Tag Archives: History

Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic

Please click on image for enlargement.


From the INTRODUCTION (pp. 17-24):

As soon as I started the professional life that I had yet to fully chart, Manila by Night was ready to mark my steps. I had just completed the first of two bachelors degrees  at the University of the Philippines (declared the national university in 2008), but my preparation for a career in journalism did not work out as I (and my circles of friends) thought it would. The anti-dictatorship movement I had participated in prescribed a brand of Marxism that I later learned went by a few names, with “orthodox” being the less-offensive term. I decided to distance myself from the political and economic analyses on which I’d built my name as a campus journalist, and focused on cultural reporting. My internships also alerted me to the existence of values that I knew I could never take seriously – the cultivation of sources (the more exclusive or exceptional, the better), for example, and the drive to out-scoop everyone else. I decided to give freelancing a shot, and when I couldn’t shape a sufficiently interesting story out of a cultural (usually film) event, I’d turn in a review instead.

By late 1979, I’d made enough of a buzz to be invited to the award-giving film critics circle. I also heard of a movie about Manila nightlife – which I’d been discovering on my own as a restless, hyperactive insomniac. When I was invited to a preview of Manila by Night, I was stunned to discover a lot of the personalities, locales, and lingo that I’d familiarized myself with since college. It was like I didn’t have to wait until nightfall any longer: I could just step into the screen, and that would be the city I had come to know. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but it was electric, erotic, vulgar, violent, dangerous, and loving, all in ways that the US-supported and Catholic Church-sanctioned dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos would find embarrassing, if not outright immoral. It was too good to be untrue, so to speak, so I resolved to watch it as often as I could in case the regime decided to destroy all existing copies and consign the film to oblivion.

Which nearly came to pass. Before I could arrange to watch another preview, news came out that the movie had been banned by the then-militarized Board of Censors for Motion Pictures, a body that had tussled with Manila by Night director-writer Ishmael Bernal a few times already for too-earthy sex scenes in his previous films. “No worries,” said those in charge of the film, since the movie would be making its debut in an international venue anyway, having just been personally selected by Moritz de Hadeln to compete at the Berlin International Film Festival. Bernal, whom I’d met as a critics circle member, provided me with cassette tapes on which a playback of the audio track was recorded, with instructions to transcribe the dialog and provide a literal translation to be used as a guide by the German subtitler. The tapes were low-end, obviously second-hand, and I had to return them right after using them; if I’d known they would be the source of the only available “integral” version of the film, I would have asked for a better recording. A “where-are-they-now” epilogue was also hastily assembled by the producers for the Berlinale screening, to mollify the censors by making the claim that the intransigent characters were punished while the rest became upright citizens worthy of Ferdinand Marcos’s “New Society.”

After I turned in my work, a grapevine report circulated in film circles, about Imelda Marcos, with her typical flair for the dramatic, watching the movie and breaking down afterward. Everyone’s worst fear was confirmed: the movie would remain in limbo until the First Lady could be persuaded otherwise. I requested the copy of the transcription I made from Bernal so it could be printed, “uncensored,” in the March 1981 issue of The Review, a now-defunct monthly periodical in which I wrote and occasionally edited special issues. In November 1980, a few months before the script came out, the movie itself was approved for local release, with a four-page censors’ permit – the longest that had ever accompanied a Philippine screening. Since all mention of “Manila” (dubbed “City of Man” by the increasingly unstable Imelda) was disallowed, the movie’s title was changed to City after Dark.

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The deliberation session for the critics’ annual awards was understandably turbulent. Along with a few other members, I insisted that any recognition given to City after Dark would be tantamount to validating what the censors had done. This resulted in a surprising inconsistency in the awards results, including a win for Best Picture but a loss for Best Director (one senior member mentioned that Bernal deserved to be “taught a lesson” regarding the lack of surface polish in his work). The logic was certainly bizarre – if the mangled version of the film deserved to win, then its strength derived primarily from its directorial virtues. From this point onward I began to question the Hollywoodian logic behind the critics’ awards activities, and have since sworn to premise my critical output on the assumption that, among other things, their earlier methods of multiple screenings and intensive deliberations may be useful, but their divisive, formalist, and canonical social-realist approach to award-giving deserved nothing but condemnation, if not contempt.

Meanwhile, the publicity team behind Manila by Night continued to conduct previews of the uncensored version – and I continued to attend as many of them as I could. I’d seen Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975), Bernal’s takeoff text, during its week-long run in Manila, and began paying close attention to attempts by other filmmakers, as well as by Bernal himself, to replicate this specific approach to the multiple-character film narrative. Despite the trauma experienced by Manila by Night, the multicharacter film format succeeded so well that it became a recognizable and distinct genre in Philippine film practice, with filmmakers (and a few critics) describing its samples as “milieu movies” and producers as well as talent managers introducing new faces in batches meant to appear as equal lead performers in as many film projects as they could sustain.

