Tag Archives: Golden Age

Mother Pinas, Onscreen

From the Internet Movie Database.

Out of Anita Linda’s several bouts of mixed fortunes, the fact that she survived into the internet era should count as her so-far final stroke of good luck. Tributes, recollections, even film excerpts regarding her excellence as performer flooded Pinas social media on the day she died, two days before Independence Day 2020 – a time when people were seeking fitting symbols of the nation to honor.

Linda would of course be the perfect embodiment. Dying in the early morning – or, in keeping with her professional approach, sleeping her last – she seemingly made sure that no schedule that required her for the day would be disrupted by any untoward drama in real life. Anything dramatic, for her, should be allowed to emerge only in her performances.

Anyone should be able to pick up the basic details by now, and a whole lot more might be added to her bio once historians of pop culture have finished combing through the many anecdotes her co-workers have been posting about her. Born in 1924 to an American father and Ilongga mother, Alice Lake was discovered while watching a stage show by Lamberto V. Avellana, and given her screen name by Avellana’s wife, the former Daisy Hontiveros.[1] She expressed reluctance because of her difficulty with Tagalog, but Avellana was insistent and cast her in a non-speaking stage part.

Sisa publicity pic. [From Video 48]

World War II delayed the screening of her first film, Avellana’s Tiya Juana [Aunt Juana] (1943), for LVN Pictures, Avellana’s home studio. Her next projects, however, came out four years later (because of the wartime suspension of production), for Premiere Productions: three films in 1947, five in 1948, seven in 1949. Premiere was where Gerardo de Leon worked, and Linda may have impressed him enough to cast her in a period project, Sisa, based on the tragic figure in Jose Rizal’s 1887 novel Noli Me Tangere [Touch Me Not], who in turn was partly based on the racist persecution of the hero’s Chinay mother by Spanish authorities.[2] Most of the other evidence of Linda’s evolution as film actor may be impossible to source by now, since most of the Premiere holdings were burned in one of those warehouse fires that kept razing down combustible celluloid stock.

An added misfortune was political in nature. Linda, along with Patria Plata, supported a crewpersons’ strike at her home studio, led by soundperson Casimiro Padilla. The owners decided to shut down the production company, leaving the strikers stranded, the actresses included. (Based on their production credits, this would have occurred around the mid-1950s.)[3] During this period, the studio system was also faltering from its top-heavy vertical integration and was facing challenges from more successful stars, who had enough of their own money to start producing their own films. Once more, this highly commercial catch-as-catch-can approach to production did not guarantee that many of the titles made by practitioners during that period could be preserved for posterity.

Fortunately for Linda’s most celebrated film role, Lino Brocka spearheaded a recovery program with a team whose members hunted down Gerry de Leon films from all over the country, starting with the most logical final destinations – provincial theaters where celluloid prints would usually be left to deteriorate or be cannibalized as caps and horns for Christmas and New Year merriment. The recovery of Sisa (1951) bowled over a new generation of observers, who had been earlier transfixed by a more recent performance, Lolita Rodriguez’s in Lino Brocka’s own Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang [Weighed But Found Wanting] (1974).

In Emmanuel Quindo Palo’s Sta. Niña (2012), with Coco Martin. [Cinemalaya & CCM Creatives]

Linda in Sisa deservedly took top spot as Pinas cinema’s most outstanding film performance, the gold standard against which a much younger aspirant, Nora Aunor, was subsequently to measure herself. To say that Aunor was eventually able to surpass her is no slight on Linda’s achievement: a new filmmaking generation brought with it more openness and artistic daring, along with Aunor’s own considerable resources as top multimedia star of her generation. Nevertheless Linda persisted and even managed to occasionally headline her own film projects, possibly the oldest Filipino actor to ever achieve the feat. The two millennial-era films where she appears as lead actress, Adolfo Borinaga Alix Jr.’s Adela (2008) and Brillante Ma. Mendoza’s Lola [Grandmother] (2009), deploy the benevolence and humility that Linda became known for among her colleagues. It were as if the directors scouted for unusual and inaccessible urban settings, set Linda down in them, and instructed her to be her truest self. Her final film, Alix’s Circa (2019), also features her in lead capacity – a fitting end to a career with several highs but also too many lows.

This may also have been a consequence of iconicity, a higher realm than stardom: people become aptly reverential, sometimes to a fault. One of the unforgettable anecdotes about Linda on the set of Sisa was of de Leon adjusting her delivery by saying, “Anita, konting libog pa [more libido please].” Cineastes may have delighted in this narrative by imagining how much greater the director was than his performer, but Linda’s output throughout and beyond the Marcos regime (regarded as the Second Golden Age of Philippine cinema) belies this auteur-snobbish interpretation. Scroll through the tribute excerpts posted by, as an example, Facebook’s Cristina Gaston (a pseudonym adopted from an Alma Moreno character): Ishmael Bernal, Maryo J. de los Reyes, Elwood Perez, and Joey Gosiengfiao were never content to just depict her as mother to the star(s) of their projects. She had to be kooky, eccentric, decadent, flighty, bitchy, alcoholic, unfaithful, and/or ambitious.

The working-class assassin in Gumapang Ka sa Lusak (1990). [Viva Films]

These characterizations did not arise out of disrespect. On the contrary, they came from a recognition that Linda was always game for unusual challenges, and seemed grateful to make use of comic devices for a change. We’ve left out Lino Brocka, with whom Linda was most associated with sanctimonious-motherly roles. Yet even in this territory, we find departures from her later mater-dolorosa persona. In Jaguar (1979), she scolds her son for his social-climbing delusions but shields him later from pursuing police agents and helps him escape when they get near; in Gumapang Ka sa Lusak [Dirty Affair] (1990), nominatively a sequel to Jaguar, she reprises the role played by Carlito Dimailig in real life, assassinating the movie’s Imelda Marcos figure with a bolo (though as in real life, the person gets killed by security personnel).

In the “Hello, Soldier” segment of Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa [Three, Two, One] (1974), she transforms from a devoted mother dutifully preparing to surrender her daughter to the American who fathered her and now wants to adopt her, to a drunk-off-her-ass slum dweller re-enacting the moment she, as a then-younger bargirl, espied and seduced the foreigner she would fall for and be abandoned by. Brocka documents the sequence from the moment she wakes up from her intoxication, through her panic at the thought of being left alone and wandering the streets, regretful at how she was unable to say a proper farewell, without a single line of dialogue: Linda pursues and finishes the tale magnificently, by the use of her face and nothing else.[4]

The wordless closure of the “Hello, Soldier” episode of Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa (1974).

In two films by Mario O’Hara, we find definitive formal proof of Linda’s capabilities. In Bakit Bughaw ang Langit? [Why Is the Sky Blue?] (1981), she executes extended melodramatic arguments with Nora Aunor and proves to be the only actor capable of matching the country’s most gifted performer, line by spiteful line. In Babae sa Bubungang Lata [Woman on a Tin Roof] (1998), she uses the disadvantages of representing a lost past in cinema, narrating her tale rather than enacting it, providing embarrassingly manipulative final-act revelations, and winds up claiming equal-ensemble status as the younger performers via the force of her haunted slow-burn delivery.

It would therefore be unsurprising to learn that when Elwood Perez decided to initiate an autobiographical film trilogy as his final artistic statement, Anita Linda heralded the first installment, Otso [Eight] (2013). Her presence infuses the entire film, even though she appears only in the final sequence – as Alice Lake, playing a once-famous actress known as Anita Linda, now the owner of a residential building where an aspiring artist learns about life, love, and desire, realizing to his amazement that his present has become possible because of what the lady at the top floor, overlooking events in her property, underwent in the past.[5] This may be the ultimate way to remember Linda: a woman who dedicated her life so completely to her craft that it expectedly defined her, but also unexpectedly and even more profoundly became defined by her.

Alice Lake in Otso (2013). [Film Development Council of the Philippines & Earth Moving Pictures]


First published June 13, 2020, as “Remembering Anita Linda: She Devoted Her Life So Completely to Her Craft that It Defined Her,” in ABS-CBN News Channel. The author acknowledges the solicitation and assistance of Jerome Gomez, as well as anecdotes provided by the late Vic Delotavo.

[1] Most reports ascribe the source of Linda’s screen name to Avellana, but their granddaughter Ina Avellana Cosio provided the clarification – that it was Daisy rather than Lamberto who suggested the name – in her comment on my Facebook post of June 10, 2020.

[2] I recall this staggering and essential revelation on why a member of the landed gentry was made to march from her home to the municipal jail from one of the first article publications of Caroline S. Hau, whose title I do not recall but which I read for certain in the 1990s. In a recent exchange, she mentioned that her account was cut from the final version of The Chinese Question: Ethnicity, Nation, and Region in and Beyond the Philippines (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2014). In her typically generous manner, she maintained that “the Sisa-Alonso link is orthodox in the scholarship on Rizal, and the authorities really made an example of her, not caring if she was herself of relatively high social standing in the town, whether Chinese mestizoness or not, so there’s no need to cite anything I wrote” (“Re: Query re Teodora Alonso Realonda,” received by the author, July 25, 2020) – all the more reason for a non-Rizal scholar like me to insist on acknowledging her continuing contribution to this field of study.

[3] This information first came out in the citation for Anita Linda’s award for outstanding achievement, given by the Filipino Film Critics Circle (of which I was a member then). The citation was published in the group’s first decadal collection and reprinted in the second; see “Anita Linda,” in The Urian Anthology 1970-1979 (Quezon City: Manuel L. Morato, 1983), pp. 420-21, taglined Jun Cruz Reyes, trans. Nicanor G. Tiongson. After 1953, Patria Plata stopped working altogether at Premiere, while Anita Linda had occasional projects, although not as actively as before. My provisional speculation is that she may have been emboldened by winning the first industry-wide award for an actress in Sisa. Her people skills may be seen in her returning for the occasional Premiere project, as well as for production companies set up by her colleagues in the studio, specifically Gerry de Leon and Larry Santiago. In fact, by freelancing not just for rival studios but also for independent outfits, she may have been the first star who demonstrated the instability and morally questionable logic behind the oligopoly of the Big Three. One of her early “indie” projects anticipated the wild and woolly years of the post-studio 1960s: Nardo Vercudia’s Basagulera [Troublemaker] (1954), for Everlasting Pictures.

[4] A precursor of how her soon-to-be-rediscovered performance in Sisa was about to recapture the top spot in local film appreciators’ regard was during the televised awards ceremonies of the 1974 Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences: while Lolita Rodriguez in Lino Brocka’s Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang affirmed her stature as an outstanding female performer by winning best actress, it was Linda’s far shorter role, misclassified as supporting actress, in one of three episodes in Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa, that presenters kept raving over.

[5] A wistfully poetic full circle has been inscribed with Otso as well, when we consider that Elwood Perez’s first film, the now-lost Blue Boy (1970), starred Fred Cortes Jr., Linda’s son by Fred Cortes, with whom she had starred in her first film, Tiya Juana. She put her film career on hold, for the last time, when she opted to live with Cortes in the US, but returned after their union ended. Cortes died in 1966.

Back to top

Book Texts – The Golden Ages of Philippine Cinema: A Critical Reassessment

Philippine film observers use the “Golden Age” approach as a way of periodizing artistic developments in Philippine film history. Generally, contemporary critics agree that there had been two Golden Ages, one during the 1950s’ studio-system era, and the other during the martial-law period of Ferdinand Marcos (early ’70s to mid-’80s), although the government’s arts encyclopedia insists on a third, occurring during the 1930s. This article will present the arguments used by the proponents of the “Golden Ages” in Philippine film, and also attempt to evaluate the heuristic value of such a device. This article was originally published in Cinema Filipinas: Historia, teoría y crítica fílmica (1999-2009), ed. Juan Guardiola ([Andalucía]: Juna de Andalucía, Consejería de Cultura Fundación El Legado Andalusí, [2010]), 217-24; translated in the same volume as “Las edades de oro del cine Filipino: Una reevaluación crítica,” 37-48 (linked to a PDF copy). To jump to later sections, please click here for: Déjà vu; Impure Gold; Only Two So Far; Deconstruction; The Lost Decade; Dynamix; and Notes & Works Cited.

To look at most available histories of Philippine cinema, one would get the impression that the country has been blessed with several periods of sustained creative activity or Golden Ages – at least two, by standard reckoning, or three if we accommodate a government cultural agency’s account, or four if we include the self-valorization of independent (now synonymous with digital) contemporary film artists. The drive to continually celebrate the filmic achievements of popular culture in the Philippines, or in any country for that matter, may not always be motivated by pure aesthetic ideals, but given the industrial and monetary components of film practice, it would be understandable, unavoidable even. This article will seek to delve into the Golden-Age periodizations of Philippine cinema using a basic two-part structure that will inevitably (as it must) resolve in an open ending: first, it will recount the Golden Ages divisions using originary texts; and second, it will attempt a deconstruction of the Golden Ages concept as it had been deployed in Philippine film discourse.

