Category Archives: Philippine cinema

A Missing Installation in the Philippine Pantheon

I have decided to attempt the drafting and revision of an article whose final form I am still uncertain about. It will have elements of what we might recognize as basic film research, so it may wind up as a formal essay or a scholarly article. Depending on the terms that any prospective publisher might specify, this article may be pulled out (“embargoed” I think is the technical term) before it can be considered finalized. I will of course alert readers where and when it will be published. For the foreseeable future, I expect to add bibliographic notes, to be minimized if I can help it, and illustrations, as much as I can compile.

I must begin with a personal paradox: I started in film studies during a time when auteurism (or the “auteur theory” for those who prefer Andrew Sarris’s mistranslation of the politique des auteurs) had its heyday and persisted mostly in the minds of what today’s cultural snobs would call fanboys. I participated in such activities as a way of demonstrating the many lacks that local critical practitioners brought to their activities, and saw the millennial generation pick up on the mechanics but not the critique that I thought would make people hesitate or avoid auteur politics altogether.

11011I subsequently became aware that the prevalent trend in pop-culture activity will always be toward more prestige markers, not less. In undertaking what I hoped would be my ultimate (and therefore final) stab at canon-formation, I came to understand a significant aspect of its appeal: in recounting a work we have cherished, the more exclusively the better, we get to replicate the pleasure we experienced in appreciating the piece, along with the satisfaction of knowing, or hoping, that our writing might persuade other people to reconsider their differences with us.

11011The canon project I had been working on (formally as consultant for a publication team) affirmed for me the collected names of appreciated filmmakers – or what Sarrists would call a Pantheon, an assemblage of worthies – along with occasional additions or tweaks, mainly in the direction of rectifying the constant and predictable errors of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the original Filipino critics circle. This process has become so commonplace that most of the better young film bloggers could figure out for themselves how to evaluate films and bodies of work without falling into the established critics’ self-laid traps.

11011With earlier film samples, the provision of proof becomes more burdensome, mainly because of the country’s archival travails. One might stumble across the claim of certain oldtimers (some of them now gone) that Gerry de Leon’s the all-time greatest Pinoy film talent, were it not for the loss of his best entry, Daigdig ng mga Api [World of the Oppressed] (1965). Yet when I reread a vital article by the best among the first batch of MPP members, Petronilo Bn. Daroy, he expressed serious reservations regarding this film, and instead upheld Lamberto V. Avellana’s Anak Dalita [Child of Sorrow] (1956). Lamentably, the film exists, in a remastered condition … and will probably be unable to sustain more than a single screening with audiences who do not share its church-fomented biases against slum residents, lumpenproles, and racial minorities.

Contentions

Interestingly, these first two winners of the Order of the National Artist represented not just rival studios but also different sets of creative associates and political affinities. Although both (along with another National Artist, Eddie Romero) directed episodes of Tagumpay ng Mahirap [Triumph of the Poor] (1965) for Diosdado Macapagal’s ultimately failed campaign against Ferdinand E. Marcos, Avellana managed to switch sides quickly and effectively enough to be able to get his National Artist recognition ahead of de Leon. The one last studio-era National Artist, Manuel Conde, also labors under the loss of his “best” entry, the series of political satires that feature his version of folk trickster Juan Tamad. What remains in his name is the charmingly problematic Genghis Khan (1950), evidence of the Philippines’s once-confident cosmopolitanism in appropriating a “lesser” culture’s heroic figure and devising rollicking entertainment premised on the legendary exploits that led to the rise in power of Temujin Borjigin, prior to his Eurasian expansion of the Mongol Empire during the 13th century.

11011Hence the First Golden Age film that most contemporary film buffs have been holding in highest regard for the past few decades would be Manuel Silos’s Biyaya ng Lupa [Blessings of the Land] (1959). Like Anak Dalita, it was produced by LVN Pictures, famed for its costume epics. Another quality both pictures share is an insistence on social conservatism as vital to the definiton of nationhood, along with the open and violent rejection of marginal characters. It would be tempting to conclude that Filipino film observers tend to revert to reactionary values in evaluating the past, although I would caution against such a headlong conclusion. It may be safer to assume that whatever tools they may have devised for appreciating contemporary releases seem to them to be inappropriate for older films.

11011For this reason I have maintained the vital importance held by Gregorio Fernandez’s Malvarosa (1958). I also submit that its modernity gestures toward our present, which is why it appears anachronistic, capable of baffling viewers of early cinema who expect the samples to be genteel, virtuous, placid, and old-fashioned, possibly out of understandable and well-placed empathy for their elders. Nevertheless such sentiments are beyond me, for better or worse, so my own uphill struggle to convince colleagues to keep rewatching these titles until they arrive at a level of familiarity that breeds either contempt or admiration can only be assuaged by the fact that Malvarosa will be capable of leaving behind most of them, and a lot of latter-day cinema besides.

11011A major part of the difficulty of championing Malvarosa is the figure of its director. Gregorio Fernandez was celebrated for his mid-1950s output, which when regarded by the acclaim bestowed by the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences Awards would have indicated a declension: from a sweep of the major categories for Higit sa Lahat [More than Everything] (1955), to a best film and technical prize only for Luksang Tagumpay [Mournful Victory] (1956), to nominations for the direction of Hukom Roldan [Judge Roldan] (1957) and Kung Ako’y Mahal Mo [If You Love Me] (1960), with an “International Prestige Award of Merit” (presumably for foreign film-festival recognition) for Malvarosa.

