Tag Archives: canon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the massage parlor, Alex is harassing Bea by borrowing money from her. Kano, being chased by plainclothesmen, runs inside to ask Bea to hide her but the latter refuses. When Kano, followed by Alex, escapes through the rooftop exit, Bea tells the plainclothesmen how to find them. Kano and Alex run through the streets chased by three cops. Alex eludes them by hiding in a dark corner but Kano gets cornered and caught, struggling against her captors. Alex walks toward the people’s park, washing his face along the way in a pail of dirty water. Amid the sunrise, with the city waking up and some people heading for work as others do Oriental martial exercises, he lays down on a bed of flowers and falls asleep.


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Film May Be Dead, but Film Culture Is Alive and Well

Respeto [Respect]
Directed by Treb Monteras II
Written by Treb Monteras II & Njel de Mesa

A little over a decade ago, Philippine cinema succumbed to the inevitable: the outpacing of celluloid production by digital technology, with filmographic and critical evaluators resisting the shift, insisting on recognizing “real” films as opposed to (paraphrasing a Hollywood filmmaker) “TV on the big screen.” As it turned out, the change would be inevitable for the rest of the world as well – the Philippines was merely more vulnerable to this end-time development because it was weaker and poorer than most other active film-producing countries.

As in several other cases of national endeavors, our practitioners persisted in the new medium until the rest of the world took notice – almost the same time that our local taste-mongers did. A little-known fact is that the first Filipino video-feature film, Mike de Leon’s Bilanggo sa Dilim, was made over three decades ago, the same year that the Marcos fascist dictatorship was overthrown. Since the country’s full digital turn, all the exciting film developments have occurred in either independent production or in that liminal space where indies and mainstream keep attempting to coexist despite the unavoidable tensions between them.

The most prominent crossover examples would be where an indie release unexpectedly reaches a mainstream crowd, previously realized two years ago when Jerrold Tarog’s Heneral Luna kept drawing increasingly larger audiences until it finally assumed blockbuster proportion – the opposite of the usual mainstream crowd-drawers, where the audience numbers tend to dwindle as the weeks go by. The latest example of this left-field conquest is Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s Kita Kita, a romantic comedy set in Sapporo, Japan, with a “temporarily blind” Beauty (played by Alessandra de Rossi) falling for her unlikely Beast (comedian Empoy Marquez). The movie has been criticized for inadvertently validating a stalker situation, but de Rossi is such a confident and fearless performer that she manages to convince viewers that her character’s resistance and eventual capitulation to her co-performer’s insistent courtship was hers alone to make.

The second crossover type of movie is the one where a mainstream actor stretches, so to speak, by gracing an indie project with her or his presence. Of the younger performers, male stars like John Lloyd Cruz and Piolo Pascual have been able to boost their stock by appearing in the European festival winners of Lav Diaz. But when we speak of the previous Golden Age (roughly coinciding with the martial-law period of Ferdinand Marcos), it’s the women who reigned supreme. Local superstar Nora Aunor and her perennial rival Vilma Santos have added Cinemalaya entries to their filmographic lists, and this year it is Sharon Cuneta’s turn, with Mes de Guzman’s Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha. The film further enhances Cuneta’s bid as mature star-performer, and will be distributed by Star Cinema, the country’s primary mainstream entity, but might be revised based on critical responses from its Cinemalaya screenings (which were nevertheless always full).

A third type deserves to be mentioned: a movie that deserves to cross over but gets lost in the shuffle as well as the vagaries of audience preferences. This occurred in the post-Cinemalaya event, the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino. Pauwi Na is the kind of movie that could move you despite all your doubts about its surface qualities and its (literally) old narrative, drawn from an early 2000s newspaper report. Each performer is provided with her or his moments of grace, and as in all family histories, the mother is the one that holds the whole unit together. To say that Cherry Pie Picache outshines everyone is not to demean an excellent ensemble; it just affirms what has become increasingly evident since the turn of the millennium – that the former distracted and clueless “bold” newcomer has transformed herself into the performer to beat in local cinema, never hesitant about displaying raw emotions, but also consummate in processing those emotions so that they function in precise increments, in perfect consonance with her co-actors and the plot machinery. Sadly, the PPP screenings I attended of Pauwi Na were always less than half-full, which made the audience’s enthusiastic applause at the end feel like small consolation. If you haven’t seen this movie, do yourself a favor and make the acquaintance of something that is whole and perfect after you’ve uncovered it, instead of the usual perfect-looking product that has nothing much worth treasuring inside.

The movie that generates the most excitement, in terms of our discussion, is the one that attempts the example embodied by releases like Heneral Luna: an indie production that, unlike Kita Kita, does not aspire to any existing commercial formula, but instead works out one of its own, introducing the audience to a new form that they could take to heart. In effect, this practice replicates the innovations successfully attempted by such past Golden Age masters as Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal (to name the two most prominent ones). Serendipitously, one such release broke out in this year’s Cinemalaya edition, proffering music and street poetry, drawn-from-headlines incidents, and locales that the impoverished majority of movie-goers would be intimately familiar with.

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Titled Respeto, the film is directed by Treb Monteras II (introduced via a cameo in the movie as O.G. Birador), a long-time hiphop events organizer. The local rap scene has been documented in indie films before, most famously in Jim Libiran’s Tribu (2007), which like Respeto also won Cinemalaya’s top prize. This time around, the entry focuses on the YouTube sensation FlipTop Battle League, which is the talent competition (founded by Alaric “Anygma” Yuson, son of poet Krip Yuson) for aspiring Pinoy rap artists. The millions of FlipTop fans will recognize stars of the genre like Abra and Loonie (who play lead and antagonist) and several others, and will immediately understand why the movie has probably the biggest number of words ever uttered in any Filipino release: at the level of basic survival, when one has nothing to one’s name except a multitude of problems, the only wealth that one can lay claim to is one’s words.

This is not to say that Respeto has no visual acuity to speak of; on the contrary, it renders the slums of Manila as they’re rarely seen. To say that poverty becomes picturesque in the film would normally be tantamount to accusing the artists of denying the painful realities of depressed and congested living conditions. Yet the quotidian elements in the film help explain why people manage to survive despite poverty and degradation: what Respeto’s images celebrate are not the economic conditions, but rather the sense of community and the striving for betterment of slum residents. An early episode, where the government attempts to demolish the residents’ homes, depicts how the people in the neighborhood – employees, vagrants, even criminals – come together armed with potent yet not-illegal weapons (something that you’ll have to find out for yourself when the movie reaches your screen).

The scene ends an extensive expository section where Hendrix (Abra riffing on his comic bully-prone FlipTop persona) engages a hiphop gang in a street showdown and gets chased for smacking his opponent. He and his homies wind up being shooed away by an ornery bookstore owner whom they eventually call Doc because of his ability in improvisational (pre-rap) poetry, known to scholars and old-time enthusiasts as balagtasan. Doc recognizes Hendrix’s hunger for “respeto” and decides to mentor him in the craft of language. The unusual thing about Hendrix is that when he narrates his own experience, he’s able to rap expertly; but in competitive situations, he all but “chokes” (a term for a tongue-tied word warrior). Hendrix’s model, who also becomes his rival, is Breezy G, a mean and brutal champ who refuses to be outdone by anyone, even outside FlipTop scenarios. Driven to desperation, Hendrix decides to short-circuit his lessons from Doc by cribbing some verses tossed away by the old man.

The interaction between Hendrix and Doc provides the spiritual core of Respeto. Dido de la Paz compensates for his late introduction by investing Doc with a full range of quirks and contradictions that only become clear to Hendrix (and the audience) when he provides a backstory that turns his relationship with his biological son, a corrupt police officer, into a painful paradox (a word that Hendrix initially does not understand). Respeto moves in and out of anti-realist touches – an exchange between mentor and student that turns out to have been rhymed and metered, or between rapper and girlfriend that talks about each other’s pain entirely without words – but its self-assured stylistic expertise allows its audience to take pleasure, rather than feel resentment, in such liberties. Monteras, here making his feature-length directorial debut, has actually been an old hand in music videos, counting over 300 entries; Monster Jimenez, the film’s producer, had also been a writer and documentary filmmaker, and shares with Monteras a progressive political orientation even in such matters as gender issues.

Respeto is Exhibit A in how oppositional and critical politics, highly resisted (for now) by the local population, can be conveyed to the ordinary working-class audience: by using language they understand and places that are recognizable to them, enacted by characters they may have known all their lives. I conducted my own little experiment by bringing a couple of solid pro-administration youths to my second screening, and saw how their delighted response effected a new view toward the negation of due process in the Duterte administration’s deadly drug war. At a time when intellectual responses to policy debates no longer suffice, it is time for true artists, with their freedom from pre-existing ideological biases, to intervene; as Jimenez said in an exchange, “it wasn’t so much a system of ideas that [she and Monteras] were looking for…. We placed the story where violence is so ingrained in the characters’ narratives, they find it no longer shocking and it becomes part of their everyday life.” What Respeto heralds, in an immediate sense, is the emergence of fully formed talents who had been paying their dues in overlooked or disrespected formats. What it may succeed at best is in initiating a long-overdue historical demand for a humane approach to addiction as a serious health problem. This is how change is gladsomely achieved.

[First published August 18, 2017, in The FilAm]

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Searched For, But Not Missing

Ang Nawawala [What Isn’t There]
Directed by Marie Jamora
Written by Marie Jamora and Ramon de Veyra

After over a decade of existence, the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival has garnered its share of controversies, many of them centered on differences between officials and practitioners, often proving beneficial to both sides because of the publicity that inevitably attends such spectacles. Lost in the shuffle would be an increasing number of titles that deserve as much (if not more) attention, but that get shunted aside because of jurors’ preferences and the festival audience’s tendency to take their cue from media mileage. Among the titles I had the good fortune to stumble across, I remember Arah Jell Badayos and Margaret Guzman’s Mudraks [Mom] (2006) and Vic Acedillo’s Ang Nerseri [The Nursery] (2009), well-observed modest films whose central performances by established actresses (Rio Locsin and Jaclyn Jose respectively) apparently could not lift them out of the cycle that regularly smothers the entries that do not generate their own hype. Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil’s Boses [Voices] (2008) was a special case – an entry locked out by the jury but that proved so popular among audiences that it became, via a series of still-continuing special screenings, the festival’s highest income-generating production.

Marie Jamora’s Ang Nawawala (2012) possesses its own special package of scandal. It was denounced during the festival period by organized critics from academe (overlapping categories, in the case of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication and the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino or Filipino Film Critics Circle). Rolando Tolentino, the then-concurrent UPCMC dean and MPP chair, published a review in Filipino whose title described the film as “Burgis na Juvenalia” or bourgeois juvenalia (see screen capture) – a serendipitous error when we realize that juvenalia is not the same as juvenility (the reviewer’s likely intended word), but rather that it refers to the celebration of Juvenal, the Roman poet and satirist. Moreover, in a separate article (excerpted in my entry, Fallout over “A Lover’s Polemic”), Tolentino recounted the dissenters to his review by way of downgrading “film bloggers” as presumably inferior to critics like him and his fellow MPP members.

Burgis na Juvenalia

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While I take care to avoid responding to specific reviews, and regard Ámauteurish! as primarily an archival blogsite, my recent viewing of Ang Nawawala convinced me to make an exception to my personal policy of watching a film at least twice, with at least one theatrical screening, in order to provide some (admittedly limited) critical intervention. Tolentino’s review mistakenly opens by stating that the film has “Walang self-reflexive [sic] gesture o take sa pagiging mayaman at pribilehiyado” [no reflexive gesture or take on being rich and privileged]. One would wonder what movie the reviewer managed to watch, when the entire narrative of Ang Nawawala, anchored on a main character who refuses to speak, turns on reflexivity at every opportunity. The reviewer worries that he might be mistaken for “minamaliit ang ganitong uri” [demeaning the members of the (wealthy) class] – quite disingenuous considering the circumstances of the MPP members’ pelf and power; and begins his conclusion by saying that “May ipinapanganak na problematiko ang ganitong pagtahak ng buhay ng maykaya, lalo pa bilang binary oposisyon sa pangkalahatang tema ng indie cinema, ang abang uri” [this treatment of the life of the wealthy gives rise to a problematic, especially in the form of a binary opposition with the general theme of indie cinema, which is the poor class].

Not surprisingly, Tolentino disapproves of the warm Cinemalaya audience reception to Jamora’s film, since he insists on his preconceived notion that “indie cinema” should preoccupy itself with the poor, and imposes this bias in literal terms – i.e., once a filmmaker turns her attention to the higher-than-poor classes, then she has wound up betraying his cherished Cinemalaya ideal. The implication of Tolentino’s premise is astounding in its vulgarity, not only because of its (vulgar-)Marxist origin, but also because it winds up dismissing the vast bulk of global art and literature, if we were to regard only material about “the poor class” (let alone the question of whether these were produced by the same class) as worthy of serious consideration.

Fortunately, Ang Nawawala stands a good chance of outliving such prescriptive guilt-by-association. It invokes the haunting of history by allowing a specter from the main character’s past, in the form of his long-dead twin brother, to engage him in debate regarding his recent actuations, including his decision to remain mute to everybody else; the living brother finally manages to score his own point by telling the ghost (or memory) that if he had been alive, he might have turned out gay – a rather weak riposte, considering how queerness has no longer become the devastating insult it had once been. By this means the brothers maintain a comic-melancholy balance between affection and regret, complicated by their awareness that their mother would have preferred the dead brother to survive.

The fact that the brothers are played by real-life twins adds resonance to the performances, with Jamora providing Dominic Roco (as the survivor) with a distinctive opportunity to play out his man-boy vibe, reminiscent of (and for me, preferable to) the persona that Aga Muhlach once purveyed. Their mother, who wreaks inadvertent cruelty in her performance of heartbreak, is essayed with a surprisingly fragile expertise by Dawn Zulueta; her resolution, one of several in the film, brings the proceedings to a head and rewards the curious viewer with an emotional satisfaction rare in familial depictions in indie cinema.

The aforementioned series of resolutions would be regarded in proper narrative classes as a weakness, but then each succeeding one manages to build up on what had preceded it, and Jamora would not be the first potentially major filmmaker who didn’t know, or maybe didn’t care, how to effectively end a genuinely fruitful journey. In fact one of the biggest lessons that could be drawn from the work of possibly the best local director, Ishmael Bernal, lies precisely in this direction: that once you have taken your audience on a trip that they never had before, you may be excused for worrying less about how the trip should end. (When I accidentally found out that Jamora had been mentored by Marilou Diaz-Abaya, a lot of her aesthetic choices suddenly invoked an unbearable nostalgia, as well as a solid logic: Diaz-Abaya herself had been mentored by Bernal.)

Ang Nawawala should have been recognized as the best debut film by a Pinay filmmaker (with the best pop-music soundtrack of all time as bonus), possibly exceeding even Laurice Guillen’s Kasal? [Wedding?] (1980), and it doesn’t detract from its achievement when we acknowledge that Hannah Espia’s even more impressive Transit arrived the year after, in 2013, along with Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita [Anita’s Last Cha-Cha]. With the only successful contemporary film studio, Star Cinema, already dominated by women directors, we may just be witnessing the indie scene starting to mimic one of the mainstream trends worth emulating.


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Millennial Traversals – Some Words on Film Awards

Here’s an article that took a long time to post because of its accompanying table. I wrote it during the year when a few friends and I founded Kritika, the film critics’ group that (as explained further in the article) we felt implemented our idea of how awards should be conducted. The group folded up after two years, since most members traveled abroad either as migrants or as graduate students – but, as I once wrote elsewhere, only semi-ironically, this was the best demonstration of how truly responsible (self-critical) critics should handle the irresolvable question of prize-giving: by self-destructing. The article originally came out in 1992 (date & pp. unkn.) in an issue of a short-lived magazine titled Mediawatch; I could not find an archival original anywhere, and my own faded photocopy does not include date or page numbers. Even the matrix illustrating 1991’s film awards was severely misaligned – and since my sources then were print reports, some of the entries could not contain the complete list of nominees if these happened to be missing from the news items. What the article aimed to do was provide a snapshot of a year’s award-giving activities; as it turned out, even more movie awards emerged since then, but none of them have been as innovative as Kritika purported to be.

Awards for Philippine film excellence have been around for the most part of the best years of local cinema. The early versions were first handed out during what is now called the first Golden Age of Philippine film (roughly the 1950s) while the current versions all developed during the second half of the Marcos period, or what is now alternately being called the Second Golden Age (my term) or the new cinema (per Professor Bienvenido Lumbera). Perhaps the most significant element in the formation of local film awards has been the presence of media commentators. In fact, even before the very first Filipino film awards were declared, newspapers undertook the task of clarifying for the public what they believed were the outstanding local films: in 1930, for example, the period’s leading critic wrote that Jose Nepomuceno’s adaptation of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere was “the best Filipino film to date…. It is interesting to speculate just exactly…how long it will be before another – naturally higher – standard is set for Filipino films.”

As if to further confirm this insight, the very first awards on record were instituted by a newspaper outfit, the Manila Times Publishing Co. Only two sets of trophies were handed out, in 1950 and 1951, before the concept, called the Maria Clara Awards, gave way to what was misleadingly called the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences, or FAMAS, Awards. Even this early it became evident that local film observers were aware of the pitfalls of existing award-giving bodies and made efforts to introduce reforms – not from within the institutions themselves, but by setting up new bodies instead. For example, the credibility of only one newspaper among many passing judgment on a complex art form would be limited by the expertise of that particular newspaper’s policies and personnel, so the need to have a more acceptable name – as “academy,” after the example of America’s Oscars (handed out by the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) – was the order of the day.

On the other hand, the influence wielded by the press was too strong, since after all, it had been the sole independent expositor of public judgment on local films since the inception of the industry. Not surprisingly, the FAMAS, despite its name, was actually dominated by various print practitioners – an improvement over Manila Time’s single-newspaper monopoly of the Maria Clara Awards, but definitely far from the nature of an authentic academy. For about a quarter-century this was all we ever really had, unless we count in the special case of local-government awards (the Manila Film Festival, begun in 1965 and late merged with other city-based efforts into the still-current Metro Manila Film Festival) as well as the occasional international festival prizes.

In the final analysis, one cannot deny that the FAMAS served a highly estimable function during its early years, with its record of having recognized a high? concentration of currently acknowledged film masterpieces during the first Golden Age. The decline in the quality of its recognition may initially be ascribed to the overall decline in the output of the industry itself, due to the downfall of the studio system during the 1960s. However, when other award-giving bodies managed to recognize some of the more innovative products of the Second Golden Age, the FAMAS was unable to keep up with the times, thus resulting in an extremely uneven lineup of honorees.

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New Bodies

In 1976, two new award-giving bodies were formed, partly as a corrective to the FAMAS’s increasingly unsatisfactory performance. The first was an expansion of the Catholic Church’s then-long-dormant Citizen’s Awards for Television, which used to give out occasional prizes to film achievement, into the Catholic Mass Media Awards, among which film was a crucial field. The second was the Urian Awards of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the first organized group of Filipino critics. The CMMA was laudable in its interdisciplinary scope, attempting to cover as wide a range of practice as possible, thus opening up the possibility of demonstrating interaction among various media. The Urian, on the other hand, can be regarded as a more idealized version of the non-academy FAMAS, since public-relations and otherwise unqualified writers were supposedly excluded.

Nevertheless new limitations in practice eventually emerged – more immediately in the case of the CMMA, since its espousal of non-aesthetic and non-materialist criteria (intended to be derived from religious doctrine) tended to mystify rather than clarify several of its choices. In the case of the Urian, its effectivity was circumscribed by the mode of practice that it assumed: although purportedly an alternative, it opted to play the same showbiz game as the others in announcing a set of nominees, then declaring the winners after a period of mounting tension, thus giving occasion to a highly visible (not to mention profitable) award-giving ceremony.

The other bodies that followed attempted either to improve on or to compete with these existing groups. The Film Academy of the Philippines became the true academy, consequently suffering the display of lack of critical evaluation; a lot of its choices, in fact, are regarded as no better than prizes for popularity. The MMFF was to the government what the CMMA is to the Catholic Church, thus being subject to its mother institution’s errors in historical perception (including the Marcos-era’s ill-advised “developmental” prescriptions), owing to its early-festival timing, of boosting the box-office stock of its winners. The Philippine Movie Press Club’s Star Awards may be seen as a force potentially more credible than the FAMAS and more powerful than the Urian and a true counterpart, in keeping with our observance of Hollywood trends, of the Golden Globe Awards. Alternatives to these necessarily mainstream bodies have been provided by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (formerly the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines) and the University of the Philippines, in their regular film (and, lately, video) competitions.

Expectations remained highest in the case of the Urian, however, since this was the group that mandated itself with the propagation of critical activity. Apart from the fact that most of its members tended to write less (partly due to the constricting high-art formalist nature of its awards criteria), the impact of the award itself began to diminish in significance with the emergence of several overlapping bodies; moreover, film artists, starting with the late Lino Brocka, began expressing gripes that could be traced to the absolutist nature of the prizes – only one winner per category could be declared over all the rest during each annual edition. At one point (in 1987) the Urian decided not to give out any prizes whatsoever, but this only made matters worse, aggravating the charges of elitism and its fostering of divisiveness among film artists.

The latest set of awards to have emerged has attempted to build on the more positive lessons provided by the experiences of these existing bodies. Like the press bodies, the group called Kritika (The Filipino Critics Circle), is expected to comprise active writers in media; like the CMMA, it is interdisciplinary in nature; and like the Urian, it commits itself, if only in name, to the pursuit of critical discourse in the country. (Its historical predecessor was actually the MPP, via first the breakaway group Young Critics Circle, followed by a further split in ranks resulting in Kritika.)