Déjà vu

It is a measure of the success of Golden Age idealizing when the present generation of drumbeaters for the “resurgence” of Philippine cinema unanimously herald (or, at the very least, suggest) the current ascendancy of such a system, without feeling the need to justify their assertions or define their terms. We’d had Golden Ages in the past, their logic seems to maintain, so why should there be any question about one more occurring today? This makes the present-day Golden Age, if it ever even does exist, unusual in the sense that it is the only one so far recognized even while it is still ongoing. More important, the prevalence of such a widespread, possibly uncritical evaluation of what purports to be a critical summation (i.e., so many proofs of excellence allowing us to conclude that another Golden Age holds sway today) makes it even more imperative to inspect earlier accounts that claimed the prior existence of past Philippine-film Golden Ages.

What might also be of interest in looking at the Ur-texts of Golden Ages in Philippine cinema is the fact that the articles setting the claims were clustered more or less within a single critical generation, the first in 1972 and the last in 1994. (As a matter of personal disclosure, one of the articles was written by the present author, whose name will hereafter be cited as a matter of historical necessity, per the Foucauldian principle of the author-function.) Even more curiously, the chronology of the articles does not observe the succession of Golden Ages in Philippine film history: if we exclude the present-day Golden Age as so-far unhistoricizable because of the lack of closure, then the first (Golden Age) was actually the last (article).

The first article, Jessie B. Garcia’s “The Golden Decade of Philippine Movies,” originally appeared in Weekly Graphic in 1972 and was subsequently anthologized in an Experimental Cinema of the Philippines publication. The second, Joel David’s “A Second Golden Age,” was first published in Kultura (October-December 1989), a journal of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and presently appeared in the author’s first book (The National Pastime 1-17). The third, “Classics of the Filipino Film,” was a “historical essay” in the film volume of the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art, thus bearing the equivalent of a governmental imprimatur. Garcia’s article referred to the post-World War II reconstruction decade of the 1950s. David’s, the one that was published closest to the period it defined, dealt with the martial law and post-martial rule years of Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos, or 1975-86, with the “people-power” uprising cutting short the dictatorship as well as the Golden Age. The CCP encyclopedia article is the most problematic, in that it acknowledged the Golden Ages that had already been declared, as it were, and insisted on a third one, roughly the 1930s, prior to the other (now-subsequent) two. This has resulted in terminological confusion for the negligible few who subscribe to the CCP’s version. The term “First Golden Age” has taken hold in referring to the 1950s, while the Marcos years have been known as constituting the “Second Golden Age,” mainly because of the earlier articles’ impact and in defiance of the CCP’s reformulation of the aforementioned Golden Ages as essentially a second and a third respectively, in light of the existence of an earlier one, supposedly the original first, before the other two had occurred.

Back to top

Impure Gold

The difficulty that besets a consideration of the 1930s as a Golden Age in Philippine cinema applies to the other periodizations – is, in fact, a feature inherent in a medium that was invented and developed in countries with colder climates. Although a significant number of prints from the martial-law period may be gone, and the remaining number of copies of the 1950s’ studio system has been dwindling at an alarming rate, virtually nothing remains from the 1930s except for what a small circle of observers of highly advanced age can remember. The three still-available 1930s feature films (Eduardo de Castro’s Zamboanga from 1937, Carlos Vander Tolosa’s Giliw Ko from 1938, and Octavio Silos’s Tunay na Ina from 1939) are often mentioned as part of the tragically minuscule number of extant pre-World War II Filipino films (the only other titles would be Silos’s Pakiusap from 1940 and Vicente Salumbides and Manuel Conde’s Ibong Adarna, 1941).[1]

In fact, the 1930s “first” Golden-Age section in the CCP article comprises seven medium-length paragraphs, barely a tenth of the article’s total length. It cites six long-unavailable films as proof of the period’s quality achievements, yet two of the films (Dalagang Bukid and La venganza de Don Silvestre, both by Jose Nepomuceno) precede the 1930s – produced, in fact, in 1919, and it includes none of the still-surviving pre-war prints. (The remaining titles mentioned in the article are Nepomuceno’s Noli me tangere, Carlos Vander Tolosa’s Diwata ng Karagatan, Tor Villano’s Ligaw na Bituin, and Ramon Estella’s Huling Habilin.) The article also cites two other filmmakers, Joaquin Pardo de Tavera and Lorenzo P. Tuells, without mentioning any of their significant films.

The difficulty – impossibility, actually – in confirming through any available audiovisual form whether or not Filipino filmmakers excelled during this early period has precluded most observers from adopting the terms of the CCP article. This article will therefore be following suit in regarding any claims made about the 1930s as strictly hypothetical, pending more intensive presentation and analyses of data, and referring to the First Golden Age (without quotation marks) as comprising the 1950s and the Second Golden Age as constituted by the period of Marcos dictatorship.

Only Two So Far

Proof that the First and Second Golden Ages (respectively the 1950s and roughly the mid-1970s to mid-’80s) are more defensible in scholarly terms lies in the fact that not only do certain film titles still exist as confirmation, but also productive follow-through studies based on these assumptions have been made. In relation and as response to Garcia’s “Golden Decade,” Bienvenido Lumbera’s “Problems in Philippine Film History,” now regarded as the first useful comprehensive periodization of this long-overlooked field, divides what may be called the studio system era between pre-war and post-war periods, and considers the end of the 1950s as the start of a new, more problematic period. Lumbera describes the (roughly) pre-martial law years of the post-studio system (1960-75) as an era of “Rampant Commercialism and Artistic Decline” (Lumbera 181-84), and thereafter as marked by “New Forces in Contemporary Cinema” (184-86). In fact the more significant insight is that Lumbera’s essay, although necessarily shorter, rectifies several weaknesses in Garcia’s article. Lumbera provides before-and-after context, institutional explanation, explication of internal dynamics, and over-all signification where Garcia’s celebratory piece focused on a seemingly subjective enumeration of highlights.

On the other hand, Garcia’s insistence on personalities and projects conformed to the canonizing requirements of such periodizing efforts, whereas Lumbera only managed to come up with a short list of names: Gerardo de Leon, Gregorio Fernandez, Lamberto V. Avellana, Ramon Estella, and Manuel Conde, with “new directors like Eddie Romero, Cesar Gallardo, Efren Reyes, and Cirio Santiago [showing] great promise” (180). Many succeeding elaborations of the First Golden Age, including those of Lumbera himself, would follow Garcia’s lead in pointing to the projects that made an impact in foreign festivals: Conde’s Genghis Khan at the Venice Film Festival, and the films that dominated the Asian Film Festival: de Leon’s Ifugao, Avellana’s Anak Dalita and Badjao, Fernandez’s Malvarosa, Manuel Silos’s Biyaya ng Lupa.

David’s “A Second Golden Age” uses Garcia’s strategy in announcing the recent conclusion of a productive filmmaking period, combines it with Lumbera’s systematic presentation of empirical and analytic concerns, and suggests the titles of films and names of auteurs (including scriptwriters and performers) that could constitute the basic canon, most of which would still be familiar to anyone with a passing familiarity with recent Philippine film history: Ishmael Bernal and Lino Brocka and their city-film projects (Manila by Night and Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag respectively) in addition to a large body of work; Celso Ad. Castillo for Burlesk Queen, Pagputi ng Uwak, Pag-itim ng Tagak, and Paradise Inn; Mike de Leon for Itim, Kisapmata, Batch ’81, and Sister Stella L.; Eddie Romero, a straggler from the First Golden Age, for Ganito Kami Noon … Paano Kayo Ngayon?; plus the first significant female filmmakers, Laurice Guillen (Kasal?, Salome, and Kung Mahawi Man ang Ulap) and Marilou Diaz-Abaya (Brutal, Moral, and Karnal). David named Nora Aunor (star of Bernal’s Himala) and Ricardo Lee (author of Himala, Salome, and Diaz-Abaya’s canonical films) as the outstanding performer and scriptwriter respectively of the period, and pointed to then-emerging filmmakers such as Peque Gallaga (Oro, Plata, Mata), Chito Roño (Private Show), and Tikoy Aguiluz (Boatman) as people who might be able to sustain quality output even beyond the end of the Second Golden Age.

Fields of Vision, the book by David that followed the one where the Second Golden Age essay appeared, may in fact be considered the first Filipino volume premised entirely on the recent conclusion of such a period. It starts out by echoing Lumbera’s still-to-be-concluded observation of the emergence of what he called a “New Philippine Cinema” (cf. “The ‘New’ Cinema in Retrospect,” Fields of Vision 1-36), thus connecting a first Golden-Age follow-up study with a second one. Necessarily Fields of Vision covered film releases since 1986, but several of its major-length studies, including aesthetic assessments of Philippine film products (highlighted by a so-far definitive ten-best film survey), served to focus attention on both Golden Ages, with the second Golden Age regarded as triumphant enough to have overshadowed the first: a per-category all-time best-of (mimicking an awards report), for example, asserted that the best picture, direction, script, performance, and technical achievements in Philippine cinema were, with only one exception, products of the Second Golden Age (see “One-Shot Awards Ceremony,” Fields of Vision 137-42).

Back to top


At this point, the issue of the usefulness of what we may call the Golden Ages approach in studying Philippine history ought to be confronted. There may be positive and negative ways of responding to this issue, but most of the advantages would have been elucidated in the preceding discussion: asserting the existence of a Golden Age brings about scholarly and creative excitement, as may be gleaned in the belief (whose validity is a question that will have to be deferred) of so-called independent filmmakers that the current period is such a one. The faith of academic and film practitioners in an ongoing Golden Age functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy, compelling scholars to devote serious attention to the study of film phenomena and film creators to carry on with innovative and relevant productions.

Yet the practice of lionizing selected periods also requires that certain other periods be excluded, and it is here where the inadequacies of the Golden Ages approach are as obvious as they are overlooked. Between the First and Second Golden Ages, for example, lies the entire decade of the 1960s and the first half of the ’70s, and in order to point up the remarkability of the favored periods, evaluators wound up devaluing the intervening years. Lumbera had set the tone by describing this period as characterized by “Rampant Commercialism and Artistic Decline” (Lumbera 181-84), and all succeeding Philippine film historians followed suit. One by-product of the anti-1960s bias is the fact that, while useful resources covering the beginning of Philippine cinema to the 1950s, and critics’ anthologies listing films from the 1970s onward, are available to the public, no comprehensive filmography of the ’60s is available. The problem stems from the practice of subjecting only aesthetic material (films and auteurs) to critical analysis and neglecting to extend its application to the study of structural phenomena.

The First Golden Age, for example, is ascribed to the stability enforced by a limited number of studios – i.e., since they were assured of full control over local releases, their annual profits were permanently guaranteed; as a result, they could afford to fund prestige projects geared toward local-awards and foreign-festival competitions every so often. Studies that mention the insidious underside of such a monopolistic system – the blacklisting of unruly talents, for example, or the marginalization of competitors who could not match the vertically integrated resources of the majors – were often relegated to biographical write-ups on specific participants, never in relation to discussing the problems of Golden-Age production. The end of this studio system, brought about by the busting of the production-and-distribution monopoly (following the Paramount decision in the US) and the rise of actor-moguls (representing a more powerful type of independent producer), did result in the “rampant commercialism” decried by Lumbera, but the question of “artistic decline” is another matter altogether.

The Lost Decade

In fact the decade of the 1960s was characterized by an impressive, pioneering, taboo-breaking, politically charged vulgarity, of a sort never seen before or since in the country, and that would be essential to explaining why the Second Golden Age held far more promise and managed to meet more expectations than the First. Moreover, most filmmakers who made their mark during the First Golden Age actually produced what a number of people would consider their best products during the subsequent non-“golden” years[2] – Gerardo de Leon with The Moises Padilla Story, El Filibusterismo, or the long-lost Ang Daigdig ng mga Api; Avellana with Scout Rangers;[3] Cesar Gallardo with either Kadenang Putik or Geron Busabos: Ang Batang Quiapo (starring former President Joseph Estrada); Eddie Romero with The Passionate Strangers as well as producing and writing Cesar J. Amigo’s Sa Atin ang Daigdig; and Leroy Salvador’s remarkably overlooked Cebuano-language masterpiece Badlis sa Kinabuhi. The sheer proliferation of innovation alone would be worth a compendium all its own – transformation of actor-producers, as already mentioned, into auteur-moguls, triple-digit annual production, transitions to color, regularity of Cebuano production and international co-production (including links with US blood-island and blaxploitation films), eager bandwagoning by politicians (including then-presidential aspirant Ferdinand Marcos), depictions of heretofore unseen images of graphic screen violence, musical-teen-idol unruliness, social turmoil, and straight and queer pornography.