11011As anyone familiar with award-giving trends might be able to infer by now, these prizes do not track Fernandez’s achievements with satisfactory accuracy. His first incontrovertible world-class masterwork arrived before the FAMAS took notice, in Prinsipe Teñoso [Prince Teñoso] (1954), dismissed then presumably for being an overtly commercial adaptation of a literary form, the metrical romance, introduced during the Spanish colonial era and previously filmed in 1942, also for LVN Pictures, by Manuel Conde (who takes story credit in the Fernandez version). From available evidence, Higit sa Lahat would be a gendered twist on the Hollywood melodrama favorite Stella Dallas (dir. Henry King, 1925; King Vidor, 1937), but the succeeding films up to Malvarosa demonstrate more admirable and often successful risk-taking.

“Yoyong”

Born in 1904, Fernandez died before he reached 70, in 1973. This was about a year after the Order of the National Artist of the Philippines was first introduced. Considering the many other Filipinos who were able to acquire the distinction after they had died, Fernandez is certainly highly qualified. In fact, with the ready availability of several of his major projects for his home studio, LVN Pictures, one could easily make the argument that Fernandez has been severely underrated and unfairly overlooked.

11011The prevailing assumption about Fernandez is that he shone brightest during the 1950s, the height of the First Golden Age, with a number of his films dominating the so-named academy prizes, in a way that would only be surpassed by Gerardo de Leon, an early National Artist Awardee, in the 1960s. The comparison between the two filmmakers goes beyond the acclaim they received during this period. They were both actors, held advanced health-science degrees (de Leon in medicine and Fernandez in dentistry), provided unforgettable roles for actresses, and had clan members who also became prominent in the local industry.

11011While de Leon’s productive streak continued way after the collapse of the studio system in the early 1960s, Fernandez’s output became scarcer until he seemingly gave up on making films altogether. Unlike de Leon, who was still working on an unfinished epic (Juan de la Cruz, for Fernando Poe Jr.) when he died, Fernandez worked on a hagiographic bio-picture for Diosdado Macapagal and a few sex-themed films. De Leon also did Daigdig ng mga Api for Macapagal’s campaign and a number of genre projects, but he seemed to weather the collapse of the studio system better than Fernandez, making films for the actor-producers who dominated the independent-production system as well as B-films for the US drive-in market.

11011The relative inactivity of Fernandez may have baffled serious observers during the time, but all we have are a few reports posted online as well as the accounts of some of his now-elderly contemporaries. (People were understandably more discreet during this period.) His daughter Merle forged ahead of the aspiring sex sirens of the late 1960s by pioneering in the trend known as bomba, which were erotic melodramas that were premised on the more (literally and figuratively) frontal depictions and discussions of carnal situations that originated in Western cinemas.

11011While the founding elders of the MPP decried the collapse of the vertically integrated studio system (and the First Golden Age along with it), I have pointed out elsewhere that the tendencies they considered most deplorable – bomba films and teen-idol musicals, both products of low-budget “quickie” efforts – actually betoken a progressive sensibility in the local mass audience. Because the new urbanites, comprising rural migrants working in factories and domestic labor, demanded a new breed of stars who resembled them more closely (non-white females rather than the studios’ emphasis on Euro-manqué males), the standard old-time mestizo performers were forced to immerse in taboo-busting material.

11011We ought to take note of the fact that a National Artist for Literature, Bienvenido Lumbera, once stressed (in “Pelikula” 216) that bomba films deserve to be revaluated in light of their overt challenge to the strictures of conservatism and denial of women’s prerogatives in acting on their desires and preferences. (Fernandez’s last film, in fact, starred his daughter, possibly accounting for an abhorrent rumor that both engaged in an incestuous relationship.[1]) With the declaration of martial law in 1972 by President Ferdinand E. Marcos, bomba-film production ended, as did Merle Fernandez’s acting career for the most part. Instead, she provided contacts and support for her younger brother Rudy, who became one of the country’s top action stars, renowned for his ability to combine stunt scenes with serious drama.[2]

Family Tragedy

Interview articles on Gregorio Fernandez during this period situate him in his hometown, where he earned another kind of renown – as an expert cockfighter. He may have worked this out as his way of retiring from industry practice, although this may also indicate some degree of estrangement (from his familial and work circles). One might want to speculate that his professional troubles may have started from the suicide of his wife, Pilar Padilla, whom he had directed and performed with in a 1946 title, Dalawang Daigdig (per the Internet Movie Database). The tributes that came out after Rudy Fernandez’s untimely death from cancer mention how he was the first family member to encounter his mother’s body – a traumatic experience, considering he was 5 years old when she died in 1957.