Unlike the previous groups, however, it has eschewed the traditional means of award-giving. Winners are announced forthwith, without having to go through the trauma of competing with colleagues and awaiting a high-profile ceremony; several winners – whether works, individuals, or institutions – may be declared within flexible levels of achievement, in recognition of the fact that complex media forms (especially film) can accommodate innovations in differing aspects of achievements; attainments also need not be penalized according to their respective modes of production – hence alternative works may stand their own alongside mainstream ones; lastly, what the group hands out in addition to trophies, which connote finality and closure, are previously published citations, wherein the reasons for the prize and the choice of winner are explained in full. What this new form of prize-giving will result in still has to be seen, but meanwhile a whole new perspective on the role and responsibilities of critics has opened up, constituting a challenge to all the previous awards practitioners.

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1991 as Sample

To demonstrate the cornucopia of issues that could result from the multiplicity – and redundancy – of having all these awards bodies in place, we could use a sample year as basis for observation. The last set of awards, all for 1991 productions, covered roughly a year; but only the festival prizes (Manila, CCP, and Metro Manila events chronologically) were handed out during the year itself, while the rest, logically enough, had to wait until the year was over. The CMMA, for its part, opted not to give out any awards this year, citing the numerous (and still ongoing) human-caused and natural disasters that demanded church ministration. Thus a total of eight sets of trophies became available, but then again, it would be impossible for any institution or individual to sweep the entire list for the same production, simply because the two local-government festivals could only allow the participation of entries in either one or the other. One could note here that, while the CCP festival can be justified as an alternative in most respects to the other festivals (not to mention the mainstream), the spectacle of having a filmfest for Manila, a part of Metro Manila, may be a tad too much – especially in the light of the re-emergence of Cebuano-language cinema, the regional production alternative.

Among the best-film winners, two – Ang Totoong Buhay ni Pacita M. and Ipagpatawad Mo – share three trophies each, although the first has one loss (a nomination from the FAP) while the second has two (the Star and FAMAS). Kailan Ka Magiging Akin and Sa Kabila ng Lahat have one prize each, while five others, including Ipagpatawad, have what may be considered qualified triumphs: MMFF second- and third-best for Juan Tamad at Shooli sa Mongolian Barbecue (The Movie) and Darna respectively, and Kritika Silver Prizes for Huwag Mong Salingin ang Sugat Ko, Ynang Bayan, and Masakit sa Mata, and a Particularly Noteworthy Prize for Ipagpatawad. Would this make Pacita M. the more quantitatively unqualified winner, or do the two thrice-winners equal out because of Ipagpatawad’s additional nominations?

An even more interesting case would be that of Yuta, which may be seen to share the rank of the two contenders by virtue of its CCP, Kritika, and Urian prizes, but which actually has one more – an FAP trophy – from the previous year. On the other hand, what to do with awards like the FAP’s and the Urian’s that declare a film’s excellence in a category separate from others simply by virtue of non-artistic limitations that may not be the fault of its maker(s) at all? Eleven other titles have remained on the level of best-film contenders, some of them (mostly festival entries) not even bearing any crossover distinction in terms of being nominated by the other bodies. Hihintayin Kita sa Langit holds the record for non-winning nominations with three, followed by Kislap sa Dilim with two. Una Kang Naging Akin, Boyong Mañalac: Hoodlum Terminator, and Makiusap Ka sa Diyos actually yielded prizes for their respective talents – all performers – in other categories, with Hihintayin coming up with an impressive seventeen. Pacita M. has nineteen in addition to its best-film prizes (plus a competition-level participation, in effect a nomination, from the Singapore International Film Festival), while Ipagpatawad has nine. Can a final over-all winner now be determined?

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Individual Contenders

Pacita M.’s director Elwood Perez, writer Ricardo Lee, and actress Nora Aunor share four trophies each from various bodies, with Lee winning an additional two for story and Aunor a FAMAS Hall of Fame for her past accumulated prizes. Christopher de Leon belongs to the same four-trophy circle for his performance in Ipagpatawad, along with Gaudencio Barredo for the sound of Hihintayin. Among other performers, Dawn Zulueta won three awards, one for the lead category, while Eric Quizon had prizes for lead and supporting categories and Eddie Gutierrez, two of the latter. The late Lino Brocka has one prize for direction plus a FAMAS Hall of Fame, while another late talent, scriptwriter Orlando Nadres, had two trophies, as did Olivia Lamasan. Surprisingly, cinematographer Johnny Araojo copped one prize more (three for Juan Tamad) than Romy Vitug (two for Hihintayin). Other double winners are editors Jesus Navarro and musical scorers Danny Tan and Ryan Cayabyab; George Jarlego won twice for different films, while George Canseco also won twice for theme-song composing, including a supposedly disqualifiable FAMAS (owing to Canseco’s Hall-of-Fame stature).

The one-time film-prize winners of 1991 include director Carlitos Siguion-Reyna; actors Richard Gomez (in lead capacity), Leo Martinez, and Gabby Concepcion; actresses Vilma Santos (lead), Tetchie Agbayani, Mona Lisa, and Nanette Medved, visual designers Hesumaria Sescon and Julie Lluch Dalena; musical scorer Jaime Fabregas; editor Efren Jarlego; and theme composers Willy Cruz and the late Lucio San Pedro. Many other questions may be raised regarding the accompanying listing – notice, for example, the manner in which singers rather than composers were announced as nominees for the FAMAS’s theme-song prize, not to mention how the prizewinner was not the nominee, who in turn was not the theme composer in the first place. All in all about one hundred forty prizes were handed out by eight bodies, which averaged about eighteen trophies per body, the actual range starting from Kritika’s nine up to the FAMAS’s twenty-six (inclusive of four memorial awards). Five is the standard number of nominations per category, with the MMFF and Urian having only three, and Kritika, as emphasized earlier, none whatsoever. The accompanying chart, sourced from media announcements, illustrates the database for this reading, with winners listed first and separated from the nominees by a semi-colon. One could only hope future charts would be simpler to draw up, less obsessed with star categories, and…well, more critical toward both the titles under scrutiny as well as the award-giving process itself.

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Table of 1991 Film Awards


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Millennial Traversals – Period Enders

Like my reports on film festivals, these summations helped me record my impressions of the period under review; collected here, however, they also demonstrate a careful veering away from institutional preferences, starting with award-giving critics circles. In a few instances I noted where my opinion of certain specific films ultimately departed from even my own initial assessment.


Moviegoing in the Philippines, if developments and trends during the past year provide any indication, will continue to be one of the most popular pastimes in the country. Notwithstanding another recent increase in the price of theater admission, the local movie industry realized booms – and not just because of bomb threats either. Local producers this past year saw their box-office records being broken by their own recent productions. Among the bigger hits were Gil Portes’s Miss X for Sining Silangan and Eddie Romero’s Aguila for Bancom Audiovision Corp. In fact the last, an all-star epic spanning a century of Philippine history, scored points as both the most expensive production and the highest box-office earner among local movies.

Spurred on by the outcome of Romero’s five-million-peso gamble, other local producers began investing in big-budget productions of their own. None, however, was as expensive – or, for that matter, as profitable – as Aguila. Agrix Films attempted to duplicate Bancom’s feat with Romy Suzara’s Palawan but failed. Attempts by LVN Productions and Regal, on the other hand, were more successful in that they met with critical acclaim for Mike de Leon’s Kakabakaba Ka Ba? and Ishamel Bernal’s Manila by Night (preview version) respectively. Both films also figured in controversies with the board of censors for motion pictures (BCMP), which first banned both movies then approved them with cuts.

The only other local production which had as much trouble with the BCMP was a 1979 film, Lino Brocka’s Jaguar, which won the Famas and Urian awards for best picture. The Bancom production had difficulty getting a permit for its exhibition in the 1980 Cannes Film Festival. There it repeated the success Brocka’s Insiang enjoyed two years earlier – that is, all acclaim but no award. The Philippines, however, can hope for a better showing at Cannes in 1981 with the screening of Brocka’s Bona, an NV Productions presentation.

Meanwhile, the trend for big-budget productions could extend well into the next year, when the first Manila International Film Festival will have been held. Bancom, for example. has Celso Ad. Castillo’s Uhaw na Dagat ready for release, while MVP Productions is considering a big-time project with Brocka. Other newer production outfits are expected to follow suit, some with big-budget projects as their initial releases. Such optimism is apparently centers on the certainty of the international filmfest, which has marketing as its avowed primary purpose. The fact that the date for the first festival was postponed to a year later lends credence to its organizers’ commercial intentions.

New (& Not-So-New) Blood

Another significant trend in Philippine cinema last year was the readlines of producers to provide breaks for new directors. But from about a dozen beginners, only three have had follow-up projects. Of these three, only two have enjoyed critical success as well. Both are women. Marilou Diaz-Abaya and Laurice Guillen both had their second films, Brutal and Kung Ako’y Iiwan Mo respectively, in the running for the Metro Manila Film Festival. Brutal was Diaz-Abaya’s second movie after Tanikala, a box-office bomb, while Kung Ako’y Iiwan Mo was Guillen’s successor to Kasal?, one of the year’s better sleepers.

The only other new directors with a follow-up project was komiks writer Carlo J. Caparas, who counted on box-office performance alone for Kung Tawagin Siya’y Bathala. Manuel Lapid, better known by his screen name Lito Lapid, may go the same way Caparas did with Ang Pagbabalik ni Leon Guerrero. The rest are faced with the double challenge of proving box-office or critical worth (or both) and getting another directorial assignment in the first place. Among the more significant first-timers were Eddie Romero’s son Joey with Iwahig, Laperal mainstay Lando Perez-Jacob with Wild Animals, fashion designer Christian Espiritu with Alaga, and scriptwriters Jehu C. Sebastian and Ruben Arthur Nicdao with Sa Akin Ka…Magpakasal! and Ano ang Ginawa ng Babae sa Ibon? respectively.

The trend for hiring new directors may either continue or peter out this year, depending on the performance of those already established in the industry and on the availability of new talents. One would-be director whose debut has spilled over into 1981 is Mel Chionglo, whose Playgirl failed to find a profitable screening schedule late last year. The ballyhooed debut of one last aspirant, stage director Rolando Tinio, simply failed to materialize. Others in the know would list another stage director, Anton Juan, and cinematographer Romy Vitug among the younger hopefuls.

Nineteen eighty also saw the comeback of two outstanding directors of the past decade. One was de Leon with Kakabakaba and the other was Mario O’Hara with Kastilyong Buhangin, starring debuting director Lito Lapid. Two other comebacking directors, Butch Perez and Manuel Conde (known for his Juan Tamad series), still have to realize their respective projects. Producers might also consider enticing Lupita Concio, the only other competent Filipina director available, to return to the country for another attempt at filmmaking.

In terms of acting (or what passes off as such), Regal has maintained a monopoly on star build-up. The truly new faces were those of the actors: Alfie Anido, Gabby Concepcion, Jimi Melendez, William Martinez. Of the actresses, only one was in every sense a newcomer: Dina Bonnevie, who reportedly broke Regal’s box-office records with Katorse, then set an even higher record with Underage – both campy Gosiengfiao movies. The other actresses were child performers who were re-introduced as nymphets: Gina Alajar, Maricel Soriano, and Snooky. Tet Antiquiera and Myrna Castillo, the only non-Regal entry, became has-beens in a matter of months.

Momentous Movies

The decade began auspiciously for Philippine movies, with a concentration of quality films rivaling, if not actually surpassing, the turnout in 1976. A tentative listing of the year’s must-see movies would include the following:

Aguila. An ambitious attempt at delineating the Filipino’s search for identity which somehow falters toward the end but is nevertheless consistently engaging throughout.
Bona. A gripping tale of a woman’s awakening from oppression, featuring an impeccable performance from one of the country’s most capable actresses at present, Nora Aunor.
Brutal. A fiercely feminist film that piles up points without resorting to polemics.
Kakabakaba Ka Ba? Japanese imperialists and Filipino collaborators are taken to task in a visually dazzling and audibly pleasing satire.
Manila by Night (uncensored version). Tough luck for the majority of movie-goers who were not able to attend any of this masterwork’s previews; a hard, innovative and ultimately affecting study of perversion and brutality in the big city.

Many other local movies were worth a good viewing, though these were not on the same level of artistry as those listed. These include (in chronological order) Kasal?, Castillo’s Totoy Boogie, Bernal’s Sugat sa Ugat, and Brocka’s Angela Markado.

Old-timers who can still recall the countless Continental imports in the 1950s will find no consolation in the likely persistence of American imports well into the decade. At least the Lumauig Bill, now destined for oblivion, will not be around to further limit the market. Some foreign film enthusiasts have meanwhile found choice selections conveniently concentrated in film revivals. Commercial revivals were for a time the exclusive feature of the Ali Mall theater in Cubao. When after a half-year hiatus a September revival proved to be the most successful ever, a throng of revival groups rushed into reservations with the same and other theaters. for some reason or another these subsequent attempts were not able to parallel the success of the September activity.

Cinephiles, however, can take to the special festivals organized by the various active foreign embassies in the country. Although these were neither as numerous nor as varied as those in recent years, anything of the sort would always be better than nothing. Among the more outstanding ones held in 1980 were an Indian festival featuring the works of Satyajit Ray and Shyam Benegal; a Japanese festival featuring the works of Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, and Kenji Mizoguchi; a British festival featuring the works of Lindsay Anderson, John Schlesinger, and Tony Richardson; and two separate French festivals featuring the works of Jacques Rouffio and Roger Pigaut. The most active foreign cultural center in terms of film screening has been the Goethe-Institut Manila. Last year it was able to sponsor several festivals featuring the works of Wim Wenders, Reinhard Hauff, Hark Bohm, Rainier Fassbinder, as well as early film classics by Josef von Sternberg, Fritz Lang, F. W. Murnau, and G. W. Pabst.

A further development toward the uplift of film standards has been realized through the regular weekly screenings of various foreign cultural centers. Aside from the years-old Friday screenings at Alliance Française and Saturday matinees at the Goethe-Institut, other centers began holding film screenings for the first time. The British Council screens movie on Mondays, Ayala Museum on Tuesdays, and the Soviet Embassy on Fridays. Local film buffs would appreciate similar programs by the Japanese and Italian embassies, considering the high quality of films available in the countries they represent.

Such arrangements, apart from being free of charge, provide worthwhile alternatives to the B-movies, spaghetti westerns, disaster flicks, and celluloid romances that continue to crowd commercial movie screens. Meanwhile…what’s on TV?

[First published January 1981 as “New Directions for a New Decade” in The Review]

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Another occasion this is for the masochistic ritual of evaluation. Local cinema never had it so bad, at least during this generation, but doomsday observers were making this very same pronouncement a year or two too early – when the political situation was bad but local cinema was, relatively speaking, healthy.

The experience calls to mind the early ’70s situation, when people were bemoaning the state of Philippine filmmaking despite evidence to the contrary, until martial rule was declared and a crisis extended effectively enough to threaten the extra-commercial rationale for the existence of the industry. In 1972 (and most of 1973), as in 1986, the complainants seemed to have been stunned beyond articulation, confronted as they were with a worsening of what they thought was already the pits. The fact that the year prior to the political upheaval saw the emergence of Ishmael Bernal and Lino Brocka (and straight-faced debuts by Joey Gosiengfiao, Elwood Perez and Romy Suzara) as well as the shift toward artistic consciousness by Celso Ad. Castillo – these did not suffice to temper the cavils about bomba releases and silly musicals; it would have been more honest to admit that the raging of the First Quarter Storm then tended to affect one’s concentration, in movie-houses and elsewhere, just as the period from the Aquino assassination to last year’s snap elections lessened one’s threshold for entertainment.

Nevertheless the records show that serious reviewers were less satisfied with the local film industry’s output between 1983 and 1986, when specific titles would elicit condemnations for simply being bold, commercial, or obscure (one rule of thumb held that anything shown at the Manila Film Center would be fair game for moralists – which led to less recognition for Tikoy Aguiluz’s Boatman and Peque Gallaga’s Scorpio Nights and Virgin Forest [all 1985] than these movies deserved). When the results became as bad as the reviews alleged them to be, the individual writers must have run out of creative derogatory remarks to publish; conveniently a revolution, or what appeared to be one, had just been consummated – in a sense providing serious writers on film with an excuse to be distracted from their profession to attend to the higher call for nation-building, as if such a dichotomy existed.

Only toward year’s end, when the inevitable – a well-attended festival of inconsequential viewing fare – occurred, a group of judges who enjoyed the privilege of legal sanction pointed out the decline. The withholding of festival prizes to dramatize the concern may have been beside the point, but more important, the act itself (seconded by the critics’ and concerned artists’ circles) may have been a bit too late. During the early period of martial rule, it took a concerted effort on the part of artists themselves, expending not just creative but also political and financial resources, to be able to bring about the aesthetic triumphs from the mid-’70s to the early ’80s.

Such a strategy seems to be under way already: the best output of the past year have all been alternative in nature. The closest to mainstream releases would be Chito Roño’s (a.k.a. Sixto Kayko’s) Private Show and William Pascual’s Takaw Tukso, both of which are of the “bold” (sex-melodrama) genre and therefore, because of the threat of censorship, intended in principle for specialized theatrical releases (once the MFC, now replaced by the local countryside circuits). Next to these one would be hard-put to place other mainstream titles of comparable achievement; what comes to mind are flawed items by Marilou Diaz-Abaya (Senswal), Ishmael Bernal (The Graduates), Tata Esteban (Flesh Avenue, Materyales Fuertes, and Salamangkero), and Mario O’Hara (Bagong Hari and Halimaw’s “Halimaw sa Banga” episode). And where a debut movie or two would, in the past, have joined at least the ranks of the also-rans, the most we had for ’86 was a less-than-satisfactory work by Christopher Strauss de Leon, Halimaw’s “Komiks” episode.

One last, and perhaps the most positive, indicator of the sorry state of Philippine cinema has been the movement of practitioners toward related formats. As a result, television has been able to realize several commendable projects, whether according to specific specials, particular episodes, entire series, or even non-feature programs.

It is the independent formats, however, which have enjoyed competition-caliber experimentations on the part of local film artists. Mike de Leon’s video-movie Bilanggo sa Dilim, the first of its kind to have been released in the country, is the usual finely crafted piece, a suspense thriller this time, that has come to be associated with its filmmaker, but which will be remembered for its expert deployment of performers and a daring integration of heretofore disparate effects peculiar to the medium. It is both reflective of the disappointing turnout of entries in the recently concluded festival and praiseworthy of de Leon’s capabilities that, were it permitted to compete and even in its inherently disadvantaged format relative to film, Bilanggo would easily have upstaged all the other festival entries.

One last ’86 production, and the most admirable for its having been done independently in every significant sense of the word, is Briccio Santos’s 16mm. film, Damortis. Produced by the director for no other purpose than presumably to be able to finish a project he happened to believe in, Damortis is a wonderfully nuanced discourse on the futility of violating the cyclical nature of rural existence. Contemporary urbanite concerns such as sexual politics, professional exploitation, and cultural conflicts are played against a framework of occultism and the predominance of the life force. The work as a whole is far from an unqualified achievement – a visionary coldness and unnecessarily novel story-telling mode being the two more obvious reservations one could point out – but it is certainly an even farther cry from the more indulgent and pointless Filipino productions in similar formats. If not for anything else, 1986 may well be remembered for the persistence of film artists in the face of apathetic government regulation, cynical mainstream producers, and a less-than-adequately prepared audience. With a little more luck than these same artists have been having, the present alternative trend may yet lead toward another renaissance in Philippine cinema.

[First published February 11, 1987, as “Waiting for a Renaissance” in National Midweek]

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When it rains it sometimes pours, and judging by the drenching movie observers have been getting lately, it seems like a real deluge is in the offing. Those who thought 1986 was one of the worst years in the current decade – what with only two competition-caliber films (Chito Roño’s Private Show and William Pascual’s Takaw Tukso) plus two significant alternative-cinema outputs (Mike de Leon’s Bilanggo sa Dilim and Briccio Santos’s Damortis) – must be too busy shaking off the chills to express remorse. So far this year, with the first semester just concluded, local movie observers still have to witness the equivalent of last year’s first-half showing of Private Show plus passable entries like Mario O’Hara’s Bagong Hari and Peque Gallaga’s Unfaithful Wife.

A combination of factors conspire to promote this dismal state of things. Concerned artists have decried the arbitrariness of censorship policies, but this is merely a manifestation of a more deep-seated resentment on the part of the present administration toward the movie system. Where legal reform is being worked out in the most vital areas of nation-building, a relatively simple ruling on the unconstitutionality of film censorship was more feasible during the latter term of the deposed regime. More disheartening still, the institutional support that was the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, for all its excesses in terms of the screening of sex films, at the very least made clear that the government was paying attention, if somewhat out of self-interest, to the needs and problems of the industry. And if in the rush for profits through exemptions from censorship a few artists could sneak in satisfactory titles like Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata and Virgin Forest, Ishmael Bernal’s Himala and Manila By Night, Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Moral, Mel Chionglo’s Sinner or Saint, Tikoy Aguiluz’s Boatman, and negotiate for the release of Chito Roño’s Private Show and Behn Cervantes’s Sakada, where are those opportunities now? In the provincial theater circuit?

The brighter side, of course, is that print and broadcast media have only been too accommodating to Filipino artists, who used to congregate around film. Nevertheless the inadequacies of journalism and television for artistic expression must be a painful thing to take, especially to those accustomed to the technically highly developed and multi-levelled properties of cinema. The Cultural Center of the Philippines has been holding occasional revivals and recently mounted a short film festival – all of which amounts to a dim reflection, at best, of the full-power capacity of the late ECP. Tax rebates as incentives for quality, financial subsidies for worthy short-film and full-length proposals, archival services for film research and preservation, even a correctly oriented international film festival – all these do have a place in a national film community which has already proved itself capable of producing works that hold their own with the best from the rest of the world.

And if maybe the present administration opines that the film community has been spoiled rotten with such favors, then the least it could do is play fair in granting freedom of expression to individuals regardless of medium. Understandably, any veteran of the oppositionist struggle against Marcos would be more sympathetic with the printed page, which almost singlehandedly propagandized for democracy when it was most dangerous to do so; even television made a dramatic turnabout at a crucial moment. Film may have been the least cooperative in this regard, but the political needs were primarily informational to begin with, and the medium was too closely guarded besides.