A highly qualifiable additional item may be mentioned as well – the emergence of the leading lights of the Second Golden Age, Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal, with the latter producing what is arguably the best debut film by a Filipino filmmaker, the reflexive Pagdating sa Dulo. More significantly, at least three other talents – Elwood Perez, Mario O’Hara, and Gil Portes – who would be active during the Second Golden Age but some of whose major achievements would be produced thereafter, also made their presence felt this early. Like the First Golden Age, the second was marked by a measure of stability brought about by the entrenchment of studios – three at a time, same as during the earlier era, but this time with independents occasionally claiming a share of the market and the government providing a mostly supportive, though occasionally threatening, intervention.[4] Similarly, the current (potentially) Golden Age of digital productions shares with the Second Golden Age all of the latter’s institutional features, with two crucial modifications: most of the government’s subsidiary functions have devolved to private agencies; and digitalization has taken over, with the major studios focusing mainly on television and only occasionally on film projects, and the independents entirely utilizing video format.


The explanation for how such a mix of factors could facilitate artistic productivity would constitute material for a separate study in itself, but once more the question of why what may be called the “wilderness years” (between one Golden Age and the next) should never be dismissed once more proves urgent. If we grant that the digital period in Philippine cinema (roughly since the turn of the millennium) might be eventually celebrated as the Third Golden Age, then the years since the 1986 revolution through the entire decade of the ’90s and early 2000s raise the question of any similarity with the 1960s.[5] And the most significant response – that certain practitioners came up with their peaks during the interregnum – once more, perhaps not surprisingly, becomes arguable.

Several aforementioned pre-Second Golden Age practitioners were able to present impressive, perhaps career-best, work: Elwood Perez with Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit and Ang Totoong Buhay ni Pacita M.; Mario O’Hara with Bagong Hari, Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak, The Fatima Buen Story, and Pangarap ng Puso; and Gil Portes with Andrea, Paano Ba ang Maging Isang Ina? (all but Fatima Buen and Pangarap ng Puso, interestingly, starring Nora Aunor – arguably the country’s first-rank pop-culture performing artist, who also emerged during the “rampant commercialism and artistic decline” period of the ’60s). Several other Second Golden Age practitioners came up with works equal to, if not exceeding, their Golden Age output: Lino Brocka with Orapronobis and Gumapang Ka sa Lusak, Ishmael Bernal with Pahiram ng Isang Umaga, Marilou Diaz-Abaya with Milagros, Peque Gallaga (with Lorenzo Reyes) with Tiyanak, Chito Roño with Itanong Mo sa Buwan, Bakit Kay Tagal ng Sandali?, and Curacha: Ang Babaeng Walang Pahinga (a sequel to Private Show), Eddie Garcia with Saan Nagtatago ang Pag-ibig?, Tikoy Aguiluz with Segurista, Pepe Marcos with Tubusin Mo ng Dugo, Augusto Salvador with Joe Pring, Wilfredo Milan with Anak ng Cabron, and Mike de Leon with Bayaning Third World. Finally, just as during the Golden Ages, several filmmakers emerged during this non-“golden” period, quickly creating material that rivaled the best of any age, including their own subsequent output: Carlos Siguion-Reyna with Misis Mo, Misis Ko, Hihintayin Kita sa Langit, and Ikaw Pa Lang ang Minahal, William Pascual with Takaw Tukso, Lav Diaz with Serafin Geronimo: Ang Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcion and Batang West Side, and Jeffrey Jeturian with Sana Pag-ibig Na, Pila-Balde, and Tuhog.

What all this indicates up to this point is that any Golden Age may be a necessary, but also necessarily illusory, romantic ideal supportive mainly of auteurist and aesthetic ambitions. The production of “great” work (definable first and foremost in the context of any specific filmmaker’s oeuvre) may take inspiration, and more significantly funding, from the ferment that invariably obtains during these celebratory periods, but creative inspiration may also happen without any structural preparation, and may even be the more impressive for all that. What this article recommends, by way of a provisional conclusion, is for scholars to leave any Golden-Age hoopla to producers and artists, and evaluate all available periods and their products with equal fairness, rigor, and thoroughness … so that in effect the hope that Philippine cinema itself might constitute an unbroken Golden Age could be realized.

Back to top


[1] An extensive study by Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr. pointed out that none of the still-available 1930s films may be considered as rising above the level of entertainment and therefore fail when compared with Hollywood masterworks (121-23) – a potentially problematic framework that nevertheless holds value in any consideration of aesthetic worth. The Facebook page “Casa Grande Vintage Filipino Cinema” posted an “Excerpt from Tunay na Ina (1939)” video post (December 22, 2017) but excluded Zamboanga in the posting’s enumeration of “four (so-far) pre-WW2 Filipino films that have survived”; queried about the oversight, Mike de Leon (or someone who claims to be him) states, problematically and without clarifying his terms, that Zamboanga “has been transformed into an American B-movie and that is its present and permanent state. Are we so desperate that we have to quibble over such unimportant matters?”

[2] The late critic-historian Agustin Sotto maintained that the 1960s “was also the period when the top directors shot their best works” – Ninth Period, “History of Philippine Cinema (1897-1969)” (n.pag.).

[3] Selected by the late film critic and director Pio de Castro III as superior to the rest of Avellana’s output; in a conversation regarding the selection of Avellana for the Philippine critics circle’s life achievement prize (cf. Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino), de Castro claimed that Avellana had expressed surprise and agreement with his choice (interview with author, Quezon City, June 1981).

[4] Because of periods where newly founded studios overlapped with about-to-be-defunct ones, a number of observers maintain that four is the magic number. Justifications for and speculations on the numerological principle of having three participants – a major, a rival, and an underdog – can be found in David, “Studious Studios,” The National Pastime 126-28. For a first-hand account of the machinations of the Marcos-era’s “umbrella” film agency, the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, see David, “A Cultural Policy Experience.”

[5] In fact in the official award-obsessed critics’ anthology for the decade of the 1990s, the decadal introduction described the period “as one of the darkest…in the development of the local cinema” (Tiongson 2). The article remarks that “It does not take a genius to see how or why the decade of the 1990s could very well be called ‘the worst of times’ in the history of the Filipino cinema because it was the decade when greed, attended by opportunism and compromise, reared its head and ruled in practically all levels and institutions of the movie industry” (35). Revealingly, the article points to trends in the 1960s in order to further condemn the output of the decade, referring to “the slavish and often pathetic imitation of Hollywood blockbusters and directors in order to take advantage of the popularity of the Hollywood originals” and singling out the local industry’s carnivalesque mimicking of James Bond, “Gringo cowboys,” and Chinese martial-arts successes (9).

Works Cited

Aguiluz, Tikoy, dir. Boatman. Perf. Ronnie Lazaro, Sarsi Emmanuelle, Alfrredo Navarro Salanga, Susan Africa, Mario Escudero, Suzanne Love, Josephine Manuel, Jonas Sebastian. AMA Communications, 1984.

———, dir. Segurista [Dead Sure]. Perf. Michelle Aldana, Gary Estrada, Ruby Moreno, Albert Martinez, Julio Diaz, Pen Medina, Eddie Rodriguez, Liza Lorena, Suzette Ranillo, Teresa Loyzaga, Anthony Castelo, Roy de Guzman, Manjo del Mundo, Evelyn Vargas. Neo, 1996.

Amigo, Cesar, dir. Sa Atin ang Daigdig [The World Is Ours]. Perf. Robert Arevalo, Nida Blanca, Cecilia Lopez, Eddie Mesa. Premiere, 1963.

Avellana, Lamberto V., dir. Anak Dalita [Child of Sorrow]. Perf. Rosa Rosal, Tony Santos, Vic Silayan, Joseph de Cordova, Vic Bacani, Leroy Salvador, Rosa Aguirre, Alfonso Carvajal, Oscar Keesee, Johnny Reyes. LVN, 1956.

———, dir. Badjao [Sea-faring Tribe]. Perf. Rosa Rosal, Tony Santos Vic Silayan, Joseph de Cordova, Leroy Salvador, Oscar Keesee, Pedro Faustino. LVN, 1957.

———, dir. Scout Rangers. Perf. Romeo Vasquez, Leopoldo Salcedo, Eddie Rodriguez, Willie Sotelo, Tony Santos, Carlos Salazar, Jose Romulo, Sylvia Gumabao, Ramon Revilla, Oscar Roncal, Renato Robles, Vic Silayan, Caridad Sanchez. Zultana International, 1964.

Bernal, Ishmael, dir. Himala [Miracle]. Nora Aunor, Gigi Dueñas, Spanky Manikan, Laura Centeno, Joel Lamangan, Amable Quiambao, Veronica Palileo, Cris Daluz, Ben Almeda, Aura Mijares, Rey Ventura, Crispin Medina, Lem Garcellano, Tommy Yap. Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, 1982.

———, dir. Manila by Night. Perf. Bernardo Bernardo, Charito Solis, William Martinez, Cherie Gil, Rio Locsin, Lorna Tolentino, Orestes Ojeda, Maya Valdes, Alma Moreno, Gina Alajar, Johnny Wilson, Sharon Manabat, Jojo Santiago, Abbo de la Cruz. Regal, 1980.

———, dir. Pagdating sa Dulo [At the End]. Perf. Rita Gomez, Vic Vargas, Eddie Garcia, Rosemarie Gil, Ronaldo Valdez, Elvira Manahan, Zenaida Amador, Subas Herrero, Joonee Gamboa, Ernie Zarate, Ellen Esguerra. Mever & Frankesa, 1971.

———, dir. Pahiram ng Isang Umaga [Lend Me a Morning]. Perf. Vilma Santos, Eric Quizon, Gabby Concepcion, Zsa Zsa Padilla, Billy Crawford, Tita Muñoz, Gil de Leon, Dexter Doria, Vicky Suba, Subas Herrero, Cris Vertido, Gamaliel Viray, Toby Alejar. Regal, 1989.

Brocka, Lino, dir. Gumapang Ka sa Lusak [Crawl Through the Mud]. Perf. Dina Bonnevie, Christopher de Leon, Eddie Garcia, Charo Santos, Bembol Roco, Allan Paule, Francis Magalona, William Lorenzo, Timmy Diwa, Perla Bautista, Tess Dumpit, Anita Linda, Lucita Soriano, Ray Ventura, Ernie Zarate. Viva, 1990.

———, dir. Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag [Manila: In the Talons of Light]. Perf. Rafael Roco Jr., Hilda Koronel, Lou Salvador Jr., Tommy Abuel, Joonee Gamboa, Danilo Posadas, Spanky Manikan, Tommy Yap, Pio de Castro III, Lily Gamboa, Pancho Pelagio. Cinema Artists, 1975.

———, dir. Orapronobis [Pray for Us]. Perf. Phillip Salvador, Dina Bonnevie, Gina Alajar, Bembol Roco, Ginnie Sobrino, Abbo de la Cruz, Pen Medina, Joel Lamangan, Ernie Zarate, Bon Vibar, Raquel Villavicencio. Special People, 1989.

Castillo, Celso Ad., dir. Burlesk Queen. Perf. Vilma Santos, Rollie Quizon, Leopoldo Salcedo, Rosemarie Gil, Joonee Gamboa, Rio Locsin, Canuplin, Roldan Aquino, Dexter Doria. Ian Films, 1977.

———, dir. Pagputi ng Uwak, Pag-itim ng Tagak [When the Crow Turns White and the Heron Black]. Perf. Vilma Santos, Bembol Roco, Mona Lisa, Adul de Leon, Robert Talabis, Angie Ferro, Olivia O’Hara, Mario Escudero. Amazaldy, 1985.

———, dir. Paradise Inn. Perf. Lolita Rodriguez, Vivian Velez, Michael de Mesa, Dennis Roldan, Jinggoy Estrada, Robert Arevalo, Armida Siguion-Reyna, Lito Anzures. VS, 1978.

“Classics of the Filipino Film.” Philippine Film. Vol. 8 of the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art. Ed. Nicanor G. Tiongson. Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1994. 50-57.

Conde, Manuel, and Lou Salvador, dirs. Genghis Khan. Perf. Manuel Conde, Elvira Reyes, Inday Jalandoni, Jose Villafranca, Lou Salvador, Don Dano, Africa de la Rosa, Ric Bustamante, Ely Nakpil, Johnny Monteiro. MC, 1950.