A few years later, the anti-dictatorship movement began to pose a serious challenge to Ferdinand Marcos’s presidency. I was working at the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (ECP), the government film agency, and was surprised by the ease by which I was able to circulate a request to screen Manila by Night (not City after Dark) and process the paperwork for its release. The agency also assigned me to complete the then newly introduced undergraduate film program at the national university. Even before the people-power uprising of February 1986, the ECP was dissolved, but my new degree enabled me to start teaching as an instructor, and eventually helped me wangle a Fulbright grant for graduate studies in the US. My doctoral dissertation dealt, predictably enough, with the multicharacter film format.

During my last trip to Manila, I had an informal discussion with Bernal (a mini-interview of sorts), and managed to extract from him a promise to sit for an interview for my dissertation on multicharacter cinema. I told him I’d be drafting a set of questions and would send them to him before my next trip home. While I was away, he passed away from cerebral aneurysm, joining the legendary realm where Manila by Night continues to flourish. I decided to forgo all trips outside the US until I had completed my dissertation. My residency deadline was looming, and I was hastily drafting my manuscript on September 11, 2001, when my parents called to ask if everything was all right. The first tower crashed right after I turned on the television, and from that point on I knew that returning to the Philippines might not be the best option, but it was the only definite line of action that would be open to me in the near future. Bernal had been gone for over half a decade, and Philippine cinema was about to abandon celluloid production and embrace the digital era for good.

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From ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. 9-10):

Profuse thanks to Patricio N. Abinales, Thelma E. Arambulo, Tina Baluyut, Joey Baquiran, Vicky Belarmino, Bernardo Bernardo, Pete Bilderback, Karen Blackstein, Marivic Buquis-Tjardes, Flor Caagusan, Patrick F. Campos, Veronica Caparas, Robert Cerda, Mel Chionglo, Leloy Claudio, Sylvia Estrada Claudio, Divine Go David, Gigi Felix-Velarde David, Jek Josue David, Nestor de Guzman, Nicolo del Castillo, Archie del Mundo, Lizbeth de Padua, Jojo Devera, Cynthia Estrada, Patrick D. Flores, Peque Gallaga, Alfredo Garcia, Melanie Joy C. Garduño, Paul Grant, Ju-Yong Ha, Maurine Haver, J. Pilapil Jacobo, Marne Kilates, Ricardo Lee, Bliss Cua Lim, Sergio Lobo, Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon, Juan Miguel Manansala, Gina Marchetti, Ibarra Mateo, Joe McElhaney, Toby Miller, Carla Montemayor, Roselle Monteverde, Jude Ortega, Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil, Ellen J. Paglinauan, Vanessa Pallarco, Haesuk Park, Inkyu Park, Shin-gu Park, Sybil Jade Peña, Elwood Perez, Theo Tisado Pie, Benjamin Pimentel, Ethel Pineda, Jane Po, Rowena Raganit, Winston Raval, Lore Reyes, Ramon Reyes, Roselle Leah K. Rivera, Ninotchka Rosca, Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III, Angela Stuart Santiago, Aida Santos, Bayani Santos Jr., Teresita Santos, Ophelia Miller Segovia, Vincenz Serrano, Minsun Shim, Irene Balucos Sia, Boemshik Son, Robert Sklar, Francis Sollano, Robert Stam, Lauren Steimer, Chris Straayer, Lulu Torres-Reyes, Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr., Violeda A. Umali, Charmian Uy, JC Velasquez, Taeyun Yu, Jovy Zarate, and Zhang Zhen.

I’ve been fortunate to work with some outstanding editors in the past, but with Matthew Hays and Thomas Waugh, I saw my early manuscript shape-shift in ways I couldn’t always anticipate, with the revised version always a new text whose acquaintance I was happy to make. They’ve been at this task for nearly a decade, without any remuneration, so while I imagine that the impending end of the Queer Film Classics series may be a relief of sorts, it would also open up a gap that other people ought to consider filling. Publishers Brian Lam and Robert Ballantyne, editors Susan Safyan and Tara Nykyforiak, and designer Oliver McPartlin are also part of the series, and while I interact mainly with professors Waugh and Hays, I occasionally correspond with the other participants in the project; as the book begins to take final shape, I can only be grateful that their commitment is just as complete and indispensable. (Portions of this manuscript have appeared in my articles in Kritika Kultura and Plaridel.)