The irony of it all is that the very same strictures that prevented the participation of film artists then also serve to hold them back today, thus effectively placing in question their ability to contribute to larger social concerns. This sort of vicious run-around, which in rural contexts has been generally accepted as a fact of life, has always been questioned by enlightened film practitioners; yet it is the countryside folk who may soon be freed from the contradictions of contemporary existence through land reform, while the film community, which would be only too aware of and grateful for a liberation from censorship, appears to be destined to endure the same drudgery that had characterized the medium since its inception.

I had actually intended to evaluate the industry’s artistic accomplishments from January to June this year, but the consideration of causes simply overwhelmed the original subject. Anyway, in providing a listing of the more acceptable items, it would serve our purposes well to keep in mind that these titles were originally greeted with expressions of disappointment and frustration, with only passing acknowledgement of their respective merits – to which I now most carefully give mention. In alphabetical order then:

Balweg (Butch Perez, dir.): a revisionist approach to the depiction of peasant war, with an expertly controlled attitude toward the handling of onscreen action.
Hubad na Pangarap (Abbo Q. de la Cruz, dir.): film noir outside traditional urban settings, complemented with creative presentation of erotic scenes.
Kid…Huwag Kang Susuko! (Peque Gallaga and Lorenzo Reyes, dirs.): martial-arts material made more sensible through dramatic arguments.
Once Upon a Time (Gallaga and Reyes, dirs.): fantasy done the way it should be – with care, humor, and a contemporaneity that doesn’t intrude too brazenly with the preoccupation with the usual universal scope and issues.
Tagos ng Dugo (Maryo J. de los Reyes, dir.): kinkiness rounded out with psychological backgrounding and propelled forward with a sense of conviction and sympathy for the plight of the subject.
Operation: Get Victor Corpus, the Rebel Soldier (Pablo Santiago, dir.): epic sensibility enlarging a humane treatment of a political tale.

Publication note: The concluding section of this article was truncated and the original printout and digital files are lost. I have opted not to reconstruct this section, since the vital points were raised prior to the final listing.

[First published August 26, 1987, as “Mid-Year in Review” in National Midweek]

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Future film observers with any measure of sympathy for local cinema will probably prefer to consider the past year as an extension of the post-revolution hangover of February 1986. Of course, current critical opinion is harsher, with certain organized quarters threatening to withdraw their traditional means of bestowing recognition for film achievement (that is, awards, what else); on the other hand, such myopic tendencies merely serve to overlook the actual accomplishments outside the confines of serious commercial filmmaking, as well as reinforce the commercialist sector’s impression that quality is an entirely dispensable consideration in the practice of the craft. As for so-called serious mainstream production, the behavior of the outstanding instances of cinematic output since 1986 clearly indicates that the category, as we used to know it, is obsolete for the moment, or is at least undergoing a transformation that bodes well for any prospective resurrection of the activity.

For where our more intelligent filmmakers used to go into “serious” filmmaking with complete disregard for the essentials of the medium-as-industry, in 1987, as in 1986, they for the most part chose to work within local cinema’s industrial givens, particularly the imperative of determining the particularities of local entertainment factors. For a quick and easy confirmation, witness the relative disappointments of ostensibly serious attempts like Celso Ad. Castillo’s Payaso or Eddie Romero’s Hari sa Hari, Lahi sa Lahi – noteworthy undertakings, no doubt, yet in a sense irrelevant, in terms of their misconceived notion that the local audience would still willingly forsake its preference for entertainment in exchange for high-culture conceits in film.

Not that creative thinking wasn’t being done elsewhere. In fact, real film achievement the past year took on a more difficult challenge, but one that was long overdue anyway: instead of pushing for new forms with which to contain filmic narratives, our practitioners somehow managed to explore the as-yet virgin areas of conventionalized territories, specifically the ones offered by commercial movie genres – action, bold, comedy, melodrama, and combinations thereof. As could only have been expected, they won some and they lost some. The first two genres, action and bold, proved difficult for current sensible discourses, in contrast with their adaptability during the previous political dispensation. Comedy and melodrama were the more congenial genres to work within – which may also account for our film critics’ outrage over the seeming frivolity of it all.

But then who’s to tell if a genre in itself should be worthy of critical judgment? Better to regard these film-types as objective formats that possess no intrinsic value unless they’ve been imbued with the proper creative configuration. Each type would of course have its distinguishing characteristic, which if scrutinized closer would prove the essential neutrality of the categorization. Action and bold films are more frontally social in orientation, dealing as they do with the seamier (and steamier) aspects of contemporary existence; on the other hand, they also tend to lend themselves to so much portentousness, which is a few steps away from pretentiousness. Comedy and melodrama, of course, flirt with the obvious danger of triviality; but the other side of the argument lies in their capacity for subtleties of presentation, as well as their considerable entertainment potential.

Hence, my list of notables for the year include, in alphabetical order, Peque Gallage’s Once Upon a Time, Mel Chionglo’s Paano Kung Wala Ka Na, and Mario O’Hara’s Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak.[1] Strictly by coincidence, the first happens to be a comic fantasy, the second a melodrama entry, and the third a combination of the first two, with a little action thrown in; if only for the difficulty of executing such a combination, my personal preference goes to Tatlong Ina as the past year’s best over-all accomplishment, with Once Upon a Time as a more distinctive directorial feat and Paano Kung Wala Ka Na as a triumph of film-scripting. Once Upon a Time also contains the year’s best performance – that of Dolphy as a mythological creature who turns out to be more human than his earthling counterparts (as well as, by my own malicious implication, film critics who should know the craft better).

For more specific attainments, I’d single out Lino Brocka’s Maging Akin Ka Lamang (lessons in histrionics for melodrama, with the year’s female performance in Lorna Tolentino), plus two other titles which I’m sure will encounter violent disagreements: Mike Relon Makiling’s Kumander Gringa (radicalization of comic premises) and Ishmael Bernal’s Working Girls Part II (exploration of the possibilities of multi-layered storytelling, the only attempt of its kind this past year). If we expand our appreciation of film to include non-mainstream formats, there’d be no way to ignore Nick Deocampo’s super-8mm. documentary, titled Film Trilogy on the Theme of Poverty and Prostitution. Where in the past, alternative film items had always threatened an otherwise confident film establishment, since the revolution such outputs have come into their own. Briccio Santos’ 16mm. feature Damortis and Mike de Leon’s video movie Bilanggo sa Dilim started the trend in 1986, standing up well enough to that year’s only significant mainstream products, Chito Roño’s Private Show and William Pascual’s Takaw Tukso.

Unfortunately no mechanism exists to give satisfactory recognition to works that reflect the intelligentsia’s desire to singlehandedly take on the movie system and emerge all the better for it.[2] And irrespective of such gaps, the best and the brightest in local cinema march on, more likely toward a revitalized application of the lessons learned within and without commercial assignments, into the areas of temporarily abandoned experimentations in the medium.


[1] I had overlooked an entry from the year in question, Eddie Garcia’s Saan Nagtatago ang Pag-ibig?; I provided a separate review, assessing it as next in rank to the three films I mentioned, although superior to the also-rans in this year-end summary. It has since risen in my estimation, and when I rewatched it for a recent extensive canon project (see Short Takes), it was the only 1987 film that I listed.

[2] I had been nostalgic for the then-recently shuttered Experimental Cinema of the Philippines. As of late, however, unacknowledged ECP-inspired innovations such as subsidies for scriptwriting winners, provision of censorship-exempt venues, and full support for non-celluloid formats in government and academe have proliferated and may have been fully responsible for reviving the local industry.

[First published February 3, 1988, as “Quo Vadis?” in National Midweek]

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Administrative drumbeaters couldn’t wait for 1988 to end before offering to the public a nosegay of rosy predictions for the forthcoming year. With an overshoot of original estimates of overall economic performance, they had reason to be confident: producers and practitioners could boast that, if trends continue, Philippine movies could only get better in 1989. But in both cases, half the responsibility depends upon the reaction of both moviegoers and non-moviegoers, a.k.a. the public at large. Usually regarded as a passive factor, the public could only resort to electoral and peso votes to indicate its judgment on issues and performances. Once in a rare while it could take to the streets in numbers enough to effect substantial changes, but as a matter of course, the general rule holds: those in positions of power and influence, whether government or cinema bigwigs, always possess the advantage of fostering their will before the rest could take action.

This caveat considered, 1988 can be remembered as a good year only because the preceding ones were far from acceptable. As far as films were concerned, nothing emerged on the scale of the big-budget, sometimes period productions that used to be the norm during the late 1970s and early ’80s. Nevertheless I could count at least five titles that I’m sure would qualify for serious consideration on anyone’s year-end list; in alphabetical order:

Babaing Hampaslupa (Mel Chionglo, dir.): melodrama that redeems itself through careful characterization and an acute sense of visual realism.
Itanong Mo sa Buwan (Chito Roño, dir.): a sex thriller that presents its case through a disjunct time structure and a forceful lead performance by Jaclyn Jose.
Misis Mo, Misis Ko (Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, dir.): comedy of manners minus the pretentions and excesses usually associated with this sort of exercise.
Tiyanak (Peque Gallaga & Lorenzo Reyes, dirs.): horror with a touch of ecological consciousness and a commendable control of special effects.
Tubusin Mo ng Dugo (Pepe Marcos, dir.): action fused with comedy and keen social insights.

There’d be at least two other film titles and a number of film-related products that deserve more than just the usual acknowledgment of jobs well done. Maryo J. de los Reyes’s Kapag Napagod ang Puso provides a welcome refresher on the virtues of raw approaches to film acting, while Pablo Santiago’s Agila ng Maynila makes a strong case for non-dramatic mythopoeic moralization. The other significant pro-morality (the conventional, non-aesthetic sense) audiovisual production of 1988 was, strictly speaking, neither film nor feature nor Filipino. Robert Markowitz’s A Dangerous Life, a six-hour Australia television docudrama, will very likely tend to lose much of its initial impact, what with a flimsy fictional love triangle serving to support the real-life saga of people power. Nevertheless it still deserves to be appended to any year-end, and probably even decade-end, list, if only to act as a standard by which subsequent productions, which we should all pray to be film and feature and Filipino, can be measured.

A final look-back on the year that was won’t be complete without any mention of film-derived works in print. Magic realism was the in thing, and after the English-language sector came up with two novels – Ninotchka Rosca’s State of War and Alfred A. Yuson’s Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café – who should come along but Ricardo Lee, with his best work of fiction ever, “Kabilang sa mga Nawawala” (included in his anthology Si Tatang at mga Himala ng Ating Panahon). The industry should take pride in the fact that Yuson and Lee take time to write screenplays.

And what, in the forthcoming year, have we to look forward to? The return of our major directors, is what. Already in the can are works by the likes of Lino Brocka (Macho Dancer), Celso Ad. Castillo (Pikoy Goes to Malaysia), Gil Portes (Birds of Prey), and Chito Roño (Si Baleleng at ang Gintong Sirena). Laurice Guillen’s year-end hit Magkano ang Iyong Dangal? may lead to another assignment soon. Ishmael Bernal, Mel Chionglo, and the Gallaga-Reyes tandem are at work on promising projects. Nora Aunor’s preparing for her directorial debut, with other once-or-future performers like Tata Esteban, Eddie Garcia, and Eddie Rodriguez ready to give the cue. Knowing that there won’t be any lack for dark horses, all that remains is for the other inactive pros, notably Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Mike de Leon, and Eddie Romero, to rejoin the (rat?) race.

Whatever the turnout of the above-mentioned and further future projects, everything will depend on how the public voices its support or dismay. For the moment, the need is for positive action, regardless of initial intentions, if only for our better local practitioners to be able to regain a foothold in the slippery arena of movie-making.

[First published January 25, 1989, as “Local Cinema ’88” in National Midweek]

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The last day of the 1980s came and went, and Philippine cinema still had to realize a movie comparable to the first-league titles of the Marcos years. Even in using the decade as marker, one could come up with at least three titles that enlarged their character-based premises into valid and vital social discourses, two conventionally successful period epics, and an armful of small but satisfactory productions, any of which could beat the best of the industry’s output since the February 1986 revolution.

First and foremost among our ’80s films is Ishmael Bernal’s Manila by Night (1980), a hard-edged rumination on big-city perversion and brutality whose brilliance of conception and expansive scope render finical any quibbles about its surface inadequacies. Along the same lines of treatment are two technically superior titles with deliberately delimited concerns – Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Moral (1982, on women in contemporary times) and Lino Brocka’s Miguelito: Ang Batang Rebelde (1985, on small-town intrigues). Peque Gallaga overtook Celso Ad. Castillo as epic filmmaker of the decade, with a precocious debut in Oro, Plata, Mata (1982) and an even better follow-up in Virgin Forest (1985). Evident from this listing is the phenomenon of the quality of output observing peak years – 1980, the turn of the decade, followed by 1982, the period between the only editions of the Manila International Film Festival (which was being legitimized locally through the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines), and an extended season in 1984-85, when the government and business sectors were distracted by the political storm then already brewing.

Among the other titles still worthy of first-time viewing, overseas export, and archival preservation are Diaz-Abaya’s Brutal and Mike de Leon’s Kakabakaba Ka Ba? from 1980; de Leon’s Kisapmata and Laurice Guillen’s Salome from 1981; Ishmael Bernal’s Himala and Relasyon and de Leon’s Batch ’81 from 1982; Diaz-Abaya’s Karnal and Bernal’s Broken Marriage from 1983; Tikoy Aquiluz’s Boatman, Mel Chionglo’s Sinner or Saint, de Leon’s Sister Stella L., Mario O’Hara’s Bulaklak sa City Jail, and Gil Portes’s ’Merika from 1984; and Bernal’s Hinugot sa Langit, Brocka’s Bayan Ko (Kapit sa Patalim), Castillo’s Paradise Inn, and Gallaga’s Scorpio Nights from 1985. One last ’85 production, Chito Roño’s Private Show, was released in 1986, and by this technicality provided the worthiest film title in the current dispensation so far. Other mentionables in the same and succeeding years belonged to other formats or media (and in this strict sense inherently disadvantaged relative to commercial 35mm. cinema), particularly de Leon’s video-movie Bilanggo sa Dilim and Briccio Santos’ 16mm. Damortis in 1986 and Nick Deocampo’s super-8mm. Film Trilogy on the Theme of Poverty and Prostitution in 1987.

Two large-scale albeit uneven productions during the last year, Brocka’s Macho Dancer and Gallaga and Lorenzo Reyes’s Isang Araw Walang Diyos, contrast sadly with better-made but modestly proportioned genre pieces: sex-dramas like William Pascual’s Takaw Tukso (1986) and Roño’s Itanong Mo sa Buwan (1988); an action entry, Pepe Marco’s Tubusin Mo ng Dugo (1988); a fantasy, Gallaga and Reyes’s Once Upon a Time (1987); and a horror film, Gallaga and Reyes’s Tiyanak (1988). Final proof of how far we have declined lies in the expertise our filmmakers achieved in melodrama, the predominant genre of the 1950s, with the better examples comprising Chionglo’s Babaing Hampaslupa (1988) and Paano Kung Wala Ka Na (1987), Gallaga’s Unfaithful Wife (1986), Eddie Garcia’s Saan Nagtatago ang Pag-ibig? (1987), O’Hara’s Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak (1987), and Carlitos Siguion-Reyna’s Misis Mo, Misis Ko (1988). The Filipino melodrama to end all melodramas was recycled in the form of a foreign non-movie, the Australian video production of A Dangerous Life (1988, dir. Robert Markowitz).

A ray of hope may well flicker in our projectors, and our hearts as well. Just as Manila By Night was completed in 1979 but released, courtesy of censorship complications, late enough to grace the ’80s with its most outstanding title, a 1989 production, though already exhibited in other countries, is promising a similar beginning for the ’90s. Brocka’s Orapronobis, if we get lucky enough, could kick off another round of creative endeavor, the way the same director’s Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag did in 1975; that first salvo lasted more than a decade, and if another one succeeds, we might be able to close the ’90s with the claim that a current Golden Age of cinema was never really cut off from a previous one, but in fact took off after a temporary interruption caused by disquietude in the political realm.

For sheer drawing power, nothing could beat the elderly December extravaganza mounted by our men in uniform. Anyone who could tune in was likely to be doing so; one easy hypothesis why so many kibitzers were willing to risk their lives just to observe the proceedings firsthand could be the fact that our lower classes do not have superior playback equipment – if ever they happen to have access to any such equipment in the first place. Nevertheless, the local movie industry learned the lesson of ’86 well: react or die. Four years ago, when a similar spectacle succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations, Filipino movie moguls, like the rest of the country, were too stunned at first to come up with their usual profit-oriented approaches; after all, it was a time for moralist reflection, and to even think of box-office remunerations seemed like an unrevolutionary thing to do.

The result – a truly panicky months-long stretch when no movie yielded any return on investments – raised the possibility that some things, especially in showbiz, may not have changed after all; a consistent turnout of hits afterward till now proved that the change, if it mattered, was for the worse (or the better, if you happened to be an investor): no more can there be real winners in terms of awards or prestige or even personal fulfillment, only in terms of box-office receipts. The setting of record profits continued in 1989, with two movies assuming the all-time blockbuster positions: first Tony Y. Reyes’s Starzan: Shouting Star of the Jungle in the early half of the year, then Ronwaldo Reyes’s Ako ang Huhusga in the latter. The Starzan, er, talents could claim to be the ultimate placers, though, if we take the succession of hit follow-ups (about a dozen so far, including Starzan sequels) they were emboldened to embark on. Ako ang Huhusga, for its part, was itself a sequel to an earlier hit, Kapag Puno na ang Salop (1987), thus proving that some good things are capable of getting better, regardless of whether they deserve to or not.

If there’s any justice, though, 1989 could still be remembered for the re-emergence of world-class movie-making in the Philippines. Two items, already mentioned, stand out for lending superior talents to relatively big-budgeted treatments of relevant social issues: Lino Brocka’s Macho Dancer and Peque Gallaga and Lorenzo Reyes’s Isang Araw Walang Diyos. The fact that each acquired its own measure of controversy could be seen both ways – as either the pettiness of local reactors in responding to serious efforts, or the persistence of concern in having us return to an era (pre-revolutionary, actually) of unqualified triumphs in filmmaking. Macho Dancer suffered lapses in dramatic logic and stylizations, while Isang Araw could have been better performed and proportioned; in either case both titles could best be taken as directorial muscle-flexing prior to the undertaking of really major exertions, with the Gallaga-Reyes movie possessing the advantage of having animated a larger cast over wider terrain. Brocka’s answer to Isang Araw has arrived in the form of his latest international release, Orapronobis, but unfortunately, although a better entry than either title (or anything else produced since the revolution), the movie still has to realize a regular run in these here parts.

Meanwhile the year (and the decade) ended with no other praiseworthy product save for the usual well-made genre pieces: the action film Walang Panginoon (dir. Mauro Gia Samonte) for once, and the superstar-vehicle melodramas Pahiram ng Isang Umaga (dir. Ishmael Bernal) and Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit (dir. Elwood Perez).[1] The practice of risking production capital on less predictable projects like Macho Dancer and Isang Araw will take a lot of patience and good fortune, if not a time warp back to the halcyon years of the Marcos era; a more immediate procedure would be the solicitation of foreign investment, as Brocka managed with Orapronobis. But perhaps we could take a long hard look at the here and now, and hope that with the continuing success of mainstream movies, audiences might grow weary over the meaningless shootouts and sick humor, producers might have enough left over for a period epic or two, and Philippine cinema, this time minus the dangerous interventions of government, might continue its abandoned function of providing us with the most valuable articles of our cultural heritage thus far.


[1] In the flurry of rescreenings for awards groups after 1989 was over, I was surprised to discover Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit, which had been preceded by two similarly profitable fan-oriented films, pulling away from the pack, its deliberate affronts to high culture actually reinforcing its titillative charm, embodied in the paradoxically self-aware yet sincere performance of lead actress Nora Aunor. It was firmly entrenched in my list of fondly remembered releases by the time I drew up Short Takes, my personal canon of Philippine films.

[First published January 24, 1990, as “From Sister Stella L. to Starzan” in National Midweek]

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Viewing an entire period’s output would be a next-to-impossible task, even when delimited to the year-long efforts of a specific country. But since I’ve been venturing into year-enders (as well as my first decade-ender) for Philippine cinema, I guess I could tread carefully on foreign areas, with a maximum of qualifiers up front. Aside from the difficulty of setting aside the rest of a short life to watch every film that comes along, one couldn’t sometimes expect every film to come along in the first place, when even Filipino movies can’t make it to local screens in good time. The advent of video has somewhat tempered this argument, but only to the extent of making possible the promise of coming up with a decade-end evaluation after a reasonable period – say, a year or two; by which time the decade may seem too far off in the past already.

On the other hand, I watch when I can, and sometimes even when I can’t. When video technology was still unaffordable I’d attend the embassy cultural-service screenings and thus managed to get by with one free movie every day of the week; then I worked for the Manila International Film Festival and with the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, through which I saw a whole lot more foreign films, some of them eye-popping in certain unspeakable ways; finally I caught up (or is it the other way around?) with the video revolution in my access, as film teacher, to equipment and sources and grants.

Mostly it’s the Hollywood (a synecdoche for America) titles (films, metonymically) that get released hereabouts, but even then…. Milos Forman’s Amadeus (1984), the Oscar best-film winner of the ’80s that more than any other such awardee could fully exploit any large-screened hi-fi-equipped theater, still has to premier in Manila. Among the other honorees that distinguished the decade would be similar exponents of the romantic epic, specifically Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa (1985) and Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987); ironically, the other type of Oscar winner, minor-scale achievements like Robert Redford’s Ordinary People (1980), Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986), James L. Brooks’s Terms of Endearment (1983), and Barry Levinson’s Rain Man (1988), never fail to make it here.

