filipino entries in the so-called Big Three European film festivals won major prizes, including best film at one point. The Woman Who Left, the film by Lav Diaz that won the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion prize, starred the former President and CEO of the country’s biggest film and TV conglomerate.[5] Diaz inscribed his own career circle, since his early films were produced by what was then the Philippines’s most successful studio, Regal Films, before he sought fuller autonomy via the combination of independent financing and digital production that I mentioned earlier.

For me, the lesson here is an affirmation of what I had always believed in: that among all possible types of professionals, artists (including writers) have the capacity to change for the better, with the rest of society and the world waiting to testify, to act as witnesses. Critics, when they’re lucky, should be in the position to herald the good news, or to demand for it when necessary. As you can sense, I’ve made another supposedly subtle segue into the ethics of film criticism, and wasted the previous minutes on a necessary but too-lengthy introduction. Don’t do that unless you’ve been granted exclusive control over a microphone and a guarantee that no questions will be asked right afterward. But honestly, if anyone were to ask me right now what she or he needs to prepare to get into film criticism, I would first respond by answering: what for? Is there an urgent need for it, a life-and-death situation that has the potential to turn tragic if another option, another desire intervenes and replaces this first one?

Like all defensive responses, this one reflects on me, the questioner, rather than the one being questioned. I was probably lucky in starting out in criticism before formal film training became a possibility in the Philippines, and figured out all the other necessities along the way. I was naïve enough, and the field was new enough, so that I could take stock of existing samples and say, “I could certainly write better than many of these people.” I was determined to become conversant with film theory and history, on my own if necessary, and at the very least become known as a film critic who could outwrite anyone else within the limited and insular circle of local practitioners. When I was invited to join the formal critics’ organization while barely out of college, that indicated for me that I’d been taking the right steps. Yet almost as soon as I’d signed the proverbial membership card, I’d taken my first misstep: an inordinately harsh denunciation of a commercial exercise by Lino Brocka. Manila being the tiny capital city that believes itself to be larger than what it is, I inevitably bumped into Brocka within the same week the review came out, and made the acquaintance as well of several other practitioners, a couple of whom also happened to be concurrent members of the critics’ circle.

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I never really had a sudden falling-out with the group, only a gradual and incremental accumulation of differences, based primarily on the circle’s insistence on annual award-giving as its nearly exclusive means of self-validation.[6] For me, that would be like winning every possible essay-writing prize and saying that I deserve this elevated recognition right now, because of the external evidence of my literary ability. But rather than recount the many disappointments I had with the Filipino Film Critics Circle, I’d prefer to share with you the positive lessons I picked up along the way. First, the members’ practice of rewatching films in contention as many times as necessary until they’re able to arrive at a consensus, was something I’d already been doing, but it reaffirmed my personal realization that films deserved as much close and precise observation as we bestow unquestioningly on fine arts and literary products. I am currently in the process of completing a canon project, over half a decade in the making, and the same procedure of making sure that the canon team’s choices can withstand more than one screening has led to some unanticipated discoveries and reversals.

Second, the ability of colleagues who can productively engage in metacritical discussions, where we critique one another’s criticism, is a rarity even among fellow critics, but an invaluable treasure when it comes along. During the period of my membership, the most important sessions I had were not the ones where the group determined the fate and reputation of the community of artists it claimed to support, by selecting individual award winners and causing resentment and disappointment among the rest. Instead, it was the moments when Professor Bien Lumbera, then and now its most senior member, would discuss with me the process of writing critical commentary, and explain the nuances of tone, diction, insight, structure, and rhetoric. To be honest, I found more of this type of rapport after I left the group, when I made the acquaintance of Mau Tumbocon here as well as a few other critics, and expanded my network to include classmates in graduate school and students at the film institute of the national university. I may as well also qualify that, among people capable of collegial interactions, differences can sometimes transmute into serious disputes, aggravated by the various side issues that tend to be raised by aggrieved parties in both camps. But since critical activity is as much reactive to subsequent social, aesthetic, ideological, and technological developments, even as it seeks to influence these phenomena in return, we find ourselves hailing the people we once thought we had given up for good, just as I had tended to grow apart from some groups with whom I once thought I could share long-term visions.

Third, and perhaps most unexpected though thoroughly commonsensical when you ponder it over, is the humbling discovery that critical thinking is not the exclusive province of critics. The greatest artists throughout history, in all corners of the world, had made that discovery for themselves, and their special gift to critics is the difficult-yet-productive exercise we get when we undertake a study of their body of work. I was already aware that Ishmael Bernal, for example, was conducting an intensive and radical reworking of the medium of film for Philippine subject matter and audiences, before I even learned that he was also once a film critic. This ties in with my insistence on literary polish and innovation for critical practitioners. I cannot count how many times I had cringed when I read critics complaining about a film’s lack of elegance and creativity, in the kind of writing that would be the very exemplification of the disappointments that their authors wanted to point out.

The last matter I wish to raise about criticism is the one that causes a crucial but often unnoticed division among practitioners themselves. I first got an inkling of it after I published my second book, essentially a more specialized anthology of my reviews supplemented by a basic but extensive critical study and a few canon-forming attempts. I was worried that reviewers might complain about how obsolete the issues it was raising were, since my intention was to demonstrate that those critical exercises first needed to be done right before they could be abandoned in favor of more current approaches. Instead, the most extensive local-daily reaction dwelled on the fact that some of the words I used went beyond journalistic-level samples. When I speculated what the reviewer must have thought about film writing, I concluded that he actually had a laudatory assumption: that discussions on film don’t have to be complicated, because film is accessible to a lot of people to begin with.

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Yet I could not bring myself to accept this premise. To me, the fact that people respond enthusiastically to a phenomenon should never be seen as a weakness to pamper, but rather as an opportunity to elevate discourse. Of course we find extreme examples where the enthusiasm for theoretical engagement turns into a refusal to be comprehensible. Once more, the person who has trained in effective expression, where ideas that are drawn from credible and knowledgeable sources, can be re-worded for the sake of the lay reader, would have an edge here. The ideal for the critic would be the generation of relevant, complex, and progressive ideas in the simplest language that said ideas could embody without betraying or compromising their content. The tension in this formulation derives from a false opposition between the scholarly writer and the journalist, or what I once innocently echoed as the critic and the reviewer. To me, these distinctions matter less today; I wouldn’t agree with the late John Simon that reviewing is just bad criticism,[7] but rather that everything, not just reviewing but even film reporting, can be criticism. The contemporary film critic would, or should, actually function as both: as someone who keeps abreast of new writings in cinema and media studies, who also seeks to popularize these ideas when they pertain to certain recent film releases or trends.

There are two points I could never over-emphasize in this regard. One is that the use of theory in writing reviews may or may not be foregrounded, but it should be capable of providing a framework for the critic’s take on the film or films being discussed. Another is that this framework is not the usual operationalizing of correctly understood concepts that we learn to do in school. Theory, as our fellow YCC founder Patrick D. Flores put it, is a matter that should be engaged, not applied (193).[8] This means that while the critic may explain her harsh or dismissive take on a film by referring to the underlying principles of a theory, the critic should also ensure that she had managed to evaluate the theory in terms of its appositeness, relevance, explanatory potential, progressiveness, and other questions essential to what we may call theory appreciation. Too often, we come across readings of non-Western cultural samples where the critic has regurgitated recent theory and wound up displaying her grasp of sometimes new ideas at the expense of prejudging the native product.

I would like to end by saying that while I may have accumulated this collection of insights on what an effective film critic would be like, I would be lying to you if I denied that I sometimes fall short of one or more of the ideals that I recounted in the course of this lecture. I also look forward to learning a few more tricks along the way, if I can still have the good fortune of discovering them. The biggest misgiving I had with this recognition is that from hereon, there would be less room for me to commit mistakes, the source of some of my most-enduring lessons. But then I could also have a better platform by which I could tell the current and forthcoming generations of Filipino film critics to prepare as best as they could, and once they have taken stock of their preparation, to take a step or two further into what they think is unexplored, probably even questionable, territory. Be well-conditioned, but don’t forget to take risks. People will give you a once-over because you’re dealing with a medium that’s close to their hearts. Make sure you’re ready to give in return more than what they expect, not only because they might appreciate the effort, but because you owe yourself a useful lesson each time you send out your contribution to our now-growing stock of cultural discourse.

Thank you for paying attention. I wish you all the best experience before, during, and after watching movies.

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The author acknowledges the assistance provided by the Inha University Faculty Research Grant. Many thanks to Ha Ju-Yong, Lee Sang Hun, Park Shin-gu, Park Haeseok, Son Boemshik, Park Jinwoo, Yu Taeyun, Jek Josue David, Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr., Alexei Masterov, Nora & Pete Luayon, Ohny Luayon, Ann-Marie Alma Luayon-Tecson, Lewis Tecson, Marita Jurado, and Carlo Jurado.

[1] Tony Bennett, Outside Literature (London: Routledge, 1990). Other texts consulted include The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983) by Edward Said; and The Function of Criticism: From the Spectator to Post-Structuralism (London: Verso, 1984), Marxism and Literary Criticism (London: Routledge, 1976), The Significance of Theory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), and Walter Benjamin, or Towards a Revolutionary Criticism (London: Verso, 1981) – all by Terry Eagleton.

[2] See Mark Rice, Dean Worcester’s Fantasy Islands: Photography, Film, and the Colonial Philippines (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014), 118-55. Also see “Calls Wild Men Our Wards,” New York Times (December 31, 1913): 7, qtd. in Rice.

[3] Guinness Book of World Records (Samford, Conn.: Guinness Media, 1983).

[4] Rolando B. Tolentino, “Hinahanap, Kaya Nawawala” [Searched For, Therefore Missing], 182-88; in Patrick F. Campos (ed.), “A Round Table Discussion on Poetics and Practice of Film Criticism” (initial post), Plaridel: A Philippine Journal of Communication, Media, and Society 13.1 (2016): 149-217.

[5] Lav Diaz (dir. & scr.), Ang Babaeng Humayo [The Woman Who Left], perf. Charo Santos-Concio, John Lloyd Cruz, Michael de Mesa, Nonie Buencamino, Shamaine Buencamino, Mae Paner (prod. Sine Olivia Pilipinas & Cinema One Originals, 2016).

[6] See Joel David, “My Big Fat Critic Status,” Ámauteurish! Extras (1985), posted online.

[7] John Simon, “A Critical Credo,” Private Screenings (New York: Macmillan, 1967): 1-16.

[8] Patrick F. Campos (ed.), “A Round Table Discussion on Poetics and Practice of Film Criticism” (initial post), Plaridel: A Philippine Journal of Communication, Media, and Society 13.1 (2016): 149-217.

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Doy del Mundo on a Controversy over Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag

This is the source interview for an article I wrote, titled “Thinking Straight: Queer Imaging in Lino Brocka’s Maynila (1975),” published in the August 2012 issue (volume 9, issue 2) of Plaridel: A Philippine Journal of Communication, Media, and Society. The respondent, Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr., was a founding member of the Filipino film critics circle and a retired professor of communication at De La Salle University. He is known as the scriptwriter for the majority of Mike de Leon films, but he first made his mark with the screenplay of Lino Brocka’s Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag [Manila: In the Claws of Darkness]. The interview was conducted via email in mid-2012, as a way of seeking out supplementary information for the article.

I drafted a paper for a special issue on queer media. I mentioned special early cases of controversies on queer politics in Philippine cinema. In looking at the case of Maynila, I remembered an article that came out in The Literary Apprentice, the journal of the University of the Philippines Writers Club. I re-read it once more and I was surprised at how offensive it sounded this time, in spite of its best intentions. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions regarding the film adaptation of [Edgardo Reyes’s novel] Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1967)? I hope you could provide some insights and/or correct any misimpressions I might have.

I saw the original run of Maynila (in July 1975), but ever since then, from its reissue after sweeping the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences awards to all subsequent rescreenings and video transfers, it’s been missing several sequences. That’s why when the article mentioned that 1/4 of the movie consisted of the gay-hustler underworld, it becomes accurate only when the point of reference is the original cut. Does this first version still exist anywhere or was there a conscious and/or official decision to trim the film? If it’s the second case, then would you know if the missing footage is lost for good?

The first version was re-edited by [Maynila’s producer and cinematographer] Mike de Leon for foreign exhibition (e.g. film festivals). I don’t think Lino was consulted about it. I did support Mike in doing the re-editing. Basically, the gay segment was shortened – it was unnecessarily long. I doubt if the first version exists anymore.

One recent academic paper claimed that Edgardo Reyes sued Lino for changes done to the narrative (presumably including the detour of Julio Madiaga into Bobby’s profession). It seemed, even from the still-existing scenes, that the dialogue-writing differed from the rest of the film. How improvisatory were these scenes – i.e., were you required/requested to provide scenes or lines or an entire narrative arc?

When Lino made the suggestion to add the excursion into the gay underworld, I asked him and Mike to clear it with Edgardo Reyes. I doubt if they did. Anyway, Lino and I talked about his ideas. Finally, I scripted it myself. The dialogue would naturally differ from the rest of the film. The character of Bobby belongs to a different group. The dialogue separates him from the world of the construction workers.

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The article I mentioned proceeded from a homophobic framework – that the novel, like its protagonist, was masculine, and the film adaptation “emasculated” it. (Strangely, the way the author expressed it sounded extremely homoerotic – a deep affection for Julio, representing Tondo, representing Manila, representing the country, in unconscious synecdochical distensions.) He identified Lino and you as responsible for the changes he regarded as unworthy of the source material. Yet the depiction of the gay underworld was similarly and ironically homophobic. I don’t remember this kind of discussion being conducted in mainstream media, but were these issues being raised in venues outside of a university journal? For example, in tabloids or in seminars? Or was this the only instance where the gender “shortcomings” of the movie were brought up?

I think the “homophobic” readings did not happen at the time. I could be wrong, though. The main concern, then, was how faithful was the film to the original source.

Lino’s interview with Hammy Sotto (published in the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ commemorative volume) seemed to assume that the original, extended version (ending with a beach scene where Bobby attempts to seduce Julio and the latter walks out on him in disgust) was still in existence. Interestingly, Lino explains that the purpose of providing the Julio-as-hustler scenes was to make the character as “fallen” (my interpretation) as Ligaya. The author of the article found this offensive, saying in effect that it’s unfair to “reward” Julio with a quickie in a cheap hotel room, a scene which he described as hackneyed, preceded as it was by a viewing of a Holy Week Christ’s-passion movie. Was this departure from the novel in the original draft of the script? How involved was Lino in revising the material?

The Julio-Ligaya sequence is in the original screenplay. Lino changed the location, though. In the screenplay, after the chance meeting in Santa Cruz Church, Julio and Ligaya move to a moviehouse (the movie was the production designer’s touch – based on what was available at the time). Then, they move to a restaurant. Lino changed the location to a motel room. It’s a credible change and it adds a dimension to the characters of Julio and Ligaya. My reading was more romantic – Ligaya’s storytelling was more subdued, controlled, perhaps more subtle. Lino had a different idea. Ligaya’s unfolding was more emotional, more direct (forget subtlety at this point of the film). I respect Lino’s change of location and consequent interpretation.

Lino wanted to create a metaphor for a different level of exploitation. Julio is exploited not only economically, he is exploited physically and spiritually. Your “fallen” interpretation is an interesting one. I agreed with Lino – he was the more experienced among us and had a better understanding of his audience. The film would have not been done if Lino did not have his way. My best alternative was to be involved in writing the script.

Portions of the article ridicule you for not being prepared (in the sense that you weren’t a Tondo native, among other things). I wanted to formulate questions around these but I found these assumptions too objectionable to even dignify. I had a few occasions interacting with a certain group of writers to which the author might have belonged – they generally taught university courses, wrote criticism and fiction (including poetry), and were insufferably masculinist and unapologetically homophobic as a consequence. I just concluded that their indulgence in the less-“masculine” professions of teaching and writing induced this kind of neurosis – essentially confirming the typical psychoanalytic finding that phobes are projecting on others certain qualities that they fear in themselves. No questions coming up about this, I’m just sharing my own annoyance with that type of mentality, thankfully no longer in mainstream vogue from what can be observed in the younger generations.

Yeah, I remember the author’s critique that I was not familiar with the setting of the novel so much so that I had to “visit” the places like a tourist. I visited the places to help me visualize the scenes. The novel appealed to me for its cinematic qualities and significance. I regretted (then) that the author and company did not appreciate a middle-class screenwriter tackling a proletarian novel.

In one school tour that we did during the showing of Maynila, I remember the same critique being asked. I just said that I was glad that I did not have to collaborate with the reigning administration in doing my work (the author of the article was working in a Marcos agency at the time).


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Malvarosa (1958) Sequence Breakdown

Directed by Gregorio Fernandez
Written by Consuelo P. Osorio
From a story by Clodualdo del Mundo, Sr.
Transcription by Joel David

  1. Prosa’s house, int., night. Damian arrives home and argues with his wife, Prosa, who arrived from a mah-jongg session and failed to prepare dinner; to appease him, she announces she is pregnant.
  2. Prosa’s house, ext.-int., day. A neighbor convinces Prosa to have her fortune told; she learns she will have five male children but her youngest will be a daughter. She decides to name the boys to fit the acronym “Malva,” while the girl is named Rosa.
  3. Prosa’s house, ext., day. All grown up now, Alberto takes leave of Rosa to serve in the church sacristy; Melanio pesters her to prepare his shirt for a date; Leonides asks for food; Vedasto pokes fun at his parents for their gambling and drinking; Avelino asks for his school allowance. Rosa, who is earning a living as a laundress, explains how Avelino should be assisted so he could earn a degree and admonishes her brothers to honor their parents. Damian arrives asking for Prosa and leaves in a huff to look for her. Candido, Rosa’s suitor, tries to convince Rosa to marry him so he could look after her, but she tells him of her dream to help Avelino before leaving her family, causing Candido to fret from disappointment.
  4. Church, int., day. Alberto complains of how the neighbors taunt his family because of the life of dissipation led by his parents. The priest tells him to have faith and promises to speak with Damian and Prosa for their children’s sake.
  5. Corner store, ext., night. While appealing to the corner-storeowner to extend his credit for another bottle of booze, Damian is fetched by Candido, who pays off Damian’s debt with the store.
  6. Mah-jongg parlor, int., night. Damian refuses to go with Candido and instead fetches Prosa at the mah-jongg session. The couple create a scene by quarreling in public.
  7. Railway tracks, ext., night. Damian berates Prosa for her gambling addiction, she in turn upbraids him for drinking. They walk home far apart from each other. Damian stumbles on the railway tracks as a train arrives and runs over him.
  8. Prosa’s house, ext.-int., night. At Damian’s wake, Avelino and Vedasto walk among the guests looking to make extra change from betting on parlor games. Rosa cries from embarrassment over her brothers’ conduct, Candido tries to comfort her, Leonides warns him not to get too fresh with his sister, Candido in turn assures Leonides of his decent intentions. Two of Melanio’s mistresses arrive and start quarreling, forcing Melanio to break them apart. Candido tells Rosa he does not mind her family’s scandalous reputation; Rosa expresses pity for her mother, now unable or unwilling to respond to her environment since Damian’s fatal accident.
  9. Community clinic, int., day. The doctor explains to Avelino and Candido how Prosa is still sane but in a state of shock caused by melancholia over the death of her husband. He tells them that an upswell of happiness could overpower her grief and restore her to normalcy.
  10. Corner store, ext., night. After imbibing some beer to assuage her grief, Prosa walks home
  11. Railway tracks, ext., night. Prosa sees a vision of Damian on the tracks. She approaches the vision but he disappears. She breaks down near the tracks.
  12. Prosa’s house, int., night. Unable to find her mother at home, Rosa asks Leonides, who responds with indifference. A neighbor tells them where Prosa can be found.
  13. Railway tracks, ext., night. Rosa and Leonides fetch their mother.
  14. Prosa’s house, int., night. Back home, Leonides blames Rosa for neglecting their mother. Rosa asks Vedasto to prepare some coffee for Prosa, but he is too lazy to get up.
  15. Melanio’s love nest, int., night. Melanio is with another of his mistresses, a third one, who also has a child by him. He wants to borrow some money from her, but she tells him that since he told her to quit her job as an entertainer, she could barely make ends meet from the allowance he gives her.
  16. Prosa’s house, int., day. Worried about Prosa, Rosa asks Vedasto to buy some medicine. He agrees but spies on Rosa to find out where she keeps her money – in a jar in a kitchen cabinet. Before he goes on his errand he steals her money.
  17. Prosa’s neighborhood, ext., day. Alberto controls his temper when some neighbors describe him as a sinful sacristan, in reference to his family. He meets Miling, a girl he fancies, but her disapproving mother pulls her away from him.
  18. Avelino’s school, ext., day. Avelino’s classmates discuss the forthcoming student election. Some of them want Avelino to run because of his good grades (and good looks), but others want a wealthier candidate.
  19. Prosa’s house, ext.-int., day. Rosa takes on more laundry requests from the neighbors. She gives Avelino his school lunch as Melanio arrives and asks for a loan. Rosa checks her money but doesn’t find it. She accuses Leonides of stealing it. Leonides calls Vedasto to ask if the latter has it. Vedasto, the guilty party, denies any knowledge of its whereabouts and implies that Avelino or Alberto might be culpable. Rosa rejects his suggestion and her “bad” brothers accuse her of playing favorites. Melanio questions her judgment of supporting Avelino’s studies, but when she denounces them for their complacency, Melanio hits her and taunts Avelino. Rosa has to prevent them from coming to blows.
  20. Prosa’s neighborhood, ext., night. Walking home from church, Alberto runs into Candido and relates how he is thinking of giving up church service because of his difficulty in coping with people who mock him. Candido tries to discourage him, but some neighbors tell them that Prosa is once more lying near the railway tracks.