David, Joel. “A Cultural Policy Experience in Philippine Cinema.” Wages of Cinema: Film in Philippine Perspective. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1998. 48-61.

———. Fields of Vision: Critical Applications in Recent Philippine Cinema. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1995.

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

De Castro, Eduardo, dir. Zamboanga. Perf. Fernando Poe, Rosa del Rosario. Filippine, 1937.

De Leon, Gerardo, dir. Daigdig ng mga Api [World of the Oppressed]. Perf. Robert Arevalo, Barbara Perez, Leni Alano, Ben Perez, Oscar Keesee, Dely Villanueva, Manny Ojeda, Mona del Cielo, Estrella Marquez, Jet del Mundo, Ruben Ilagan. Cinemasters, 1965.

———, dir. El Filibusterismo [The Subversion]. Perf. Pancho Magalona, Charito Solis, Teody Belarmino, Edita Vital, Ben Perez, Carlos Padilla Jr., Lourdes Medel, Robert Arevalo, Oscar Keesee, Ramon D’Salva, Jose de Cordova, Paquito Diaz, Jose Garcia. Arriva, 1962.

———, dir. Ifugao. Perf. Leila Morena, Efren Reyes, Johnny Monteiro, Gloria Sevilla. Premiere, 1954.

———, dir. The Moises Padilla Story. Perf. Leopoldo Salcedo, Joseph Estrada, Lilia Dizon, Ben Perez, Oscar Roncal, Max Alvarado, Rosa Aguirre, Robert Arevalo, Joseph de Cordova, Martin Marfil. MML, 1961.

De Leon, Mike, dir. Batch ’81. Perf. Mark Gil, Ward Luarca, Armida Siguion-Reyna, Chanda Romero, Ricky Sandico, Jimmy Javier, Chito Ponce-Enrile, Sandy Andolong, Noel Trinidad, Rod Leido, Bing Pimentel, Dang Cecilio, Mike Arvisu, Edwin Reyes, Nanette Inventor. MVP, 1982.

———, dir. Bayaning Third World [Third World Hero]. Perf. Joel Torre, Ricky Davao, Cris Villanueva, Ed Rocha, Joonee Gamboa, Daria Ramirez, Rio Locsin, Cherry Pie Picache, Lara Fabregas. Cinema Artists & Solar, 1999.

———, dir. Itim [The Rites of May]. Perf. Tommy Abuel, Mario Montenegro, Charo Santos, Mona Lisa, Sarah Joaquin, Susan Valdez, Moody Diaz. Cinema Artists, 1976.

———, dir. Kisapmata [In the Wink of an Eye]. Perf. Vic Silayan, Charo Santos, Jay Ilagan, Charito Solis, Ruben Rustia, Aida Carmona, Juan Rodrigo, Dindo Angeles. Bancom Audiovision, 1981.

———, dir. Sister Stella L. Perf. Vilma Santos, Laurice Guillen, Jay Ilagan, Tony Santos, Gina Alajar, Anita Linda, Eddie Infante, Liza Lorena, Adul de Leon, Rody Vera, Malou de Guzman, Pen Medina, Jojo Sanchez. Regal, 1984.

Del Mundo, Clodualdo A. Native Resistance: Philippine Cinema and Colonialism, 1898-1941. Manila: De La Salle UP, 1998.

Diaz, Lav, dir. Batang West Side [West Side Kid]. Perf. Joel Torre, Yul Servo, Gloria Diaz, Art Acuña, Priscilla Almeda, Ruben Tizon, Raul Arellano, Joseph Pe, Angel Aquino. Hinabing Pangarap & Jimon, 2001.

———, dir. Serafin Geronimo: Ang Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcion [Criminal of Barrio Concepcion]. Perf. Raymond Bagatsing, Lorli Villanueva, Angel Aquino, Ana Capri, Dindi Gallardo, Tonton Gutierrez, Richard Joson, Aya Medel. Good Harvest & Regal, 1998.

Diaz-Abaya, Marilou, dir. Brutal. Perf. Amy Austria, Gina Alajar, Jay Ilagan, Charo Santos, Johnny Delgado, Perla Bautista, Joonee Gamboa, Nello Nayo, Robert Tongco. Bancom Audiovision, 1980.

———, dir. Karnal. Perf. Phillip Salvador, Cecile Castillo, Vic Silayan, Joel Torre, Grace Amilbangsa, Rolando Tinio, Ella Luansing, Vangie Labalan. Cine Suerte, 1983.

———, dir. Milagros. Perf. Sharmaine Arnaiz, Dante Rivero, Joel Torre, Raymond Bagatsing, Noni Buencamino, Mia Gutierrez, Elizabeth Oropesa, Ramon Reyes, Rolando Tinio. Merdeka, 1997.

———, dir. Moral. Perf. Lorna Tolentino, Sandy Andolong, Gina Alajar, Anna Marin, Laurice Guillen, Juan Rodrigo, Lito Pimentel, Dexter Doria, Mia Gutierrez, Michael Sandico, Ronald Bregendahl, Ramil Rodriguez, Claire de la Fuente. Seven Stars, 1982.

Estella, Ramon, dir. Huling Habilin [Last Will]. Perf. Rosa del Rosario, Elsa Oria, Leopoldo Salcedo. Filippine, 1940.

Fernandez, Gregorio, dir. Malvarosa. Perf. Charito Solis, Leroy Salvador, Carlos Padilla Jr., Eddie Rodriguez, Rebecca del Rio, Vic Silayan, Vic Diaz, Rey Ruiz, Johnny Reyes, Caridad Sanchez. LVN, 1958.

Gallaga, Peque, dir. Oro, Plata, Mata [Gold, Silver, Death]. Perf. Joel Torre, Cherie Gil, Sandy Andolong, Mitch Valdes, Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, Liza Lorena, Lorli Villanueva, Gigi Dueñas, Mary Walter, Manny Ojeda, Abbo de la Cruz, Ronnie Lazaro, Mely Mallari, Robert Antonio, Kuh Ledesma. Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, 1982.

———, dir. Tiyanak [Demon Foundling]. Perf. Janice de Belen, Lotlot de Leon, Ramon Christopher, Mary Walter, Chuckie Dreyfuss, Carmina Villaroel, Smokey Manaloto, Zorayda Sanchez, Bella Flores, Suzanne Gonzales, Betty Mae Piccio. Regal, 1988.

Gallardo, Cesar, dir. Geron Busabos: Ang Batang Quiapo [Geron the Tramp: The Quiapo Kid]. Perf. Joseph Estrada, Imelda Ilanan, Oscar Roncal, Vic Andaya, Angel Buenaventura, Bebong Osorio, Larry Silva, Leni Trinidad, Boy Alvarez. Emar, 1964.

———, dir. Kadenang Putik [Chain of Mud]. Perf. Efren Reyes, Tessie Quintana, Alicia Vergel, Leonor Vergara, Ronald Remy, Lily Marquez, Bob Soler. People’s, 1960.

Garcia, Eddie, dir. Saan Nagtatago ang Pag-ibig? [Where Is Love Hiding?]. Perf. Vilma Santos, Tonton Gutierrez, Ricky Davao, Gloria Romero, Alicia alonzo, Eddie Arenas, Perla Bautista, Joonee Gamboa, Cherie Gil, Suzanne Gonzales, Vangie Labalan, Vicky Suba, Alicia Vergel. Viva, 1987.

Garcia, Jessie B. “The Golden Decade of Philippine Movies.” Rpt. from Weekly Graphic (April 26, May 3, and May 10, 1972). Readings in Philippine Cinema. Ed. Rafael Ma. Guerrero. Manila: Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, 1983. 39-54.

Guillen, Laurice, dir. Kasal? [Wedding?]. Perf. Christopher de Leon, Hilda Koronel, Jay Ilagan, Chanda Romero, Mia Gutierrez, Johnny Wilson, Bobby Ledesma, Gloria Romero. Agrix, 1980.

———, dir. Kung Mahawi Man ang Ulap [If the Clouds Should Clear]. Perf. Hilda Koronel, Christopher de Leon, Amy Austria, Gloria Romero, Eddie Garcia, Isabel Rivas, Michael de Mesa, Tommy Abuel. Viva, 1984.

———, dir. Salome. Perf. Gina Alajar, Johnny Delgado, Dennis Roldan, Armida Siguion-Reyna, Bruno Punzalan, Bongchi Miraflor, Koko Trinidad, Cris Vertido, Edna Mae Landicho, Tony Santos, Carpi Asturias. Bancom Audiovision, 1981.

Jeturian, Jeffrey, dir. Pila Balde [Fetch a Pail of Water]. Perf. Ana Capri, Marcus Madrigal, Harold Pineda, Allen Dizon, Estrella Kuenzler, Becky Misa, Jess Evardone, Engelbert de Ramos. Good Harvest, 1999.

———, dir. Sana Pag-ibig Na [This Might Be Love]. Perf. Nida Blanca, Angel Aquino, Gerald Madrid, Chinggoy Alonzo, Julio Diaz, Pinky Amador, Richard Bonnin, Vangie Labalan, Carmen Cabling, Jorel Pacci, Donnovan Ama. Good Harvest & Regal, 1998.

———, dir. Tuhog [Larger Than Life]. Perf. Ina Raymundo, Klaudia Koronel, Jaclyn Jose, Irma Adlawan, Dante Rivero, Nante Montreal, Raymond Nieva, Eric Parilla, Crispin Pineda, Frank Rivera, Desi Rivera, Celeste Lumasac, Albert Zialcita, Jesette Prospero, Russell Zamora. Available Light & Regal, 2001.

Lumbera, Bienvenido. “Problems in Philippine Film History.” Rpt. from The Diliman Review (July-August 1981). Revaluation 1977: Essays on Philippine Literature, Cinema and Popular Culture. 1984. Rev. ed. Manila: University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 1997. 177-87.

Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino [Filipino Film Critics Circle]. “Natatanging Gawad Urian kay Lamberto V. Avellana” [Outstanding Urian Award for Lamberto V. Avellana]. [May 1981] , accessed January 12, 2010.

Marcos, Pepe, dir. Tubusin Mo ng Dugo [Repay (Your Debt) with Blood]. Perf. Rudy Fernandez, Princess Punzalan, Johnny Delgado, Perla Bautista, Debbie Miller. Bonanza, 1988.

Milan, Wilfredo, dir. Anak ng Cabron [Son of a Scoundrel]. Perf. Ace Vergel, Perla Bautista, Vivian Foz. Urban, 1988.

Nepomuceno, Jose, dir. Dalagang Bukid [Country Maiden]. Perf. Atang de la Rama, Marcelino Ilagan. Nepomuceno, 1919.

———, dir. Noli me tangere [Touch Me Not]. Perf. Monang Carvajal. Nepomuceno, 1930.

———, dir. La venganza de Don Silvestre [The Revenge of Don Silvestre]. Perf. unkn. Nepomuceno, 1919.

O’Hara, Mario, dir. Bagong Hari [New King]. Perf. Dan Alvaro, Robert Arevalo, Perla Bautista, Glaiza Herradura, Joel Lamangan, Carmi Martin, Joel Torre. Cinemaventures, 1986.

———, dir. The Fatima Buen Story. Perf. Kris Aquino, Janice de Belen, Zoren Legaspi, Gina Pareño, John Regala. Regal, 1994.

———, dir. Pangarap ng Puso [Demons]. Perf. Hilda Koronel, Anita Linda, Matet de Leon, Leo Rabago, Lucita Soriano, Alex Alano, Mike Magat, Arman de Guzman, Judy Teodoro, Eugene Domingo, Dido de la Paz, Robynne von Hagel, Christian Alvear, Ruben Gatilutan, Lilia Cuntapay. Regal, 2000.

———, dir. Tatlong Ina, Isang Anak [Three Mothers, One Daughter]. Perf. Nora Aunor, Gina Alajar, Celeste Legaspi, Matet de Leon, Imelda Alejar, Tom Alvarez, Dan Alvaro, Perla Bautista, Rez Cortez. NCV, 1987.

Pascual, William, dir. Takaw Tukso [Prone to Temptation]. Perf. Jaclyn Jose, Anna Marie Gutierrez, Gino Antonio, Julio Diaz, Daniel Fernando, Anita Linda. Ultravision, 1986.

Perez, Elwood, dir. Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit [Count the Stars in Heaven]. Perf. Nora Aunor, Tirso Cruz III, Gloria Romero, Miguel Rodriguez, Ana Margarita Gonzales, Perla Bautista, Vangie Labalan, Mario Escudero, Flora Gasser, Beverly Salviejo, Rolando Tinio, Ella Luansing, Manjo del Mundo. Regal, 1989.

