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Fields of Vision – Worth the While

Prior to uploading this Fields of Vision article, originally published in National Midweek, 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 the first half of that decade 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. To jump to specific years, please click here for: 1980; 1981; 1982; 1983; 1984; 1985; 1986; 1987; 1988; or 1989.

Three teachers are simultaneously handling the basic introductory film course at the national 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 contained 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 listed 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 contained 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.

1980

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 trauma-induced catatonia 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.

Dressed for a sunbathing session, Chanda Romero’s conversation with boyfriend Ronaldo Valdez leads to dissatisfaction with his hesitation to commit to their relationship in Danny Zialcita’s Ikaw at ang Gabi.

Bogus nuns, led by their Mother Superior Nanette Inventor, start with a religious hymn that breaks out into 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.

Timid nymphets 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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1981

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 being a bride in a house full of running water in Mike de Leon’s Kisapmata.

After suffering abuse and manipulation (including a near-fatal abortion procedure) in the hands of her manager and producer Charos Santos-Concio, Gina Alajar decides to take matters into her own hands by dictating her terms as a top-grossing star in Lino Brocka’s Kontrobersyal.

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 catalyzed violence that will soon rip their town and family apart in Romy Suzara’s Pepeng Shotgun.

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

Johnny Delgado decides to kill his unfaithful 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.

1982

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 onlookers 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.

Chanda Romero’s supreme confidence in her desirability overrides the comic limitations of her Southern accent and fake sophistication as she proceeds to seduce late-blooming virgin Ward Luarca in Mike de Leon’s Batch ’81.

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 Imperial Army 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 lured by her childhood friend’s popularity as faith healer, captivates a group of curious local boys by stripping and performing magic tricks with her body and dancing with them in Ishmael Bernal’s Himala.

Vic 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 overburdened wife 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 aversion to romantic commitment when she sees alluring showgirl Vilma Santos shimmying in front of her in Danny L. Zialcita’s T-Bird at Ako.

1983

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 retiring as 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.

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 criminally abusive son Ace Vergel, in favor of her adopted daughter Vivian Velez, in Carlo J. Caparas’s Pieta.

When her grieving mother Nida Blanca blames the death of her husband on adoptive son Jaypee de Guzman, Maricel Soriano finds herself torn between the emotional demands of her mother and the needs of her brother in Maryo J. de los Reyes’s Saan Darating ang Umaga?

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1984

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.

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

William Martinez, Herbert Bautista, J.C. Bonnin, Raymond Lauchengco, and Aga Muhlach partake of hijinks 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.

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

Marilyn Concepcion and birthday celebrator Nora Aunor, 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 them to touch an amount of money whose sheer bulk they had never seen before 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.

Naïve nun Vilma Santos, mentored by her namesake Laurice Guillen, nervously takes her place in a picket line for the first time in Mike de Leon’s Sister Stella L.

Just like her two younger sisters, conservative barrio lass Janet Bordon sings Maria Grever’s “Tipitipitín” (a.k.a. “Ladrón de amores”) after losing 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.

1985

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

Frustrated from having to service too many demanding women, gigolo Al Tantay vents his exasperation with their limited cooking abilities by enumerating, to his elderly lover Rita Gomez, a wide variety of edible fish species in Ishmael Bernal’s Gamitin Mo Ako.

Exasperated banker Mario Taguiwalo recites a litany of local middle-class irritations he’ll be leaving behind when he migrates to the US in Ishmael Bernal’s Hinugot sa Langit.

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

After her citified friend Sarsi Emmanuelle convinces her that her objection to worldly desires is unnecessary and unhealthy, Maribel Lopez begins discovering her body’s sensual potential in Elwood Perez’s Silip.

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

1986

Forced into gladiatorial hand-to-hand combat by sleazy-rich yuppies, Dan Alvaro defeats the reigning champion (working-class like him) 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.

Single parent 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.

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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1987

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 at all cost her grip on hesitant lover Jay Ilagan in Lino Brocka’s Maging Akin Ka Lamang.

Before an audience of otherworldly creatures and earthlings, Alfredo Navarro Salanga states his preference for staying in the supernatural world to residing in Cubao in Peque Gallaga and Lore 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 mother- and sister-in-law, prepares to attend the funeral of Tonton Gutierrez, an intellectually disabled man whom she was forced to marry for convenience by her manipulative boyfriend, 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 needs of her late prostitute-friend’s baby in Mario O’Hara’s Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak.

1988

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

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

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 boyfriend Mark Gil follows in Chito Roño’s Itanong Mo sa Buwan.

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

After years of avoidance, working-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 Carlos 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 & Lore Reyes’s Tiyanak.

Bargirl Debbie Miller, realizing that her boyfriend Rudy Fernandez needs money, decides to give him her earnings in exchange for a night of intimacy with him in Pepe Marcos’s Tubusin Mo ng Dugo.

1989

Nora Aunor admits her generation-spanning 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, basks in his belief that God is on his side as his own family suffers in Peque Gallaga and Lore 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 government apologist Phillip 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.

Á!

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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, for the digital edition, 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.[1] 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.[2] 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 once 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 that if there ever was a 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.[3]

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’s expertise can be gleaned by inspecting a near-contemporaneous project, Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Sensual (1986), where he made credible use of (feminine) colorist textures worthy of Romy Vitug, although he never found another such oppurtunity on the same scale: 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.

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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.

Sequitur

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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Notes

[1] In fact the last critics group I participated in, named Kritika, stopped functioning after a few years of handing awards using pragmatic, liberal, and flexible criteria of selection and recognition. The reason was simple and straightforward: the members had to leave for overseas residence – work, migration, or (in my case) study. The innovations I remember were: specifying a category only if the year’s output demonstrated productivity in it, designating more than one winner if such a number proved deserving, and specifying any number of output for any artist who merited the recognition. Individual citations were contained in a critical summary for the year under consideration.

[2] Queries from all over (including from foreign scholars) proceed from the appropriate title for the film: it appears that the members of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino insist on using other titles – City after Dark and even Manila after Dark, which never appeared on any of the film’s celluloid or print credits). Since these people took charge of cultural and educational institutions after the collapse of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, the movie’s censored title, rather than Manila by Night, kept appearing in “official” records. The historical narrative though remains transparent and unambivalent: when the producers applied for a permit in 1979, the local censors board, after imposing a total ban for months, disallowed any reference to Manila in the film as one of the conditions for its release, so the badly mangled print screened in Philippine theaters in November 1980 had the City after Dark title. Weirdly enough, the MPP opted to nominate this version for its annual awards and effectively penalized it by withholding the award for director from Ishmael Bernal (personal disclosure: this was my first year as a voting member, and my questioning of awards logic since then has only intensified through the years). So this is the version that the MPP wishes to uphold? Sadly the group, despite its claims to the contrary, is so anti-reflexive that we may never find out exactly what goes on in its members’ brilliant minds. Worth reiterating here is the fact that even the Marcos government’s own official film agency restored the Manila by Night title when it allowed the integral version to be screened at its venue.

[3] This selection, a reaffirmation of a throwaway subsection in The National Pastime’s opening essay “A Second Golden Age,” was so widely echoed that it became entrenched as some form of virtual dogma during the internet era. It was referenced when the film and the central performance were separately recognized in region-wide assessments that I only remotely became aware of afterward. My own reassessment of Nora Aunor’s record pointed to a different-though-related outcome, which I outlined in “Firmament Occupation: The Philippine Star System” (Kritika Kultura 25, August 2015, pp. 248-84): while her superiority to all other Filipino film performers had been evident for the past several years, Himala was one of several peaks in a run that has arguably continued to the present, spilling over to stage, television, and new-media presentations. An Aunor peak can be defined as a major project whose achievement is enlarged or boosted by her delivery. The coverage is admittedly slippery, since flawed or outright potboiler material can be rendered amusing, engaging, or at least tolerable because of her skills display. For this reason, I would now opt to identify an entire body of work, ironically culminating in her abandoned auteurist project, Greatest Performance, where the title’s claim is adequately fulfilled.

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Fields of Vision – The Last of Lino

The standard opposition in Philippine film culture between Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal existed mostly in the minds of film observers and practitioners who were invested in the stature of one or the other, despite the fact that both filmmakers expressed fondness for each other and engaged in, at its worst, a friendly rivalry. The differences between them unfortunately infested critical opinion, magnified in malignant proportion when European filmfest agents swooped into town and decided that the politically naïve director who nevertheless boasted of polished surfaces would be preferable to the campy and boisterous sophisticate who had a deeper understanding of and preference for Third-cinema traditions.[1] Although initially less threatening to his global marketers because of his reliance on generic Hollywood models and steadfast opposition to Ferdinand Marcos’s martial-law dictatorship, Brocka inevitably outgrew his mid-career orientation and made perceptible stabs at narrative complexity, thematic ambiguities, and spectatorial appeal – qualities that were associated with Bernal, just as Bernal made a disturbing turn into orthodox leftism. That both adventures were cut short before their protagonists realized what ends they would lead to is one of the many tragedies that, in the minds of many of us, confirmed the end of a significant era. This semi-autobiographical piece was originally drafted as the epilogue to my second volume of film articles, Fields of Vision.

My affinity with Lino Brocka became more literal than I could have ever imagined after he had died. My instinctive response was to declare a study of his works as master’s thesis topic, but I eventually had to face the fact that, apart from the formidable resources the attempt would require, this was also my way of evading the reality of the loss his death had engendered. Meanwhile I had requested my librarian mother to clip whatever biographical information was available, and it was she who discovered that Lino’s father’s first wife was the Bicolano Brocka that we were somehow related to. What impressed me was the distance between us – a remoteness that could only be bridged, had he still been alive, by a complex social formality. Strangely, it was such a formality that characterized the few interactions I had with him. The first time we were introduced, I had just published my first (and fortunately last) John Simon-inspired review, which happened to deal with his then-latest release, Angela Markado.[2] I’d been forewarned by accounts, from acquaintances and the media, of his temperamental responses to criticism, but we carried on as if I had commented on something as irrelevant to our concerns as the weather.

Maybe he understood my obsession with trying out as many approaches to film writing and analysis as possible; in any case, my encounter with him opened to me the possibility that the artists I was dealing with could be concerned with the same thing, differences in media practice notwithstanding. Having witnessed what Lino and his colleagues, in their pursuit of knowledge through praxis, had to endure from commentators who were more concerned with their own personal criteria of correctness than with the artist’s learning process, I had the dubious benefit of knowing right from the start that I was placing myself in a somewhat similar situation.

The interventions of history were of not much help either. The machinators of martial rule were clever – and I grant this as someone who was privileged to work within the Marcos administration – but they necessarily left little room for cultural sophistication, beyond the basic and ultimately frustrating application of guerilla principles. Hence mass media were approached by their practitioners with an understanding reminiscent of First-World appreciation circa the 1950s, when US media institutions were both monopolistic and discomfortingly allied with government. Artistry in the classicist sense constituted the surest acceptable defense for subversive practice, so in general the more mass the medium (and therefore the more subject to establishment interests), the harsher the critique toward it; such a view also conveniently induced a critical attitude toward the government, since this was the entity that exercised control over media.

Practice in media was therefore regarded as compromise at best, and nowhere was this principle more in evidence than in film. Competition-oriented awards served to emblemize this essentially watchdog function, providing a much-needed alternative to financial and political incentives. The 1986 people-power uprising, in its dismantling of the structures of cultural patronage in film, similarly obliterated the modes of practice that were utilized to counter the excesses of the dictatorship. The question Who/What is the best artist/product of the season? (effectively akin then to asking who or what best embodied opposition to the dictatorship) has given way to Why should only one winner at a time be proclaimed in so many categories, why these categories in the first place, and why this set of winners at this time?

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Using the development of Western critical thought as framework, I realized that entire schools had passed us by, in the meantime that we had to rely on early useful ones. One’s mission could then be facilitated by simply flash-forwarding (or should we say push-processing?) to the present, accepting contemporary theorists’ assertion that past approaches had proved flawed and were thereby generally dismissible. Other people had other ideas – Lino Brocka, for one. Where it would have been easy for him, given his international stature and local clout, to simply assimilate state-of-the-art competence, he preferred to run the gantlet in wooing back the mass audience that had accounted for his early triumphs in the industry. This meant a modification of his film-noir expertise and a whole lot of melodramatizations, so much so that prior to his resumption of foreign-financed production, he was being written off by most critical quarters as no better than the other Marcos-era talents, who were regarded as more decent in their preference for inactivity over crass practice.

Lino possibly had as many tragedies as there were who loved him. To my mind, his greatest was expiring right on the verge of what could have been an astounding artistic take-off, judging from the evidence of his last few serious local works: Hahamakin Lahat, Gumapang Ka sa Lusak, Sa Kabila ng Lahat, and the still-unreleased Orapronobis, plus the projects that had to be taken up by others – Huwag Mong Salingin ang Sugat Ko and Lucia and, in play form, Miserere Nobis and Noli Me Tangere; and these were just the ones that had already attained some measure of development – many more of equal or greater ambition were allegedly being considered. At no other time, in terms of his mastery of the medium and understanding of its mass appreciators, was he better qualified to stake a claim as major Filipino artist than when he bowed out. Many of us local critics managed to sharpen our faculties at the expense of Lino’s less-than-able output; but much more was lost to us by his death.

His own contribution to my convictions appears to be more lasting. I managed to somehow catch the tail end of formal awareness and appreciation of whatever media one happened to be interested in – film and literature, in my case. This has somehow enabled me to relate with a small and highly select number of local critics who extend their notion of praxis to include artistic production, inform their critical practice with an understanding or at least the pursuit of what constitutes effective expression in the local context, and believe in the importance of historical continuity for our specific purposes. One would think at first that between, say, a believer who comes in straight from the latest cultural theories and someone who exhibits the qualities mentioned above, the distinctions would be too subtle as to be negligible. Recent organizational practice, however, has demonstrated that the differences can be both salient and crucial.

In the final analysis, one needs to reckon with the current state of cultural maturity and proceed from there. Artists may be up for annihilation in the West, and well they may be, given the overly extended period of their ascendancy. But to impose the same attitude here, where people still exhibit difficulty in distinguishing true artists from bogus ones and cannot even always count on cultural institutions for assistance in this regard, would be tantamount to misguided zealotry. To go about busting canons is perfectly called for, if the canons have themselves been drawn up with the maximum possible systematization and thoroughness. But with all our available ones so far shot through with methodological imperfections, then the act of assisting in creating better ones first will prove more helpful in refocusing attention on issues of credibility, reliability, and defensibility. The critique of such a listing (of which I hope the ten-best survey appearing in this volume will be the first definitive one for Philippine cinema) will of course be more difficult and complex, but this only means a more advanced and rewarding discourse in the long run.

I could not always hope to convey the fun I had in what was in a sense a new adventure every time; I could certainly indicate here though the heavy-heartedness with which I accept that such a mode of practice cannot be sustained forever, at least not while our concrete local condition remains the way it is and has been for as long as I remember. Sometimes I still find it hard to believe that certain foreign practitioners have built careers on the basis of one or a few others of these occasionally all-too-easy attempts at film coverage and analysis, but then even Lino himself realized, sometimes to everyone’s discomfiture, that material existence was never always fair.

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What comes after this work will, or at least should, strive to be something as different as this was from the first. It could be more tightly structured and cognizant of recent philosophical issues, or it could be either one or the other or nothing like anything I mentioned. Whether my colleagues in criticism like it or not, my cue has somehow already been set … by among others Lino Brocka, who never allowed anything humanly surmountable to get in the way of what could have been merely fun. What a way to go.

Notes

[1] It should no longer surprise observers from this period that the person being referenced here was Cannes Film Festival publicist and selector Pierre Rissient, who died in May 2018. Wolf Donner and Moritz de Hadeln, directors of the Berlin International Film Festival, were more appreciative of Third-cinema traditions – and therefore supportive of filmmakers like Kidlat Tahimik and Ishmael Bernal – but were far less influential than Rissient. I managed to mention a further so-far undiscussed issue in my monograph Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2017): “Brocka, like his serious films, was formal, reserved, and masculine in deportment; Bernal was boisterous, catty, inclined to camp, and effeminate. Although both acknowledged being homosexual, Brocka … went through a phase of being ‘discreet,’ forbidding queer behavior at the Philippine Educational Theater Association and quarreling with journalists who played up his gay inclinations. Whether this implies that homophobia played a factor in the Cannes festival’s gatekeeping is up to scholars of gender to tease out” (99n15).

[2] A problematic aspect of Lino Brocka’s personality, evident in the many interviews he granted and (mostly) compiled in the posthumously published volume Lino Brocka: The Artist and His Times (ed. Mario A. Hernando, Manila: Sineng Pangkultura ng Pilipinas, 1993), is that he refused to acknowledge any error that may have arisen in his filmmaking or real-life output. Yet his subsequent works would evince that he had reconsidered those same positions and was striving as best he could to rectify them. In the instance of his films panned by local critics, he would point out how foreign film festivals provided those specific titles with raves and prizes. Local reception to Philippine releases that bypass the process of securing audience patronage in order to garner overseas esteem has shifted considerably since then: filmmakers no longer need to evade censorship, and have been known to disparage Filipino audiences to court the sympathy of foreign commenters and viewers. It would certainly not be meaningless to speculate that Brocka, had he still been around, would be the first to denounce this state of affairs.

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Fields of Vision – Positions

1. ASEAN Affair

Anyone old enough to have participated in our last supernational film activity, the Manila International Film Festival (MIFF), will now be suffering a seven-year itch that the recently concluded 1990 ASEAN Film Festival will barely be able to alleviate. Part of the reason lies in the unfair observation that the countries that constitute the Association of Southeast Asian Nations don’t have film industries as active as ours; two of them, in fact – Brunei Darussalam and Singapore – don’t even have film industries at all.[1] In maintaining that we happen to have the most impressive system and products of film within the organized region, we at once find an area, no matter how economically dispensable, where we reign supreme, and at the same time allow ourselves the indulgence in the reverse modesty we so masochistically enjoy inflicting upon ourselves: shucks, fellas, we the best? – it’s only film, see, and we don’t even take it seriously, really….

You didn’t miss much if you weren’t at any of the free screenings at Robinsons Galleria; you’d only have acquired some insights, if you were there, on the popular preferences and concerns of our regional neighbors, something our archipelagic isolation has rendered secondary to media-raised Western issues. Moreover, you’ll only confirm that we excel where others don’t, which isn’t particularly impressive when you consider that they excel where we don’t either; and to pursue this materialist line of thinking to its painful and paranoid conclusion, it may appear that our better-developed neighbors simply conceded, in true Oriental fashion, some silly recreational businesses to us, so as not to make us appear too backward.

Excel we did anyway, and that is something that ought to be put on record, something no one – warped logician, commercialist financier, negligent government official – can take away from us. Malaysia’s Hati Bukan Kristal [The Heart is Not a Crystal] (dir. Rasas Ahmad Alauddin, scr. Adibah Amin) and Indonesia’s Taksi [Taxi] (dir. & scr. Arifin C. Noer) all flounder in melodramatic mush, notwithstanding the claims of the delegates of their respective countries that each was one of their best outputs last year; Taksi, in fact, boasts of having won all the major prizes in the Indonesian Film Festival. Both entries revel in romanticized fantasies of social and sexual desiderata that resolve in comfy establishment positions. In Taksi two men in love with a singer-actress have to live with her insistence on emotional and financial self-reliance, while her managers (and admirers) must accept the potentially career-destructive confirmation of her married status. Hati Bukan Kristal starts off with a journalist getting piqued by an enterprising female colleague; a dangerous and sensational assignment brings them together, and guess what happens next.

The Thai film, Puk Pui [Tell Them We’re No. 1] (dir. & co-scr. Udom Udomroj, co-scr. Thongkao Makampon) affirms what was warmly evident even during the MIFF: that our latitudinal fellow Asians have a way with the camera and with cinematic storytelling. They seem to be driven more though by angels than by demons, as we tend to be. Puk Pui isn’t anywhere near the social-epic accomplishments of Luk E-san [Son of the Northeast] (dir. & scr. Vichit Kounavudhi), which won an MIFF special jury prize as well as the Office Catholique Internationale de Cinema award. Comparatively, Puk Pui is linear in its narratory design, detailing the coming-of-age pains and pleasures of a lower-class boy who somewhat accidentally acquires the reputation of being a jinx; in being rejected by most everyone he encounters (save for a female classmate who, like him, loves to dream big), he manages to interact with a wide variety of social types, urban, and rural. His age group and unusual affliction help justify a string of humorous incidents and running gags, including some of the most charming bits of movie slapstick this side of the globe.

Add some years of cruel and bitter hardship to these characters, and you’d be close to the material of the local entry, Gumapang Ka sa Lusak [Dirty Affair] (dir. Lino Brocka, scr. Ricardo Lee). Close, I said, but not all there. Gumapang Ka doesn’t have the grim surfaces that the Indonesian and Malaysian entries exhibit, apparently in order to drive home their preoccupation with realist issues; neither does it proffer the delicacy and good cheer of the Thai movie. What it has, relative to the other entries, is an irruptive delirium made entrancing by a deadly serpent’s-eye finish, put together with something akin to the witchery of twentieth-century Eumenides. The ironic thing is that all the festival entries, Gumapang Ka included, were custom-made products paraded in a venue where innovation is, or at least should be, the prime criterion for success. What the ASEAN event should try exploring is the expansion of audience interest and critical participation, via the standard resort to award-giving; the ASEAN capital whose turn it is to sponsor the festival could be made to shoulder all expenses and responsibilities for such a competition. Before this could be implemented, of course, the countries should agree to the usual terms of fair play and the unusual exemption from any form of censorship. The entries may be further contracted, should they win certain prizes, to participate in a tour of exhibition in all the member-countries; as in the MIFF, the host country may be allowed to enter two films for competition.[2]

Coming from a country whose entries have been demonstrating clear superiority for some time, such a proposal might meet with charges of self-serving motivations. Moreover, the organizers themselves might not want to see one another in a competitive context. What needs to be emphasized, however, is the importance of arousing the interest of the festival’s intended beneficiary, the ordinary Asian movie-goer, so a free-for-all in this instance might be preferable to a safe-for-some.

[First published April 17, 1991, in National Midweek]

Notes

[1] The same year this article came out, Singapore started film production, an activity that continues to the present.

[2] A half-decade after this event, Korea launched the Busan International Film Festival. It eventually supplanted other global film festivals, including those from the ASEAN region, as the international festival that ASEAN countries consistently participated in. (Not surprisingly, Korea’s ASEAN outreach is also the most active in the East Asian region.)

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2. Carnival Cinema

Cinevision 2000 the presentation was called, but the site itself called to mind the provincial fairgrounds of my childhood, gone to seed. Situated within the carnival area of the Philippine Center for International Trade and Exhibition (Philcite), Cinevision 2000, which was actually billed “Adventures of America,” could be reached from the nearby Philcite entrance by walking (but more often squeezing) through an open-air platform and a succession of kiddie and adult rides, the non-existent pathway obscured even further by food and souvenir booths of various sizes.

On a less frenzied night you could probably make out, once inside, the dome that ought to be held as ultimate proof of how fanatic you can be about filmic presentations. You wouldn’t feel too lonely as fanatic though, since the Cinevision screenings are regularly jampacked with more enthusiastic (and thereby less pretentious) carnival thrill-seekers. Running for the entire length of the Philcite carnival season, Cinevision 2000 constituted the only unique film event of Christmas 1989. Wave Cinema, which featured video movies, closed down its singular Cubao venue two years ago; the Rizal Park Planetarium operates year-round and doesn’t really offer movies, unless an audiovisual mishmash of penlight projection and slide show proves extraordinary enough for you to forgive the crudeness of it all.

The carnival charged five pesos for entrance, while the Cinevision 2000 booth made the same amount per head per presentation; since there were three (presentations, not heads) in all, and since I shamelessly admit to film fanaticism, my, well, only adventures of America thus far cost me a reasonable twenty pesos, roughly a third of what I could have spent watching all the concurrently showing Metro Manila Film Festival entries.

One item in my recent past motivated me strongly enough to brave the Christmas crunch, despite the fact that I was otherwise too yellow, in the original sense, to do regular shopping: in a First-World country about a year ago, I realized the most exciting and insightful audiovisual treats in a fairground. One of these was a 360-degree movie presentation highlighted by continuous panoramas, facilitated by projecting the images through slits between screens. The exhilaration of movement mellowed quickly, however, since only the forward-moving portion provided the delight of discovery; the scenes blurred by the sides, and receded wearily in back. Moreover, the novelty of an uninterrupted horizontal line of vision wore off with the instinctive preference for a frontal point of view, and served to raise the next logical question: once one decided on a consistent lateral orientation, what would be seen beyond the upper or lower screen edges?

The answer brought the experience back to the familiarity of regular movie-going: nothingness, the masking off of the “reality” of the screen, intended (as per early expressionist theory) to draw the audience into the screen’s center, but also essentially a reminder of the literal limitations of the frame. Cinevision 2000 in this sense improved over the overseas production by opening up the perpendicular boundaries, and by negating the backside view by a most basic device – seating the audience. To be sure, the means by which this was facilitated was far from sophisticated. A circular portion of the carnival site was sectioned off with a domelike structure, with the smaller center elevated and covered with canvas. Half of the inner portion of the dome was painted white, the other black; the edge between colors arched exactly from one side to its opposite. A gigantic 70mm. 180-degree “Sensoscope” projector was tilted upward toward the white side, but where you sat (roughly at the center) your entire frame of vision would be encompassed by the screen.

All three films – fifteen-minute entries titled “Cavalcade of Thrills,” “Horizon,” and “Wild Wild West” – contained similar elements of non-stop point-of-view motion from various elevations of land, sea, and sky, including climactic roller-coaster somersaults. “Wild Wild West,” the best of the lot, opened with what appeared to be an authentic old-time black-and-white silent film featuring a sheriff-vs.-varmint shootout, its fadeout dissolving into a tunnel scene that emerged into a Sensoscopic car chase. None of the films observed a narrative, although two of them had voice-overs in German that the audience was willing to ignore. All were blatantly manipulative, with one instance of what seemed to be a mountainside car-race participant’s falling off a cliff and soaring over the shoreline – a helicopter shot that initially observed the contours of the road to mislead the audience into believing it was driving rather than flying. The Filipino movie-goers’ high threshold for filmic experience was evident in more than just the turnout of crowds. Each and every turn leap, spill, and near-miss was rewarded by squeals of excitement; considering that the moviemakers obviously aimed at cramming as many such gimmicks as possible into their products, each screening amounted to a virtual screamathon, rewarding for the psyche but definitely not for the eardrums.

After an entirely overwhelming first salvo, however, I began wondering if this sort of innovation could be put to good use the way conventionally proportioned screens lend themselves to film magic. A minor difficulty would be the confirmation of distortions at the edges once the camera stops moving to allow actors to do their thing. Greater trouble may lie not with the stars but with the too-perfect simulation of reality: if the illusion achieves a totality previously denied by black borders, what’s to prevent the viewers from contributing their share to the action? From another perspective, this may be one way of rationalizing the financial infeasibility of attempting this kind of format locally. A future carnival, in a future festive season, might yield a presentation whose potential would outweigh any objections or reservations regarding its effectiveness. After all, when we speak of cinema, this was how it really started – as a mere fairground sideshow that refused to fade away.

[First published February 7, 1990, in National Midweek]

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3. Classroom as Theater

One of the predicaments I still have to solve as a teacher of film is the formulation of a proper response to colleagues who do not teach film whenever they go into their standard lamentation of how appalling the decline in student literacy has been. On the one hand, I do not have much of a choice except to agree. One of my undergraduate courses was journalism and during our time, the exceptional competence in English or Filipino that we associate with our most outstanding graduates today was the norm. (“Our time,” not to unduly alarm anyone, was about a decade ago.) On the other hand, the discussion of causes invariably points toward the very subject matter I teach, which is film in its expanded audiovisual sense. Most everybody who believes in being somebody feels compelled to consider a preference for audiovisual language as an illegitimate, or at the very least sub-academic, pursuit. The conclusion does not require considerable leaps of logic to reach: the great masses of our people exhibit this preference for nonprinted material – film, komiks, TV, radio, theater (including religious rituals) – and, if we assume that these media could also function as languages, they may even be literate in those terms. But since the same sector of the populace is uneducated (inadequately educated, actually), then literacy in these kinds of media would not be such a big deal compared with the ability to read and write.