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  21. Railway tracks, ext., night. Alberto and Candido go to fetch Prosa, Alberto pleads with her to stop drinking.
  22. Prosa’s house, ext., day. Melanio’s three mistresses arrive but, with Melanio not home yet, Rosa greets them. Each mistress brings her child by Melanio and demands that Rosa take care of the kid. Rosa faults them for falling for her negligent and improvident brother. When they refuse to leave she threatens them with a laundry paddle.
  23. Prosa’s neighborhood, ext., day. The mistresses meet Melanio on his way home and complain about Rosa’s treatment of them.
  24. Prosa’s house, int., day. Avelino helps Rosa prepare lunch when Melanio arrives. When Rosa defends her conduct with his mistresses, Melanio attempts to hit her but Avelino stops him and the two brothers engage in a fistfight. Melanio threatens to leave home.
  25. Prosa’s house, ext., day. As Rosa, Avelino, and Candido search for Melanio, police arrive with a warrant of arrest for the polygamist.
  26. Prosa’s neighborhood, ext., day. The police arrest Melanio to face the mistress who filed charges against him.
  27. Miling’s neighborhood, ext., day. Alberto meets Miling and asks if he could pay her a visit at home. Miling’s mother sees them and forbids her daughter from socializing with Alberto because of the degeneracy of his family.
  28. Empty lot, ext., day. Candido takes Rosa to an empty lot that he plans to buy for her and build his dream house on when they marry.
  29. Prosa’s neighborhood, ext., night. Some neighborhood thugs see Alberto and make fun of him by imitating Prosa’s breakdowns by the railway tracks. Alberto scuffles with them. A policeman passing by breaks up the melée.
  30. Prosa’s house, int., night. Alberto pleads once more with his mother to stop drinking. Deluded, Prosa thinks Damian’s still alive, waiting by the railway tracks. Alberto gets impatient with Prosa, Avelino and Rosa intervene, Alberto leaves forthwith.
  31. Miling’s house, ext., night. Alberto goes to Miling’s house but her mother objects that it’s too late at night and that she disapproves of Alberto’s family. Alberto gets into an argument with her but Miling’s mother calls for the police, causing Alberto to leave.
  32. Prosa’s house, int., night. Prosa asks for Alberto, who hasn’t returned home. Concerned, Avelino and Rosa look for him. Leonides and Vedasto refuse to help them.
  33. Miling’s house, int.-ext., night. Miling goes to the bathhouse to take a shower when Alberto breaks in and attempts to rape her. She screams to her mother for help and the police arrive.
  34. Miling’s neighborhood, ext., night. A mob chases Alberto but the parish priest stops them.
  35. Church, ext., night. Alberto runs into the church remorseful over what he has done. Rosa finds out from the mob what happened.
  36. Church, int., night. A sacristan asks Alberto what’s wrong, but Alberto pushes him aside and runs up the belfry.
  37. Church, ext.-int., night. The priest calms down Miling’s mother. Rosa looks for Alberto in the church. The sacristan directs her toward the belfry, where she discovers Alberto has hanged himself.
  38. Bar, int., night. Leonides turns rowdy while drinking from despondency over Alberto’s suicide. Maximo introduces him to his boss, a criminal mastermind.
  39. Isolated road, ext., night. When their getaway vehicle is cut off, Leonides shoots and kills an officer, then runs for cover. The rest of the gang gets caught.
  40. Nightclub, int., night. Candido and Rosa search for Leonides in a nightclub but find Vedasto there instead. He refuses to help them find Leonides. Tony, one of the regulars, approaches Vedasto and expresses interest in Rosa.

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  41. Prosa’s house, int., day. The police call on Rosa to help in capturing Leonides. Rosa and Candido go with them.
  42. Leonides’s hideout, ext.-int., day. Returning gunfire, Leonides refuses to surrender. Rosa runs into his hideout to plead with him. Leonides knocks her out but is felled by a sniper’s bullet. Rosa regains consciousness and screams when she finds her brother dead.
  43. Nightclub, int., night. Impressed by Tony’s wealth and generosity, Vedasto agrees to ask Rosa to work for Tony as his personal secretary.
  44. Prosa’s house, ext., day. Vedasto arrives home loaded with food treats. He announces that he has found a job for Rosa. Avelino volunteers to work but Vedasto discourages him, since he is still in school. Candido cautions Rosa but she is determined to make good in her new job. Peeved, Candido tells her she can take the job and a new boyfriend any time she wants to.
  45. Prosa’s neighborhood, ext., day. Next morning, Rosa, Avelino, and Vedasto wait for a ride. Avelino’s classmate passes by in her car and offers him a ride, which he accepts.
  46. Tony’s office, int., day. Vedasto introduces Rosa to Tony at the latter’s office.
  47. Prosa’s house, int., night. After hours, Rosa describes to Avelino and Vedasto how she wishes she had real work to do instead of just sitting around and reading komiks and magazines. Vedasto tells her to be responsive to her boss.
  48. Empty lot, ext., day. Avelino, Vedasto, Rosa, and Prosa visit the suburban lot that Candido took Rosa to earlier. Rosa is sad for still not having reconciled with Candido.
  49. Tony’s office, int., night. At the office, Tony asks Rosa to work overtime.
  50. Prosa’s neighborhood, ext., night. Candido meets Avelino on his way to visit Rosa but learns that she hasn’t arrived yet. Candido volunteers to fetch her from work.
  51. Corner store, ext., night. Vedasto treats his friends to a round of drinks. He sees Candido and follows him to Tony’s office.
  52. Tony’s office, int., night. Tony flirts with Rosa, then begins harassing her. Candido arrives and trounces Tony. Vedasto tells Candido to mind his own business but Candido reprimands Vedasto. Candido leaves with Rosa, prompting Vedasto to threaten her.
  53. Prosa’s house, ext., day. As Avelino leaves for school next morning, Prosa wonders where Rosa is. Vedasto arrives and tells Avelino that she has eloped with Candido. Avelino leaves to confront the couple. Vedasto then tells Prosa that Rosa is dead. Prosa lights a candle to pray for Rosa.
  54. Prosa’s neighborhood, ext., day. Avelino finds Candido and demands an explanation. Candido describes how he arranged for Rosa to stay with one of her friends, Nena, whom they meet and who corroborates Candido’s story. Nena also says that Rosa left for home.
  55. Prosa’s house, ext., day. Vedasto forbids Rosa from entering their home and smears her reputation in front of the community, saying she slept with Candido. Tearful and helpless, Rosa runs away.
  56. Railway bridge, ext., day. Avelino and Candido find Rosa about to leap from the railway bridge. They manage to prevent her from committing suicide, but when Avelino finds out what Vedasto has done, he goes to punish his brother.
  57. Prosa’s house, ext.-int., day. Avelino and Vedasto come to blows as the candle that Prosa lit falls and starts burning the wooden floor. Prosa has fainted from grief and fails to notice the fire.
  58. Prosa’s house, ext.-int., day. Rosa and Candido stop Avelino and Vedasto’s fistfight. They see the house burn. Candido runs inside and manages to save Prosa, but the house goes up in flames.
  59. Railway tracks, ext., day. Prosa declares that they must start anew, Vedasto asks for everyone’s forgiveness, and the survivors – Prosa, Rosa, Avelino, Vedasto, and Candido, walk down the railway tracks to a new life.
  60. Empty lot, ext., day. End credits appear over Candido’s suburban lot.


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Fields of Vision – The “New” Cinema in Retrospect

I had intended this article to be properly pre-anthologized – that is, published in an appropriate venue before its inclusion in my second book Fields of Vision (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1995: 1-36). Unfortunately, the only publication ready and willing to consider it, the Philippines Communication Journal, folded up due to lack of funds. Since my manuscript submission deadline had drawn near, it became the first in a long line of scholarly essays I’d written that skipped the journal peer-review process (notably my next book, Wages of Cinema) – although the university press did provide a set of review comments for me to go over. This explains the absence of an abstract and keywords, and the presence of too-hasty assertions that should have awaited grad-level finessing. Nevertheless the basic thesis – that martial law-era Philippine film practice observed the mainstream Hollywood-vs.-European “art cinema” dichotomy – provides a panoramic view of local film triumphs from the perspective of its practitioners, who went about their activities, for better or worse, with this consciousness in mind. The essay appeared in the Filipino film critics circle’s 1990s collection but it strangely failed to print the dedication that I maintained as my only condition for its inclusion.

For Ellen J. Paglinauan

Even when the number of acknowledged quality outputs in Philippine cinema reached a comparatively high level in the mid-1970s, no one had ventured to point out in detail the influences traceable to the international movement known as the New Wave. However, both critical and creative practice did seem premised on this unvoiced realization – that art cinema (which can be reconfigured as a genre unto itself) was a superior order of production deserving recognition and the highest form of support in terms of film-project proposals. Bienvenido Lumbera, writing in 1976, did suggest a beginning of sorts (translation mine):

On the other hand, the Western film industry underwent a revolution, originating in France, of movies classified as “New Wave,” [which] changed the old ways of making movies. It freed directors from traditional techniques, thus giving use to a renewal of energy and consciousness in filmmaking. The arrival of such modern influences from the West in Philippine cinema was slow. But in the last few years of the preceding decade [ca. 1976] can be glimpsed the surface characteristics of the effects of such movies. The anarchic attitude toward social conventions and outmoded institutions, the uninhibited treatment of sex, the colloquial and daring use of language, the on-the-move camera – these typify what our movies today were able to acquire from exposure to products coming from Europe and the United States. (Lumbera, “Nunal sa Tubig Revisited,” 42)

Lumbera further states in the same article,

The effect of the nationalist movement and the cinematic revolution from the West can be seen in the content and technique of four of our new directors [Lino Brocka, Behn Cervantes, Ishmael Bernal, and Jun Raquiza]. According to their relative impact, these films may be classified into two groups – first, those tending toward clarifying topics relevant to a society in ferment; and second, those tending toward treating Filipino topics with techniques drawn from the Western cinematic revolution. (43)

This constitutes the only critical reference to the New Wave by any member of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino and evidenced in the only Urian Anthology published thus far by the group. Although the term New Wave was (and occasionally still is) used in reviews and informal or verbal commentaries, no local critic seemed willing or prepared to assert that the recently concluded burst of creativity in Philippine cinema could in fact be considered a consequence of a larger current in world cinema. Possible reasons may have stemmed from an inadequacy in dealing with the topic, or a fear of confronting charges of disparaging local talent by unfavorably juxtaposing their output with their alleged foreign models.

Nevertheless, a few facts call our attention to the reality of foreign influence in local filmmaking. First of all, out filmmakers (and a good part of our audiences) remain exposed to foreign films, even if mostly from Hollywood. The trend had merely been exacerbated during the eighties by the orientation of the short-lived Manila International Film Festival (MIFF) and the so-called revolution in video technology which increased the availability and accessibility of movie products. Second, some of the more creative talents in Filipino film were formally educated in foreign film schools, which by the seventies had generally assimilated the principles and techniques of New Wave cinema. Third, New Wave-influenced filmmaking provided a crucial means by which Filipino filmmakers could justify their criticism of the martial law regime and its policies.

Filmmaking itself presupposes a Western orientation more inevitable than in the case of other art practices – ultimately because the medium is dependent on First World technology. Crucial approaches to film technique are dependent on technological advancements, as in the chronological introduction of sound, color, wide gauges, portable equipment, computerization, video dissemination (including television broadcasting), and digital storage. Since the arrival of such innovations however takes time, particularly in a Third World setup like ours, the technology comes along with demonstrations (usually in popular feature film format) that prescribe how it may best be exploited.

The catch of course is that such applications are entirely from Western perspectives, and attempts at challenging the resultant criteria merely wind up alienating both the local Westernized elite as well as the lucrative Western market. This has led to an extreme of responses, from a wholehearted welcoming of both technology and technique to their wholesale rejection, as exemplified in acts of censorship from the state and the church.

French literary theorist Roland Barthes, an excerpt from Writing Degree Zero, mapped out the available options by equating language with a valueless horizon that provides a distant setting of reality (31-38). He distinguished this from style, which he defined as a self-sufficient language with roots in the author’s mythology. Both supposedly exist in a familiar repertory of gestures commonly perceived as nature.

With this assumption of both language and style as objects, one’s mode of writing becomes a function that correlates creation and society. Human intention, in short, links form with history. And although literature cannot exist prior to writing, the history of writing exists – since a writer’s modes are established through history and tradition – “at the very moment when general history proposes – or imposes – new problematics of the literary language, [for] writing still remains full of the recollections of previous usage” (36-37). In effect, what is implied is that a second-order memory of works persists even amid the generation of new meanings.

Furthermore, in his essay “Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives,” Barthes proposed that narrative language be liberated from the impositions of linguistics in two ways: first, by considering discourse, rather than the sentence, as the basic unit; and second, by recognizing the existence of levels of meaning – that is, functions, actions (with characters as actants), and narration, all bound in progressive integration. In turn, functions become the basic unit of discourse, with groups of functions, defined as sequences, performing syntactical roles (251-95).

Barthes also provided characters with a primary structural status, beyond the secondary agency-of-action significance bestowed by Aristotelian poetics. The problem of subject can thereby be approached with a “multiplicity of participations,” where narrative communication involves the sorting out of the speaker from the writer from the character. An ultimate form of narrative can be capable of transcending contents and forms, or functions and actions as defined, while a narrative system can contain both distortion and expansion, mimesis and meaning.

While such a structuralist orientation finds its limits – acknowledged eventually by Barthes himself – in determining the nature of intertextual (and in this instance, intercultural) influences, it provides us with a means by which certain texts (in this context, films) may be compared and examined. The more basic units, functions, or their groupings can be approached according to the characteristics that allow such film texts to be classified or organized, genre being the most obvious one. For the moment, it may be enough to recognize that interactions between cultures and their respective texts do not occur in a rudimentarily reflective manner, much less in directions fully autonomous of power relations. Toward the end of this study, questions regarding further areas of consideration raised in the process of analysis will be brought up. Unfortunately, the answering of such questions will just have to be done in separate future efforts.

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The New Wave, as it originated in France, may be seen as positive and negative responses to the so-called French tradition of quality. The basic motivation behind such a practice resembled Hollywood classicism in that it centered on the seamless presentation of an idealized form of reality, observing certain principles associable with domi­nant belief (Bordwell and Thompson 50-60). Film, unlike still photography, was and remains limited by the amount of exposure time allotted equally to each and every frame; hence, it is incapable of the accurate reproduction of reality theoretically realizable in the still cam­era through slow exposures balanced with extra-light-sensitive film stock.

Since Hollywood aimed for industrial stability and ideological purity during the early half of the century, when film was largely “slow” in responding to light, it became necessary to increase the amount of light being used for cinematographic purposes to compensate for the medium’s tendency to reduce natural or available light during record­ing and projection. The resultant image was unreal, which gave rise to another problem: If the shifts from one image to another allowed the audience to become aware of the artificiality brought about by the (eventually standardized) excessive lighting, their mesmerization – and, consequently, their appreciation – of the film would be affected. The final step in perfecting classical aesthetics lay then in directing the shots and joining one to another in a manner that observed screen continuity. This illusion, this unreality that was being promoted as a new, filmic reality had to be maintained through steady shots and movements that flowed into one another with a minimum of visual distraction and a maximum of natural appearances (Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson 194-213). One extreme of genteelism employed by Hollywood practitioners had the camera cutting from one speaker to another without crossing the axis of conversation between the two, observing the Western ethical dictum of respecting the space between gentlefolk engaged in face-to-face conversation.

The historical upheavals that convulsed the Hollywood community, culminating in the McCarthyist witch-hunts after the postwar collapse of the American alliance with the Soviets, was congruent with this obsession with lawful order and propriety. The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, colloquially referred to as the Hays office, issued production guidelines that “made absurd demands on filmmakers … [to the extent of prohibiting] the depiction of double beds, even for married couples” and censoring expletives as ambiguous as “God,” “hell,” and “nuts” (Monaco, How to Read a Film 230). Moreover,

one of the greatest surprises awaiting a student of film first experiencing precede movies is the discovery that in the late ’20s and very early ’30s films had a surprisingly contemporary sense of morality and dealt with issues, such as sex and drugs, that were forbidden thereafter until the late ’60s. The effect is curiously disorienting. (230)

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French New Wave

In The New Wave, Monaco traces the movement’s beginnings to the call in 1948 of Alexandre Astruc, a young novelist, critic, and filmmaker, “for filmmakers to realize the full power of their art so that it could become ‘a means of writing just as flexible and subtle as written language’” (5). Astruc called this approach Le camera-stylo or “The Camera-Pen.” A group of male acquaintances fre­quenting the Cinémathèque Française, which was then under the management of its founder, Henri Langlois, was to venture into film reviewing, criticism, and theorizing in the pages of the Cahiers du cinéma, a journal edited by André Bazin. They then proceeded to apply a loose and sometimes conflicting set of ideals – some already existent, most developed along the way – directly in film activity.

The group was made up of Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer (nom de camera of Jean-Marie Maurice Scherer), and François Truffaut. As Cahiers writers, they were influenced by the tenets of film realism and valorization of neorealism by Bazin. However, through Truffaut’s articulation, they also propounded a “rather passionate, organic – sometimes wild” theory of their own, based on the twin concepts of the politique des auteurs, which posited a central creative intelligence derivable in a given filmmaker’s body of work, and film genres, “the set of conventions and expectations which [a film] shares with other films of its kind” (Monaco, The New Wave 7).

In application, this caused the Cahiers group to enter into a paradoxical relationship with Hollywood cinema: on the one hand the critics and directors-to-be rejected all the technical strictures advocated by classicist practice; on the other, they professed admiration for the products dismissed by the Hollywood establishment as representative of crass commercialism. They opined, in effect, that although the films of such underappreciated practitioners as John Ford, Samuel Fuller, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, Don Siegel, and Raoul Walsh were no match for the prestige productions churned out by the major outfits for Academy Award considerations, they possessed the necessary personal factor that set them apart from the assembly-line nature of the bigger productions. In short, each of these films could be studied according to the “signature” of its filmmaker – acknowledged by the auteurists as the film’s director – as well as in relation to the filmmaker’s other films (on a vertical axis) and against other products belonging to the film’s genre (horizontal axis) (Monaco 8).

As filmmakers, the Cahiers critics-turned-directors benefited from opportune developments in film technology, including “fast [or more light-sensitive] filmstocks, lightweight cameras, new lighting equipment, and the liberation from the Hollywood set that all this implied” (Monaco 10). They not only drew uninhibitedly from past instances of the silent-cinema movements (especially Soviet montage, German expressionism, and French avant-garde surrealism) and the sound-era samples of American film noir and the then-current Italian neorealism; they also innovated with methods considered unconven­tional at the time, such as jump cuts (notably in Godard’s Breathless), available or natural lighting, hand-held camera work, and graphic imagery. Chabrol was to specialize in film noir and Rohmer in literary comic romances. Truffaut was to implement, to wide acclaim, his proposal of “exploding” genres by combining them, while Rivette would explore the relationship between the medium and theater. Godard would experiment, in what is generally conceded as the most ambitious project among the five, with the multiplexity of film language and its political ramifications, even crossing over at a certain point to the medium of video.

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Outward Ripples

Although its avowals were nothing short of revolutionary, the New Wave was also fortunate enough – or shrewd enough, given the cultural sophistication of the French audience – to be commercially feasible. To begin with, its technical requirements were far more modest compared with industrial standards, so much so that some of the mem­bers of the Cahiers group, who were decidedly young and middle-class, were able to arrange the financing of their own and the others’ debut films. Moreover, their penchant for technical and thematic daring, coupled with an inspiration derived from commercial Hollywood films, made their works appealing as alternatives to the studio-bound, dialog-reliant, and stodgily predictable mainstream releases.