Quite likely the world-class big-budget period project came of age in the ’80s, with the “old-fashioned” Oscar winners plus possibly John Boorman’s Excalibur and Warren Beatty’s Reds (both 1981) and two Japanese products, Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha (1980) and Shôhei Imamura’s The Ballad of Narayama (1983), proving that the art of film had arrived at a glorious, if a bit smug, middle age. Critics’ choices have meanwhile also included flawed major-scale items like Kurosawa’s Ran (1985) and Sweden’s Fanny and Alexander (1982, dir. Ingmar Bergman), but for the moment the ones aforelisted, coupled with the advantages of state-of-the-art playback equipment, would I’m sure suffice to convert doubters to the excessive, almost sinful pleasures of cinema.

Commercial (read: kiddies-mostly) efforts fared less fairly. Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) requires increasingly long stretches of time in order to recapture its original heartwarming function, while the Star Wars series (Irvin Kershner’s The Empire Strikes Back [1980] and Richard Marquand’s Return of the Jedi [1983]), of which the middle trilogy – God forbid any further inspiration! – ended during the ’80s, turned out about and appropriately as nourishing as popcorn; Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) had a more manic sequel (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom [1984]) and a somewhat affecting third installment (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]), which makes the series slightly more tolerable in the long run. After counting out such dubiously motivated efforts, including the ones initiated by Sylvester Stallone and slasher-film specialists, a curious case would be Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future (1985), which seems to be the best of the commercial pack so far, and has recently had a wildly inventive sequel (Back to the Future Part II [1989]), despite a superabundance of loopholes; the third part might yet be one of the ’90s events worth the attention.

What could have been the American movie of the ’80s, the continuation of the American series of the ’70s, will now have to be relegated also to the ’90s: Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part III, currently in production. The most interesting Hollywood development during the past decade has been the unexpected combination of quirky intelligence with uniquely cinematic sensibilities evidenced in a lot of personal projects (and critics’ favorites) such as David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning (1988), Jonathan Demme’s Melvin and Howard (1980), Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980), and what may be the ultimate mergence of epic scope and personal statement so far, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985). Woody Allen did Zelig (1983) and The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) and two other comedies I (and Manila) still have to catch, Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and Radio Days (1987), during a time when auteurism started running out of fanatic supporters. Martin Scorsese became the Johnny-come-lately among survey respondents, with his Raging Bull (1980) ranking number one in both American Film and Premiere magazine polls; his cause célèbre, The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), as disturbing in its own imperfections as his Jake LaMotta biopicture, must have contributed a lot to the last-minute increase in his credibility stocks.

The best ’70s film, Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975), saw a reprise in two smaller-scaled (and situationally related) projects, John Sayles’s Return of the Secaucus Seven (1980) and Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill (1983). The milieu-realist format was better off exported to other countries, with two Italian samples, Liliana Cavani’s The Skin (1981) and Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s The Night of the Shooting Stars (1982), and Germany’s Wings of Desire (1987, dir. Wim Wenders) representing some of the better First-World attempts, alongside a number of Third-World efforts: Turkey’s Yol (1982, dir. Yilmaz Güney) for one, plus yes!, a number of Filipino productions. What have we to look forward to from hereon? More ambitious Hollywood series, possibly; conscienticizing products (reminiscent of the ’80s’ Latin American movies) from the new democracies in Eastern Europe; more technically assured and artistically innovative (if we’re lucky – with our government, that is – we could be it) Third-World titles; and the future resulting from rivalries between Americans and the Japanese in updating, exploring, and standardizing converged media and formats. The countdown, in case we haven’t noticed, has already begun.

[First published March 28, 1990, as “’80s Foreign Fare” in National Midweek]

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Philippine cinema in 1990 dealt one of the stupefying blows that made active observation of the local scene such an exciting activity during the Marcos years. Specifically this consisted of a consistent turnout of mainstream products, a handful of which were praiseworthy though clearly in the commercialized mold; then, just when we seemed to have no other choice but to assure ourselves that the prevailing system was acceptable enough, if only for its stability and occasional concern for quality, from left (and leftist) field came an independently produced work done by a marginalized director and featuring several performers who’ve been safely (though unfairly) dismissed as has-beens by the industry and its press-for-hire.

Gil Portes’s Andrea, Paano Ba ang Maging Isang Ina? overturned all scientifically formulable conclusions, including my own, regarding the possible directions available to local cinema since February 1986. All factors, up to the last week of last year, pointed to the for-better-or-worse institutionalization of commercialism, with the big studios leading the way. To a certain extent, this had advantages of its own: in contemplating a listing of the better films since the people-power upheaval, one could convince oneself that the old dichotomy between artistry and commerce is gone, since most of the films would happen to be box-office blockbusters as well, and even the flops never really wanted for trying.

Andrea, however, seized the same principle and turned it inside-out to its own advantage. Rather than play into the notions of what may be currently profitable, the people behind it apparently decided that maybe, just maybe, our moviegoers might be ready to patronize something new on their own. The result holds considerable educational value, even for that most obstinate of all creatures, the film mogul: that quality need not always be invested with excessive capital, and that small movies need not always be catapulted to the top of the box-office heap. I think it’s worth introducing our list of 1990’s noteworthy films with this object lesson in sensible production, because Andrea will definitely look out of place in any of the possible post-Marcos pantheons.

As if this distinction weren’t enough, the film also contains what is far and away the best performance of the last, say, decade, exceeded only by the output of the same performer, Nora Aunor, in a more major work, Ishmael Bernal’s 1982 Himala (both histrionic – and filmic – accomplishments were formally recognized, so far at least, only by the Metro Manila Film Festival). Andrea aside, 1990 would still have been a viewer-friendly year, what with a number of products whose entertainment value, if nothing else, could score perfect points on anyone’s list:

Angel Molave (Augusto Salvador, dir.): a structurally flawed action outing that introduces generic innovations through its expansion of personal grievances to social dimensions; featuring the male performance of the year in Phillip Salvador.
Bakit Kay Tagal ng Sandali? (Chito Roño, dir.): komiks as it should look, read and sound, with all the conviction and none of the cynicism required to justify the gloss and glamor of this successful crossover attempt.
Gumapang Ka sa Lusak (Lino Brocka, dir.): the melodrama of politics, with all the noise, confusion, and decadence in place where they really belong – in the fastnesses of power.
Hahamakin Lahat (Lino Brocka, dir.): politics in melodrama: a revelation of the intrigues and motives of those who seek to gratify themselves at the expense of the helpless.

In addition to the foregoing, one could get by with more than a passing glance on works like Emmanuel H. Borlaza’s Bakit Ikaw Pa Rin?; Mel Chionglo’s Hot Summer; Jesus Jose’s Kahit Singko Hindi Ko Babayaran ang Buhay Mo; Roño’s Kasalanan Ba’ng Sambahin Ka?; and Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes’s Too Young. The entities then who made the most of a peso-wise (though possibly petrodollar-foolish) year would be the Regal and Viva studios, directors Lino Brocka, Chito Roño, and the Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes team, and scriptwriter Ricardo Lee. Difficult to integrate in such a listing are the several action titles that, especially during the early half of the year, managed to tackle politically risky side issues pertaining to the villainy of while men and traditional politicians. And still in overseas limbo are some works that should belong to the center of serious film considerations – Lino Brocka’s Orapronobis and Gil Portes’ Birds of Prey, plus a non-Filipino product, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.

And finally, among the more exciting (albeit admittedly subjective) developments are three in which I happened to be connected some way or other: the Young Critics Circle multidisciplinary organization with its first round of annual citations, the University of the Philippines Alternative Film and Video Festival, and the year’s only film book, The National Pastime: Contemporary Philippine Cinema, available in book paper at National Book Store at a ridiculously cheap price, pardon the plug. If we’re lucky, we could have some of these things on a regular basis; but first we have to prove that they’re somehow viable, so please go watch the available Andreas, attend the Circle activities, join the UP festival, read The National Pastime and National Midweek – in short, get Philippine cinema (and popular culture) growing in the best possible and available way.

[First published February 27, 1991, as “Horse Year-ender” in National Midweek]

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Sight & Sound ’02

In May 2001, via an email introduction made by a classmate of mine, I was contacted by an editor at the British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound magazine. It opened with a “Sensitivity: Confidential” line but I guess that, since the results of that decade’s survey had been published and even succeeded by another decadal poll, and since no national security issue seems to be at stake, I could quote portions from the exchanges. “We are starting to compile a database of possible contributors to the [next year’s] poll…. I will send out a more thorough questionnaire, requesting your top ten once the project begins in earnest, as at this stage we are still trying to identify more key figures from around the world” (“Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll” email, May 22, 2001). It also requested for more possible Filipino contacts but the person later said that she could only get in touch with one of them, so in effect – since 1992 contributor Agustin Sotto had just passed away – there were only two 2002 contributors from the Philippines. (Speaking of national security, one of my later messages, sent a week after the 9/11 terrorist incident, started with “Relieved to report that I’ve lived through the attacks on lower Manhattan, thanks to my holing up in Brooklyn [which I used to think made me less fortunate]” [“Filipino critics’ availability” email, Sept. 18, 2001]; I seem to have lost the message that precipitated this response.)

On Valentine’s Day the next year, the formal invitation came, from another sender: “As you may know, every ten years since 1952, Sight & Sound magazine has published a ‘Top Ten’ list of films based on an extensive poll conducted among the world’s most respected film critics. Over the decades this has become an important gauge of film opinion” (“Sight & Sound Top Ten” email, Feb. 14, 2002). Since I’d done canon exercises for Philippine cinema, and completed graduate-level course work in film, I figured I’d participate just this once, as I would for all the other canon projects I ever got involved in. I prefaced my list with a short paragraph that included, “I have been maintaining a personal canon for the past few years. I find it has not changed much since I first drew it up, so here are the films” (“Re: Sight & Sound Top Ten” email, Feb. 15, 2002).

Ten days later I got a response that said: “Following initial responses to the Top Ten poll we would like to offer some clarification to the list that we are asking you to submit. As with the previous polls, we would like you to choose the ‘best’ films in cinema history rather than your own personal favourites. Also the poll should be limited to feature films excluding shorts” (“Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll Clarification” email, Feb. 25, 2002). This could have been a standard message sent out to some, or all, respondents, but I had no way of finding out for sure. Just in case it was directed to only me, I gave out a response that went, in part:

I was surprised to read that the poll is now being confined to feature films – I recall stumbling across several short films (mostly from the silent period) and non-feature titles in the breakdown of individual votes during past surveys. As an example, I had included Michael Snow’s La region centrale, which is of full-length duration, since I remembered the same filmmaker’s Wavelength being listed in 1992 & I found the title I listed more accomplished. I did leave out the ground-zero footage of the aftermath of the nuking of Hiroshima – the most powerful strips of celluloid I’ve ever seen (dramatically enhanced by my having been in the city during the screening), but too fragmented to serve a sustained unitary purpose. Finally, bodies of work by certain auteurs hold up better than some of these choices – Kenji Mizoguchi’s, Su Friedrich’s, Ann Hui’s, Georges Franju’s, Louis Feuillade’s, David Cronenberg’s, etc. – but none of their individual projects stands out the way the movies in my list do.

I do not get how anyone’s list of historically best films could exclude some personal favorites. In fact I would be suspicious of anyone who admits that her or his list of “best” titles does not contain any favorites. I have seen the “best” films in cinema history, as you put it, proceeding from the Sight & Sound and other canons through the years. I have always made an effort to watch these titles traditionally – projected onscreen in a darkened auditorium, with other audience members present. I have been attending screenings since the ’60s (I remember dreaming of a now-lost Filipino fantasy film in ’66), watched my first unaccompanied commercial screening in ’72, and took to serious and extensive film coverage (i.e., whatever may fall under canonical considerations, however remotely) in ’78. I point this out just in case your apprehension proceeds from the reasonable suspicion that my choice of titles has been idiosyncratic. It has not been so, except possibly in relation to some pre-existing standards that I cannot adhere to, inasmuch as my concern is genuinely what’s best, within and beyond questions of good taste and moral rectitude. I assure you that if the list I submitted comprised my personal favorites, it would be completely different except for maybe a couple of films.

So are American porn films better than Citizen Kane? Almost all of them aren’t, even by the most liberal standards, but a significant handful are, and so are a number of other entries, including a Bollywood release, a questionably motivated documentary, an American B-movie, and La regle du jeu. I doubt if Welles’ outpouring deserves to show up even in a top-20 ranking, and if your publication persists in this project then justice may ultimately stand a chance of being served. Have my several screenings of Kane diluted my appreciation of it? No, I found it already too whiny-white-guy precious the very first time I saw it, 20-odd years ago. Have I subjected the other “best” in my list to the same degree of multiple screenings? Yes, some more than others. Am I indulging in parochialism by listing something from my national cinema? Only if American critics are being parochial in listing the insufferable Citizen Kane. Is “history” frowning on my choices? I must leave this aspect of your clarification unanswered – it’s simply too scary to contemplate, if you were in my situation.

In the list below I have replaced the Snow film with something else. I have retained the documentaries, since I honestly believe feature filmmaking would not have been able to prosper this impressively were it not for the nonfiction tradition. However, if for any reason you wind up including an “experimental” non-feature/non-docu in someone else’s list, please do me the favor of restoring La region centrale. (“Re: Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll Clarification” email, Feb. 26, 2002)

The movie that I substituted La region centrale with was Michael Ninn’s 1995 film Latex. If the editors had acceded to this change my final published list would have included three porn films, since I’d already listed Henry Paris’s 1972 The Opening of Misty Beethoven and Gerard Damiano’s The Devil in Miss Jones (hereafter DMJ). But in fact even without Latex, I’d originally listed more than two because I specified the 1972-93 “The Devil in Miss Jones film series” (with Henri Pachard and Gregory Dark doing the second and third installments), in the same spirit of people listing Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974) as one entry.

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In any case, Sight & Sound published the original list I submitted (minus the succeeding “series” films in DMJ) and excerpted sections from the third paragraph of the email quoted above. The print edition wound up placing my entry right above an appreciation of Citizen Kane, the very movie I had bashed. In 2012 Kane was dislodged after a forty-year run as the magazine’s all-time best film – in all likelihood a development that would have occurred sooner or later, to which my outburst was incidental.

Sight & Sound 2002

September 2002 cover & Citizen Kane write-up (p. 29).

Here was the original submission I handed in:

  1. Saló, o le centoventi giornate di Sodoma (Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italy ’75)
  2. Manila by Night (Ishmael Bernal, Philippines ’80)
  3. Khalnayak (Subhash Ghai, India ’93)
  4. The Opening of Misty Beethoven (Henry Paris, US ’76)
  5. La hora de los hornos: Notas y testimónios sobre el neocolonialismo, la violencia y la liberación (Octavio Getino & Fernando E. Solanas, Argentina ’68)
  6. La regle du jeu (Jean Renoir, France ’39)
  7. God Told Me To (Larry Cohen, US ’75)
  8. La region centrale (Michael Snow, Canada ’71)
  9. Olympia (Leni Riefenstahl, Germany ’38)
  10. The Devil in Miss Jones film series (Gerard Damiano / Henri Pachard / Gregory Dark, US ’72-93)

Apart from dropping the sequels of DMJ, Sight & Sound also adjusted the other entries to conform to what appeared to be the magazine’s style standard, strangely appending the censors-imposed title of City after Dark to Manila by Night. Several of the media coverage (cf. these ones from Slate and The Guardian), not to mention a number of blogs and discussion boards (notably this one from the ILXor server), made references to my list, specifically the inclusion of Misty Beethoven (attributed by Sight & Sound to Randy Metzger, Henry Paris’s real name), probably because I listed it ahead of DMJ. In fact in the comprehensive tally of film titles, another Damiano film, Deep Throat (1972), also showed up; and in contravention of the Sight & Sound email admonition, so did an anything-but-full length film, the advertising entry Surprise, Surprise (credited to British Airways). And as far as I could tell, none of the 2012 respondents listed a hard-core entry, aside from Nagisa Oshima’s Ai no corrida (1976), listed as In the Realm of the Senses.

A few individuals managed to track me down via my then-active University of the Philippines email address, generally wanting to know how I came up with my list; I answered each message as earnestly and comprehensively as I could, but it never led to an exchange, because how could it? What’s there to explain beyond the basic insight that to fully appreciate a medium one should begin with what it has to offer, rather than with one’s personal baggage – or rather, in my case, that one has to adjust one’s baggage to accommodate whatever’s available out there?


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Fields of Vision – Worth the While

Prior to uploading this Fields of Vision article, typically originally published in National Midweek (September 26, 1990: 30-32; 119-24 in the book edition), an interesting twist occurred: for the first time since I started graduate studies, I had the now-rare luxury to go over any film that interested me, since for the first time since I started teaching, I was able to arrange a half-sabbatical for myself. I decided to re-view (with the option to review) the possible entries in the Filipino film canon, and was startled by how many fine films were taken for granted during the 1980s, simply because too many others were already being celebrated even in other lands; I also wrote elsewhere that cultural critics during that period felt obliged to tamp down their enthusiasm, since the call of the times was to denounce the Marcos dictatorship, which had cast its lot, for better or worse, with the local industry. My contemporary colleagues confirmed this discovery of an embarrassment of cinematic wealth, so I sought to rectify the earlier write-up by adding some titles I’d rediscovered, winding up with about a quarter new entries, as well as identifying all the films’ directors.

Three teachers are simultaneously handling the basic introductory film course at the State University for academic year 1990-91, and one inspired afternoon we all got together to coordinate our syllabi and agree on certain activities. One of these was the preparation of two sets of film clips, one on foreign films and another on local ones. I remarked that I was preparing a similar listing of Filipino film highlights to prove that, regardless of the few ups and greater downs it underwent, film as a medium still contains the country’s most consistent artistic achievements. My list was slightly different from what we were preparing – we were concentrating on what I had earlier called the second Golden Age of the latter Marcos era, 1976-86, while I was drawing largely from the scope of my then-forthcoming first anthology of reviews and criticism, namely the ’80s.

Surprisingly, although we had some differences when it came to deciding what scenes from what foreign titles to include, we were almost entirely in agreement regarding the Filipino films. Herewith are the scenes I list for myself, with two urgent clarifications: first, I pinpointed each one in the context of remembering the entire film; and second, several of these films contain more than just one memorable moment – hence the notion of scene listings or film clips is still essentially a compromise. Also, since it would be easier to recall characters in terms of the actors who played them, it’s the actors’ names I used instead. I first tried to classify some of these (a lot of them were endings in their original works), but later I realized that the principle of time could best be employed in indulging in the persistence of memory. Mostly I searched for moments that were satisfying in the emotional rather than in the plastic cinematic senses, and arranged these chronologically according to year of release, with titles within the same year arranged alphabetically.


Daria Ramirez regretfully walks out on her lover Fernando Poe Jr., then watches from a distance as he looks for her and gives up in Eddie Romero’s Aguila.

Reluctant to confront the reality of her enslavement to small-time film idol Phillip Salvador, Nora Aunor accedes to her neighbors’ invitation to drink and winds up momentarily forgetting her insurmountable sorrows in Lino Brocka’s Bona.

Amy Austria, just recovered from catatonic silence after killing her male oppressors, promises to name her baby after Gina Alajar as a means of forgiving her promiscuous and unscrupulous best friend in Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Brutal.

Bogus nuns, led by their Mother Superior Nanette Inventor, start with a religious hymn that breaks out in a disco number in Mike de Leon’s Kakabakaba Ka Ba?

Mia Gutierrez confronts her sister, Hilda Koronel, for whom her abusive husband Jay Ilagan still holds a flame in Laurice Guillen’s Kasal?

Lesbian drug pusher Cherie Gil discusses true love with gay couturier Bernardo Bernardo at the sauna parlor where blind masseuse Rio Locsin, the former’s girlfriend, works in Ishmael Bernal’s Manila by Night.

Lloyd Samartino, upon realizing that the upper-class lifestyle he wanted demanded compromises he could not afford, watches his dance-instructor parents enjoying themselves and decides to obey his father’s admonition to take over the family profession in Celso Ad. Castillo’s Totoy Boogie.

Dina Bonnevie, Maricel Soriano, and Snooky Serna finally find the courage to gang up on Mark Gil, their oppressors’ henchman, in Joey Gosiengfiao’s Underage.

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Phillip Salvador, anxious about the fate of his missing son, discovers the infant on Smokey Mountain, dead on a mountain of garbage, and breaks down in Mike Relon Makiling’s Ako ang Hari.

Amy Austria chases lecherous executive Eddie Garcia with a bolo knife, threatening to castrate him; after he jumps out the window and is immobilized by an injury, she tells him to wait for her so she could finish him off in Junn P. Cabreira’s Cover Girls.

Charos Santos, a victim of incest who’s disallowed by her father-lover from leaving the family with her husband, dreams of heing a bride in a house full of running water in Mike de Leon’s Kisapmata.

Rural migrant William Martinez arrives at Rizal Park for the first time and meets an entire range of offbeat characters, some of whom had appeared in previous Ishmael Bernal films, in the same director’s Pabling.

Rudy Fernandez shares a tender moment with his bride Tetchie Agbayani on their wedding night, both blissfully unaware of the politically inflected violence that will soon rip their town, family, and marriage apart in Romy Suzara’s Pepeng Shotgun.

Annoyed at how her colleagues hold their mama-san Mary Walter in such high regard, Alicia Alonso reminds her of how traumatically she had been introduced to a life of prostitution in Mel Chionglo’s Playgirl.

Johnny Delgado decides to kill his nymphomaniac wife Gina Alajar and himself after realizing that their shared guilt in murdering one of her lovers will forever haunt them in Laurice Guillen’s Salome.


After investing so much in her prize cock that friends and family abandon her, Nora Aunor discovers to her dismay that it can’t win a major derby and mourns its death in front of cockfight observers in Pablo Santiago’s Annie Sabungera.

After favored son Christopher de Leon mourns his dead mother during her burial, his brother and now blood-feud enemy Phillip Salvador shows up and weeps over his loss of a family, and also over the fact that he nevertheless maintained filial affection for the mother who rejected him in Lino Brocka’s Cain at Abel.