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Contents of the Queer Film Classics Edition
© 2017 by Joel David & Arsenal Pulp Press; All Rights Reserved

PRELIMINARIES

Title Page; Copyright; Table of Contents; Dedication: For Ishmael Bernal (1938-96); Acknowledgments; Synopsis; Credits; Introduction (1-24)

BODY TEXT

Chapter I. Manila by Day: Fifty Years of Hollywood (25-69)

Movies and the Philippines
Master’s Tool
Language without Words
“Ishma” and Manila by Night
The Origin of Manila by Night
Controversies
The Berlinale Connection
The Other Manila Movie

Sidebar: A Pinoy Queer-Cinema Mini-Canon (70-75)

Chapter II. Manila by Night: City of Mania (76-115)

Many-Peopled Narratives
The Philippine Moviegoer
A Perverse Approach
Technique as Politics
Voyeuristic Restlessness
The Queering of Technique
The Mirror Effect
Sound Logic
Wow and Flutter

Sidebar: A Multicharacter-Movie Supplementary List (116-119)

Chapter III. Beyond Manila: Cinema & Nation in Crisis (121-158)

Locale as an Entity
Babies and Beauties
Triangulations
The Multicharacter Movie Genre
Road Not Taken
Milieu Realism
A “Straight” Way Forward
Gender Types
The Other(ed) Queer Character
Radical Potential

END MATTER

Conclusion; Appendix: Manay Revisits Manila by Night: An Interview with Bernardo Bernardo; References; Filmography & Theater Productions; Index; About the Author; About the Editors; Titles in the Queer Film Classics Series (159-208)

Links

• A special folio on the film now opens this blog’s Extras section.
• To purchase a copy of the book (at Amazon), please click here.
• To read the book lecture “Queerness as Defiance in Manila by Night,” please click here.
• For a detailed storyline originally drafted for this book, please click here.

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Farewell Farewell, Bernardo Bernardo

Rapid Pinoy pop-culture quiz: name another media celebrity with a double name. Aside from the usual nickname or fancy given name (Jonjon, Zsa Zsa, or, for political controversy, Bongbong), only a sufficiently elderly local observer might be able to remember Justo Justo. And unlike Bernardo Bernardo, Panfilo C. Justo opted to use a pseudonym by reduplicating his family name.

More recent friends of Bernardo would also know that he specified a second name, also reduplicated: BB, coined (as he once told me) to facilitate conversations in Facebook and FB Messenger.[1] Born on January 28, 1945, BB was too young to remember the intensification of World War II, leading to an ending, about half a year after his birth, where there were in fact no winners except for the abruptly wealthy Americans. The recollections of his elders must have induced in him a resolve never to face any historical crisis without contributing his share to social change, for better or worse.

This much can be seen in his choice of college major: journalism, then-available (circa the mid-1960s) only at the University of Sto. Tomas, with the national university still laying the groundwork for its own media program. In addition to his stint as editor-in-chief of the Varsitarian, Bernardo struck an imposing Adonic figure, tall, smart, and confident; his moreno features only served to heighten his appeal – and not surprisingly, the performing arts started knocking on his door and never stopped calling on him till the end.

Before he succumbed last March 8 to a particularly severe bout with pancreatic cancer, BB had made a name for himself as the most successful crossover actor in the country, conquering stage, film, and television (in that order) and expanding his reach to global stages and festivals, while also directing and producing some of his projects. Name a Philippine National Artist still alive during BB’s active years, and chances are that the name “Bernardo” will appear in the roster of participants, twice. Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr., director of the Filipino Arts & Cinema International (FACINE), confirmed in private that the Annual Filipino International Film Festival was planning to recognize him with a life-achievement award during its twenty-fifth anniversary celebration in San Francisco this year.

Regarded in retrospect, Bernardo was always a step or more ahead of his colleagues. He parlayed his facility in English into lead roles at Repertory Philippines, known for its restaging of US theater and musical hits. By the time the production of the West End musical Miss Saigon scouted for Filipino talents, zeroing in on Rep and discovering Lea Salonga in the process, he had long moved on. He first sought a more remunerative arrangement via the then-burgeoning dinner-theater scene, and stood out in the multicharacter sequel of Boys in the Band at Century Park Sheraton, where he was “flaming enough to burn the ballroom down,” as he described in an interview I had with him, titled “Manay Revisits Manila by Night.”

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Ishmael Bernal, who had seen his performance, was then on the lookout for an actor who could play one of the lead roles in Manila by Night, intended to be the second-anniversary presentation of Regal Films as a production outfit. The character, Manay, was meant to represent the “conscience” of the film – a flawed one, it must be added, since the project entailed an encompassing and necessarily dystopic vision of the city under militarized dictatorship. Nighttime was when everything repressed by prevailing social institutions during martial rule could emerge – prostitution, drug transactions, queer assignations, live-sex shows, drag displays, hypocritical masquerades, political corruption, police abuse, polyamorous promiscuity, and so on.