That the French public did happen to be receptive to the ensuing cultural controversies is generally overlooked in most accounts of the movement. Perhaps this is because the Cahiers group, in founding the New Wave, started out by asserting auteurism, thus calling attention to the film artist rather than to the audience. The importance the group gave the artist, as Monaco (7) asserts, lay in the upgrading of the status of cinema. From a mere industrial product, with Hollywood epitomizing the ideal dream factory, faceless and mechanical, it became a medium of personal artistic expression worthy of serious critical analysis, on a footing with achievements in literature and the fine arts. The obvious problems with the popular and mass nature of the medium that this view raised would be addressed later by theoreticians advocating new approaches to mass media and popular culture. Meanwhile, auteurism sufficed to provoke reconsiderations about the characteristics and potentials of cinema as represented by Hollywood.

More important, for our purposes, is the fact that New Wave ideas and methods were more easily exportable than the movement’s Hollywood counterparts, since the latter tended to be tied down to technological developments (to import a new Hollywood technique also meant importing the new machine that facilitated it). As a consequence of the New Wave, cinema was revitalized in several European countries. Italy, for example, which was already profiting, culturally and monetarily, from neorealism, progressed to the personal spectacles of the younger neorealists such as Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni.

From the perspective of Hollywood, all this was mainly arthouse material, although the success at the box office of several imports subsequently required a reorientation among American practitioners too. Not only was auteurism adopted (and duly shot down, in a celebrated exchange between proponent Andrew Sarris and dissenter Pauline Kael – see Mast and Cohen 650-79), a “new” American cinema could be perceived in the number of products defying the Hays office guidelines during the middle and late sixties. Not surprisingly, this spirit of exuberant libertarianism extended to and was complemented by events in other spheres of American life, including struggles pertaining to civil rights, the Vietnam War, sexual liberation, and feminism.

The Philippines, dependent all this time on American economy and culture, arrived at roughly the right stage for the introduction of New Wave approaches via Hollywood. Lumbera divides Philippine film history into four periods: beginnings and growth (1897-1944), recovery and development (1945-59), rampant commercialism and artistic decline (1960-76), and the emergence of new forces in contemporary cinema (1976 up to the early eighties) (“Problems in Philippine Film History” 193-212). I would propose later the use of the February 1986 People Power Revolution to mark the close of what I have termed the Second Golden Age, which also started in the mid-seventies (David, The National Pastime 1-17).

With the period in question, a number of profound political con­tradictions involving cinema achieved fruition. Martial law was declared in 1972 by the late Ferdinand Marcos, who utilized film as a crucial component of presidential campaigns (hence, although seeking to systematically control mass media, he provided moviemaking with both exemptions and incentives, in effect nurturing this medium while sup­pressing the others). About the beginning of what has been alternately called the New Philippine Cinema and the Second Golden Age, the censors board was purged of its civilian chair and members, and replaced with military officials and underlings. By the start of the eighties, a comprehensive support institution, the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (ECP), had been set up.

Typical of the manner in which the regime tripped itself up, which local film artists in turn were quick to exploit, was the military’s takeover of censorship prerogatives. In my interview with Lumbera, he says,

The censors demanded to see a complete script before they could give a permit for shooting, so they could scrutinize film projects as early as the preproduction stage. Studios turned to journalists and creative writers in order to be able to impress the censors. Young filmmakers and writers saw here an opportunity to break into the industry and inject some seriousness in terms of content. (qtd. in David, “Bienvenido Lumbera” 21-22)

With the New Wave representing a challenge (actually already successful by then in First World practice) to classical Hollywood narrative cinema, progressive film artists in the Philippines may have drawn an analogy between this clash of cultural forces and their own struggle against the dictatorship (which encompassed their struggle against the neocolonial support the regime was getting from the US). As I have earlier implied, this adoption of New Wave strategies, however, may or may not have been consciously undertaken. Nevertheless,

in the end we could only grant that a major factor for the occurrence of the Second Golden Age lies in the superstructure itself – more concretely, in the confluence of film artists who somehow attained a level of individual maturity and collective strength within roughly a common time frame – a force, in effect, capable of transforming what would normally be political and industrial liabilities into aesthetic assets. (David, The National Pastime 17)

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Sample Influences

What follows is a list of certain categories associated with or resulting from the New Wave movement, whether as other movements, trends, genres, or revivals. Sample foreign and local products depicting certain similarities are cited, but more important are the instances where the local versions demonstrated modifications or differences. The list of categories and titles is not intended to be comprehensive. Such a task may not be possible, or even meaningful. In any case, a true-blue cultural historian with the adequate (profilmic) orientation could certainly accomplish much more.

1. Neorealism. Actually predating the French New Wave, neorealism as a movement was utilized during its time (1940s in the United States, 1950s in the Philippines) to challenge the supremacy of Hollywood classicism. The difficulty lay in the strictures imposed in the US accruing from Cold War politics. In our case, the princi­ples of neorealism were observed strictly for prestige products, particularly entries to (and winners of) international festivals, directed by the likes of Lamberto V. Avellana, Gregorio Fernandez, and Manuel Silos from LVN Studios. True, non-LVN practitioners like Gerardo de Leon, Cesar Gallardo, and Eddie Romero were able to reach local audiences, but this was toward the collapse of the studio system, when the breakdown in production controls led to the decline in quality associated with independently produced movies.

André Bazin in the second volume of What Is Cinema? recognized in Italian neorealism an effective implementation of his articulation of realism (16-40). Bazin enumerated the use of nonprofessional actors, actual locations, modest budgets and technologies, and sociopolitical themes as neorealism’s main characteristics, supplanting the Hollywood-inspired superspectacles that typified Italian cinema prior to World War II. Like the French New Wave, Italian neorealism succeeded because of the pragmatism of its approach and the international acclaim that augmented the profits gained from its products. Owing to the geographical and philosophical affinities between French and Italian film critics and practitioners, neorealism, already at an “aesthetic impasse” (Bazin 47), became naturalized as one of the many features of the New Wave.

Similarly, the “new” Philippine cinema had an auspicious realist beginning when one of its major practitioners, Ishmael Bernal, wrote and directed his debut film, Pagdating sa Dulo (1971), in a manner reminiscent of his mentor, Avellana. A peak was realized in Celso Ad. Castillo’s Burlesk Queen (1977), which was more Italian in its stridency and theatrical sensibility than any other Filipino neorealist sample before or since. The preference of the local audience for Hollywood gloss prevailed, however, and much of what may have been passed off as neorealist-inspired works, usually dealing with stories of lowlifes such as gangsters and prostitutes, may actually be regarded as crudely made exploitation products which sought legitimacy via their purveyance of sociopolitical awareness.

2. Cinéma verité. Some confusion has been encountered in the local adaptation of foreign documentary trends such as direct cinema and cinéma verité:

In their original senses, direct cinema seems to have implied direct access to life, while cinéma verité allowed or encouraged the intervention of the filmmaker as part of the “truth” being presented. In practice the two terms became rapidly confused with each other. (King 216)

Advancements in approaches to documentary filmmaking were primarily British in origin, from John Grierson’s public-service “First Principles” in the 1930s to Lindsay Andersen’s more formalistically accommodating “Free Cinema” in the 1950s (see “The Nonfiction Film Idea” section in Barsam 13-80). In a sense, the latter movement may also be seen as a response to the New Wave’s catholicity, all set to expand the boundaries set by Grierson by making distinctions between direct cinema and cinéma verité.

The fact that the latter term has prevailed implies that the distinctions may not be too crucial in the end. What matters more, especially in the local context, is the fact that nonfiction film in general has encountered resistance at the box office, more than it had in the US, where documentaries occasionally turned in profits through the­atrical releases. The last Filipino full-length 35mm. documentary film [ca. the mid-1990s], in fact, was Gil Portes’s 1979 release, Pabonggahan. Two possible implications may be drawn from here: first, the already obvious entrenchment of the classical Hollywood tradition; and second, the need to evolve methods and approaches to transform Philippine experience into the medium of commercial film – a difficulty that obtains even in the practice of feature filmmaking.

Local realists, particularly Castillo and Lino Brocka, have been able to indulge in a predilection for cinéma verité by incorporating documentary footage in some of their projects. In Pagputi ng Uwak, Pag-itim ng Tagak (1978), Castillo uses shots of rural Holy Week rituals to underscore the passion and suffering of his star-crossed lead charac­ters, a rebel leader and his lover, a plantation heiress. But where Castillo needed to polish his real-life footage in order to match the rest of his well-lit shots, Brocka has remained faithful to the cinéma verité dictum of minimizing technical manipulation. In Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975), urban squalor is amplified by being shot in black and white. This is initially segregated from the rest of the film by serving as its credit sequence, but the first fictional character is planted in the last black-and-white shot, which turns into color as the narrative begins. This marriage of nonfiction and fiction encounters more difficulty in scenes in Bayan Ko (Kapit sa Patalim) (1985) where the main characters appear in the midst of an actual anti-Marcos rally (cf. the staged version toward the climax of Maynila). The difference between the expert professionalism of the actors and the self-consciousness of the rallyists tends to distract from an otherwise well-intended presentation. In Sister Stella L. (1984), done by Brocka’s fellow film activist (and Maynila cinematographer) Mike de Leon, rally footage is appended as a form of coda. This serves to heighten an increasingly realistic presentation, with the dramatis personae directly addressing the camera toward the end. Brocka’s last completed film, Sa Kabila ng Lahat (1991), contains a relatively seamless integration of documentary and fictional footage, facilitated by the reflexive device of setting its characters in the profession of mass media documentarists.

3. Film noir. Another pre-New Wave trend was film noir. Because Chabrol, one of the founding practitioners of New Wave cinema, opted to specialize in it, film noir came to be associated with the French New Wave. The association was strengthened by the fact that the term (literally, black film) is French, and that Godard’s Breathless, a film-noir sample, is generally regarded as the first New Wave film, although it was actually preceded by Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. Breathless was also scripted by Truffaut – prior to the falling out between the two – and exhibited, more than The 400 Blows did, an awareness of film tradition (Monaco, The New Wave 113).

The French acknowledged Hollywood gangster films as the source of their film-noir aesthetic – although again, strictly speaking, gangster films were a Hollywood staple only during the first few years of the 1930s, until the Hays office decided to intervene and forbade overt gangster humanization. What became associated with gangster cinema later was actually an assortment of police, detective, spy, crime-caper, and combinative (with horror, musical, comedy, and other genres) narratives. Only after the successful New Wave film noir revival did Hol­lywood filmmakers feel compelled to reclaim what they felt was their own – which in turn started the trend in film violence that marked the impact of the New Wave on American cinema during the late sixties.

Aside from crossing continents, the gangster film also underwent a semantic shift in becoming film noir, from a generic to a stylistic designation. As specified by Paul Schrader, one of its theorist-practitioners, film noir in effect could deal with subject matter beyond gangsterism, so long as it maintained the genre’s stylistic properties of utilizing darkness and shadows to evoke an impression of contemporary social alienation and personal peril (“Notes on Film Noir” 169-82). Essential to this definition is the climatic properties of the temperate countries where film noir flourished – the misty atmosphere and grimy surfaces caused by fog and pollution that tended to acquire bright­ness and sharper detail in tropical settings. Hence Philippine samples of film noir, if faithful to the original models, may have appeared too foreign for local audiences to identify with, as evidenced in the poor showing at the box office of Brocka’s Jaguar (1979) and Angela Markado (1980) (Conrado Baltazar, cinematographer) and Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Alyas Baby Tsina (1984) (Manolo Abaya, cinematographer). Brocka, who pioneered in the introduction of film noir aesthetics in the country, later settled for a less authentic (relative to the foreign example) version, retaining the shadows but dispensing with the haze, in what has now become the industry norm for gangster films. In a sense, this merely recalls the earlier black-and-white Filipino gangster films, with the historical continuum disrupted by the transition to color (and the revision in aesthetics this entailed) and complicated by the decline in quality consciousness already mentioned.

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4. Ethnographic sources. Considered an important element of early documentary filmmaking, ethnographic sourcing saw filmmakers such as American Robert Flaherty going to Inuk country for Nanook of the North and anthropologists such as Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson traveling to Southeast Asian islands such as Bali in Indonesia (Heider 27-30). Grierson’s critique of “shimmying exoticisms,” particularly in Flaherty’s work, led to the following conclusion:

Theory of naturals apart, it represents an escapism, a wan and distant eye, which tends in lesser hands to sentimentalism. However it be shot through with vigor of Lawrencian poetry, it must always fail to develop a form adequate to the more immediate material of the modern world…. Loving every Time but his own, and every life but his own, [Flaherty] avoids coming to grips with the creative job in so far as it concerns society. (Grierson 19-22)

Along with American World War II propaganda, Grierson’s call for authenticity resulted in a spate of documentary subjects closer to home, as it were, and the filmmaker’s personal concerns. The contradiction in this position was provided at about the same time, but from the opposite camp, in what have ironically emerged as the most im­pressive wartime documentaries ever made – Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi-glorifying Triumph of the Will and Olympia.

By the time the New Wave rolled in, opinion was once more swinging to the other, more humanistic end, reinforced significantly by Bazin’s orientation. This swing complemented the internationalist projection of the New Wave, with most of the founding practitioners subsequently adapting on occasion the works of non-French (English, American, German) authors, and with Godard directly synthesizing global issues in his so-called Dziga-Vertov, or intensely political and anti-Hollywood, period. Other French and European filmmakers went farther in taking as subject matter the upheaval in the colonies of their respective countries, especially in Africa and Latin America (cf. Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers and the Caribbean-set Burn!). In other cases they had no choice, as when dictatorial regimes in East, Southeast, and Southwest Europe overtook democratic spells of creative film production. As in the flight from Nazism of some of the more outstanding German film expressionists, many of these practitioners sought refuge in Hollywood, but others produced their projects in whatever country obliged them at the moment, or organized coproductions involving as many as five financiers of various nationalities. Finally, international recognition bestowed on non-European films, starting with those from Asian countries like Japan, India, and the Philippines, added to the legitimization of non-Western topics for film discourse.

The equivalent of ethnographic subjects in Philippine cinema would be issues that are not urban-centered or -related inasmuch as Manila – and at one time or other in the past, Cebu and Baguio – has been the primary center for Filipino film production. The logical problem – presumption of familiarity with but actual alienation from the subject matter, leading to an unacceptable mix of naïveté and condescension – is compounded by the logistical and budgetary difficulties caused by out-of-town and even interisland exotic locales. A perfect example from the early part of “new” Philippine cinema is Gerardo de Leon’s last completed film, Banaue (1975).

During the latter portion of Marcos rule, the depiction of tribesfolk became commercially viable on local screens. But this was due to the cynical encouragement from martial law authorities, who exempted from censorship open sexual practices and female breast exposures if shown as part of tribal customs and costumes. Certain products like Eduardo Palmos’s Ang Babae sa Ulog (1981) and Lito Tiongson’s Hubad na Gubat (1982) took advantage of this ruling, but these premature forays into tribal topics did not convince audiences of the authenticity of the portrayals. When a controversy over ownership of intellectual property led to the simultaneous release in 1979 of Celso Ad. Castillo’s Aliw-iw and George Rowe’s Ang Dalagang Pinagtaksilan ng Panahon, both works flopped dismally. Since then, such subject matter has been considered financially infeasible.

5. Folk and popular sources. Folk sources of material for filmization observe roughly the same rationale outlined for ethnographic sources. Both contain the same tension between exotic and realist elements, and both have lately been delimited, but this time in differing ways. Folk sources, which during a more restrictive past provided recyclable subject matter, now have to compete with a wider array of potential topics containing just as much (if not more) sex, violence, and fantasy fulfillment. As in the Euro-American Bluebird and Japanese 47 Ronin stories, Philippine cinema used to have its Ibong Adarna tale, of which every film generation until the sixties expected to see a sober version. In fact, a pre-war Ibong Adarna film first betokened the arrival of color in the country. With the easing of limitations on choice of topic and increasing sophistication on the part of the local film audience, folk sources were utilized, but in a distant, self-referential manner, often expressed in the form of comic treatments.

On the other hand, popular sources have managed to constitute a staple, specifically in print-to-film crossovers provided by so-called komiks stories. The melodrama genre, for example, is practically dominated by the komiks sensibility. Most local melodramas are komiks adaptations, but even the original ones are infused with certain elements carried over from the printed medium, notably the episodic developments and changeability of character traits. Certain types of komiks film material have also tried to assume the appearance and origin of folk sources. Notable contemporary examples are Jun Raquiza’s Zuma films (1985 and 1988), but earlier sources, particu­larly Dyesebel and Darna movies, have proved even more durable. Recycling, however, will probably become more and more difficult in the future, partly because earlier versions may now be stored (in videocassette and probably digital format later) and thereby serve as bases for comparison (for example, a future Dyesebel version will have to reckon with the graphic nudity of the 1990 installment). Rather than play the intimidating game of meeting rising expectations, producers seem to be resorting to the contemporary Hollywood strategy of doing sequels and spin-offs instead – perhaps until the industry becomes financially capable of outdoing its past achievements.

6. Nostalgia. Period films have been a staple of most major national film centers, with the Guinness Book of World Records listing for many years the Hollywood product Gone with the Wind as the box-office winner of all time. As for nostalgia films in particular, they became a realization in mass media only with the advent of rock ‘n’ roll. This is primarily because rock ‘n’ roll and the more generic rock music that followed were successful expressions of the antiestablishment sentiments of Western youth – who would later grow up to become reminiscing baby boomers. The success of George Lucas’s American Graffiti made possible the transformation of the period film into not merely an accurate reconstruction of a bygone era, but also an evocative recol­lection of its emotional essences. In a sense, American Graffiti was predated in the West by Truffaut’s autobiographical Antoine Domel cycle (including his debut, The 400 Blows),a series of standardized works whose power lay in their capacity to summon a specific indi­vidual’s well-remembered and fully felt past. Moreover, as Monaco says,

it is through the control of his idiom that Truffaut overcomes the potential excesses of his sentiments. It is the dialectic be­tween what he says and how he says it that allows him to make a private film about film language at the same time as he makes a public film about the loves and labors of Antoine Doinel (The New Wave 36)

The difficulty with nostalgia, especially for a Third World country, is similar to the problem faced by the filmmaker dealing with ethnographic or folk sources: the creation of an inaccessible or nonexisting (actually a former) reality. Unlike the other possible sources of film scenarios, however, nostalgia holds a stronger appeal to an audience because it refers to a personal past, internal rather than an external one, its link with the viewers supplied by the viewers themselves, via the simple process of memory. This explains why nostalgia pieces remain more popular than other kinds of period films which require larger production budgets. In fact, even certain “epic” melodramas or action films are scripted to contain expository passages or flashbacks that depict past periods, while wholesale nostalgia productions like Maryo J. de los Reyes’s first film, High School Circa ’65 (1979), have been turning profitable for their financiers.

It would be easy to postulate that if the production of nostalgia pieces were financially possible, then there would be more local period films made. An alternative, however, has been suggested again by postmodern US experience, where the demand for nostalgia became so insistent that a form of instant recycling has emerged. For instance, a fad or trend product is packaged with a nostalgic slant, thus ensuring that those who patronize it will not only have strong or fond memories of it in the future (when it can be repromoted) but also be motivated to remain faithful to it, perhaps even endorse it to family and acquaintances. In film terms this translates to applying romanticization techniques (soft or shallow focus, color desaturation or B&W sepia tinting) and devices to contemporary subjects, thus presenting the present as if it were already past. Again, a de los Reyes film, Bagets (1984), has proved successful in this kind of pursuit.

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7. Surrealism and expressionism. One paradoxical element about film history is the fact that postrealist developments preceded real­ism. Actually the seminal filmic tendency was to capture reality in motion – an imperative based on the historical subsequence of cinema as, in effect, an extension of photography. But since early cinema could not be real enough, lacking both color and sound, prevalent notions of the fine arts naturally took over in countries where “high art,” as it was then considered, was in cultural dominance – such as surrealism in France and expressionism in Germany. Between the two, expressionism was to have a wider impact, partly because the severance from reality of its milder samples was not as extreme as that of surrealism and partly because its practitioners transplanted themselves to the world film capital, Hollywood, after their exile from Nazism. Expressionism also found its way to France – through the stylizations of both Hollywood musicals and gangster films. Surrealism, meanwhile, remained largely an avant garde concern, with only one practitioner, Luis Buñuel (whose career spanned several countries and all the major phases of cinema – silent and sound, pre-New Wave and after), managing to make an impression on the mainstream.

Buñuel’s first films, Un chien Andalou and L’age d’or (the first codirected and the second coscripted with Salvador Dali), can be called surrealist primarily because of their imagery. However, their content was conventionally expressed, at least enough to generate widespread controversy, with the second film getting banned for its frank anticlericalism. After a more experimentalist middle phase that included some well-received documentaries, Buñuel embarked upon his last salvo, a series of commercial successes that were at the same time critical and festival winners – Belle du jour, the trilogy comprising The Milky Way, The Phantom of Liberty, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and his last film, That Obscure Object of Desire (see Mellen). Viewed in this regard, the Buñuel oeuvre demonstrates a progression from a “fine” visual application of surrealism to a more literary and ideological thrust, wherein the visual aspect appears to be generally real or at least generic enough but the plot, characterization, theme, and logic could be entirely out of the ordinary.