Official educational policy has upheld this view for close to a century now or ever since film, the first and most successful audiovisual medium ever, has been in existence. To be sure, literature, whether oral or written, has had a longer and in many ways more glorious history and deserves the strongest possible emphasis in any educational system. However, the evidence of the past ninety-plus years cannot be ignored either: people continue to be lured away from the two (or maybe even three) Rs. During our time our teachers complained that their generation wrote better, as we are now saying to our students, and as our students who will go into teaching will surely be saying to their students.

The trend contrasts impressively with whatever observation we can make about film. Actually since virtually the entire first half of the life of Philippine cinema has not been preserved, we can only talk about the latter half, comprising the 1950s up to the 1990s. If our literature and, by controversial extrapolation, our readers got worse or at least did not get better, our films (and our moviegoing audiences?) on the other hand definitely improved over the years. The average Filipino goes to the movies and also “reads” komiks, watches TV, listens to the radio, and so on; that much we all grant. But then again, average Filipino students, who necessarily constitute a smaller portion of the populace, are different in the sense that they go to school, where they are made to read and write; afterward they go out of school, sometimes for good, and then behave much like average Filipinos. That is, they go to the movies, “read” komiks, watch TV, listen to the radio, and so on.

It would not do those who set our educational policies any good to resist this reality. Film, or film language if you will, is much too accessible, mainly because it is profitable – and when we begin talking about economics these days, that could not be too much of a good thing. What we should start with is what we already actually have. Some of it is not bad at all: film language is real, meaning it allows for easier translation and a whole lot of crosscultural interactions, in comparison with the printed word. Moreover, the level of film literacy of Filipinos is arguably superior to those of their neighbors in the immediate Asian region, if we go by the percentage of quality outputs available locally in relation to those of nearby countries and (a more contestable criterion) the level of Westernization in local film technique.

The movies have lately been assuming part of what the educational system has been unable to accomplish because of the latter’s still essentially elitist orientation. Local cinema has, at one time or another, criticized militarism (and, by association, the previous fascist dictatorship), advocated democratic processes, upgraded the image of women and queer folk, and provided an awareness of the existence of a colonial past. It continues to supply its audiences, majority of whom are impoverished, with insights into their conditions and with reflections on their dearest aspirations. Recently, it has also embarked upon the risky venture of castigating the white man and the traditional politician, simply by casting these types as villains rather than heroes this time around.

It has also proved capable of other things that some of us would consider unacceptable or even harmful, but then this all boils down to the fact that, officially, we do not take this, our national pastime, seriously. We teach our students how to read and write, and when possible to read and write well. We also assume they know how to choose the films to watch, and we may even be correct. But as to choosing the films well – well, they haven’t complained about still being in the dark in their approaching hundredth year of solitude, have they?

[First published October 17, 1990, in National Midweek]

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4. Film Critics Speak
[Prepared with Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr. & Patrick D. Flores]

To begin with, we observed that the entire spectrum of existent Filipino criticism is evident in film; in short, cinema is the most widely discussed art form in the Philippines. Practically all publications acknowledge this widespread interest by devoting regular sections to film, and film commentary is also making inroads in television and radio. It is the level of commentary, however, that leaves much to be desired. As far as general impact can be gauged, we can safely state that serious film evaluation is performed and sustained primarily by the handing out of awards by various bodies. We cannot deny the publicity mileage this generates, especially since the sheer number of award-giving winners could go on for as long as the very last trophy during the very last ceremony still has to be handed out.

There are six established award-giving groups, as of last count, some of them clearly overlapping in claims and functions. Although one could argue the relative merits of each, we would rather take the larger and more controversial stance of stating that film discussion, although heavily promoted, is also seriously trivialized by award-giving. There is no focus of discussion, except the comparative aesthetic achievements of the nominees – and even then the fact that film is too complex an aesthetic system to be subjected to this treatment is glossed over. We would also like to point out that the movie industry labors under government neglect, particularly when compared with the institutional support provided by the Marcos dictatorship. We do not endorse the kind of self-serving and overscaled meddling suffered by our practitioners during the latter years of the dictatorship. On the other hand, we agree with some of the industry’s advanced sectors that relief from taxation and censorhip, as well as cash incentives for quality productions, no matter how occasional, resulted in an atmosphere of sanguinity then, and would still be welcome features today.

At this point we would like to go into one particular, and that is – the need to implement an honest-to-goodness system of film classification, one that does not result in the tampering of the work on anyone’s part, and that also presumes the liability of the practitioners strictly within the context of absolute freedom of expression. Meaning to say, one should be held responsible for violating our existing laws on the limits of expression, but one should also be allowed to complete the process of expression to begin with. We welcome the role that education plays in making the audience more aware of the nature and potentials of its favorite mass medium. However, we believe that the availability of such education is too elitist to be truly effective. A student first has to reach college and study in particular schools, mostly the expensive ones, in order to be able to take courses dealing with film. To specialize in the field, the student has available to her only one school, the national university. For advanced studies, she has to go abroad.

We enjoin all our fellow film critics to persist in popularizing film discussion without trivializing it. We seek to encourage sober discussions in as wide a spectrum of our audiences as possible, and recognize the cruciality of the role that Filipino film artists have been playing in conducting dialogues, no matter how limited, among themselves, with film commentators, and with the audience. In cooperation with our educational institutions as well as the mass media, we call for the expansion and development of local film scholarship, in order to provide a firm basis for popularizing film commentaries.

Lastly we would like to maintain the manifold advantages of expanding opportunities in film. Government could help a great deal in facilitating our filmmakers’ participation in foreign festivals and markets, counting the costs in terms of additional income and prestige rather than the personalistic self-image of whoever happens to wield power at the moment. We need to have more schools offering film courses and full-blown degrees in the field, as well as higher studies specializing in the medium. We envision the resulting network as a possible venue for alternative film products, with an eventual bearing on mainstream production. We also stand as one with our colleagues in pursuing the thoroughgoing professionalization of criticism in the Philippines, so as to enable serious film commentators to practice and grow in the craft without the distractions of unrelated income-generating activities or the temptations of public relations work that could compromise the formation of well-informed, carefully thought out and expertly articulated opinions on film.

[First published October 3, 1990, in National Midweek]

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5. Shooting Crap

When Joey de Leon claims he couldn’t care less about critics’ complaints regarding his use of toilet humor, the issue doesn’t revolve on the soundness of his argument. Toilet humor, as used in the context of this debate, is unofficially understood to be a sub-category of obscenity – in direct opposition to our moral guardians’ shibboleth of wholesomeness. By extension, the argument goes, toilet humor, as a form of obscenity, is socially undesirable and therefore should be subject to suppression. No one has ventured to raise the issue of legality so far, although this would clinch the controversy in a convenient way. Anyone, de Leon included, could easily answer that the antiquated nature of our censorship laws renders such an approach amorphous at best; still, the issue at stake remains unarticulated.

Joey de Leon gets away with toilet humor – has the right to it, in a manner of speaking – simply because he has been so darn successful of late. During the early days of his trio with the Sotto brothers he might have taken the pounding with, well, a grain of salt; their always moderate and occasionally pleasing box-office returns could serve to ease the sting somehow. But now he has struck it rich, and it’s not so much the power he holds over the characteristically purchasable movie press: appearances to the contrary, he’s not that crude, and he need not be so in the first place. It’s the implication of so fail-safe a formula on so financially frank a system, when any project without de Leon’s pretensions to satire – without de Leon himself, even – could now be assured of record-shattering box-office returns by merely purveying shit jokes on primetime.

In short, the moguls owe so much quantifiable gratitude to Joey de Leon for this good-as-gold discovery. Not even Imelda Marcos’s pera-sa-basura [money-in-trash] projects could prove as conclusively as Starzan et al. did that the sound of cash registers ringing could compensate for the fumes of unflushed concepts. And even if a movie writer had enough sense (and guts) to dismiss the big-timers’ current sanguinity with what may eventually be known as the de Leon formula (endless swigs of castor oil following entire plateloads of goodies, with a movie crew on the alert), a rebuttal happens to be waiting in the wings from the opposite direction. The logic runneth thus: to question a person on the basis of principle is a simple thing to do, but when that principle happens to enjoy popular support, then the possibility of claiming to be better than the majority, antithetical to the democratic premise of raising questions on their behalf in the first place, emerges. This puts the de Leon “critic” in a position too awkwardly similar to that of the cultural censor, who derives his raison d’être from the perverse notion that the people, even (or especially) in a democracy, could not know what is good for them.[1]

There may be two ways out of the impasse that both sides find themselves ranged against at the moment. One is that of historical materialism – which basically posits that nothing lasts forever, least of all a thing of no real value. Just as Dolphy’s piss jokes and Tito, Vic and Joey’s snot jokes saw their respective heydays come and go, so will Joey de Leon’s fecal fixations – if not in the near future, then along with de Leon himself, may his sould find peace (no critics in heaven?) come the time. The trouble with this attitude is of course its superciliousness, consciously partaking as it does of the same judgmentalist approach that it initially seeks to distance itself from. The only other option, which may seem the least desirable because of its passivity, used to be impossible to adopt because of the polarizing consequences of the previous political dispensation; if Marcos were still around, the toilet-humor controversy would have been resolved in favor of one side or the other, eventually depending on the perceived benefits to the state.

It may be time for a little more sophistication then. How about regarding such devices as attempts at cultural innovations, the breaking down of taboos in preparation for possibly more serious discourses in future? Part of my reservations about de Leon’s objectors is the sneaking suspicion that the campaign would not have taken on a strong degree of outrage had Starzan, if not the rest, been a Critically Defensible Work of Art. But what if, then? Would we have expended all our intellectual resources defending a crap scene (as was proved aesthetically viable in an early Wim Wenders exploit, Kings of the Roads) – eyeball-to-eyeball with Manuel Morato if necessary, just because art’s sake was at stake in this instance?

One way of looking at the situation is through the perspective of guerrilla strategy. Filipino film censors have traditionally been suckers for artistic provocation; the best way to get their danders up in the past was to inject an offensive aural or visual detail in an otherwise integral prestige project. But beyond the delight of watching them mouth the most culturally illiterate justifications for the imposition of already ill-advised policies, the consequences – stricter censorship procedures, mangled or banned products – were definitely too exorbitant for all those involved. Since in their view the less artistically minded products pose proportionately less harm to the community, why not allow such items to take the lead in toppling the ramparts of convention? Come the time when a real and responsible filmmaker will find it absolutely necssary to put in a cussword or a toilet scene or a subversive idea, the precedents would have been set, the producers would have been satisfied, the masses would have been bored with the usual treatment, and everyone might be a bit happier with the attempt. Had Ishmael Bernal done Manila by Night (whose entire toilet pick-up scene, among countless others, was deleted in the original release) late last year, he might have to thank, among others, Joey de Leon for the trophies he’d now be collecting.

[First published April 4, 1990, in National Midweek]

Note

[1] Viewers of the TV program where Joey de Leon found himself fending off attacks from both political positions would have recognized Manuel L. Morato, designated chief censor by then-President Corazon Aquino and subsequent candidate for the presidency, representing the conservative sector; and Behn Cervantes, theater and film director, critic, actor, and professor, and former political detainee, representing orthodox progressives.

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6. Fleshmongering

One of the early distinctions, dubious though it seems, of the 1990s is our latest designation of what we’d all known the past two decades or so: that the sex film is marketed primarily for its audience’s carnal titillation. Ever since institutional controls on the treatment of sex eased up (though gave up would be the more satisfactory description) during the ’60s, our film practitioners had been relying on a series of merely suggestive, sometimes even coy, labels for what were in a sense products of a worldwide and continuing cultural revolution. The first word was bomba, drawn from the political turbulence of the period of its emergence, the pre-martial law years. One would expect that the original namesake – the pro-activist sector, not Roger Arienda (whose nickname would not have stuck had his public ignored him) – would have resented the industry’s adoption of one of its virtues to refer to a diametrically opposed form of passion, personal rather than social. Instead, both sides seemed to have arrived at an understanding that they had more in common as subversives committed to certain material ends, and so demonstrators then were not averse to patronizing the latest sex flick, just as the more sensible bomba practitioners, particularly Ishmael Bernal, Lino Brocka, and Celso Ad. Castillo, would turn out socially critical subjects once 1081 had effectively closed the season of open expression for both camps.

Bold, the next term, served to consolidate a number of mildly descriptive labels, among which “wet look” proved to be the most graphic (and therefore most popular). “Bold” is of course antediluvian relative to bomba; even Gerardo de Leon’s FAMAS record-setter, Huwag Mo Akong Limutin, which copped out on an abortion scene (reputedly its most shocking feature), was called worse things by the censors – and this was during the 1950s.[1] But what revitalized the genre, allowing it to even surpass its predecessor, was precisely the aforementioned social consciousness that our filmmakers developed along the way. No bold film was ever as, well, frontal as the typical bomba movie was; on the other hand, no bomba product could equal in significance the best martial law-era movies that employed sex either as additional come-on or as legitimate topic for filmic discourse.

The decline of the Marcos regime made possible an approximation of the bomba era, while the fall of the Marcoses led to a complete backslide. Obviously “bold” wasn’t bold enough anymore. The acronym penekula (from penetration + pelikula) was coined ex post facto, with the renewed moralism generated by the 1986 revolution plus the cheaper resources afforded by video combining to making graphic sex films too notorious and small-time for a reputable and long-term undertaking. And so we now have sex trip, although where it will take us is really the big question. The name is still too novel for generalized considerations, associated as it is with an aspirant-to-major studio, Seiko Films, which still has to pay its dues for industrial success by way of awards-worthy projects. If the term sticks, it won’t be the first time a studio engineered a classifiable trend in movie-making: if my memory serves me right, Regal Films, then also a struggling outfit, identified itself with bold-film production, to the point of incurring the ire of a culture-meddling Imelda Marcos.

The main difference, however, is that all these titles – bomba, bold, even penekula – managed to redeem themselves with projects memorable for more than just their extent of skin exposure, while “sex trip” just happens to be more frank a description than the rest.[2] Nothing on the order of Nympha, Pagdating sa Dulo, or Tubog sa Ginto from the bomba era, Aliw, Brutal, Burlesk Queen, Karnal, Moral, Salome, Sinner or Saint, or Manila by Night from the bold period, or Boatman, Private Show, Scorpio Nights, or Takaw Tukso prior to (but within the spirit of) the penekula trend can serve to so far justify the sex-trip films as worthy of, say, aesthetic appreciation by the year 2000. Not even the emergence of a performer comparable to Yvonne, Chanda Romero, Rio Locsin, Amy Austria, Lorna Tolentino, or Jaclyn Jose, or the spectacle of an established star like Eddie Garcia, Vic Vargas, Rita Gomez, Vilma Santos, or Gina Alajar trying on genre for the possibility of career enhancement.

A kind remark is in order, though, and it is the recognition of the fact that the sex-trip trend is laboring under a severely imposing tradition. Any self-respecting artist would think twice, to say the least, before allowing her product to be called, under whatever currently fashionable appellation, a Pinoy sex film. What the name “sex trip” has going for it, however, is something stronger than a mere sense of history: there appears to be the promise of profit in the term, not to mention the convenience of an abbreviation. How far the potential can be contracted, pardon the puns, should give way to every imaginative attempt at its expansion.

[First published April 18, 1990, in National Midweek]

Notes

[1] Sharing this admittedly anecdotal detail regarding what may be Gerardo de Leon’s other major missing film (aside from Daigdig ng mga Api): the scriptwriter of Huwag Mo Akong Limutin, Jose Flores Sibal, turned out to have been a distant relative on my father’s side. We had our first and only conversation literally on the eve of his departure as migrant to the US – I didn’t know then that I would have my own opportunity to pursue graduate studies in the same country a few years later, and got too busy when I arrived to be able to contact anyone. Before he left he turned over a copy of his script for the missing de Leon title, which I read before depositing the manuscript with the University of the Philippines Film Center. It deserves a more extensive discussion, but I might opt to provisionally echo the same response when I read how dismayed Petronilo Bn. Daroy was when he managed to watch Daigdig before it got lost. The narratives that de Leon was handed could only hope to touch on sensitive material (agrarian reform in Daigdig, abortion in HMAL). Daroy was the best culture critic of his generation and de Leon the best Filipino film stylist who ever lived. Cold War culture abhorred any hint of resistance to contemporary patriarchal authority – which is why one will have to search elsewhere for evidence of a successful collaboration, starting with de Leon’s subsequent project with Sibal, the period adaptation of José Rizal’s El Filibusterismo.

[2] The sex-film trend that succeeded Seiko Films’ sex-trip was termed titillating film, intended to designate more open anatomical depictions, including female and male genitalia. This predictably resulted in conflicts between liberals and moralists, with the Catholic church (via the interventionist Cardinal Sin) weighing in at one point. Significantly, both sex-trip and titillating-film trends constituted the first instance of more than one sex-themed fad being initiated by the same studio (Seiko Films, whose hype was handled by seasoned publicist Oskee Salazar – per Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr., founding chair of the Young Critics Circle and founding director of the US-based Filipino Arts & Cinema International). José B. Capino, in “Soothsayers, Politicians, Lesbian Scribes: The Philippine Movie Talk Show,” ascribed the new trend to “more relaxed censorship laws” (Planet TV: A Global Television Studies Reader, eds. Lisa Parks and Shanti Kumar [New York University Press, 2002], 262-73).

Caution should be exerted in the historical exercise of recollecting the acronyms carefully and cleverly formulated by Salazar. ST for sex-trip was meant to evoke a jokey Taglish vulgarism, “standing titi” or erect penis (the masculine counterpart of HP or “happy puki”), while titillating film was shortened to TF and nothing more; the immediate pop-culture referent in this case was “talent fee” – an utterly innocuous expression, inasmuch as the transgression was already performed in the very descriptor “titillating,” as suggested in the foregoing ST. The claim by a film authority that the actual abbrevation was TT Film must be regarded as culturally illogical and therefore spurious, erroneous, and presumptive.

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7. Firmament Occupation

Generally but strangely regarded as one of the perennial problems of Philippines cinema is what has come to be called the “star system.” Stars, or extremely successful movie performers, demand astronomical figures that invariably limit a project’s allocations for other aspects of production. The obvious logical lapse in this formulation is the way performers are distinguished from the rest of the elements of film – as if directing, scriptwriting, cinematography, editing, and clapboard operation, among other activities, can contribute to a movie’s excellence, while acting cannot. Worse, this assumes that characters, the central feature of commercial cinema and a whole lot of non-commercial movies as well, are separable from all the other things that go into the completion of a filmwork.

The problem lies in the fusion of two highly charged terms to a situation that isn’t remediable by any long shot, much less a close-up. “Stars” exist wherever intense human activity is complemented with high visibility; cinema happens to be the most obvious and permeative modern-day example, but one can have stars in other contexts too – politics, academe, religion, fashion design, smuggling, entomology, etc. The absurdity of aspiring toward a star-less ideal can be seen in the execution of a political system that averred as much: first, the masses themselves became the supposed stars; eventually, the leaders, in the guise of representing their constituencies, assumed for themselves positions of prominence. The other word, “system,” is the one that compounds the problem. As far as movie histories anywhere have exhibited, there may have been vacillations between a studio system and an independent system (and a trend toward total government intervention locally during the latter part of Marcos rule), but there has never been so far such a thing hereabouts as a star system. Strictly and analogously speaking, a star system depends, in full material terms, on the existence of stars – meaning, stars not only facilitate productions by the guarantee of their presence, but also provide the wherewithal for the productions themselves.

The combination is crucial. A star may have been the entire motivation for a particular project, while on another occasion she may have engaged in film production, but unless she invested her own money in the first instance and carried enough box-office clout to be the movie’s main attraction in the second, then she would never have been essential part of the movie system; she’d be just a star, if that were semantically possible, in the first place, or a star who happened to produce in the second.[1] In the beginning it wasn’t all that simple, precisely because matters were much simpler then. Anyone who had both money and ego could go into movie-making: one could cook up her own project, assemble a production staff, direct them and herself, and collect the returns in good time. The giants of early Hollywood cinema – Charles Chaplin, D.W. Griffith – and their local counterparts – Jose Nepomuceno, Vicente Salumbides, among others – were virtual one-person studios, with every possible filmmaking skill, including lead performing, arrogated unto one and the same individual.

To a certain extent we still have devotees of this almost-ancient era who try to keep the faith when they can: America’s Woody Allen and our very own … well, Celso Ad. Castillo. Filmmaking, however, and turn-of-the-millenium life too, have becoome too complex and fast-paced and expensive to allow for integral approaches to anything, especially creative endeavors. This we saw for ourselves with the story of our studio system. The producers, three of them actually, who had enough foresight and managerial skill to allow for specialization and long-term planning, eventually dominated the industry, giving rise to a so-called Golden Age of stability and consistency of output during the 1950s. But because the Big Three moguls refused to recognize the even more specialized claims of movie workers, including stars, to extreme fluctuations in income, insisting instead on fixed salaries as the basis for industrial professionalism, the less principle-obsessed outfits were able to bid for the services of the talents who mattered, and consequently toppled the system of studios.

These more pragmatic producers, who called themselves independents, gave rise once more to the possibility of self-production, this time with a more lucrative twist: not only would a star entitle herself to the proceeds of her own film, she would also be able to guard against creative sabotage and, most important, boost her stocks further in the market for acting services. The rate of a Fernando Poe Jr. or a Dolphy would now be computed on the basis of the profits either of them could realize if the FPJ or RVQ production houses took charge of the projects, rather than how much their previous films had made for their respective financiers. Hence what we have at present is really a historical confluence of two opposing systems – studio domination (three major outfits) and independent production, with a highly distinctive and restricted (and aging) star subsystem subsumable under the latter; there also happens to be an even smaller but less definite circle of performers who produce films, but not necessarily themselves in these films, and much less themselves to sell such films.

Are these categorizations always significant? Not so much in the consideration of how the presence or absence of a star in her own production provides any form of psychological (or now-emergent ideological) modifications, but more in the area of pinpointing what constitutes a problem for study, rather than an occasion for well-worn rhetoric. Take out censorship or taxation, and you could conceivably realize some forms of improvement in film production, if not in film quality; Marcos-era experiments in industry control provided more-than-adequate proof of the workings of such dynamics. Eliminate stars, and if they don’t get replaced, then maybe the movie system itself has burned out.
[First published May 30, 1990, in National Midweek]

Note

[1] I was not surprised to learn later that this insight had already been articulated, although I first heard the name Edgar Morin as the co-director of Jean Rouch of the pioneering cinema verité entry Chronique d’un été (1961). In a later class on film stardom, I read an English translation of his 1957 book Les stars – which was not the first time a notion I’d worked out turned out to have been affirmed (or challenged) by a previously articulated idea.

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8. Blues Hit Parade

What may soon evolve into a form of cultural schizophrenia, if it isn’t at that stage already, is the current contrariety of attitudes toward the state of Philippine cinema. On the one hand are the pessimists, who resumed their lamentation once it became clear that the four-year-old 1986 revolution was not going to result in anything on the order of the best outputs of the Marcos years; on the other hand, the optimists point out that, after the revolution’s alarming dead stretch, local movie producers never had it so good, with one box-office record after another being broken in rapid succession. I must stress at the outset that my sympathies lie with the latter group, and that the lure of lucre just happens to be one obvious and too-practical reason. For too long the critics of Filipino movies took their calling in an adulterated sense – i.e., judging severely instead of judging fairly, which is the primary definition of criticism. What we may be hearing now is a reassessment of the worsening portion of Marcos rule as the glory years of local cinema, but if you go back to that era, you may have difficulty distinguishing the condemnatory tone of critical writing then from what you may be able to find today.

The upshot is that since our industry practitioners were not made aware of the excellence of their collective performance then, they had to accept the rejection of their situation along with the system that spawned whatever merits it contained. In short, after the change in political administration, everyone was completely in the dark as to where to begin: a return to active institutional support (Marcos’s example) was out of the question, while on the other hand the movie-going public seemed to have fled along with the regime, leaving almost a year-long period of nothing but box-office traumas.

Congratulations then are in order for our industry leaders, for the success of their concept of a turnabout. I feel confident enough to even bet that no other local industry has managed its own resurrection in as financially triumphant a manner as did our movie practitioners. Balancing the absence of absolutely reliable box-office reports with the assurance that no one in her right mind would readily boast of grand profits owing to an ornery tax situation, the recent feats of box-office records being broken much more often than they ever used to be would be something quite phenomenal. And yet…this time our critics are on target in bemoaning the decline in quality of our movies, and we have enough reason to fear that the enthusiasm of local producers may be verging on recklessness. The reason hinges on the correlation of both factors: box-office returns are not enough precisely because of the absence of quality in the outputs that facilitate these returns – not so much because of the absence of long-term or overseas profitability, much less a non-material consideration of the implications on cultural hygiene.

The danger of relying primarily on lighweight material to draw in heavyweight profits lies in the demonstrable possibility that what used to be relatively lighweight may not turn out to be so anymore, especially if it proves profitable enough. The mechanics can result in some truly panicky complications: quickies make more money, so more people want to be in on the action, thereby spreading thin the amount of cash available for profits. Among the interested parties would be the government, which can (and did) increase its share through taxes, thereby diluting even further the profitability of easy movie-making. The possible scenario veers between less box-office winners (and record-setters) and cheaper quickies – with the worst case combining both. And the closer we approach either situaton, the farther away we get from the possible solutions. The decline in local, or more accurately Metro Manila-based, profitability points to the potential of exploring the only regional market that has proved historically viable: the Cebuano-language circuit, now worth another serious consideration because of the economic resurgence of the South; Cebuano movie production, however, petered out in the past precisely because the region could not provide the profits that Metro Manila can offer, so this results in a closed circle, with everyone left out.

The other option is the exportation of our products, and here we must initially contend with both our colonial sense of inferiority plus the slow pace of returns – possibly necessitating the offering of initial titles as sacrifices to the altar of long-term investments. Once these are surmounted, an even greater hitch emerges: the international-scale quickie would of course be Cecil B. DeMillean beside its Pinoy counterpart, and coming from our premise that big-budget production would be too infeasible at this point, camote cultivation might not seem so small-time an alternative after all. A sadder consequence awaits those who appreciate film for reasons that render mammon secondary. The big, proud, expensive movie would be as much a part of the past as the mammoth, its appropriate namesake, while the modest achievement will become too costly to produce on a regular basis. We can fantasize about Hollywood brats coming to the rescue of our masters the way they did elsewhere – until we wake up and realize that the countries these now-needy filmmakers represent once worked hard to create a favorable impression on the international film community, while all we every really did was produce quickies to break our box-office records, with our own government making sure that the profits did not outstrip its capacity for “sharing” them.

Ah well. Maybe then we can all learn to read and write in a common language and arrive at some plateau of achievement, before we discover how to level it down once more, but that would be another (non-filmic) story.

[First published June 27, 1990, in National Midweek]

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Fields of Vision – Ten Best Filipino Films Up to 1990

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, 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.[1]

Click the pic to open a PDF scan of the original article.

The by-line for the article was “Joel David, with Melanie Joy C. Garduño”; when it was anthologized in Fields of Vision, I included Violeda A. Umali, professor of communication research at the national university, as project consultant, as well as the list of students who conducted the survey.[2] 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 & 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.[3] 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’s 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 (tact or propriety in Filipino) 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 ten 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, and 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).[4]

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 (one codirected with Lore Reyes) 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, 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.[5] 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

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: 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: 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.

Marilou Diaz-Abaya [submitted 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.