———, dir. Ang Totoong Buhay ni Pacita M. [The Real Life of Pacita M.]. Perf. Nora Aunor, Lotlot de Leon, Marissa Delgado, Dexter Doria, Subas Herrero, John Rendez, Armida Siguion-Reyna. MRN, 1991.

Portes, Gil, dir. Andrea, Paano Ba ang Maging Isang Ina? [Andrea, How Does One Become a Mother?]. Perf. Nora Aunor, Gina Alajar, Lloyd Samartino, Dan Alvaro, Perla Bautista, Melissa Mendez, Juan Rodrigo, Susan Africa. MRN, 1990.

Romero, Eddie, dir. Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon? [Thus Were We Then…What Happens to You Now?]. Perf. Christopher de Leon, Gloria Diaz, Leopoldo Salcedo, Dranreb, Eddie Garcia, Tsing Tong Tsai, E. A. Rocha, Rosemarie Gil, Johnny Vicar, Jaime Fabregas. Hemisphere, 1976.

———, dir. The Passionate Strangers. Perf. Michael Parsons, Valora Noland, Mario Montenegro, Celia Rodriguez, Vic Diaz, Butz Aquino, Claude Wilson, Jose Dagumboy, Bong Calumpang, Cesar Aguilar. MJP, 1966.

Roño, Chito, dir. Bakit Kay Tagal ng Sandali? [A Moment Too Long]. Perf. Dina Bonnevie, Charito Solis, Janice de Belen, Julio Diaz, Eddie Garcia. Viva, 1990.

———, dir. Curacha: ang Babaeng Walang Pahinga [Curacha: A Woman without Rest]. Perf. Rosanna Roces, Jaclyn Jose, Ruby Moreno, Ara Mina, Lucita Soriano, Maureen Mauricio, Mike Magat, Dick Israel, Tito Arevalo, Lito Legaspi, Richard Bonnin, Roy Alvarez, Tom Olivar. Regal, 1998.

———, dir. Itanong Mo sa Buwan [Ask the Moon]. Perf. Jaclyn Jose, Mark Gil, Susan Africa, Mia Gutierrez, Anita Linda, Tita Muñoz, Lucita Soriano. Double M, 1998.

——— [pseud. Sixto Kayko], dir. Private Show. Perf. Jaclyn Jose, Gino Antonio, Leopoldo Salcedo, Yvonne, Aurora Boulevard, Lucita Soriano, Ella Luansing, Bella Flores, Johnny Vicar. Clock Work, 1986.

Salumbides, Vicente, and Manuel Conde, dirs. Ibong Adarna [Adarna Bird]. Perf. Fred Cortes, Mila del Sol, Manuel Conde. LVN, 1941.

Salvador, Augusto, dir. Joe Pring. Perf. Phillip Salvador, Johnny Delgado, Aurora Sevilla, Maila Gumila, Paquito Diaz, Dencio Padilla, Conrad Poe, Ruel Vernal, Robert Talabis, Bing Davao, Ernie Forte. 4-N, 1989.

Salvador, Leroy, dir. Badlis sa Kinabuhi [Stroke of Fortune]. Perf. Gloria Sevilla, Mat Ranillo Jr., Felix de Catalina, Danilo Nuñez, Aurora Villa, Frankie Navaja Jr. MG, 1968.

Siguion-Reyna, Carlos, dir. Hihintayin Kita sa Langit [I’ll Wait for You in Heaven]. Perf. Richard Gomez, Dawn Zulueta, Michael de Mesa, Jackie Lou Blanco, Eric Quizon, Vangie Labalan, Joe Mari Avellana. Reyna, 1991.

———, dir. Ikaw Pa Lang ang Minahal [You Were the Only One I’ve Loved]. Perf. Maricel Soriano, Richard Gomez, Charito Solis, Eddie Gutierrez, Dawn Zulueta, Armida Siguion-Reyna. Reyna, 1992.

———, dir. Misis Mo, Misis Ko [Your Missus, My Missus]. Perf. Jackie Lou Blanco, Dina Bonnevie, Ricky Davao, Jaclyn Jose, Edu Manzano. Viva, 1988.

Silos, Manuel, dir. Biyaya ng Lupa [Bounty of the Earth]. Perf. Rosa Rosal, Leroy Salvador, Tony Santos, Carmencita Abad, Carlos Padilla Jr., Marita Zobel, Joseph de Cordova, Mila Ocampo, Pedro Faustino. LVN, 1959.

Silos, Octavio, dir. Pakiusap [Lover’s Plea]. Perf. Naty Bernardo, Rudy Concepcion, Pedro Faustino, Joaquin Gavino, Rosario Moreno, Elsa Oria. Excelsior, 1940.

———, dir. Tunay na Ina [Genuine Mother]. Perf. Rudy Concepcion, Tita Duran, Rosario Moreno. Excelsior, 1939.

Sotto, Agustin. “History of Philippine Cinema (1897-1969).” Pelikula at Lipunan: Festival of Filipino Film Classics and Short Films. [Quezon City]: National Commission for Culture and the Arts Cinema Committee, Film Academy of the Philippines, and Movie Workers Welfare Fund, 1994.

Tiongson, Nicanor G. “The Best of Times, the Worst of Times: The Filipino Cinema in 1990-1999.” The Urian Anthology 1990-1999. Ed. Nicanor G. Tiongson. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press and Film Development Council of the Philippines, 2010. 2-43.

Tolosa, Carlos Vander, dir. Giliw Ko [My Beloved]. Perf. Mila del Sol, Fernando Poe, Ely Ramos, Fleur de Lis. LVN, 1938.

———, dir. Diwata ng Karagatan [Goddess of the Sea]. Perf. Mari Velez. Parlatone Hispano-Filipino, 1936.

Villano, Tor, dir. Ligaw na Bituin [Wandering Star]. Perf. Norma del Rosario, Cecilio Joaquin, Leopoldo Salcedo. Filippine, 1938.

Back to top
Return to Millennial Traversals contents

Grains & Flickers

Article (with updates and corrections – see endnotes) that appeared in the “Revolution across Generations” section of Remembering/Rethinking EDSA (ed. JPaul S. Manzanilla and Caroline S. Hau, Mandaluyong City: Anvil, 2016), pp. 172-87. The book itself won the Best Anthology prize of the National Book Awards from the Manila Critics Circle, administered by the National Book Development Board. Kindly purchase your full copy via Amazon or the Anvil Publishing website. To jump to later sections, please click here for:

Personal as Political;
Cultural Politics;
Daughter Rising;
ECP in Focus: Alternative Screenings;
ECP in Focus: Archives;
ECP in Focus: Education;
ECP in Focus: Funding;
ECP in Focus: International Film Festival;
ECP in Focus: Production;
ECP in Focus: Ratings for Tax Rebates;
ECP in Focus: Support Activities;
Way of All Flesh; and
Sources, Dedication, & Notes.

Remembering - Rethinking EDSA

No sane academic would argue against the prevailing consensus that the Marcos dictatorship, as a socio-economic experiment, had proved unsuccessful, if not downright catastrophic. The irony is that among other major Asian countries, the Philippines had been alone in effectively suffering for nothing. All the other ASEAN members, more or less following the example of Korea, emerged as fast-developing economies during or immediately after their authoritarian ordeals. Koreans, in fact, have proved so grateful for the legacy of Park Chung-hee, Ferdinand Marcos’s counterpart, that they enabled his daughter to become the first female President in their own still mostly patriarchal system. Lee Kuan Yew, for his part, has remained influential decades after the restoration of democracy to Singapore, and has taken upon himself the task of criticizing the Philippines for its refusal to return to an authoritarian arrangement as a developmental strategy.

Over a quarter-century since the ouster of the Marcoses, the present has brought what many commentators worryingly describe as a mellowing of the Filipinos’ perception of the havoc the couple had wreaked on the country. Per this logic, Pinoys supposedly have short memories, or are inherently masochistic or manipulable, or are simply incapable of determining what would be best or worst for them. The same critics would also be the first to acknowledge that most presidencies since that of Ferdinand Marcos have ranged from unexceptional to awful, and therefore these observers unknowingly trip over themselves in the pro-people march they believe they are in step with: if we hold, for our people’s sake, that most post-Marcos Pinoy presidents have similarly betrayed the people’s trust, would it not be possible to accept that the people are just as capable of perceiving this and exercising their judgment by way of voting back to power the same entities that they had earlier spurned, in effect telling the succeeding oligarchs that the latter are no better, if not outright worse, than the Marcoses?

I certainly would be horrified at the prospect of Imelda Marcos or her son being installed as Chief Executive – yet she was precisely the person I voted for, during the only time she ran as President (and the last time I exercised my right to vote). She certainly had a snowball in hell’s chance of winning, but since the satirically motivated University of the Philippines professors’ attempt to nominate perennial nuisance candidate Pascual Racuyal had fizzled during the snap elections that ousted her husband, I figured that no other nuisance would be as flamboyant and annoying as our own Iron Butterfly; and if no one else ever voted for her, then my own ballot would serve, however quixotically, as a voice in the wilderness, heralding not the arrival of any savior, but the impossibility (since confirmed, to my mind) of finding one.

My own mellowness toward the martial-law years has evolved differently. When I ultimately felt myself caught up in the wave of diasporic Pinoy labor, I thought this was the very worst long-term economic legacy bequeathed by the Marcos presidency. What had been intended as a stop-gap measure (the same way it was deployed in Korea – where, aptly enough, my OFW-ness eventually led me) had become the Philippines’ primary source of income and growth. Then I started seeing first-hand how overseas employers were being won over by whatever specific package of social skills and work ethic that Filipinos had grown up with, and I found myself grateful that the home country remained a nicer place to return to than if it had been ravaged by the type of industrialization that would have boosted standard-issue national development. That plus our taken-for-granted near-total press freedom would ensure for us (assuming our luck holds out) that, however belatedly we embark on the path of growth, we would never be subject to the machinations that require sufficient obfuscation in order for dictatorships, transnational interests, foreign-based religions, and other self-interested parties to implement their agenda.

Back to top

Personal as Political

The manner in which I arrived at this latter-day position vis-à-vis the Marcos dictatorship was foreshadowed by the lessons I drew from my direct interaction with the period. As a high-school and subsequently a college student at the University of the Philippines, I had early on admired and later emulated the senior students who were committed to the activist cause of criticizing and mobilizing against the Marcos presidency, later the martial-law regime. Momentous events such as the First Quarter Storm and the Diliman Commune filtered down to my level of awareness not via my disapproving though sympathetic parents, but through my firebrand uncle, a scholar at the elite Ateneo de Manila University, for whom they were acting as guardians. I’d had enough of an early association with activist organizations so that when martial law was declared, my mother woke me up to inform me that she had buried my Little Red Book and other paraphernalia in the backyard, and wanted to ensure that I had no other seditious materials tucked away elsewhere.

An intense dalliance with evangelical conversion and missionary preparation made me feel then that I had wasted my early college years, but my return to activism provided me with the readiness to recognize that full orthodox-Marxist commitment entailed a similar suspension of critical and humane judgment, a reliance on faith – in leaders, in organizations, in Machiavellian methods, in a promised form of government, and in an unchanging conception of progressivity. When I realized that such a volatile combination of ideals could result in unwelcome tragedy (described by an elderly colleague as “necessary sacrifices” toward the attainment of revolutionary triumph), I determined that I would never be able to abide such a cost. A bus full of solicitous and comradely soldiers, on a provincial trip I took, drove the point home even more urgently: I would not want these people coming to harm, and I would be unable to refuse mourning them as intensely as I had mourned the death-in-action of an activist acquaintance of mine. The people being served, the working class being upheld, would include the soldier, the jailer, the policeman, the executioner, even if they had been tasked to carry out the basest interests of the state. How that principle can be realized I had no clue about – my introduction to Michel Foucault’s ideas would arrive later – although I had to contend with the fact that the institutional Left as I knew it would never stand for it, just as organized religion would never allow for the possibility of an otherwise undeniably godless universe.

The requisites of everyday survival bore down on me almost immediately afterward, circa the late 1970s. Armed with a bachelor’s degree and an extensive record in what is still known as committed journalism, I found that the only doors that I could open were those of publications willing to accept freelance contributions for little better than a hundred pesos or so each. To play safe, I avoided the political and economic analyses that I had focused on as a student journalist, and turned to cultural reportage. Eventually one of these periodicals, a monthly magazine, hired me, but the media grind of observing deadlines, negotiating with data sources, jockeying with editors, and jostling with fellow writers took its toll. In two years I resigned and was again in search of employment, and the only media-related institution actively seeking interested applicants happened to be the newly launched Marcos film institution, the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines.