11011We can speculate on the ways that this incident may have affected Fernandez’s frame of mind, i.e. that he still valiantly managed to come up with an early feminist masterpiece the next year, in Malvarosa, and that he lost his enthusiasm for innovative filmmaking afterward, as perceivable in a decline in his later LVN films. This would be a tricky way of applying auteurist principles, however, primarily because his non-LVN films from the 1960s onward are unavailable. To reference once more Gerardo de Leon, I remember how most cineastes tended to uphold his prestige productions up to Daigdig ng mga Api but dismissed his co-productions and genre projects; yet when video copies of these films became available later, many of them constituted major revelations.[3]

11011In Fernandez’s case, we are fortunate to have LVN scion Mike de Leon, who has overseen the video transfers of nearly all existing Fernandez films and selflessly uploaded these on his Vimeo website, open-access style. I would enjoin all Filipino film enthusiasts to go over the Fernandez titles chronologically, to be able to acquire a proper appreciation of his considerable skills as director and actor. The most significant aspect I noticed in the major films was his careful attention to identity issues, both in terms of strong women (and children) roles as well as in a sincere respect for Muslim Filipinos, to the point of providing them with a heroic twist in the spy narrative of Kontrabando (1950).

11011He could not avoid the Cold War tendency to demonize East Asian characters, unfortunately; but in Capas (1949), he brought up the fraught issue of wartime collaboration and provided a conflicted Japanese officer as a way of demonstrating to the Filipino double-agent that people on the enemy side could also be capable of human decency. We may note here that this film came out almost right after the end of World War II, several decades ahead of Mario O’Hara’s comparable (though expectedly better-focused) Tatlong Taóng Walang Diyos (1976).

11011The other primary mark of Fernandez’s films is his willingness to deploy comedy. Even in his serious works, this tendency enables him to approach the material with a light touch, reminiscent of a great Classical Hollywood practitioner, Ernst Lubitsch. Despite its several promotional placements, Miss Philippines (1947) evinces the bemused stance that would sustain Fernandez through the “heavier” material he would tackle later; in fact the situation of the alcoholic mother and the daughter torn apart by filial loyalty and her longing for happiness would subsequently reappear, with fuller social implications, in Malvarosa.

11011In the meanwhile, he came up with the only available color film bearing his credit, Prinsipe Teñoso (1954), and it’s a marvel beyond the novelty of its Ruritanian-type romance. Its storytelling is so assured and skillful that the existing print’s archival problem, resulting in a narrative leap from the title character’s attempt to defy his father to his wandering in another kingdom as a leper whose true form appears when he bathes, becomes an unexpected modernist touch – perfectly in keeping with the film’s championing of women, captives, the outcast, and Islamic outsiders.

11011Fernandez’s major FAMAS winners were Higit sa Lahat (1955) and Luksang Tagumpay (1956), which attempt to spin the genre of melodrama by placing the burden of saving the family on male characters. The first time I saw these two during a late 1980s retrospective, I had the impression (affirmed in Prinsipe Teñoso) of a director who was not content with observing the standard approaches dictated by genres, star personas, even Classical Hollywood stylistic prescriptions. The now-missing final sequences of Luksang Tagumpay had an Expressionistic denouement, where the central male character’s domestic world literally starts falling apart around him. I remembered having just seen a similar sequence in a film whose title escaped me then; when I saw it again later – Mikhail Khalatozov’s The Cranes Are Flying – I needed a double-take, because Luksang Tagumpay had preceded it by a year.

11011This was all in preparation for a final Fernandez revelation, heralded by Mike de Leon’s social-media announcement. Hukom Roldan (1957) is the major black-and-white discovery of our time, proof that Fernandez’s maverick impulses led him to attempt narrative and cinematic techniques that heralded a globally influential trend that was just about to break out a year later in France. The fragmentation of linear time, abrupt shifts from one character to another, sudden insertions of direct-address sequences – even the narrative twist in following the title character’s story only to focus more intently on the woman he inadvertently betrayed: when Alfred Hitchcock attempted this defiance of audience expectation a few years later in Psycho (1960), the gender emphasis was in the more conventional direction of disposing of an unruly woman so we could focus on the man who solves the mystery of her disappearance.

11011I am not in the habit of lionizing our local filmmakers so enthusiastically, because I believe that we do them (and ourselves) a disservice by overemphasizing their achievements. With Gregorio Fernandez, I have finally come across a filmmaker whose available body of work can sustain enough appreciation for us to declare, no matter how late in our history, another master film artist. I would rate Malvarosa (1958), for which he is justly celebrated, as superior to all the other existing “best” works – Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan (1950), Lamberto V. Avellana’s Anak Dalita (1956), Manuel Silos’s Biyaya ng Lupa (1959); Gerardo de Leon would peak in the 1960s, so Fernandez’s films in the 1950s ought to rate more highly than even de Leon’s.

11011Inasmuch as it would take too much time to explicate why Malvarosa deserves more than the significant appreciation it already enjoys (our best black-and-white movie would not be difficult to declare), I should just close for now by pointing out its merits vis-à-vis its contemporaries: its focus on the downtrodden is not “redeemed” by the intervention of society’s superiors; it embraces slum culture – its lingo, pastimes, and aspirations – while slyly and good-naturedly pointing out their limits; it provides warm emotional closure without falsifying the tragic losses that our poverty-stricken compatriots (still) undergo. This may help explain why it has been easier for film commentators to dwell on the other 1950s films: although more identifiably of its time than most of the other entries, the treatment that Malvarosa invests in this material is beyond-classical in its sophistication and naturalistic in its sociological observations.