Unfortunately, in the Philippines, surrealism remains fixated on the visual plane. Hence, where Buñuel was able to construct entire comedies out of surrealist material, graphic surrealist touches in Filipino movies are employed strictly for comic interludes, one of the better examples being the musical numbers in Mike de Leon’s Kakabakaba Ka Ba? (1982). Perhaps with a boost from a New Wave offshoot, film opera (subsequently listed), mature surrealism may yet be locally realized. Already the works of film opera practitioners Peque Gallaga (with codirector Lorenzo Reyes) and Chito Roño indicate promise in this direction.

8. Metaphysics and occultism. The fascination with the exotic, cou­pled with the profitability of spiritual treatments, has resulted in a dialectical quandary. Since Christianity had been appropriated by Western political enterprise, how can progressive artists satisfy the supposedly innate quest for visionary enlightenment? Thus spiritual impulses in the films of the founders of the New Wave were expressed in metaphysical terms, largely through the pursuit of ambiguities and the deployment ofa style that after the movement’s spread was eventually labeled “transcendental.” Other followers, especially those in Hollywood, were in turn compelled to seek possible answers in other systems of belief, whether supernatural or pseudoscientific. The upshot was a spate of extremely commercially viable American science-fiction products, including the outputs used by the so-called Hollywood Brats to wield some clout in the industry – Lucas’s Star Wars trilogy and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

It would take a considerable economic miracle before such feats could be duplicated here, but meanwhile a pre-Star Wars Hollywood top grosser, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, strongly suggested that deviations from regulated religious expressions could result in greater financial profitability. Hence, while the approximation of a transcendental style – more in the sense of “[eschewing] conventional interpretations of reality” than “[maximizing] the mystery of existence” (Schrader, Transcendental Style in Film 10) – had been pursued for a time by Ishmael Bernal, occultism found its way in the local horror genre, which had previously been Judaeo-Christian or lower-mythological (or a combination of both) in nature. Curiously, after Castillo confirmed the feasibility of new approaches to the horror genre with a trilogy comprising Bakit Dugo ang Kulay ng Gabi? (1974), Patayin Mo sa Sindak si Barbara (1974), and Maligno (1975), many similar efforts were done during the Second Golden Age by debuting directors: Lupita Kashiwahara with Magandang Gabi sa Inyong Lahat (1976), Mike de Leon with Itim (1976), Mario O’Hara with Mortal (1976), Butch Perez with Haplos (1982), Briccio Santos (in his first 16mm. work) with Damortis (1986), Tata Esteban’s experimentalist Alapaap (1984), and selected segments of Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata (1982). Among these new names, it is Gallaga who has opted to specialize in horror filmmaking, but with the incorporation of the more indigenously sourced older framework, possibly because of the generally uneven showing of occultist items, Mortal and Itim having been outright failures at the box office.

9. Pure film. Montage was the first film theory that claimed to be unique to the medium. It involved the application of dialectical principles to the (ca. silent era) elements of shots and cuts. Each shot was considered as existing in relation or opposition to other shots, so the juxtaposition of one with the rest constituted the synthesis of filmmaking (Andrew 51-53). Such an approach was modified to a great extent by two later developments: the arrival of sound, since the details of a scene that would have been normally shown in successive shots were now suggested instead by their sounds; and the introduction of deep focus, the basis of Bazin’s theory of realism, where the details that needed to be seen were now visually perceivable in a single shot because of the expansion of the plane of action to include foreground and background.

Montage, however, acquired a romanticist aura in Western democracies because of its suppression in the USSR in favor of the formalistically old-fashioned socialist realism (which itself would also wind up highly romanticist in outlook). Hence, montage has historically managed to persist, but in a less vital form, as in the television practice of indicating a temporal transition through a series of shots. The founders of the New Wave maintained a notion of cinema as primarily, sometimes exclusively, visual, since most foreign films in Langlois’s Cinémathèque were not dubbed or subtitled in French and therefore had to be appreciated mainly for their visual content. Most films by the members of this group contain passages distinguished by either the absence of dialog or the relegation of human sound to secondary importance.

Bernal is the only major Filipino director who has used montage in this manner. Most local directors resort to TV-style montage, in which the visuals are usually accompanied by theme music. Bernal’s primarily visual (and thereby partially or entirely silent) works – Nunal sa Tubig (1976) as a whole, most aspects of his portion in Bakit May Pag-ibig Pa? (1978), and the ending of Ikaw Ay Akin (1978) – raised the question of the appropriateness of a style that was branded by some members of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino as “Western” in nature (see Lumbera, Pelikula 240-43). A more practical reason why the attempt has not persisted to the present is the fact that the said films, despite the presence of commercial elements like sex and superstars, were disappointments at the box office. A permutation of pure film, however, can be seen in a newer type of execution, film opera, which will be tackled later.

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10. Reflexivity. Film semiotician Christian Metz, in “Mirror Construction in Fellini’s 8 1/2,” used the term inescutcheon construction in referring to “works of art that are divided and doubled, thus reflecting on themselves” (300-02). On the other hand, translator Michael Taylor opted for the term used in the essay’s title (mirror construction) to avoid the somewhat delimiting description of “a smaller shield placed at the center of a larger shield, and reproducing it in every detail, but on a smaller scale.” Metz so valorized 8 1/2 that if one were to adhere strictly to his well-argued appreciation, there would be one and only one movie conforming to his ideal at that point – none other than the very same film he was discussing. To be able to use Metz’s insights more productively, it may be better to look toward as wide a definition of this insight as possible, which Robert Stam offers in both his usage of the term reflexivity and his definition of it as “the process by which texts … foreground their own production, their authorship, their intertextual influences, their reception, or their enunciation” (xiii).

To be sure, the New Wave critics-practitioners were more expansive in their willingness and capability to exploit their considerable store of knowledge on film. Every film they made, in a manner of speaking, was a film on film (that is, the principles of the medium). One of the Hollywood directors held in high regard by them, Billy Wilder, had come up with Sunset Blvd. during their emergence – an act ascribable, according to Stam, to the filmmaker’s awareness of an earlier Cahiers debate on the capability of screenwriters as film authors (89). Fellini, for his part, had virtually threatened to wrest the sensation they had caused with his literally “personal” masterpiece. In the end, Godard, during his Dziga-Vertov period, directly and ag­gressively confronted the issue of how films create what they say, while Truffaut, in what may be regarded as the equivalent of New Wave classicism, directed Day for Night, a film more obviously (and in this sense, less formally) about the making of a film than 8 1 /2.

Metz acknowledged the existence of films that “only partially deserve to be called ‘mirror-construction’ works.” On the other extreme, he maintained that good reflexive films should be “doubled in on themselves,” thus suggesting that the outer and inner films reflect endlessly on each other. Between these two options lie a number of suc­cessful films on filmmaking, and perhaps the best example in Philippine cinema is still Bernal’s debut entry, Pagdating sa Dulo (see neorealist section). Brocka attempted a satirical attack first with Stardoom (1971) and much later with Kontrobersyal (1981). If we expand a consideration of the reflexive device to include other forms of mass media, then both filmmakers had actually been using self-referential portions in some of their better-received works. These, in chronological order, are: Bernal’s Nunal sa Tubig, Manila by Night (1980), Himala (1982), and Broken Marriage (1983); and Brocka’s Jaguar and Bona (1980) (preceding Kontrobersyal)and Bayan Ko, Macho Dancer (1989), Orapronobis, Gumapang Ka sa Lusak (1990), and Sa Kabila ng Lahat. Practically all the other major filmmakers of the Second Golden Age, including Celso Ad. Castillo, Mike de Leon, Peque Gallaga, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Laurice Guillen, Mel Chionglo, Maryo J. de los Reyes, and even post-Second Golden Age practitioners, like Chito Roño and Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, had at one time or another similarly employed such techniques in strictly isolated instances.

11. Film Opera. Asrelated in the introduction, the New Wave helped revitalize film activity in several European capitals, even in those which had recently undergone intensive aesthetic explorations in film. Italy is probably the best example. Before the war, Italian cinema had relied on superspectacles patterned after (and presumably determined to exceed) Hollywood. These historical fictions were highly reliant on

a taste, and a poor taste at that, for sets, idealization of the principal actors, childish emphasis on acting, atrophy of mise en scène, the dragging in of the traditional paraphernalia of bel canto and opera, conventional scripts influenced by the theater, the romantic melodrama and chanson de geste reduced to an adventure story. (Bazin 18)

The parallelisms with the Philippines under the Marcos regime are truly revealing. Fascist rule in both cases sought to provide as much incentive as possible for filmmaking, including the founding of such institutions as the Centro Sperimentale at Rome (Experimental Cinema of the Philippines in Manila) and the Venice Film Festival (Manila International Film Festival in our case).

Unlike in the Philippines, however, sensible film production in Italy outlasted the regime. This it managed to do by a transformation that amazed even observers who were already familiar with the French New Wave phenomenon. The younger neorealist practition­ers, led by Fellini (with La dolce vita and the reflexive 8 1/2) and Michelangelo Antonioni (with his existentialist trilogy L’avventura, La notte, and L’eclissi), returned to the aesthetics of the previous era, but with their neorealist and New Wave-influenced sensibilities intact. This resulted in visual spectacles that, instead of carrying the custom-built trademark of earlier Italian cinema, were intensely personal in nature, either immensely involving in the case of Fellini or strongly alienating in the case of Antonioni. Perhaps the most concrete proof that the neorealists had reverted to the past was that Luchino Visconti, one of the original neorealist filmmaking trinity that included Vittorio de Sica and Roberto Rossellini, had made nothing since except realistic films revolving around the theme of social decadence (Monaco, How to Read a Film 273-75). Even including more modest undertakings by the likes of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Francesco Rosi, the next generation of Italian filmmakers has continued the trend, starting with Bernardo Bertolucci and Marco Bellochio (who first earned for their works the descrip­tive term film opera), Ermanno Olmi and the brothers Vittorio and Paolo Taviani, and Lina Wertmuller and Liliana Cavani.

The emotional and theatrical affinities between Italians and Filipinos, overlaid by the domineering nature of the Latinate culture introduced by the Spaniards, no doubt contributed to the confidence of our local serious practitioners in adopting a neorealist pose, which however proved no match for the vitality (or, as nationalists would argue, vulgarity) of American film products. Film opera, in this respect, has enjoyed greater audience acceptance than neorealism, although, again, certain film sectors would look askance at an alternative that seems premised on certain characteristics of the very thing it seeks to supplant. Peque Gallaga has been the closest we have had to an authentic Italian film opera “composer,” with a trilogy of epics – Oro, Plata, Mata, Virgin Forest (1985), and (with Lore Reyes) Isang Araw Walang Diyos (1989) – that revel in panache without too much strain on credulity. More than their Hollywood counterparts, Filipino practitioners feel compelled to assert a status as “major” by indulging in stylized operatic gestures. Castillo has done so with a series of sociosexual metaphors, Bernal with Gamitin Mo Ako (1985), Brocka with Macho Dancer, Mike de Leon with Batch ’81 (1982) rather than the rock-operatic Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, Marilou Diaz-Abaya with Karnal (1983) and Alyas Baby Tsina, Laurice Guillen with Salome (1981), even Maryo J. de los Reyes with Tagos ng Dugo (1987) and Elwood Perez with Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit (1989). Among the newer generation, however, it is Chito Roño who, with Private Show (1986), Itanong Mo sa Buwan (1988), and especially Bakit Kay Tagal ng Sandali? (1990), seems capable of executing a kind of film opera that is intrinsic to the filmmaker’s style, not dependent on the usual (and expensive) distension of resources.

12. Radical politics. A significant event during the French New Wave years was the attempted ouster of Henri Langlois from the Cinémathèque Française by then Culture Minister André Malraux. It was early winter 1968 during the government of Charles De Gaulle:

Led by Godard, Truffaut, and their colleagues, the French film community took to the streets in support of the orotund, genial packrat. Not a few historical commentators regard those February demonstrations as the first manifestation of the spirit that was to bloom in May and June of that year. A political revolution had begun with an argument over film! (Monaco, The New Wave 11-12)

Of course, by this time the response by the Cahiers group was not entirely unexpected. Alain Resnais, considered a fellow proponent of the New Wave, though not a critic-articulator like the others, came up with Hiroshima mon amour in the year The 400 Blows was released. His was a more overtly political film debut than those of any of the Cahiers critics. Resnais followed through with La guerre est finie, about the aftermath of the Communist antifascist resistance in Spain. The New Wave founders similarly exhibited a left-leaning political sensibility that almost never really became the focal point of their works, except for Godard. This occasioned the predominance of Marxist poli­tics (plus a renewal of Freudian psychoanalysis, as we will see later) in all the other national contexts where the New Wave was to take hold.

The Philippines was ripe for such a confrontational positioning between film artists as good guys and the martial law government as the villain, with the audience as the perceived victims and industry bigwigs as essential enemies but also potential tactical allies. The New Wave fortunately provided, in a system that claimed to be liberal and democratic, the best kind of defense available: artistry. It had been successfully invoked in the US to justify the importation of an allegedly immoral European movie, Vilgot Sjoman’s I Am Curious (Yellow), and the libertarian indulgence (whether in terms of importation or production) that followed extended to politically controversial ma­terial. Filipino filmmakers followed suit during the early seventies with a series of sex films, but after martial law, political commentaries accompanied the revival of sexual treatments in local cinema.

Brocka was, of course, the instigator in this regard, with Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag expanding on the small-town critique proffered by Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (1974); Jaguar, PX (1982), Miguelito: Batang Rebelde (1985), and Bayan Ko were all to follow in an increasingly open denunciation of Marcos rule, but even less overtly political works like Insiang (1976), Bona, Angela Markado, and Cain at Abel (1982) implicated the regime for its ethos of violence and the widespread poverty in the country. Right after Maynila but before the militarization of the censors board, Filipino filmmakers were emboldened to embark on political (and sexual) critiques on film. Behn Cervantes did Sakada (1976), which was subsequently banned, and much later shared a stint in prison with Brocka, who was then agitating for his own prohibited work, Bayan Ko. Lupita Kashiwahara dealt with the abuses traceable to the presence of US military bases in Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo (1976), shortly before going into self-exile, ironically in the US Mike de Leon followed Brocka’s example (and shared his Cannes limelight) with a series of politically consistent though generically disparate titles – Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, Kisapmata (1981), Batch ’81, and Sister Stella L. Castillo, whose Burlesk Queen angered the cultural establishment for its castigation of moral hypocrisy, tackled rural unrest in Pagputi ng Uwak, Ang Alamat ni Julian Makabayan (1979), and Pedro Tunasan (1983). Bernal’s near-abstract approach in Nunal sa Tubig didnot distract its critics from noting its execration of the government’s industrialization policies, while his formally innovative discourse (see last section) on lumpenproletarian issues, Manila by Night, was also banned and subjected to the worst mangling of any local movie ever. Subsequent Bernal titles, notably Ito Ba ang Ating mga Anak? (1982), Himala, Relasyon (1982), Broken Marriage (1983), Hinugot sa Langit (1985), and the post-Second Golden Age Pahiram ng Isang Umaga (1989), shared a melodramatic bent, but within an atypical framework of social disillusionment. Other filmmakers – notably O’Hara with Kastilyong Buhangin (1980), Bulaklak sa City Jail (1984), Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak (1987); Gil Portes with ‘Merika (1984), Bukas … May Pangarap (1984), Andrea, Paano Ba ang Maging Isang Ina? (1990); Roño with Private Show, Itanong Mo sa Buwan, Bakit Kay Tagal ng Sandali?; Diaz-Abaya with Brutal (1980), Moral (1982), Karnal, Alyas Baby Tsina; and Guillen with Kasal? (1980) and Salome – worked in a similar vein. However, even Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon … Paano Kayo Ngayon? (1976), which was criticized for being too conciliatory for the interests of nationalism, drew from leftist historian Renato Constantino’s thesis on the evolution of the term Filipino (147-48). Gallaga, whose epic trilogy (see film opera section) was deemed reactionary, provided sufficient political ambiguity in portraying the moral decline of the bourgeoisie, the mercenary motives of imperialists, and the inhumanity of right-wing fanatics. Final proof of the politicization of local film artists lay in the antiestablishment attitudinizing assumed ironically by a class of works, sex films, reviled by the antiestablishment forces themselves for supposedly contributing to the regime’s objectives of providing a semblance of free­dom while at the same time forcing the mass audience to lose sight of the issues at hand.

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13. Sexual Libertarianism. A straightforward approach to sexual topics had long been a component of European, and especially French, art and literature, fortified by the rise of the realist movement. In cinema, the inhibition brought about by the public nature of the medium, compounded by its susceptibility to establishment control, was swept away, along with other unreasonable (and perhaps a few resonable) restrictions, by the New Wave. The resulting openness had an air of defiance about it at first, later settling down to nonchalance. In cases, however, where the threat of repression remained, the depiction of sexuality retained its tone of defiance, as witness the sex films from the US, Italy, and the Philippines against those, for instance, from France and Sweden:

If, in today’s sex films, the “pornographic” element predominates, this is because they are produced within the context of a sexually repressed society. The huge financial success of the hardcore films cannot be explained in any other manner. (Vogel 219-20)

In the Philippines, the usually exploitative genre of sex films was itself exploited by Ferdinand Marcos, who may yet prove to be the most accomplished media manipulator among all Philippine presidents thus far. Lumbera (“Pelikula” 216) has suggested a reconsideration of the premartial law bomba film as “a subversive genre in which the narrative pretends to uphold establishment values when it is actually intent on undermining audience support for corrupt and outmoded institutions.” The description, however, may apply more appropriately to the late Marcos-era movies exhibited, often exclusively, at the Manila Film Center (MFC). Sometimes out of sheer desperation, these managed to reflect artistic aspirations, if not genuine artistry, in their presenta­tions. Among the bomba era’s quality outputs, only a handful – Castillo’s Nympha (1971), Bernal’s Pagdating sa Dulo, and Brocka’s Tubog sa Ginto (1971) – may be considered worthy of comparison with the MFC’s integral presentations of Bernal’s Manila by Night and Gamitin Mo Ako, Diaz-Abaya’s Moral and Karnal, Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata, Scorpio Nights (1985), and Virgin Forest, Castillo’s Paradise Inn (1985), Mel Chionglo’s Sinner or Saint (1984), and Tikoy Aguiluz’s Boatman (1984), among many others. Even well-received post-Second Golden Age titles like Roño’s Private Show and William Pascual’s Takaw Tukso (1986) were apparently also intended for exhibition in the same (but now defunct) venue. From the intervening period (referred to as the “bold” era) are titles that include Bernal’s Mister Mo, Lover Boy Ko (1974), Ligaw na Bulaklak (1976), and Nunal sa Tubig, Castillo’s Burlesk Queen, Diaz-Abaya’s Brutal (1980), and Guillen’s Salome. Brocka, although repudiating the MFC, did not shy away from such subject matter, as evidenced in Insiang and a number of lesser works that include Init (1978), Hot Property (1983), and White Slavery (1985).

More significant was Brocka’s tackling of homosexuality at regular intervals, from his early Tubog sa Ginto to Ang Tatay Kong Nanay (1978) in his middle period (with peripheral gay characters in Maynila, Mananayaw [1978], and Palipat-lipat, Papalit-palit [1982]) to Macho Dancer in 1989. The gay character assumed a more realistic, if not always sympathetic, treatment during the Second Golden Age, scoring points in otherwise straight milieux in Scorpio Nights and Moral, and assuming lead character capability, in all his flaming glory, in Manila by Night. Gays managed to sustain high visibility afterward, but at the risk of comic treatments bordering on ridicule, culminating in the rise and fall of Roderick Paulate. Lesbians also had their share of exposure, but in a different manner.

14. Feminism. An unintentional byproduct of the sexual libertarianism of the New Wave was its catalysis of questions on women, especially in Hollywood cinema. At a time when dominant views and values held sway, women’s roles could be seen from a lesser-of-two-evils perspective: better a weak woman character, who at least conformed to Judaeo-Christian prescriptions, than an exploited actress.

But with the successful breaking down of barriers on basic taboos such as the filmic presentation of nudity, foul language, and sexual activity, the so-called defenders of morality premised their case partly on the exploitation of women as sex objects. The return to an era of repression, however, never came about, since most international New Wave entries were artistically superior and because these same films, not to mention countless inferior ones, proved good for business. Hence, the issue of the exploitation of women, once it was raised by latter-day feminists, assumed an urgency that was informed with an enlightened perspective without the puritanical objectives of the earlier objectors.