The phenomenon of anti-Marcos individuals eventually working for a government institution was such a distinctive commonplace that most activists then were convinced that, if they succeeded as underground figures and survived the dangers of incarceration, they would eventually be “rehabilitated” in one of the several government think-tanks of the period, starting with the University of the Philippines-based Presidential Center for Advanced Studies, and might even be deployed to one of the more people-oriented agencies such as the the one for housing (where my uncle, among others, wound up); they could attempt to maintain their integrity by teaching at the national university instead – which again was in fact still just one more government entity. If not then to death or arrest in armed struggle, or to opting out and climbing the corporate ladder or migrating abroad or living off an inheritance or wealthy spouse, all remaining anti-government roads led to the same profoundly ironic destination: government service.


Back to top

Cultural Politics

I was most fully aware of the paradox I had allowed myself to stumble into, despite the fact that I never reached the point of being arrested and forced to join government, when I was scheduled to be interviewed for my security clearance. I had just by then met the late Maita Gomez, a former socialite and beauty queen who had joined the Philippine underground and who years later agreed to undergo interrogation as part of the condition for her resurfacing. I would probably never be able to mimic the authority and confidence with which she responded, but I certainly could make use of the sharp logic she used. So when the same question, “Can you identify some of the people you associated with?” came up, I paraphrased her answer as best as I could: “Everyone, including me – we all used aliases that we regularly changed for our mutual protection. If I recall any of those names right now, they would no longer be the same as they were when I knew them.” Although Maita said that that answer had sufficed in her case, I was still surprised when my own interviewers nodded right afterward and signed my clearance forthwith. For an institution being run by the Marcoses’ eldest child! (By the time an acquaintance told me he believed I had sold him and his friends out, I was capable of formulating my own useful reply: “The fact that you’re still around [and unstoppable in your idiocy, I wanted to add] is proof that you weren’t that important to me or anybody else.”)

Right upon reporting for work, I was introduced to the major fissure that would define how we would function and why the institution (from the perspective of outsiders) would take such weird directions. The institution was the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, formally defined as an umbrella organization that would function as a support agency for the local film industry. The activity we were preparing for was the Manila International Film Festival, which the ECP would support but would refuse to be affiliated with. The personnel of the ECP’s public relations department, where I was head writer, were on detail from the National Media Production Center, just as a few other personnel were from the dreaded National Intelligence Security Agency. The key to our understanding of how the different forces interacted was in observing Marcos family politics, primarily the tumultuous relationship between the two Imeldas (mother and daughter, the latter nicknamed Imee) and the claims they made on Ferdinand Senior, the omniscient and omnipotent martial-law patriarch.

Hence the ECP’s repudiation of the MIFF reflected Imee’s refusal to be associated with the vulgarities and excesses of her mother, although as NMPC employees under the directorship of Gregorio Cendaña (an Imelda protégé), we had not much of an option except to work as much for the international film festival as for the ECP itself. MIFF work, in fact, was more intensive, requiring several late-night and occasionally overnight sessions. During one of these all-nighters, a strong tremor hit the city, and everyone instinctively rushed to the windows of the Philippine International Convention Center to see what had happened at the nearby construction project, the Manila Film Center. By then we were used to unusual spectacles such as full-grown coconut trees materializing overnight at the vast parking lot that both buildings shared. The post-tremor vision, however, was something that anyone who had seen it would remember for the rest of her life: workers were scrambling down the ladders leaning on the Parthenon-inspired structure as well as scurrying down the Odessa-like steps surrounding it, like panic-stricken insects pouring out of an abruptly distressed anthill.[1]

The notoriety of the government’s response would thereafter epitomize the Marcos regime’s gross mishandling of workers’ welfare, with victims of the collapsed scaffolding paying the highest price for the construction’s timely completion. Those trapped but still alive in the quick-drying cement had their limbs amputated, while those who had died were buried under further layers. Up to the present, certain pro-Marcos apologists occasionally affirm the official line that the tragedy could not have been as extensive as the few hundreds alleged by the opposition. Yet the visual evidence that we had witnessed, confirmed by the account of an elderly security guard (who later inexplicably disappeared), was apparently sufficient to alarm Imee Marcos, who was easing into her role as Director-General of the ECP. Prior to moving our offices from the convention center to the new building, she (not Imelda, as erroneously and illogically reported in book accounts) insisted on performing a cañao, a native exorcism ritual.[2]

Urban legends abounded regarding the building. Various staff members reported uncanny sightings of men who looked like construction-site peons – not unexpected from the excitable youthful minds of star-struck theater and office assistants. But when the Imelda associate in charge of the project was driving in Tagaytay and died upon crashing into a tree, conversation dwelled not so much on the fact that she was with her alleged paramour (another prominent and married Marcos official), but rather that she supposedly swerved to avoid colliding with a sudden apparition of spectral laborers. The account first surfaced as a report in Veritas, a now-defunct opposition newsmagazine published by the Catholic Church; the article was anonymously written, but some of us in the public relations department recognized the style as belonging to Eddie Pacheco, Imee’s then-recently resigned (and now recently deceased) speech writer.

Back to top

Daughter Rising

The Experimental Cinema of the Philippines flourished for over two years. It had been earlier launched, with much fanfare, in bare form and with a different name as one of the several agencies to be run by Imelda Romualdez Marcos. In a surprise twist, on January 29, 1982, Ferdinand Marcos signed Executive Order 770 creating the ECP, effectively overriding the earlier institution and handing over its functions to his daughter, Imee. The process of its formation was transparent enough, so that the most prominent film artists (who were opposition in association and practice) provided advice; the most vocal Marcos critic among them, Lino Brocka, hailed the choice of Imee in one of his rare local interviews.

The ECP thrived for the nearly three years that Imee Marcos took active charge of its operations. The intra-familial intrigue that centered on her – the kidnapping and rescue of her then-boyfriend, the man who had married and subsequently separated from Aurora Pijuan, a Miss International title-holder much admired for her exceptional beauty – was followed closely within the organization, with a concomitant celebration when Tommy Manotoc finally came out, as it were, with her in an official function. Imee’s insistence on her personal preferences, even to the point of contravening her parents, was consistent with her lifestyle, which could be best described as bohemian – at least as far as her understandably harassed security circle could accommodate it, and which has most likely never been seen before or since in any Philippine presidential family circle.

Her participation in small theater productions and enrollment at the University of the Philippines, circa late ’70s, were socially acceptable enough to be covered in media. (She and I in fact were classmates once, although as a then-aspiring activist I had no inkling that I would eventually be working for her.) Among the several first-hand accounts I remember from friends, her late-night food trips to gang-ridden Chinatown and closed-door pot sessions with artists made her a fascinating subject. She would occasionally walk around in extremely informal garb and spout the semi-obscene lingo exclusively associated that time with gay men (who were its acknowledged source), sex workers, and transgressive artists. Her reputation for intelligent discourse has not diminished through the years, and in fact was enhanced upon her post-EDSA return to public official duties, sharply contrasting with the behavior and character of subsequent presidential children.

At this point I venture to interject a further measure of the loss suffered by the country’s failed authoritarian experiment. Again the basis for comparison is Korea, whose dictator, Park Chung-hee, had a meet-and-greet with Ferdinand Marcos during the 1966 convention of the SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, predecessor of the ASEAN), where Park allegedly felt slighted by Marcos’s condescending attitude. Park’s assassination in 1979, preceding Marcos’s ignominious death in exile by a decade, was followed by even more rapid economic development for his already highly industrialized country, in contrast with the several traumatic years of negative growth that immediately succeeded the Marcos era in the Philippines. Hence while Park Geun Hye, Chung-hee’s daughter, eventually emerged as the strongest contender to her country’s highest elective position, Imee Marcos could only hope to ride as far as the discontent of the Filipino population with successive regimes could propel her and the other surviving Marcoses back to power.

Yet the irony in this situation is that, while Park Geun Hye could only maintain (and succeed with) a conservative political position, the Marcoses, probably to their own surprise, found themselves taking an increasingly open anti-US position once American officials withdrew support for them and cast their lot with the local opposition. Ferdinand Sr. was a virtual prisoner in Hawaii, refusing treatment for the disease that he knew would eventually kill him; Imelda was hauled off to court and mocked severely enough in public to win sympathy from her jurors; Imee, after returning to the Philippines and upon her election to Congress, sided with a Leftist bloc in criticizing such prevalent US interests as joint military exercises and intellectual property issues.[3] If not for the association with her parents (marked by her upholding of her family’s material interests and exacerbated by her reconciliation with her eccentric, possibly borderline-insane mother), we could probably do worse with the recent turn toward dynasticism in presidential choices than selecting someone with the intelligence of Ferdinand, the charisma of Imelda, the experience of decades in Malacañang, an exposure to global realpolitik, an appreciation of the potency of culture, and a willingness to challenge figures of authority, ranging from her parents to the country’s neocolonial bullies.[4] I would definitely not lift at hand if this, by some fantastic turn of events, were to come to pass; but I would also be unable to look away.

Back to top

ECP in Focus

A count-our-blessings principle would behoove us to acknowledge the only definite area where Marcos-era government intervention was more positive than otherwise. And once more, the object lesson remains: what a priceless heritage we could have had if the energy, creativity, integrity, and resources of these types of contributions were bestowed on more essential areas of the economy – where future generations could take the cue from their elders and seek, not foreign employment opportunities, but profitable and globally cutting-edge ventures that would position the country as the major Asian player that its pre-Marcos past had promised.

Unlike the Marcos regime’s state- or crony-owned monopolies that debilitated the national economy and depleted the dictatorship’s reserves of goodwill, the ECP sought simultaneously to lead by example and provide the necessary material support for local producers to follow suit. It would conduct an annual scriptwriting contest and produce the winning entries; subsidize productions by providing loans for meritorious projects; grant tax rebates on the basis of quality; screen significant local and foreign films in censorship-exempt venues; conduct extensive education and training programs; and preserve existing productions, restoring endangered ones if necessary.

The obvious connection of such a conglomeration of functions with the present lies in an occasionally acknowledged point made by historically inclined observers: that when Philippine movie production, along with the country’s few remaining minor industries, collapsed from the pressures of neoliberal globalization during the late-’90s Asian crisis induced by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s interventions, the only means by which film was revived was via a close observance, mostly by the private sector, of the ECP strategy. In fact one could provide a checklist (herewith alphabetically arranged) of the aforementioned ECP functions and easily find one or more contemporary counterparts:

  • Alternative screenings. The ECP’s Alternative Cinema Department was the organization’s most active arm (more impressive considering that videocassettes had not yet proliferated), scheduling daily screenings at the Manila Film Center’s main theater and twin regular theaters, and occasionally at the several classroom-sized screening rooms, where workshops would also be conducted. These venues’ exemption from censorship reached a point where the government revised its film-censorship arm to one that purportedly reviewed films and left the task of regulation up to the producer or distributor. Nevertheless, film artists were able to find sufficient inspiration and organization to mobilize protests, openly supported by the ECP, against the Board of Review for Motion Pictures and Television as an incompatible and conflictive government entity; its chair, Maria Kalaw Katigbak, retaliated by asserting her stature as a direct appointee of the Office of the President, thereby declaring that her office could be abolished only by the President himself. The contemporary venues that partake of the MFC’s censorship-free status would be the two far-less-active government film-exhibition outlets, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the University of the Philippines Film Institute’s Adarna Theater.