Eddie Infante realizes that Rio Locsin, who had enchanted the town’s eligible bachelor, is the ghost of his sweetheart who had perished at the hands of the Japanese during World War II in Butch Perez’s Haplos.

Brutalized sex worker Gigi Dueñas, who returned to her hometown to set up a whorehouse to avail of the tourists attracted to her childhood friend’s supernatural claims, captivates a group of curious boys by stripping and performing magic tricks with her body and dancing with them in Ishmael Bernal’s Himala.

Vic Vargas Vargas manfully apologizes to his best friend Paquito Diaz, who accepts it with just enough pride intact in Lino Brocka’s In This Corner.

Rodolfo “Boy” Garcia reconciles with rebellious son Albert Martinez in Ishmael Bernal’s Ito Ba ang Ating mga Anak?

Four female friends – unrequited lover Lorna Tolentino, talentless but determined singer Gina Alajar, gay husband’s ex-wife Sandy Andolong, and baby factory Anna Marin – kill time at their university building’s steps in Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Moral.

Two clans of the sugar gentry flee from invading Japanese soldiers who have burned their cane fields in Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata.

Mark Gil, frustrated with his gay relationship with a lumpen macho, casts a longing glance at Christopher de Leon while the latter drunkenly confesses his disappointment with the former’s best friend, Dina Bonnevie, in Lino Brocka’s Palipat-Lipat, Papalit-Palit.

Christopher de Leon meekly cleans up the plates broken in a fit of exasperation by his live-in mistress Vilma Santos in Ishmael Bernal’s Relasyon.

Illegitimate daughter Lorna Tolentino attempts one final conciliation with her legitimate half-sister Vilma Santos; unsuccessful, she decides to abandon the family abode in Eddie Garcia’s Sinasamba Kita.

Tough-minded lesbian lawyer Nora Aunor forgets her insistence on personal independence when she sees alluring showgirl Vilma Santos shimmying in front of her in Danny L. Zialcita’s T-Bird at Ako.


Starlet Lito Pimentel and Len Santos, his gay manager, unconsciously demonstrate to Christopher de Leon, who’s estranged from Vilma Santos, how true lovers quarrel and then reconcile in Ishmael Bernal’s Broken Marriage.

Stranded foreign exotic dancer Amparo Muñoz teaches conservative lass Gloria Diaz how to seduce a man by flirting with her ardent admirer Rey “PJ” Abellana in Jehu Sebastian’s Hayop sa Ganda.

Tony Santos Sr. relates to his son Phillip Salvador his fulfillment in being an honest though poor policeman in Lino Brocka’s Hot Property.

Destructively domineering father Vic Silayan chides his dead wife on her grave for abandoning him in this life in Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Karnal.

Gold-digging manipulator Eddie Garcia attempts to seduce lonely widow Gloria Romero, whose loneliness blinds her to his coarseness and greed in Laurice Guillen’s Kung Mahawi Man ang Ulap.

Rebel leader Lito Lapid, after deciding to await his firstborn as his wife undergoes labor among Aeta tribespeople, enjoys the quiet rural dawn prior to making his last stand in Celso Ad. Castillo’s Pedro Tunasan.

Long-suffering mother Charito Solis finally decides to turn against her violently abusive son Ace Vergel, in favor of her adopted daughter Vivian Velez, in Carlo J. Caparas’s Pieta.

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Dindo Fernando loses his poise in court after his client and former girlfriend Vilma Santos decides to incriminate herself by telling the truth in Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Alyas Baby Tsina.

Ilocana Gloria Romero and Visayan Nida Blanca maintain hypocritical geniality as next-door neighbors while plotting to outdo each other in terms of material success and involving their husbands and children in the process in Maryo J. de los Reyes’s Anak ni Waray vs. Anak ni Biday.

William Martinez, Herbert Bautista, J.C. Bonnin, Raymond Lauchengco, and Aga Muhlach partake of high jinks and ’80s New Wave pop culture as they explore the world of adolescent masculinity in Maryo J. de los Reyes’s Bagets.

Barrio boys bravely line up for the traditional unanesthetized circumcision ritual in Boatman.

Gina Alajar escapes from prison by seducing her security escort and then handcuffing him to a bed in a mausoleum in Mario O’Hara’s Bulaklak sa City Jail.

Unaware that his older sister Nora Aunor suspects his involvement in gangland violence, Dan Alvaro submits to her care and counsel in Mario O’Hara’s Condemned.

Maricel Soriano enumerates to her elder sister Gina Alajar the several frustrations in slum life as her justification for aspiring to higher social standing in Maryo J. de los Reyes’s Kaya Kong Abutin ang Langit.

Birthday celebrator Nora Aunor and Marilyn Concepcion, Filipina nurses working in America, cry together from too much laughter and homesickness in Gil Portes’s ’Merika.

Alicia Alonzo pacifies her squabbling neighborhood friends by advising then to touch an amount of money whose sheer bulk they had never seen befor in their lives in Abbo Q. de la Cruz’s Misteryo sa Tuwa.

Claudia Zobel (in a still photo) enumerates the deaths of great men after her own meaningless killing in Mel Chionglo’s Sinner or Saint.

Naive nun Vilma Santos nervously takes her place in a picket line for the first time in Mike de Leon’s Sister Stella L.

Conservative barrio lass Janet Bordon sings “Tipitipitin” just like her two younger sisters after losin their virginity to stammering stranger Ernie Garcia in Celso Ad. Castillo’s Virgin People.

Single mother Gina Pareño, realizing that English will not be enough for corporate-climbing in Makati, works on her Spanish in Ishmael Bernal’s Working Girls.


Former student activist Gina Alajar verges on a hysterical breakdown as she cradles the slain body of Philip Salvador, her worker-husband driven by poverty to commit crime, in Lino Brocka’s Bayan Ko (Kapit sa Patalim).

Emigrating banker Mario Taguiwalo recites a litany of local middle-class irritations he’ll be leaving behind in Ishmael Bernal’s Hinugot sa Langit.

Oppressed mother Nida Blanca and her son Aga Muhlach discover each others identity after years of separation in Lino Brocka’s Miguelito: ang Batang Rebelde.

Vivian Velez emerges as house favorite in the face of her mother Lolita Rodriguez’s disapproval, in her very first dance performance in Celso Ad. Castillo’s Paradise Inn.

Security guard Orestes Ojeda, aware of this wife Anna Marie Gutierrez’s infidelity to him, cries like a child to her prior to carrying out bloody vengeance in Peque Gallaga’s Scorpio Nights.

A ghostly band of adventurers sing “Atin Cu Pung Singsing” as they sail down the Pampanga River in Peque Gallaga’s Virgin Forest.


Gloria Diaz tries her best to cheer up her kids upon their arrival at their rundown new residence in Celso Ad. Castillo’s Ang Daigdig ay Isang Butil na Luha.

Forced into gladiatorial hand-to-hand combat by sleazy-rich yuppies, Dan Alvaro defeats the reigning champion but refuses to kill him in Mario O’Hara’s Bagong Hari.

Obsessive paranoid Joel Torre, tormented by the memory of a girl he killed and another he has kidnapped, goes into a hallucinatory nightmare in Mike de Leon’s Bilanggo sa Dilim.

Gino Antonio and Jaclyn Jose, live-show performers and lovers, discover that a neighbor has accidentally witnessed them in bed and continue their lovemaking anyway in Chito Roño’s (a.k.a. Sixto Kayko’s) Private Show.

Jaclyn Jose, the only one among two couples who has fallen in love with the person she married, breaks down upon confirming her husband and best friend’s affair in William Pascual’s Takaw Tukso.

Married couple Michael de Mesa and Anna Marie Gutierrez match the former’s best friend, fugitive Joel Torre, with the latter’s schoolteacher chum, Betty Mae Piccio during a picnic in Peque Gallaga’s Unfaithful Wife.

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Gay soldier Roderick Paulate eulogizes his straight doppelgänger, a fallen rebel leader, in Mike Relon Makiling’s Kumander Gringa.

Successful executive Lorna Tolentino declares her intention to maintain her grip on hesitant lover Jay Ilagan in Lino Brocka’s Maging Akin Ka Lamang.

Before an audience of otherworldly creatures and earthlings, Alfrredo Navarro Salanga states his preference for staying in the supernatural world to residing in Cubao in Peque Gallaga and Lorenzo Reyes’s Once Upon a Time.

Susan Roces gives vent to her emotions as her husband Eddie Gutierrez moves in with his mistress Charo Santos-Concio in Mel Chionglo’s Paano Kung Wala Ka Na.

Vilma Santos, dressed in black along with her in-law mother and sister, prepares to attend the funeral of Tonton Gutierrez, a mental retardate whom she was forced to marry for convenience but with whom she eventually fell in love in Eddie Garcia’s Saan Nagtatago and Pag-ibig?

After her family discovers her trade, Celeste Legaspi attempts suicide but has to defer it several times to attend to the need of her late prostitute-friend’s baby in Mario O’Hara’s Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak.


Presidential aspirant Laurice Guillen and her supporters celebrate the departure of a dictator in Robert Markowitz’s A Dangerous Life.

Tough-as-nails Malou de Guzman teaches a demure Maricel Soriano how to become an effective bus conductor in Mel Chionglo’s Babaing Hampaslupa.

Bank teller Jaclyn Jose, flush with the exhilaration of freedom from big-city concerns, runs through a clearing in the wilderness in the dead of night as her bewildered boufriend Mark Gil follows in Chito Roño’s Itanong Mo sa Buwan.

Anjo Yllana first confides his apprehension to his sister Snooky Serna regarding her safety in the hands of her sadist husband, and she winds up comforting the former in Maryo J. de los Reyes’s Kapag Napagod ang Puso.

After years of avoidance, lower-class couple Ricky Davao and Jackie Lou Blanco strive for civility with their upper-class counterparts and former swapped partners Edu Manzano and Dina Bonnevie in Carlitos Siguion-Reyna’s Misis Mo, Misis Ko.

Matriarch Mary Walter explains to her brood of grandchildren how deforestation forces creatures of the woodlands to dwell among humans in Peque Gallaga & Lorenzo Reyes’s Tiyanak.

Bargirl Debbie Miller, realizing that her boyfriend Rudy Fernandez need money, decides to give his her earnings and her body in Pepe Marcos’s Tubusin Mo ng Dugo.


Nora Aunor admits her generation-long love, twisted by class conflicts, for Tirso Cruz III in Elwood Perez’s Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit.

Tito Arevalo, charismatic leader of a band of right-wing fanatics, banks in his belief that God is on his side as his own family suffers in Peque Gallaga and Lorenzo Reyes’s Isang Araw Walang Diyos.

Macho dancers Daniel Fernando and Alan Paule, the former discovering his sister in a brothel and the latter anxious to comfort him resort to homosexual tenderness in Lino Brocka’s Macho Dancer.

Former rebel priest and pro-government apologist Philip Salvador grieves silently for his illegitimate son murdered by right-wing vigilantes in Lino Brocka’s Orapronobis.

Cancer victim Vilma Santos pays tribute to a beautiful morning before death claims her in Ishmael Bernal’s Pahiram ng Isang Umaga.


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Fields of Vision – One-Shot Awards Ceremony

This attempt at what I originally titled “Great Philippine All-Time One-Shot Awards Ceremony” (with due acknowledgment of Alfred A. Yuson’s Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café [Quezon City: Adriana, 1988]) arose directly from the objections I raised with the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino or Filipino film critics circle’s reliance on fixed-category annual award-giving. The intent was semi-satirical, indicated by the titles (of the article as well as the award itself – so kindly avoid quoting in earnest any of the results as a “Joel David Award” or some variation thereof). This was originally printed in National Midweek’s February 20, 1991, issue (pp. 28-29), but by the time it was anthologized in 1995 in Fields of Vision, I wished I had updated it with a category I thought I could subsume under, or list after, Cinematography. Just for the sake of demonstrating the flexibility of the exercise, I added the new award, for Production Design, and note that the post-Manunuri group I helped organize uses a variation of the description I provided in the Performance category.

With the 1980s’ decade-end approaches the prospect of yet another season of award-giving. Traditionally there’ve been two questions associated with this practice – both of which lend themselves to a whole lot of seemingly intellectual and deliciously controversial debates: first, who’ll be the top-grosser(s) in tems of trophies? and second (and more important, in the eyes of serious observers), which body will be the most credible in its choices?

I must admit I’d indulged once or twice in these issues in the span of my short critical career thus far; moreover, I found the ready response of readers, regardless of their professed distance from my position, spirit-stirring. Actually I suspect any Filipino critic will be overwhelmed by any form of reader response, judging by the sheer rarity of feedback activity in this field. On the other hand, after an entire decade of witnessing award-sweepers and award-giving bodies multiplying like loaves in fishnets, one eventually gets to wondering about the purpose of the miracle: it’s fish that belong in fishnets, and loaves that ought to be on well-serviced tabletops. In short, when what we need are various species of opinion, what we get are not-too-dissimilar spheres of judgment rendered in the exact same format of formal ceremonies that dispense sets of identical statuettes.

I suppose an entirely new distinction lies in store for the first award-giving body that owns up to this state of affairs. If it weren’t too painfully paradoxical, I’d suggest a trophy-in-waiting for the first such body that consciously and willingly folds up, in recognition of the superfluity of having too many, and even functionally overlapping, award-giving groups, as well as the need to advance filmic discourse beyond the scope of absolutist pronouncements. Toward this end I’d also strategize by exploiting another parallel paradox, the ultimate awards ceremony, the one that should end all others, at least up to this point in history. This we can do by opening at least the most basic categories to all existing achievements in Philippine cinema, deciding on winners to the best of our ability, then holding the main event. Since the last would be the most difficult for me to accomplish, I’d like to presume, on the basis of my being this idea’s proponent, the sole execution of the first two procedures.

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So without much ado, not even your usual performance numbers and acceptance speeches, attend herewith the Joel David awards for excellence in Philippine cinema:

Best Film. Regal Films’ Manila by Night (1980), a vote seconding that of the biggest majority of Filipino film critics and experts – including myself and supervised by myself again – the survey results of which helped sell out the magazine that published it. The film had one of the most precarious origins among local movies, with the original version banned and later mangled and its title changed (to City after Dark) by Marcos-era censors. The integral version was later released, this time by another Marcos-era film body, the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, due to a providential cultural quirk: the ECP had to justify its exemption from censorship and taxation by resorting mainly to artistically defensible activities.

It won’t be much of a surprise then to discover that some of the other winners in this here’s batch were in some way or other connected with the organization; not that I was one connected either (I was with the public relations department), but this was also the period in which local artistic expertise was at an admirable acme. Manila by Night is figuring out as the central example of a formal discourse on local cinema that I’m attending to and I’m sure that most other types of theoretical activity won’t be able to deny its masterliness as well.

Best Direction. Logically, the best film is always the best-directed. Ishmael Bernal, whose censored version of Manila by Night won the Urian best-film prize, lost in the best director category by a slim margin for an unusual reason: the film had a defective plastic surface, which was compounded by its mangled condition. This form of logic was subsequently and successfully challenged by the release of the integral version (apparently intended for the film’s aborted international screening), which benefited greatly from careful laboratory supervision. No more cruel twists of fate this time, the wind being presumably clear of cultural and critics’ politics: Ishmael Bernal in Manila by Night has done the most impressive local directorial job ever – thus far.

Best Screenplay. I cast my vote for Ricardo Lee in Moral in 1982, along with only one other member in that year’s Urian body, and I could say with pride that if there ever was Manunuri member who had integrity and renown, it was (and still is) him, Bienvenido Lumbera. Moral itself can be defended in retrospect as its year’s best film, but on the level of the category under discussion, the screenplay’s been published in book form for everyone to judge for herself. Lee has labored under a lot of early conquests and later rebuffs, with his pre-Moral scripts for Jaguar (co-written with Jose F. Lacaba) and Salome winning Urian awards and the back-to-back book edition of Brutal and Salome copping a special prize from the first National Book Awards batch of the Manila Critics Circle.

Moral (an ECP Film Fund-subsidized product and official Manila International Film Festival entry) is cast in the same multiple-character mold as Manila by Night, but it delimits itself by concentrating on fewer and female characters and compensates thorugh a whole lot of impressive characterization and intelligent structuring. The screenplay (and its published version) did not receive any recognition whatsoever, except from the Metro Manila Film Festival, which also holds the distinction of awarding by its lonesome the next category’s winner.

Best Performance. When we speak of actor, actress and their respective supports we actually refer to performance one and all. In this category the winner was easy for me to determine as early as the year she was competing for the Urian – and, as in the instance of Moral, she lost. No other performance, male or female, lead or supporting, comes close, and all later screenings of whatever other films may be in contention bear this out: the entry, produced by ECP and directed by Ishmael Bernal and scripted by Ricardo Lee, is Himala, and the performer is, of course, Nora Aunor.

For the record, several times did a vociferous La Aunor bloc demand a recount in the Urian, but we just could not muster the extra vote that would alter the decision. Himala qualified for the same international festival where Manila by Night almost competed, but the ECP refused to send the actress on her terms; again, she lost by a single vote. I may be perceived as kind in championing such lost causes, but my fearless prediction is that history will be far kinder. Already Himala, wherever it is being re-screened, is eliciting the same reaction: what a difficult role, and what a transcendent performance.

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Best Cinematography. The best Filipino cinematographer who ever lived has died, but not before perfecting his transition from black-and-white to color, and attaining his peak – and that, by simple extrapolation, of Philippine cinema as well. All that had to happen was for Peque Gallaga, who did the epic ECP production Oro, Plata, Mata, to recruit Conrado Baltazar, who was then already being credited for making a series of Lino Brocka films noirs seem larger than they actually were, for Regal Films’ Virgin Forest.

The film itself incribed a semi-cricle in Gallaga’s career by being screened at the ECP venue, the Manila Film Center, where his earlier release (also by Regal), the sex film Scorpio Nights, had acquired for him a strong measure of notoriety from both establishment and opposition moralists. Virgin Forest, despite being Gallaga’s best film ever, bore the brunt of the backlash, Baltazar’s work along with it. Baltazar himself never found another such oppurtunity: both Gallaga’s and Brocka’s next significant epics, Isang Araw Walang Diyos and Orapronobis respectively (curiously dealing with the same subject matter of rural vigilantism), were to be made almost simultaneously the year after his death.

Best Production Design. How fitting that a belated addition acknowledges the variability of film presentations. The winner in this category, in contradistinction to the rest, never had a regular theatrical run. This was not so much because it was shorter than most regular releases (since, as most film historians will be capable of confirming, early films tended to observe far shorter screening times than they do today); it was because the product itself was unclassifiable by standard-release categories, with fictional and documentary elements, and with its achievements ascribable to both the filmmaker as well as the subject/performer, attaining the status of “art film” not just aesthetically but by literally presenting the subject’s art work onscreen.

The complete title of the work as originally released in 1991 was Yuta: The Earth Art of Julie Lluch Dalena, with Hesumaria Sescon listed as director, although the Internet Movie Database shortens the secondary title to The Earth Art and includes Dalena as co-director. The members of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino declared this their “best short film” for the year, but Kritika, the short-lived critics’ organization I participated in, listed it and Elwood Perez’s Ang Totoong Buhay ni Pacita M. as Gold Prize winners.

Best Editing. A kink came up in this category, after a discussion with a film expert who, for some important reason, shall remain unnamed. My choice was Lino Brocka’s Orapronobis, which was edited, as per its credits, by George Jarlego and two non-Filipinos, Sabine Mamou and Bob Wade. The complication isn’t so much the fact that the film may have been finished counter to its makers’ preference, although some amount of hush-hush talk to this effect once circulated. The issue dwells more on the reality that certain types of material may seem less expertly edited precisely because of the greater ambitions they aspire toward. Manila by Night and Moral, for example, may be sprawling and ambiguous in parts, but this could only certainly be ascribed to the necessity of letting go of pure or perfected technique in order to allow some non-plastic aspect of the material to develop.

In this respect my source suggested Mike de Leon’s Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, which won the Urian directing and editing trophies over Manila by Night. I find both positions valid: Orapronobis is as editorially perfect as anyone has ever gotten hereabouts while Kakabakaba is as editorially ambitous in the same sense. Both were done by brothers, Kakabakaba by Ike Jarlego Jr. The phenomenon of tie-giving has its place in our awards system, so my preference is for both titles – and, in effect, for the gifted clan that has been putting together some wonderful films for several generations now.

Best Sound. Another clan holds fort in this area, the Reyeses. Luis and his son Ramon teamed up for some impressive sound-studio results, mostly in Mike de Leon films. The elder Reyes had also worked with, among others, Gerardo de Leon, while the younger one continues the tradition with some of our better filmmakers. Technically I’d say that a Gallaga film, Oro, Plata, Mata, which credits Ramon Reyes for sound, would be one of the best I’ve seen – and the best I’ve heard, in the strictly plastic sense.

But in an interview with Ramon himself, he avowed that his ideal of good film sound is one that draws from the more difficult live-recording than from the more controlled studio-dubbed system. Over the years I’ve learned to appreciate what he meant: you give up some amount of crispness and clarity in exchange for ambience and authenticity, and a good soundperson can always make the tradeoff preferable. Reyes held up as an example Brocka’s Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag, which he and his father worked on, and I still have to find a better live-sound (and living-vision, which is of course directorial) film. Even the music, done by the precocious Max Jocson, was as unprepossessing yet eerily natural as the film’s aural design. The Reyeses earned a well-deserved trophy from the 1975 Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences for this film, and they earn mine all the way too.

Best Music. I’d settle for a Jocson score, with its incomparable admixture of minimalist principles and observance of the primacy of natural film sound. On the other hand, we’re really speaking of music here as distinct from sound, so I guess this could justify a score that heralds itself as unabashedly Orphic, capable if necessary of existing independently of the film that it accompanies.