In a comprehensive study of political film theory, Robert Lapsley and Michael Westlake argue that

the politics of gender has effectively displaced the politics of class within film theory. The impetus for this shift came from the resurgence of the women’s movement in the late 1960s, when, in addition to such longer-standing concerns as women’s economic exploitation, political exclusion, and cultural disadvantaging, questions of feminine identity and of the representation of women were perceived to be of central importance. (23)

Lapsley and Westlake continue by describing the feminist project in cinema in two consecutive albeit possibly overlapping stages (23-24). First, there was consciousness raising, comprising “a denunciation of the greater part of Hollywood’s output,” the conduct of debate regarding the value of current American films claiming to be responsive to women’s criticisms, and the recovery of “a lost history of women’s filmmaking in various capacities…paralleled by a condemnation of the industry for its near-total domination by men in these crucial productive sectors.” Second, there was a diverging of ways into poststructuralism on the one hand, where “there is no possibility of a final word, no encompassing meta-discourse,” and into a potential impasse on the other hand, attributable “to the anti-essentialism common to both structuralism and poststructuralism” and posing to those inclined in this direction the risk of appearing to indict or critique patriarchy “only on the grounds of some kind of aesthetic preference” (30-31). In the Philippine context, a residual form of female predominance, attributed to pre-Hispanic ideologies (see Infante), may be acknowledged as the source of the shape and direction of certain significant aspects of contemporary cultural, religious, and social life, including the current ascendency of women in political affairs. By way of proof, most old Filipino films (at least those still in existence) provided major roles for women. The emergence of feminist film consciousness during the 1980s has only served to strengthen women characters, and threatens to demolish the last bastions of machismo in local cinema (that is, the action and sex film genres). It is also possible to assert that gay awareness has somehow served to complement female, if not feminist, imperatives in cinema, as witness the increase in sexual aggressiveness now allowed women protagonists, coupled with the demand for physically desirable male performers (compared with those of earlier film decades) even in action and sex films.

Alongside this heightening of feminist awareness was the breakthrough of two women directors, who managed to live up to the unfairly higher expectations brought to bear on their sex: Laurice Guillen and Marilou Diaz-Abaya. The two followed the more politically positioned Lupita Kashiwahara (and Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo scriptwriter Marina Feleo-Gonzalez) of an earlier film generation. Guillen and Diaz-Abaya, the latter especially, profited from an association with Ricardo Lee, who began a series of discourses on the Filipina with the scripts he wrote for both directors. The two leading Philippine female stars, Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos, also came around to appropriating strong roles and investing these with competent, sometimes brilliant, interpretations. The rest of the major Filipino directors and actresses followed suit, and the transformations have been practically all-encompassing. Now martyr wives or mothers are expected to eventually take command of their fates and families. The women of action heroes may still settle for supporting capacities, but compensate for lessened screen exposure by coming on strong (as domineering wives and mothers and demanding girlfriends or mistresses). Even morally wayward seductresses are no longer expected to always redeem themselves through tragic comeuppances.

Diaz-Abaya’s Brutal was hailed upon its release as the first feminist Filipino film, although it was actually preceded by a number of prowomen, if not strong-women, titles including Bernal’s Mister Mo, Lover Boy Ko, Lumapit … Lumayo ang Umaga (1975), Dalawang Pugad … Isang Ibon (1977), Lagi na Lamang Ba Akong Babae? (1978), and Aliw (1979); Brocka’s Insiang, Inay (1977), Mananayaw, Rubia Servios (1978), Ina, Kapatid, Anak (1979), and Ina Ka ng Anak Mo (1979); Danny Zialcita’s Hindi sa Iyo ang Mundo, Baby Porcuna (1978); O’Hara’s Tatlong Taóng Walang Diyos (1976); Castillo’s Burlesk Queen; and, of course, Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo. Brutal, however, offered a systematization up to that point of the character types of women in local cinema (and popular culture as well), plus an unqualifiably prowomen synthesis of the contradictions they encounter in Philippine society. It would help to recall that alongside the other local films on women released before Brutal were several Hollywood titles with an analogous orientation, notably Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman, Woody Alien’s Annie Hall, Martin Ritt’s Norma Rae, and the Jane Fonda starrers, Alan J. Pakula’s Klute and Comes a Horseman, Hal Ashby’s Coming Home, Fred Zinnemann’s Julia, and James Bridges’s The China Syndrome. These, perhaps more than the debut of American filmmakers Claudia Weill, Joan Darling, and Joan Micklin Silver, helped confirm for Philippine filmmakers and audiences the viability and validity of women as subjects in cinema.

Succeeding Brutal was a more formally daring (see next section) film by the same director, Moral, and by Guillen, Salome. All three titles were scripted by Lee. Diaz-Abaya’s subsequent films on women, though, seemed to have been sidetracked by an obsession with film opera stylizations, in effect presenting purportedly realist material in an unrealistic, albeit impressive, manner. Bernal, for his part, overtook Brocka with highly sympathetic depictions of the plights of various Filipina professionals caught up in social contradictions: the middle-class mistress in Relasyon, the rural faith healer in Himala, the business-district employees in Working Girls (1984), and, in 1989, the dying executive in Pahiram ng Isang Umaga. Mike de Leon delineated a nun’s awakening toward political activism in Sister Stella L. O’Hara had underworld types in Condemned (1984), Bulaklak sa City Jail (the only notable feminist film scripted by a woman during this period), and Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak. More important, the censorship-exemption spell instituted by Marcos profited to a significant degree from such consciousness, notwithstanding the expressions of outrage from moralist sectors. The relevant titles men­tioned in the sexual-libertarian section, for example, were more often than not careful in providing women characters with sufficient motivations and humane (if not politically viable) resolutions.

Complainants, of course, zeroed in on the exceptions, which similarly profited from a cynical exploitation of women’s issues in order to justify graphic portrayals of female anatomies in near or outright pornographic situations. Another problem was the appropriation of feminist exigencies in the pursuit of reactionary-propagandistic ploys. Finally, the portrayal of lesbianism also lagged behind the gains posted by male gays in local cinema. Zialcita’s T-Bird at Ako (1982) saw its tomboy character being converted by a casual encounter with an exponent of machismo, a treatment to be repeated in Pepe Marcos’s Tubusin Mo ng Dugo (1988) and reveling in its inequity in the various Roderick Paulate films that paired the star with Maricel Soriano (that is, the lesbian turned het-woman while the gay remained gay in the end). Meanwhile, the lesbian in Moral, though not condemned outright, was also accorded less significance than the gay male couple who interacted with one of the major characters. Most other lesbian characters, including one in Diaz-Abaya’s Alyas Baby Tsina and a leading role in Ben Yalung’s Basag ang Pula (1983), were assigned villain roles, while another in Carlo J. Caparas’s Celestina Sanchez, Alyas Bubbles (Enforcer: Ativan Gang) (1990) observed tragic film noir progressions. Only in recent releases, notably Chionglo’s Isabel Aquino: I Want to Live! (1991) and Portes’s Class of ’91 (1991), have lesbians acquired recognizable dimensions and maintained their sexuality consistently throughout – possibly a long-overdue indication of better things to come.

15. Multiple-character format. The adaptation of novelistic techniques to film, heralded by Bazin in his critique of the neorealist film The Bicycle Thief (58-59), actually had much farther to go even then. Stream of consciousness, for example, could not be effectively carried over into classical cinema beyond the too obviously literary voice-over narration of the character(s) involved. A similar dilemma appears in the issue of how best to portray, if it were ever possible in the first place, magic realism in film. On the other hand, the medium was a natural from the very beginning for many other storytelling devices, particularly the usage and development of symbols, the shifts in perspectives and points of view, and the poetization of even the most realistically mundane imagery. An older story format was the multiple-character narrative, utilized in bare linear form in such canonic Western samples as The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales. Cinema proved receptive to this method, with the French themselves coming up, on the eve of the New Wave, with works like Max Ophuls’s La ronde and Rene Clair’s Beauties of the Night. But then novelists, with complementary efforts from playwrights, were seeking to further refine multicharacter presentations in the direction of allowing each character equal emphasis throughout the work, rather than giving them mere episodic prominence that makes way for the next lead and episode. In cinema, this entailed technical developments that were to be attempted during the New Wave and perfected in its American arrival. Bazin’s theory of realism (expounded in “The Ontology of the Pho­tographic Image” and “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema” in vol. 1: 9-16 and 23-40 resp.) postulated the supersedure of montage by deep-focus technique, since the need to cut from detail to detail within a scene could now be fulfilled by simply arranging all the necessary elements according to the maximization of foreground, middleground, and background. Works like Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane and Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game were cited as exemplifications of this principle. However, Bazin’s assumption rested on the perception that film was a visual medium, no more, no less. It was the Cahiers group’s tinkering with film sound, especially in the works of Truffaut and Godard, that suggested that further innovations could be realized in the aural dimension. While Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel may be considered a relatively fulfilled precursor, it took an American, Robert Altman, to demonstrate (sometimes at the expense of getting fired from film assignments) the workability of having two or more equally im­portant lines of dialog delivered simultaneously. From M*A*S*H, a Cannes festival winner, he progressed to increasingly complex films. His Nashville had twenty-four characters act and speak out their stories, often at the same time and to stunning effect. Prior to this, other filmmakers had already taken the cue, albeit on smaller scales – Lucas with American Graffiti and Truffaut with his reflexive Day for Night; Altman himself was to attempt the Nashville pattern more than once thereafter, but never seemed to be able to muster the right combination of innocence, exuberance, political sophistication, and affection for character that Nashville displayed.

The multiple-character format, in its outward spread, became a supergenre of sorts, since each character could be associated with an appropriate film style or technique unique from the rest. Also, even relatively impoverished industries could utilize it, since all it really required was the careful execution of in-depth composition and simultaneous film sound, both of which are minimum modern-day industrial capabilities in the first place. The Philippines saw a precursor in Gregorio Fernandez’s Malvarosa (1958), but the first conscious emulation of Altman’s triumph in Nashville can be seen in Bernal’s Nunal sa Tubig and Brocka’s Lunes, Martes, Miyerkules, Huwebes, Biyernes, Sabado, Linggo (1976). Although Nunal sa Tubig was the bigger flop at the box office (partly because it was bigger-budgeted), it also managed to stir up some critical exchanges among the members of the Manunuri, mainly because of its philosophical and pure-film orientation. Between Bernal and Brocka, it was the former who would thereafter pursue the creation of multicharacter Philippine movies, coming up with Aliw, Manila by Night, Bilibid Boys (1981), Ito Ba ang Ating mga Anak?, The Graduates (1986), and the Working Girls movies (1984 and 1987). Brocka would make what appears to be a reluctant attempt with Miguelito, while Diaz-Abaya would fare much better with Brutal and Moral. The format it­self characterized the more mature outputs of filmmakers during their career peaks, as can be seen in Gallaga’s epics, O’Hara’s Bulaklak sa City Jail and Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak, Mike de Leon’s Kakabakaba Ka Ba? and Batch ’81, and de los Reyes’s Bagets and High School Circa ’65. Even extremes of mainstream outputs, like Castillo’s sex films and Zialcita’s comic melodramas on the one hand and alternative format and media items on the other, attest to the flexibility of the approach and the maturation of an audience capable of attending to what is actually a complex audiovisual narrative presentation.

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Looking Further

Running through this enumeration of fifteen samples of film trends are a number of insights (not to mention film titles) that tend to recur. Three of these may be taken up as areas for further consideration, inasmuch as their bearing on Philippine cinema extends to the present, and any modifications or qualifications of their respective conditions would tend to have great impact on local cinema as both artistic and industrial endeavor.

The first concerns what may be termed the Hollywood route. The influences of international film movements have, for better or worse, consistently entered the local mainstream through their Americanized versions. In a sense, this can be argued as investing non-Hollywood innovations with inherent disadvantages relative to Hollywood classicism. In fact, at least one local argument, that of Emmanuel A. Reyes, avers that our prominent neorealist and social realist titles actually observe the norms of classical Hollywood narrative cinema, while the mainstream products are inclined to violate certain principles of the “unified, logical and tight structure of the classical narrative” (9). This view glosses over the fact that it was the local mainstream that sought to emulate Hollywood, and that its peculiarities were merely provisional concessions to local audience demands, since further “developments” since then have tended to approach the Hollywood ideal. Moreover, classical unities were properties generally shared by the output of both Hollywood and neorealist practitioners, so one would need to look into other aspects of the work (the choice of subject matter, first of all) in order to arrive at final distinctions.

At the moment the pressing challenge from observing the Hollywood model lies in industrial, rather than aesthetic, terms. American film currently can be approached as an extension of video and television, and the implications for product realignment have been overwhelming. Films produced according to such a system should ordinarily be more intimate and make allowances for possible breaks in packaging and broadcasting. In addition, topics should be selected and treated according to how well they can balance attention in relation to both presentation and other homeviewing activities, without either one succeeding in distracting the viewer from the other. In the Philippines, the incursion of film producers into TV may betoken an acknowledgment of the Hollywood trend, but whether this means a coping with or a copping out – is the question.

The next problematic area comprises physical and cultural contexts. To be sure, certain specialized sectors of the Philippine audience – film artists, educators, buffs even – maintain awareness of the original circumstances and ideologies behind particular movements in cinema, especially when these present implications for local applications. Both the spread of video and the increasing mobility in and affordability of overseas travel conspire to promote a more accurate global awareness of trends and situations alien to one’s own specific contexts. But since we acquire our filmic innovations (along with the requisite technologies) more or less directly from Hollywood, with a view toward such other Asian film centers as Japan and Hongkong necessarily as much Hollywood-bound as Hollywood-devouring, the transformation of a non-American influence becomes all that much harder to trace, much less rationalize. How much of the change between, say, a New Wave feature and the Philippine version was furnished by Hollywood, and how much simply resulted from the attempt to make it acceptable to Filipino viewers? More important, what is the significance of any specific innovation of foreign non-American origin, and how will it fit and fare in this country, assuming it arrives one way or another?

The last area concerns the role of institutions. Without doubt the intervention of government during the Marcos years affected the course of local film aesthetics and production, just as the growing wave in current film education promises to play a similar part in future. The relationships are more complex and contradictory than they might ap­pear on the surface. It is easy to conclude, for example, that the Marcos government was actually supportive of Filipino film artists, on the basis of the consistently high quality of output during the Marcos years. Historical responsibility however requires us to go be­yond an inspection of the products themselves, to the policies and machinations of the institutions in force during the period. In certain cases, admirable projects were produced despite overt restriction and covert harassment, then the restricting institution would turn around and encourage some form of productive or even creative activity and yield just as admirable productions. Further complicating this issue is the role in both local production and local and foreign exhibition played by an entity that, for the sake of convenience, may still be called Hollywood, and represented in the Philippines by a highly in­fluential lobby of foreign-film distributors.

All that this makes clear is the reality that the study of Philippine cinema still has some lengths to go in order to provide more useful lessons and insights for the future. The scope and complexity may appear daunting, but perhaps what should be kept in mind is the fact that there has been no medium more controversial, popular, and rewarding – and in several senses as well.

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Works Cited

Andrew, J. Dudley. The Major Film Theories: An Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Barsam, Richard Meran, ed. Nonfiction Film Theory and Criticism. New York: Dutton, 1976.

Barthes, Roland. “From Writing Degree Zero.” Sontag 31-61.

———. “Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives.” Sontag 251-95.

Bazin, André. What is Cinema? Vols. 1 & 2. Trans. Hugh Gray. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968 & 1971 resp.

Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1979.

Bordwell, David, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson. The Classical Hol­lywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Constantino, Renato. The Philippines: A Past Revisited. Quezon City: Tala, 1975.

David, Joel. “Bienvenido Lumbera: Critic in Academe.” National Midweek (April 4, 1990): 20-22, 46.

———. The National Pastime: Contemporary Philippine Cinema. Pasig: Anvil, 1990.

Grierson, John. “First Principles of Documentary (1932-1934).” Barsam 19-30.

Heider, Karl G. Ethnographic Film. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976.

Infante, Teresita R. “The Woman in Early Philippines and Among the Cultural Minorities.” Thesis. University of Sto. Tomas, 1975.

King, Allan. “Structured Fictions” (excerpt from a 1971 interview by Alan Rosenthal). Realism and the Cinema: A Reader. Ed. Christopher Williams. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980. 216-18.

Lapsley, Robert, and Michael Westlake. Film Theory: An Introduction. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988.

Lumbera, Bienvenido. “Nunal sa Tubig Revisited.” The Urian Anthology 1970-1979. Ed. Nicanor G. Tiongson. Metro Manila: Morato, 1983.

———. “Problems in Philippine Film History.” Revaluation: Essays on Philippine Literature, Cinema and Popular Culture. Quezon City: Index, 1984. 193-212.

———. “Pelikula: An Essay on Philippine Film.” Tuklas Sining: Essays on the Philippine Arts. Ed. Nicanor G. Tiongson. Manila: Sentrong Pangkultura ng Pilipinas, 1991.

Mast, Gerald, and Marshall Cohen, eds. Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Mellen, Joan, ed. The World of Luis Buñuel: Essays in Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Metz, Christian. “Mirror construction in Fellini’s 8 1/2.” Great Film Directors: A Critical Anthology. Ed. Leo Braudy and Morris Dickstein. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. 299-304.

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

———. How to Read a Film: The Art, Technology, Language, History, and Theory of Film and Media. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Reyes, Emmanuel A. Notes on Philippine Cinema. Manila: De La Salle University Press, 1989.

Ryan, Michael, and Douglas Kellner. Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

Schrader, Paul. “Notes on Film Noir.” Film Genre Reader. Ed. Barry Keith Grant. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986. 169-82.

———. Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972.

Sontag, Susan, ed. A Barthes Reader. New York: Hill and Wang, 1982.

Stam, Robert. Reflexivity in Film and Literature: From Don Quixote to Jean-Luc Godard. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

Vogel, Amos. Film as a Subversive Art. New York: Random, 1974.

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Source Exchange for “Critic in Academe”

This is a direct transcript, in the original Taglish, of three cassette tapes used during two interview sessions with Bienvenido Lumbera, then a Professor of Philippine Studies at the University of the Philippines, Director of the UP Film Center (attached to the College of Mass Communication), and founding member of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Filipino Film Critics Circle); the sessions were held at his office at Room 3104 of the UP Faculty Center. Lumbera completed a doctorate in comparative literature at Indiana University in 1968 and was arrested for alleged subversion during the martial law era. He had published Revaluation: Essays on Philippine Literature, Cinema, and Popular Culture ([Quezon City]: Index, 1984) and Tagalog Poetry, 1570-1898: Tradition and Influences in Its Development (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1986) by the time the published version of the interview came out; his subsequent books would include Likhang Dila, Likhang Diwa (Pasig: Anvil, 1993), Writing the Nation / Pag-akda ng Bansa (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2000), and Re-viewing Filipino Cinema (Manila: Anvil, 2011), as well as a revised version of Revaluation. He would also thereafter win the Ramon Magsaysay Award and be declared a National Artist of the Philippines as well as a UP Professor Emeritus.

Midweek - Bien Lumbera interview

The published version of the interview – restructured, translated to English, and comprising only about a third of this transcript – was titled “Bienvenido Lumbera,” and announced on National Midweek magazine’s cover as “Critic in Academe” (April 4, 1990: 20-22, 46). Prior to editing the interview for publication, I had asked him if he wanted to revise or withhold any answers that I had recorded, specifying a now-inactive reviewer that he mentioned; he insisted on keeping everything public. The fact that this and other detours into what appeared to be certain pet issues didn’t appear in the edited (and translated) version of this interview had more to do with relevance and a limited word count. [Many thanks to Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr., founding Chair of the Young Critics Circle and my then-cohost in DZUP’s “Kritika” program, for help in formulating the questions; and to Theo Pie for assisting in the transcription and revisions.]

Session I: January 10, 1990

Let’s begin with your directorship of the UP Film Center. Is there anything new that you intend to do?

Well, I came to the Film Center as a director who was expected to put into effect the attachment of the Film Center to the College of Mass Communication. And this meant that I was entering the center anticipating certain problems. The previous director and her staff had resisted the attachment to the CMC for a number of reasons and therefore, my entry into the scene meant that initially, I was going to encounter certain difficulties in running the Film Center. There is still some lingering resistance to the idea of attachment. However, I’ve been able to get cooperation from the members and the staff. Now, the full implementation of the attachment has not yet been carried out, but I expect that within this academic year, the mechanics of that will have been worked out. Ang unang dahilan kung bakit hindi kaagad maisakatuparan ang attachment ay ang pangangailangan na maisaayos muna ang organisasyon ng Film Center. At yung pagsasaayos na yon ay nagawa na – meron na ngayong organizational structure na siya naming kasalukuyang sinusunod. Merong apat na bahagi ang Film Center, ang administration section, tapos research and information section, then we have archives and cinematheque section, then we have production and training section. So itong apat na section ay bale pagmumulan ng mga proyekto na isasakatuparan sa loob ng darating na taon.

Isn’t it right na kung hindi maisakatuparan ang attachment e hindi maisasagawa ang mga proyekto ninyo?