  • Archives. Then as now, this has been the most difficult operation to maintain, owing to the combustible nature of early celluloid and the deteriorative properties of latter-day stocks. The problem extends to other original forms of media (newsprint and video), all of which conspire to turn Philippine media (and mediated Philippine) history into an increasingly urgent race against the ravages of time and weather. After my personal copies of the ECP’s extensive annual reports (which I had written, aptly in coordination with the Film Archives of the Philippines) were lost to the elements, for example, I could not find copies stored anywhere else. A reconstruction of these basic documents would entail a close surveying of the mostly now-defunct newspapers active during the period – incomplete copies of which were stored in disarray. The other, more vital sources, those of tabloids, were in far worse condition for those attempting to conduct research into the period. The media industry’s recent digital turn has fostered a false sense of archival security among practitioners; they witness the permanence of print or audiovisual material on drives and the electronic cloud and believe that these could outlast analogue versions, when in fact data degradation and corruption occur faster than properly stored celluloid or paper. With increasingly unpredictable global climate conditions, electromagnetic disturbances could conceivably endanger entire swaths of vulnerable data repositories. Whenever possible, analogue storage ought always to be the preferred means, with digital versions serving only as backup and disseminative material.
  • Education. The ECP envisioned an expansion of its Film Education Department’s workshops to eventually include accreditable college courses, with bachelor’s and graduate degrees to follow. During ECP’s last year, the University of the Philippines announced the country’s first undergraduate degree program in film, a fortuitous preemption of the ECP’s plans, considering how transitory the agency turned out to be. A measure of how innovative the ECP’s officials were can be seen in their response to this development: since I already held a degree from not just the same university but from the mass-communication institute (now college) that offered it, the Director-General’s office granted me the privilege to pursue a second degree in the new major while drawing salary for fulfilling specific assignments – in effect, becoming a working scholar of the agency. Two years later, when I had completed the requirements, I was the country’s first (and only) film degree-holder, with a few other academic distinctions to show for it … but by then the Marcos regime was no longer around, having been ousted by the people-power revolt of February 1986. Another plan, that of introducing film appreciation at earlier school levels, has since then similarly become run-of-the-mill enough to be taken for granted in the country.[5]
  • Funding. The ECP’s Film Fund Department, responsible for granting subsidies for private producers, suffered from the political favoritism that characterized areas in the organization that were dominated by Marcos’s wife, represented in this case by a Blue Lady whose studio-mogul parents had been associated during the 1960s with the hagiographic film-bios of the Marcos couple’s electoral campaigns. The department’s process of evaluating proposals in terms of their combination of merit plus profitability was honored more in the breach than in the observance, resulting in films that were mostly critically ignored if not panned, and even worse, that failed to recover their producers’ (and ECP’s) investments. The solution, as practiced by contemporary institutions such as Cinemalaya and CinemaOne, was to determine choices on the bases of the results of open scriptwriting contests (see film production listing below), and to subsidize significantly inexpensive (and potentially more profitable) digital productions.
  • International film festival. The Manila International Film Festival’s editions started with the MFC’s construction disaster and ended with pornographic film screenings – a reprise of the bread-and-circuses tactic exploited by the Marcos presidency during the early-’70s Leftist unrest that preceded the declaration of martial law; just as the earlier sex-film trend bore a term, bomba, drawn from the period, so did the later MIFF editions and post-Imee screenings generate their own descriptor, penekula (a portmanteau comprising “penetration” plus “pelikula”). Even at over a decade old, the privately funded contemporary counterpart, the Cinemanila International Film Festival, cannot hope to attain the MIFF’s top ranking with the global film festival federation – a distinction that, outside of Europe, only Manila had shared with the major film festivals of Cannes, Venice, and Berlin. The current stop-gap solution, already generating its own set of problems, is to enable outstanding local films to join foreign festivals, to the problematic point where local filmmakers can already completely dispense with the need to court the patronage of the Philippine audience. A more noteworthy achievement, showcased in the final still-named MIFF of 1983, was a module of a few dozen Philippine movies selected by a group of experts, of which new 35-mm. prints were processed and subtitled; a few of these entries now stand as the only remaining integral copies available, despite their expected color-fade and vinegar syndrome. A contemporary institutional counterpart effort still has to be realized on the same scale, notwithstanding the significantly more affordable availability of digital technology.[6]
  • Production. Like the ECP Film Fund, the Film Production function, this one directly under the Office of the Director-General, proved to be unsustainable after two years. However, the impact of this activity continues to be felt to the present. The ECP’s announcement of a scriptwriting contest to determine the choices for full production support created a model that has been regarded since as best practice for institutions with interest in and the capacity for implementing prestige projects and introducing new talent. As proof, its first batch of films, Ishmael Bernal’s Himala and Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata (both from 1982), continue being hailed as successful samples of epic-scale cinema with contrasting values (one current and the other period, one by a veteran and the other by a debuting director, one with the country’s top star and the other with a number of new performers, one socially critical and the other celebratory, etc.). The lessons here may be cautionary in nature: in order to sustain this type of activity (which faltered during its second year of operations and folded up afterward), the ECP should have paced itself more slowly until it had been able to accumulate a pool of sufficiently trained talent, the way that today’s prestige-festival producers draw from the countless film programs and workshops of various universities and academies. On the other hand, the current emphasis on relatively affordable digital media yields to mainstream outfits the privilege of producing big-budget celluloid projects, in effect preempting any possibility for Philippine cinema to return to alternative epic-scale productions.[7]
  • Ratings for tax rebates. By far the most exemplary and least controversial of the ECP’s departments, the Film Ratings Board only needed to be revived, title and all, and implemented in the present in order to continue servicing local cinema without calling attention to itself, in the exact area, taxation, where the industry has been experiencing greater burden than most other major film capitals around the world. By calibrating the level of tax relief according to a select group’s perception of a film product’s quality, the FRB encourages at least a token measure of production values, and implicitly critiques the proliferation of award-giving bodies by appending a practical advantage to the recognition it provides. Like any workable type of merit-based government support, it remains susceptible to influence-peddling and ideological containment, typically of conservative and middle-brow persuasion. Constant media attention and occasional extensive revaluations may be the best possible way of maintaining the optimal performance – not just of the FRB but of other self-serious canon-building bodies.

  • Support activities. The MFC provided rental space for several film agencies, not all of them commercially oriented. The Movie Workers Welfare Fund’s Film Institute held office at a basement floor, where it would conduct workshops for super-8mm. production, then screen the results at the ECP Annual Short Film Festival. Upon the ECP’s closure, the “parent” institution, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (the MFC was located in what is still known as the CCP Complex), continued the short-film competition, in what has turned out to be the closest to an unbroken ECP activity. The ECP’s Public Relations Division published Sinemanila, while the Film Ratings Board came up with Filipino Film Review – both of them outlets for articles, reviews, and criticism. Even in mainstream film activity, several titles all the way to 1986, after the ouster of the Marcoses, were ECP-related, either as winners or as finalists in the scriptwriting contest, subsidized projects of the Film Fund, and/or graded productions by the FRB. Personalities associated with the agency made bigger names in various industry, media, and educational capacities after their stint in government.

Back to top

Way of All Flesh

The ECP was fairly fortunate in not having had to endure the disgrace of being formally shut down or privatized along with the rest of the Marcos-era government agencies and corporations. This occurred through a technicality: upon her election to the Batasang Pambansa (the Marcos-era National Assembly), Imee Marcos decided to focus more intently on her legislative responsibilities and resigned from her ECP position. In order to effect changes in accordance with a different set of interests (mostly associated with international-festival plans, uncensored film screenings, and co-productions with foreign financiers), the ECP was dissolved by presidential decree on September 30, 1985, and a new institution, called the Film Development Foundation of the Philippines, set up in its stead.[8]

The same set of core personnel were given the option to remain with the FDFP, although for some of us at the National Media Production Center, production work for the government’s TV station suddenly seemed more attractive after all. How implicated was the NMPC in the raging controversy of the decade – the assassination of Benigno S. Aquino, Jr.? It was responsible for the airport security cameras, which suspiciously turned out blank during the precise date and time that the event took place. A few key personnel, also initially involved with the ECP, resigned during the period between the assassination and the 1986 snap presidential elections. No one doubted the close links between the First Lady and the NMPC director, particularly during periods when Mrs. Marcos would embark on her foreign shopping sprees and we the employees would find our salaries delayed by a few days, sometimes up to a week.

Not surprisingly, several familiar faces from the Manila Film Center offices materialized at the people-power barricades of February 1986. The dictatorship, which had continued in practice even after its formal lifting around the time that the ECP was founded, was finally genuinely vanquished. My dreams as student activist had been suddenly realized, with the symbolically afflicted Manila Film Center initially abandoned and presently condemned. I had thought the price to be paid, a suspension of my other set of dreams, this time as cultural activist, might be set down as an updated category of necessary sacrifices. I set out to write the first article declaring the closure of a filmic Golden Age, endeavored to cover the intervening period as its most active film critic, and attempted some continuity with the ECP’s ideals via the UP film program. I had to give up on these aspirations one after another at some later point, but that tale awaits a further telling.

A Note on Sources

Several materials on the Marcos dictatorship, plus a few on the Marcos family’s interventions in Philippine film culture, can now be accessed from online material. A few of this article’s other sources are in Korean-language books and websites, researched and translated for me by Lee Kumchong of the University of Queensland. The article was not intended as a comprehensive summary or a definitive history; such a task needs to be accomplished, but could not be accommodated within the terms of the subjective tone that I’d opted to deploy. I wish to acknowledge the assistance provided by Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon, who had originally directed me to her ECP contacts in addition to freelance opportunities; Nena C. Benigno and Guia P. Yonzon, my ECP supervisors; an online circle comprising Bayani Santos, Jr., Flor Caagusan, Oona Thommes Paredes, Daisy Catherine Mandap, Antonio VA Hilario, Frank Cimatu, Marian Pastor Roces, Ronald Rios, and Gigi de Beaupré, who helped me thresh out the difficulty of being Ma. Imelda “Imee” Marcos; Bliss Cua Lim, who alerted me to the “revival” of the ECP in the so-called contemporary Pinoy indie movement; Ernie de Pedro, Director of the Film Archives section, and Theo Pie, who assisted me with the ECP’s annual reports; and Toby Miller, who introduced me to and instructed me in the concept of cultural policy. To Marilou Diaz-Abaya, who sought to reconcile polarized forces in her work, always aiming true and often succeeding beautifully, this article is dedicated.

Back to top

Notes since the publication process
of Remembering/Rethinking EDSA

[1] In Marcos Martial Law: Never Again (Mandaluyong City: Anvil, 2016), Raïssa Robles quotes “Abdon Balde Jr., who supplied ready-mix concrete for this project. He suspected that in the rush to complete [sic], cement was poured in sections with insufficient shorings and scaffolding, causing these to collapse in the early morning hours of November 17, 1981” (159). Balde’s explanation overlooks the tremor that hit the city during the said date. The most intensive film coverage of the MIFF, Elliott Stein’s “Manila’s Angels” in Film Comment 19.5 (Sept.-Oct. 1983): pp. 48-55, is also unaware of the cause of the tragedy.

[2] In an interview, Nena C. Benigno, then the Director of the Public Relations Division, said that “Imee refused to occupy the building. ‘Ayokong pumasok diyan! [I don’t want to enter that place!]’ She ordered all these exorcism rites. Or else we would never step in there” (Tats Manahan, “What Lies Beneath,” Rogue [November 2015]: 86-93). For added information on the origins of the Manila Film Center and the agency that would eventually reside in it, see “The Manila National Film Centre,” a 1981 UNESCO Technical Report.

[3] Ruben Carranza, former commissioner with the Presidential Commission on Good Government, explained why the surviving Marcoses harbored resentment toward the US: “they [refused] to pay the $2 billion judgment against them won by 10,000 victims of human-rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship. They were cited in contempt by a US court. [In addition] they were ordered to pay a fine of $100,000 per day for the 10 years between 1995 and 2005 – and counting – that they refused to pay that judgment” (Facebook post, April 10, 2016).

[4] The April 3, 2016, report of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists identified Imee Marcos and her three sons by Tommy Manotoc as associated with offshore shell companies listed in the leaked documents of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. This was in addition to an earlier ICIJ exposé, the 2013 Offshore Leaks Probe, which also revealed Imee Marcos as the beneficiary of a secret trust, Sintra, formed in the British Virgin Islands. The apparent Marcos family strategy was to maintain a clean name for Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in order to enable him to restore the family to political power.

[5] Ward Luarca, Officer-in-Charge of the Film Education Department, took charge of film appreciation and scriptwriting workshops jointly conducted by Rolando Tinio and Pio de Castro III. In a Facebook account, he stated that he “took over the organizing of the Short Film Festival…. Then the series of acting workshops conducted by Laurice Guillen and her group from Actors Company. And also the Film School Board which [Agustin] Hammy Sotto and I organized whose members were from the academe or actual film practitioners who included Gigi [Javier Alfonso] (of the UP film program)…; Manny [Reyes] of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino [Filipino Film Critics Circle] and De La Salle University; Marilou Diaz-Abaya; Eddie Romero; Fr. [Nicasio] Cruz, SJ; and reps from St. Paul University, Philippine Women’s University, and other schools and institutions. We brought film appreciation sessions to students, of which the ECP Cine Club was the agency to reach them…. To be fair, the bomba [sex-themed] films also benefitted us for our salaries and occasional bonuses, when funding stopped after Ninoy’s assassination, and ECP had to be self-funding” (Response to Facebook post of Edward delos Santos Cabagnot, Sept. 26, 2018, 8:40 p.m.).

[6] Since this article was drafted, three types of restoration activities have taken place, all digital in nature. In increasing prolificacy, these would be: international, as typified by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project’s efforts (in coordination with the Film Development Council of the Philippines) for Lino Brocka’s Cannes Film Festival entries; institutional, undertaken mainly by the “Sagip Pelikula” [Save Our Films] program of ABS-CBN Film Archives and Central Digital Lab, for a large proportion of their products as well as works they consider classics; and private initiative, exemplified in the Magsine Tayo! (now-defunct) postings of video collector Jojo Devera.