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 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: 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 – see 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: 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
Sisa
Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang

Once Mentioned:

Anak Dalita
Burlesk Queen
Genghis Khan
Himala
Insiang
Itim
Jaguar
Mga Ligaw na Bulaklak
Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo
Moral
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

Note

[1] After I drafted this introduction for the digital edition, Pinoy Rebyu, a website managed by Skilty C. Labastilla of the Ateneo de Manila University, started performing an aggregational function for contemporary Filipino film critics and has been impeccable so far in this capacity. Professor Labastilla is also a member of the Young Critics Circle.

[2] The survey team comprised Jesselyn Aldea, Jonathan Aligada, Andrea Angala, Concepcion Ante, Michael Antigua, Alejandro “Kim” Atienza, Felisa Basco, Ely Buendia, Joseph de Guzman, Elaine Eleazar, Nolan Estacio, Raul Guerrero, Domingo Landicho Jr., Gerard Legaspi, Jenina Limlengco, Rafael Lukban, Marjorie Neri, Lorenza Salcedo, Patricia Sim, Jennifer Tanseco, Cristina Uykim, Joanne Ybiernas, and Manolito Zafaralla.

[3] While preparing to finalize my dissertation, I received an email from Sight & Sound, inviting me to participate in the 2002 survey cycle. I decided to take a stab and wound up with some unexpected results, which I wrote about in “Sight & Sound 2002,” in Part II: Expanded Perspectives of Millennial Traversals: Outliers, Juvenilia, & Quondam Popcult Blabbery (Quezon City: Amauteurish Publishing, 2019), pp. 88-94 (also available online as the May 2016 issue of UNITAS: Semi-Annual Peer-Reviewed International Online Journal of Advanced Research in Literature, Culture, and Society).

[4] Since then, all the other semi-available titles mentioned in this list are, for all intents and purposes, missing: Hanggang sa Dulo ng Daigdig has not been recopied while Sa Atin ang Daigdig has been lost via the all-too-typical case of an irresponsible borrower losing the last tracked VHS copy.

[5] Originally titled “What’s the Score? The Best of the Decade” and published in the July 1978 issue of the Canadian magazine Take One, the survey covered the decade 1969-78. James Monaco reprinted the article as “Critics and Critical Choices: The Best Films of the Decade,” in American Film Now: The People, The Power, The Money, The Movies (revised edition, New York: New York Zoetrope and New American Library, 1984), on pages 441-53, with the table of originality and accuracy quotients appearing on page 452.

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Fields of Vision – Speculations

1. Family Affairs

Pido Dida (Sabay Tayo)
Directed by Tony Cruz
Written by Tony Cruz and Roger Fuentebella

The contrast between opposing opinions on Kris Aquino’s first film, Pido Dida (Sabay Tayo), indicates the extent of the polarization between official and independent pronouncements on local culture. Those who want or need to maintain a favored status take the cue from Aquino’s doting mother – who, the more ardent appreciators point out, was just continuing what her late husband, who happens to be our own modern-day Messiah, had started – in proclaiming the presidential daughter’s performance, and the movie by association, adequate at the very least. Those who can afford to do otherwise, for whatever motive possible, resort to any pronouncement along the rest of the spectrum, from adequate downward. In the end Pido Dida’s adequacy will remain unresolved, largely because of the political coloration that has attended its critical reception, compounded by the favorable box-office response. On the surface the film appears to be easily dismissible per se, but this may be the key to the alienation of the elite, especially the intelligentsia, from the masses: if we condemn an item as unacceptable out of our concern for its consumers, what does it make of us (and the item in question) when the consumers themselves refuse to listen?

The fascinating thing about this entire enterprise is that the crucial commercial element in Pido Dida, comedian Rene Requestas, manages to acquit himself, well, adequately, notwithstanding the heaviest creative burden he has been made to bear in his career thus far. In his past films, Requiestas had proved himself inimitable in his capability to draw humor from event the most mediocre lines and situations given him. In fact, his success en solo has given cause for worry to his discoverer, Joey de Leon, as well as relief to the latter’s toilet-humor detractors. Requiestas proves for our place and time what Pauline Kael discovered about Barbra Streisand: not that ugly is (or will ever be) in, but that talent is beauty. No other Filipino of movie-star status has had such a reliable record of stage performances behind him, save perhaps for Roderick Paulate; but where the latter was eventually delimited by his screaming-meemie persona, Requiestas, by his everyday-person projection, would be ideal for the versatility once appropriated by Dolphy – from Requiestas’s current (and deplorable) ugly-clown gimmick to perhaps a foray into Paulate territory or an assumption of a dramatic, possibly even sexy, role, with his falsies all in place of course. If I may be allowed to invest my two-cents’ worth, Requiestas seems to me to consist of far richer potential than anyone before him.

But talent, as Dolphy himself once discovered, can only go so far, especially in a medium as inevitably collaborative as film. We should only hope that in Requiestas’s case he (or his managers) opt for expanding his repertoire to include other approaches to film performance, rather than building on a so-far bankable but increasingly depletive type of role. He could wind up as an industry fixture like Dolphy, recycling past glories in customary productions every so often, though not often enough … but why be merely comfortable when you can be terrific? Pido Dida in itself could constitute a serious warning notice for the Requiestas credit, with the creative team ostensibly out to run down his gifts with the most unimaginative and sluggish lines and situations available – ugly-face jokes, cutesifications, indiscriminate inside references to politics and show business, and worst of all, a patronizing beauty-and-beast romantic angle with Ms. Guess-Who.

On the other hand the movie could also signal the emergence of a reliable competitor to the conservative young-star iconography of Sharon Cuneta. With Aquino, we have the same right-wing political wealth and back-up source, plus the additional advantages of prettiness and earnestness. The terrible reality of this kind of image-building exercise is that it doesn’t much matter to what end these girls have opted to devoted what talent they happen to possess; they could probably even get away with taking its development for granted, as Cuneta has so far managed to do.[1] The ideal entertainment ethic would be for us to relegate these strays from the political corral to their proper positioning according to their potential for contributing to Philippine culture – i.e., straight to the slaughterhouse of collective memory. Unfortunately this presumes that our non-political systems could afford to ignore the influence of establishment politics.

So in the meantime that our producers and audiences try to upgrade, consciously or otherwise, their capacity for intelligence and independence, we remain at the mercy of the dictates of those who couldn’t really care less about the quality of our creature comforts. In Pido Dida we see this principle played out in the manner by which a leading lady in a comedy gets handled like a leading lady, instead of a comedienne. Nothing funny that the Aquino character does is of her own volition, unless it be to emphasize her already obvious pictorial superiority to her leading man. In the end this kind of approach – a political decision, actually – becomes (a no-no in comedy) predictable: we get to know when the laughs are coming, indicated as they are by Requiestas’s presence, and when we’re only supposed to smile, which is when Aquino’s around. And when funnybone responses are determined by factors beyond the work’s inner mechanism, then the responses aren’t really that much fun in the end.

It should be of national interest to see the Kris Aquino persona evolve alongside her mother’s political career. If the Sharon Cuneta model is any indication, the daughter could have a better chance of outshining her politician parent, though the latter need not fade away entirely, so long as she learns in turn how to pick up a trick or two from her fair-haired child. We couldn’t do away yet with politically sponsored as aspirants to showbiz stardom, but perhaps a worse scenario – two aspirants instead of only one – might be the next best thing after all: either their rivalry repositions one or the other to a more enlightened political stance, or it rages to the extent of eventually consuming them both, symbols of impositions by an uncaring elite on our popular preferences.

[First published October 24, 1990, in National Midweek]

Note

[1] This remark must have sounded irresistible at the time. Since then Sharon Cuneta has demonstrated how precipitate (and therefore unfair) it was. She had been in the process of completing her four projects with Lino Brocka and was about to hire herself out to producers other than Viva Films, solidifying her independent-woman stature in a number of Star Cinema productions before attempting a series of noteworthy digital-indie projects. Jerrick Josue David, film scholar and close Cuneta observer, coined the term “dulsita,” a portmanteau of “dulce” (sweet) and “maldita” (catty) to describe the adjustment she made in her persona, as a way of preparing the public for the less-wholesome characters in the roles she took on. See his “Dulsita, ang Kabuuan ng Kontradiksyon ng Imahen ni Sharon Cuneta sa Pelikulang Pilipino [The Totality of the Contradicting Images of Sharon Cuneta in Philippine Cinema],” Kritika Kultura 25 (August 2015): 314-43.

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2. Sequacious and Second-Rate

Pido Dida 2 (Kasal Na)
Directed by Tony Cruz
Written by Tony Cruz and Roger Fuentebella

Anak ni Baby Ama
Directed by and written by Deo J. Fajardo Jr.

One of the most significant developments in film criticism in 1990 was the emergence of a most unlikely practitioner. Not only was she typically unqualified for the job, she was also coming in from an unexpected fall from popularity. As history would now have it, all Cory Aquino had to do was proclaim herself satisfied with her daughter Kris’s first film, Pido Dida (Sabay Tayo), and Mother Lily had an all-time box-office top grosser. Mrs. Aquino’s lot, however, seems to be confined to beginner’s luck, and it did not take long to be redemonstrated this time. The Pido Dida sequel, subtitled Kasal Na, fared far worse than reasonably expected – which was nowhere near the original’s performance in the first place. No amount of claims to the contrary can reverse the eventual verdict of its financial failure: the Regal publicity machinery’s premature announcement that Part 2 was doing better than Part 1 may have endeared the moviemakers to the First Family, but not, it seems, to the moviegoing masses.

A more basic irony has been superseded in the wake of the film’s resounding disappointment. President Aquino pronounced the sequel better than the first, and incredible as it may sound, she was right. Not that improving on the original Pido Dida was such a big deal to begin with. All one had to do was provide some structural solidity to the plot, subject the sequence of events to dramatic logic, and minimize the leading lady’s condescension to her partner – and one would instantly realize certain (nonmoral) values that were lacking in the first part. Of course this does not make Pido Dida 2 preferable to the original. For one thing, the charm in Part 1 lay in the unpredictability of the story’s direction, whereas in Part 2 we know too much about Kris Aquino (and her mother) to wonder whether her character would break up with her leading man, unbeautiful though he may appear beside her. Consequently Rene Requiestas’s clowning loses much of its effectiveness, because its potential challenge to prevalent norms and tastes is overwhelmed by our awareness of Aquino’s Christianly resolve. She, or rather her character, will suffer his infirmities and even his animosities, like a Good Filipino Housewife; she will languish when he walks out on her, even if he really did not intend to; she will even bear his child and promise us a Part 3, whether we like it or not, although fortunately it is cash-conscious Lily Monteverde who will have the final say.

The only positive thing we can note about this whole enterprise is that its improvement over its predecessor, so obvious that Cory Aquino was able to perceive it, was quite easily done. The insight can even be extended to the current state of Philippine cinema. The rampaging commercialism that has characterized Mrs. Aquino’s stint in power has bequeathed unto us a glut of monstrously successful quickies, whose profitability makes the prospect of sequential projects attractive, while their paltriness makes it easy to come up with a comparatively less offensive successor.

The real problem however is how to be more than merely less offensive. A concurrently released sequel, Anak ni Baby Ama, suggests some possible strategies. What the newer title did right, which Pido Dida 2 could never have done at this time, was get together a set of talents far removed from the fifteen-year-old Bitayin si … Baby Ama! In this case, they placed in charge the lead actor’s manager, Deo Fajardo Jr., instead of the original’s Jun Gallardo, who has been inactive lately; Fajardo handled his ward Robin Padilla’s first star vehicle, and appears to possess some heretofore unnoticed aptitude for action-film direction. Less judicious, however, was Fajardo’s assumption of the project’s script requirements, especially since the original’s scriptwriter, Humilde “Meek” Roxas, has managed these past few years to make provocative and expert vehicles for entertainment out of ordinary action-film assignments.

Then of course they put a performer with all the pretty-boy appeal of Rudy Fernandez in the original, but with a capability for histrionic stylization that had proved successful for the likes of James Dean and Marlon Brando some generations back. Robin Padilla’s reliance on diagonal postures, macho mannerisms, and constipated line readings works because of the actor’s consistency, particularly in a context where most everything else lacks such a quality. Believe me, we could do worse with our action-film stars, and with the rarity of someone who knows how to act (offhand I can only think of Phillip Salvador), someone who knows how to perform might be acceptable enough as an alternative.

Anak ni Baby Ama also manages some psychoanalytic twists, specifically with the lead character’s search for his parents. His epiphany in this case is not foregrounded as prominently as in Carlo J. Caparas’s Pieta, but that is not the only missed opportunity here: somewhere during the exposition, the character encounters a liberated and combative (as in trained in the martial arts) woman, who becomes his love interest, but who unaccountably goes to pieces when her sleazy-rich family decides to kill the couple’s unborn child. Her brother overcomes his hatred for her boyfriend in his desire to exact vengeance on her killers, but he dies before we get more than just a passing acknowledgment of their class-crossed bonding. Finally, the lead character gets thrown in jail, suggesting a scenario richly reminiscent of his father’s, whose legend actually started with his life in prison … and the movie ends.

It’s like Philippine history, in a sense, full of promises that never reach fulfillment. But I rather like the way in which the biggest copout of all – closing the presentation just when the excitement reaches a new plane – also manages to point to a different kind of sequel, one (like Pido Dida actually) that deals with the same character(s). I look forward with as much excitement to an Anak ni Baby Ama 2 as I dread a Pido Dida 3, although I hope that those who will be behind any such projects would have the foresight to do them not just better, but only right.

[Submitted in 1991 to National Midweek; unpublished]

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3. Woman-Worthy

Kasalanan Ba’ng Sambahin Ka?
Directed by Chito Roño
Written by Jose Javier Reyes and Raquel N. Villavicencio

Hahamakin Lahat
Directed by Lino Brocka
Written by Ricardo Lee

Can the specificities of a film genre dictate the nature of roles available to actors according to their sexual differentiation? In the instance of a specific local genre, melodrama, it appears that not only the nature of the roles but the advantage of the performer is predetermined in a manner opposed to the original foreign norm. Two of the better releases in 1990 by the country’s top competitors for studio supremacy prove this point indirectly, by applying for us one outstanding performance each – both by female actors essaying distinctively female roles.

Viva Films’ Kasalanan Ba’ng Sambahin Ka? has Vivian Velez in what is definitely the peak performance thus far of an underappreciated career, outstripping (quite literally too!) her achievements in her productions, Pieta and Paradise Inn. Regal Films’ Hahamakin Lahat has the reliable Vilma Santos in a successful (in popular terms) modification of her other-woman persona, placing her work here on the order of Tagos ng Dugo and Pahiram ng Isang Umaga. Both films can be roughly classified as melodramas of the Filipino variety, specifically by their emphasis on moral issues, complicated plots, and strong female roles – characteristics that serve the thesis that local melodramas are, for want of a better term, prejudiced in favor of women, complaints from feminists notwithstanding.

This principle contrasts somewhat with the Western, specifically Hollywood, example. Foreign melodramas seem perfectly capable of providing male actors with roles that are as important, if not more, than those of actresses. Of course, the element common to melodrama in general is its consciousness of female, or feminine, spectators: Western and Westernized “women,” in the generic sense, are supposedly trained to be more receptive to moral issues, as opposed to the assignation of social and economic concerns to “men.” But the question is why men can be made central figures in, say, Hollywood melodramas but not in the Philippines, or Metro Manila. I believe the answer lies in the way the genre was recast in the process of its adoption and development hereabouts. The Oriental aspect of local culture exhibits a preference for the ornate or, to put it another way, an abhorrence for plainness. This is reinforced in film by the habit of disregarding screening schedules or, in practical terms, of allowing the members of the audience to enter anytime and stay as long as they please.

Hence in Philippine cinema in general, classical construction, with its emphasis on the buildup of a distinct and distinctive narrative line, is considered infeasible, since a viewer who arrives somewhere at the beginning will feel let down by the relative absence of tension, while another who arrives toward the end will be baffled by the same quietude that presently opens the work. The rule is to hit as strident a tone as early as possible, and sustain the effort until the exhaustive, not to mention exhausting, finish. Now if this form of requirement were to be stuffed with machismo, the local expression of masculinity, the emotional overload would require safety releases that melodrama, with its policy of moral containment, will not be able to satisfy. Fortunately one or another imported genre, the action film or the sex film, allows, in more ways than one, for the necessary outlet, in terms of violence or virility respectively.

Where do Kasalanan Ba and Hahamakin fit into this scheme of things? For starters, both push the ideals of femininity in Filipino melodramas to the opposite moral extreme: the lead characters here are not your traditional faithful-loving-long suffering types, but are as bad as contemporary local female bad can be. The Kasalanan Ba protagonist delineates a psychopathic obsession for a lover over whom she has no legal claim whatsoever, while the one in Hahamakin takes advantage of her superior sociopolitical standing to further her gains in sex and money. The first directs its concerns inward, toward the machinations of the morbid mind, while the second moves outward, into the politics of gender and class stratifications. Yet it is the same object of personal redemption – the ideal masculine catch – that qualifies both discourses on female independence. The Vivian Velez character resists all attempts at matchmaking, while that of Vilma Santos resolves not to fall emotionally for her flavor of the moment; in the end, when Mr. Seemingly Right happens along, all their notions of self-sufficiency get discarded like so much excess baggage, as off they go after the walking incarnation of the True Meaning of Life.

The cop-out is not as serious as it sounds, especially if viewed from a vantage point apart from the female sex itself, mainly because in the end, it is still the men who are made the targets of fulfillment, rather than the other way around. The difference between this instance and that of a Pinoy action film, where the male protagonist idealizes a female object, is that in the latter case, the object can never remain purely sexual; she – it now, really – has to evolve into one of a few possible matriarchal archetypes (motherhood, motherland, maybe mother tongue though never mother-in-law) in order to justify the requisite and inevitable bloodletting. The approach suggests further possibilities for modifying, and possibly improving, the genre. Kasalanan Ba and Hahamakin could have been the vehicles for this sort of exploration, except that both seem to have been assuming an unfair share (considering the talents behind them) of commercial considerations.

Kasalanan Ba, possibly in order to distance itself from a similar American hit, Fatal Attraction, infused its story with a provocative psychological background, which resulted in a fascinating alternation between suspense and drama. The intelligent expectation is for these two inclinations to combine in the end, one intensifying the other in a way that Fatal Attraction never managed to. Unfortunately the less substantial (though more cinematically impressive) element, suspense, dominated at last. In the case of Hahamakin, the presence of big stars must have used up whatever else could have been allocated for the expansion of the story’s physical resources. Compared with the director-writer teamup’s previous effort, Gumapang Ka sa Lusak, Hahamakin manages to go deeper into the psyche of the female oppressor (a secondary character in the earlier film, which concentrated on the victim instead). On the other hand, several crucial establishing details in the latter work had to be relegated to lines of exchanges, and a demonstration of how social cancer spreads through the body politic is never pulled off, precisely because the filmmakers had to confine themselves to the major characters.

Nevertheless both recent films, plus Gumapang Ka, represent our state-of-the-craft when it comes to melodrama moviemaking, and I can think of no higher compliment than posing a challenge for the future: since every conceivable female lead role has been explored, with varying degrees of success, in local melodrama, and since action films have long allowed for strong women characters even in lead capacity, how about refashioning the former genre to suit nonfemale leads? The clash between gender and genre might yet result in certain long-overdue insights into love and anarchy as only a truly confused culture can make it.

[First published October 17, 1990, in National Midweek]

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4. Demachofication

Kristobal
Directed by Francis “Jun” Posadas
Written by Humilde “Meek” Roxas

This early I think one could make a case for Ferdinand Marcos’s ill-advised campaign strategy of relegating women (presumably including his then-opponent Corazon Aquino) to the bedroom as the turning point, from the popular perspective, of the local confrontation between the sexes. By clear though perhaps unwitting association, the defeat of the Marcos machinery could also have signaled for Filipinos the end of Old-World machismo, if not anything else. It was a hard-won and well-earned victory, although by whom may be an entirely different issue altogether. The feminist sector would have been the logical responder to this kind of challenge, but as it turned out, it was an entire nation that reacted. I’m sure one day a cultural historian will argue that, with Marcos laying it on the line, machismo never stood a, well, Chinaman’s chance; the Oriental aspect of Filipino culture – non-confrontational and motherly – were mutated into overpowering forces, anti-confrontational and matriarchal, that may yet require another complex of factors to induce a mellowing down. Meanwhile machismo, as proof of its desperation, sought refuge in its traditional hotbed: right-wing military causes, religious revivalism, and, relevant to our discussion, male-dominated pornography.

What it failed to reckon with, however, was the all-encompassing range of Oriental thought processes; in particular, the off-limits aspect of the concept of private property this time had to give way to a perceived need to institute improvements in existing set-ups, though certainly not to the extent of upsetting the set-ups themselves. Such isolated phenomena then as the military closing ranks behind a female leader, who in turn has appointed a number of well-received female subordinates and proclaimed a female general; the moderate Catholic sector appropriating the strategies of televangelism and even developing a strong fellowship of devotees in show business; and the banishment of the penekula-film trend to the dustbin of disreputable circuits and cheap formats and its replacement with an entirely new innovation in the mainstream sex genre – all these, along with the more minor spectacles of action stars shedding tears in their films, male writers outdoing women in the finer literary forms of fiction and poetry (and women conversely excelling in journalism), point to one and the same announcement: machismo, as it used to be known, is out.

One may at first wonder how a sex trend in films could ever be non-macho since it could never be pro-woman to begin with. Actually the nature of an artistic medium inherently provides ways out of such blind alleys. In terms of the sex-trip (ST) trend, the upgrading of women performers constituted the first indication that a wholly different kind of creature was afoot; this can also be seen in terms of the aspiration of the movie-goers toward better economic circumstances, and explains the outrage (more intense this time, it seems, compared with the reaction to the penekula trend) of opinion leaders as partly due to a class-based threat. With all the old Pinoy sex films, we were at the very least assured that the masses were indulging in decadence among themselves, as was evident in the types of actresses they patronized; but in the ST films they’ve come to prefer upper-class morsels, a prospect that wouldn’t be far removed from seeing one’s classmate or girlfriend or sister or (if one were older) niece or daughter reclining on a bacchanalian platter.

But then another ST feature emerged in time to temper the potentially explosive (pardon the pun!) preference for well-bred beauties. For the first time since the late-’60s bomba era, when sexual themes became organized obsessions in local cinema, the image of the male actor has begun to matter. Of course in a sense it was always imperative that the sex-film stud be well-equipped, but this requirement used to be defined according to body build, hirsuteness, vocal gruffness, and other such indicators of what a “real” man would envision another “real” man to be. The ST trend drastically modified this requisite by adding something that non-“real” men, including women, would demand: classically dictated beauty. Gone are the Tito Gallas and George Estregans (literally too, bless their souls) of yore, and in, in more ways than one, are a couple of actors with faces and complexions pretty enough to compare to their leading women. A debate is bound to arise regarding whose main responsibility for such a change it was – increased female attendance for sex films, or the predominance of gays in industrial practice; meanwhile the phenomena of classy women and pretty men in sex films – these things remain, and where they could go from here is boldly suggested by the latest ST product by the trend’s instigator, Seiko Films.

Kristobal manages to push ST closer to its logical extreme ironically by disguising it as another genre – i.e., an action film. Here the women are depicted as man-eaters, often in worse (or better) than the usual cannibalistic sense, always ultimately willing to bring their imperturbable male partners to dizzying rounds of pleasure. In fact, all things considered, what the male lead and his main antagonist have in common are their pulchritudinous miens and an environment of hot and hungry women. Contrary to the expected moralist slant, the wayward lasses in Kristobal are not served their share of comeuppance. One of them dies, but she does so along with her true love; another mourns the loss of her loving though aging husband, but she had earlier partaken of both the hero and his mortal enemy (separately, of course) precisely as a result of her marital dissatisfaction. The hero finds no rest from either gangsters or willful voluptuaries: his provincial girlfriend abandons him only after making sure that his interest in her doesn’t match hers in him while his city-slum steady, whose tomboyish ways he had successfully suppressed, is happy enough to stand by him even during lovemaking.

This kind of dismissal of moral adventurism would normally have met with a strong measure of denunciation, if not actual censorship. Kristobal, however, manages to justify its cavalier treatment of sexual issues by situating its male characters in life-and-death complications that reduce sensual experience to the status of a much-needed diversion. Only once, when the hero’s long-lost kid brother taunts the antagonist by disclosing how he’d laid the latter’s girlfriend, does the sexual underpinning become part of the main concern; even then the act serves as nothing more than an insult, quickly exceeded by the hero’s discovery of his brother’s identity and consequent assumption of the role of sibling guardian-protector. What all of this points to is the possibility of more sophisticated discussions of sex and morality in local cinema – which is not the same as advocating a return to the dated Freudian or Marxist treatments our past achievements in the genre used to appropriate. Take out all the action ingredients in Kristobal and you’d have the premises of a European art film or naturalist novel, not to mention an American porn comedy. That in itself already says a lot about the Filipino’s threshold for new and cleverly packaged statements on life – and love.

[First published September 26, 1990, in National Midweek]

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5. Men and Myths

Bala at Rosaryo
Directed by Pepe Marcos
Written by Olivia M. Lamasan and Humilde “Meek” Roxas

The danger in becoming aware of the ancient conflict between so-called high art and mass culture is the acquisition of the convenient misimpression that both sides are essentially irreconcilable. Nowhere in modern times has this dialectic been more successfully demonstrated than in cinema, and the Philippines is no exception: on the one hand we have the world-renowned (a past Guinness edition, to be specific) movie-going habit of our people, and on the other lies what must be another world record, given our context of film output, viewership, and Third-World status – an excess of movie award-giving bodies.[1] What this has resulted in is a positioning of a handful of “prestige” practitioners, favored for some reason or other (and not always fairly, it must be stressed) by one or more award groups, vis-à-vis, well, The Rest. The first always strive to put in some well-meaning elements in their output, while the rest remain content with the politics of survival.

A whole lot more improvement – and by this I refer to criteria of both art and commerce – would be realized if both sides dispense with this deplorable dichotomy. Our film-as-art practitioners were forced to explore local popular preference by the breakdown of official cultural pretensions wrought by the 1986 revolution; the larger challenge remains of convincing the much-maligned “commercialist” majority that quality can be both fun and profitable. A recent random release illustrates this point. Bala at Rosaryo is done by the same producer-director team that gave us the most significant lesson in the mergence of imaginativeness and mass appeal in action films after EDSA, the unfortunately underrated Tubusin Mo ng Dugo. Pepe Marcos et al.’s strong suit still surfaces occasionally in their recent effort, but the entire enterprise bogs down from the combined weight of defective structuring (the material was komiks-derived) and conventional moralizing – nothing that a good rewrite couldn’t have remedied.

Actually Bala at Rosaryo comes close to literate entertainment precisely when it veers too close to its danger points – i.e., when the plot detours into its gangster-and-virgin subconcern and the protagonists pretend that their respective positions of righteousness and mercy matter above everything else; the mass audience, who of course see through the charade, are titillated by its interplay with our folk-Catholic wisdom, which means they know that both parties are merely undergoing a courtship ritual whose sexual climax will offset the initially dominant religious stance. These “encounters” between the avenging hero and the pretty novice who falls for him are, well, blessed with a dramatic tension heightened by the use of satirical humor, particularly when the hero mistakes the hell-driving sister for his blood-feud enemy and, later, dreams of sexually conquering her under the usual tacky circumstances (he takes a bath under a waterfall and discovers her there), only to be awakened by the very object of his lust.