The many times I watched Tikoy Aguiluz’s Boatman, whether at the MFC, a downtown theater, or on videotape playback, it’s the lush, expressive, achingly beautiful music I always wound up appreciating. Jaime Fabregas did some other highly competent scoring before and after this film, and even won an Urian for a relatively minor accomplishment in Scorpio Nights. Boatman was in the running the last year I was a voting member, but the prejudice against “bold” MFC films was then going too strong. This time around Fabregas in Boatman still gets my vote, man.


The problem with such state-of-the-art criteria is that early-state entries get excluded. The earliest awardee, Brocka’s Maynila, is from only fifteen years back, while the latest (prior to a post-publication addition), Orapronobis (another Brocka film), still has to be locally released. As problematic proof of its cyber-age existence, Orapronobis also happens to be the first Filipino film made available in laser-disc format.

Maybe someone else should come up with a qualified set of awards, like the best silent work (if anyone can remember or find any such thing) or black-and-white title. I would be very much embarrassed to hand out qualified awards though, much less receive them. I would rather stick to my list, and draw up a new one once the scenario changes too significantly to be ignored. Who knows? It could be as soon as the next couple of film releases, or as far away as, heaven forbid, the closing credits of our lifetime.

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Fields of Vision – Ten Best Filipino Films Up to 1990

Midweek - 10 best cover
Before this report came out as the cover story of
National Midweek, canonical surveys of Philippine cinema were extremely delimited, essentially dismissible novelties. The most extensive one I remember was a national daily’s Sunday supplement asking a handful of respondents to list their three “best” films – without any attempt at tabulating the results and arriving at (the semblance of) a group consensus. Among the several quantitative exercises I decided to undertake, this was the one that took off and refused to be shot down despite the limits that inhered even here, in the very first attempt. Although these are discussed at length in the article, it still bears pointing out that: the circle of respondents is not homogeneous – a positive quality in terms of diversification of choices, but an essential flaw in the sense that the relative exposure of individuals might have been too wide for comfort; this means that some people might have seen more available (and a few later-unavailable) titles and would therefore be potentially better-informed than others. In discussing the results with some of my colleagues, we speculated that the ideal, in terms of having an “informed” circle, would be to get together a team and watch all the possible canonical candidates to be able to have common premises for deliberation. None of the succeeding internet-era exercises has done this, although all of them attempt to update the list below and a few managed to gather a larger number of respondents. Hence even if my intention was to provide as many examples of film canonizations in order to dispense with them and move on to serious critique, an “ultimate” canonizing project still remains to be accomplished.

Midweek - 10 best inside
The by-line for the article was “Joel David, with Melanie Joy C. Garduño”; when it was anthologized in
Fields of Vision, I included Professor Violeda A. Umali as project consultant, as well as the list of students who conducted the survey, a roster that included Ann Angala, Ely Buendia, and Kim Atienza. Looking over the now-faded respondents’ submissions, I noticed how I later discussed the answers that my Midweek colleague, Raul Regalado, submitted, and noted in his sheet that he preferred one film to be upheld over the rest of his equally ranked choices. The adjustment has been incorporated in the report below. The Midweek publication date was July 4, 1990 (pp. 3-9), while the inclusive pages in Fields of Vision (which added the helpful qualifier “Up to 1990” in the title) were 125-36.

Ten best lists are sure to secure attention and controversy. The procedure – taking a survey of acknowledged authorities in the field concerned and tallying the data to arrive at a final ranking – is fraught with booby traps, beginning from the issue of whom to take into account as respondents, through the validity of the statistical methods employed, right down to the presentation of results, if not the results themselves. Any activity with intense cultural participation will inevitably provoke the issue of standards and, compared with the challenge of critical writing, survey-taking would seem to be a more exact, though perhaps less lasting (and, in addition, too guiltily easy) resort. The entire science of statistics can be arguably ascribed to this innate passion for comparative evaluation, and nowhere in recent years has this been more heatedly exhibited, outside of economics, than in film.

The standard reference in film listings is the decadal survey by the British magazine Sight and Sound, which has been responsible for the reputation of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane as the best movie of all time – at least for the past three decades, and never mind if the second best onward could not seem to be established, or if one’s viewing gets upended by great expectations unfulfilled. All other critical institutions have their own means of bestowing rank, most visibly the outstanding achievement trophies proffered by every major award-giving body.

In the Philippines, similar attempts at duplicating the Sight and Sound activity have been made, except that the statistical universe, small as it already is, has never been represented comprehensively enough; mostly the respondents were confined to the survey-taker’s circle of acquaintances, if not the survey-taker herself bothering to inform the public of her own opinions and preferences. In 1982, as secretary of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, I undertook such a project limited exclusively to the members of what was then after all the country’s only organized group of film commentators. In the end, after collating and tabulating everything, I had to conclude that the number of respondents was still not enough – that on the basis of sustained industry evidence, there was still a critical community somewhere left unrepresented; leakage of the results found its way to the movie press, but I decided that at that point, silence would be the more sensible course of action to take.

Between then and now two crucial developments intervened: the Philippines’ first and so far only degree program in film was opened at the University of the Philippines, providing me with the opportunity of exploring (in my various preparations and sometimes with my students) the various forms and directions of critical thinking in local film practice; furthermore, the February 1986 revolution, for a complex of reasons whose long-term worth still has to be determined, placed an effective halt to the intense and concentrated artistic output in cinema which I had elsewhere called our second Golden Age.

In my third year of handling the UP film criticism course, I decided that the students, what with the consistent upgrading of our curriculum’s theoretical foundation, might be ready for a ten-best exercise. Proposed as a class project, the activity generated sufficient enthusiasm for an entire class of about twenty to publish forms and follow up the responses of more than fifty people, using our expanded definition of film critic, to wit: published film criticism (which should be differentiated from film reviewing) is only a small, perhaps even relatively insignificant proportion of true critical activity; most criticism may in fact be unarticulated by both audiences (which would be nearly impossible to tease out, except in terms of box-office patronage) and artists, who provide proof of their capabilities in the progressions evident in their output. Hence the list consisted of a number of practicing writers on film (including Manunuri members), plus those film artists whose body of work could be defensibly classified as exhibiting critical exploration and growth. Necessarily directors and scriptwriters constituted this grouping, with a much lesser number of producers, performers, and technicians.

For a number of reasons not everyone could be surveyed. Within the time frame of the first semester of Philippine academic year 1989-90, some respondents were out of town or the country, or were otherwise indisposed by their work schedules. The whereabouts of a few could not be determined, and some (mostly those contacted by mail) just did not bother to reply. Certain personalities declined on the bases of delicadeza and apprehension over the consequences of such an undertaking. All in all twenty-eight individuals submitted their lists of Filipino films ranked from best to tenth-best, with three providing no ranking, another three submitting less than then and six submitting more the most of which was seventeen. The complete list of lists so to speak, with titles enumerated per respondent, makes up Table 1.

Numerical values equivalent to the ranking given were assigned the films, with averages given for those titles stipulated to have equal rank (for example, three titles all ranked first would each carry a value of two, the number corresponding to the middle rank). A total of eighty-one titles was tallied, with thirty-three or over forty percent being mentioned only once, and two top-notchers being mentioned sixteen times. To provide as much equal opportunity to each film as possible, as well as clarify the relative rankings of those mentioned against those which the respondents may have seen but did not rank, we planned a second phase in which the complete listing would be returned to the respondents, for them to indicate those which they had seen and to rank these further as carefully as possible. Again, time constraints overtook the execution of such a plan inasmuch as several respondents delayed in submitting their lists. In the end the waiting period took a good part of the semester, necessitating the cancellation of the second phase and leaving the tabulation for me to accomplish.

The list of titles mentioned, in alphabetical order, is given in Table 2, with year of release and director(s) following in parentheses, with films mentioned only once being marked by an asterisk. As might be expected, the most number of films, about thirty, comes from the current (1980s) decade, with even one unreleased title, Orapronobis, listed (Mel Chionglo, who had viewed only the rushes, also gave it special mention). The preceding decades decline in terms of frequency of mention – sixteen titles from the 1970s, nine from the ’60s – until we come to the 1950s, where twenty-three films are named; this may be attributable to the long-standing reputation of that era as the first Golden Age of Philippine cinema. Another surprisingly strong showing, considering that a good part of the decade suffered a shutdown in production because of the war, was the listing of three titles from the ’40s. On a sadder note is the inclusion of one of the three pre-war features still in existence (the only film from the ’30s figuring in the survey); relative to this would be the need to raise an alarm about the condition of all remaining Filipino films – some of which have seen their very last screening (Hanggang sa Dulo ng Daigdig at a Manila Film Center retrospective), exist only in reduced format (Sa Atin ang Daigdig in 16mm.), failed to have their negatives preserved (Sisa being only a duplicate of another positive), or worst of all, persist only in the memory of those who have seen then (Daigdig ng mga Api, among several others).

Thirty-two directors were mentioned, about a dozen of them deceased. Gerardo de Leon heads the list with twelve complete films plus two installments in omnibus projects, followed equally by Ishmael Bernal and Lino Brocka with nine each, Mike de Leon with six, and Lamberto V. Avellana and Peque Gallaga with four apiece. Three titles each are ascribed to Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Manuel Conde, and Gregorio Fernandez, while Celso Ad. Castillo, Cesar Gallardo, Eddie Romero, and Mar S. Torres share two titles each. Those mentioned once include Tikoy Aguiluz, Cesar J. Amigo, Augusto Buenaventura, Tony Cayado, Behn Cervantes, Abbo Q. de la Cruz, Armando Garces, Laurice Guillen, Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara, Mario O’Hara, Gil Portes, Maryo J. de los Reyes, Chito Roño, Manuel Silos, Octavio Silos, Artemio Tecson, Carlos Vander Tolosa, and Robert Ylagan. Aside from Gerardo de Leon, those credited with episodes in omnibus films are Avellana, Manuel Silos, and F. H. Constantino.

Given these results, two approaches were possible, providing in effect a two-step procedure. One, the first, was to tabulate the frequency of mention of each film; all the films scored frequencies of two and above except for thirty-three as already mentioned. Next was to total the ranks of each film and divide this by the number of respondents, to get the average ranking. With this operation it would be possible to order each title according to its relative position on a scale from the smallest (i.e., the closest to a perfect “1”) to the largest average ranking, which turned out to be “17.” A comprehensive list would be too baffling without the breakdown and computation of figures, and too overdone with these, so as a sample demonstration, Table 3 contains the ranking of the thirty-three films which had only one respondent each.

In the end there were three types of ranking possible, two of them conforming to the top-ten mode of requirement. The first, with nineteen films in all, is a tabulation of the respondents’ number-one choices. The second is a ranking according to the frequency of mention of individual titles: the top films Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon? and Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag shared sixteen respondents, while the tenth, Moral, had eight, which quite neatly turns out to be half of the maximum. The third and, in the best way, final ranking is that done after the computation described earlier had been carried out, and the list confined, like the earlier ranking, to films mentioned by eight respondents and above; necessarily this would contain the same titles as the second ranking, but rearranged in consideration of the individual values accorded them by the respondents.

The value of the first ranking, the number-one choices, is that these are the titles that the respondents felt strongest about during the survey; it would be safe to say that each individual respondent wouldn’t mind finding her choice of number one making it to the magic circle, if not the very top. The second ranking is more independent of subjective opinion, since the films mentioned here presumably came about after the more emotional issue of determining the top-rank holder had been settled. On the other hand, such a ranking did not take into account the relative opinions of each respondent: most, for example, mentioned Ganito Kami Noon and Maynila, but does this mean they’d give either title top-rank as well? The answer is provided by the so-far final ranking, in which Manila by Night, mentioned by ten, turned out to be higher in their esteem.

In keeping with further categories formulated by James Monaco for a decade-wide survey published in Take One, I checked the individual respondents’ respective lists against the final ranking and came up with originality quotients, wherein none or the least number of choices tallied with the results, and accuracy quotients, wherein all or the most number of choices did. Agustin Sotto had a perfect originality quotient – more remarkable since he also had the most number of titles, seventeen. Next in line were Marra PL. Lanot with one choice out of ten, Armida Siguion-Reyna with two, and Ishmael Bernal, Vic Delotavo, Nestor U. Torre, and Romeo Vitug with three each (although Torre listed only five Filipino films in all). No one on the other hand had a perfect accuracy quotient, but Butch Francisco, Christian Ma. Guerrero, and Nicanor G. Tiongson came up with seven correct titles, followed by Mario Hernando with six, and Marilou Diaz-Abaya with five out of seven. Petronilo Bn. Daroy, Laurice Guillen, Nick Lizaso, and I also scored with five choices, while all the rest – Mario Bautista, Mel Chionglo, Isagani Cruz, Nick Cruz, Justino Dormiendo, Jose F. Lacaba, Bienvenido Lumbera, Antonio Mortel, Tezza O. Parel, Raul Regalado, Eddie Romero, and Raquel Villavicencio – selected four each, roughly the average performance of the entire body of respondents taken as a whole.

The final outcome can of course be subjected to criticism in various ways, but at this point I believe two things must first be pointed out: the individuals who submitted their lists took the risk of opening themselves to all manner of dissension, and not everyone would have the courage or conviction to do the same; more important, such results as presented should be regarded as the beginning of healthy debate, rather than the final word on the matter. Among the urgent by-products that should begin to see light would be the already-mentioned need for archival preservation of this vital aspect of our cultural heritage, and the development of the practice of revaluation, which may be generally (and mistakenly) perceived as too much of a luxury for these times of crises that we live in. A more or less regular revision of a ten best list would belong to this agenda, and that should probably be the primary context of this existing ranking – as the first, not the last, of its kind.

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Table 1. List of Individual Choices

Marilou Diaz-Abaya [submitted only 7 titles]: 1 – Manila by Night; 2 – The Moises Padilla Story; 3 – Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang; 4 – Kisapmata; 5 – Moral; 6 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 7 – Badjao.

Mario Bautista [submitted 2 titles listed as #10]: 1 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 2 – Nunal sa Tubig; 3 – Ikaw Ay Akin; 4 – Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo; 5 – Insiang; 6 – Manila by Night; 7 – Bayan Ko (Kapit sa Patalim); 8 – Sister Stella L.; 9 – Bukas…May Pangarap; 10.5 – Brutal; 10.5 – Moral.

Ishmael Bernal: 1 – Sisa; 2 – Anak Dalita; 3 – Kundiman ng Lahi; 4 – Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo; 5 – Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang; 6 – Boatman; 7 – Burlesk Queen; 8 – Moral; 9 – Kisapmata; 10 – Genghis Khan.

Mel Chionglo: 1 – Jaguar; 2 – Batch ’81; 3 – Bona; 4 – Kisapmata; 5 – Himala; 6 – Salome; 7 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 8 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 9 – Burlesk Queen; 10 – Sister Stella L.

Isagani Cruz: 1 – Itim; 2 – Jaguar; 3 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 4 – Himala; 5 – Manila by Night; 6 – Genghis Khan; 7 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 8 – The Moises Padilla Story; 9 – Badjao; 10 – Portait of the Artist as Filipino.

Nick Cruz, S.J.: 1 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 2 – Sakada; 3 – Sister Stella L.; 4 – Insiang; 5 – Miguelito: Ang Batang Rebelde; 6 – Hinugot sa Langit; 7 – Batch ’81; 8 – Himala; 9 – Broken Marriage; 10 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?

Petronilo Bn. Daroy: 1 – Genghis Khan; 2 – Nunal sa Tubig; 3 – Manila by Night; 4 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 5 – Anak Dalita; 6 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 7 – Orapronobis; 8 – Insiang; 9 – Hubad na Bayani; 10 – Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo.

Joel David [submitted 11 titles]: 1 – Manila by Night; 2 – Moral; 3 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 4 – Malvarosa; 5 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 6 – Sa Atin ang Daigdig; 7 – Miguelito: Ang Batang Rebelde; 8 – Kakabakaba Ka Ba?; 9 – Virgin Forest; 10 – Himala; 11 – Orapronobis.

Vic Delotavo [submitted 14 titles]: 1 – Daigdig ng mga Api; 2 – Hanggang sa Dulo ng Daigdig; 3 – El Filibusterismo; 4 – Noli Me Tangere; 5 – Ifugao; 6 – Sanda Wong; 7 – Dyesebel; 8 – Medalyong Perlas; 9 – Bicol Express; 10 – Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo; 11 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 12 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 13 – Insiang; 14 – Pahiram ng Isang Umaga.

Justino Dormiendo: 1 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 2 – Nunal sa Tubig; 3 – Salome; 4 – Kisapmata; 5 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 6 – El Filibusterismo; 7 – Daigdig ng mga Api; 8 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 9 – Insiang; 10 – Badjao.

Butch Francisco: 1 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 2 – Kisapmata; 3 – Manila by Night; 4 – Hinugot sa Langit; 5 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 6 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon; 7 – Anak Dalita; 8 – Batch ’81; 9 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 10 – Relasyon.

Christian Ma. Guerrero [submitted 12 titles]: 1 – Burlesk Queen; 2 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 3 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 4 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 5 – Anak Dalita; 6 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 7 – Himala; 8 – Insiang; 9 – Itim; 10 – Aguila; 11 – Virgin Forest; 12 – Misteryo sa Tuwa.

Laurice Guillen: 1 – Sisa; 2 – The Moises Padilla Story; 3 – Insiang; 4 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 5 – Salome; 6 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 7 – Kisapmata; 8 – Ifugao; 9 – Anak Dalita; 10 – Burlesk Queen.

Mario Hernando: 1 – Anak Dalita; 2 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 3 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 4 – Manila by Night; 5 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 6 – Sister Stella L.; 7 – Batch ’81; 8 – Kisapmata; 9 – Nunal sa Tubig; 10 – Bayan Ko (Kapit sa Patalim).

Jose F. Lacaba: 1 – Daigdig ng mga Api; 2 – Anak Dalita; 3 – Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo; 4 – Nunal sa Tubig; 5 – Himala; 6 – Insiang; 7 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 8 – Salome; 9 – Brutal; 10 – Bona.

Marra PL. Lanot [submitted without any specification of order]: 5.5 – Bona; 5.5 – Brutal; 5.5 – Himala; 5.5 – Hinugot sa Langit; 5.5 – Inay; 5.5 – Jaguar; 5.5 – Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising; 5.5 – Sakada; 5.5 – Tatlong Taóng Walang Diyos; 5.5 – Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang.

Nick Lizaso: 1 – Noli Me Tangere; 2 – Tatlong Taóng Walang Diyos; 3 – Himala; 4 – Itim; 5 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 6 – Badjao; 7 – Anak Dalita; 8 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 9 – Kisapmata; 10 – Anak Dalita.

Bienvenido Lumbera: 1 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 2 – Nunal sa Tubig; 3 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 4 – Kisapmata; 5 – Noli Me Tangere; 6 – Isumpa Mo, Giliw; 7 – Kundiman ng Lahi; 8 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 9 – Kadenang Putik; 10 – Bayan Ko (Kapit sa Patalim).

Antonio Mortel: 1 – Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo; 2 – Badjao; 3 – Anak Dalita; 4 – Noli Me Tangere; 5 – Kisapmata; 6 – Itim; 7 – Himala; 8 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 9 – Ito ang Pilipino; 10 – Isang Araw Walang Diyos.

Tezza O. Parel [submitted only 9 titles]: 1 – Himala; 2 – Moral; 3 – Jaguar; 4 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 5 – Itim; 6 – High School Circa ’65; 7 – Kakabakaba Ka Ba?; 8 – Kisapmata; 9 – Broken Marriage.

Raul Regalado [submitted in alphabetical order but subsequently specified one “all-time favorite”]: 1 – Moral; 6 – Boatman; 6 – Burlesk Queen; 6 – Kakabakaba Ka Ba?; 6 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 6 – Manila by Night; 6 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 6 – Private Show; 6 – Scorpio Nights; 6 – Virgin Forest.

Eddie Romero: 1 – Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang; 2 – Kisapmata; 3 – Manila by Night; 4 – Moral; 5 – Scorpio Nights; 6 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 7 – Hinugot sa Langit; 8 – Salome; 9 – Tatlong Taóng Walang Diyos; 10 – Paradise Inn.

Armida Siguion-Reyna: 1 – Insiang; 2 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 3 – Miguelito: Ang Batang Rebelde; 4 – Hinugot sa Langit; 5 – Virgin Forest; 6 – Brutal; 7 – Relasyon; 8 – Bayan Ko (Kapit sa Patalim); 9 – High School Circa ’65; 10 – Working Girls.

Agustin Sotto [submitted 17 titles]: 1 – Mga Ligaw na Bulaklak; 2 – Sanda Wong; 3 – 48 Oras; 4 – Geron Busabos: Ang Batang Quiapo; 5 – Hanggang sa Dulo ng Daigdig; 6 – Juan Tamad Goes to Congress; 7 – Luksang Tagumpay; 8 – ₱1,000 Kagandahan; 9 – Apat na Taga; 10 – Jack en Jill; 11 – ROTC; 12 – Sino’ng Maysala?; 13 – Cofradia; 14 – Dyesebel; 15 – Badjao; 16 – Giliw Ko; 17 – Ibong Adarna.

Nicanor G. Tiongson [submitted 11 titles]: 1 – El Filibusterismo; 2 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 3 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 4 – Insiang; 5 – Jaguar; 6 – Broken Marriage; 7 – Anak Dalita; 8 – Himala; 9 – Moral; 10 – Oro, Plata, Mata; 11 – Sisa.

Nestor U. Torre [submitted a list of “15 Good Movies” including 10 foreign titles]: 1 – El Filibusterismo; 2 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon; 3 – Itim; 4 – Manila by Night; 5 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag.

Raquel N. Villavicencio: 1 – Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang; 2 – Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; 3 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 4 – Badjao; 5 – Sakada; 6 – Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?; 7 – Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo; 8 – Jaguar; 9 – Itim; 10 – Insiang.

Romeo Vitug: 1 – Biyaya ng Lupa; 2 – Anak Dalita; 3 – Hanggang sa Dulo ng Daigdig; 4 – Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo; 5 – Insiang; 6 – Relasyon; 7 – Salome; 8 – Burlesk Queen; 9 – Paradise Inn; 10 – Karnal.