No, hindi naman sa ganon, pero yung attachment kasi merong signal para sa academic community – na ang Film Center ay hindi hiwalay sa buhay ng akademiya, na ito ay aktibong bahagi ng akademiya, at ang mga program nito at saka ginagawa nito, mga proyekto nito, ay may kinalaman sa direksyon na nais tunguhin ng unibersidad. So, sa tingin ko, nung mga nakaraang taon kumilos ang Film Center na wala namang attachment. So that means it can continue to function on its own. However as I see the mandate that was given to me, ang kailangan ay maiayon ang Film Center sa mga tunguhin ng unibersidad, sa particular, sa mga tinutunguhan ng CMC. Halimbawa, yung pag-ugnay ng Film Center sa industriya ng pelikula sa Pilipinas, isang pagkilala na ang industriyang ito ay may papel na ginagampanan sa lipunang Pilipino, at ang Film Center ay makakatulong upang makaambag ang unibersidad doon sa gawain ng pelikula, bilang isang anyo ng kultura na lubhang epektibo.

May kinalaman ba itong bagong direksyon ng Film Center sa iyong mga mungkahi sa iyong mga nakaraang sinulat?

Oo. Unang-una, interesado ako na ang pag-aaral ng pelikula ay magkaroon ng status sa akademiya. Bale nais kong makita na sa mga darating na panahon, ang pelikula at ang pag-aaral nito ay kinikilalang bahagi ng gawaing pang-akademiko, na hindi ito isang dibersyon, hindi ito pagkahilig lamang sa mga artista, na hindi ito isang pampalipas-oras, na ito ay may mahalagang sinasabi tungkol sa lipunang Pilipino. Ang ganitong pananaw by binigyan ng pormal na anyo nang buksan ang serye ng mga pelikulang Cubano sa Film Center noong Nobyembre o Disyembreng nakaraan, at doon sa pagkakataong yon, pinahayag ng UP Film Center ang oryentasyon nitong pang-Ikatlong Daigdig. Sa programa namin, kinilala ang mga filmmaker na gumagawa ng pelikula sa iba’t ibang bansa sa Ikatlong Daigdig – sa Asya, Afrika, at Amerika Latino. Inaasahan namin na sa mga darating na taon, magkakaroon ng pagkakataon ang mga mag-aaral ng UP at ang manonood ng pelikula sa Kamaynilaan na makakita ng mga pelikulang Afrikano at saka mas marami pang pelikulang Amerika Latino at Asyano.

May mga problema sa pag-aaral ng history ng Philippine Cinema na sinulat niyo. Are you envisioning the Film Center to take charge of these?

Yes. Ang research and information section ay merong research and publication projects at ang isang tinatanaw na gagawin ng section na ito ay ang pananaliksik tungkol sa pananaliksik. Maaaring gawin ito sa pamamagitan ng commissioned research, magkakaroon ng pondo, at maaari rin naming magsimulang ilatag ng mga mananaliksik na kasalukuyan nang nagtatrabaho sa loob ng Film Center. Isang iniisip ko ang oral history ng industriya ng pelikula nung mga dekada ’50. Bakit yung dekadang yon ang napili? Kasi marami pa sa mga artista at mga filmmaker nung dekada ’50 ang buhay pa at pwede pang makapanayam. Kung masisimulan ito at matatapos sa darating na taon, nais ko sanang makita na mabuo ang isang higit na kongkretong kasaysayan ng dekada ’50 nang ang mga studio ay aktibo pa – LVN, Sampaguita, at Premiere at iba pang mga maliliit na studio nung panahong iyon.

So is it valid to say na yung directorship ng Film Center is in line with your intention to do something for Philippine cinema?

Well I do not want to see the Film Center as my own research center, pero totoo na iilan pa ang mga akademiko na nag-ukol ng panahon sa pag-aaral ng pelikula. At itong sukat na pagpasok ko sa Film Center ay wari bagang yung mga dati kong binabalak ay siya kong ipatutupad – yon ay sa kadahilanang sa unibersidad, UP sa particular at sa iba pang mga kampus sa Pilipinas, wala naman talagang seryosong pag-uukol ng panahon sa pelikula, at nandiyan yung Film Center, pwede itong maging sentro ng ganung pagbibigay ng kaukulang posisyon sa pelikula sa loob ng akademiya.

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Since when did you have this plan as critic-scholar to take advantage of opportunities to carry out your views on Philippine cinema?

Nung magsimula akong mag-research tungkol sa pelikulang Pilipino, nakita ko na hindi pwedeng gawin ang lahat ng isang tao lamang dahil hindi pa nalalatag ang pundasyon ng pananaliksik sa pelikula sa ating lipunan at ang bawat magkaroon ng interes sa paglilinaw sa ilang mga kwestyon tungkol sa impresyon nila sa pelikula ay kinakailangang magsimula sa pinakabatayang pananaliksik. So babalik siya sa mga dyaryo, babalik siya sa mga magasin, makikipag-usap siya sa mga taong gumagawa ng pelikula…. Kailangang mailatag na yon, dahil maraming materyal na pwedeng pagbatayan ng pananaliksik ay marupok na at iilan na ang kopya sa mga library – mga dyaryong luma, mga lumang magasin – saka isa pang marahil dapat banggitin dito, yung mga movie magazines na siyang mapagkukuhanan ng impormasyon ay hindi itinuring ng mga libraries na karapat-dapat tipunin. Kaya kung meron mang mga kopya ng mga lumang magasin tungkol sa pelikula, yan ay mangilan-ilan lamang o kaya maaaring ang mga ito ay matatagpuan lamang sa mga koleksyon ng ilang mahihilig sa pelikula noong nakaraang panahon. So napakalaki ng pangangailangan na matipon ang pinakabatayang impormasyon tungkol sa industriya ng pelikula. At noon, nang sinisimulan kong gawin ito, nakita kong ang panahon ng isang kritiko o isang istoryador ng pelikula ay hindi sapat para magawa niya lahat ng kinakailangan. Yung mga ginawa kong matatawag na historical surveys ng pelikulang Pilipino’y napaka-sketchy dahil batay lamang yan sa aking personal na pananaliksik, dahil limitado naman ang panahon ko. I was essentially a literature teacher, and a part-time student of film at that time. So kokonti lang yung panahong naiukol ko sa paghahanap ng matiyaga. Noon pa man, nang ang Film Center ay hindi pa sumasagi sa aking consciousness, nakikita ko na merong mga organisasyon ng mga mananaliksik – halimbawa noo’y yung Cultural Research Association of the Philippines (CRP), merong mga grupong tulad ng Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino – na pwedeng magsagawa ng pananaliksik. Pero hindi rin nagagampanan yan ng mga ganung organisasyon dahil halimbawa, sa CRP bagamat maraming nanonood ng sine, iilan lang naman talaga ang interesado at may pananaw na ganung kaimportante ang pelikula bilang object of study. So nang alukin ako na maging kandidato para sa directorship ng Film Center, naisip ko na isa itong pagkakataon upang ang mga proyekto na matagal ko nang iniisip ay mabigyan ng katuparan.

Going back to the period of your early years, hindi lang naman yata film ang iyong pinaghahandaan ng foundation. You were also doing critiques on other areas.

Sa katunayan, nagsimula ako sa pag-aaral ng panitikan. Pagkatapos unti-unting nakita ko na ang literature ay isang larangan na may napakaliit na audience, maliit lang yung publiko na naaapektuhan nito. At bunga ng aking pagkilos bilang isang nakisangkot sa nationalist movement, nandoon sa aking isipan yung kamalayan na ang maraming mamamayang Pilipino ay naaapektuhan ng mga anyo ng kultura na hindi sinasaklaw ng pag-aaral ng panitikan. So nandyan yung komiks, nandyan yung telebisyon, nandyan yung pelikula: ang mga ito ang merong malawak ng publiko, at samakatwid, ang mga ito ang merong anyong pangkultura na sa palagay ko ay higit dapat pagkaabalahan ng isang intelektwal na may layuning makapag-ambag sa pagbabago ng lipunan.

This is in conflict with a long-standing policy in our educational system, which is to foster interest in the direction of written literature.

Kasi naman ang educational system natin ay binuo nung panahong ang print talaga ang tinuturing na pinakamataas na ekspresyon ng mga kaisipan at adhikain ng mga mamamayan. Galing pa yan sa sistema sa Europa, galing pa sa Estados Unidos, at dumating dito nang ang privileged medium ay print. Kaya nagdaan ako sa unibersidad, nagsimula akong magturo na ang kamalayan ko ay laging nakatuon sa print medium. Nito lamang magkaroon ako ng political consciousness, nakilala ko na ang higit na dapat pagkaabalahan ng isang intelektwal na nakikisangkot sa isang kilusang naglalayon ng pagbabago ay malawak na bahagi ng sambayanan. Siyempre this creates problems for a critic or a teacher because the norms by which he had read in the past were developed as part of the print culture. Yung paglipat tungo sa popular culture necessitates chipping away at the norms that one had previously held, and it’s very difficult to completely divest yourself of what you had learned when you were in school and as you were teaching. Ang naganap sa kaso ko’y reorientation, and I’m glad na this happened at the time when more and more young people were getting drawn to a serious study of popular culture. Because the things that I cannot do by virtue of my background and my education and my age, the young people can do.

Is this part of a belief that for the popular culture critic, age can be a liability?

Liability only in the sense that if you hold on to what you had learned in the past as the truth, as the unchanging core of information and insights that you’re going to live by, you’re going to get isolated as the years go by. As society changes, cultural change brings about changes in norms and orientations, and everyone has to be ready to accommodate himself to these changes.

Can you give any example of how someone else has gone beyond what you yourself had begun?

In the case of, say, literary studies, I think young people whom I taught and are now teachers and practicing critics have gone beyond what they learned from me. They have moved into areas that we did not even envision at the time when we were in the classroom together. Iba na yung kanilang pananaw tungkol sa panitikan at tungkol sa kultura, at kung paano ito nagbabago sa loob ng isang lipunan.

The fact that you can recognize the reality of change – does this mean that you had to adjust your original perceptions as well?

I think so, very definitely. The first time I wrote [an article] about film – this was about the early 1960s – what I tried to do was explain why Filipino films could not be as good as foreign films. So I was in the sense looking for qualities that I had found in foreign movies, in films that I saw in the Philippines. Of course, when I look back on that article now, I see that that was a foolhardy thing to do because I had not taken into consideration the history behind these films, the culture out of which these films were born. I was only seeing them as texts removed from the cultural context in which they functioned. Between then and now, I’m glad to say that I have revised my views considerably. Like noon ang hinahanap ko yung what I called the logic of irony, which noon was not to be found in the Filipino movies that I surveyed. There were only one or two films out of siguro mga eight or ten that I talked about which I thought answered my demands for that logic of irony.

What were these titles?

[Cesar Gallardo’s] Kadenang Putik and, I think, [Gerardo de Leon’s] Huwag Mo Akong Limutin. Later I realized, kung ang ginagamit kong pamantayan ay ganito na ilan lang ang nakapapasa, then there must be something wrong with the norms I’m using, so I had to revise that. Initially I though that that was what was originally to the taste of the masses, of the uneducated. But it’s been seen that when you have a set of norms, and the norms do not allow too many samples of specimens to pass through, then there’s something askew. Fortunately by now I think I’ve gotten over this.

Are you implying however that a lot of critics or even scholars are still trapped in that frame of mind with which you started out?

It’s very difficult to break out of that what-you-call trap because the source of film culture in the Philippines is not only local. It’s heavily foreign – through videos, imports, film series such as what we see in Goethe-Institut or the British Council or Alliance Française. What we get are inputs that are largely foreign and therefore, it’s very difficult to begin to look at Filipino movies as a product of a very specific culture. So, that’s true: na marami pang critics and reviewers who are operating under the culture created by all these films that they have seen outside the things that came from Philippine society. But I think ang importante is that more and more young Filipinos in the universities are watching Filipino films, and these are students who also get exposed to the questions that can be traced to Philippine culture vis-à-vis the culture of the West and colonial powers and so on. Ang kanilang awareness is in fact different from that of one who came out of the 1950s, like me, na in a society such as I lived through walang politicization na nagaganap sa consciousness ng mga tao. Ngayon yung mga bata, whether they were conscious of it or not, who went through a university education in the ’70s and ’80s are students who have a more sophisticated understanding of society. Therefore when they look at Tagalog films, they have begun to see how these films relate to the realities in our society.

Can you say that this has been your contribution so far to creating critical awareness in the Philippines?

I do not want to make that claim. What I certainly hope is that that’s one of the effects of my writing, but I would not want to see it as my sole personal contribution. Several other people – the Manunuri [for instance] – were of the same mind as I, and I think through interaction we have together come up with certain ways of looking at Filipino movies. That I think those who have been exposed to the writings of the Manunuri and its former members more or less have shown.

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Are there certain other things that you wanted then that you see have been realized today?

Yung sinasabi kong more serious look at Filipino movies – I think now we see the application of theory, largely drawn from Western theory, in the films that are shown. Ano’ng kahalagahan nung paggamit ng theory? – ibig sabihin, pagka nanood ka ng pelikula, hindi mo na lang tinitingnan yung pelikula bilang isang anyo ng aliwan; meron na itong sinasabi tungkol sa isang kultura’t lipunan, sinadya man o hindi, diretsahan man o hindi sa pelikulang napapanood. Sa palagay ko yon e bahagi na nung pagseryoso sa pelikulang Pilipino. From the reviews that one finds in such publications as the Collegian, makikita mo na kung hindi man akmang-akma yung kanilang ginagamit na paglalatag ng teorya, nandun yung pagtingin sa pelikula bilang isang anyong pangkultura na mahalagang seryosohin.

What would be some other things that disappoint you sa kasalukuyan dahil hindi pa natutupad?

Of course one of the things that I hoped would happen would be for Filipino movies to keep getting better and better. So after 1976, one would hope that as the years passed, more and more films would be of the same weight and quality as the films that were then produced. In spite of my recognition that these are products of an industry, nandun pa rin yung expectation ko na after all, since the industry had been able to produce these films, perhaps in the coming years more of these films would come out – no longer as films made exclusively for elite viewers or that had overt artistic intentions, kundi parang magiging bahagi ng products ng industry yung technical polish, thematic sophistication, o mga subtleties of performance whether in the writing, direction, or acting, yung mga ganun. You would think na magiging bahagi yun ng culture, pero given the conditions obtaining in our industry, apparently ang mga ito, the exemplars from the 1970s, e hindi nagiging bahagi ng tradisyon. Parang essentially mga sinadyang pelikula pa rin. Kumbaga sa damit e hecho-derecho, mga specially made for particular occasions, hindi yung naging bahagi nung pag-iisip, pamamaraan, paggawa ng mga filmmaker. Ang lagi kong binabalikan dito ay yung studio system na nagbigay ng pagkakataon sa mga filmmaker na makagawa ng iba’t ibang klaseng pelikula within one year. Nakakontrata sila sa isang studio, kayat maaaring yung projects na kanilang gagawin e not all highly intelligent or aesthetic pero at least meron silang pagkakataong gumawa ng iba’t ibang klaseng pelikula – sigurado. Sa ating panahon, bawat director e parang bibigyan ka ng pagkakataon ngayon – susubukan pa. Kahit ikaw ay isang [Lino] Brocka o isang [Ishmael] Bernal, titingnan pa rin na “O sige, gumawa ka ng pelikulang ito, kung pumatok yan mapalad ka.” Walang pag-unlad na tinatanaw ang pagbibigay ng assignment sa mga filmmaker. Sa [1950s] sistema ng studio, merong at least potential for growth yung isang filmmaker, pati mga artista, pati mga technicians.

May mga nagsasabi na nag-comeback na raw ang studio system na yan sa kasalukuyan.

Ya, we have…some kind of studio system in the sense na merong malalaking kompanya na gumagawa ng pelikula. The way I size it up, ang Seiko, Viva, Regal, meron silang tinatawag ng stable of directors and actors, pero sa tingin ko, yung kanilang pagbibigay ng assignments sa mga actors and filmmakers e naiiba dahil parang – nandito si Phillip (Salvador), nakakontrata siya sa atin, so kailangang gumawa tayo ng isang pelikula. Ang yung pelikulang dinudumog ngayon ng mga tao? Kung yon ay aksyon, di gagawin nating action star si Phillip. Hindi yung parang meron kang mga talents at tinitingnan nung mga producers kung saan mahusay yung aktor o aktres o direktor na ito. O kailangang meron tayong comedy, meron tayong melodrama, meron tayong musical sa loob ng taong ito. Sino ba yung mga mahusay sa musical, halimbawa? – o itong si ganito, di ilagay natin dito. May latitude noon. Sa tingin ko sa ngayon, essentially exploitative yung paggamit sa mga filmmakers; so ganito ngayon yung pinapasok ng mga tao, bold [halimbawa], nakagawa na si ganito ng pelikulang melodrama pero hindi pa muna kumikita ito, di unahin nating i-release ang bold na lang. It’s a highly manipulative system at present, and I’m tempted to call it unprincipled sa pagbibigay ng assignments. Purely business, purely commercial ang tinatanaw ng mga producers natin ngayon. Now I’m not saying na sina Doña Sisang [de Leon of LVN], Doc [Jose] Perez [of Sampaguita], Doña Adela [Santiago of Premiere] – these were people who were only interested in art; no, mga yan, business people din. Pero siguro during the 1950s mas relaxed yung mga businessmen, mas kampante sila na nandito yung industriya, sa loob ng isang taon ito yung ating line-up, naplano na kung malugi yung pelikulang ito, meron tayong big production dito na siguradong aakit ng maraming tao – yung ganong planning na essentially is a rational kind of capitalist planning. Ang tingin ko sa ngayon parang frenetic exploitative capitalist manipulation ang nakikita natin sa industriya.

Do you think then we should make moves to initiate a return to the old ways?

No, I do not envision a return to the studio system the way it was found in the 1950s. Kahit sa States namatay na rin yung studio system, hindi na nangyari yung naganap. Pero nang mabagsak ang studio system nila, nagkaroon ng pagkakataon yung tinatawag na independent filmmakers na gumawa ng mga pelikula na nung panahon ng studio system e hindi posible dahil hindi umaayon sa plano ng mga kapitalista. Bagamat independent filmmakers na ang umiiral sa US, the standards of technical excellence were carried over from the studio system. Sa kaso natin, walang ganung nangyari dahil nga nung paglitaw nung independent filmmakers, nagha-hire lang sila nung equipment kaya agawan sa mahuhusay na equipment; kung sino yung mas malaki’ng kapital, siya’ng nakakakuha ng mas mahusay na equipment, at kung pwede naming tipirin, ginagawa. So ang nangyari, the people who took over after the collapse of the studio system in the Philippines were businessmen plain and simple. It seems to me that they were no longer truly involved in filmmaking as an industry. They were using filmmaking as a means to make money – which I think is quite different from being involved in it as an industry. Yun bang meron ka talagang interest sa paggawa ng pelikula dahil ito ay isang industriyang nakasanayan mo na, isang industriya na siyang nagbigay ng kayamanan sa iyong pamilya o angkan. Ang mga filmmaker na lumitaw [nung independent period], mga one-shot deals ang sa kanila: o gagawa tayo ng pelikula na siguradong tatabo sa takilya, magi-invest yung isang filmmaker, malulugi siya so sorry na lang, ayaw ko na. Meron naming mga kapitalista na magi-invest sila, malaki’ng tubo so gawa pa uli sila, pero ang kanilang gusto hindi yung similar film na gagana ng husto sa takilya.

That’s what I mean by exploitative filmmaking: nawala na yung iyong pride in the products of the industry, seeing the making of films as simply a business venture. Kung gumana, di gagawa pa tayo ng iba pang pelikula; kung hindi gumana, e ayoko na. Sa kaso ng mga Santiago, mga De Leon, nalulugi rin sila siyempre, pero para silang gumagawa ng sapatos o sombrero; ito’y industriya na kanilang pinalago, so gusto nilang ipagpatuloy – meron silang personal na pagmamahal sa ginagawa nila. Siyempre mahirap sabihin na walang pagmamahal si Mother Lily sa pelikulang ginagawa niya, pero hindi lumalabas yung ganung pagmamalaki na nandito yung kanilang kabuhayan – nagbuhos sila dito ng kayamanan at nagbigay ito ng kayamanan sa kanila at ito ay isang industriya na kanilang pinalago. Ang kanilang nakikita e yung mga pelikulang naging landmark dahil tumubo ng napakalaki, dahil naging pagpapatuloy ng kanilang paggawa ng isang klaseng pelikula. Halimbawa pagka pinag-uusapan e Regal at si Mother Lily [Monteverde], nandun yung Sister Stella L.: sa palagay ko kung binabanggit ito ang naaalala lang kunwari e, napakalaking lugi na sinapit ng kompanya niya at samakatwid, ayaw na ayaw niyang gumawa ng ganyang pelikula. Yung ganung pagtingin e hindi naman maaalis sa mga taong nagi-invest ng pera sa paggawa ng pelikula pero yung ganung pananaw natural e hindi nagpapasigla sa paglikha ng mga pelikulang maipagmamalaki ng mga taong gumagawa.

But filmmakers may claim na kaya nakakatagal sila sa ganitong klaseng sistema e because they could manage to gain additional skills by merely surviving in the system.