Meantime the peasant-class hero also has to contend with a too-circumstantial involvement with a landed family’s internal conflict. The fact that he’s used by the villain as scapegoat for a fratricidal crime doesn’t hold up too well; of course he’s paroled as reward for good behavior, and look Sis, it doesn’t ever occur to him to blackmail his tormentor once the facts clear up. Eddie Garcia bears his mark of Cain with gleeful malice; he’s finally been given full rein to go to town with his trademark hamminess and the result is one of those rare instances where the performance gets better as it gets worse. How can a pair of stuffy symbols surmount such infernal inspiration? Bala at Rosaryo attempts an answer by showing us the sound and fury of Good Overpowering Evil in the End. It’s strictly a technical answer, though, and I’m sure most viewers would prefer a full-scale resurrection of the Eddie Garcia character to a sequel of the now-sanctified union of the purged-to-pureness couple. Or maybe if we restore to them their original-sin sense of guilt, and this time exploit their fall from grace for all the laughs that modern existence could wring from it, I’m sure Garcia would make a terrific serpent.

[First published June 6, 1990, in National Midweek]

Note

[1] Several years later, a study of the “modern” award (with the Nobel as precursor) argued persuasively that the future portends proliferation, not streamlining: “Prizes, an instrument of cultural hierarchy, would themselves come increasingly to describe a hierarchical array, a finely indexed system of greater and lesser symbolic rewards, the negotiation of which constitutes a kind of second-order game or subsidiary cultural marketplace” (54). See James F. English, The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005).

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6. Ma(so?)chismo

Barumbado
Directed by Willy Milan
Written by Humilde “Meek” Roxas

Kasalanan ang Buhayin Ka
Directed by Francisco “Jun” Posadas
Written by Humilde “Meek” Roxas

The return of the Filipino action movie betokens a turbulence beneath the seemingly workaday surface of post-Marcos society. Those who’d counter that action films had never ceased being a local moviehouse staple since the 1986 revolution better take a closer look: our real-life “biographical” pictures could more properly be classified as a sub-genre of melodrama, owing to the requisite attitude of fearing the living or revering the dead – and thus paying tribute in the end to the subjects’ self-proclaimed or perceived virtues in contrast with their enemies’ moral shortcomings. Unlike the period biofilms of the 1970s, these self-serving titles were closer in spirit to the Marcos propaganda features of an earlier decade; I guess historical distance must have been its crucial element here, wherein the filmmaker collaborates rather than creates, and more often than not allows someone who cares more about himself than about good cinema to take over what would in the end be a filmic product.

The first inkling I had that our action movie-makers were on to something new was when a 1988 release, Tubusin Mo ng Dugo, combined the usual elements of suspense and bloodletting with a cynicism so intense it was funny. The fact that it never got noticed by any of the year’s award-giving bodies could in fact serve as proof of its headway-making contributions vis-à-vis our evaluators’ inert insistence on pre-revolutionary criteria of excellence. Then a veteran action-movie scriptwriter, Humilde “Meek” Roxas, made a couple of titles last year that, though inferior to Tubusin, met with better reception: Ang Pumatay Nang Dahil sa Iyo and Joe Pring. This year he has upped his winning streak with two more appreciable consecutive releases, Barumbado and Kasalanan ang Buhayin Ka.

Between the two, Barumbado appears to have the surer potential: unlike Kasalanan, it isn’t komiks-derived and misogynist. Surprisingly, however, it’s Barumbado that leaves a whole lot more questions unanswered, which perhaps make a case for the subordinateness of fashionable assertions to basic issues of form and sensibility. Barumbado isn’t responsibly feminist, to begin with, but it attempts a treatment midway between the old traditional pro-male approach and the newly traditional pro-female slant. The situation dwells on the Oedipal relationship between an attractive man-hungry mother and her sexy young son, who blames his propensity for rowdyism (not to mention the seduction and kidnapping of a young coed) on her public conduct.

Most stages in the development of the mother-and-son story are provocative at lease and moving at most; in fact, an attempted bravura staging of the son breaking down in public while haranguing his mother turns out underdeveloped rather than unnecessary, mainly because of the lead actor’s excessive mannerisms and the utilization of a more capable Pinky de Leon (who plays the mother) as a mere reactor. What gets overdeveloped instead is the hero’s inevitable enchantment with the evils of gangsterism, which conveniently exploits his walk-out on his mother as pretext. This of course is entirely in keeping with the dictates of machismo in action films, wherein professional conflicts are expected to carry more weight than psychological complications. A love angle, in which the hero beds the daughter of his mother’s policeman-lover, comes to a climax without mother and son being drawn together by the psychosexual implications: the policeman’s retaliation, in fact, gets wiped out (in terms of screen time and explosion effects) by a showdown between the hero and the gangsters he has turned against.

Kasalanan provides a more straightforward account of a man confronted with a more personalized form of social menace. We are asked to accept two abuses of license – that the hero is gifted with an unusually acute sense of hearing, and that the good Samaritan who accidentally saves and assists him used to be the common-law wife of his mortal enemy. The first implausibility works out in a satisfactory way primarily due to an intelligent and persuasive delivery by Cesar Montano, who in fact helps carry the story over a few other loopholes through the serendipity of his talent. One could in fact go on discoursing on the invaluable merit of personal matureness and formal histrionic training, and only as an afterthought remember that Kasalanan got by at the expense of its female characters: either they’re too weak (Ms. Good Samaritan conceals her past from the hero and her son; the hero’s fiancée becomes his enemy’s kept woman; the enemy’s original moll waxes insane from jealousy) or, far worse, too strong (the enemy belongs to a brood of male gangsters controlled by a brown Bloody Mama).

In terms of feminist readings the choice then is between an acknowledgment of, or at least a concession to, women’s issues in a less-than-satisfactory product on the one hand, and a roughshod dismissal in a highly entertaining diversion on the other. At the risk of sounding safe or even insensitive to urgent questions, I’d like to think that enough room exists for both types: just as content needs to be overhauled, quality has to be improved – and more often than not, one or the other could be the sole accomplishment of the moment. The fact that both titles made a killing – at the box-office, specifically – points to the gladsome receptiveness of the mass audience toward simple virtues of filmic treatment and execution, even with one exclusive of the other. Even better is the prospect of a future project which combines responsible female characterizations with expert and entertaining storytelling; remember, the common factor in Barumbado and Kasalanan happens to be the person in command of both functions. It could only be a matter of patience, fortune, and manful inspiration.

[First published May 23, 1990, in National Midweek]

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7. I.O.U.

Kahit Singko Hindi Ko Babayaran ang Buhay Mo
Directed by Jesus Jose
Written by Joji Vitug

Lito Lapid during his heyday was somehow worth watching if only for the promise of a well-made action epic. The subject himself had something to do with the semi-serious attention: among successful local action stars, he alone was (and still is) readily identifiable as Pinoy in the traditional brown-skinned, not-too-tall, well-stocked model. The closest a Lapid movie ever came to fulfillment was Celso Ad. Castillo’s Pedro Tunasan, although a handful of smaller works, notably Mario O’Hara’s Kastilyong Buhangin, were more systematic in maximizing his competence as actor. Given a two-decade-long career that was mostly characterized by his absence from the moviemaking scene, he must have decided to go the way of Fernando Poe Jr. by taking matters into his own hands and directing a project starring himself.

The risk seems to have paid off so far in the literal monetary sense in Kahit Singko Hindi Ko Babayaran ang Buhay Mo, much better at least than in Pedro Tunasan, wherein Lapid was producer. The influences of Castillo and Poe (who was directed by and has also considerably drawn from the former) are very much in evidence, particularly in the build-ups toward scenes of violence and the staging of agitated masses of people moving across picturesque panoramas. Where Castillo retains an upper hand over his actor-successors is in his appropriation of Gerardo de Leon’s diagonal deep-focus compositions, which in turn were adapted from international trend-setters long before most of us were born. Kahit Singko is the usual morality play that lends credence to the generally unsatisfactory thesis that our action films are ascribable to the komedya tradition. The characters are rounded out as far as one-dimensional premises would allow them to, and interact according to rules of conflict that pit goodness against evil; one or the other triumphs in the end (this time it’s goodness), but in Kahit Singko I somehow came to realize why such a profoundly dissatisfying simplification of dramatic issues is more deeply rooted in this genre than in any other.

Provide the characters with the requisite reasonable motivations, and you negate the necessity of looking for other solutions to resolve their conflicts. Meaning to say, once the situation becomes dramatically valid, then all you’d ever really need is a dramatic resolution – and if you append the climactic apocalypse that action aficionados always expect, your movie would have ended way before the last frame. If on the other hand you deprive the audience of real dramatization, you could hook them until the finish with increasing doses of violence and give them a semblance of having closed the issues through the sheer relief of eliminating the cause of any further shootouts. There’s one easy way of ensuring that the formula always seem new, and this is what has contributed to the perpetuity of the genre: the constant updating of issues. In Kahit Singko, two related thrusts enable the film to make a bid for historical, or at least journalistic, significance: the use of an elected government official as villain, and the portrayal of a law officer as torn between loyalty to political authority (his professional superiors) and principle (his family). A provocative contrast is set up between the hero and his best friend, also a policeman, who succumbs to an overwhelming barrage of invitations to petty corruption.

The movie doesn’t pursue its concerns to their logical extremes, which is why I couldn’t be enthusiastic enough given its critical slant. The weak-willed police partner gets killed off almost as soon as he agrees to play dirty, his fate foreshadowed by what happened to an even more notorious colleague within the same precinct. Our hero’s moral dilemma actually arrives at a pinnacle at this point, but he’s pushed back to the comfortable side of righteousness by the bad guy’s psychotic actuation in having the rest of the policeman’s family massacred during a wake already caused by his goons. The Lapid character does a Dirty Harry – surrendering his badge prior to going on a rampage – without a realization of the underlying appeal of the Clint Eastwood creation. Dirty Harry succeeds precisely because he’s true to his name: the liberal-humanist “system” of justice has taught him, a subversive from within, to resort to brutal and illegal methods in dealing with crime. Kahit Singko’s avenger turns out to be too much of an angel to be distinguishable from the rest of the canon, beyond the fact that he looks like Lito Lapid.

Along the way we get treated to the simpler pleasures of listening to a small-person’s debate on human rights and to all the characters addressing the central object of hatred as “Congressman.” In the moviehouse where I saw the film, a trailer from a rival production outfit showed another villain whom everyone called “Mayor” and whose wife looked and behaved like Imelda Marcos. The forthcoming title was by Lino Brocka, and I could swear that the unusually quiet attention being paid to it by the lower-class audience who filled the theater meant that they were busy making serious connections, as we all ought to be doing, between one movie experience and another yet to come.

[First published June 6, 1990, in National Midweek]

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8. Mudslung

Ibabaon Kita sa Lupa
Directed by Toto Natividad
Written by Joji Vitug

Ayaw Matulog ng Gabi
Directed and written by Carlo J. Caparas

It’s not as if the practice had never been done before. Fact is, the occasional politically controversial movie during the Marcos martial-rule era would make direct or indirect reference to then-reigning officials, acquiring in the process the generous admiration of serious observers for the sheer audacity of doing so. Either our observers have been too overwhelmed by the relatively expansive democratic space still available at present, or our officials have somehow managed to increase their threshold of tolerance for criticism. However you look at it, politician-bashing in Philippine cinema never had it so good. I first caught wind of the phenomenon after the nth consecutive hit of Lito Lapid since his latest comeback – a feat in itself even when viewed against the actor’s track record, incidentally. Since I somewhat smugly expected another rapid-Lapid flash in the pan, I felt obliged to check out what was making him blaze a lot longer than usual.

Kahit Singko Hindi Ko Babayaran ang Buhay Mo demonstrated everything I expected – simplified moral choices, arcane lines of dialog, and a whole lot of safer stunts, if that were possible, from a heavier-set though still natural performer. The crucial difference actually lay outside Lapid himself, in the manner by which the villain was addressed: “Congressman,” and this in a contemporary setting. Then came the Congress-aspiring mayor and his Lady Macbeth of Gumapang Ka sa Lusak, which was different, I thought, because of the Lino Brocka credit, although even Orapronobis didn’t have anything this frontal. The latest Lapid title, Ibabaon Kita sa Lupa, made me regret my earlier affectation, since at the moment only a true-blue Lito Lapid fan can outdo this critic in confirming whether the actor’s political mudslinging was a conscious strategy from the very beginning of his latest comeback.

Ibabaon is a somewhat less inspired job than Kahit Singko, which also says something about Lapid’s creative capabilities (he directed the latter). Something’s too technical about the more recent release, with most of the movie’s impact derived from tightly paced sequences and showy prosthetics. Ibabaon’s potential, however, is richer in the sense that attempts are made to depict the goings-on in the boardrooms of municipal councils and, more important, to involve the lead character on a personal level with the villain, also a mayor this time. This is facilitated by making the mayor’s son the hero’s childhood chum, and promptly compromised by a loud silent-era delivery by the performer in question. Worse, the hero himself stays passive too long after his refusal to participate in his employer the mayor’s deadly shenanigans. Nevertheless, the fact that Lapid scored financially one more with Ibabaon might yet give him the distinction of being the first local action star to sustain a career at the expense of political officials.

Not that anyone else would mind. Rudy Fernandez, for example, pits against himself, in his latest film, Ayaw Matulog ng Gabi, no less than a provincial governor. To perhaps put one over the Lapid series, the villain is treated the same way that of Gumapang Ka was. That is, just as the latter’s conjugal rulers were given enough distinguishing characteristics to identify them as similar to our twenty-year-long First Couple, so was Ayaw Matulog’s main bad guy obviously based on someone who made the tabloids for some time in the recent past: in the papers, as in the movie, he took on a pretty mistress, beat her up during fits of derangement, accused his men of having affairs with her, and cursed in Ilocano. The real-life mistress, a one-time movie actress (as if our ontologies weren’t confusing enough), had a happier ending: true to her escapist origins and duties, she simply upped and ran, or rather flew, away, and to the United States at that; and if she’s now in Hollywood, I’ll refuse to be surprised.[1] The Ayaw Matulog heroine parallels the larger disappointment of the movie as a whole. She pines away all throughout the story for a lover from whom she was snatched away on their wedding day, and all the governor’s men couldn’t get them apart in the end.

Ayaw Matulog proves the antediluvian principle that something, in this case some people, can be too good to be true. Both the leads are intercepted in their quite pathological obsession to consummate their romance by two different characters, both male. His turns out to be a golden-hearted toughie, while hers, as already described, is a soft-hearted bully whom only a previously battered woman could understand and accept; since our moon-crossed lovers insist on their one last lay even at the expense of overriding the more psychologically interesting situations provided by their respective co-actors, they probably deserve their fatal reunion, though goddess knows we could have been spared their later-than-last encounter in the afterlife. Still, whatever else one may venture to add by way of criticism, Ayaw Matulog, like Ibabaon and all the other politician roasts I’ve sampled thus far, were fragrant enough to meet with the strong patronage of the mass audience, so a few more insights in this direction might prove valuable. For all we know, the next election superstar may yet be the candidate who took the trouble to inspect, if not relish, a series of seemingly escapist fare.

[First published September 19, 1990, in National Midweek]

Note

[1] The real-life travail of Maria Theresa Carlson (ironically known as a comedian) continued beyond this point. She kept returning to her husband, only to bolt once more with lurid tales of violence, drug use, and group sex, with her spouse countering that she suffered from psychological problems. In 2001, at 34 and a mother of six, she committed suicide. The Anti-Violence against Women and Children Act, passed by Congress in 2004, was initiated by a women’s coalition that included the activists whom she contacted to report her case, prior to denying the charges she claimed.

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9. Movable Fists

Walang Awa Kung Pumatay
Directed by Junn P. Cabrera
Written by Jun Lawas and Enrique Mariano

Iisa-Isahin Ko Kayo
Directed by Francis “Jun” Posadas
Written by Erwin T. Lanad

Apoy sa Lupang Hinirang
Directed by Mauro Gia Samonte
Written by Joe Carreon and Mauro Gia Samonte

Action films are back with a vengeance. Actually, Filipino action films, wherever they happen to be around, are almost always with vengeance – as a central theme, that is. It wasn’t of course always thus. What I remember of old action films was their emphasis on the instability of their violent characters’ psychological constitution, the premise dwelling on the officiated view that normal people commit no harm. Once in a while an action film would dare to be different by presenting a normal person misunderstood by the establishment (Robin Hood must have been the prototype in this instance), but this only served to reverse the preceding attitude rather that challenge it. I guess the contemporary Pinoy action film can be traced to the first item that acknowledged that a character can (and should) change in the course of her development, even if necessary to the extreme of the opposite of her original self. It may be difficult, perhaps impossible, to pinpoint a singular source, although by the end of the ’70s what was once daring and occasionally subversive (remember Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag?) became commonplace enough to become a staple ingredient in the action-film formula.

What we’re witnessing at the moment is the local consequence of what obtains once a once-suppressed tendency becomes, to use the appropriate poststructuralist terminology, dominant: said idea, in observance of the inevitable dialectical mode of progression, demands to be successfully challenged in its turn, just as it had once successfully challenged the very idea it had supplanted. In concrete terms, this can be observed in how the vengeance pattern, which had taken the place of the psychotic-gangster approach, is now undergoing permutations and qualifications with each action-film output, rather than its formerly straightforward application. With three recent action releases, just as many distinct reformulations of the vengeance principle are presented us. Walang Awa Kung Pumatay provides the easiest innovation – a technical one, which I doubt was deliberately worked out right from the start. The project’s premises seem to be safely dismissible: a fair-to-middling story, inadequate budget (resulting in below-average production values), and mannered delivery from its lead performer, Robin Padilla.

But instead of devoting attention to improving its most reliable and inexpensive element, the filmscript, Walang Awa opted to fall back on expert editorial execution, and in this manner managed to somehow salvage its one other weakness. In the year or so since his emergence, Padilla quickly learned the ham-acting local action stars use to enhance the excessive stylization required by the genre. In his case, however, Padilla built on his cutesy-boyish features, which in overextended takes (as what happened in his previous film, Barumbado), gives rise to an obnoxious projection – Sean Penn, as it were, trying to impress the critics. In Walang Awa, Padilla’s mannerisms, like the film’s defective production values, are cut right before they cross the line separating bravura from brazenness. What ensues is a lead performance charming in spite of itself (and the film as well), capable of carrying the uncritical appreciator over abundant moral, sexual, and geographic blunders, and making the requisite shootouts seem like impressive set-pieces by their contrast with the foregoing deficiencies and their deployment of Padilla’s lissome maneuvers.

Iisa-Isahin Ko Kayo has a heavier-set lead actor traversing the same Lethean course as Walang Awa. In fact, Iisa-Isahin lead Ronnie Ricketts suffers the burden of being too handsome in the conventional macho tradition, replete with broad features that don’t seem disposed toward nuances; his role in the film has been tailor-made for his capabilities – a whole lot of hell-raising, instead of strategizing, constitute the responses to what essentially are workable conflicts. It is in this instance, however, that the film manages to extenuate its efforts. Both Walang Awa and Iisa-Isahin need to have done better by their respective materials, although in a sense the same statement holds true for local action films in general: add a perceptible amount of beyond-competence complexity to an action-film framework and you’ll have something like a Peque Gallaga epic, which wouldn’t be classifiable anymore under the same genre, as defined by current standards.

The difference between Walang Awa and Iisa-Isahin is that the latter’s creators didn’t wait until their footage had been accumulated before figuring out their project’s salience. Iisa-Isahin appropriates, on a smaller scale, the strategy used by Wilfredo Milan in Anak ng Cabron some years back: I must say that the attempt works better this time around, since the film starts with a relatively realistic tone and builds up toward a totally anarchic climax, with some semiotic insights – notably one involving the Supreme Court building’s symbol of Blind Justice – neatly worked in. Yet the requisite of proper dramatic treatment eventually does Iisa-Isahin in: the good-guy police lead’s brutality is justified by his excessive enthusiasm for the implementation of law and order; the bad cop’s moll, whom he abducts, admires him for not responding to her sexiness, eventually deciding to save him at the expense of her life; and just to make sure that we all get on the side of righteousness, a couple of street kids are thrown in to save the hero and comfort his hostage and get killed by the goonies. We all know that some cops and tarts and street urchins can’t be as bad as they may seem to be in real life, but can they ever really be so wholesome as to individually profess wonderment at all the evil around them?

The last title, Apoy sa Lupang Hinirang, is the most interesting among the three, primarily because its makers did their homework where it mattered – at the conceptual level – and effectively exploited a once-sacrosanct ideological framework in the process. Students of Philippine political history will readily recognize the consistent and expert observation of the orthodox Marxist analysis of local class relations here, though only the most fanatically committed will fail to make out the glaring cynicism with which it was appropriated. Apoy also manages to get by with an entirely inexpedient set of actors by making them perform what their too-pretty features seem useful for: kissing and coupling, with the political interventions serving as obstacles to the literally sexual climax, which is quite demurely suggested in the end. I cannot help but approach the film with the ambivalence of cold comfort, since its source is anything but aesthetic. On the one had I’d survived those days when the merest acknowledgement of Apoy’s political framework could physically endanger its advocate, so my nostalgic response originates from witnessing formerly forbidden but still-familiar material being presented not just in a creative manner, but in a popular medium as well. On the other hand, its insufficiency in redeeming the work in question, which may not necessarily negate its adequacy in real-life practice, assures me, as it should assure those who worry about the current decline of culture as the national priority it should be, that there still exist problems that politics alone won’t solve.

[First published November 28, 1990, in National Midweek]

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10. Class Clamorers

Too Young
Directed by Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes
Written by Don Escudero, Peque Gallaga, and Lore Reyes

Shake, Rattle & Roll II
Directed by Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes
Written by Don Escudero, Peque Gallaga, Lore Reyes, and Dwight Gaston

Biktima
Directed by Lino Brocka
Written by Butch Dalisay

Ama … Bakit Mo Ako Pinabayaan?
Directed by Lino Brocka
Written by Pablo Baltazar

On the basis of their output, Lino Brocka and Peque Gallaga (with co-director Lore Reyes) have been our major filmmakers since the February 1986 revolution up to this point in the turn of the ’90s in local filmic history. Both came up in 1989 with the first major works of the post-Marcos era, Brocka with Macho Dancer and the Gallaga-Reyes team with Isang Araw Walang Diyos. More interestingly, both also happen to occupy opposing positions on the political spectrum, Brocka somewhere on the left and Gallaga-Reyes closer to the center or, relative to Brocka, on the right. That these two parties have survived the highly commercialized imperatives of the present movie-making system points to two possible – and again opposing – conclusions: either they’ve sold out or they’ve found the right recipe with which to serve up what are essentially unpalatable preparations of political panaceas. Whichever conclusion seems more valid may be a function of your personal preferences; but presuming (like I do for myself) that it’s safer in such uncertain times as these to defer such espousals, then your view of our current major practitioners may now depend on which of their products you happen to have most recently seen.

Again, as if these coincidences weren’t enough, both filmmaking sides managed to release two films each within a time span of about a month; and to complete the similarities of their polarities, the first releases were dismal flops while the next ones, both Metro Manila Film Festival entries, were the Christmas season’s top-grossers. There was also some karmic balance observable, although I honestly wouldn’t know what to make of this kind of insight: financially, the earlier Gallaga-Reyes film fared worse than that of Brocka, while on the other hand the latter’s MMFF entry trailed the former’s. More important, for the purposes of critical analysis, are the lessons that may be drawn from the films themselves. The Brocka and Gallaga-Reyes flops were politically pointed, while their MMFF hits were subdued; in fact, the least political film of the four, Gallaga and Reyes’s Shake, Rattle & Roll II, happened to be the highest-grossing, while the same team’s Too Young, which is arguably the most politically involved, performed least satisfactorily box-office-wise.

I ought to clarify this early, however, that Too Young and Brocka’s Biktima are far from being accomplished pieces, even as political tracts. Too Young’s centrist (circa some years back and therefore now relatively reactionary) perspective is employed merely to catalyze some quite impressive suspense sequences, while Biktima begins with a suspenseful premise – a psychotic sex-killer on the loose – only to commandeer itself onto dismally simplistic routes of proto-feminist agitation. Even at this stage the filmmakers’ strengths shine through their works’ weaknesses. In Too Young, Gallaga and Reyes outclass the current competition, excepting perhaps Chito Roño, in their depiction of the sport and glamour inherent in suspense. The film takes Isang Araw’s patronage of Coryist concerns into an urban context, but suffers from the reduction in the number of major players. This may be less the filmmakers’ fault than the producer’s, Too Young obviously having been originally intended as a coming-of-age film for its young lead actress.

On the other hand, the contrivance of maneuvering the charmed-living lead character into a lower-class milieu, where she meets her first-kisser and protector-to-be, well, smacks of contemporary political naïveté. All of a sudden the movie abandons its intrigue-laden expository complication along with its affluent locale, and turns into a slum-set Pollyanna fantasy made credible (though still not validated) by expertly seriocomic ensemble deliveries. The return to big-business issues in a literal corporate setting then becomes much too obligatory, given the already-established premises, and predictable, what with our heroine supposedly morally uplifted by her conciliation with society’s noble savages, one of whom even escorts her to face her murderous antagonists. The problem lies not so much in this well-worn (and dangerously vainglorious) aggrandizement of the lower over the upper classes on the basis of romanticized notions of proletarian communalism vis-à-vis top-level selfishness. Too Young suffers from the knowable disparity between its depiction of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (and the administration it represents) as a bastion of ethical propriety, and the evidence of its checkered half-decade existence. Again, it’s history in this case that betrays Gallaga and Reyes: the project was begun during a time when it was too early to draw such qualified conclusions and released only now, when everyone knows still not everything, but better than nothing.

Biktima is, all right, victimized by an excessive cocksureness of approach that apparently deemed intellectual detachment, not to mention casual humor, dispensable. The fault may be as much the performer’s, though: it is hard to sympathize with someone who is prevented from connecting with her co-actors, especially when the co-actors are made to embody urgent social issues. The isolation of Sharon Cuneta’s persona from the dynamics of the narrative is literalized by her stand-offish garb, and is even more painfully pointed up by the public-breakdown scene of Gina Alajar, who shows how wonderfully she can relate with what is actually a mere montage of reactions while delivering a monologue that requires her to mercilessly cut herself open before an audience of strangers. Brocka exhibits more creative control in Ama … Bakit Mo Ako Pinabayaan? (he is credited as writer in the movie’s print-publicity materials). Here the strategy is to allow the younger set of characters to indulge in sexual (and thereby less harmful) tugs-of-war while leaving class-based clashes to their respective sets of parents. Ama attains moments of poignancy in this manner, despite its komiks origin, as it continually takes care to provide the oldies with at least a minimum of motivations and self-clarifications.

The material of Ama contains the rarely realized potential of socializing domestic conflicts, the filmmaker having triumphed in this kind of challenge before, particularly with Miguelito: Batang Rebelde. What a pity then to have the current release falter with the convenient coincidence of having the long-lost stepsister seduce – unwittingly, love being literally blind in this instance – the wealthy daughter’s boyfriend. And what a waste to have to return to such a silly circumstance, after drawing the class lines admirably taut, just to supply the requisite happy ending; symbolic of the cop-out is the decision to have the blind daughter see with her adoptive father’s eyes – at the cost of killing off the elder character. The latter is delineated by Robert Arevalo with a pathos rare even for a Brocka movie (the only other example I can recall offhand is Tony Santos in Hot Property). The other 30-something-plus performers – Anita Linda, Ricky Belmonte, Suzanne Gonzales – are restrained just as deplorably, though not as violently, from realizing their fullest potentials, to favor the younger stars’ goo-goo coquetries.

As proof that I’m not being over-belligerent, there’s only one case where the four encounter one another, occasioned by the Arevalo character having killed the upper-class stepbrother and thereby being visited in jail by his own and his victim’s families. The exchange of invectives and recriminations is at once both high melodrama and social-realist statement, powerful enough to negate some of the children’s hysterics, and totally worthy of the Brocka credit. If Ama were divided into self-contained episodes, as Shake, Rattle & Roll II had been, then the aforementioned sequence would be the best short entry of the lot. As they stand (or screen), however, you can take your pick between the occasionally substantial but ultimately spurious values of Ama, or the entirely dismissible yet highly entertaining presentations of Shake, Rattle & Roll II. The Gallaga-Reyes bonbonnière observes the pattern of the original Shake, Rattle & Roll (where Gallaga directed only one episode, the Rosauro de la Cruz-written “Manananggal”) of providing a love story followed by a comedy and closing with an all-out horror piece.