Notes

[1] Rap Fernandez, grandson of Gregorio Fernandez via his son Rudy and the latter’s wife Lorna Tolentino, replied to my query on the allegation by stating: “I was only made aware of the rumor through the research I conducted for my thesis on Gregorio but I know for a fact that this is blatantly untrue. There were even rumors that my father was Merle and Gregorio’s secret son but that’s just completely false.” A niece of Merle, Jane Po, affirmed not just the falsity but also the implausibility of such a scenario. (Both exchanges were conducted via Facebook Messenger.)

[2] Gregorio Fernandez introduced Rudy to Sampaguita Pictures in time for the musical teen-idol trend mentioned earlier, but he probably shared his elder sister Merle’s dilemma of being too fair for the preferences of the early 1970s mass audience, aside from coming in when the trend (along with bomba) was at its peak. Rap Fernandez pointed out Merle’s involvement in finding opportunities for Rudy; she also grieved over his death from a terminal illness, maintaining that she had lost someone she deeply cared for (interview with Leavold & Palisa).

[3] It would make sense to place Gregorio Fernandez’s peak in the 1950s, a decade removed from Gerardo de Leon’s, since the latter actually was nearly ten years younger. Gerry de Leon’s Terror Is a Man (1959), Women in Cages (1971), Kulay Dugo ang Gabi [The Blood Drinkers] (1964), and Ibulong Mo sa Hangin [Blood of the Vampires] (1964) hold varying degrees of admirable regard for cineastes who specialize in B-film production.

Works Cited

Daroy, Petronilo Bn. “Main Currents in the Filipino Cinema.” Readings in Philippine Cinema. Ed. Rafael Ma. Guerrero. Manila: Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, 1983. 95-108.

Leavold, Andrew, and Daniel Palisa, dirs. The Last Pinoy Action King. Documentary. Reflection Films, Death Rides a Red Horse, and Quiapost Productions, 2015.

Lumbera, Bienvenido. “Pelikula: An Essay on Philippine Cinema.” Tuklas Sining: Essays on the Philippine Arts. Ed. Nicanor G. Tiongson. Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1991. 190-229.

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Experimental Cinema of the Philippines: A Hasty Recollection

The Experimental Cinema of the Philippines only appears as a category in my list of pre-internet non-journal non-newspaper periodicals, which provides an incomplete picture of the agency’s persistence in my output. For this reason I thought of providing this landing page, essentially a provisional and still gap-filled collection. I happened to have just a few materials from the agency and only one from the Manila International Film Festival, which was officially one of the ECP’s departments but repudiated by the director-general (originally slated to be Imelda Marcos but preempted by her daughter Ma. Imelda a.k.a. Imee). These were the publications I brought along with me to my graduate studies abroad, to serve as basic research material; as it turned out, everything else I left back home – periodicals, videos, and memorabilia – was either pilfered or damaged by typhoons and/or termites.

11011The discovery of a building proposal, submitted in 1981 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, classified as restricted and titled “The Manila Film Centre,” was something I found online, presumably after having been cleared for whatever was confidential about it. The historical structure appears to have followed the proposal, implying that the former First Lady was closely involved in its design from the start.

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The Film Palace: A Divergence

Regarding the collapse of the Manila Film Center scaffolding during its construction in November 1981, attributed to careless building procedures, I have consistently presented the following qualifications:

  • the architect in charge, Froilan Hong, had extensive global academic preparation and experience in modernist construction (he was Dean of the national university’s College of Architecture around that period), so he understandably contested the number of victims – of which, typically, an exact number will never be determined;[1]
  • also, anyone then who still remembered the temblor-triggered collapse of the Ruby Tower residential building about a decade earlier (an event that vicariously traumatized Filipino architects everywhere, including my father) would not be tempted to cut corners in a far more complicated undertaking.

Since the martial-law regime imposed a news blackout for over a day, I have found it impossible to confirm any preliminary report of the incident even in foreign-press accounts. For this reason, two dates are also mentioned in various accounts (either the 17th or the 18th), possibly arising from the confusion caused by the delay in the release of information.

11011The national dailies that carefully printed similar-sounding news acknowledged that some workers died but that construction activities had resumed. As anyone with sufficient experience with media psychology could have foretold, several speculations – ranging from natural to metaphysical – emerged to clarify, embellish, or challenge the official version of events.

11011For my part, I can only add what first-hand experience could affirm: on the (still-to-be-determined) date of the incident, I was in the vicinity of the construction, along with the rest of the public-relations staff, winding up overnight preparations required to beat some printing deadline for the production of materials for the MIFF. Our office at the Philippine International Convention Center faced the same parking lot where the MFC was rising dextrally, so occasionally we would peer out to see the structure, brightly lit as if being readied for a Hollywood blockbuster, with ladders, derricks, and hoists on all sides.

11011A few hours after midnight a strong tremor shook the place. Everyone rushed to the windows to see what happened to the construction. The sight was uncanny, with workers scampering everywhere, the ladders filled with men clambering downward. From this distant spectacle we knew that something dreadful could have happened (as it did), but we had our tasks to complete and were groggy from working nonstop already.