That would be very good for the commercial gains that filmmakers get out of filmmaking. I doubt kung me maiaambag ito tungo sa paggawa ng makabuluhang pelikula. Siyempre laging bawat isang filmmaker na seryoso sa kanyang propesyon ay me pangarap na darating din ang pagkakataon na makakagawa siya ng gusto niyang gawin. In the meantime, ginagawa ko muna kung ano’ng gusto ni Mother [Lily] o ni Robbie [Tan of Seiko Films], pero mabibigyan din ako ng pagkakataon. I wonder kung yung ganung pag-asa ay magaganap, given the present system.

Pero hindi ba me continuity yung system na pinag-uusapan natin ngayon at yung naglabas nung ’70s ng napakaraming quality products?

Alam mo ang ’70s were a conjuncture of several factors. Nandun yung pagpasok ng mga young scriptwriters in the industry; nakapasok sila dahil kailangan ng industriya ng mga magsusulat ng script kasi hinihingi ng mga board of censors na merong dapat na finished script. So merong yung magkakaibang tunguhin: iba yung gusto ng mga censors, iba yung sa mga studio, iba sa young filmmakers, pero sa pagtatagpong iyon, nagkaroon ng posibilidad na makalikha ng mga pelikulang makabuluhan, so there was a burst of energy. Then…ay, hindi pala kumikita yung mga pelikulang ganito, so nag-backtrack na yung mga producers. From that point on, yung mga nakapasok na sa industriya e nakapuwesto na, so pwede na silang gumawa ng script na mas makabuluhan kesa sa nauna. Yung mga direktor, meron na ring foothold in the industry. Sa kasalukuyan, yung mga nakapasok are disadvantaged by the fact na ang mga producers nga ay sigurista – gusto na lang nila e yung siguradong magpapasok ng malaking income. Nandiyan din siyempre yung taxes, both national and local, na nagpapabigat sa gastos sa paggawa ng pelikula. Maiintindihan natin kung bakit ang laging target ng mga producer ay iyong megahits, blockbusters, dahil tunay naman na kapag gayon lang ang iyong target, saka ka gagana, tutubo sa paggawa ng pelikula. Wala yung idea na hindi naman malulugi, yun bang gagana lang yung pelikula – hindi pwede yung ambisyon na ganun lang, na yung gagawin mong pelikula e yung sasapat lang para magkaroon ng konting tubo. Sa tingin ko, wala yan sa consciousness ng businessmen na gumagawa ng pelikula. Kasi nga napakalaki ng investment, napakalaki ng mga gastos na dapat tugunin – taxes and so on, so kailangan talagang ang iyong target a napakalaking tubo. E ano yung mga pelikulang maaaring tumubo ng ganun? Halimbawa’y Last Two Minutes [ni Mike Relon Makiling]: siyempre nung gawin yan ang target talaga diyan to make a hit, para bang to break box-office records. E pagka gayon ang iyong layunin – narito yung direktor (dapat alam niya yon) at meron ka diyang mga big stars at mga patok na eksena, so [kailangang] me mga sexual titillation or very plotty scenes, o violence that outdoes that of other films – yung ganung mga gimmicks ang napagtutuunan. So yung filmmaker na nakagawa na ng mahuhusay na pelikula, ayun ngayon yung kanyang kinakailangang tugunin para maging big hit yung kanyang pelikula. Wala na yung mga modest pictures, mga little movies that are not going to create a lot of income for the company pero hindi naman malulugi. Sana kung magkaroon ng ganung pagkakataon ang mga filmmakers na hindi sila laging obligado na ang [dapat] gawin e yung mga box-office hits, siguro magkakaroon pa tayo ng mas mahusay na climate for making films.

Other industry people say na itong paghina sa paggawa ng pelikula e bahagi lamang ng isang international trend – yung tinatawag ng video revolution.

I think that’s definitely true in First-World countries. Pero sa palagay ko sa Pilipinas hindi pa ganyan ang reality. Sa Japan, tunay na kumonti na ang mga nanonood ng pelikula nila. Bakit? – kasi yung mga artista’t direktor sa telebisyon na nagtatrabaho, [kaya] pwede nang makita yung mga performers sa mga TV shows. Sa kaso ng mga Pilipino, bagama’t ang telebisyon ay gumagamit sa maraming movie stars o directors, hindi pa rin naaabot ng TV shows ang naaabot na audience ng pelikula. Ano yung audience na ’yon? – those away from city centers like Manila, yung mga taong uuwi pag Sabado o Linggo para mamili sa bayan at bago umuwi’y manonood muna ng pelikula. Palagay ko, yung audience na yon e malaking bahagi nung para sa pelikulang Pilipino. Sa ating mga moviehouses, ang dami pa ring nanonood – at napupuno, standing room, ang mga ito. Sa foreign countries, hindi na ganun ang phenomenon kaya nga lumiliit nang lumiliit ang mga sinehan. Pero sa atin, sa tingin ko, despite the fact that even with video na pwede mong marentahan, ang dami pa ring pumapasok sa sinehan: one, because people outside of Manila have no access to video players; isa pa, ang nasa video players e mga foreign movies mostly. E ang Tagalog movies ang talagang pinapanood ng mga Filipino.

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So is it in this context of hopefulness dahil pinapatronize pa rin ng masses ang pelikula and on the other hand the desperation of the industry in surviving that you expect academe to step in and make changes?

I don’t know if academe can do anything about that. Siguro ang tangi lang magagawa – on this, I can speak with some degree of certainty – ng academe ay seryosohin ang products ng industriya, whether ito ay artistic o hindi. Yung ating pinag-uusapan previously e yung mga factors na nagmi-militate against the making of finer movies. Ngayon, sabi ko nga academe cannot intervene actively and has no power to compel capitalists to make better movies. Yung nakikita kong serbisyo ng academe e suriin yung mga produkto ng industriya regardless of aesthetic quality and read these products and give a report of what these products tell us about Philippine society.

Wouldn’t you say there has been a trend, at least in politics, to link up with academic institutions – like in the hiring of personnel, making consultations, and so on, at pinapayagan din ng industriya dahil me difference na pulitika lang naman yan at hindi negosyo?

Ang gobyerno naman ay walang malinaw na pag-unawa sa industriya, tinitingnan lang nito bilang a source of revenue. They get bothered by films that they think will disturb people, tulad ng Orapronobis, tulad noon ng Batch ’81 at City After Dark, pero isolated cases yan. Sa kanilang consciousness itong pelikula’y ginagawa para magkakwarta yung kapitalista kaya kinakailangang magkaroon ng kabahagi yung gobyerno. I think those are the simple facts of thinking among bureaucrats about the film industry.

But wasn’t there an attempt to be more supportive on the part of the previous regime?

Nung panahon ni Marcos na nagkaroon ng Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, nanduon yung layunin na mag-intervene ang gobyerno para makalikha ng mahusay na pelikula. Yung intervention na yon was spurious dahil alam natin na that was purely to mask other forms of exploitation of the industry and the Filipino people by the Marcos regime. Gusto ni Imelda ng international film festival, kaya kailangang bigyan ng justification ang pagpasok ng gobyerno sa ganung napakagastos na venture, so ginawa yung ECP [Experimental Cinema of the Philippines] – which was a good idea, but it was a very indulgent luxury that the government went in for. Tunay na hindi kaya ng gobyernong Pilipino na magkaroon ng isang opisina na ang tanging layunin e makagawa ng mahuhusay na pelikula dahil magastos ang paggawa nito. Hindi laging nababawi ang puhunan. And ang pamahalaan natin cannot really all the more afford the luxury of subsidizing films the way the ECP did.

Does this mean that it’s closer to the ideal now na hindi na nakikialam ang gobyerno sa industriya ng pelikula?

Oo, pero alam mo sa kasalukuyan, sa isa ngang pag-uusap ng mga manunuri tungkol sa pelikula, lumabas ang obserbasyon na nung panahon ni Marcos, mas posible pang maglabas ng mga pelikulang lumilihis sa gusto ng gobyerno. Sa ngayon, mas nahihirapan na makagawa ng ganung pelikula. Siyempre nandiyan ang board of censors at ang napaka-devious reasoning ng mga censors sa pagbibigay-pagmamatuwid sa kanilang paghihigpit. Pagkatapos, nandun yung control ng distributors sa mga exhibitors sa pagbibigay-daan para ang isang pelikula’y makita ng maraming tao. Siyempre meron silang business na pinangangalagaan at nag-aalala sila na kung sila’y magiging maluwag sa mga pelikulang hindi nagugustuhan ng censors at samakatwid hindi rin magugustuhan ng mga nasa kapangyarihan, maaaring malagay sa panganib ang kanilang economic interest. So ganun din ang mga distributors: ingat na ingat din sila sa pagpapalabas ng mga pelikula na maaaring maging ugat ng di-magandang pagtrato sa kanila sa mga darating na araw. At siyempre nandun yung uh, goodwill ng publiko sa gobyernong Cory Aquino; parang tinitingnan ng mga distributors at producers na ang mga taong ito ay maaaring magalit kung sila ay maging maluwag sa pagpapalabas ng mga pelikulang kumakalaban sa mga di-makatwirang patakaran ng pamahalaan. Nung panahon ni Marcos, me censorship, me fear for business pero marahil na ang isang decisive factor sa panahong yon e malawak at malalim ang diskontento ng mga mamamayan laban sa umiiral na diktadura. At samakatwid, merong nangangahas na magpalabas nung kanilang tunay na opinion tungkol sa nangyayari sa bayan. Sayang naman kung pagkaraan lang ng dalawampung taon ng Cory regime e [saka pa lang] magkakaroon ng lakas ng loob yung ating mga filmmakers at producers na magpalabas ng mga pelikulang may malalim na pagsusuri sa umiiral na realidad sa ating lipunan. Sayang kung ganung katagal [tulad ng kay Marcos] ang paghihintay natin. Kasi sa panahon naman ni Marcos, medyo matagal din bago nagkaroon nung mga pelikulang talagang bumabatikos sa diktadura. So nuon na lamang kalagitnaan ng dekada ’80 nagkaroon ng mga truly anti-fascist anti-dictatorship films. Sa ating panahon, napaka-volatile ng political situation. Mga kapitalista are very sensitive to the trends ng business. Pero totoo yan, mas nahihirapan yung mga pelikulang tulad ng Orapronobis [ni Brocka] o kahit yung Birds of Prey ni Gil Portes na makaabot sa mga mamamayan dahil maraming mga di-tuwirang balakid na nakaharang sa daan ng mga progressive filmmakers.

If it was the repressive nature of the Marcos regime that incited filmmakers to be more creative, and filmmakers in other countries tend to benefit more from political freedom, would you say that this indicates a peculiarity in the Filipino psychology?

I think yung nangyari dito sa Pilipinas e hindi naman individual initiatives lang nung mga filmmakers. There was a groundswell them of public discontent and there was organization going on, so there was a movement in contrast to countries where there might be discontent among artists but it remains private or individualized. Sa kaso natin, the movement gained much support as a result of the [Aquino-Galman] assassination, and it is on this groundswell that directors and scriptwriters who were doing, let’s call them “protest” films, “political” films, rode on the groundswell of public discontent na naorganize na. Why should that be significant? – kasi, ang artist, bagamat may discontent yan, pag wala namang tumutulong sa kanya from, let us say, outside of his circle, madaling mawala ang kanyang discontent kasi ang nangyayari, hihintayin na lang niya yon and it becomes a private protest. By inclination, the artist tends more to reflect upon himself than to go out and join groups. Pero pag malakas na malakas talaga yung movement, he would be encouraged to participate. I think ganun yung nangyari in the case of Mike de Leon’s films. Mike is a very private person, as claimed by those who observe the local film scene. Pero ang kanyang mga pelikula leave no doubt na meron siyang political consciousness operating, and I would attribute that simply to the fact na alam niyang – medyo corny, pero – hindi siya nag-iisa, merong ibang taong kumikilos at sumasabay lang siya doon sa kilos na yon. Now, assuming a situation whereby there is no movement, nandyan lang si Mike de Leon: I doubt if he would have the inclination to put down on film his discontent with the situation.

So are you saying na wala na ngayon –

Kasi ngayon, as a result of EDSA, the energy of the movement has been dissipated, fragmented ngayon yung pagkilos. Now we have the centrists, the extreme Left, and the amorphous majority. I think sa ganung pangyayari, hindi focused as the protest was during the Marcos period when it was directed against the dictatorship – so whether you were centrist or extreme Left or whatever, sama-sama. And then since then there has been an awareness on the part of artists na walang malinaw na alternative na lumilitaw. Nandyan si Cory: we may not be completely happy with what she is doing to the country, but in lieu of her, sino ang susuportahan? Yon ang pwedeng what EDSA has created – the toning down of political content.

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Can this framework also explain why for example between Brocka and Bernal, the one who had a better international alternative was able to sustain his political concerns in film?

Lino, in the case of Orapronobis, did a film for a foreign company which did not have to be as overtly careful as a local producer, so he was able to give full expression to his political discontent. Si Bernie [a nickname of Bernal], meron pa ring political statements. Maski sabihin ng iba medyo pilit halimbawa sa Pahiram ng Isang Umaga, he introduced the element of multinationals – how this had bankrupted local entrepreneurs like the mother of the Gabby Concepcion character, or the poor folk at the seashore talking about the high cost of living. That is an opening, a gap that Bernal saw, and pinasukan niya ng political comment. Now the entire movie is not political but humahanap din siya ng pagkakataon para mahayag yung kanyang niloloob. Saka sa kaso ni Bernal, meron siyang organizational work – so sumasali siya sa mga pagkilos sa hanay ng mga cultural workers; his participation in Bugkos has made possible stage productions na siya ang ang nagdidirek. So nung hindi siya pwede sa pelikula, he went into organizational work.

How would you compare the present crop of filmmakers – the ones who emerged during the ’80s – to the previous one?

Yung mga nag-emerge nung ’80s, ibang klase ang mga directors na mga ito. Halimbawa, kung ating iisipin si Peque [Gallaga], si Laurice [Guillen], si Marilou [Diaz-Abaya], iba yung kanilang paggawa ng pelikula; offhand, napapansin ko, parang sa kanila merong pagbibigay-diin sa mga katangian ng film medium – specific qualities of the medium. Kay Ishmael, Lino, at Eddie Romero noon, pwede mo pang ipag-separate yung form and content, makikita mo yung narrative nila, me kinukwento ito. Itong mga tulad nina Marilou’t Laurice and even Peque, you don’t remember them for the materials that they handle – like yung narratives; but instead you remember what they did to the medium, like yung attempt as in [Guillen’s] Salome – kahit sa Kasal [her first film] nandun na yun e, yung page-explore sa levels of reality and motivation ng mga tao. Sa tingin ko, yan ang kinaiiba niya doon sa mga filmmakers na older sa kanya and who entered the scene earlier. Parang ang group nila have prescinded from the overtly philosophical, political telling of materials; sa kanila, makikita yung pagbusisi sa mga detalye that one finds in reality. Mahirap ma-plot out yung kanilang political and social concerns, dahil nga it’s not so much the material anymore but the approach to reality.

Would you say this has had an effect on film practice?

I would say it is an advancement. Nakita nila na sina Lino’t Ishmael meron nang nagawa in the past, so they’re trying to go beyond what had already been done. Magkaiba yung direksyon: now, it is hoped that there would be an integration of the kind of filmwork done by the earlier masters in the direction of a more complex use of narrative, if possible, in the future. But more and more, I think mawawala na yung pagka-serious, where the artist does a narrative na me line na madaling ma-plot out.

What was the role of film critics in this kind of progression?

Wala, kasi naman critics –

– were ignored by the artists?

Oo, saka strictly speaking, we cannot talk about intensive critical activity in the local film world. Bakit? – dahil outlets were not available for the critics, and the critics do not work full-time, pasawsaw-sawsaw lang sila when the occasion arises. Siguro that is something that will have to be worked at, possibly in academe: to make critical activity more productive of critiques and reviews; pero kung ang aasahan mo yung media na nagbibigay ng outlets, mahirap nagkaroon ng ganung active critical scene.

Would it be possible to say that Filipino artists have assumed the functions that should have been performed for them by critics, in terms of evaluating their work and integrating the lessons in their succeeding output?

Actually ang critics naman talaga sumusunod lang after a body of work has been created, historically. Ang artists ang nagse-set ng direction for what they want to be doing – assuming that the artists live in a society which provides them with a sense of history. I would not want to give critics that much credit – yung setting the pace; merong, after let us say, 1976, when films were discussed “seriously.” Then some directors, sina Lino’t Ishmael, became self-conscious as artists, including some young directors. Pero yung taking the cue from critics, I don’t think that has ever happened. The fact is in our country, laging sinasabi ng mga tao, “Sino ba’ng nagbabasa sa mga critics? Sino’ng nakikinig sa kanila?” One very important development I think in contemporary use of media e yung pagsusulpot ni Gino [Dormiendo] and Mario [Hernando] as TV critics. Ito talaga merong naaabot na audience; pero yung mga nagsusulat, ang audience niyan very minimal – others who are equally interested in film criticism. Ang talagang me audience, mass audience, ngayon e yung TV critics.

Some people would say that you cannot pursue in TV yung lengths na kaya sa print medium.

That’s correct, pero ang punto diyan, you get the mass audience used to criticism, no matter how instant or superficial, narun yung someone who has watched a movie and is talking about it and telling us that this was the way he saw it. Yung audience na regularly nakakarinig diyan, I imagine, begins to think in critical terms, so hindi na sila magiging completely passive as in the past. Now those who write criticism for print – ang audience nila are perhaps film students, fellow critics, and a few professionals. These are people who maybe in the future can exert influence on the film industry pero sa ngayon, hindi sila pinakikinggan, di katulad nung mga taong nanonood ng telebisyon, yung mga taong pagkatapos ng opening day or preview iinterbyuhin – yun ang mga taong whose opinions matter to the producers, who in the long run are the ones who decide on what we’re going to see.

What about the artist as part of the critic’s audience?

That’s a noble purpose for the critic, pero I do not think that, uh…ewan ko –

That the artists would take kindly to –

Oo, and that they would care to pay that much attention to the critics – I’m talking about our local directors. I think they [the directors] think that they know better than the critics, who might be talking purely on the level of theory, “We are the ones working with the nitty-gritty,” and anumang sabihin nila [the critics], it’s okay when they say nice things about a movie. But ang tingin nila, “Alam natin yung ating ginagawa, better than all these people who tell us what we should have been doing.”

I remember in the Manunuri when we had some feedback from the industry saying na kaya lang some of us were into criticism was because gusto nating magka-break eventually sa pelikula.

I don’t think that’s something that should be begrudged any film critic. One reason why a film critic goes into analysis of film is that he’s interested in whatever it is that makes a good film. Sa kaso natin, we do not make a strict separation between the practitioner and the theoretician. Kung yung film critic eventually feels confident enough to direct a film, that should not be taken against him. Ngayon I think the real criticism is that merong mga manunuri na kaya lang nagki-critic is so that the producers would take notice, and they’d say bad things about certain movies so that the producer will mollify them. Ang suspetsa ko diyan, point of view yan ng mga movie writers, mga publicists – the movie press who have taken advantage of their position in order to advance themselves in the industry, pero kung ang pag-uusapan e tunay na interesado sa film art, there should be no reason why we should carp about film critics who’d eventually go into filmmaking.

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Would you say that this was the same reason why you maintained some creative output – writing for the stage, translations and librettos – and performing occasionally?

Sa akin kasi, I never made a strict separation between the creative part of me and the analytic part. Yung pagsusulat ko for the theater derives from an original urge to do creative writing – that was what I wanted to do at the very start when I was in college then, immediately after college; then I got into teaching, so I began to be more analytical, but essentially, I guess I saw myself as a creative artist. And then when I became a teacher, for a while I toned down the creative side of me and did criticism, history.

Because it was hard to survive on creative writing?

There are very few opportunities for you to make a success of yourself as a creative artist in the Philippines. Masyadong maliit ang universe for creative artists dito sa atin. When you’re a teacher, meron kang job, meron kang audience, so you have a stable, secure, respected position; in contrast to being a creative artist na talagang ang buhay mo e to write lang, you cannot survive simply as a creative artist.

Is it possible for an essentially creative person to find fulfillment in criticism? In short, can there be creativity in criticism?

[Laughs.] Yah, I think so – the fact that you try to analyze the creative process, each time that you think about it when you’re confronted with a literary work or a film allows you to give expression to your creativity. Pero ang tinutungo nuon ay hindi yung pagbubunga nung creativity, so parang you’re analyzing somebody else’s work and you give play to your creative powers – trying to understand how it came about, what could have been done that the artist did not do. Hindi yan ang nagdadala sa iyo sa paglikha. Maybe it would later spur the critic to active creative production.

During the period of the 1986 revolution, you weren’t around. Did your absence affect the views on politics and culture you held before you left?