As in the case of the original, it’s “Multo,” the love story, that succeeds the least; the depiction of sex onscreen has been liberalized enough since the ’60s to carry the topic over into franker generic discourses, and so “Multo” has typically fallen back on a special-effects-enhanced blood-and-guts approach less horrific than repulsive in consequence. “Kulam,” the comic piece, draws a lot from the chemistry between its leads, Daisy Romualdez and Joey Marquez, and simulates the fake-but-fun terror of a fairground ride; there’s an indulgent bit of movie-movie cross-reference, consisting of inserts from an earlier Gallaga-Reyes film, Tiyanak, that only serves to remind us what we could have expected had we opted not to box the filmmakers in the short format. “Aswang” is a considerable improvement over “Manananggal” technique-wise, but again, as in “Kulam,” the likehood of advancing onto significant long-term implications is short-circuited for the sake of providing shock, schlock, and (true to the Yuletide spirit) fireworks. One measure of the Gallaga-Reyes expertise is the fact that no other filmmaker at the moment can cause an audience to scream on the basis of protracted static compositions or reaction shots, as exemplified in the highlights of both “Aswang” and Too Young. Too bad the opportunity to parlay such skills on truly worthwhile projects seems contingent on whether the artists can first assure their patrons of financial returns. Much like getting caught between the devilry of moguls on the one hand, and the deep brown sea of movie-going masses on the other.

[First published February 13, 1991, in National Midweek]

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11. Sedulously Cebuano

Eh … Kasi … Bisaya!
Directed by Junn P. Cabreira
Written by Cabreira & Associates

There are less divisive forms that regionalist fervor could take other than a staunch refusal to use Tagalog-sourced Filipino. The obvious logical recourse is to use whatever language happens to be appropriate – and in narrative discourse that’s set in most of the Visayas and Mindanao, this would usually entail Cebuano. There’s a type of narrative presentation that used to thrive in the region (and occasionally beyond) that also happens to have an industrial base perfect for the drive toward economic expansion in the South. We’re talking about Cebuano-language cinema, of course, which historically has been the only viable local alternative to Manila-based film production. The difference thus far has been strictly geographic and linguistic, but that doesn’t mean that more preferable differences couldn’t be worked out, or that more appealing similarities couldn’t be enhanced.

The latest Cebuano production, Eh … Kasi … Bisaya!, may be forgiven on a number of counts, all premised on the reality that the last Visayan film was released about eight years ago – too far back for anyone to even imagine the possibility that the region was doing its own films as early as the 1930s, reigning supreme over Manila and even foreign films whenever and wherever they happened to compete. Several major Filipino film talents, mostly in the field of acting, were recruited from Cebuano cinema, and a whole lot of innovations in terms of production and promotions has been tried and tested in the region. Somewhat more qualifiable are the titles themselves, the more reputable ones including the late Natalio Bacalso’s Salingsing sa Kasakit, Emmanuel H. Borlaza’s Anino sa Villa Lagrimas, Amado Cortez’s Gimingaw Ako…, and Leroy Salvador’s Badlis sa Kinabuhi. The cause of dissatisfaction can be traced to the fact that the Cebuano market, although highly dependable, is not as large (and therefore not as profitable) as that for Tagalog films.

Hence, it’s the cost-cutters who’ve attracted more attention: the past two decades, for example, saw the likes of Borlaza’s The Batul of Mactan, which revived regional production through its combination of a faded Manila star, Eddie Peregrina, and a rising one, Chanda Romero; Joe Macachor’s Ang Manok ni San Pedro, which was shot in super-8mm. and blown up, grains and all, to 35mm., thus inexpensively providing the region with its first color film; and Borlaza’s Rosaryohan sa Kasakit, the last Cebuano film previous to the current one, which enabled its producers to invest handsomely afterward in Manila-based production with Shake, Rattle & Roll, then lose disreputably with a less-than-adequate skin flick.

With Bisaya! a form of incentive long denied the Manila-based industry has supposedly been extended: the film was reportedly exempted from paying taxes. If this is true (or legally possible), then we ought to see more financiers following the example of the Bisaya! producers, plus perhaps an Iloko-language film or two, what with northern regional production boasting of a grand total of two titles on record (Karayo in 1941 and Soldado in 1978, as per a report by film historian Teddy Co).[1] Cinema should always go beyond reviviscence whenever possible, and one can only hope that Cebuano cinema could eventually serve to demonstrate its people’s claims to self-sufficiency. Any incentive granted to Bisaya! may be made to apply to future Cebuano productions, this time with emphasis on qualitative achievements. Even better, a Cebuano-language film retrospective can and should be organized, prior perhaps to the holding of a Cebuano-language film festival consisting of all-new entries.

Manila-based practitioners may find reasons to work in the South, and these should not necessarily be always monetary in nature. Cebuano officials might find that the idea of offering greater creative freedom could prove to be the crucial turning point in upgrading the stature of Cebuano-language cinema from a mere adjunct of Manila’s to a valid global capital in itself. Some future producer might want to retain the regional language in a Manila release, providing translations through subtitles.[2] Other just-as-urgent measures would be the provision of formal film education and training in Visayan schools as well as the completion of a comprehensive filmography of Cebuano-language films drawn, since not all such films were released in Metro Manila, from regional sources instead. The possibilities for growth are numerous, and we haven’t even begun to consider what themes and materials can be put to good use, given such a conscious and feasible alternative to Manila centralism. Bisaya! itself hints, daintily as it were, at the intrusions of both Manileños and Manilanized Visayans in the lives of ordinary Southern folk, and it isn’t even half-serious to begin with … or is it? In any case, we could hardly go wrong with expanding our boundaries of national film practice, tinood lagi, and there are entire islands of speakers, a linguistic nation practically, waiting to hear and see themselves onscreen once more.

[First published November 28, 1990, in National Midweek]

Notes

[1] See Teddy Co, “In Search of Philippine Regional Cinema,” Movement: Towards a New Visual Literacy 2.1 (1987): 17-20.

[2] Circa the present (2014), the emergence of the more accessible digital format resulted in a number of significant regional-language film texts. Strangely, however, these works originated as proposals selected and funded by Manila-based film festivals. With the recent introduction of the country’s second full-blown film program in Cebu, appropriately enough, it may be a matter of time before full-steam regional production can get under way once more. In contrast with the spectacle of the Cebuano-language prints of Bisaya! being pulled out of Manila theaters after non-Cebuano-speaking audiences complained that they couldn’t understand the dialogue, it would also be a far simpler and less costly matter to ensure that the releases feature translations for non-Cebuano viewers.

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Fields of Vision – Creations

1. Three Careers

Umiyak Pati Langit
Directed and Written by Ed Palmos

Bago Matapos ang Lahat
Directed by Joselito “Abbo” de la Cruz
Written by Ralston Jover and Segundo Matias Jr.

Ganito Ba ang Umibig?
Directed by Laurice Guillen
Written by Emmanuel H. Borlaza

Time was when support for new filmmakers did not seem premised on the familiarity of their surnames or the influence of their recommenders. This was during the late ’70s, when film producers felt they could afford to take risks, up to the early ’80s, when the Marcos government, as part of its desperate bid for survival, courted the favor of the movie industry with institutional forms of support unseen before or since in these parts. Today we find a number of these hitherto new-blood directors, those who persisted for some reason or other, circulating with much difficulty in the obstructed or bypassed arteries of the movie system; others manage more easily by simply going with the flow. The latest outputs by three such survivors indicate as much: all were reasonable box-office performers, but at the same time they also demonstrate just how far gone our film artists now are from their original ideals.

All three benefited from early institutional backing. Ed Palmos was (and remains) the only scholar-trainee of presidential aspirant Joseph Estrada’s Movie Workers Welfare Fund to have practiced as a mainstream filmmaker. Joselito de la Cruz won first place in the second edition of the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines’ scriptwriting contest, and shrewdly insinuated himself as his project proposal’s director. Laurice Guillen organized acting workshops for guild members of the Film Academy of the Philippines, activities that flourish up to the present.

The cynical could retort that these three examples, who may represent the rule rather than the exception, actually were industry presences to contend with even before their institutional exploits: Palmos had directed several feature films before his Mowelfund scholarship; de la Cruz was a familiar fixture in some films by Ishmael Bernal, and essayed a strong supporting role in one of the first-year ECP productions, Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata; Guillen, prior to dabbling in dubbing and character parts for the movies, was regarded as a formidable theater talent and, like Palmos, had also directed several feature films prior to becoming further known through the Actors Workshop Foundation.

The difference among them lay in the amount of recognition each had achieved. Each started with a prestige project – Palmos with Saan Ka Pupunta Miss Lugarda Nicolas? (co-directed with Armando Silverio) in 1975, Guillen with Kasal? in 1980, and de la Cruz with Misteryo sa Tuwa in 1984. Palmos and de la Cruz scripted their respective debuts, but only Palmos, among the three, was to pursue this traditional auteurist line of action, as well as create alternative-style short-format works.

With heretofore neither an unqualified artistic breakout nor a major box-office hit to his name, Palmos became part of the independent-circuit roster of directors, of which Gil Portes may be considered the most successful member so far as of these early ’90s. None of Palmos’s works can be called reasonably budgeted; save perhaps for his second, Nang Bumuka Ang Sampaguita, all of his films prior to the present one exhibited a scrimping on resources that merely magnified the ambitions they could not sustain.

Umiyak Pati Langit, in being more realistic regarding the mergence of scope and resources, has turned out to be the most unified of Palmos’s films. Of course this formal homogeneity was achieved at the expense of innovativeness, so it should not be surprising that Umiyak counts as just another competent tearjerker, just as it has become a moderate hit. In both senses one may call it Palmos’ best, although in another less transient manner, it far from fulfills the promise of its filmmaker’s early works, when a project’s budget could be wagered on the possibility that it could yield gains, in at least the artistic, if not the commercial, sphere.

De la Cruz’s case betokens some caution, but in the other direction: no one else among the three, perhaps even among contemporary Filipino film directors, has regressed so relentlessly. Misteryo’s triumph on paper stemmed from its then-daring critique of social institutions, to which one in particular – the military – was quick to take exception. De la Cruz simply accommodated the textual changes stipulated through the ECP hierarchy, but no amount of production values (the film was the outfit’s biggest-budgeted ever and won critics’ awards for technical achievements) could cover up the essentially fascistic impression of having one character, the military commander, play both moral guardian and avenging angel in an entire town of ignorant and avaricious natives.

Misteryo was followed by a less morally offensive outing, ironically a sex film, Hubad sa Mundo. The outlook this time was more consistently cynical, albeit pettish and perverse as well. Hubad deserved a better fate than either Misteryo or Bago Matapos ang Lahat, de la Cruz’s latest, but it floundered midway between the graphic sex films that were then being forced to countryside theatrical-circuit exhibitions, and the glossy productions that were strangely not making as much money right after the February 1986 revolution; having neither graphic sex nor sufficient gloss, what has been de la Cruz’s best work thus far remains forgotten for the moment.

Bago Matapos is therefore the equivalent of a trump in a three-card deck, not bad considering the odds. It is also a tramp of a trump, slovenly in areas as basic as screen continuity and histrionic consistency. More seriously, it exposes the filmmaker’s persistence in dealing with social deviancies, only to eventually top off his presentations with old-hat moralist resolutions. Unlike in his first two works, de la Cruz fails to invest Bago Matapos with the surface sheen that somehow helped to precondition his past audiences regarding his biases by suggesting, through the refinements of his production, whose side of the issue he was on – i.e., the goody-two-shoe officer rather than the scheming underling in Misteryo, the squeaky-clean stud rather than the sex-crazed criminal in Hubad. In Bago Matapos the forces are represented by the “other” sex, but still in polar opposition: man-eating woman competes with true-hearted lass, and guess who gets the prize – a conservative bachelor, no less – in the end?

In short de la Cruz seems to have boxed himself in a position wherein he would accept, at least by big-time establishment standards, the unconventional option of small-time work, and at the same time maintain his conventional attitudes toward psychological issues; in the face of new trails having been blazed long ago by some of his elders (and contemporaries even), his refusal to venture new answers to old questions raises the much older, and sadder, question regarding the ultimate value of his efforts.

Guillen among the three enjoys a stature made more enviable – and worthy of further study – by he fact of her sex. The present system, in being adverse to, or perhaps just ignorant about, the existence of qualified talents whose number has accumulated in the meanwhile, has consequentially practically closed the door of opportunity to female talents in non-exhibitory capabilities. Even the Laurice Guillen credit as the current film generation knows it is far removed from that of her early films: gone are the psychoanalytic explorations of characters and the investigations of levels of reality that made the likes of Kasal?, Salome, and Init sa Magdamag provocative intellectually, if not always dramatically.

The turning point was Kung Mahawi Man ang Ulap, a komiks adaptation that proved to be her biggest hit and that proffered her a subgenre (of melodrama) that has virtually never failed her in her career since. The most that one could do in this kind of game is to tinker with the mechanics of amusement – a frustrating option if you’re coming in form, say, Salome, but not when you’ve dismissed the past as a permanent bygone era. Hence, the early ’80s aside, Guillen can be safely ensconced as our komiks adapter par excellence with a string of titles that could profitably (and how!) provide lessons on how to undertake this still-tricky procedure.

Ganito Ba ang Umibig?, her latest, marks another high point since her adaptational detour. Aside from Celso Ad. Castillo’s underrated Ang Daigdig ay Isang Butil na Luha, this must be the only Romero Vitug-shot project that’s visually appealing but not postcard-pretty. Unlike Daigdig, which balanced Vitug’s usual luster with atypical (for Vitug material) social-realist settings, Ganito Ba holds back the flourishes, in effect allowing the middle-class ostentations to predominate the presentation. Moreover the movie follows through Guillen’s use of original sound – a not-so-sensational discretion, considering our existent level of technology, but still a daring decision in the context of inside resistance to the practice’s promised advantages.

The fact that the director has elicited better performances in the past should not get in the way of appreciating what are actually current rarities like well-performed male roles and an above-average delivery from a That’s Entertainment alumna. One might wish oneself blue all over for the equivalent of Gina Alajar’s performance in Salome, or that of Guillen herself in her now-rare screen and even rarer stage appearances, but that would be risking a reproof on the basis of her, well yes, postmodern output. Forget the past, count your blessings, list your qualifiers, foremost of which should be the assertion that … really, that’s entertainment.

[First published March 27, 1991, in National Midweek]

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2. Directors-Editors

Kaaway ng Batas
Directed by Pepe Marcos
Written by Jose N. Carreon, Henry Cruz, and Humilde “Meek” Roxas

Angel Molave
Directed by Augusto Salvador
Written by Humilde “Meek” Roxas

The title of director being the coveted position it is in Westernized cinema, owing to the wide-ranging influence of the so-called auteur theory, it comes as no surprise to find artists in “lower” ranks aspiring toward it. An endless discourse can be provoked by the challenge to resolve which filmmaking credit could best qualify for eventual directorship, myself vouching (for what it’s worth) for the writer, since it’s she who, in the creative sense, starts the film for the director to finish; in fact, when reduced to modern theoretical semantics, the director can be regarded as an extension of the writer in the process of the creation of the filmic text, although an opposing viewpoint could also argue that the writer is merely the starter and the director the perfecter.

In Philippine cinema I clinch my contention, all too easily I’ll allow, by pointing to our world-league filmmakers – Ishmael Bernal, Lino Brocka, and Eddie Romero, plus Mario O’Hara – as proof that the director capable of scriptwriting stands heads and shoulders above the rest. One can of course easily qualify this statement by naming former cinematographer Mike de Leon, production designers Mel Chionglo and Peque Gallaga, and actors Eddie Garcia and Laurice Guillen (plus the late Manuel Conde and Gregorio Fernandez), although I can, if I cared to, retort that de Leon, Chionglo, and Conde also dabbled in scriptwriting at some point in their respective careers.

Then we arrive at the special case of Gerardo de Leon, who won industry awards as both director and editor of the then-controversial but currently lost black-and-white film Huwag Mo Akong Limutin.[1] In actuality a good director is expected to be familiar with all phases of production, although the stiff rivalry for such a coveted position has elevated the requirement somewhat; competence and, better yet, excellence, would constitute indubitable proof of one’s familiarity with any technical aspect in question, and so we stand in awe before the likes of the late maestro, who pioneered in visual innovations as well during his time.

The danger of course is that one’s expertise on the technical level can be so complete that it could leave other, possibly more crucial elements behind. I believe this thesis can be productively pursued in the case of Gerry de Leon, although examples from the here and now can bring home the same point. Two recent films, for example, were directed by former editors, who also happened to edit the said latter works. Both of them had come up with better works before – Pepe Marcos with Tubusin Mo ng Dugo in 1988 and Augusto Salvador with last year’s Joe Pring – although we could just as easily maintain that both titles were simply above-average genre pieces.

Kaaway ng Batas features the same Tubusin Mo performer, Rudy Fernandez, just as Angel Molave features Joe Pring actor Phillip Salvador; both share the same writer, Humilde “Meek” Roxas, who also did Joe Pring, while Kaaway ng Batas features Tubusin Mo scriptwriter Jose N. Carreon as a co-writer. Given its slightly larger accumulation of talent, one would expect Kaaway ng Batas to be the better film. Yet the most that could be said about it is that it’s the better-edited film, and even on this score you’ll have to go into a whole lot of defensive pure-film elaborations.

What then are we saying here? That a good movie may not always be technically perfect, while a technically impressive work may not necessarily result in superior over-all achievement? It’s a measure of how urgently we need to reorient our views on film art when even this kind of basic insight, so old-hat most foreign critics wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it, has to be upheld constantly in local media commentaries, filmmaking circles, and now in film-education institutions. Perhaps a more effective way to start straightening this twisted line of thinking would be to streamline the number of local award-giving bodies and then rectify each one, in the direction of critical thinking rather than the present winner-take-all method.

In the consideration of Kaaway ng Batas and Angel Molave, what needs to be pointed out is how one set of filmmakers, that of Kaaway ng Batas, opted for a strictly generic approach, while the other strove for achievements above and beyond the call of commerce. In this regard what we’re actually measuring is the total success of a safe venture vis-à-vis the partial accomplishment of a risk-taker. When you think about it in abstract terms, the logical conclusion is valuable enough to suggest beyond-aesthetic applications: for an enterprise to make good even partially outside of the usual, it first has to be competent within the usual. Hence it would only be fair to state that Angel Molave provides what (or the equivalent of what) Kaaway ng Batas gives, and then some.

The “some” is what gives it more than just casual significance. Primarily Angel Molave is furnished a social dimension, rather than the personalized vengeance motive typical of contemporary action films, Kaaway ng Batas included. Consequently, latter-day run-of-the-mill action releases have had to overcome the expectations of increasingly jaded aficionados of the genre by escalating their level of violence against their protagonists, in order to justify more intensive reprisals. Angel Molave has taken a welcome way out of this literally vicious cycle, by directing its violence not just inwardly (into the psyche of its lead character), but also outwardly, toward the distressing issue of pedophilic white slavery. One need not identify then with the movie’s protagonist in order to appreciate the vileness of the villains in his story; the strategy is crucial, since the story itself takes in the urban-based white-slavery development more as an accidental detour rather than the logical outgrowth of the lead’s struggle with his purse-proud father-in-law, a provincial racketeer.

Nevertheless, despite this possibly unwitting cleverness, the movie ensures sufficient credibility by way of powerful performances rather than flashy special effects or high-gear editing. The daughter-victim is invested with childlike fright and bewilderment by Katrin Gonzales, instead of standard bathetic sentimentalities. Efren Reyes Jr. goes for broke in playing villain, and is provided with some of the most obscene lines of dialogue ever uttered in local cinema: invaluably, “obscene” in this instance does not denote the presence of obscenities, but rather the heartbreaking taunt that this kind of evil, one performed, can never be eliminated, that (as he puts it) its perpetrator’s face will always be laughing through its victim’s eyes.

There is a danger in the lead role turning out to be merely reactive to such an overpowering turn of events, but Phillip Salvador gives out one of his best performances in an already commendable career, drawing extensively from past highlights (including Gina Alajar’s crazed breakdown in Bayan Ko [Kapit sa Patalim], where he co-starred), allowing his technique to stand out but not apart from the dramaturgical requirements of every scene.

One may of course object that the movie’s ending, wherein the by-now long-lost father-in-law makes peace with Angel Molave, is too comfortingly conciliatory. I say that, after the foregoing events, any form of comfort would never be enough, and would therefore in a sense be always welcome; after Molave blows up his tormentor to smithereens, the lawmen who’ve been after him for his defiance of the rules of justice agree to cover up his final and bloodiest act of retribution. That may be of some (but again not enough) comfort to Molave, but its implications for both our peace-and-order institutions as well as for us, their supposed beneficiaries, are far from reassuring. And that in itself demonstrates how the raising of painful issues, whether these be resolvable or not, can be made preferable to the painless treatment of commonplace realist fantasies.

[Submitted in 1991 to National Midweek; unpublished]

Note

[1] Sharing this admittedly anecdotal detail regarding what may be Gerardo de Leon’s other major missing film (aside from Daigdig ng mga Api): the scriptwriter of Huwag Mo Akong Limutin, Jose Flores Sibal, turned out to have been a distant relative on my father’s side. We had our first and only conversation literally on the eve of his departure as migrant to the US – I didn’t know then that I would have my own opportunity to pursue graduate studies in the same country a few years later, and got too busy when I arrived to be able to contact anyone. Before he left he turned over a copy of his script for the missing de Leon title, which I read before depositing the manuscript with the University of the Philippines Film Center. It deserves a more extensive discussion, but I might opt to provisionally echo the same response when I read how dismayed Petronilo Bn. Daroy was when he managed to watch Daigdig before it got lost. The narratives that de Leon was handed could only hope to touch on sensitive material (agrarian reform in Daigdig, abortion in HMAL). Daroy was the best culture critic of his generation and de Leon the best Filipino film stylist who ever lived. Cold War culture abhorred any hint of resistance to contemporary patriarchal authority – which is why one will have to search elsewhere, starting with de Leon’s subsequent collaboration with Sibal, the period adaptation of José Rizal’s El Filibusterismo.

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3. Maryo J. and Mr. de Los Reyes

My Other Woman
Directed by Maryo J. de los Reyes
Written by Joey Reyes and Jake Tordesillas

Underage Too
Directed by Maryo J. de los Reyes
Written by Jake Tordesillas

Among the local film directors who emerged during the late ’70s, none was invested with expectations greater than Maryo J. de los Reyes. The reasons were clear even then: de los Reyes had what was the closest possible to an industry internship (mainly by way of the movie-struck Philippine Educational Theater Association) and audiovisual training (broadcasting, actually, since film still had to be introduced at the University of the Philippines). Moreover, in his first year as filmmaker, he managed to come up with two commercially successful yet temperamentally opposed pieces (both Agrix-produced and starring Eddie Rodriguez) – the youth film High School Circa ’65 and the adaptation of the stage play Gabun (Ama Mo, Ama Ko), a moralist tragedy. The years since have seen him straying rarely from these two extremes, and perhaps even his real-life persona has already assumed as much: as his faculty colleague at the UP College of Mass Communication, I have quickly learned to deal with one Maryo J., toward whom students and teachers gravitate for much-needed moments of merriment, and with another Mr. de los Reyes, over-achieving president of the UPCMC Alumni Association, teacher, film and TV director, evangelizer even.

Early in de los Reyes’s career as director (and in mine as critic as well), I made the mistake of echoing the then- and still-fashionable charge that he has done nothing more significant than his first film. The statement becomes harder to defend the more we view High School in relation to de los Reyes’s subsequent body of work, although here most observers would simply point to the successors of Gabun: Tagos ng Dugo, Kapag Napagod ang Puso, and most recently My Other Woman, all post-1986 titles. Contrary to current critical opinion, I maintain that the more enduring of de los Reyes’s films are the ones he made as Maryo J. The trouble is that these happen to be more numerous too, and that some of the better ones are distinguished by innovations outside of their intrinsic merits: Annie Batungbakal contains Nonoy Marcelo’s only mainstream-format animation effort, while it and Bongga Ka ’Day feature some of the best Hotdog music, satirical pop for now people, ever made; both films plus a number of others feature Nora Aunor as comedienne – a skill that has definitely enriched the artist’s repertoire.

De los Reyes’s breakthrough work is of course Bagets, a move that modernized the surface characteristics of youth-oriented outings; with it, a whole set of then still-foreign trends – notably new-wave rock, androgyny, and gay-lingo appropriation – tumbled down from an elitist perch and became fair game for the rest of the urbanized local masses. Bagets then was dismissed for being too flighty, and I suppose it can still be dismissed at present for being too, well, politically retrogressive, particularly in its handling of authoritarian and feminist issues. But it had something that no Maryo J. film, not even the only-apparently love-triangular High School, could boast of: the ability to weave several disparate character-based lines of action into an integral work.

Again, the accomplishment could only pale in comparison with the local explosion of the multiple-character format led by Ishmael Bernal with Manila by Night. Nevertheless, de los Reyes, or rather Maryo J., has proved that he can still keep the flame even this late and with the shorter fuse provided by such a project as Underage Too. The obvious question is why he reserves this relatively modern approach for such easy-going projects, then reverts to a conventional storytelling mode for more serious material, My Other Woman included.

One possible explanation can be deduced from the sensibility common to the major de los Reyes films. All of them, regardless of where they belong, whether in the lineage of High School or that of Gabun, exhibit the same moralist imperatives; at the most, they can be perfectly regarded as saints in sinners’ clothing, with the resolution leaving little doubt as to their nature. Hence one could speculate that de los Reyes equates seriousness with conservatism, possibly owing to the traditional definition of classicism; the corollary – modernism being associated with frivolity and light – is also supported by the subject matter reserved for the Maryo J. movies.

Yet examples that prove otherwise abound. De los Reyes himself has one title that probably deserves more critical attention than Bagets – Anak ni Waray vs. Anak ni Biday, which uses the same traditional narrative approach that his more serious films employ; apart from its intelligent integration of local film lore, Anak ni Waray provides a form of entertainment worthy of the more inspired moments of our black-and-white master filmmakers. On the other hand, you have the aforementioned serious multi-character films that prove that one can (should, even) seek to update material with recent advances in form and treatment, or that one may also furnish radical forms of expression with similarly novel subject matter.

This much can be said about de los Reyes mainly because he clearly has the potential shared by so few in our day and age, to merge difficult form with serious content. And those films, if and when they arrive, will be worthy of a true virtuoso’s entire credit; let no one then say these would have been made by either Maryo J. or Mr. de los Reyes.

[Submitted in 1991 to National Midweek; unpublished]

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4. Persistence of Vision

Bakit Kay Tagal ng Sandali?
Directed by Chito Roño
Written by Orlando R. Nadres

Someone sooner or later has to correlate the current paucity of fresh filmmaking talent with the decline in filmmaking quality, and I think we’ve had enough time – about an academic generation since the 1986 revolution – to arrive with confidence at such a conclusion. The political irony in this case should not be lost on any concerned observer: never was the movie industry more democratic in giving breaks to genuine talents than during the dictatorship, unlike in these, uh, democracy-spaced times. As further proof, the last of the major film talents to have emerged in these here parts is Bakit Kay Tagal ng Sandali? director Chito Roño – whose debut film, Private Show, was completed way before February 1986 but was released afterward only because of a series of freak (and again ironic, Roño being the son of a Marcos-era minister) occurrences.

