Category Archives: Golden Ages

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. 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 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. For 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. 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 Corrigenda & 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 two, 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 already 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. He 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 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 & ass 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.) 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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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!


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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Malvarosa (1958) Sequence Breakdown

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

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

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

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

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