The other requisite that made the role of Manay the most challenging in the film was that, like the rest of the other characters, it was intended to be improvised by the actor in conjunction with the director as well as a number of script consultants, with help from the very denizens that Bernal modeled his characters on. In “Manay Revisits Manila by Night,” Bernardo describes his process of collaboration with Bernal: “Although it is true that there were no conventional shooting scripts provided, there were definitely scraps of paper on the set with key dialog for the film character’s objectives for the day. On a typical shoot, with Bernal’s approval, I would ad-lib during blocking rehearsals to bookend the philosophical riffs of Manay that Bernal wrote. Bernal understood that this process helped me to give the dialogue a more conversational, spontaneous feel.”

When contemporary filmmaker Lawrence Fajardo, who has been specializing in the multicharacter film narratives that Bernal pioneered in, opted to return to his theater roots, he picked out a play, Herlyn Gail Alegre’s Imbisibol, and cast Bernardo in a role intended for a straight actor. Realizing that BB’s strengths lay in camp and humor, Fajardo requested him to collaborate in revising and improvising Benjie, a character several steps removed from Manay: older, impoverished, sickly, working overseas as an undocumented laborer, whose only happiness lay in the domestic relationship he shared with his same-sex partner (played in the film by Ricky Davao). When the film version was completed, shot on location in Hokkaido, Bernardo won his second critics prize for performance (the first was of course for Manila by Night) – the only actor since Vic Silayan to win in all the instances he was nominated.

In effect, BB was drawing from his experience as a health worker in the US, where he had gone into self-exile after enduring stereotyping in his film and TV roles because, ironically, of his triumph with his Manay character. An avowedly queer subject, he had also had, after all, his share of heterosexual romances, including a years-long high-profile affair with Chanda Romero. Younger acquaintances familiar with his occasional cross-dressed socnet pics needed a double-take or two to grasp the full measure of his boundary-busting, genre-challenging, culture-crossing persona, what with some of his female contemporaries admitting to having had crushes on him.

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A more direct deduction one could make regarding his facility in various professional capacities is that he was always fully prepared, in practice as well as in theory: his professional record yields an enviable number of academic qualifications, including scholarships and graduate degrees at prominent American universities, as well as faculty stints in US and Philippine educational institutions.[2] During the past couple of years he would mention work on a memoir as his legacy project, and posted some wonderful little-known anecdotes on his Facebook wall as samples.

This was about the same time that he came out, as it were, in another sense – in support of the presidential candidacy of Rodrigo Duterte. Such a political stance set him off against several of his friends in literature and the arts. As someone who refused to capitulate to polarized positions, I was able to continue corresponding with him, and saw how his motives were as earnest as when he linked up decades ago with Bernal, Lino Brocka, and the other founding members of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines against the Marcos dictatorship. He read the drafts of the book I was working on (titled Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic, published by Arsenal Pulp Press in Vancouver, where “Manay Revisits Manila by Night” appears as an appendix), and suggested some helpful changes and corrections.

During the final revision, I informed him that I expanded the book’s conclusion, saying in effect that not only had nothing changed since the Marcos years, but that the plight of the country’s poor had worsened. To drive the point home, I juxtaposed some scenes from Manila by Night with drawn-from-headlines photographs of extrajudicial executions, and offered Bernardo the opportunity to revise anything in his interview by way of responding to this harsh indictment of the Philippine political system. He took an unusually long time before he finally replied, on FB Messenger: “I’ve decided not to make a statement regarding the current state of affairs in Manila under the new dispensation. After those years of depression in the US, I think it’s healthier for me to cling to a more hopeful outlook. Eyes wide open. [Smile] Love the book, Joel. [Heart] So proud and honored to be a part of it. Maraming, maraming salamat.”

Before we consign Bernardo to a historical past, a few things ought to remind us that he deserves to be around longer. Manila by Night remains the only major Filipino film still awaiting restoration and the memoir he left behind still has to be published. FACINE also recently announced that he’ll be the first posthumous awardee of their Golden Harvest prize – an indication that when BB left, he made sure we would all be enriched by his presence.

Notes

[1] Posted in Ámauteurish! as “Bernardo Bernardo: Exchanges on Facebook Messenger.”

[2] Many thanks to Sari Dalena (director of the University of the Philippines Film Institute) and Ina Avellana-Cosio (UPFI researcher) for information on Bernardo Bernardo’s extensive academic background.

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Source Exchange for Review of Heneral Luna

I’m including the buildup to the exchange on Heneral Luna between me and Jerrold Tarog, the film’s director and co-writer. I had been introduced to Tarog by Johven Velasco, his mentor at the University of the Philippines Film Institute. He was a major at the College of Music, located beside the College of Mass Communication, and was dropping by for a quick hello. After having been nodding acquaintances for several years (in the course of which Velasco’s sudden departure occurred), I managed to reconnect with him on the social network. [Passages in Taglish were translated to English.][1]

Monday, August 5, 2013, 11:23 AM

Joel
Hi Jerrold, it’s Joel David. Congratulations on the Cinemalaya [Philippine Independent Film Festival] results. Was Sana Dati [which had won best film and director] part of the trilogy that includes Confessional and Mangatyanan? (If so, what’s the title of the trilogy if you don’t mind? I read it somewhere and noted it but I left those notes behind in Korea. Won’t be returning until February next year [when my half-sabbatical ends].) Will there be further screenings lined up for it?