During the three years that I was in Japan, I honed my film sense by watching a lot of Japanese films and foreign films available there, in movie theaters and on television. It was a period during which I boned up on film art as found among the Japanese and other foreigners. I think therefore mas malawak ngayon yung aking pinaghahanguan nung mga sinasabi ko tungkol sa film, in comparison with the years when I was Philippine-bound. Ang pinaghahanguan ko nuon e memories of what I had seen when I was outside the country, what I had seen in the Philippines, and the local films that I was watching. So that’s with regard to sensitivity to film art. Being away from the Philippines especially during the last years of the Marcos dictatorship and then the first year of the Aquino regime: ang nangyari naman dito, even though I was in Japan, I continued to keep up with what was going on in the country. As a matter of fact, I had speaking engagements before Japanese audiences wherein I analyzed the Philippine situation, to give them an idea of how to look at our realities during those years. Ang EDSA revolt took place while I was out so marahil it gives me a sense of detachment from the experience. That has its own disadvantages: I know when I talk about EDSA I cannot say “I was there!” – madalas yang ginagamit nung mga people-power warriors. Pero at least what I think I have is that sense which allows me to analyze the personalities and events from a more objective point of view.

Has it provided you with any conclusion about the role of popular culture in this specific political phenomenon?

Yes, definitely, I think there is something there. EDSA has made me conscious of the need to study popular culture, to include it in finding explanations for what goes on in Philippine society, one of which is how popular culture becomes a source of power among the people by providing the ordinary people – the vast majority, those who are not academics – with images and motives that help them make crucial decisions about their lives as a community. These images and motivations in our case come from religion, popular music, komiks, movies – these all came together in giving the individual Filipino a fund of information, of insights from which he had drawn when he had to make a decision about his life and the life of the community. Yung pagiging bloodless nung revolution, which was something that one could extol, I think is an indication that it was not a revolution in the true sense of the word – one that changes structures. It was bloodless precisely because the same old structures remain. And I think pagka ang nakataya is not something na napaka-crucial sa iyong buhay, then it’s possible to have a bloodless revolution – kung totoo ngang matatawag na bloodless iyon. Pagkatapos kasi noon, ang daling nawala nung EDSA spirit na tinatawag. So people talk about euphoria, the atmosphere.… Hindi naman artificial, it was just passive, parang rebolusyong hindi natuloy, revolution manqué, hindi naisagad. Kaya nga the idea of a coup ngayon is an indication that so many things were left unresolved by the EDSA revolt. Ang na-resolve lang nuon ay yung issue of the dictatorship when Marcos was thrown out. But the structures that supported him, that made it possible for him to keep the Philippines under him for a long period of time, nandun pa yun.

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Session II: January 29, 1990

You keep mentioning the scriptwriter prominently when you talk about film.

Palagay ko merong mga tututol doon sa aking pagbibigay ng emphasis sa mga scriptwriters, how their entry into the film industry shortly before 1976 changed certain things. Sa palagay ko, it’s a fact na sa pagpasok ng mga writers who had not had any previous hands-on film experience e nagkaroon ng sense of content yung ating industry. There was a time in the past when the screenplay was considered na parang guide lang for a performance. Of course meron diyang mga scriptwriters like Cesar Amigo na talagang sumusulat ng full script; Eddie Romero, Pierre Salas, although corny talaga yung kanyang mga scripts. Pero ang mga ito, sumusulat sila in an industry prior to 1976 that did not think it was important to have a filmscript. In 1976 as a result of that ruling by the board of censors, nakita ng mga producers – “Kahit na hindi namin sundin itong mga scripts, mapapakinabangan din itong mga scriptwriters kasi kaya lang aaprubahan ng censors yung aming pelikula kasi nandiyan yung buong script.” Only those who had been writing short stories, poetry, drama, or whatever could come up with a finished script. Dahil pumasok ang ganitong mga writers, nagkaroon ng papel yung scriptwriter sa paggawa ng pelikula. As it would turn out later, yung mga scripts na ginagawa e hindi rin igagalang nung producers at saka directors. Pero the fact was that nakapasok ang mga writers na ito, natutuhan nilang makibagay sa film industry. I think classic example si Ricardo Lee: talagang manunulat yan, with very definite ideas about the writing of fiction. Nakita niya na hindi niya maigigiit yung kanyang dala-dala nung pumasok siya sa film industry, so he had to learn the ropes. I think this accounts for Ricky’s durability as a scriptwriter; people find that some of his scripts are not as good as the previous ones, some of them are not far above the quality of the regular scripts that one finds in the industry, but the fact is he has been able to produce scripts that became the bases for significant film works: Himala, mga pelikula niya kay Marilou, [Gil Portes’s] Bukas…May Pangarap – these depart from the stereotypes of the past.

Does this indicate any disagreement that you hold with the practice of ascribing a movie to the director as its primary creative intelligence?

I will be talking mainly from a purely personal viewpoint. Mahirap na i-attribute sa writer lang yung isang pelikula. The mere fact na pag natapos nung writer yung script, hahawakan yan nung line producer, ihahanap ng mga lalabas, yung mga mapipili e mga particular histories in the film world, me particular images – meron nang modification na magaganap sa script. Hahawakan pa yan ng direktor na may kanyang sariling perceptions ng mga situations na nilikha ng writer. Maaaring ikonsulta niya yung scriptwriter pero pinapasok niya yung kanyang gusto. Alam niya sa kanyang karanasan kung ano yung magugustuhan nung mga manonood sa pelikula. Alam niya kung ano’ng kayang gawin nitong artistang hahawakan. So diyan pa lang, yung script nung writer nabago na, natabunan na. Kung ang project ay nakasentro sa pagsasapelikula nung ginawa nung writer – halimbawa natin, dahil si Bienvenido Santos ay isang ginagalang na awtor, merong producer na gagawa ng pelikula na ang gusto talaga yung sinasabi ni Bienvenido Santos, tauhan niya, kanyang mga sitwasyon ang palitawin – maaaring mangyari na malaki ang maging papel nung manunulat sa paggawa ng pelikula. Pero dahil si Bienvenido Santos e hindi makakasulat ng script, merong scriptwriter na papasok diyan, meron nang pagbabago doon sa mga konsepto ni Bienvenido Santos. Pero iyon ay nagsimula na ang gustong isapelikula ay si Bienvenido Santos at ang kanyang nobela. Sa tingin ko, mahirap mangyari na sa pag-uusap tungkol sa pelikula, ang bigyang-pansin lamang ay ang manunulat. Laging dapat mangyari ay banggitin ang direktor saka ang scriptwriter – yung pagtutulungan nila.

Pero hindi ba ang contribution ng writer e mas definite, mas maka-quantify kesa sa direktor na nago-overlap sa mga technical at performance elements?

I’d feel awkward talking about, let us say, mga pelikula ni Ricardo Lee, na tila baga siya mismo ang tumiyak kung ano ang kalalabasan nung mga film projects na tinanggap niya’t binasura. But I would – siguro sa orientation lang yan – be able to talk with more authority kung ang aking ipapaliwanag e mga pelikula ni Ishmael Bernal; I can even completely forget the scriptwriters he has worked with, but I think I’ll still be able to talk about Ishmael Bernal’s films with a greater assurance that I am not simply imagining the qualities that I would attribute to those films.

I remember once in the Manunuri you were recommending T. D. Agcaoili for an outstanding achievement award.

Kasi, being an old man, I remember T. D. was one of the early serious commentators on Philippine film. He was a movie writer who wrote about people in the industry, who knew its workings; pagkatapos he was a creative writer who had taken an interest in film. From his writings one could tell that he was not just inventing the things he was saying about films. Here was someone who had been reading about film, studying books about filmmaking. Then he went into directing. Yung mga katangian na yon I think are enough to make him a landmark figure from the past. Sa Pilipinas naman hindi mo magagamit yung pagsusulat ng isang tao ng film criticism. One cannot ask that T. D. Agcaoili in his time produce a body of criticism on which you could base your award for him as a film critic. Kailangang tingnan mo yung totality nung kanyang involvement sa film to be able to appreciate his contribution to the development of film criticism in the Philippines. Sayang na hindi siya nabigyan ng ganung pagpupuri bago siya namatay. I remember one objection was that T. D. had gotten involved in the Marcos bureaucracy during the last years of his life – sa board of censors, some hackwriting for the regime. Sayang na these came in the way of his being recognized for his contribution. I still think na dapat siyang makita bilang landmark figure in the development of – let’s call it – serious commentary on film in the Philippines.

Meaning during his time, he was actually the best there was?

Oo. For his time, at least he was able to get serious film discussion in print going. From a period when film was treated simply as a business, as a form of entertainment, there was T. D. Agcaoili, serious writer, giving attention to a form that was still in some kind of disrepute during this time.

So chronologically, we could say that Bien Lumbera followed after T. D. Agcaoili?

Yes, I think so.

Who would you say were you contemporaries who were devoting similar serious attention to film?

Cesar Amigo – although he did not write too much criticism, he had articles that he wrote aside from his output in scriptwriting. And then Eddie Romero – his contribution was substantial as a critic, or you could say a director who talks about the craft of directing.

These people you mention were mainly practitioners.

E kasi yun nga, nung panahon ni T. D. Agcaoili.… D. Paolo Dizon was there; he was also a movie writer. From creative writing, he went into commenting on film. In the 1960s, Danny Villanueva was essentially a movie writer.

And Pete Daroy?

Seventies na yan, the Manunuri period. I don’t remember Pete writing about film prior to the martial law period. I doubt kung nanood siya ng Tagalog movies prior to this period. [Most of the Manunuri founding members] were people who came out [as film critics] in the late ’60s – sina Behn [Cervantes], Nestor [U. Torre].

Some practitioners I heard were also into criticism before they went into active industry work.

Ishmael [Bernal] wrote some articles on film, now I remember, for the magazine Balthazar.

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What would be the qualities of a good film critic?

Mahilig yan sa pelikula, maraming pelikula na yang napanood, di lamang lokal kundi pati foreign films. Mahusay ang mata – yun bang pag meron siyang nakita sa screen, natatandaan niya yung mga detalye at nakikita kaagad kung ano ang relasyon ng mga iba’t ibang sangkap nuong image na yon. I think that’s very important for the film critic. Saka, siyempre, marunong na siyang magsulat. Kailangan ang kanyang writing style allows him to communicate his insights into what he’d seen. Very important, sa tingin ko, na meron siyang respeto sa intended audience for his film criticism. Ano’ng ibig sabihin ko ng respeto? – he assumes na intelihente yung kanyang audience na pinagsusulatan. Once a critic assumes ha siya lang ang talagang marunong at ang mga manonood e kanya lamang binubugahan ng kanyang nalalaman, magiging offensive ang dating niya sa reader of the reviews. There enters a sense of condescension, a know-it-all [attitude], na nakakabigat.

Hindi kaya maaaring saluhin yan ng critic na me command ng estilo ng pagsulat?

Oo, pero sa palagay ko, meron nang dapat built-in sense of respect for the audience one’s writing for – which is why I cannot stand [then-popular reviewer] Elvira Mata! Ang kanyang feeling is a very narcissistic kind of reviewing, parang “This film was made specifically for me and I don’t like it.” Bakit, films are not made for critics; I mean that’s bunk, a concept that has been realized over and over again by anybody who writes about film – that it’s made for a mass audience. Ngayon pagka ang iyong attitude diyan e kailangan ang pelikula’y tailor-made for my prejudices and my sensitivity, ang resulta niyan e wala kang magugustuhan sa iyong panonoorin.

Is it possible that her presence in the publication merely reflects a larger perception na mas mahalaga ang ibang bagay, like politics, so kung movies lang ang topic e pwede nang maging pabaya?

Yes, of course that’s true. Pero kung pinag-iisipan niya yung kanyang trabaho, makikita niya na yung kanyang tono is not what a writer should assume. As a matter of fact I had once begun to write a letter to the Daily Globe. Right after Christmas she wrote this article about street children and how they annoy drivers. Parang sinasabi niya na parang mga hayop ang mga ’to, basta na lang sumusulpot diyan. Pagkatapos sinabi niya sa pagtatapos ng kanyang pagkwento na she has this vision na yung isang kotse tumigil, nagkukumpulan yung mga namamalimos, and then the window opens and a magnum pistol e lalabas sa bintana at babarilin yung mga children who were annoying the driver; yung daw mga jeep nagtigilan at ang mga tao nagpalakpakan. It’s a fascist mentality I cannot abide. Natapos ko na yung sulat pero sabi ni Shayne [nee Cynthia Nograles, Lumbera’s wife] masyado raw sarcastic, bakit daw parang tinitiris ko siya – which was really what I wanted to do. So I began revising it pero afterward sabi niya napaka-wala namang power yung writing; since then nawala na yung interes ko sa gagawin ko. Pero kasi, she represents the kind of commentator on Philippine films that we can dispense with. In the past that was how Gino Dormiendo, who was writing about film, sounded: talagang cutting and not only completely cruel but with downright delight in criticizing what he does not like. Pero I think he has mellowed. Of course, Elvira’s young, I understand. I imagine na she’s going to grow up, but has to be told some time.

Kung madagdagan ang knowledge at expertise niya, would that be enough?

I hope she’s trying pero the way she talks parang alam na niya lahat. Para siyang si Prufrock [sa “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” ni T. S. Eliot] – “I have known them all already”! Ganun ang kanyang dating.

[Awkward pause.] Mel Chionglo once told me that a liberal arts preparation is crucial to a filmic sensibility.

Yes, I think it’s very important na merong fund of insights and information from previous exposure to the arts na masasandalan nung writer. Kasi kung ang magiging batayan lang nung writer yung kanyang personal na prejudices, the narrow concept of art na kanyang makukuha sa pagbabasa ng ilang libro, hindi talaga magiging malalim ang kanyang sasabihin…. One time nung nagsalita ako sa CCP tungkol sa theater, sinabi ko – ang aking lecture e mga dos and don’ts – na kailangang huwag magpabilanggo sa kakyutan o katarayan. I think that’s a very strong tendency when one is beginning to write. Yun bang you fall in love with a way, an expression, a point that you wanted to make: you put that across and sacrifice the object you’re talking about kasi nagandahan ka doon sa iyong sasabihin. I went through that experience when I was younger. Time magazine in the 1950s had very beautiful stylists. Kaya yung kanilang mga reviews, mga comments were always quotable, memorable. Pagka nasanay ka sa ganung kagustuhang to be quoted, na mapag-usapan yung iyong sinabi, ang tendensya mo e kalimutan yung iyong primary objective which is to talk about this particular work.

I have always found my practice to begin with a perspective that is always personal, always subjective.

Masasabi natin na yung framework e personal in the sense na yung critic ay nagbasa, nag-aral, nagsuri, at batay dito meron siyang particular na pananaw na nilalapat niya dun sa kanyang nakikita. Pero kung ibig sabihin na purely personal e ganito ako talaga – masungit, pihikan, gusto ko lang yung mga pure works of art – that’s not the kind of framework that will help film criticism. To be confined solely to what is personal is to renege on the elementary level of comment.

How much farther does criticism have to go bago maging satisfactory ang papel nito sa industriya ng filmmaking?

Hindi ang criticism ang kailangan [na magbago], kundi ang sistema ng media’t industry. Pa’no yon? – kailangang ang media maging receptive to serious comment on film. Ibig sabihin, hindi lang kahit na sino ay pwedeng gawing film reviewer, o kaya ang media ay bukas sa criticism na maaaring ikaiinis o ikagagalit ng producer. Pagkatapos, kailangan din merong pagbabago sa economic structures ng lipunan natin para me mga taong pwedeng maging professional critics – [gaya kung] newsman ka, ang trabaho mo, ang iyong pag-uukulan ng pansin, ang beat mo ay movies, at yung iyong mga reviews are the results of the discharging of your responsibilities as a member of the press. That means that one earns one’s keep by being a critic; that will not come to be until the country has achieved more than economic stability, a certain degree of prosperity para yung tao’y – “hindi na kailangang ako’y magsulat ng press releases, hindi na kailangang ako’y maging agent ng isang artista para matugunan ko yung aking mga pangangailangan bilang isang indibidwal na naghahanapbuhay.” For as long as the economic conditions are so bad na kailangan mong magkaroon ng iba’t ibang trabaho para sumapat ang iyong kita, film criticism cannot go anywhere. Ngayon, maganap muna yung mga pagbabagong iyon, then maganda na yung tatakbuhin ng film criticism.

You’re implying that theorizing in film will also have to wait, since the practice of film criticism will take some time before it can flourish.

Not wait in the sense na huwag na muna ngayong mag-theorize –

– o mag-criticize –

– kailangan lang makita ng mga nagte-theorize o nagki-criticize na wala pang magandang puwang sa lipunang ito sa kasalukuyan; na pwede mong gawin yung iyong theorizing at criticizing, pero huwag mong asahan na yan ang iyong ikabubuhay, na yung industriya ay tutugon sa iyong mga hinihingi, na ang buong lipunan e susuporta sa iyong ginagawa. As long as the theorist, the critic is aware of the limitation, pwede siyang magpatuloy. Pero he should not have any illusions about the receptivity of the industry to consider even the viability of his profession.

Isn’t your scenario rather grim?

[Smilingly.] Really, there’s no other word for it: it’s a grim world that the Filipino critic lives in. So the less illusions he has about the viability of his profession, the better for him. Kahit na nasa academe siya – well maybe it’s in academe where such a person can thrive – kailangan din niyang makita yung limitations ng kanyang magagawa within.

Has this been something you have always accepted in your years of practice?

Of course. The reason I’ve been able to stay with the Manunuri [ng Pelikulang Pilipino] is that I do not have any grand illusions about the ability of the group to change matters in the film world. I am interested in film, I like to talk about it with people who are equally serious, so I accept the parameters of the exercise of criticism, and therefore I’m able to put up with such a group. Any improvement kung mangyayari man e will be for the time to come when the critic can exercise his function and make a profession out of it. Hindi pa yon mangyayari, so iba-iba yung levels ng mga taong pumapasok sa Manunuri, iba-iba yung angles of vision. Given this handful of people who share an interest in serious comment on Philippine film, this is a group that I would want to be with, with whom I can interact regarding films. One would be hard-put to find such company in spite of the fact that there are many who see Philippine movies.

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Do you think we’ll be able to realize a theory on film that we could call our own?

Well, not in my lifetime because I only have a few more years to live. Right now we have not yet come up with a definitive film history, and you need history in order to be able to propose or suggest a theory of film. The fact that LVN could show a lot of its old films, and Sampaguita also has some of its films left – these are good signs, these are the texts that students will study. From such a study maybe the beginnings of a theory can be proposed. There’s no other substitute [for this procedure]. When I saw some films in the 1950s and even earlier in the late ’40s, I was watching them not as a critic or even as a student of film. I was just an ordinary movie fan who followed the films of certain actors and actresses whom I liked. So that when I look back on these films, I don’t remember them as works of art, I simply think of one as a movie in which Oscar Moreno appeared, another in which Paraluman played this kind of role – yun ang natatandaan ko. I began to think of film more seriously only in the 1960s, and even then my interest in serious discussions of film was sporadic. It was not until the 1970s that I began to think of it as a field of study. So kahit nakita ko yung mga pelikula nina Gerardo de Leon in the 1940s and ’50s, hindi reliable yung aking memory of those films dahil nga I was a teenager then. I remember for instance yung movie ni Gerardo de Leon, Isumpa Mo, Giliw: among the movies of the past that I vividly remember, that was it – Elsa Oria, Angel Esmeralda, Fely Vallejo, and I found it a very moving film. Pero hiwa-hiwalay yung aking memory of it, so I cannot recall the totality of the film. Even when I talk about it I cannot discuss it as a work of art – that’s a problem with film, it’s such an ephemeral experience. And once the text is lost, it’s difficult to reconstruct. After that, marami ka nang pelikulang nakita, natabunan na yung iyong previous experience with that film. And unless you had written about the experience immediately after you had seen it, pag binalikan mo yan hindi na reliable. I may have seen early movies nung iba yung pagtingin ko noon.

This means na for purposes of historical study, ang pwede lang pagbasehan e yung mga na-preserve lang?


Yung mga hindi na ma-trace are as good as never having been made?

Oo. Para yang prehistory: history begins with facts that can be verified. Pero mabuti nga ngayon, marami pang pelikula from the 1950s, like [especially what] LVN has preserved. Pero LVN lang yan, and LVN was not the best source of the most interesting films – that was Premiere. E Premiere hindi pa nate-trace yung mga pelikula na nawala sa sunog at karamiha’y nasa kamay ng individual collectors. Sa akin nuon, when I was a young moviegoer, LVN was number three. It was Premiere that to me showed the most exciting films, [while] Sampaguita was for entertainment and LVN, kung wala ka nang makitang iba pa. Well, kahit papano, LVN na lang ang me [napreserbang] body of work. Kaya one important [archival] task is to retrieve all the Premiere films that are still available. Gerry de Leon’s 48 Oras (is at least still available) and Sanda Wong which might be available in Hong Kong as people say it is. People generally think that Ramon Estela is one of the better directors of the period na kasabay nina Gerry.


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