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Table 2. Alphabetical List of Titles
[Asterisks indicate films mentioned only once – cf. next Table]

Aguila (1980, Eddie Romero)*
Anak Dalita (1956, Lamberto V. Avellana)
Apat na Taga (1954, Mar S. Torres)*

Badjao (1957, Lamberto V. Avellana)
Batch ’81 (1982, Mike de Leon)
Bayan Ko (Kapit sa Patalim) (1985, Lino Brocka)
Bicol Express (1957, Gerardo de Leon et al.)*
Biyaya ng Lupa (1959, Manuel Silos)
Boatman (1984, Tikoy Aguiluz)
Bona (1980, Lino Brocka)
Broken Marriage (1983, Ishmael Bernal)
Brutal (1980, Marilou Diaz-Abaya)
Bukas…May Pangarap (1984, Gil Portes)*
Burlesk Queen (1977, Celso Ad. Castillo)

Cofradia (1953, Artemio Tecson)*

Daigdig ng mga Api (1965, Gerardo de Leon)
Dyesebel (1953, Gerardo de Leon)

El Filibusterismo (1962, Gerardo de Leon)

Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon? (1976, Eddie Romero)
Genghis Khan (1950, Manuel Conde)
Geron Busabos: Ang Batang Quiapo (1964, Cesar Gallardo)*
Giliw Ko (1939, Carlos Vander Tolosa)*

Hanggang sa Dulo ng Daigdig (1958, Gerardo de Leon)
High School Circa ’65 (1979, Maryo J. de los Reyes)
Himala (1982, Ishmael Bernal)
Hinugot sa Langit (1985, Ishmael Bernal)
Hubad na Bayani (1977, Robert Ylagan)*

Ang Ibong Adarna (1941, Manuel Conde)*
Ifugao (1954, Gerardo de Leon)
Ikaw Ay Akin (1978, Ishmael Bernal)*
Inay (1977, Lino Brocka)*
Insiang (1976, Lino Brocka)
Isang Araw Walang Diyos (1989, Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes)*
₱1,000 Kagandahan (1948, Gregorio Fernandez)*
Isumpa Mo, Giliw (1947, Gerardo de Leon)*
Itim (1976, Mike de Leon)
Ito ang Pilipino (1966, Augusto Buenaventura)*

Jack en Jill (1954, Mar S. Torres)*
Jaguar (1979, Lino Brocka)
Juan Tamad Goes to Congress (1959, Manuel Conde)*

Kadenang Putik (1960, Cesar Gallardo)*
Kakabakaba Ka Ba? (1980, Mike de Leon)
Karnal (1983, Marilou Diaz-Abaya)*
Kisapmata (1982, Mike de Leon)
Kundiman ng Lahi (1959, Lamberto V. Avellana)
Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising (1977, Mike de Leon)*
48 Oras (1950, Gerardo de Loen)*

Mga Ligaw na Bulaklak (1957, Tony Cayado)*
Luksang Tagumpay (1956, Gregorio Fernandez)*

Malvarosa (1958, Gregorio Fernandez)*
Manila by Night (1980, Ishmael Bernal)
Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975, Lino Brocka)
Medalyong Perlas (1956, Lamberto V. Avellana, F. H. Constantino, Gerardo de Leon, and Manuel Silos)
Miguelito: Ang Batang Rebelde (1985, Lino Brocka)
Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo (1976, Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara)
Misteryo sa Tuwa (1984, Abbo Q. de la Cruz)*
The Moises Padilla Story (1961, Gerardo de Leon)
Moral (1982, Marilou Diaz-Abaya)

Noli Me Tangere (1961, Gerardo de Leon)
Nunal sa Tubig (1976, Ishmael Bernal)

Orapronobis (1989, Lino Brocka)

Oro, Plata, Mata (1982, Peque Gallaga)

Pahiram ng Isang Umaga (1989, Ishmael Bernal)*
Paradise Inn (1985, Celso Ad. Castillo)
Portrait of the Artist as Filipino (1966, Lamberto V. Avellana)*
Private Show (1985, Chito Roño)*

Relasyon (1982, Ishmael Bernal)
ROTC (1955, Octavio Silos)*

Sa Atin ang Daigdig (1965, Cesar J. Amigo)*
Sakada (1976, Behn Cervantes)
Salome (1982, Laurice Guillen)
Sanda Wong (1955, Gerardo de Leon)
Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo (1952, Gerardo de Leon)
Scorpio Nights (1985, Peque Gallaga)
Sino’ng Maysala? (1957, Armando Garces)*
Sisa (1951, Gerardo de Leon)
Sister Stella L. (1984, Mike de Leon)

Tatlong Taóng Walang Diyos (1976, Mario O’Hara)
Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (1974, Lino Brocka)

Virgin Forest (1985, Peque Gallaga)

Working Girls (1984, Ishmael Bernal)*

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Table 3. Ranking of Films Mentioned Only Once

1    Mga Ligaw na Bulaklak

2.5  Ikaw Ay Akin
2.5  48 Oras

4.5  Geron Busabos: Ang Batang Quiapo
4.5  Malvarosa

7    Inay
7    Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising
7    Private Show

10    Isumpa Mo, Giliw
10    Juan Tamad Goes to Congress
10    Sa Atin ang Daigdig

12    Luksang Tagumpay

13.5  P1,000 Kagandahan
13.5  Medalyong Perlas

17.5  Apat na Taga
17.5  Bicol Express
17.5  Bukas…May Pangarap
17.5  Hubad na Bayani
17.5  Ito ang Pilipino
17.5  Kadenang Putik

23.5  Aguila
23.5  Isang Araw Walang Diyos
23.5  Jack en Jill
23.5  Karnal
23.5  Portrait of the Artist as Filipino
23.5  Working Girls

27    ROTC

28.5  Misteryo sa Tuwa
28.5  Sino’ng Maysala?

30    Cofradia

31    Pahiram ng Isang Umaga

32    Giliw Ko

33    Ang Ibong Adarna

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Table 4. Ranking 1: Number-One Choices

Thrice mentioned:

Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag

Twice mentioned:

Biyaya ng Lupa
Daigdig ng mga Api
El Filibusterismo
Manila by Night
Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang

Once Mentioned:

Anak Dalita
Burlesk Queen
Genghis Khan
Mga Ligaw na Bulaklak
Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo
Noli Me Tangere
Oro, Plata, Mata

Table 5. Ranking 2: Frequency of Mention

1.5. Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?
1.5. Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag

3.5. Insiang
3.5. Kisapmata

5.5. Anak Dalita
5.5. Himala

7.5. Manila by Night
7.5. Oro, Plata, Mata

9.    Biyaya ng Lupa

10.  Moral

Table 6. Ranking 3: Integration of Individual Rankings

1.    Manila by Night
2.    Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag
3.    Anak Dalita
4.    Biyaya ng Lupa
5.    Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?
6.    Moral
7.    Kisapmata
8.    Himala
9.    Insiang
10.  Oro, Plata, Mata

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The National Pastime – A Second Golden Age

When Ishmael Bernal used the exact same term “Second Golden Age” in his last major interview, with Aruna Vasudev (16-23), I knew that it had effectively supplanted Bienvenido Lumbera’s coinage “New Philippine Cinema” in his “Problems in Philippine Film History” (193-212); even a foreign “history” volume like Bryan L. Yeatter’s mostly dispensable write-up observes a 1974-85 periodization (129-65) that acknowledges a “Second Golden Era” without any clue about its provenance – a sign that the idea had become paradigmatic. Not that that was my intention though; in fact I deliberately maintained a non-titular preference for the uncapitalized “second,” even though I succumbed to standard capitalization practice later. The essay was the opening salvo (to use Patrick D. Flores’s review description) in a series of provocations that I was hoping would initiate productive, even dissentious, exchanges. Yet even the negative responses to The National Pastime seemed willing to accept, or maybe reluctant to question, the premise behind the assertion that the martial-law era ironically provided a fecund playing field for cinema, or shall we say Ciné-mah. My own attempt at questioning the Golden Ages idea was (to me) too late, too rushed, and too reasonable (see “The Golden Ages of Philippine Cinema: A Critical Reassessment”), even if it also happened to be the first to do so. Nevertheless I submit that the following article encapsulates Marcos-era film policy and its overall-favorable impact on film practice, as well as film observers’ urgent need to find useful historical frameworks for further applications (and incidentally, to fellow Nora Aunor fans: “Performances of the Age” is only a section of the present article, not a stand-alone write-up). “A Second Golden Age” was originally published in the October-December 1989 issue of the Cultural Center of the Philippines journal Kultura (pp. 14-26 – p. 14 is below), then edited by Bien Lumbera; its title was modified by the publisher of The National Pastime (where it appeared on pp. 1-17) to include the parenthesized phrase “An Informal History.”

Kultura - 2nd Golden Age

Talk has been current, but not ardent enough, about the recent conclusion of a second Golden Age in Philippine cinema. Of course the notion of a Golden Age has its share of reputable disputants. No less than Eddie Romero, who surged forward at the start of what may be considered our filmic Golden Age II, cited ancient Greece in claiming that no such period of clear and concentrated artistic achievement could be reasonably circumscribed anywhere. On the other hand lies a just-as-ancient necessity of defining parameters for purposes of easier classification and, more important, to enable contemporary observers to draw significant lessons therefrom. Presuming that Golden Ages do exist, no other period becomes more needful in finding out how and why they do than that immediately following the conclusion of such a one.

More to the point of Romero’s argument, however, would be the obvious difficulty in pinpointing specific periods of artistic productivity. The flowering of Athenian culture could be studied intensively within the context of entire centuries of ancient Greek life; true, certain important artists and philosophers were contemporaries of one another – but this was more of the exception, the rule being one major practitioner being followed, chronologically speaking, by another who would either break away from the elder’s school or tradition, or venture completely on his own in a new, unpredictable direction.

The soundness of Romero’s assertion actually derives from the fail-safe construction of his logic. Nothing in human history can ever compare to the Greeks’ cultural exploits – and so, if we grant that they never had a Golden Age, then there never could have been any such thing since. Rather than despair over our modern-day limitations in the face of such insurmountable criteria of excellence, I believe we could do well enough in assessing ourselves for more sober, though perhaps less immortalizing, reasons. By this account a Golden Age need not be a wholly intensive and sustained national outbreak of cultural creativity. A limited period in a specific field, defined according to the concentration of output relative to periods preceding and succeeding it, should prove adequate for the moment.

Golden Age I

The first Golden Age in Philippine cinema has had slightly varied reckonings of its exact duration. All, however, agree to the inclusion of the entire decade of the 1950s. The most important feature of this period was the political stability brought about by postwar reconstruction and the aggressive suppression of the Communist insurgency, paralleled in film by the stabilization of the studio system.

That this phase ever came to a close indicates the short-sightedness of the solutions being applied. Reconstruction commits itself only to the attainment of a previous level of accomplishment (in this case the prewar situation), whereas insurgency addresses itself to the overthrow of a government on the basis of a problem – agrarian reform – more persistent that its leaders’ understandable aspirations to political power. The movie industry’s studio system, in seeking to institutionalize professionalism and (incidentally?) control the means of distribution, overlooked the natural inclination of talents, including stars, to seek more abundant means of remuneration outside the system if necessary, as well as the willingness of independent production outfits to forsake the studios’ long-term advantages and meet the demands of talents in return for faster and more immediate profits.

Hence the interval between the first and the second Golden Ages saw the rise of the independents and the superstars, backgrounded by the revitalization of the peasant-based insurgency and an engineered economic instability that paved the way for the imposition and eventual acceptance of fascist rule.

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A Near-Golden Age

The declaration of martial law in 1972 promoted hopes for an end to the country’s political and economic difficulties. It also may have forestalled a creative resurgency in local moviemaking, brought about through a subsequently admitted social experiment by censors chief and presidential adviser Guillermo de Vega, who was latest assassinated under mysterious circumstances.

A casual view of the products of the pre-martial law seventies reveals what we might have been headed for: socially conscious and psychologically frank products, without a compulsion to alienate the vast majority of moviegoers, even in the most artistic instances. Apparently neutral or even antipathetic projects actually allowed for a lot of leeway in the selection of material and permutations of form and expression. Most significant was the proliferation of bomba or hard-core sex films, the direct result of de Vega’s extreme libertarianism; but just as important were the counter-reactions, the musicals and love triangles, that provided relief in opposing formats, even for serious practitioners. Moreover, regional (Cebuano-language) cinema had mellowed at the latter portion of a wondrously long curve, providing assurances of alternatives for Manila-based practitioners (which included Emmanuel H. Borlaza and Leroy Salvador), as well as an additional stable for the recruitment of onscreen talent, notably the Amado Cortez – Gloria Sevilla and Eddie Mesa – Rosemarie Gil clans.

Ismael Bernal came up with the last major black-and-white Filipino film and the most important debut of his generation with Pagdating sa Dulo. Lino Brocka, who was to share with Bernal the rivalry for artistic supremacy in the Golden Age that was to come, rebounded quick with a pair of highly inspired komiks-adapted titles for his studio base, Lea Productions, namely Stardoom and Tubog sa Ginto, plus an otherwise effective Fernando Poe Jr. epic, Santiago. This era, rather than the mid-seventies as commonly supposed, also signalled the maturation of Celso Ad. Castillo. In another Poe-starrer, Asedillo, as well as in a horrific bomba entry, Nympha, he exhibited a fascination for unconventional visual values and thematic daring, properties that were to serve him well during the latter part of the decade.

Other names associated with academe- and theater-based artist circles made their mark with relatively serious attempts, including Elwood Perez with Blue Boy and Nestor U. Torre with Crush Ko si Sir. Perhaps more significantly, a number of scriptwriters who were to figure prominently during the forthcoming Golden Age first figured here, with either solo or shared credits: Torre with his debut film, Bernal with Luis Enriquez’s Ah, Ewan! Basta sa Maynila Pa Rin Ako!, and Orlando Nadres with Tony Cayado’s Happy Hippie Holiday. Brocka, after writing for Luciano B. Carlos’s Arizona Kid, provided breaks for several scriptwriting aspirants, among them Nadres with Stardoom, Mario O’Hara with Lumuha Pati mga Anghel, and Alfred Yuson with Cherry Blossoms.

Right after Marcos’s martial-rule clampdown, and in a sense a consequence of the aforementioned near-anarchic (and therefore procreative) bent, came names like Peque Gallaga and Buth Perez with Binhi, Romy Suzara with Tatlong Mukha ni Rosa Vilma, Jun Raquiza with Dalawang Mukha ng Tagumpay, and George Rowe with Paru-Parung Itim, Nora Aunor’s first production, serious film, and (it wasn’t to be the last such combination) box-office flop. Rolando Tinio wrote for Bernal’s Now and Forever and Ricardo Lee, using the pseudonym R.H. Laurel, for the late Armando Garces’s Dragnet.

Pre-Golden Age II

Critics currently carping at the discernible decline in the quality of film output relative to the period prior to the 1986 revolution should actually have more to be grateful for, aside from the usual evolutionary benefits of better technology and more formalized media, even film-specific, education. At least an excess of film awards, a heritage of the just-concluded second Golden Age, ensures that truly deserving products will now have a greater chance of acquiring recognition, no matter how belated. In the first half of the seventies all we ever really had was the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS), then suffering a downswing in sensibility from which it has never fully recovered; and so, despite the long list of titles mentioned above, its early seventies best-film winners were forgettables like Kill the Pusher, Mga Anghel na Walang Langit, Nueva Vizcaya, and Gerardo de Leon’s regrettable Lilet.

Keeping the faith were Bernal, Perez, and Joey Gosiengfiao with their usually combinative Sine Pilipino/Juan de la Cruz Productions; Castillo with his horror films; Raquiza with this thrillers; Suzara with his sober dramas; and Nora Aunor with her admirable acting vehicles, including the only project that could boast of crediting both de Leon and Lamberto Avellana, the omnibus Fe, Esperanza, Caridad.

It was Brocka, however, who returned from a period of inactivity with two productions that combined the then-impossible characteristics of being both major and personal, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang in 1974 and Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag in 1975. The direct beneficiaries of this renewal of artistic consciousness in film included Brocka himself, with his three-in-one Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa; Perez with his three-in-one Isang Gabi, Tatlong Babae!; Gosiengfiao with the last Filipino black-and-white movie La Paloma, ang Kalapating Ligaw; Castillo with his careful revivification of the bomba (later to be called “bold” and initiated with the wet look) in Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa; and Bernal with Mister Mo, Lover Boy Ko.

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Golden Age II: Beginnings

Maynila could properly serve as the marker for the second Golden Age of Philippine cinema. It was a more precious and accomplished work than the same director’s Tinimbang, and ushered in a tendency toward new talents and novel projects that was to intensify in the coming year. Brockas’s triumphs, overwhelming even the FAMAS, can be regarded as the conclusive cause, especially in the light of his current and still single-handed renewal of filmic consciousness, this time on an international scale, with his post-’86 works Macho Dancer and Orapronobis.

There are, however, other attributable semi- or even non-industrial reasons for the phenomenon. The relative sanguinity brought about by the sudden infusion of foreign loans (before these assumed malignant proportions), coupled with the enforced stability of early martial rule, encouraged several newly prosperous entities to invest their money in a business that could be both glamorous and profitable. The youthful mass audience of the early seventies was prepared for a divergence and diversification of its favorite diversion, which was to culminate in a sophistication of its command of visual language that may still be extant at present. De Vega’s widow, Ma. Rocio, took over after his death and, for some reason or other, saw fit to return to his pre-martial law policy of libertarianism – which the military was to exploit as an excuse for its small-scale takeover of film-censorship prerogatives.

Maynila’s impact was meanwhile long-ranging enough, boosted as it was by the earlier success of Tinimbang, and a whole new breed of filmmakers came to the fore; in chronological order: Lupita Concio (later Kashiwara) with Alkitrang Dugo, Eduardo Palmos co-directing Saan Ka Pupunta, Miss Lutgarda Nicolas?, Behn Cervantes 1976’s first debutant with Sakada, O’Hara with Mortal, Dindo Angeles with Sinta! Ang Bituing Bagong Gising, Gil Portes with Tiket Mama, Tiket Ale, sa Linggo ang Bola, and Mike de Leon with Itim.

And these were just the ones who either started big or had major follow-up projects. A cursory look at the 1976 Filipino filmography would reveal a handful of other new names which would probably be of interest to those determined to delve deeper into the dynamics of the period. Again, however, the writers ought to sustain more productive study than the also-rans: Clodualdo del Mundo Jr. was responsible for the adaptation of Maynila from the novel by Edgardo Reyes, who himself was to cross over presently into the medium with Bernal’s Ligaw na Bulaklak. Preceding them were newsmen Antonio Mortel and Diego Cagahastian, who co-wrote Mister Mo, Lover Boy Ko, and fictionists Alberto Florentino and Wilfredo Nolledo, who were to be joined shortly by Jose F. Lacaba in Gosiengfiao’s omnibus Babae…Ngayon at Kailanman. Mauro Gia. Samonte was to write for Castillo’s Tag-ulan sa Tag-araw, Jorge Arago for Bernal’s Nunal sa Tubig, and Marina Feleo-Gonzalez for Kashiwahara’s Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo. Lamberto Antonio collaborated with O’Hara on Brocka’s Insiang, Roy Iglesias with Eddie Romero on the latter’s Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?, and Gil Quito with del Mundo (and Ricardo Lee without credit) on Mike de Leon’s Itim.

Sakada would have been the military establishment’s typical target for repression, but it unfortunately enjoyed the endorsement of de Vega; Danilo Cabreira’s Uhaw na Bulaklak, Part II served the purpose even better, deflecting as it did potentially confrontational politics toward the issue of moral rectitude; typically again, both titles had new writers-Lualhati Cruz (later Bautista) and Oscar Miranda for the former, Franklin Cabaluna for the latter.

Guideposts for the Times

Three developments, all of the same kind, served to temper the disheartening reality of the military’s assumption of local film censorship. The fact that the reconstituted body announced itself as “interim” in nature, implying an eventual return to civilian rule, was belied by its initial action of enforcing stricter measures, to the point of requiring the approval of storylines and screenplays and imposing a code that seemed deliberately directed against the output of serious practitioners. An entire catalog of anecdotes, sometimes humorous and often infuriating, primarily comprising dialogs between military censors and intelligent film practitioners, awaits documentation and will definitely help in particularizing the naïveté and arrogance of Filipinos suddenly imbued with power and influence.

The already mentioned developments actually consist of the introduction of award-giving mechanisms by three sectors who were to make bids of varying degrees of urgency on mass media in general, and film in particular: the Catholic Church, government, and intelligentsia. The Catholic sector, in reviving its Citizens’ Award for Television, expanded it to encompass locally existent media of communications. Significantly, the first Catholic Mass Media Awardee for film was Nunal sa Tubig, which had seen rough sailing with the censors. The government, for its part, centralized all the annual city festivals in the newly organized metropolitan area in one major undertaking held during the lucrative spell between Christmas and New Year. The first few editions were either idealistic or disorganized or both, so that sensible film producers tended toward a policy of reserving prestige productions for this season. Despite occasional protestations from the bloc of foreign-film distributors and an ill-advised attempt to require developmental messages during the late seventies, the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) has endured as the government’s singular contribution to the pursuit of quality in local cinema, its awards being coveted not so much for the prestige they bestow as for the free and favorable publicity they afford otherwise commercially imperiled releases.

The third, and for our purposes the most important, film awards for this period consist of those handed out by the reviewers’ circle, the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (MPP), organized in 1976 and barely in time for the first flowering of the second Golden Age. The Urian awards, as these were called, served to recall and amplify the impact of the first MMFF in their echoing of the latter’s best-picture choice, Ganito Kami Noon. In fact the FAMAS, so as not to be left too far behind, selected another MMFF entry, Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo, for its top-prize winner, and observed the Urian’s dark-horse selection of Nora Aunor as the year’s best actress for her performance in her latest flop-production, O’Hara’s Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos. The Urian remained the most serious award-giving body for the most part of its first decade of existence, employing a system of viewing assignments, repeated screenings, and exhaustive deliberations that would have proved perfect had it been implemented conscientiously and consistently. Whatever the turnout of the MPP’s choices for any given year, the fact remains that its nominations were generally reliable reflections of the industry’s achievements in the medium, and thereby serve as better indicators of the state of the art than the awards themselves.