Only now does it seem like a near-miracle that most of our best and brightest actually emerged within a few months of one another – Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Jun Raquiza, Peque Gallaga, Butch Perez, Elwood Perez, Romy Suzara, and Danny Zialcita during the early ’70s, Behn Cervantes, Mike de Leon, Lupita Kashiwahara, Mario O’Hara, and Gil Portes during the mid-’70s, and Mel Chionglo, Abbo Q. de la Cruz, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Laurice Guillen, Maryo J. de los Reyes, Pepe Marcos, and Wilfredo Milan during the late ’70s and early ’80s. Of course one can point to at least two worth-watching newcomers since Roño’s debut – Augusto Salvador and Carlos Siguion-Reyna – but until anyone between them comes up with a follow-up comparable to their first films (Siguion-Reyna, in fact still hasn’t followed up so far at all!), I’d rather stick to the larger issue: that one or even two sparrows don’t a unit make.

Figuring out the possible reasons and disentangling them in order to effect a reversal would be worth a discourse in itself, so meantime I guess the next best thing to do would be to point out what we’ve been depriving ourselves of. This I think can be done by inverse implication – i.e., appreciating anything done by the above-named that deserves attention, so as to connote that we could have more such delights if we only had more such names around in the first place. Fortunately certain significant pronouncements can already be made about the last of the majors, this early in his career. This is because Roño clearly belongs to the whiz-kid category – an elite circle in these parts, comprising those whose expressive skills alone could ensure a holistic, if essentially flawed, creation; other names we can count herein are Peque Gallaga, Mike de Leon, and, closer to the fringes, Laurice Guillen.

Roño bears comparison with Gallaga, the most accomplished (in career terms) of the lot, since both of them, to begin with, exhibit a flair for intense, operatic camera-gestures. Not surprisingly, it is Gallaga who, among all Filipino filmmakers, has the most impressive track record in epic filmmmaking, stylistically surpassing those of earlier masters like the late Gerardo de Leon and Celso Ad. Castillo. And then again, when we think of problematic film statements, we also refer to the works of the stylists and the whiz-kids, especially Gallaga. For nowhere than in the creative process is such a situation as “too good to be true” possible: the McLuhanesque aphorism about the medium being the message can get carried to the logical extreme of there being no more message (of import, that is) within an over-elaborated medium. Bakit Kay Tagal ng Sandali? upholds Roño’s distinction – that among his peers, only he has been able to apply a visual quotient comparable to Gallaga’s, with a psychological bent of an order never seen since the heyday of Castillo. The effect, when you think about it, is pretty awesome. All our major directors, including the whiz kids, require appropriate resources in order to achieve epic feats; in contrast, Roño simulates the properties of the epic by enlarging what are actually modest givens.

These skills were on display as early as the first phase of his career, when he did a series of projects for a number of independent producers. The next phase began when he finally decided, after a series of burns and false starts with other independents, to work with a mainstream outfit, Viva Films. Kasalanan Ba’ng Sambahin Ka? saw him barely maintaining his equanimity, what with a commercialist cop-out in the end. Bakit Kay Tagal, however, more fully exhibits the director’s creative potentials, perched as it is (like the earlier film) between dismissible material and an invaluable, or at least instructive, skills display, with no let-up in the balancing act and a successful steerage of material toward the requisite build-up and denouement.

It would even be possible to appreciate Bakit Kay Tagal as komiks-sourced material, though not in the old sense, wherein the adapter was expected to temper the excesses of the origins. Hence, while Lino Brocka, for example, has been and should be esteemed for his capability to invest visual and episodic (and therefore non-rational and fragmented) material with literary values, Roño in Bakit Kay Tagal may similarly be complimented, albeit for taking the entirely opposite tack – the more dangerous, if usual, one of observing rather than defying the material’s convolutions and disproportions. Normally this approach falls flat but works commercially anyway, since it allows the multitude of komiks readers to recognize in the film the story that they’ve been following in print. Successful local stylistic exercises – Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata, Mike de Leon’s Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, and some lesser works by Castillo – prove that local artists and subject matter could lend themselves to medium-based indulgence, but the lesson provided by Bakit Kay Tagal is that what lies behind these triumphs is actually the komiks spirit.

Bakit Kay Tagal may therefore be regarded as a long-overdue definitive adaptation of komiks material, in terms of the nature, rather than the literary potential, of the original form. A certain thematic strain runs through the film – the satisfying, if overworked, thesis of how class conflicts induce moral transformations in those who survive them; although the proletarian characters win over the rich ones, the movie invokes conservative caution by qualifying that the change in status also alters one’s social constitution – in short, the higher one climbs the class ladder, the more individualistic one becomes (or has to be). There is nothing unique about the sequence of events in this particular story, apart from what can be expected in an adequately structured tale; the actors themselves don’t add much to their roles, since their characters are developed according to contrasting though predictable extremities, either from rich and proud to humble and dead, or from poor and downtrodden to heritable and haughty, with a measure of redemptive repentance in the end. Such grandiosity of vision has been the standard recourse of komiks writers, who compensate it seems for the unwieldiness of their medium by cloaking their stories with all-encompassing draperies, which in turn are rendered flimsy precisely by their functional universality.

As mentioned earlier, in the hands of a less capable (read: typical) director, the inherent limitations of this type of material would have been readily discernible: mere filmmaking competence would focus the viewer’s attention on the more perceivable mechanism of the work instead of its bigger but essentially abstract statements. Bakit Kay Tagal manages to direct viewership concerns where it matters – to the larger though fundamentally trite abstractions, instead of the lapses and illogicalities. I cannot overemphasize the fact that the solution in this instance is really a stylistic one, since this should constitute a warning in itself. The fact that a Filipino filmmaker can finally surmount the deficiencies of her material through sheer skill may be good news in our context, but one only has to look across the Pacific, to Hollywood, to see how an early blessing could easily and naturally metamorphose into a latter-day curse.

In fact, if there’s anything Roño’s achievement in Bakit Kay Tagal imparts, it’s the realization that his approach is far more difficult than the traditional one; in practical terms it would be physically and financially easier to fashion and execute a well or even over-developed script than to figure out how to continually abstractify flawed material using limited technical resources. The key to Bakit Kay Tagal’s effectiveness lies not in how the project required terrific casting and brilliant technical back-up (with a concomitant budgetary complement), but in how the filmmaker provided the illusion of a seamless whole, using technique (matched transitions, expertly timed dissolves, purposeful camera movements) to promote an unusual sensibility.

In the end I guess it would be fair to state that it’s the substance of the style and not the style itself that salvages Bakit Kay Tagal from the unenviable fate of faithful komiks adaptations. The best elements of our most highly praised naturalist product, Oro, Plata, Mata, can also be found herein: an authentic sense of aristocracy, a predisposition toward perverse progressions, a subtle awareness of classic film traditions. Yet Oro, Plata, Mata, which is of more ambitious stuff than Bakit Kay Tagal, could not sustain its strong initial impact. Bakit Kay Tagal I feel will be able to get by primarily because of lesser expectations, but it ought to make us all hope for the day when a Roño project would have the ideal combination of major budget and sober material, to enable him to improve on what may already be good enough instead of merely making do with what can never be momentous to begin with.

[Submitted in 1991 to National Midweek; unpublished]

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5. Cool Film

Hot Summer
Directed by Mel Chionglo
Written by Ricardo Lee

Every film aspirant makes no bones about wanting to become a director – a finding borne out by casual exchanges between film schools as geographically and economically disparate as those of New York University and the University of the Philippines. The dream can be traced to as recently (relative to the history of film) as the 1950s, when a batch of French critics claimed to have theorized the primacy of the director’s role in filmmaking, then promptly proved their point by becoming brilliant directors themselves. The trouble with these critics-turned-directors’ experience is that their filmmaking career – which had so strong an impact that it became an international movement with a still-in catchword, New Wave – occupied them for the rest of their lives so far (the best-known of them, François Truffaut, is dead). If they allowed themselves or were provided the luxury of returning to criticism, they would definitely have made some major changes, if not turnabouts, in their initial theoretical posturing – unless, of course, they chose to ignore the evidence of their output.

Meanwhile their writings, which they called the politique des auteurs and which American importers upgraded in their translation as the auteur theory, proceeded to wield some influence in ivory-tower circles. Actually our example of film directorship now becoming a coveted position was a positive contribution during a time when cinema was not being taken seriously partly because it was regarded as a collective output: then-existent art and literary theories presumed that the singularity of artistic vision best resided in an individual maker. So if film had just one creator, then it could now count as one of the true arts, with its own potential for classicist significance.

Since auteurism originated in the First World, its harmful tendencies were negated largely by the financial and technological resources available in such parts: directors, in short, could compete with one another in an expensive medium precisely because their economic conditions could afford it. And since the Philippines used to be a developing country (during a time when the category still had to be articulated), our admiration for filmmaking brilliance has been conditioned to be equated with directorial flair. This is the reason why no still-to-be-established director could get away with self-effacement. On the other hand, the logic of well-developed material becomes clear and acceptable only in the case of established filmmakers. In the local Parthenon of auteurs, circa the last decade or so, we bow the knee to Bernal and Brocka and never question why their skills in film plastics do not compare with the best moments of their next-in-line, who are ordered according to stylistic scintillations.

There have been some casualties in this approach to evaluation, and I’d venture to single out two Filipino directors: Gil Portes, who’s peerless when it comes to matching material with independent industrial sources, and Mel Chionglo, who has opted to work within the mainstream. Both have quietly managed to accumulate sober, if not so flashy, bodies of work that I believe conform to the requisites of our current Third-World status. Between the two it is Chionglo who seems to be working consciously at mapping his work according to the demands of material without seeking to break away, for whatever possible reason, from it. One walks away from a Chionglo film with the memory of a good dramatic statement, rather than a series of cinematic highlights. The only time when he managed a distinctly directorial triumph was in Bomba Arienda (with the late Conrado Baltazar in charge of cinematography) – and, in retrospect, the result only confirmed where the director’s assets lay: Chionglo, thus, far, has been too much of a thinker to even consider laying primary stress on what every thinking person knows is after all only a movie’s secondary value, its surface.

It is material that grips the likes of Chionglo and Portes, just as Brocka and Bernal now get by on the basis of how well they temper their skills according to what they want or have to say. Hot Summer, Chionglo’s latest, demonstrates for us what advantages this kind of sensibility holds in store for us. No major expectations are raised and a lot of indulgence is begged for in the beginning, when the conventions of the genre are being painstakingly worked out. Give this material to the equivalent of a Hollywood brat and you’d have some adequate fireworks, or at the very least some fine old camp entertainment.

But then all a Hollywood practitioner ever really need do is build up on these superficies – I’d even go to the extreme of stating that once you decide on this course of action, then that’s the only option left. A Third-World “star” director is many times jeopardized in this respect. For not only would it be difficult to convince a local producer to part with more than the usual share of money for what amounts to artistic indulgence, the local audience could also be baffled by an approach that requires multi-media sophistication and familiarization with analytical tools in film appreciation (presumably more abundant in rich countries). Worst of all, a last-minute change of mind to abandon the previous strategy in favor of the age-old verities of classical unities and a sense of proper thematic development would result in an even more baffling, if not downright disappointing, outing, due to the incompatibility of the sensibilities invoked. In Hot Summer, no such dangers loom ahead. The worst I could observe is the over-reliance on subjective cut-ins, which generally don’t work beyond the level of novelty because of their function as flashbacks; in Paano Kung Wala Ka Na, a previous Chionglo melodrama, made for the same producer and with the same writer, the cut-ins constituted real innovations because of their intended simultaneity with the action at hand, with the viewer left to wonder as to their correspondence with objective reality yet satisfied with their emotional impact.

Nevertheless the device in Hot Summer has been wisely confined to the movie’s expository portion. Once the entire framework has been set up, the finishing touches admirably point up a sound internal logic at work, employing the same principle of sensible character-based development observed in Paano. There’s a feeling of heaviness, though, that could only be traced to the two films’ separate intentions: Paano’s harmonious resolution vis-à-vis Hot Summer’s tearjerker function. The movie itself labored under desperate (and in this sense ill-advised) repackaging coupled with post-earthquake jitters, although we could consider this a physical mainfestation of Mel Chionglo’s dilemma. We need to be assured that a director’s at work, but we cannot accommodate the notion that it takes intelligence, daring, and discipline to recognize and uphold the importance of filmic material, for a change.

[First published September 5, 1990, in National Midweek]

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6. Long Flight

Birds of Prey
Directed by Gil Portes
Written by Ricardo Lee, Clodualdo del Mundo Jr., Herky del Mundo, and Gil Portes

Class distinctions in Filipino film appreciation used to be so crucial that practitioners were forced to point them out and discuss them. Among the enduring terms was bakya, an originally derogatory reference to the mass audience allegedly incapable of appreciating worthier items – meaning a select number of local films and the entire corpus of foreign films.

Bourgeois bias notwithstanding, the awareness engendered by the classification led to the conscious assimilation of the latest in foreign technology and techniques by local practitioners. This awareness also finally brought about a long-overdue crossover of appreciation of both foreign and local products by moviegoers from both sides of the tracks. Today only those on the extremes – the hopelessly snooty or the pathetically parochial – would pass judgment on a film on the issue of its country of origin; more typical are easygoing movie fans who would just as readily patronize a local product as they would an import, depending upon non-originative factors like availability, entertainment value, word-of-mouth endorsement, etc.

Of course certain problems remain. “Imports” hereabouts denote Hollywood products, with a few Hong Kong items thrown in – hardly the ingredients necessary for a truly nourishing native cultural diet. Moreover, a dispiriting common denominator has emerged, where films for exhibition, regardless of country of origin, must fall within a range of high-to-manic entertainment value, strictly surface competence (such as glossy visuals and/or fast pacing), plus an absence of or even outright disdain for social issues. In effect, the local film scene has become an extension of Hollywood’s, with Hong Kong as the model toward which the system seems to be striving.

The cause lies in the strategy for survival of the industry vis-à-vis the threat of total foreign domination: develop and maintain a financial and demographic latitude of profitability, at all costs. The success of the attempt since the 1986 revolution (when it seemed that no Filipino wanted to enter a moviehouse ever again) can be seen in the smug stability of the production houses that kept the faith. (Curiously, most studio and distribution leaders are Chinese Filipinos, which serves to obliquely confirm the Hong Kong-as-model thesis.)

There are alternatives to outright commercialism, but it seems they are not as yet being taken. For example, no one seems ready to try regional film production once more, despite the economic upgrowth of the South. Likewise, alternative formats may still be too exotic for the populace, while independent productions tend to be resisted by the major studios, and therefore also by big-time theater owners and distributors. Productions meant for foreign festivals could make a profit beyond ego-satisfaction if these could be harnessed for distribution purposes, but there may not be enough local capability, not to mention determination, in pursuing this course of action: certainly an independent outfit, and much less a major one, would prefer the surety of local exhibition to the gamble of investing overseas.

Lately two products have taken the foreign-festival option one logical step beyond, by having themselves financed by foreigners. Lino Brocka’s Orapronobis has been the more conspicuous case, owing to its and its maker’s penchant for controversy and confrontation with local realities. The other title, Gil Portes’s Birds of Prey, finished before but screened locally after Orapronobis, is no less significant if only because of the surprise it springs on longtime observers of Philippine cinema. Birds of Prey serves to confirm what industry practitioners may have lost sight of due to the confidence brought about by the self-sufficiency of local production and exhibition – that the success of self-containment may be better expanded by spreading outward, across local boundaries, rather than by breaking box-office records. In business terms, the point of diminishing returns is considerably closer in the latter case. Moreover, foreign currency during these times would generally have the upper hand over our peso. Thus what a foreign financier may expect to produce on a shoestring budget may be transformed by a local practitioner, used to production constraints, into a highly accomplished result.

Birds of Prey exhibits a directorial expertise unrealized so far in any of its director’s earlier efforts. Its most serious weakness, a reliance on dialogue to convey a longitudinal thematic progression, is mitigated in great measure by a delivery of mute conviction by Gina Alajar, aided by a mostly highly skilled support ensemble. Beyond its already noteworthy intentions, it also manages to inject a whole lot of local color, as well as foreign locations understated in the usual Hollywood output, derived from the use of characters as strangers in the lands they choose to visit.

An even more exciting filmic potential is suggested by the movie, perched as it is between Portes’s past tentativeness in the medium and a potential for mainstream technical competence. Where the average accomplished director would have enhanced local-color footage in the spirit of “heightening” reality, Portes in Birds of Prey falls back on the discipline of documentary training. He does this by making careful selections of available locations (or shooting what’s available then selecting afterward), taking care to preserve the rawness of the material even if this leads to inadequacies vis-à-vis conventional criteria of plastic excellence.

The tension occasioned by still-evident documental skills on the one hand and a striving toward surface gloss on the other may have worked in favor of Birds of Prey. This would seem so at least in the narrow context of the movie’s Third World-vs.-US conflict. That the home country morally triumphs over (though it materially loses to) its neocolonizer proves that certain matters may be more urgent, if painful, than sheer physical comfort. And just as it may be time for all good folk to face the challenge of healing the nation from within instead of seeking to be cured elsewhere, good movie practitioners should similarly be prepared to embark anew on the search for more effective ways of extracting truth from the heretofore unexplored depths of Philippine reality, if necessary, in the opposite direction of Birds of Prey’s logical destiny – easily achievable and establishment-sanctioned expertise.

[First published April 4, 1990, in National Midweek]

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7. Indigenous Ingenuity

Andrea, Paano Ba ang Maging Isang Ina?
Directed by Gil M. Portes
Written by Ricardo Lee

I knew that I’d be involuntarily associated with the project, so I took the opportunity to formalize my participation. It all started when the members of the film-student organization I was advising, unabashedly Nora Aunor fans, could only talk about (and work on) the comeback project of the actress. Never had the heretofore insurmountable challenge of breaking into the local movie industry seemed so easy – due largely to the endorsement of my coadviser, Ricardo Lee, who was also the scriptwriter of the project. My only previous direct experience in a mainstream production was in a Vilma Santos-starrer, where I was, among other things, an atmosphere person. They had inserted some lines for a human-rights lawyer character in the Nora Aunor movie to demonstrate the desperation of the character in seeking help to recover her baby. The lawyer was supposed to be unable to do anything for her, so my role was to have been limited to a one-scene exchange; imagine, I told myself, only two full-length film exposures in my life thus far, and these with Vilma Santos and Nora Aunor….

The day after I did the role, the production folded up, reportedly because the original financier backed out. And with its director Gil M. Portes scheduled to leave for New York soon after, everyone was pessimistic about the film ever getting finished. I relate all this because I never really understood, until this project, how precarious serious filmmaking can be, especially in these times. With a record-setting eleven trophies from the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), plus a Gold Prize, Special Critics Prize, and Individual Achievement awards (Lee and Aunor) from the first batch of the Young Critics Circle winners, it is dangerously easy to assume that the movie, now known as Andrea, Paano Ba ang Maging Ina?, had been fated to be a winner from the start.

It is also just as dangerously difficult to dislike Andrea. The worst thing I can say, in all objectivity, about the film is that it may be existing way past its time. This is, in fact, its primary distinction: not since the boldest years of the Marcos era has there been an overtly anticommercial local production – independently (and indigently) sourced and featuring nonbankable perfomers in nonformulaic material. Rarer still is the circumstance of such an effort reaping such rewards, and I mainly mean the post-Metro filmfest box-office restitution rather than the various prestigious distinctions that invariably followed. The MMFF contribution to Andrea’s fortune may be more than incidental in this regard. For all its past oversights – and these were many and cruel, directed even at some of Andrea’s makers – the MMFF has also honored, exclusively even, some of the better outputs of the local film industry: Celso Ad. Castillo’s direction of Burlesk Queen and Vilma Santos’s performance therein (both the director’s and actress’s best ever), Nora Aunor’s performance in Himala (her best and that of Philippine cinema as well), and Ricardo Lee’s screenplay of Moral (still another all-time best entry).

The value of the MMFF results, which no other award-giving institution possesses, lies in their capability to improve the financial performance of any film on which they bestow recognition. This adds a unique combination of sum and substance to the event’s moral obligation to render credible and well-considered judgments at all times. Conversely, no amount of postfestival revaluation had been able to recuperate whatever results were consequentially incurred by its negligence of such entries as Lino Brocka’s Bona (starring Nora Aunor), Bukas … May Pangarap (with the same director-writer team as Andrea’s), and Chito Roño’s Itanong Mo sa Buwan. As for Andrea, the measure by which the film has succeeded may at least partly be at the MMFF’s expense: not only had some of its personnel previously suffered the lapses in judgment of the jurors of the festival, the director and writer themselves have on record an entry, Birds of Prey, that was disallowed participation some years back on the basis of the ridiculous and inconsistent technicality of its having been financed by foreign sources. Meanwhile, what we have on hand is a product that happens to serve as the juncture of three auteurs – director, writer, and lead performer – at felicitous turning points in their respective careers.

Portes is the Andrea talent whose reputation advances with the film, from project originator to metteur en scène. Actually, though Andrea may be his best, it is not his coming-out film: that distinction belongs to his previous Nora Aunor-starrer, ’Merika, the project that immediately preceded Bukas … May Pangarap. (Andrea, Bukas, and Birds of Prey also feature Gina Alajar, who starred in the latter two as well as in another underrated Portes-Lee collaboration, Gabi Kung Sumikat ang Araw [1981]). The misfortune of Gil Portes is that his flair for uncovering independent production sources has attracted more attention than his growth as a filmmaker. No other Filipino, not even Celso Ad. Castillo, has been able to sustain a directorial career for years on the basis of a few modest hits, and more recently, despite a string of financial flops. Not surprisingly, the major production houses, having drifted toward increased commercialization since the February 1986 Revolution, have closed their doors to the likes of Portes. Other serious filmmakers, notably Brocka (and Lee, to a certain extent), have managed to maintain mainstream status only by accepting the givens and working within them.

The filmmakers marginalized by this shift in the system of local production have practically inhibited themselves – except for Portes. At one point, both he and Brocka sought foreign funding for their respective pet projects, and both similarly found themselves up against the Aquino administration’s deviously self-effacing censorship tactics. Birds of Prey and Orapronobis may yet find their way onto local screens, but meanwhile both Portes and Brocka again made a show of how film artistry could be made to fit opposing modes of production: where Brocka’s Gumapang Ka sa Lusak is 1990’s outstanding mainstream film, Andrea is the same year’s outstanding independent entry.

Significantly, both films were scripted by Lee, and may therefore provide, if only in a literal sense, a common basis for evaluation. Gumapang Ka marks a high point in the appropriation by serious artists of commercial elements in putting across what may be considered a non-commercial theme – that of the depravity of traditional politics. In forced contrast, Andrea proves that a non-commercial approach to commercial (at least in the latent sense) material is feasible. In fact, the more optimistic could argue that at no other point in our recent history would non- or maybe even anti-commercial products prosper that at present, given the mainstream saturation effected by the predominance of monolithic studios since Februrary 1986.

In the case of Lee, the twofold scriptwriting triumph of 1990 (not counting a number of more conventional works, including Brocka’s Hahamakin Lahat [1990]) can be creatively attributed to his return to more literary pursuits, especially journalism and fiction. The scene where Andrea has to hold back her emotions during her husband’s wake, as well as the heroine’s death-by-assassination in both films, all recall similar portions in the scripwriter’s latest, essentially unclassifiable work, the metafictional “Kabilang sa mga Nawawala.” Necessarily, the overall impact of “Kabilang,” where the author had total personal control, is greater, though it still has to be played out more thoroughly since its medium’s potential for popular response is disadvantaged compared to film.

But what Andrea (more than Gumapang Ka) supplies is in effect a preparation for the unqualified treat of works like “Kabilang.” The film constitutes a throwback to a point – perhaps our filmic past, as well as a beyond-Hollywood expansion of appreciation – where cinema defines itself more in terms of dramatic and thematic richness than in the accumulation of plastic-perfect points. Most buffs and historians (the distinction tends to blur in the case of film) would identify this ideal as neorealist, although Andrea, truer to its time and place, evinces a sophistication, not to mention a performance, far removed from the extremes allowed by the 1940s Italian movement.

What will probably outrage partisan viewers of opposing persuasions in another political clime is the same thing that has managed to impress those in today’s: Andrea, though it deals with the plight of a specific stripe of political animal, actually winds up repudiating not the political line, but the notion of politics itself, in order to facilitate a dramatic (as opposed to a purely intellectual) catharsis. Again this resembles the resolution in “Kabilang,” where the child, this time as central character, is orphaned as much by social intransigence as by his mother’s insistence on countering this force. Andrea, centering as it does on the title-character mother, provides the temperance factor in the person of the lead’s best friend. The ploy is slyly though transparently manifested in the standing agreement between the friends to override their ideological differences for the sake of friendship. Andrea’s subsequent martyrdom is all the more ennobled by her submission to solomonic wisdom: at considerable personal anguish, she decides to leave her son to her friend, for the brighter future the latter offers (in contrast to the bleakness of her own), and because the child has revived the friend’s married life.

The movie’s tearjerker outcome is thus provided a crucial dimension of ambiguity: Andrea may have suffered in the hands of a mean-spirited society, but her son will not. Her death provides not only a well-deserved spiritual release for herself, but the necessary means for her son (and his adoptive parents) to start anew. Andrea may therefore be taken as a plea to reconsider a return to unorthodox modes and material in filmmaking. Using this sort of approach has seemed reckless in the past, but it in fact appears now to have been so simply because serious filmmakers seemed intent on alienating the mass audience at all costs. Andrea stands as evidence that given the proper kind of creative and industrial strategizing, local viewers are now ready to be won over to attempts at uncompromised artistry.

On a symbolic plane this argument can be extended to Andrea actress Nora Aunor. I do not refer alone to the fact that, if there ever were an auteuristic performer, Aunor is our one and only. Andrea may yet represent the renascence of the actress, after a series of popular rejections (starting at EDSA) traceable to her ill-advised participation in the Marcos-Tolentino presidential campaign. Aunor has died spectacularly before on film – in Himala, a previous association with Lee. The movie, in retrospect, eerily presages her fall from grace owing to the mortal combination of her awareness of her populist origins and her rebellion against any expectation attendant to this.

Andrea is Nora Aunor’s long-overdue phoenix-like reemergence and successfully contravenes her ugly-duckling ex-superstar has-been status. No way can she hope for a return to the glory days of her teen-idol years; that much was already evident as early as Himala, where she boxed herself, by the sheer magnitude of her histrionic genius, into a category all her own. Andrea proves that she did not waste the intervening years, traumatic though they may have been for her; if anything, it was the years that wasted her – but only, and strictly, on a physical level. In fact the performer in Andrea can be regarded in many ways as superior to the still-too-pretty and sexually tentative creature embodying Himala’s Elsa. Her via dolorosa segment in the earlier film was a triumph of technique, amorphous at best, whereas in Andrea, which consists of one long journey to a final heartbreak, the pain can be visualized as a line traveling straight from her heart to the viewer’s.

Just how precisely accomplished is Nora Aunor as an actress?[1] In the past I would have answered this by sizing up her Himala performance against that of any perceived competitor’s, but this has proved to be too obvious with time. Meanwhile I had been given in Andrea what amounted to a monolog in Filipino, which I had to memorize in a few minutes. Since my memory and my command of the language are both my gravest performative disadvantages, I inquired about the setup required and learned that that scene would consist of one long take, with close-ups for the final one-sentence exchanges. A bottle of beer, one camera rehearsal, and scores of memory aids later, I still could not get beyond the first sentence without directorial prompting. But during the take I connected for the first time with those eyes, and the lines all came to me naturally and clearly, requiring no retakes whatsoever. I marveled at this phenomenon; I was entirely aware of, apprehensive about, and alert to the warning of how strong co-actors tend to upstage weak ones. I was also conscious of the possibility that the opposite could hypothetically exist. But I never expected to so casually come across a performer whose very strength could bolster, rather than demolish, everyone else’s. That’s a tale which, like Andrea, I would not mind turning into a legend.

[Submitted in 1991 to National Midweek; unpublished]

Note

[1] Surprisingly, my attempt to answer this question led to verbal denunciations in the national university, including from my own colleagues (who should have known better, but then the place has never moved much past its status as a bastion of self-proclaimed progressive orthodoxy). The incongruity between advocating for Marxist praxis yet feeling disgusted about practitioners who refuse to cling to the immaculacy of criticism by immersing in the activities of their objects of criticism – whether artists or audiences – accounts in large measure for the persistently sorry state of critical practice in the country.