11011I mention this specific detail because it appears in no other account except “Grains & Flickers,” the article I wrote for the 2016 book edited by JPaul S. Manzanilla and Caroline S. Hau, titled Remembering/Rethinking EDSA, as well as in my monograph Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic (Arsenal Press, 2017). One careless commentator blurted out in a group discussion (all right, chat) that my story sounds like an exoneration of the people involved in the tragedy – neglecting the crucial facts that first, it happened, and second, I was with witnesses. Undeniably it complicates the narrative, but I wouldn’t say it exculpates the usual suspects unless one were to operate within the fully guilty-vs.-fully innocent binary that critically ill-equipped (though unfortunately typical) netizens have become accustomed to.[2]

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The Malakas at Maganda mural displayed at the entrance to the main theater of the Manila Film Center (from Lakbay ng Lakan, reprinted with permission). For a discussion, please see the Illustrational Problematics page I uploaded for my book Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic.

A Haunting

I have to begin by expressing my mounting vexation at the number of netizens asking about the presence of ghosts in the building. Scientific and historical materialism before everything else, please (and sorry for stating what should have been obvious already). We moved in after the MIFF for which the MFC was constructed had ended, and a number of accounts correctly state that government officials were hoping for an exorcism ritual – but identify Imelda Marcos as its instigator. This made no sense, since her event had just finished and it was the ECP, led by Imee Marcos, that was to hold office in the building; it was also out of character for Mrs. Marcos, whose advisers would have dissuaded her from conducting such an exercise. (The MIFF, as an independently run ECP department, occupied an upper floor but was operated by its Deputy Director John J. Litton, who preferred to use the initials JJL.) Fortunately a former supervisor, Nena C. Benigno, provided a definitive account of Imee Marcos’s direct involvement in the ritual in a magazine interview in 2015.

11011The news about Betty Benitez perishing in a vehicular accident after an assignation with Onofre D. Corpuz had a whiff of karmic schadenfreude about it, since Benitez was in charge of the MFC construction project. The story that what caused their car to swerve disastrously was a vision of bloodied workers crossing the street first circulated as a persistent rumor, but it was another death – that of Benigno Aquino Jr. in September 1983, returning from exile in the US – that finally facilitated the publication of the tale. It came out in a Catholic Church opposition broadsheet, Veritas, minus any authorial credit, and added the slant that the couple, married but not to each other, were conducting an affair. I recognized the article’s stylistic flourishes as typical of a former office co-worker, Eddie Pacheco, who had started expressing dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the Aquino assassination and resigned soon afterward. (Pacheco lived in Pampanga after his retirement but was killed in an apparent early-morning burglary in 2012.)

11011What haunted my memory during and after my stint at the agency was an encounter with an old security guard. He was extraordinarily avuncular, in the manner that elderly working-class men carry over from their drunken states when they realize how well it goes over with strangers they want to impress. I was leaving work with some of my office mates and lingered by the exit as they timestamped their employee-record cards. The old man started talking about how he’d been guarding the place during the construction period, so I asked if he witnessed the collapse of the scaffolding. He talked at length about workers who lost their limbs, if not their lives, and bodies that had to be cemented over in order to meet the building completion deadline.

11011I knew he was gravely endangering himself but he seemed to be unaware of the kind of reality I’d been able to observe: Imee Marcos enrolled in the same class on Philippine nationalism that I was taking under Renato Constantino a few years earlier, and several heavyset middle-aged barong-clad men, definitely not national-university types, presented their registration credentials and positioned themselves all over the classroom while she sat in the center. I thought I could just warn him another time, when less of a crowd would be standing around … but he never showed up again afterward.

11011He could have been fired, or transferred, or just scared away from his job – but this was martial law, and it was never advisable to assume anything less than the worst. If I’d been one of the over-imaginative (though frankly airheaded) cinema attendants who loved indulging in ghost tales and never wanted for listeners prepped by the MFC’s bloody history, I would have spread the story that he must have been one of the fallen workers who wanted his version of events told right, a revenant who returned to the afterlife upon accomplishing his mission. It would have been a far less distressing account than the real-life possibilities I had to accept.

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Other ECP Materials in Ámauteurish!

I’d reviewed a few films that came out during this period, including the ECP productions except the last one. I’d still been working out a critical voice and perspective then, so I’d prefer not to list these titles here, although anyone interested for whatever reason will be able to find the films in this blog’s Reviews section.

11011The release (in more ways than one) of the Ishmael Bernal film Manila by Night may be regarded as the ECP’s final positive contribution to Pinas pop-culture history: it was banned upon completion in early 1980 and screened with seemingly uncountable cuts and deletions – the most severely censored movie ever in local cinema. After the MIFF’s reliance on pornographic films in order to fund the First Lady’s world-scale bacchanals followed a few months later by the killing of Aquino, the MFC sounded out a call for artistic sex-themed products.[3] I remember writing an informal letter to an official suggesting that MbN should be considered a prime candidate because it was officially accepted for the Berlin International Film Festival competition (though prevented from leaving at the time because of the First Lady’s disapprobation); it won the local critics’ award despite its badly mangled condition; and its producer actively participated in providing well-attended titles for MFC screenings. After this I also recall processing the documentation necessary for the release of the integral version of the film for screening exclusively at the MFC.[4]

11011The definitive empirical summary of the agency’s performance lies in documents, stored on drives, that are now lost: its annual reports, all of which I researched, compiled, and wrote. The first one, titled Experimental Cinema of the Philippines: Year One, came out as a glossy publication, while the second and third were bound printouts. Why only three years, when the ECP was set up in 1981 and the EDSA uprising was in 1986? Once more, despite most accounts’ misperception, the organization existed only for as long as Imee Marcos could devote her full attention to it. After the Aquino assassination (and upon getting her now-controversial law degree from the national university), she decided to run for the interim parliament and focus on her duties therein. With the MIFF only too willing to take over the agency, she arranged for the ECP to be dissolved and a new body called the Film Development Foundation of the Philippines set up in its place. This was the body that was shut down in February 1986.