Monday, August 7, 2013, 9:02 AM

Jerrold
Hi Joel. Yes. Last film of what’s called the Camera Trilogy. Theatrical release September 25.

Joel
Thanks! Sent you a friend request.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013, 1:52 AM

Joel
Hello Jerrold, I hope you don’t mind if I ask you directly some questions which I need for fully evaluating Sana Dati. These have to do with the larger work, the Camera Trilogy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013, 1:52 AM & Tuesday, October 22, 2013, 5:55 PM

Combined Q&A between Joel & Jerrold
1. The 3 films have characters who own & operate cameras. Is that all that unifies these films?

Plot similarities: main character goes to the province, his/her life is changed, comes back with what we expect is a new hopeful outlook on life but actually reaches a compromise. Visual similarties exist particularly in shot composition during certain important events (e.g. the wide two-shot with characters facing each other). They may be trivial but they add to overall visual integrity. I imagine the plots of all three films as clotheslines from which we hang the real concerns of the trilogy, which would be, among other things, the loss of innocence and the resulting compromises we’re forced to make to reach certain truths – maybe there’s some cognitive dissonance at work in the characters’ lives. In Confessional, the conclusions are on a socio-political level. In Mangatyanan, cultural (albeit disguised). In Sana Dati, personal. Side note re Mangatyanan: the film was an attempt at allegorical filmmaking. There’s a reason why Laya’s mother is named Luzviminda. There’s also a reason why Laya chose to forgive her mother instead of her father who molested her.

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2. I can detect some progressive agenda in Confessional (critique of local-govt political roguery) and in Mangatyanan (womanist agency). What I could see in SD was a reworking of the runaway bride narrative, including the expected containment where she accedes to committing to her conventional future. My other problem was that the main character could get away with being a runaway bride mainly because her class position affords her that privilege, and in the end some empathy is directed toward her bridegroom for having the patience to tolerate her. Am I misperceiving the narrative’s intent?
Except perhaps for Sana Dati’s attempt to subvert Pinoy genre conventions, I hesitate to identify a “progressive” agenda in any of the three films primarily because the stories are founded on very cynical roots. All three films present different levels of “giving up,” accepting loss, and moving on with a handicapped position as starting point. Accept that one is damaged then maybe there’s hope afterwards. If that kind of cynicism can be called progressive, so be it. The resulting empathy for Robert Naval in SD is partly borne out of said attempt to subvert genre conventions. Who expects the perceived bad guy to be the real good guy, after all? As for class issues, upper middle class is the film’s milieu. We cannot fault the characters for existing in a privileged position and having no social agenda within the film’s universe at that particular time the story was told. Maybe if the story started with Robert’s attempt to run for governor and focused on the resulting cynicism borne out of his loss (“You can’t be a public servant and a politician at the same time”) there would’ve been class and social commentaries in the film. But there are none, and the film is happy to exist without one.

3. If my previous observation has some degree of accuracy, would it be wrong to say that the trilogy isn’t actually concerned with progressivity after all? Or that whatever seemed progressive in the previous films was just incidental – that these are really texts that seek to uphold specific middle-class individuals as heroes of their own cine-narratives? I’m asking strictly in the spirit of wanting to know what you had in mind. As you might be aware, this line of questioning does not automatically uphold the artist’s intention as the only correct interpretation, but it definitely counts as a privileged perspective, so I’d greatly appreciate being apprised of what your project was all about. Many thanks!
Mostly answered in #2. They cannot be considered heroes. They are middle-class losers, trapped by selfishness (Sana Dati), emotional trauma (Mangatyanan), or ignorance/cowardice (Confessional). In the end, they reach a 50-50 compromise: Ryan Pastor knows the truth but chooses to keep it hidden, Laya forgives her mother (accepts fate as molested country) but not her father, Andrea Gonzaga says “I love you” to Robert even if it’s not completely true (she looks away from Robert at the last shot).