[7] While I would hesitate recommending non-commercial blockbuster budgets as a matter of principle, I would recognize that creativity may now extend to the realm of financial sourcing – e.g., foreign co-productions or festival-circuit distributions have proved to be feasible options even in the past, and may be enhanced with more new-millennium options such as internet-based fund-raising or alternative video distribution strategies.

[8] Corrigendum: The print version of this article mistakenly cites the name “Film Development Council of the Philippines,” which is the contemporary incarnation of the FDFP. Many thanks to Ramon Sixto C. Nocon for reminding me of the difference.

Back to top

Annual Filipino Film Production Chart

Annual Filipino Film Production Chart
From the draft of a forthcoming manuscript:[1]

If we inspect the record of Filipino film production, we also find the medium overcoming all kinds of crises – the World War II Japanese occupation (1941-45), the declaration of martial law (1972), the anti-fascist people-power revolt (1986), the IMF-WB financial crunch (late 1990s) that overlapped with the death of celluloid production. In each instance the rate of production fell, even reaching zero during the Japanese era; but the restoration of relative stability always saw an upsurge in local industrial output – ahead of other media, and in the case of the last crisis, ahead of other Filipino industries (several of which never fully recovered).

[For a larger image, please click on picture above.]

Addendum (January 8, 2016):
I have decided to include below a timeline of historical events relevant to a basic understanding of the Philippines and its cinema. My intention was to convert the chart above into an interactive illustration, where one would be able to click on the peak points of certain years and see a timeline entry. Since that would take too much time and effort for me to attend to at the moment, I thought the next best thing would be to provide the timeline itself.

Year Event Total
1896 Execution of Jose Rizal; outbreak of Revolution against Spain. 0
1897 First film screenings held in the Philippines. 0
1898 Triumph of Revolution against Spain; US purchases the Philippines from Spain for $23 million in Treaty of Paris. 0
1899 Outbreak of Philippine-American War. 0
1900 —α— 0
1901 Franklin Bell introduces reconcentration camps, prefiguring hamletting in Vietnam. 0
1902 Jacob “Howling” Smith razes Samar, third largest Philippine island; first labor unions organized. 0
1903 —α— 0
1904 US declares end of Philippine “insurrection”; Igorots exhibited as dog-eating head-hunters at St. Louis World’s Fair. 0
1905 Writ of habeas corpus selectively suspended due to “banditry.” 0
1906 —α— 0
1907 Revolutionary General and Tagalog Republic President Macario L. Sakay, tricked into surrendering, is hanged by the US colonial government for alleged banditry. 0
1908 US colonial government sets up American University of the Philippines. 0
1909 —α— 0
1910 Northern nativist leader Apo Ipé captured and executed. 0
1911 Southern nativist leaders Papa Pablo and Papa Otoy killed in separate battles. 0
1912 Two Americans simultaneously produce films on the life of José Rizál, declared national hero by US. 0
1913 —α— 0
1914 —α— 0
1915 —α— 0
1916 Nonhistorical Philippine films start production. 0
1917 First peasant unions formed. 0
1918 —α— 0
1919 First Filipino-produced film completed. 2
1920 —α— 2
1921 —α— 0
1922 —α— 0
1923 Anti-American campaign wins senatorial seat for Manuel L. Quezon. 1
1924 Quezon joins independence mission in US, subsequently charged as bogus by nationalist Senator Claro M. Recto. 0
1925 —α— 3
1926 —α— 2
1927 —α— 5
1928 —α— 2
1929 Major censorship case held on nationalist-themed film release; first imported talkie screened. 7
1930 Communist Party of the Philippines founded; Filipino community attacked in California race riot. 9
1931 Millenarian peasants raid Tayug in Central Luzon. 9
1932 Communist Party outlawed by Supreme Court; first Filipino-produced sound film, George Musser’s Ang Aswang, released. 23
1933 First film sound stage in the Philippines set up. 13
1934 Constitutional Convention held. 14
1935 US inaugurates Philippine Commonwealth, mass protests ensue; first film color laboratory opens. 11
1936 Quezon starts first of two four-year terms as President, to be interrupted by World War II. 15
1937 —α— 29
1938 —α— 48
1939 Falangista movement unites clergy and landlords vs. organized peasants and laborers. 50
1940 Quezon declares limited state of national emergency. 57
1941 Japanese bomb American military installations in the Philippines a few hours after Pearl Harbor, General Douglas MacArthur orders retreat. 45
1942 Bataan and Corregidor fall to Japanese; movie production is state-controlled, theaters turn to stage presentations. 7
1943 Japanese-supervised National Assembly members elected; speaker is Benigno Aquino Sr. 1
1944 First Philippine-set anti-US propaganda movie, The Dawn of Freedom (Abe Yutaka, dir., assisted by Gerardo de Leon), is released by state film agency Eiga Heikusa. 3
1945 Filipino guerrillas, with help from returning Americans, expel Japanese; US reoccupies the Philippines. 0
1946 Communist anti-Japanese forces wage insurgent war; US grants political independence to the Philippines, arranges special rights for US investors. 35
1947 Military bases agreement signed, providing vast tracts of rent-free land to US. 55
1948 Studio system stabilizes, predominates throughout next decade. 69
1949 —α— 70
1950 President Elpidio Quirino suspends writ of habeas corpus due to insurgency. 74
1951 —α— 71
1952 —α— 77
1953 Former Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay elected President, assists US in Vietnam. 80
1954 —α— 89
1955 —α— 82
1956 —α— 83
1957 Magsaysay dies in plane crash, is succeeded by Carlos P. Garcia, who initiates Filipino-First Policy. 83
1958 World Bank and International Monetary Fund begin giving “aid” and loans to the Philippines. 94
1959 —α— 96
1960 Moves to dismantle studio monopoly of production and distribution begin. 92
1961 US supports Diosdado Macapagal, who becomes next President. 131
1962 Macapagal lifts exchange controls, allows devaluation of Philippine peso. 101
1963 —α— 154
1964 —α— 155
1965 Ferdinand E. Marcos elected President; bio-movie produced as part of his campaign. 202
1966 Marcos resumes extending assistance to US in Vietnam. 186
1967 Nativists led by Tatang de los Santos massacred en route to the presidential palace. 167
1968 Philippine Army’s plan to invade Sabah in Malaysia results in massacre of Muslim trainees; Islamic separatists organize; Communist party re-established. 169
1969 Marcos reelected for second (and Constitutionally last) term; Communist New People’s Army founded. 189
1970 Progressive sectors initiate First Quarter Storm protests; hard-core film pornography flourishes. 225
1971 Marcos suspends writ of habeas corpus; radical students proclaim the “Provisional Directorate” at UP campus. 232
1972 Marcos declares martial law through Presidential Decree 1081; Catholic Bishops and US Chamber of Commerce voice support. 151
1973 New Constitution ratified by viva voce. 156
1974 Lino Brocka’s first independently produced triumph, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang, starts New Philippine Cinema. 127
1975 First Metro Manila Film Festival is held in June. 160
1976 Military takes over censorship board; film critics organize; MMFF playdate is moved to lucrative Christmas break. 171
1977 Kidlat Tahimik’s Mababangong Bangungot wins critics prize at Berlinale. 146
1978 Interim national assembly elections (where Imelda Marcos is topnotcher) charged with fraud. 143
1979 Brocka is introduced at Cannes’s Directors Fortnight through his film Insiang; Ishmael Bernal’s Manila by Night is banned for a year. 155
1980 First of annual dry-runs held for Manila International Film Festival; Brocka’s Jaguar competes in Cannes. 170
1981 Lifting of martial law, with extensive curtailment of civil and economic rights still in place. 180
1982 First of two annual Manila International Film Festivals leads to Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, formed by Executive Order 770. 152
1983 Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. assassinated upon arrival from US at Manila International Airport. 134
1984 Reagans welcome Marcoses to White House in state visit; UP introduces undergraduate-level film-degree program. 141
1985 ECP dissolved over mounting protests; new government body, Film Development Foundation of the Philippines, screens hard-core films at Manila Film Center. 151
1986 “People-power” uprising ousts Marcos, installs Aquino’s widow Corazon; Mike de Leon’s full-length video film Bilanggo sa Dilim screens at Sony’s short-lived Wave Cinema. 149
1987 Constitutional Convention stipulates unrepeatable six-year term for President. 120
1988 —α— 103
1989 Refusing burial, Marcos dies in exile in Hawaii. 118
1990 First of series of right-wing coups d’etat is staged against Aquino administration. 134
1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption causes worst volcanic havoc in 20th century; Brocka dies in car crash. 130
1992 Marcos cousin Fidel Ramos, endorsed by Aquino, wins presidential election. 115
1993 Rash of kidnappings of Chinese-Filipinos for ransom escalates; violent film melodramas, spearheaded by Aquino’s daughter, become most popular local genre. 124
1994 —α— 111
1995 —α— 129
1996 Collapse of Asian economies stalls Philippine recovery; Bernal dies of heart failure. 99
1997 Globalization begins via ratification of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. 99
1998 Movie action hero Joseph Estrada wins presidential election. 99
1999 —α— 137
2000 Accused of profiteering from illegal gambling, Estrada is impeached by House of Representatives. 104
2001 Second “people-power” revolt forces Estrada to resign; Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, daughter of then-incumbent President whom Marcos defeated in 1965, is sworn in as successor; Lav Diaz begins his long-form series with Batang West Side. 103
2002 M.A. Film introduced at newly founded UP Film Institute. 94
2003 —α— 80
2004 Arroyo wins full term in controversial presidential elections by defeating Fernando Poe Jr. (who dies a few months later); critics give best-film prize to 11-hour-plus digital film, Lav Diaz’s Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino [Evolution of a Filipino Family]. 56
2005 CineManila (international festival), Cinemalaya (local fest), and Cinema One (TV-sponsored film productions) subsidize and exhibit digital films; digital movies Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (Aureus Solito, dir.) and Kubrador (Jeffrey Jeturian, dir.) garner local and foreign-festival prizes. 55
2006 “Commercial appeal” is used as major criterion in the Metro Manila Film Festival. 61
2007 —α— 79
2008 —α— 83
2009 Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay wins Best Director at Cannes Film Festival; Cathy Garcia-Molina’s You Changed My Life breaches Php 200 million threshold. 113
2010 Benigno Simeon Aquino III (son of Corazon) wins presidential election. 111
2011 Star Cinema sets and breaks three of its own box-office records in succession. 130
2012 Ateneo de Manila University’s Kritika Kultura journal features special issue on Manila by Night. 151
2013 —α— 140
2014 Lav Diaz’s Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon wins Golden Leopard at Locarno International Film Festival; Aquino rejects National Commission for Culture and the Arts’s recommendation of Nora Aunor as National Artist. 117
2015 Jerrold Tarog’s Heneral Luna becomes most successful indie-digital production in history. 91
2016 Rodrigo Duterte wins presidential election; Lav Diaz’s Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis wins Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival, Jacklyn Jose wins Best Actress at Cannes for Brillante Mendoza’s Ma’ Rosa, Paolo Brillantes wins Best Actor at Tokyo International Film Festival for Jun Robles Lana’s Die Beautiful; Khavn de la Cruz sets Guinness world record for “longest film concert” via Simulacrum Tremendum’s screening at International Film Festival Rotterdam. TBA


[1] The “manuscript” mentioned here became available in early 2018 as Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2017).

Back to top

Fields of Vision – The Last of Lino

The standard opposition between Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal existed mostly in the minds of film observers and practitioners who were invested in 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 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. 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?

Back to top
Return to Fields of Vision contents

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 ascendency. 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.

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.


[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 observant of Third-cinema traditions, but were far less influential than Rissient.

Back to top
Return to Fields of Vision contents

Fields of Vision – The “New” Cinema in Retrospect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to top


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

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

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

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

Back to top

French New Wave

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

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

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

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

Back to top

Outward Ripples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to top

Sample Influences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to top

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to top

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to top

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to top

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to top

Looking Further

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to top

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to top
Return to Fields of Vision contents

Millennial Traversals – The Golden Ages of Philippine Cinema: A Critical Reassessment

Thank you for your interest in Millennial Traversals, my fourth sole-authored book. In addition to its distinction as, to my knowledge, the Philippines’s first complete open-access (non-journal) volume, it has reappeared as a print edition of UNITAS, the semi-annual peer-reviewed journal of the University of Santo Tomas – which has also reposted it online. Please click on this link to open Part I: Traversals within Cinema, where the article you are seeking can be found. You may also find more information on the blog page of Millennial Traversals.