11011While it was around, the public relations department where I worked managed to come up with a magazine, SineManila, limited to a maiden issue because of a nasty turf war waged by a military agent and her staff who insisted that her department’s tiny magazine, Filipino Film Review (my complete file of which was lost), be the only ECP publication that the public could access. We also managed to come up with only one in-house publication, Jario Scenario, since the ECP at this stage was nearing its transition to the FDFP.

11011Since the officials in our department were outsourced from the National Media Production Center (now the Philippine Information Agency), we were obliged to serve all ECP departments including the MIFF. (Recall the opening account where our experience of the tremor that caused the MFC tragedy was due to one of several all-nighters necessitated by an impending MIFF printer’s deadline.) The start of my employment was right after the MIFF dry-run edition, during which I managed to secure passes for the critics circle and experienced the kind of overload that led me to regard filmfests as less-than-ideal venues for appreciating movies.

11011The next year’s (first regular) MIFF was the one held at the MFC building, already and inevitably notorious even before it opened. It had Satyajit Ray as chair of the competition jury, and honored a now-forgotten film, 36 Chowringhee Lane, Aparna Sen’s debut as a director, defeating entries by the likes of Roger Donaldson, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Lawrence Kasdan, Karel Reisz, François Truffaut, and Peter Weir. A daily magazine, Manila Film International (of which my complete file was also irretrievably damaged), was published but not by our department. The next year’s winner was another close-to-forgotten entry, the late Yu Wigong’s Memories of Old Peking (a.k.a. My Memories of Old Beijing), but it also had Filipino films in competition: Oro, Plata, Mata (which won a special jury prize) by Peque Gallaga and Moral by Marilou Diaz-Abaya.

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Essential Readings

In coordination with the now-defunct Metro Manila Commission, the ECP and MIFF launched separate publications the next year. The ECP’s was a book edited by Rafael Ma. Guerrero, titled Readings in Philippine Cinema – as definitive a text as it was possible to compile up to that point. The MIFF had strictly supplementary material, also edited (though uncredited) by Guerrero, titled Focus on Filipino Films. The eponymously titled film module that the latter accompanied can well be regarded as the highlight of all the MIFF editions put together: a nearly ideal canon-formation project that conscripted film experts who screened available films (though only once) and deliberated on whether they should be included or not; new prints of the selected titles were then struck, with French and English subtitles. Eye-opener accounts such as “Manila’s Angels,” Elliott Stein’s article in Film Comment, made exceptions in a properly critical report of the MIFF’s proceedings in order to express admiration for several of the module entries.

11011Needless to add, this first-time attempt was never to be replicated thereafter. Many of the now faded prints are regarded as still the most acceptable available copies of their specific titles, with digital remastering the only possible future stage for them. The next year’s MIFF reverted to the dry-run dimension, to be able to evade the then-growing united-front movement that arose in protest over the Aquino assassination.

11011A still insistently forward-thinking ECP administration proceeded with its last batch of productions, which gave me the opportunity to interview Soltero director Pio de Castro III on location in Baguio – at the Hyatt Terraces, the same hotel that collapsed from another tremor several years after. They also assigned me to attend the courses of the lately introduced undergraduate film specialization at the national university, to be able to eventually set up our own education program. I countered that, since I already held a bachelor’s diploma from the institute that proffered the degree, I would need only a few extra units in order to earn the new baccalaureate itself. I thought my proposal would have come across as audacious, but then there were already less tasks to attend to with the “indefinitely postponed” MIFF and the impending transition of the director-general to her interim Batasang Pambansa commitment. The February 1986 ouster of the Marcos administration occurred during my final semester of undergrad film studies, so just like in my first bachelor’s degree, I was once more a working student who was out of a job upon graduation.[5]

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Notes

I do acknowledge that the memoir format will better serve some of the material presented here, but I prefer not to let this opportunity pass in case I wind up unable to complete the writing project. So I will name this early the people to whom I plan to dedicate the forthcoming effort: the ones (possibly entirely men, but we have no way of knowing any longer) who unwillingly and prematurely gave up their lives for the construction of the hideously pretentious building where we had to work for too long. The ouster of the Marcos regime was not bloody enough to redress the violence visited on you (as well as on countless others), and the silence with which your annihilation was completed.

[1] A letter sent by Baltazar N. Endriga, former chair and president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, states that Froilan Hong counted seven fatalities and recapitulates the standard account of how “the scaffolding supporting the platform into which concrete was being poured collapsed and the seven workers fell to their deaths. The bodies of all seven were then retrieved and given the proper rites befitting the dead. [Hong] belied the popular story that many workers were buried alive in concrete and that in the hurry to finish the construction, they were simply entombed under the Film Center’s bowels” (“Account on the 1981 Manila Film Center Deaths,” Inquirer.net, February 26, 2021). Endriga does not state his involvement in the project or whether Hong was present during the accident and/or rescue operations.