Saturday, October 10, 2015, 8:52 PM

Joel
Hi Jerrold, warm congrats for the success of Heneral Luna, which (as I told [co-producer] Ting Nebrida) I appreciated highly. I was willing to write a review but I needed a 2nd screening, but then I had to return to Korea before it opened in theaters. I keep trying to caution some academic acquaintances to keep in mind that it’s meant as a popular piece, and was received [by the general public] exactly in that way. But then I’m no longer surprised at their insistence on feeling superior to the work. [Brickbat deleted] I’m writing for another reason as well. I was being asked to revise the biography of Johven Velasco for the Cultural Center of the Philippines’s Encyclopedia [of Philippine Art’s 2nd edition], then I saw a review you wrote of his posthumously published book, titled “Velasco’s Legacy.” I remember Ellen [Ongkeko-Marfil] forwarded this to me, but I don’t remember if this got published, and I also googled the title and your name and apparently it’s unpublished. Would you mind if I posted the review on my archival blog? We’ll put your name and announce it as your article. (There are a few other pieces on the blog not written by me, but they’re all duly acknowledged.) Best regards and I’ll be looking forward to your historical trilogy, whatever shape it takes.[2]

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Sunday, October 11, 2015, 12:28 AM

Jerrold
Hi, Joel. Wow. Totally forgot about this. It’s all fine with me. Post away. Thanks for taking the effort to caution academic critics. I find it funny that intelligence doesn’t really make one immune from adopting a myopic viewpoint. Most of the criticism thrown at Luna boils down to what the critics wanted the film to be. Somehow they can’t judge the film based on what it was trying to achieve. Anyway, we just laugh it off over here. Let me know if you’d like to see the film again for review purposes.

Sunday, October 11, 2015, 7:31 PM

Joel
Salamat for the green light. Re acad critics – I didn’t caution them directly, just entirely in passing. But when an extended discussion came out, I could sense that some of them were aware of people’s warning about the paradox of claiming to be pro-people while disparaging something the audience “voted” for. The tone became defensive [as a result]. I continued upholding examples of [netizens] who differed with the film’s statements but whose perspective did not include the sense of penalizing any of the people behind the project. [Further disparagement of organized critics] I got immediate clearance from [editor & publisher] Cri-en del Carmen Pastor to review Heneral Luna for her NY-based The FilAm (my usual outlet). The timing seems right because the film will be released end of October in NYC. So could you send me the link to the [screener file]? I promise to keep it confidential and never to download it. Also, in case I rewatch it and I’ve got some further questions, hope you don’t mind if I ask you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015, 10:08 AM

Jerrold
[After providing link] Do let me know once the review is out. And, yes, I don’t mind answering further questions.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015, 8:34 PM

Joel
Went thru the movie and still appreciated it, warts and all. I can argue it’s your best, but since that’s a matter of opinion, we’ll leave that for the review. If I may ask some questions, which have been raised by some commenters already.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015, 8:34 PM & 11:29 PM

Combined Q&A between Joel & Jerrold
1. The worst that can be said about focusing attention on Pinoys as our own worst enemy is that it can have a cynical mercenary effect – i.e., it will make the movie palatable even to illiberal American observers, since their country isn’t condemned as heavily as its actual historical role calls for. Were you aware of this possible accusation and how did you work this out?

I was aware that I was leaving many things out, especially regarding the role the Americans played during the war. But that was the whole point of the opening disclaimer. Luna is less a history lesson and more of an indictment of certain Pinoy traits that have been in existence even before the Americans came. Was it the fault of the Spaniards? Maybe. But in our current state, is it really useful to condemn our colonizers and lay the blame on them for our troubles, or should Filipinos get their act together and move forward since we’re already enjoying certain freedoms we never had before? It’s very important to acknowledge what America did but that would be an entirely different film. Clinton Palanca in Spot.ph said it best: [Luna] is a two-hour treatise on the current state of the nation, couched in costumes and poetic intonations of a fictive 1898.

2. A few people I knew who might have been progressive or sympathetic [toward the film] refused to watch. I later figured out that they were Cavite-based, or were born in Cavite. Personally I’m glad the movie refuses to perform the humanist act of sparing everyone from blame. But doesn’t the film plug into the “we’re too parochial to be a nation” argument by criticizing certain participants according to their place of origin?
I will have to refer to one of the film’s inspirations: Nick Joaquin’s A Question of Heroes, where the author identified cavitissmo and regionalism as instrumental to the collapse of the revolution. I think once people read that and Vivencio Jose’s The Rise and Fall of Antonio Luna, they’ll pretty much understand our take on things. Some historians have told me that regionalism doesn’t exist but I beg to disagree. Regionalism isn’t the cause of our troubles now (probably because traditional and social media have done their part in addressing our commonalities) but, back then, when people would proudly identify themselves by their place of origin, I believe it played a big role. However, you can’t deny that Filipinos are still clannish today. Whether that contributes to our feeble sense of nationhood, I’m not sure. Maybe.