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8. No End in Sight

Kung Tapos Na ang Kailanman
Directed by Lino Brocka
Written by Gina Marissa Tagasa

It must be the wish of every well-meaning observer of local cinema to have even the most commercial genres dominated by sensible talents. The perceptual problem, however, is that the acquisition of expertise in generic moviemaking comes only over time with the accumulation of experience, regardless of the filmmaker’s orientation. Moreover, the convenience of distinguishing expressly commercial from obviously noncommercial (or what everyone loves to call “artistic”) works oversimplifies the job of evaluating the output of an individual practitioner. By now, all but the most conservative (in pure-film terms, that is) admirers of Lino Brocka realize that the marriage between our most active serious director and the most commercially successful genre of the moment has been consummated with a series of post-revolutionary (1986) projects, and only the truly cynical would grumble that the reception, in the form of one box-office celebration after another, has been too lavish for these times.

The courtship was actually a step toward symbolic reconciliation: Brocka’s original break with his mother studio, Lea Productions, had been facilitated by a series of hit melodramas, with a few flirtations with “bold” (meaning sexually explicit, then called bomba), action, and musical suboptions. The breakup (with both studio and genre) was cemented through a breakaway, a series of box-office risks that at the time constituted his calling card to international recognition. His return to commercialism logically reflected an alienation from the mainstream, so for a long time Brocka was, in more ways than one, neither here nor there – too ascetic in his foreign-festival titles and too desperate in his masses-only outings to be able to relate to those observers and practitioners who happened to be Filipino.

Brocka proved more successful with film noir, a style whose limitations were immediately suggested by his first attempt, Jaguar. Whatever else the movie contributed to local action cinema – the use of shadows and slum settings, greater attention to the characterization of villains, the persona of Phillip Salvador – Filipino moviegoers refused to see it. Despite, or maybe even because of, its resort to social issues, the genre itself was too difficult to work over: action stars eventually get set in highly specific manners, lines of narrative are required to observe limited modulations of development, and character relationships always have to maintain strict dialectical symmetry.

After a series of mild hits and resounding misses, Brocka hit his stride with Maging Akin Ka Lamang (1987). Since then, his instinct for melodrama has been practically infallible. To be sure, his innovative urges were kept to a minimum, but some attempts were perceptible to those who cared to figure them out: improvisatory line feeding in Natutulog Pa ang Diyos (1988), control of hysterics in Kailan Mahuhugasan ang Kasalanan? (1989), and inversion of Sharon Cuneta’s sugar-and-spice image in Babangon Ako’t Dudurugin Kita (1989).

Relative to the aforementioned, Brocka has taken his greatest risks with Kung Tapos Na ang Kailanman (1990). I managed to count two minor ones, the integration of musical numbers into the plotline and the provocation of the somewhat taboo premise of an Electra-complex rivalry for the same man (reminiscent of Insiang) – and one significant gamble tantamount to a long-overdue transgression of the rules of local practice. The predominance of komiks over filmic material had something to do with the exhaustiveness of adaptations and takeoffs, notably in Filipino melodramas. Since picture stories had all the advantages of having the last, and even later than the last, development because of their multi-installment nature, contemporary popular storytelling has assumed never-ending forms of anticlimactic stages, introduction of new dramatis personae and complications, and diversifications into all types of genres.

These are not necessarily liabilities in themselves, and the collective efforts of competent local film practitioners since 1986 seemed to have lain in the direction of maximizing the givens rather than branching out from or violating them. Kung Tapos Na marks the first clear and effective (in box-office returns) departure from the norm of completing the storytelling process by pursuing every suggested lead and tying up all plot points to make one self-sufficient package. The advantages immediately suggest themselves, although one wonders why no one seemed to have figured out at least the financial implications early enough. It took a series of profitable sequels in recent action and comedy films before a melodrama project summoned enough guts to deliberately dangle certain story elements in order to allow for a whole new range of possibilities in a whole new possible hit project.

One important moral here is to reformulate aesthetic advantages in commercial terms. At this point in komiks-controlled cultural history, no one can ever hope to convince any local producer of the narratory merits of precipitate endings, even in order to extend the visual language skills of the Filipino moviegoer; the trick, if it ever should amount to one, would be to propose the literally rich potentials of such an innovation, and then take a step at a time, as was the case with Kung Tapos Na. Given the benefit of hindsight, it seems only Brocka could have pulled off the sleight-of-hand required to end the presentation before schedule yet give the impression of having provided the complete range of emotional progressions that overdeveloped stories normally induce. I venture to say that his skill in related fields was indispensable in this instance. The climax of Kung Tapos Na actually consists of a confrontation among those at the corners of the central love triangle distanced by the intervening media of television (which prevents the married couple from physically interacting with the performer) and stage (which allows the performer to attain a form of culmination along with his special viewers).

The tension of wanting to communicate yet not being able to, where even the husband’s mortal illness debilitates him to the point of near-muteness, ensures the effectiveness of the forthcoming emotional wallop, presented as it is in the form of understanding glances and music and thus lending an enigmatic silence preferable to the usual verbalizing these types of films utilize. I can imagine the mass audience eagerly awaiting a Kung Tapos Na II where what was left unspoken at the close of the original could be finally articulated in the sequel’s expository portion. Meanwhile Brocka, Filipino director par excellence, has become to melodrama what Ishmael Bernal became to comedy some time ago and Peque Gallaga (with Lore Reyes) to horror-fantasy recently. Such matches, full of light and spark, could just as well have been made in tinsel heaven.

[Submitted in 1991 to National Midweek; unpublished]

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9. Head Held High

Gumapang Ka sa Lusak
Directed by Lino Brocka
Written by Ricardo Lee

When Lino Brocka walked out on the 1986 Constitutional Commission it seemed like an act of futility, a typical if outsized artist’s tantrum. Predictably, the Concom carried on, drafting a document that met with popular approval, thereby paving the way for the return of authentically elected officials to power. What we mostly failed to realize was that Brocka intended to continue conducting his side of the political debate in the venue where his expertise lay – the mass medium of film – and more menacingly, that his decision to do so would be accompanied by a quantum leap in his creative faculties. Both developments have been long overdue. Political discourse in local cinema since the 1986 revolution tended to falter by the tradition of anti-Marcos dissent, which tended to be either too frontal for comfort (especially the artist’s) or too subtle to be appreciated in relation to the work’s over-all merits. Brocka himself took a leading role in this kind of perilous undertaking, but the business of surviving in an extensively controlled local industrial system as well as developing an international audience must have distracted him from paying full attention to the nature and potentials of his medium.

Of course he was not alone; he merely led in his specific field, and I maintain that the fact that many were able to follow proves that the Marcos government, for all its hard-nose ways, had a soft spot for film. Philippine cinema thereby assumed a schizoid character, awfully harmless in its commercialist aspects and awesomely threatening in its serious phases. The gravest possible consequence then was the displeasure of government authorities. But when these cultural boneheads were ousted by people power (only to be replaced by a similar set), the long-term effects of this split-level one-on-the-other approach became clear: the film artists could not relate with their audience, who in turn quickly learned to reject all old-time attempts at serious film presentations.

Hence the much-lamented dry spell in serious (normally associated with politicized) filmmaking. Even the real film artists took on a good measure of critical scolding for openly indulging in generic movie-making, at best turning out items that could be considered good only if one accepts the premises of mainstream local cinema. In Brocka’s case, this meant a string of extremely successful melodramas that could never quite break away from the imperatives of mass entertainment, save perhaps for the first, Maging Akin Ka Lamang. And even then….

Well since then Brocka came up with the still-to-be-released Orapronobis, and has followed up with his latest hit, Gumapang Ka sa Lusak, and in the purest filmic terms both titles are indistinguishable from his post-revolution crowd-pleasers. In both cases he also drew from his Marcos-era specialization in film noir, but basically he has hewn close to the plot twists and character entanglements that commercially rehabilitated him. In so doing, he advanced a proposition audacious even for himself: Philippine politics, per Brocka’s latest, is more than just a matter of intrigues and chases and shoot-outs; it is actually one big noisy and unending melodrama. Everyone gets to participate; unlike in Brocka’s gangster films, the political figures are this time identifiable and given active roles to play. The gods have now been invested with feet of clay, very wet ones at that.

It is an indication of the gap between our officials and the masses they claim to represent when no one among the former thus far has raised a peep about the wholesale (and well-deserved) defamation being visited upon them by our movie-makers. All of a sudden, politicians have become commercially viable – as villains. The two Brocka films are merely among the better-intentioned ones so far, and something must also urgently be said about the way the mass audience laps it all up. For too long, and especially since 1986, the Filipino movie-goer has been the object of scorn among the intelligentsia, who find no difficulty tracing the sorry state of local cinema to its market. No matter that the producers happen to agree; even the highest Marcos cultural official, Madame Iron Butterfly, prescribed the production of wholesome love stories among the true, the good, and the beautiful (though pretty would do), following the collapse of the martial-law era’s “developmentalist” requisites. In short, everyone agreed (many still do) that the movie-going masses are too bull-headed to take even themselves seriously. No bitter pill will they swallow, unless candy-coated and brightly colored; in which case why risk the danger of contaminating their brazen delights with the acridity of nourishment? Actually the evidence of past artistic works occasionally making money belies this notion, just as the people can take disapprobation if they have to: after all, who elected those officials in the first place?

Brocka’s Gumapang Ka sa Lusak, which has completed the filmmaking process from inspiration to exhibition, evinces a careful working out of viewership psychology, particularly when placed in the context of its director’s body of work. Inside information alleges that the project was originally intended as a sequel to Jaguar, which was written by Gumapang Ka’s Ricardo Lee and Orapronobis’s Jose F. Lacaba. Jaguar was a Brocka landmark in the strict sense that it was scripted by his most productive collaborators and first enabled the country to be represented in the Cannes Film Festival competition; in another equally significant area, the box-office, it flopped. The Jaguar re-viewer though will readily realize that Gumapang Ka is more than just a decade removed from its predecessor. As already mentioned, it’s not as straight-faced as one would be led to expect, given the scary social premises of Jaguar. Gumapang Ka is as grave as Brocka has been known to be, make no mistake; yet its lead character, who this time is female, and who dies along with the (re-named) Jaguar character, gives out what may arguably be the most blissful smile ever seen in local cinema, right before she expires.

A happy ending? In a serious film? By Lino Brocka?! And there’s more: you can even play the game of name-that-historical personage. I went as far as recognizing Dovey Beams and Rolando Galman and Carlito Dimailig (Imelda Marcos’s bolo-wielding assailant, here transmuted into an elderly woman), plus the female lead’s assumption of the former First Lady’s amnesiac attitude toward her childhood destitution, and still had enough room in my head to allow for a catch in my throat when her moralist admonition was replayed over the last shot of the “next” Jaguar – her naïve and sentimental and, yes, comic-Platonic lover. The most obvious explanation is that with Orapronobis, Brocka remembered to grow in his medium; with Gumapang Ka, he remembered to relax. Not since Jaguar has there been a dramatically involving villain in a Brocka film, and in Gumapang Ka there are even three of them: the Marcos couple and Fabian Ver equivalents. And where in the past his stories could not allow for loose ends, or otherwise resulted in an embarrassment of loose ends, here the frills – the in-jokes, the performance numbers, the open ending – are part of an expertly constructed design.

The means by which such frivolity in the midst of social grimness could be facilitated harkens back to Brocka’s disillusionment with politics. He returned to showbiz, of course, and in Gumapang Ka he set one against the other. The politicians dominate the opening gambit (like they always do in real life), with the mayor plucking his mistress from a checkered career in sex films and the couple recruiting their main henchman from a stable of stuntmen. But by living out her fantasy of justice, the mistress attains a moral triumph that makes her payment with her life, not to mention that of many others, seemingly worth the price. In this manner does Gumapang Ka attain its unique brand of salvation. As opposed to Jaguar it doesn’t run away from fantasy, but instead utilizes non-credible elements to build an expansive yet sturdy framework that allows for a whole lot of valid connections with historical reality. The fact that this approach happens to sit well with local audiences indicates some drastic re-thinking for media practitioners in the immediate future.

As if that weren’t bonus enough, Gumapang Ka also proffers generally high-caliber performances. Dina Bonnevie stakes a privileged position in an already impressive roster of local female lead performances, with hers ranking the highest in sensuality; never had she been so effective before. Her antagonists provide the flint by which she lights her fire: in a reversal of the real-life conjugal dictatorship, Eddie Garcia exhibits the charm and Charo Santos-Concio the intelligence. Come to think of it, the Gumapang Ka production outfit was once suspected of executing Imelda Marcos’s conceits for Philippine cinema, using funds whose release were made possible by her all-encompassing influence. How ironic that in violating her vision and almost her person, the producers have managed to come up with their best picture so far.

[First published June 20, 1990, in National Midweek]

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Fields of Vision

Fields of Vision
Fields of Vision: Critical Applications in Recent Philippine Cinema came out in 1995, when I had just finished my master’s and started doctoral work at New York University. I’d dropped by Ateneo de Manila University Press right after The National Pastime came out in 1990, to see if they might want to sell copies in their book shop, and instead got something better: an assurance that they would publish my next volume. I compiled the pieces I took out from the original manuscript submission to The National Pastime, then I realized that there were too many reviews of foreign films and that the new volume required something else to distinguish itself from its predecessor. So I axed the non-Pinoy film reviews and requested a deadline extension, and for the next couple of years I undertook a series of non-standard approaches in my capacity as National Midweek’s “resident film critic” – multi-film commentaries, a canonical survey, an awards exercise, a scenes listing, meta-analyses, and so on; I was hoping to do at least one semiotic reading of any scene or scenes in any then-current release, but I couldn’t find anything I could focus on.

I left for the US for my Fulbright-funded graduate studies as soon as I submitted the new manuscript in late 1992. I requested (and got) a detrital cover design, something in the spirit of the B’s, with my then-roommate Roger Hallas providing a cover photo of an “indeterminate” scene (actually the Jardin du Luxembourg) and an author’s pic taken at the Museum of Modern Art. Coordinating by snail-mail from the other side of the planet, however, had its drawbacks: the section intros I wrote got compiled as the book intro, since the introductory essay I drafted never arrived; these are restored in the appropriate sections below, as is the aforementioned intro. The book was the first (and sole) nominee, and subsequent winner, in the film criticism category of the Manila Critics Circle’s National Book Awards. It was cited in some of the “final” pre-digital film-studies texts, including The Oxford Guide to Film Studies (ed. John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) and Robert Stam’s Film Theory: An Introduction (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2000). [Book cover design: Fidel Rillo; cover & author’s pics: Roger Hallas; press director: Esther M. Pacheco; dedicatees: Prescy & Maria Prescy, Demetrio, & Jose’s Aristides, Gamaliel, Leonides, & Aaron. For larger image, please click on picture above.]

The National Library of the Philippines CIP Data

David, Joel.
Fields of vision : critical applications in recent Philippine cinema / Joel David. — Digital Edition. — Quezon City : Amauteurish Publishing, [2014], c2014.

Electronic resources
ISBN 978-621-96191-4-1 – Digital Edition
Original printed copy published in 1995 by Ateneo de Manila Univ. Press

1. Motion picture — Philippines. 2. Motion picture – Philippines History and criticism. I. Title.

Contents of the E-book Edition
© 2014 by Ámauteurish Publishing
All Rights Reserved
[For a PDF scan of the book edition’s preliminaries, click here.]

Introduction (as originally drafted) & Section Intros

Part 1: Panorama

The “New” Cinema in Retrospect

Part 2: Viewpoints

A. Creations

Three Careers
Umiyak Pati Langit (1991)
Bago Matapos ang Lahat (1991)
Ganito Ba ang Umibig (1991)
Directors-Editors
Kaaway ng Batas (1990)
Angel Molave (1990)
Maryo J. and Mr. de los Reyes
My Other Woman (1990)
Underage Too (1991)
Persistence of Vision
Bakit Kay Tagal ng Sandali? (1990)
Cool Film
Hot Summer (1989)
Long Flight
Birds of Prey (1988)
Indigenous Ingenuity
Andrea, Paano Ba ang Maging Isang Ina? (1990)
No End in Sight
Kung Tapos na ang Kailanman (1990)
Head Held High
Gumapang Ka sa Lusak (1990)

B. Speculations

Family Affairs

Pido Dida (Sabay Tayo) (1990)
Sequacious and Second-Rate
Pido Dida 2 (Kasal Na) (1991)
Anak ni Baby Ama (1990)
Woman-Worthy
Kasalanan Ba’ng Sambahin Ka? (1990)
Hahamakin Lahat (1990)
Demachofication
Kristobal (1990)
Men and Myths
Bala at Rosaryo (1990)
Ma(so?)chismo
Barumbado (1990)
Kasalanan ang Buhayin Ka (1990)
I.O.U.
Kahit Singko Hindi Ko Babayaran ang Buhay Mo (1990)
Mudslung
Ibabaon Kita sa Lupa (1990)
Ayaw Matulog ng Gabi (1990)
Movable Fists
Walang Awa Kung Pumatay (1990)
Iisa-Isahin Ko Kayo (1990)
Apoy sa Lupang Hinirang (1990)
Class Clamorers
Too Young (1990)
Shake, Rattle & Roll II (1990)
Biktima (1990)
Ama, Bakit Mo Ako Pinabayaan? (1990)
Sedulously Cebuano
Eh…Kasi…Bisaya! (1990)

C. Positions

ASEAN Affair
Carnival Cinema
Cinevision 2000 (1989)
Classroom, as Theater
Film Critics Speak
Shooting Crap
Fleshmongering
Firmament Occupation
Blues Hit Parade

Part 3: Perspectives

Worth the While
Ten Best Filipino Films Up to 1990
One-Shot Awards Ceremony

Afterpiece: The Last of Lino

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Fields of Vision – The “New” Cinema in Retrospect

I had intended this article to be properly pre-anthologized – that is, published in an appropriate venue before its inclusion in Fields of Vision. Unfortunately, the only publication ready and willing to consider it could not maintain its letterpress printing contract due to lack of funds. Since my book manuscript submission deadline was drawing near, it became the first in a long line of scholarly essays I’d written that skipped the journal peer-review process (notably everything in my next book, Wages of Cinema) – although the university press did provide a set of review comments for me to go over. This explains the presence of too-hasty assertions that should have awaited proficient finessing, as well as an embarrassing over-reliance on introductory texts and foreign-film samples. Nevertheless the basic thesis – that martial law-era Philippine film practice observed the mainstream Hollywood-vs.-European “art cinema” dichotomy – provides a panoramic view of local film triumphs from the perspective of its practitioners, who went about their activities, for better or worse, with this consciousness in mind. The essay appeared in the Filipino film critics circle’s 1990s collection but it strangely failed to print the dedication that I maintained as my only condition for its inclusion. To jump to later sections, please click here for:

Genesis;
French New Wave;
Outward Ripples;
Sample Influences (neorealism, cinema verité, film noir);
Sample Influences (ethnographic sources, folk & popular sources, nostalgia);
Sample Influences (surrealism & Expressionism, metaphysics & occultism, pure film);
Sample Influences (reflexivity, film opera, radical politics);
Sample Influences (sexual libertarianism, feminism, multiple-character format);
Looking Further; and
Note & Works Cited.

For Ellen J. Paglinauan

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

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

Lumbera further states in the same article,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Genesis

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

Since Hollywood aimed for industrial stability and ideological purity during the early half of the century, when film was largely “slow” in responding to light, it became necessary to increase the amount of light being used for cinematographic purposes to compensate for the medium’s tendency to reduce natural or available light during record­ing and projection. The resultant image was unreal, which gave rise to another problem: if the shifts from one image to another allowed the audience to become aware of the artificiality brought about by the (eventually standardized) excessive lighting, their mesmerization – and, consequently, their appreciation – of the film would be affected.

The final step in perfecting classical aesthetics lay then in directing the shots and joining one to another in a manner that observed screen continuity. This illusion, this unreality that was being promoted as a new, filmic reality had to be maintained through steady shots and movements that flowed into one another with a minimum of visual distraction and a maximum of natural appearances (Bordwell et al. 194-213). One extreme of genteelism employed by Hollywood practitioners had the camera cutting from one speaker to another without crossing the axis of conversation between the two, observing the Western ethical dictum of respecting the space between gentlefolk engaged in face-to-face conversation.

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

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

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French New Wave

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

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

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

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

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Outward Ripples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sample Influences

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

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

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

Similarly, the “new” Philippine cinema had an auspicious realist beginning when one of its major practitioners, Ishmael Bernal, wrote and directed his debut film, Pagdating sa Dulo (1971), in a manner reminiscent of his mentor, Avellana.[1] A peak was realized in Celso Ad. Castillo’s Burlesk Queen (1977), which was more Italian in its stridency and theatrical sensibility than any other Filipino neorealist sample before or since. The preference of the local audience for Hollywood gloss prevailed, however, and much of what may have been passed off as neorealist-inspired works, usually dealing with stories of lowlifes such as gangsters and prostitutes, may actually be regarded as crudely made exploitation products which sought legitimacy via their purveyance of sociopolitical awareness.

2. Cinema verité. Some confusion has been encountered in the local adaptation of foreign documentary trends such as direct cinema and cinema verité: In their original senses, direct cinema seems to have implied direct access to life, while cinema verité allowed or encouraged the intervention of the filmmaker as part of the ‘truth’ being presented. In practice the two terms became rapidly confused with each other” (King 216).

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

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

Local realists, particularly Castillo and Lino Brocka, have been able to indulge in a predilection for cinema verité by incorporating documentary footage in some of their projects. In Pagputi ng Uwak, Pag-itim ng Tagak (1978), Castillo uses shots of rural Holy Week rituals to underscore the passion and suffering of his star-crossed lead charac­ters, a rebel leader and his lover, a plantation heiress. But where Castillo needed to polish his real-life footage in order to match the rest of his well-lit shots, Brocka has remained faithful to the cinema verité dictum of minimizing technical manipulation. In Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975), urban squalor is amplified by initially being shot in black and white. This is segregated from the rest of the film to serve as its credit sequence, but the first fictional character is planted in the last black-and-white shot, which turns into color as the narrative begins.

This marriage of nonfiction and fiction encounters more difficulty in scenes in Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim (1985) where the main characters appear in the midst of an actual anti-Marcos rally (cf. the staged version toward the climax of Maynila): the difference between the expert professionalism of the actors and the self-consciousness of the rallyists tends to distract from an otherwise well-intended presentation. In Sister Stella L. (1984), done by Brocka’s fellow film activist (and Maynila cinematographer) Mike de Leon, rally footage is appended as a form of coda. This serves to heighten an increasingly realistic presentation, with the dramatis personae directly addressing the camera toward the end. Brocka’s last completed film, Sa Kabila ng Lahat (1991), contains a relatively seamless integration of documentary and fictional footage, facilitated by the reflexive device of setting its characters in the profession of media documentarists.

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

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

Aside from crossing continents, the gangster film also underwent a semantic shift in becoming film noir, from a generic to a stylistic designation. As specified by Paul Schrader, one of its theorist-practitioners, film noir in effect could deal with subject matter beyond gangsterism, so long as it maintained the genre’s stylistic properties of utilizing darkness and shadows to evoke an impression of contemporary social alienation and personal peril (“Notes on Film Noir” 169-82). Essential to this definition is the climatic properties of the temperate countries where film noir flourished – the misty atmosphere and grimy surfaces caused by smog and cold weather that tended to acquire bright­ness and sharper detail in tropical settings.

Hence Philippine samples of film noir, if faithful to the original models, may have appeared too foreign for local audiences to identify with, as evidenced in the poor showing at the box office of Brocka’s Jaguar (1979) and Angela Markado (1980) (Conrado Baltazar, cinematographer) and Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Alyas Baby Tsina (1984) (Manolo Abaya, cinematographer). Brocka, who pioneered in the introduction of film noir aesthetics in the country, later settled for a less authentic (relative to the foreign example) version, retaining the shadows but dispensing with the haze, in what has now become the industry norm for gangster films. In a sense, this merely recalls the earlier black-and-white Filipino gangster films, with the historical continuum disrupted by the transition to color (and the revision in aesthetics this entailed) and complicated by the decline in quality consciousness already mentioned.

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

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

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

By the time the New Wave rolled in, opinion was once more swinging to the other, more humanistic end, reinforced significantly by Bazin’s orientation. This swing complemented the internationalist projection of the New Wave, with most of the founding practitioners subsequently adapting on occasion the works of non-French (English, American, German) authors, and with Godard directly synthesizing global issues in his so-called Dziga-Vertov, or intensely political and anti-Hollywood, period. Other French and European filmmakers went further in taking as subject matter the upheaval in the colonies of their respective countries, especially in Africa and Latin America (see Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers and the Caribbean-set Burn!).

In other cases they had no choice, as when dictatorial regimes in East, Southeast, and Southwest Europe overtook democratic spells of creative film production. As in the flight from Nazism of some of the more outstanding German film Expressionists, many of these practitioners sought refuge in Hollywood, but others produced their projects in whatever country obliged them at the moment, or organized coproductions involving as many as five financiers of various nationalities. Finally, international recognition bestowed on non-European films, starting with those from Asian countries like Japan, India, and the Philippines, added to the legitimization of non-Western topics for film discourse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Metaphysics and occultism. The fascination with the exotic, cou­pled with the profitability of spiritual treatments, has resulted in a dialectical quandary. Since Christianity had been appropriated by Western political enterprise, how can progressive artists satisfy the supposedly innate quest for visionary enlightenment? Thus spiritual impulses in the films of the founders of the New Wave were expressed in metaphysical terms, largely through the pursuit of ambiguities and the deployment of a style that after the movement’s spread was eventually labeled “transcendental.” Other followers, especially those in Hollywood, were in turn compelled to seek possible answers in other systems of belief, whether supernatural or pseudoscientific. The upshot was a spate of extremely commercially viable American science-fiction products, including the output used by the so-called Hollywood Brats to wield some clout in the industry – Lucas’s Star Wars trilogy and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET the Extra-Terrestrial.

It would take a considerable economic miracle before such feats could be duplicated here, but meanwhile a pre-Star Wars Hollywood top grosser, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, strongly suggested that deviations from regulated religious expressions could result in greater financial profitability. Hence, while the approximation of a transcendental style – more in the sense of “[eschewing] conventional interpretations of reality” than “[maximizing] the mystery of existence” (Schrader, Transcendental Style in Film 10) – had been pursued for a time by Ishmael Bernal, occultism found its way in the local horror genre, which had previously been Judeo-Christian or lower-mythological (or a combination of both) in nature.

Curiously, after Castillo confirmed the feasibility of new approaches to the horror genre with a trilogy comprising Bakit Dugo ang Kulay ng Gabi? (1974), Patayin Mo sa Sindak si Barbara (1974), and Maligno (1975), many similar efforts were done during the Second Golden Age by debuting directors: Lupita Kashiwahara with Magandang Gabi sa Inyong Lahat (1976), Mike de Leon with Itim (1976), Mario O’Hara with Mortal (1976), Butch Perez with Haplos (1982), Briccio Santos (in his first 16mm. work) with Damortis (1986), Tata Esteban’s experimentalist Alapaap (1984), and selected segments of Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata (1982). Among these new names, it is Gallaga who, along with Lore Reyes, has opted to specialize in horror filmmaking, but with the incorporation of the more indigenously sourced older framework, possibly because of the generally uneven showing of occultist items, Mortal and Itim having been outright failures at the box office.

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

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

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

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

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

Metz acknowledged the existence of films that “only partially deserve to be called ‘mirror-construction’ works.” On the other extreme, he maintained that good reflexive films should be “doubled in on themselves,” thus suggesting that the outer and inner films reflect endlessly on each other. Between these two options lie a number of suc­cessful films on filmmaking, and perhaps the best example in Philippine cinema is still Bernal’s (preferred) debut entry, Pagdating sa Dulo (see neorealist section). Brocka attempted a satirical attack first with Stardoom (1971) and much later with Kontrobersyal (1981).