[2] I did manage to secure recent official confirmation that short night tremors, ranging from moderate to strong, hit Luzon during both dates, after the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology referred my query to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration – inasmuch as the former was founded only afterward, in September 1982, and therefore the pre-PHIVOLCS tracking of earthquakes was performed by PAGASA. I have no knowledge of the reliability of the government’s seismographic instruments or record-keeping activities during that time, however, so these questions will have to be regarded for now as compounding the other problem I mentioned of determining the exact date of the MFC tragedy.

[3] Not surprisingly, the MIFF concerned itself with the same goal, since it had already reaped profits from adults-only screenings from all over (downtown venues were censorship-exempt during the festival period). Producers were convened at the MFC’s MIFF office for specific instructions as to what they may be allowed to present – in porn parlance, tits & asses as well as simulated sex scenes. The ECP, for its part, provided support in the form of flyers and warm bodies for the Concerned Artists of the Philippines’s anti-censorship rallies.

11011When the expected moralist backlash occurred, with the chief of the Board of Censors for Motion Pictures asserting her presidential appointment and thereby operating at the same governmental level as Imee Marcos, a high-ranking MIFF official issued a statement that the films were smutty because producers were deliberately violating the limits that the government prescribed. The producers themselves, who were constant visitors at the MFC because of other services such as funding subsidies and tax rebates, replied (in strict confidence, understandably) that it was this same top MIFF official who kept pestering them to shoot far raunchier scenes even if these no longer had any relevance to the films being considered. Said official was blasted on national television after February 1986 by Lino Brocka, for his opportunistic claim that he had been supportive of the anti-Marcos opposition all along.

[4] What mystifies me is why members of the critics circle (who that time congratulated me for actualizing the release of the uncensored print) insist on calling the film anything except the title its producer and director-writer provided: because the film that their awards honored was not titled Manila by Night? (City after Dark was the censored version, while Manila after Dark does not even apply to any movie whatsoever, although check out this kink in my argument.) The same government that banned, then censored, the film, also restored the original title when it was approved for an MFC screening. As the person assigned to host the premiere, I saw with my own eyes the words “Manila by Night” projected onscreen during the movie’s opening credits.

[5] I might as well provide one of the plausible urban myths that some media colleagues of mine claim as factual, since it does denote a happy ending and resembles my experience: one of Imee Marcos’s bodyguards supposedly realized that his official enrollment in the same courses she was taking at the national university was an opportunity for self-advancement, and actually completed for his own credit the same undergraduate and law degrees that she claimed to have finished (though without any official documentation in her case); he passed the bar exam and no longer had to risk his life for the sake of any high-ranking government bigwig. Some day some enterprising investigative journalist will have to uncover the truth (or falsity) of this singularly marvelous story.

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

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

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

11011The FDCP was thus looking at completing Manila by Night’s full restoration, leading up to a possible premier on the big screen. It was to be a potentially big event, and I was tasked with doing a cover story on the film for the newsletter. So I immediately sent an email to Peque Gallaga, Manila’s production designer, who graciously promised to write me something posthaste.

11011However, as it happened, Peque was in the midst of moving house in his native Bacolod, and, in the frenzy, couldn’t find the chance to sit down and write. He offered instead to do a long-distance phone interview, which I welcomed and arranged (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Email reply from Peque Gallaga.

11011The following is the transcript of that interview, which I did on my own volition. As there was no way for me then to record a mobile phone conversation, I had to transcribe everything in real time, by longhand! I also took the liberty of adding headings to make it more comprehensible. Alas, I failed to save the article draft, the publication of which was eventually scrapped as the restoration project never got off the ground.

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

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

Peque on Manila, the city

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

Peque on Bernal’s directing style

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

Note

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

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

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

11011“I don’t think I saw him after that anymore. So much so that when Marilou Diaz-Abaya called me up and said, ‘We need your help, Bernie’s dead,’ I said, ‘I’m busy, I can’t make it, I have to finish something first.’ She said, ‘Come on, that’s Bernie, he’s your friend.’ I said ‘I’m sorry I can’t make it, I can’t make it,’ so she hung up [after] she told me where it was. I stayed there for a while and I said ‘That’s right, Bernie’s my friend.’ So I got in the car and went, not to the wake. His body had just been brought in [to the morgue]. Mel Chionglo was there, Marilou, one or two others. And they said, ‘Oh you’re here, you should be here, we’re his friends.’ I said ‘Yeah, what do you want me to do?’ ‘Well we’re choosing coffins now and everything we seem to choose are six figures – 300,000 [pesos], 250,000. We have to work this out, what can you do?’ I said, ‘I’ll watch his body.’ So I went and sat down and I watched them not only dress him up, but put the big needle to remove all the dead blood, wash him, et cetera. I just stayed there until everything was done and they dressed him up and I remember combing his hair. That’s the last time I saw Bernie.” [From “Brocka-Bernal Interviews, 2018-2019,” for the exhibit Brocka, Bernal, and the City, January 24 to April 29, 2019, at the De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde’s School of Design and Arts.]

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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.

11011Responses 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.

11011As 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.

11011One 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.

11011The 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.

11011If 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.

11011The 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.

11011As 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.

11011This 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.

11011For 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.

11011A 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.

11011In 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.

11011I 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.