3. This is the closest you’ve gotten to a full-length studio assignment, even if it’s an indie studio [that produced the film]. The indicators would be not just the budget and scope, but also the fact that you were hired to work on a script that was written by the producers. How were you able to make sure that the movie would not wind up the impersonal & mechanical metteur-en-scène type of output? Sorry, these queries sound difficult and may not even be resolvable. But I’ll appreciate any light you could shed. Again, I’m not out to judge harshly (or so I hope). I’m also taking the opportunity to learn from the experience of watching and interacting. Maraming salamat! And congrats several times over!
I actually once did a full-length film for [mainstream outfit] Regal called Aswang. Not too proud of that one though. I asked permission from the producers of HL to rewrite the original script, which was entirely in English. I added more humorous bits (especially the dynamics among Luna, Roman, and Rusca), toned down the more theatrical dialogue, added and deleted scenes, and put in every cinematic flourish I could think of that was appropriate to the piece (including the reference to [General Antonio Luna’s painter-brother Juan’s prizewinning masterpiece] “Spoliarium”). That’s how I always turn an existing screenplay into something more personal – by rewriting it and making it somehow my own. I did that in my [omnibus-horror series] Shake, Rattle & Roll projects too.

Thanks a lot, Joel! I didn’t mind the questions at all. It’s a breather from the countless questions that have been asked ad nauseam in god knows how many interviews I’ve had. Hope it helped clarify things.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015, 12:34 AM

Joel
Very honest & admirable answers. I always make a point of understanding where an author’s coming from so that I don’t wind up imposing my own should-have-beens in my reading. Sometimes I quote directly, but generally I just use the author’s intention as starting point. I haven’t seen your horror films so that’s a gap in my familiarity with your output. Also the critical treatment that Heneral Luna deserves right now won’t be one more review (like what I’ll be doing) but rather a scholarly article, to be able to inspect the innovative phenomena that it participated in – social media, historical discourse, indie-mainstream intersections, etc. Times like these make me wish Johven were still around, because he would have found the perfect way to attain the perfect critique. That’s also my ethos in film criticism: the effort should always be worthy of the object that it’s studying, otherwise it won’t have a shot at any kind of long-term significance. Once again, salamat for your effort in formulating your answers. I’ve always maintained that the best artists are the ones capable of critical thinking (which is why critics should also understand the artistic process). That plus connecting with the mass audience – a difficult challenge that only few have been able to hurdle. HL’s Exhibit A for that standard of achievement.

Jerrold
Thank you very much, Joel. Yes, I do wish Johven were around. I would’ve wanted to know his thoughts on everything that’s been happening. I truly appreciate your effort in knowing where the creators are coming from. That helps a lot in the discourse. I’ll be looking forward to your article.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015, 8:52 PM

Jerrold
[After reading a draft of the review] I don’t see any inaccuracies. It’s all good with me. Love the closing statement! Haha.[3]

Notes

[1] The review I wrote, “Antonio Luna’s Fall and Rise,” was published on October 15, 2015, at The FilAm.

[2] The other installations in Tarog’s second formal trilogy would be biopics of Gregorio del Pilar – being produced as of first quarter of 2018 and titled Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral [Goyo: The Young General] – and of President Manuel L. Quezon.

[3] Subsequent discussions in this message thread pertained to Tarog’s participation in a foreign film festival as well as his responses to a takedown of Heneral Luna, attributing the rise of fascist sentiment to the film.

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Source Exchange for Review of Vampariah

Vampariah was the closing film of the 2016 Filipino Arts & Cinema International, which I attended as recipient of the Gawad Lingap Sining (Art Nurturer Award). FACINE founder and director Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr. introduced me to Matthew Abaya, whom I sought out after the screening to congratulate and ask if he didn’t mind my reviewing it. When I told him that that could entail some Q&A exchanges, he indicated his willingness to participate. As soon as I recovered from the trip, I initiated a Facebook Messenger discussion thread that included Mauro Tumbocon. I edited the exchange below to exclude superfluous or redundant material. My own messages are indented. The review itself came out in early 2017.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016, 8:24 PM

Joel
Hi Matthew (with Mau listening in), I know that if I keep aiming to complete prior assignments I’ll never be able to get around to reviewing Vampariah. So I’m writing to you now to see if we can arrange for this. I normally require at least two screenings of any film, since the 1st is where I allow for my subjective take and observation of audience responses and the 2nd is when I write notes. That means I need one more screening – doesn’t have to be theatrical this time; if you have a screener or a link to an online posting, that would be fine. I assure you that it won’t circulate beyond me. The other matter is venue. I have only one ready outlet, the NY-based TheFilAm.net, which is edited by a friend of mine. I usually ask whether the film will be having a Tri-State or North American release so I can refer to it in my review. Other producers or directors prefer a different venue and time frame; they just tell me where and when (for example, for a Philippine daily by such-and-such a date), I write the piece and give it to them or to their contact person in the publication. Since I’m in neither Pinas nor US, I can’t cultivate these contacts myself. But I do prefer to tailor my writing to specific readers (in terms of vocabulary, length, tone, etc.), even in the case of TheFilAm with its 1,500-word limit. I don’t ask for payment because at this time I won’t need it (plus it’s always insultingly low, although I used to rely on the $30-per-review checks I would get as a resident reviewer during the late 1980s). If a check’s available, I always request the editor or producer or director to donate it to any favorite charity. As I prepare the review, I’d also often ask anyone in production (usually the director) about certain background info on the project, or list any issues I might find regarding the text, for them to answer if they wish to. Most critics, and some of my graduate-school classmates, consider this a wrong procedure, but it always worked for me, and I suspect they’ve come around to doing it, if they wanted to be productive in the long term. I still have to meet a film person who felt this interaction was unnecessary, so that confirms for me that it’s just the right thing to do. Will look forward to your response. Best regards.