This point was to be driven home as early as the next year of its existence. Where the MMFF actually defied the cultural establishment, which responded by withdrawing the prizes it handed out to Castillo’s Burlesk Queen, the Urian responded against the film as a representation of the MMFF’s process, selecting an academically defensible but less artistically vital entry as its year’s winner, and coming around to the Burlesk Queen filmmaker by awarding his next-year entry, which like the previous year’s winner was period and epic in scope. Such subjectivity of vision, coupled by a preference for underdog nominees, prompted Brocka, the fourth best-director awardee, to castigate the group and reject its future commendations. Nevertheless, as mentioned earlier, the MPP’s process right up to the deliberation of prizewinners was refined enough to ensure the accommodation of accomplishments major by the reasonably highest possible standards of filmic evaluation.

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Four Peaks

By this account it becomes evident that the performance output of the local film industry’s best and brightest tended to observe peaks and valleys, instead of a consistent (and therefore easily predictable) plateau or slope. The first was of course the already described beginning, that yielded Maynila on one end and Ganito Kami Noon on the other. The second was a good four years after, when the highest artistic point of the Golden Age and, by reasonable extension, of Philippine cinema thus far, was attained with Bernal’s Manila by Night. Afterward major-status entries on the order of Bernal’s innovations with filmic milieu arrived with regular frequency, with Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Moral two years later; Brocka’s Miguelito: Ang Batang Rebelde still another three years after would close the era, curiously with the same director who helped open it.

This regularity of productivity was in fact cut short by the 1986 revolution, in much the same way that Proclamation 1081 ended the early seventies’ creative outbursts. Sociopolitical upheavals may be the most obvious, but definitely not the only, similarities between the periods in question. Prior to 1986, as before 1972, an era of moral permissiveness held sway in cinema. Immediately after the upheavals, audiences tended to shy away from moviegoing, and had to be lured back with blatantly commercial products that all but outlawed conscious attempts at artistry. The second Golden Age in this regard was distinguished by some of the riskiest filmmaking projects in local history: during the turn of the decade, one movie after another vied in laying claim to being the most expensive Filipino production ever, with audiences seemingly willing to reward these efforts if only for the sheer audacity of the claims.

Each artistic peak mentioned, in fact, also had clusters of other big-budget, even period productions attending it. Maynila was period by necessity, since early martial rule forbade derogatory references to the Marcos regime; Ganito Kami Noon combined an ideological concern – the origin of “Filipino” as a historical designation – with the period of its metamorphosis, the transition from Spanish to American colonial rule. Romero was to further flesh out his pursuit of the identity of the Filipino with some other big-budget and period titles: Aguila, which covered the current century; Kamakalawa, which was situated during the pre-Spanish mythological era; and Hari sa Hari, Lahi sa Lahi, which was begun during but released after the Golden Age, and set also during the pre-Spanish era of regional trade relations. None of these other movies attained the balance between technical competence (Aguila would have been the closest) and storytelling superiority (Kamakalawa excelled only in this aspect) manifested by Ganito Kami Noon, and meanwhile Romero, who was a movie-generation removed from Brocka and Bernal, was exceeded in medium-based modernization by the practitioners who were to follow.

Brocka, on his part, responded to international exposure with a deliberate and sometimes disconcerting minimalization of his filmic abilities. Insiang, Jaguar, Angela Markado, Bona, PX, Cain at Abel, and Bayan Ko (Kapit sa Patalim) (in order of release) all may have followed Maynila chronologically, but actually antedate it in terms of the filmmaker’s capability of matching sweeping social concerns with an appropriately expansive vision. Aside from this, their distinction of having had international exposure in various festival venues here and abroad could perhaps only develop a case for Brocka as an auteur in the now-conventional sense of the word, where one work will have to be viewed in relation to all the rest before it could be appreciated. Miguelito, on the other hand, as a vastly improved reworking of Tinimbang Ka, is a contemporary but still-critical view of the body politic with its social and, more important, dramatic distensions intact, rather than deflated to microcosmic dimensions as Brocka had been wont to do in the case of the other films.

Bernal benefited the most from the effervescence of this period, mapping out a strategy that may have seemed erratic during the time but which denotes in retrospect the most impressive directorial figuring out and working over of the medium since Gerardo de Leon adopted the principles of deep-focus realism. Like de Leon, Bernal proceeded to adopt a foreign trend, this time the then-emergent character-based multi-narrative process, first experimenting with limited success in Nunal sa Tubig then introducing commercial elements on a more modest scale in Aliw. The greater profitability of the latter, in terms of both audience and critical reception this time, most likely emboldened him enough to return to large-scale businesses in Manila by Night, which in turn may have overstretched his technological capabilities somewhat but also served to accommodate his contributions to an international filmmaking mode, in a way that de Leon never managed to.

Manila by Night in effect proved that a personalized and multi-stylized approach to this manner of presentation of subject matter was possible, and that the filmmaker could choose to oppose the expectation of a final and logical conclusion and still justify an open-endedness in terms of his material. After such an accomplishment a more conventionalized orientation overtook Bernal – one that drew from the domestic dramas and comedies he directed prior to Manila by Night, the most memorable being Ikaw Ay Akin. His only other epic-scale project since, Himala, recalled Nunal sa Tubig in its choice of material (the eternal countryside, as contrasted with the contemporary big city in all of his other films), but the treatment this time observed classic unities rather than the versatilities which had brought him attention in the first place. Bernal’s other multi-character projects fared even less triumphantly, among them Ito Ba ang Ating mga Anak?, Working Girls, and The Graduates. A Working Girls sequel, released after the Golden Age, so dismayed everyone involved that Bernal has since tended to inhibit himself from such ventures, concentrating instead on small-scale projects where he had considerable success right after Manila by Night: Relasyon, Broken Marriage, and Hinugot sa Langit, among others.

New Generation

Expediently for Brocka and Bernal, as well as Romero and, in a sense, Castillo before them, the second Golden Age lent an aura of legitimacy to the infusion of new blood into the system. Early on Mike de Leon and O’Hara persisted with always prestigious and occasionally remunerative projects; with the arrival of the eighties, the splashy debuts of women directors Marilou Diaz-Abaya and Laurice Guillen recalled the heyday of Kashiwahara, then already inactive.

It was Peque Gallaga, however, who demonstrated that even newcomers could buck the system and turn it to their advantage: first he won the scriptwriting contest of the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (ECP) for the storyline proposal of Oro, Plata, Mata, then acquired the right to direct it, and saw it right through copping a special jury prize from the Manila International Film Festival (MIFF) as well as major Urian awards, including best film. Curiously, however, succeeding aspirants could not duplicate Gallaga’s procedure; the closest anyone came to doing so was in using the ECP venue, the Manila Film Center (MFC), as Tikoy Aguiluz did for Boatman, rather than directing ECP productions, as Pio de Castro III and Abbo Q. de la Cruz were to discover after finishing Soltero and Misteryo sa Tuwa respectively; in this instance the dynamics of governmental support for the industry supplied the causative factors, and a thorough investigation of the matter would yield invaluable lessons for the future.

Before Gallaga’s virtual one-man coup, the female directors managed to call attention to themselves as viable entities; but how much of the appreciation was prepared by prevalent feminist sentiments still has to be quantified. Guillen had a modest and well-appreciated hit with her first film Kasal?, then after a box-office trauma went on to a more notable achievement with Salome, which won the Urian best-film prize. Diaz-Abaya, on the other hand, saw her first production, Tanikala, sink to the depths of anonymity – and her investment along with it, but rebounded vigorously enough with the MMFF multi-awardee and box-office placer Brutal.

In common with the early ascendency of these two was their scriptwriter, Ricardo Lee. Coming from a shared distinction (with Jose F. Lacaba) for Brocka’s box-office bomb but Urian winner and Cannes Film Festival competition entry Jaguar, Lee had his first solo masterstroke with Brutal and followed up in an even bigger way with Salome. His association with Bernal cemented as consultant for Manila by Night and writer for Ito Ba, Relasyon, and Himala, he proceeded to devise a female-humanist (typically mistaken for feminist) milieu movie, Moral, which Diaz-Abaya directed. Moral stands as the only other Golden Age product clearly in the same league as Manila by Night; the other possible sharers of this category would be Miguelito and, from the first Golden Age, Gregorio Fernandez’s Malvarosa – both of which suffer inadequacies that disallow declarations of unqualified masterliness. Thereafter Lee’s collaborations with Diaz-Abaya would result in relatively less satisfactory products, particularly Karnal and Alyas Baby Tsina. He subsequently realized higher degrees of literacy in cinema in his scripts for Mel Chionglo’s Sinner or Saint and Chito Roño’s Private Show, produced at the tail end of and released after the Golden Age; more fulfilling accomplishments, however, were awaiting him in other film-related media, notably journalism, metafiction, and playwriting, all of which he would turn to after the Golden Age.

The other directors fared fairly enough in establishing a respectable level of artistic sensibility in their works. Gallaga had a slightly better epic than Oro, Plata, Mata in Virgin Forest, which met with a counter-reaction probably inevitable considering the earliness and eagerness of the initial response that greeted him. After dabbling in melodrama with Unfaithful Wife, he would make one last epic, the fantasy feature Once Upon a Time, which had the misfortune of being released during the period of transition following the Golden Age, when no movie could hope to recoup its investments. Thereafter he would concentrate on and rise in favor against for expertly handling the horror genre, which would facilitate his return to epic filmmaking with Isang Araw Walang Diyos.

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Fringes of the Avant-Garde

Gallaga deserves a more lasting recognition for his revitalization of the sex film in Scorpio Nights, released at about the same period as his Virgin Forest and Aguiluz’s Boatman, and for the same venue, the MFC. In being less defensive about its social conscience, Scorpio Nights turned out to be a more effective evocation of proletarian decadence than any local erotic movie ever made.

Two significant directors, Castillo and Mike de Leon, reached their prime in the medium during the middle part of the Golden Age, then settled for relative obscurity afterward. Castillo came out with a series of mostly sex films that never matched the precocity of Burlesk Queen, while de Leon observed the Stanley Kubrick model, emulated to a lesser extent by Gallaga, of dabbling in one genre after another. His comeback in 1980 after a three-year hiatus resulted in a major-status movie that has managed to outlast all his other works so far, the political absurdist comedy-musical Kakabakaba Ka Ba? Along with Brocka, de Leon became a prominent figure at Cannes, where his subsequent output – the thriller Kisapmata and propagandistic Sister Stella L., plus Batch ’81, his misanthropic contribution to milieu delineation – were exhibited to mostly favorable commentaries. After an excursion into melodrama that disappointed him but not his financiers, de Leon shifted, right with the close of the Golden Age, to video with a feature, Bilanggo sa Dilim, that exemplified his directorial coming-of-age.

O’Hara similarly advanced in expertise as the period wore on. After making a financially fruitful comeback (after an absence about as long as de Leon’s), he came up with a partially successful milieu movie, Bulaklak sa City Jail, and followed up a previous action-thriller, Condemned, with another, Bagong Hari. Mostly O’Hara continued his association with Nora Aunor, who had more resounding results with Brocka and Bernal, but nevertheless managed to augment her store of talent with O’Hara.

One last directorial debutant, Chito Roño, whose Private Show came out almost too late for the Golden Age, bears comparison with the aforementioned names. In the period to come, Brocka, by virtue of his conscious holding back, may have already reprised his role as harbinger of what ought to turn out to be another, or at least an extension of the previous, Golden Age. Chionglo, Gallaga, O’Hara, Roño, and Mss. Diaz-Abaya and Guillen are in a position to assume artistic leadership, with Bernal, Castillo, and de Leon making authoritative contributions alongside Brocka, and Romero upholding the value of verified virtues in the craft.

The writer will be privileged with greater responsibility, as indeed almost all of these enumerated individuals are capable of scripting their and others’ works if desirable or necessary. Ricardo Lee will continue holding forth as a major non-directing filmmaker, with del Mundo, Lacaba, and newer members like Jose N. Carreon (Ikaw Ay Akin, Broken Marriage), Jose Dalisay Jr. (Miguelito), Rosauro de la Cruz (Scorpio Nights, Virgin Forest), and Amado Lacuesta Jr. (Hinugot sa Langit, Working Girls) regularly providing thematic worth and structural strength. A number of other writers, including Armando Lao and Bibeth Orteza, may have had apprenticeships during the Golden Age, but would seem to have considerable opportunities of playing the field thence.

Performances of the Age

Award-sweeping became the in thing, what with the addition of more and overlapping bodies to the already flourishing FAMAS, Urian, MMFF, and CMMA – to wit, the Philippine Movie Press Club (PMPC), with its Star trophy, and the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP). Two of these, the FAP and the FAMAS, claim to be industry-based recognitions, although the FAP is more systematically organized according to guilds; this advantage of legitimacy also brings with it the disadvantages of the prevalence of popularity choices, just as between the Urian and Star, the former may comprise a number of serious critics, but the latter possesses the humility necessary for thoroughgoing review and evaluation processes.

Despite the propensity of these groups, both collectively and as individual bodies, in setting records for favored artists, the outstanding performance of the period belongs to that of Nora Aunor in Himala, which was honored only by the MMFF. Aunor had been possessed with a search for superior acting vehicles, and threw away a lot of her own money in the process, since in essence she mostly had to run against the preferences of her mass supporters. With Brocka she made perceptible strides in ensuring her lead over the rest of the pack, particularly in Ina Ka ng Anak Mo and Bona. But all that was really required of her was a project that had enough scope to demonstrate her far-reaching prowess, with a minimum of editorial manipulation. In Himala the director and writer seemed to have agreed to a mutual stand-off, thus amplifying the theatrical potential of an expansive locale with protracted takes; stage-trained talents ensured the competent execution of histrionic stylizations, with the climax set on an open-air platform before a hysterical audience. It was a truly great actress’s opportunity of a lifetime, and Nora Aunor seized it and made it not just her role, but her film as well.

Nora Aunor on the set of Ishmael Bernal’s Himala (1982).

Not since Anita Linda in Gerardo de Leon’s Sisa (circa the first Golden Age) had there been such a felicitous exploitation by a performer of ideal filmmaking conditions – and in this instance, Himala has the decided advantage of being major-league and universal. Other consistent stand-outs during the period – and these would be formidable enough as they are – demand to be taken in terms of body of work, not any individual movie: Vic Silayan for Ligaw na Bulaklak, Kisapmata, and Karnal; Gina Alajar for Brutal, Salome, Moral, and Bayan Ko; Nora Aunor for whatever title she appeared in during the eighties, regardless of budget, intention, or box-office result. Record-setters of this period, specifically Phillip Salvador, Nida Blanca, and Vilma Santos, deserve mention if only for the skills and supreme good fortune necessary in attaining their respective feats. Among newcomers, only Jaclyn Jose of Private Show seems to hold forth promise of an order comparable to most of those listed herein.

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Institutional Developments

What factors could have contributed to this concentration of creativity? The only trend that could be cited with confidence is something commonly perceived as a hindrance, its claims to patronage notwithstanding: active governmental intervention. The irony here can be traced from the very beginning (of the second Golden Age, that is) – the militarization of film censorship, and even beyond, if we were to particularize the controls on culture that the declaration of martial law brought about. With the fullest possible flowering of the Golden Age during the turn of the decade, the irony could not but have heightened further. The government then set in motion the machinery of total institutional support that was to be known presently as the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, eventually housed at the aforementioned Manila Film Center (MFC).

The Manila Film Center, site of some of the best and worst excesses of the Marcos dictatorship.

To be sure, a compounded series of half-hearted inclinations betrayed the ultimate objectives of the ECP. First it was founded not to respond to any industrial necessity, but to legitimize the then First Lady’s Manila International Film Festival. Then, to appease a First Daughter angered by the kidnapping of her paramour, control of the legitimizing body was turned over to her; this must have been perceived as a shrewd decision, since Imee Marcos-Manotoc, perhaps partly out of her rebellion against her parents, had been soliciting the advice of Marcos oppositionists in culture, most of whom had castigated the first MIFF. The granting to her of ECP was expected therefore to placate both her and too-outspoken Filipino film artists.

Palace politics in this regard kept the Marcos family too busy among themselves to pay attention to the moves of film practitioners. Film producers meanwhile were lured by the prospect of greater returns on investment with the introduction of an international venue (specifically the MIFF’s film market module) on these very shores. Hence films with big budgets and attendant artistic ambitions began to see the light of, er, theatrical exhibitions.

Marcos-Manotoc herself proved to be sincere about her responsibilities, at least during a crucial early phase of her assumption of ECP leadership. The rejection of the MIFF was just a signal to Malacanang of her sincere intentions. By then she had several projects running simultaneously, most of which had a highly favorable impact on film as artistic endeavor. Witness: the production of scriptwriting contest winners, subsidies for worthy full-length film proposals, tax rebates for deserving productions, exhibition of otherwise shunned or banned releases, plus a number of relatively minor benefits – first-rate screening venues, a library of film titles and books, short-film competitions with cash incentives, book and journal publications, archival research and preservation, seminars and workshops, etc.

The arrangement was too good to be true, and eventually succumbed to the regime’s self-destructive tendencies, embodied in this instance in the irrepressible Imelda Marcos. Once Marcos-Manotoc had been distracted by her election to the so-called legislature, the ECP quickly went moribund, with funds hemorrhaged for the alleged promotion of MIFF in foreign countries and with the MFC operated according to a prohibitive maintenance cost. This meant that not only would all charitable functions cease, including film productions and subsidies, but also only sure-fire highly profitable titles, which then as now denoted hard-core sex films, could be exhibited at the MFC’s exclusive venues.

The expected denunciation by the industry of the ECP’s exemption from censorship and taxation, premised on the grounds of unfair competition, was reinforced in part by a bid for survival by the censors body, which with the ECP had reverted to civilian status; a retaliation was also in order, since the ECP under Marcos-Manotoc had initiated moves to outlaw film censorship. All this controversy served to act as check on the choice of films for MFC exhibition, ensuring that the new leadership would resort to artistic quality (the very same excuse invoked for the MIFF), if nothing else, as defense. The outcome, in practical terms, was a handful of local erotica, including the previously mangled Manila by Night, unmatched in art consciousness relative to any other period in local history.

The Marcos government, however, could not stem the tide of the anti-dictatorship movement, especially as fortified by the outrage over the Aquino-Galman assassination, and the post-Imee ECP proved to be a most attractive target. In the end the by-now predictable, and thereby ineffectual, Marcos solution of establishing institutions or transforming existing ones to conform ostensibly to legal requisites was applied to the ECP. The body was dissolved and another one, the Film Development Foundation of the Philippines (FDFP), set up in its place, without any change in the organization itself, save for its avowal of now being less public in nature; in fact it was intended to enjoy the best of both worlds – semi-private and thus exempt from censorship, semi-public and thus exempt from taxation.

That the FDFP did not differ from ECP except in name would have induced a renewed struggle for the formation of a truly responsive organ for institutional support, but at this point the nation’s attention was diverted by the snap elections that led to the people-power uprising that in turn expelled Marcos, shut down his film institution for good, and drew to a close the second Golden Age of Philippine cinema.

Intrinsic Reasons

The futility of pinpointing institutional causes, a legacy of materialist orientations which even artists are prone to resort to, becomes evident when we take other national experiences into consideration. In South American countries, whose colonial and religious histories most closely resemble the Philippines’ own, artistic creativity has always been a direct function of political freedom. The same observation applies to contexts closer to home – in neighboring Asian countries. One would expect that the combination of both features – Hispanization and Orientalism – would only strengthen this correlation between the practice of politics and the production of art.

Not only do the Marcos years disprove this extrapolation; the few years since provide enough dramatic contrast to further affirm this deviation from an otherwise logical deduction. Part of the answer may lie in the Machiavellianism of the Marcos regime, its perverse pleasure in playing cat-and-mouse games with its opponents. In the case of industry-based artists, who themselves are no strangers to such dialectics between ideals and realities, this inculcates a disposition toward subtlety and the sublime.

This answer could of course cut both ways. A practitioner may just as well be cowed by the double jeopardy of having to please both an immediate boss and an Orwellian Big Brother, and if the displeasure of either may already mean the loss of career and prestige – in short, everything for the artist – then the displeasure of both would amount to sheer terror, if not paralysis. In actuality, a number of local filmmakers did exhibit indications of the latter syndrome, but these may on the whole be balanced by the others who found favor with either a producer or the regime, in certain cases one against the other.

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

This situation couldn’t be too phenomenal; a similar one was realized in Italy during the neorealist era. Locally, the trend toward the organizing of artists, systematization of training (resulting in one extreme in the introduction of formal film studies at the State University), and the expansion of art consciousness in alternative film and related formats all betoken this contemporaneous ripening of occasional genius, regular expertise, and general resourcefulness in the country’s most popular mass medium. Final and conclusive proof of course lies in the works themselves – over a decade’s worth of major contributions to the art of cinema, on the whole outstanding by any standard, awaiting a comprehensive presentation to a global community that remains all the poorer for not having had the opportunity to strike the proper acquaintance so far.

Works Cited

David, Joel. “The Golden Ages of Philippine Cinema: A Critical Reassessment.” Cinema Filipinas: Historia, teoría y crítica fílmica (1999-2009). (Andalucía): Juna de Andalucía, Consejería de Cultura Fundación El Legado Andalusí, (2010): 217-24.

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

Vasudev, Aruna. “Cast in Another Mould.” Interview with Ishmael Bernal. Cinemaya 27 (April-June 1995): 16-23.

Yeatter, Bryan L. Cinema of the Philippines: A History and Filmography, 1897-2005. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2007.

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