11011I 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, with descriptors in place of emojis; please message me (using this blog’s Queries option) if you need to have any non-English passages translated to English.

February 10, 2011, 7:28 PM

Joel
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

Bernardo
Anytime, Joel. [Smile]

May 28, 2011, 9:37 PM

Joel
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.

11011You 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

Bernardo
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

Bernardo
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

Joel
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

Bernardo
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

Joel
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.?

11011Yung 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

Bernardo
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

Joel
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

Bernardo
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

Joel
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.

11011The 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

Joel
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

Bernardo
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

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

Bernardo
Hi, Joel. It’s <anonymized@msn.com>. Ingatz. BB

11011Salamuch 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!

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]

11011At 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.

11011Be 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

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

Joel
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!

Bernardo
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.

Joel
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!

Bernardo
[Laugh]

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April 14, 2014, 12:58 PM

Joel
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?

11011Pasensya 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!

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

Joel
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….

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

April 29, 2014, 9:25 PM

Bernardo
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?

Joel
Yes na yes. Aabot pa. Many thanks!

Bernardo
Great. [Smile] Thanks. Working on it.

May 04, 2014, 10:42 PM

Bernardo
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.

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

August 07, 2015, 9:53 PM

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

11011The 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

Bernardo
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 Snopes.com, 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

Joel
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.

11011I’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

Bernardo
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

Joel
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

Bernardo
[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

Joel
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

Bernardo
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

Bernardo
[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.

11011Looking 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!

Joel
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.

Bernardo
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!

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

January 22, 2016, 8:41 PM

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Joel
[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.

11011Re 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.

11011Re 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.

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

11011Just 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!

Joel
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.

11011Dinagdag 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!

11011BB – 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!

Bernardo
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!

Joel
OK, I will, salamat![8]

January 25, 2016, 12:31 AM

Bernardo
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!

11011Two 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

Bernardo
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?

Joel
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.

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

March 21, 2017, 9:59 PM

Joel
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?

11011I’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

Bernardo
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

Bernardo
[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

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

11011Maraming salamat as well. The pics look smashing! Very BB! [Smile]

July 14, 2017, 9:02 AM

Joel
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 Spot.ph. 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]

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

Joel
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.

Bernardo
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.

Joel
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]

11011Got 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.

11011I also ran a word count sa libro. After Ishma, pangalan mo yung pinakamadalas mabanggit.

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Bernardo
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!

Joel
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.

11011Yung 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

Bernardo
Bow na ako talaga sa iyo. [Heart]

September 15, 2017, 2:00 AM

Joel
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?”

11011Pwedeng 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

Bernardo
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.

Joel
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.

11011I’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).

11011Sorry 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.

11011Sabi 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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Bernardo
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?

11011I love what you just wrote.

Joel
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.

Bernardo
[Heart]

September 16, 2017, 8:58 AM

Joel
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

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

11011Also, 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.

Joel
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]

Bernardo
Wonderful! [Smile] Mabuhay and congratulations!

November 23, 2017, 11:37 AM

Bernardo
[Happy Thanksgiving greeting]

January 22, 2018, 6:02 PM

Joel
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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Notes

[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 (pp. 58-61), titled “Bernardo Bernardo on His Mentor, Ishmael Bernal: Lights, Camera, Soul.”

[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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Page Excerpt of the Bernardo Bernardo Interview

Above (click to enlarge) is the first page of the interview I conducted with Bernardo Bernardo, originally posted on this blog and also titled “Manay Revisits Manila by Night.” It is now an Appendix in my Arsenal publication, Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic (Matthew Hays & Thomas Waugh, series eds.). Until a Philippine publisher reprints it, the book may be purchased from North American booksellers including the publisher’s website.

Á!


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.

11011This 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.

11011It 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.

11011The 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.

11011One 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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11011That 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.

11011Before 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.

11011But 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.

11011This 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.

Notes

[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’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

This is the full text of the Filipino Arts & Cinema International’s first Gawad Lingap Sining Lecture, held at the City College of San Francisco’s Diego Rivera Theater, famed for the muralist’s Pan American Unity, a fresco originally completed in 1940 for the Golden Gate International Exposition. The lecture was delivered on October 18, 2016, as part of that year’s FACINE Filipino International Cine Festival’s opening ceremony. To jump to later sections, please click here for: Critical Thinking; Self-Colonization; Differences; Effective Expression; and Notes.

diego-rivera-stage
(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.

11011I 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.

11011For 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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Critical Thinking

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.

11011So 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.

11011We’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.

11011Worcester 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.

11011I 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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Self-Colonization

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.

11011In 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.

11011For 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?

11011Like 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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Differences

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.

11011Second, 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.

11011Third, 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.

11011The 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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Effective Expression

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.

11011There 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.

11011I 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.

11011Thank you for paying attention. I wish you all the best experience before, during, and after watching movies.

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Notes

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], 182-84; in Patrick F. Campos (ed.), “A Round Table Discussion on Poetics and Practice of Film Criticism,” 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: Views of the Cinema of the Sixties (New York: Macmillan, 1967): 1-16.

[8] Patrick F. Campos (ed.), “A Round Table Discussion on Poetics and Practice of Film Criticism,” Plaridel: A Philippine Journal of Communication, Media, and Society 13.1 (2016): 148-84.

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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.

11011I 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.

11011Lino 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.

11011In 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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Á!