If we expand a consideration of the reflexive device to include other forms of mass media, then both filmmakers had actually been using self-referential portions in some of their better-received works. These, in chronological order, are: Bernal’s Nunal sa Tubig, Manila by Night (1980), Himala (1982), and Broken Marriage (1983); and Brocka’s Jaguar and Bona (1980) (preceding Kontrobersyal), Palipat-lipat, Papalit-palit (1982), Bayan Ko, Macho Dancer (1989), Orapronobis, Gumapang Ka sa Lusak (1990), and Sa Kabila ng Lahat. Practically all the other major filmmakers of the Second Golden Age, including Celso Ad. Castillo, Mike de Leon, Peque Gallaga, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Laurice Guillen, Mel Chionglo, Maryo J. de los Reyes, and even post-Second Golden Age practitioners, like Chito Roño and Carlos Siguion-Reyna, had at one time or another similarly employed such techniques in strictly isolated instances.

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

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

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

Unlike in the Philippines, however, sensible film production in Italy outlasted the regime. This it managed to do by a transformation that amazed even observers who were already familiar with the French New Wave phenomenon. The younger neorealist practition­ers, led by Fellini (with La dolce vita and the reflexive 8 1/2) and Michelangelo Antonioni (with his existentialist trilogy L’avventura, La notte, and L’eclissi), returned to the aesthetics of the previous era, but with their neorealist and New Wave-influenced sensibilities intact. This resulted in visual spectacles that, instead of carrying the custom-built trademark of earlier Italian cinema, were intensely personal in nature, either immensely involving in the case of Fellini or strongly alienating in the case of Antonioni.

Perhaps the most concrete proof that the neorealists had reverted to the past was that Luchino Visconti, one of the original neorealist filmmaking trinity that included Vittorio de Sica and Roberto Rossellini, had made nothing since except realistic films revolving around the theme of social decadence (Monaco, How to Read a Film 273-75). Even including more modest undertakings by the likes of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Francesco Rosi, the next generation of Italian filmmakers has continued the trend, starting with Bernardo Bertolucci and Marco Bellochio (who first earned for their works the descrip­tive term film opera), Ermanno Olmi and the brothers Vittorio and Paolo Taviani, and Lina Wertmuller and Liliana Cavani.

The emotional and theatrical affinities between Italians and Filipinos, overlaid by the expressive nature of the Latinate culture introduced by the Spaniards, no doubt contributed to the confidence of our local serious practitioners in adopting a neorealist pose, which however proved no match for the vitality (or, as blinkered nationalists would argue, vulgarity) of American film products. Film opera, in this respect, has enjoyed greater audience acceptance than neorealism, although, again, certain film sectors would look askance at an alternative that seems premised on certain characteristics of the very thing it seeks to supplant. Peque Gallaga has been the closest we have had to an authentic Italian film opera “composer,” with a trilogy of epics – Oro, Plata, Mata, Virgin Forest (1985), and (with Lore Reyes) Isang Araw Walang Diyos (1989) – that revel in panache without too much strain on credulity.

More than their Hollywood counterparts, Filipino practitioners feel compelled to assert a status as “major” by indulging in stylized operatic gestures. Castillo has done so with a series of sociosexual metaphors, Bernal with Gamitin Mo Ako (1985), Brocka with Macho Dancer, Mike de Leon with Batch ’81 (1982) rather than the rock-operatic Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, Marilou Diaz-Abaya with Karnal (1983) and Alyas Baby Tsina, Laurice Guillen with Salome (1981), even Maryo J. de los Reyes with Tagos ng Dugo (1987) and Elwood Perez with Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit (1989). Among the newer generation, however, it is Chito Roño who, with Private Show (1986), Itanong Mo sa Buwan (1988), and especially Bakit Kay Tagal ng Sandali? (1990), seems capable of executing a kind of film opera that is intrinsic to the filmmaker’s style, not dependent on the usual (and expensive) distension of resources.

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

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

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

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

Brocka was, of course, the instigator in this regard, with Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag expanding on the small-town critique proffered by Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (1974); Jaguar, PX (1982), Miguelito: Batang Rebelde (1985), and Bayan Ko were all to follow in an increasingly open denunciation of Marcos rule, but even less overtly political works like Insiang (1976), Bona, Angela Markado, and Cain at Abel (1982) implicated the regime for its ethos of violence and the widespread poverty in the country. Right after Maynila but before the militarization of the censors board, Filipino filmmakers were emboldened to embark on political (and sexual) critiques on film. Behn Cervantes did Sakada (1976), which was subsequently banned, and much later shared a stint in prison with Brocka, who was then agitating for his own prohibited work, Bayan Ko. Lupita Kashiwahara dealt with the abuses traceable to the presence of US military bases in Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo (1976), shortly before going into self-exile, ironically in the US. Mike de Leon followed Brocka’s example (and shared his Cannes limelight) with a series of politically consistent though generically disparate titles – Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, Kisapmata (1981), Batch ’81, and Sister Stella L. Castillo, whose Burlesk Queen angered the cultural establishment for its castigation of moral hypocrisy, tackled rural unrest in Pagputi ng Uwak, Ang Alamat ni Julian Makabayan (1979), and Pedro Tunasan (1983).

Bernal’s near-abstract approach in Nunal sa Tubig did not distract its critics from noting its execration of the government’s industrialization policies, while his formally innovative discourse (see last section) on lumpenproletarian issues, Manila by Night, was also banned and subjected to the worst mangling of any local movie ever. Subsequent Bernal titles, notably Ito Ba ang Ating mga Anak? (1982), Himala, Relasyon (1982), Broken Marriage (1983), Hinugot sa Langit (1985), and the post-Second Golden Age Pahiram ng Isang Umaga (1989), shared a melodramatic bent, but within an atypical framework of social disillusionment. Other filmmakers – notably O’Hara with Kastilyong Buhangin (1980), Bulaklak sa City Jail (1984), Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak (1987); Gil Portes with ’Merika (1984), Bukas … May Pangarap (1984), Andrea, Paano Ba ang Maging Isang Ina? (1990); Roño with Private Show, Itanong Mo sa Buwan, Bakit Kay Tagal ng Sandali?; Diaz-Abaya with Brutal (1980), Moral (1982), Karnal, Alyas Baby Tsina; and Guillen with Kasal? (1980) and Salome – worked in a similar vein.

However, even Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon … Paano Kayo Ngayon? (1976), which was criticized for being too conciliatory for the interests of nationalism, drew from leftist historian Renato Constantino’s thesis on the evolution of the term “Filipino” (147-48). Gallaga, whose epic trilogy (see film opera section) was deemed reactionary, provided sufficient political ambiguity in portraying the moral decline of the bourgeoisie, the mercenary motives of imperialists, and the inhumanity of right-wing fanatics. Final proof of the politicization of local film artists lay in the antiestablishment attitudinizing assumed ironically by a class of works, sex films, reviled by opposition forces themselves for supposedly contributing to the regime’s objectives of providing a semblance of free­dom while at the same time forcing the mass audience to lose sight of the issues at hand.

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13. Sexual libertarianism. A straightforward approach to sexual topics had long been a component of European, and especially French, art and literature, fortified by the rise of the realist movement. In cinema, the inhibition brought about by the public nature of the medium, compounded by its susceptibility to establishment control, was swept away, along with other unreasonable (and perhaps a few reasonable) restrictions, by the New Wave. The resulting openness had an air of defiance about it at first, later settling down to nonchalance. In cases, however, where the threat of repression remained, the depiction of sexuality retained its tone of defiance, as witness the sex films from the US, Italy, and the Philippines against those, for instance, from France and Sweden: “If, in today’s sex films, the ‘pornographic’ element predominates, this is because they are produced within the context of a sexually repressed society. The huge financial success of the hardcore films cannot be explained in any other manner” (Vogel 219-20).

In the Philippines, the usually exploitative genre of sex films was itself exploited by Ferdinand Marcos, who may yet prove to be the most accomplished media manipulator among all Philippine presidents thus far. Lumbera (“Pelikula” 216) has suggested a reconsideration of the premartial law bomba film as “a subversive genre in which the narrative pretends to uphold establishment values when it is actually intent on undermining audience support for corrupt and outmoded institutions.” The description, however, may apply more appropriately to the late Marcos-era movies exhibited, often exclusively, at the Manila Film Center (MFC). Sometimes out of sheer desperation, these managed to reflect artistic aspirations, if not genuine artistry, in their presenta­tions.

Among the bomba era’s quality outputs, only a handful – Castillo’s Nympha (1971), Bernal’s Pagdating sa Dulo, and Brocka’s Tubog sa Ginto (1971) – may be considered worthy of comparison with the MFC’s integral presentations of Bernal’s Manila by Night and Gamitin Mo Ako, Diaz-Abaya’s Moral and Karnal, Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata, Scorpio Nights (1985), and Virgin Forest, Castillo’s Paradise Inn (1985), Mel Chionglo’s Sinner or Saint (1984), and Tikoy Aguiluz’s Boatman (1984), among many others. Even well-received post-Second Golden Age titles like Roño’s Private Show and William Pascual’s Takaw Tukso (1986) were apparently also intended for exhibition in the same (but now defunct) venue. From the intervening period (referred to as the “bold” era) are titles that include Bernal’s Mister Mo, Lover Boy Ko (1974), Ligaw na Bulaklak (1976), and Nunal sa Tubig, Castillo’s Burlesk Queen, Diaz-Abaya’s Brutal (1980), and Guillen’s Salome. Brocka, although repudiating the MFC, did not shy away from such subject matter, as evidenced in Insiang and a number of lesser works that include Init (1978), Hot Property (1983), and White Slavery (1985).

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

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

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

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

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

Lapsley and Westlake continue by describing the feminist project in cinema in two consecutive albeit possibly overlapping stages (23-24). First, there was consciousness raising, comprising “a denunciation of the greater part of Hollywood’s output,” the conduct of debate regarding the value of current American films claiming to be responsive to women’s criticisms, and the recovery of “a lost history of women’s filmmaking in various capacities … paralleled by a condemnation of the industry for its near-total domination by men in these crucial productive sectors.” Second, there was a diverging of ways into poststructuralism on the one hand, where “there is no possibility of a final word, no encompassing meta-discourse,” and into a potential impasse on the other hand, attributable “to the anti-essentialism common to both structuralism and poststructuralism” and posing to those inclined in this direction the risk of appearing to indict or critique patriarchy “only on the grounds of some kind of aesthetic preference” (30-31).

In the Philippine context, a residual form of female predominance, attributed to pre-Hispanic ideologies (see Infante), may be acknowledged as the source of the shape and direction of certain significant aspects of contemporary cultural, religious, and social life, including the current ascendancy of women in political affairs. By way of proof, most old Filipino films (at least those still in existence) provided major roles for women. The emergence of feminist film consciousness during the 1980s has only served to strengthen women characters, and threatens to demolish the last bastions of machismo in local cinema (that is, the action and sex film genres). It is also possible to assert that gay awareness has somehow served to complement female, if not feminist, imperatives in cinema, as witness the increase in sexual aggressiveness now allowed women protagonists, coupled with the demand for physically desirable male performers (compared with those of earlier film decades) even in action and sex films.

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

Diaz-Abaya’s Brutal was hailed upon its release as the first feminist Filipino film, although it was actually preceded by a number of prowomen, if not strong-women, titles including Bernal’s Mister Mo, Lover Boy Ko, Lumapit … Lumayo ang Umaga (1975), Dalawang Pugad … Isang Ibon (1977), Lagi na Lamang Ba Akong Babae? (1978), and Aliw (1979); Brocka’s Insiang, Inay (1977), Mananayaw, Rubia Servios (1978), Ina, Kapatid, Anak (1979), and Ina Ka ng Anak Mo (1979); Danny Zialcita’s Hindi sa Iyo ang Mundo, Baby Porcuna (1978); O’Hara’s Tatlong Taóng Walang Diyos (1976); Castillo’s Burlesk Queen; and, of course, Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo. Brutal, however, offered a systematization up to that point of the character types of women in local cinema (and popular culture as well), plus an unqualifiably prowomen synthesis of the contradictions they encounter in Philippine society.

It would help to recall that alongside the other local films on women released before Brutal were several Hollywood titles with an analogous orientation, notably Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, Martin Ritt’s Norma Rae, and the Jane Fonda starrers, Alan J. Pakula’s Klute and Comes a Horseman, Hal Ashby’s Coming Home, Fred Zinnemann’s Julia, and James Bridges’s The China Syndrome. These, perhaps more than the debut of American filmmakers Claudia Weill, Joan Darling, and Joan Micklin Silver, helped confirm for Philippine filmmakers and audiences the viability and validity of women as subjects in cinema.

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

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

15. Multiple-character format. The adaptation of novelistic techniques to film, heralded by Bazin in his critique of the neorealist film The Bicycle Thief (58-59), actually had much farther to go even then. Stream of consciousness, for example, could not be effectively carried over into classical cinema beyond the too obviously literary voice-over narration of the character(s) involved. A similar dilemma appears in the issue of how best to portray, if it were ever possible in the first place, magic realism in film. On the other hand, the medium was a natural from the very beginning for many other storytelling devices, particularly the usage and development of symbols, the shifts in perspectives and points of view, and the poetization of even the most realistically mundane imagery.

An older story format was the multiple-character narrative, utilized in bare linear form in such canonic Western samples as The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales. Cinema proved receptive to this method, with the French themselves coming up, on the eve of the New Wave, with works like Max Ophuls’s La ronde and Rene Clair’s Beauties of the Night. But then novelists, with complementary efforts from playwrights, were seeking to further refine multicharacter presentations in the direction of allowing each character equal emphasis throughout the work, rather than giving them mere episodic prominence that makes way for the next lead and episode. In cinema, this entailed technical developments that were to be attempted during the New Wave and perfected in its American arrival.

Bazin’s theory of realism (expounded in “The Ontology of the Pho­tographic Image” and “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema” in 1: 9-16 and 1: 23-40 resp.) postulated the supersedure of montage by deep-focus technique, since the need to cut from detail to detail within a scene could now be fulfilled by simply arranging all the necessary elements according to the maximization of foreground, middleground, and background. Works like Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane and Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game were cited as exemplifications of this principle. However, Bazin’s assumption rested on the perception that film was a visual medium, no more, no less.

It was the Cahiers group’s tinkering with film sound, especially in the works of Truffaut and Godard, that suggested that further innovations could be realized in the aural dimension. While Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel may be considered a relatively fulfilled precursor, it took an American, Robert Altman, to demonstrate (sometimes at the expense of getting fired from film assignments) the workability of having two or more equally im­portant lines of dialogue delivered simultaneously. From MASH, a Cannes festival winner, he progressed to increasingly complex films. His Nashville had twenty-four characters act and speak out their stories, often at the same time and to stunning effect. Prior to this, other filmmakers had already taken the cue, albeit on smaller scales – Lucas with American Graffiti and Truffaut with his reflexive Day for Night; Altman himself was to attempt the Nashville pattern more than once thereafter, but never seemed to be able to muster the right combination of innocence, exuberance, political sophistication, and affection for character that Nashville displayed.

The multiple-character format, in its outward spread, became a supergenre of sorts, since each character could be associated with an appropriate film style or technique unique from the rest. Also, even relatively impoverished industries could utilize it, since all it really required was the careful execution of in-depth composition and simultaneous film sound, both of which are minimum modern-day industrial capabilities in the first place. The Philippines saw a predecessor in Gregorio Fernandez’s Malvarosa (1958), but the first conscious emulation of Altman’s triumph in Nashville can be seen in Bernal’s Nunal sa Tubig and Brocka’s Lunes, Martes, Miyerkules, Huwebes, Biyernes, Sabado, Linggo (1976). Although Nunal sa Tubig was the bigger flop at the box office (partly because it was bigger-budgeted), it also managed to stir up some critical exchanges among the members of the Manunuri, mainly because of its philosophical and pure-film orientation.

Between Bernal and Brocka, it was the former who would thereafter pursue the creation of multicharacter Philippine movies, coming up with Aliw, Menor de Edad (1979) Manila by Night, Bilibid Boys (1981), Ito Ba ang Ating mga Anak?, The Graduates (1986), and the Working Girls movies (1984 and 1987). Brocka would make what appears to be a reluctant attempt with Miguelito, while Diaz-Abaya would fare much better with Brutal and Moral. The format it­self characterized the more mature outputs of filmmakers during their career peaks, as can be seen in Gallaga’s epics, O’Hara’s Bulaklak sa City Jail and Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak, Mike de Leon’s Kakabakaba Ka Ba? and Batch ’81, and de los Reyes’s Bagets and High School Circa ’65. Even extremes of mainstream outputs, like Castillo’s sex films and Zialcita’s comic melodramas on the one hand and alternative format and media items on the other, attest to the flexibility of the approach and the maturation of an audience capable of attending to what is after all a complex audiovisual narrative presentation.

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Looking Further

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Note

[1] Ishmael Bernal’s first directorial assignment was Ah, Ewan! Basta sa Maynila Pa Rin Ako! (whose script he had written) from 1970. He rejected the credit when the film came out, but by then his name appeared on the now-lost film. Print materials for the movie list Luis Enriquez (real name of actor-producer Eddie Rodriguez) as the movie’s director.

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———. “Problems in Philippine Film History.” 1976. Revaluation: Essays on Philippine Literature, Cinema and Popular Culture. Quezon City: Index, 1984. 193-212.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Leave-Taking [The Original Introduction to Fields of Vision]

Dated “April 1994” and written in “New York City,” this draft (circa pre-email era) apparently did not reach the publisher. When I went over the final version of the book manuscript, I was surprised to find the section intros mashed together to function as the entire volume’s opener. I dashed off a quick text culled from the third-to-last paragraph that begins: “There is a sadness, romanticist but still inevitable, in offering up a body of work that one has carefully and tirelessly assembled” to the end of the said paragraph.

The biggest question I was dealing with as these articles were being written had to do with a gap in Philippine film criticism. The mode of practice prevalent during the late ’70s, when I started out, tended toward a rectification of what is now termed impressionist writing – i.e., the articulation by the critic of her responses to the film text, with the assumption that such an individual would be qualified to so declare her views by virtue of some form of authorization, mainly that of higher education.

The imposition of martial rule in 1972, however, rendered unsavory such essentially authoritarian notions, although Bienvenido Lumbera had been arguing for a paradigmatic shift long before then. Not surprisingly the organization he helped found, the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (MPP), carried out the twin projects of valuing films as worthwhile discursive texts and subjecting them to formal and analytical fragmentation. Certain senior members, specifically Lumbera, Nicanor Tiongson, and Petronilo Bn. Daroy, also undertook a revision of Philippine film history along a Marxist line, one that separated form and content and valorized the latter within a now-standard framework of progressive politics. This approach, reflected in the organization’s award-giving criteria, has not been contested even by the current crop of purportedly poststructuralist local critics, who have made more of an issue out of the dispensable premise of the relatability of traditional Philippine theater with cinema.

What became apparent to me in my stint with the MPP was the fact that the group’s practice actually adhered to a view of film that can loosely be characterized as “classical” (and it must be emphasized here that basic terms in film history do not always correspond to and carry the same meaning as the same terms in Western literature). The role of the filmmaker was duly appreciated by the group, but only within the auteurial hierarchization that recognized the creative team, and within it the director before all the rest; the role of the spectator was also acknowledged, but only as a passive and vulnerable construct, for which the critic was to supply independent and superior recommendations. Discourses on contexts of production were to be undertaken only in special situations, as a matter of strategy: there was after all real and present danger in being too insistently critical of a system of martial rule that was assuming national-socialist characteristics reminiscent of fascist dispensations.

The importance of the MPP’s critical position in promulgating oppositional film appreciation cannot be overemphasized. Yet with the reintroduction of liberal-democratic institutions after the fall of the Marcoses, the challenge was for Philippine film critics to update themselves with the state of cultural discourse in more developed contexts. I remember the shock of realizing how many contending schools of thought had proliferated and been discarded in the field – a paralleling of the several possible steps and missteps in industrial modernization that had also passed us by. The current ethos of correctness abroad dictated that one progressive formation would be as good as any other, but what concerned me was how far removed this postmodernist position was from the, well, premodernist situation we were coming from. In fact Philippine academe itself was still grappling with the issues of the applicability of modernist methodologies in mass media when I rejoined it as student and then as faculty. Not surprisingly an emergent group of critics, with whom I was at first counted, took to renouncing the now-established representatives of classical film practice. More distressingly still, this new group just as quickly diverged between those who submitted to the nihilistic anti-totalizing terms of textual deconstruction and those who wanted provisional considerations of the workability of available cultural setups.

I cast my lot with the latter group – a more difficult position, I realized even then, in that it could be perceived by the old-timers as collusive with the extremists, and by the latter as collaborationist and opportunistic. My agenda, however, proceeded from an admittedly personal motive: I had come to see where modernist approaches in cinema could be made to function in the Philippine cultural situation, and could neither stand discarding these just because more developed countries had done so, nor make much of the latest in high theorizing simply because it happened to be proving workable in other national contexts. To take one mode of practice in particular, that of canon formation, which I anticipate will be the equivalent of a flashpoint for this present volume: one could dispense altogether with the notion of a canon itself, but I had chosen to set up counter-canons, just as the MPP had set up (and is still continuing to do so) its own against earlier ones. My view is that it was the persistent and ultimately frustrating redefinition of “the” critical canon that led to the current refusal to admit to any form or act of canonization whatsoever, rather than some theorist’s brilliant perception that (re)canonization would never lead anywhere anyway and that it better be disallowed before it even gets underway. Besides which the supposedly definitive listing in Fields of Vision, the ten all-time best Philippine films, was done by what could be considered a super-critics’ group and thereby invites as much revision (of both the group and its choices) as it does detotalization.

I do not see myself returning to these frameworks and their methodologies, apart from what may prove to be occasionally useful in the always circumscribed practice of reviewing. There is a sadness, romanticist but still inevitable, in offering up a body of work that one has carefully and tirelessly assembled but for the purpose of outgrowing it oneself. I could also categorically maintain that these writings, although mostly subjected to deadline pressures, never took for granted that they were in many ways the only ones of their kind; perhaps that helps explain why I wish there were more of them, not necessarily by myself, and why I feel I could never be mean-spirited or cavalier in looking back at this phase, just as I was once looking back on classical critical practice then.

As a final libidinal release, indulge me my listing some names: Bienvenido Lumbera and Isagani Cruz; Ricardo Lee, Ishmael Bernal, and Nora Aunor; Ellen Paglinauan, Gigi Javier-Alfonso, Delia Barcelona, Lilia Quindoza-Santiago, Brenda Fajardo, Laura Samson, and the late Patricia Melendrez-Cruz; Ricky Lo, Thelma San Juan, Vanessa Ira, Ester Dipasupil, Iskho Lopez, and Eddie Pacheco; Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr., Joi Barrios, Glecy Atienza, and Teddie Co; Pete Lacaba, a critic’s editor; Karina Bolasco, my first publisher, and Esther Pacheco, my current one; and Bliss Lim and Chris Millado.

Some of the people I acknowledged have extended support that goes far beyond anything that I could ever hope to achieve, equal, live up to. But the limitations I have pointed out (granting that the history of criticism observes a developmentalist teleology) have nothing to do with these names and everything to do with what I am. Until Philippine cinema can be seen by its local and foreign observers as capable of engaging a wider array of analytical methods and procedures than what current practice has so far demonstrated, this book can at least serve as saturator, the means by which succeeding similar attempts can be reduced to the level of latecomers, if not also-rans.

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Section Intros

Part 1: Panorama

The essay that opens this section – and, in effect, the whole book – was ironically the last to be written. I had originally intended it to be the equivalent of a summing up for this volume, since it would also conform to the historical chronology of structuralism being the last of the approaches that could still be regarded as modernist. But using it as an opener serves an even better complex of purposes: it could serve as a status update for Philippine cinema, explain my position vis-à-vis then-prevalent practices in Philippine film criticism, and exemplify my belief that however patterns of development (intellectual and otherwise) may have evolved elsewhere, we ought to be able to insist upon a workable degree of autonomy in exploring our own formations. The dichotomy between classical Hollywood and European “art” models that serves as a premise here would also be less viable today even in the Philippines – an insight that surfaces elsewhere in some of my more film-specific reviews; but what the essay contributes is a heretofore still-untried consideration of the non- or anti-Hollywood influences in local cinema. Unfortunately the Philippines Communication Journal, to which I had submitted this work, folded up right after slating it for publication.

Part 2: Viewpoints

This section is divided into three subsections. The first two turn on the now-traditional opposition between artistic and commercial endeavors: “Creations” deals with the former and “Speculations” with the latter, though another and currently more fashionable way of putting it would be to regard the first as tackling auteur-related issues and the second as concerned with spectatorship possibilities. These reviews got longer and my involvement in the releases became more intense – both instances of which did not always recommend these essays to orthodox (though still oppositional) publishers. Once comparative (two-film) reviewing, an earlier practice of mine, became more popular among other local writers, I tried stretching a little, intending to stop when I had reached the arbitrary figure of six films in one review. But with the four-in-one maximum that I had managed so far and also included here, I realized that not only had I reached six in a sense (since one movie was a three-in-one package of shorts), I may also not be able to give fair emphasis in the end to too many titles under the same critical project; this even assumes that it would be possible to find a framework workable for such an equal-opportunity compilation. The third subsection, “Positions,” consists of reviews not of films this time, but of film situations. One might want to read a structural progression in this subsectional arrangement, from textual through spectatorial to contextual; or from a recognition of the author through her construction by the viewer to her absence; or from the formal through the psychological to the political. I would argue though that such insights were never part of a master agenda on my part – hence the prerogative I took in raising, say, auteurist or spectatorship questions in a contextual issue, and so on and vice versa. In the end I would suggest that these pieces be taken on individual and autonomous terms first, the way that they were all originally intended to be published, and that whatever paradigm emerges be regarded as the reader’s gestalt which the author would be only too glad to share.

Part 3: Perspectives

These canonizing projects proved to be too popular for my own comfort as film critic, with responses coming in from far and wide – I still have a letter from an Australian cable station asking me how they could avail of the “ten-best” Filipino films for possible broadcast; a colleague accused me of “canon-forming during a time of canon-busting,” then proceeded to enumerate his choice of films. I mention this not so much to demonstrate the contradictions in our appropriations of contemporary Western notions: some local writers have even insisted that poststructuralist ideas are neither Western nor foreign the way prestructuralisms were, but to each her or his jouissance. My concern begins rather with the irresistibility of such canonizing activities in the first place, drawn subjectively from the relief I felt after I had done each one of them. I could only venture speculative explanations, however: It may not be the time or place for full postmodernist commitment on our part; or Too many official canonizing (mostly award-giving, but also punitive) bodies demand counterpart responses; or Canons will never be final so long as works continue to be produced, but people need them anyway as a form of shorthand criticism; or We may be simply and blissfully capable of nonchalance and masochism at the same time (my favorite rationalization, though I wouldn’t die for it). Perhaps part of the appeal of any canonizing activity is the combined fact that it tends to generate large-scale responses even as it does not demand radically new ideas or methodologies. By way of citation, “Worth the While” draws from Film Comment editor Richard T. Jameson’s annual “Moments Out of Time” feature; “Ten-Best Filipino Films” recalls a number of regular (most in/famously Sight and Sound’s) as well as one-shot survey projects; and “Great Philippine All-Time One-Shot Awards Ceremony” was just my way of pushing all these efforts to their logical as well as illogical extremes. I would point up though the now-outmoded positivist skills that went into these enterprises, and am entirely ready to admire (and perhaps pity) attempts to outdo them on the same, if not better, terms. Meanwhile here they stand, invoking hypothetically infinite levels of definitude and delirium, testaments to the sinfully inordinate pleasures I once derived in their undertaking.

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