Thursday, November 24, 2016, 4:09 AM

Matthew
Thank you. You can watch Vampariah again [at this online venue]. Let me know if it plays OK. Thanks again for giving the film a good look. There are many layers to the film and I am happy to talk about them. I don’t think any reviews have been made with the subtext of post-colonialism which is a major theme of the film. With the current climate of political relations between the US and the Philippines, I would be curious as to your interpretation.

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Thursday, November 24, 2016, 8:48 AM

Joel
Thanks for the link. Just a quick clarification: no, I don’t (wish to) get paid for reviewing. If you’ve got a budget for it, just donate it to a lesbian POC NGO, if one exists. So TheFilAm.net as outlet will be OK with you? (Some of their articles get picked up by Philippine media.) Is there any future screening or release of Vampariah I can point readers to? Last, have you got any write-ups (by you or others) about yourself? Salamat. Hope to get this done soon!

Matthew
Sounds good. As far as future screenings and distribution goes, we are still sorting out distribution options. We are planning more US and international screenings next year. A homecoming to the Philippines is in the works. Nothing is solid yet.

Joel
So would a review be useful at this time or would you prefer to wait? I can work with either option. If you want the review timed for some event, just let me know. Otherwise I’ll just mention your plans for the film as you’d written.

Matthew
Hmmm. Good question. At this time I kind of would like to get as much exposure as we can. We don’t have anything to report for next year just yet but it would be nice to get film festivals and audiences excited to see it happen in their town. I think we are lacking a lot of good reviews on the internet as a whole. At least we have some good radio podcast but nothing in writing. The best one we have is with SF Sonic.

Joel
OK then, I’ll let [the editor] know that I’ll be drafting a review, maybe by next week. She tends to rush me but that’s OK – it forces me to work more quickly.

Matthew
Haha thanks. [laugh]

Joel
Not to be too big-headed about it, but if you read the NY Times review of [Jerrold Tarog’s] Heneral Luna, it sounded suspiciously close to what I wrote for TheFilAm. [link provided]

Thursday, November 24, 2016, 10:30 AM

Matthew
For real? Wow.

Joel
Just my conceit. Or maybe delusion haha.

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Thursday, November 24, 2016, 12:53 PM

Matthew
I think it might’ve been lifted from your review.

Joel
Some basic insights were what I recognized. I don’t mind, since mine came out 1st, and ideas can’t be copyrighted anyway. Some of my earlier declarations got propagated in the past, but not my 2nd thoughts or reversals about those same ideas – like the statement that the Marcos era constituted a Golden Age of cinema. BTW, where can I find some basic info about you?

Mauro
I love that statement about the Golden Age of [Philippine] cinema.

Matthew
I can send you my bio. Yes I love the Golden Age.

Joel
Sige, pls send me a copy. I tried repudiating that Golden Age statement but it didn’t take off. Maybe I should conduct a stronger self-deconstruction. [smile]

Mauro
It will be all right as long as you are clear about its meaning, and at the same time, are cautious about its use one way or another. It’s also important to periodize our history.

Joel
My point was: the 1st Golden Age “theory” resulted in an underappreciation of 1960s independent cinema, so the 2nd one shouldn’t distract us from inspecting any productive efforts that were done after February ’86.

Mauro
You mean, post ’86 pre-digital.

Joel
Yes, the periods between supposed Golden Ages. Many directors did some of their best output during those moments – Gerry de Leon, [Lamberto] Avellana, [Cesar] Gallardo, [Cesar] Amigo during the 1960s, [Chito] Roño, [Marilou] Diaz-Abaya, [Carlos] Siguion-Reyna, a few others during the ’90s.

Matthew
Wow [smile]. Was ’86 the beginning of digital?

Mauro
Digital may have started in 1999 with Jon Red’s Still Lives.[1]

Matthew
Yeah that’s when I remember digital becoming more a trend.

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Mauro
Hence 1986 to 1999 is indeed fertile ground for study, the period immediately preceding the surge of independents via digital – which was of course, immediately post-martial law.

Joel
It became standard industry format a few years after, around mid-2000s.

Friday, November 25, 2016, 3:35 AM

Matthew
Check this out [link given]: my film won 2 awards at the same event in the feature-film category alongside [Pedring Lopez’s] Nilalang which is another Filipino monster film. I’m looking for more write ups like this. I picked up three [comments] in the last week and there’s actually no press on it.

Saturday, December 31, 2016, 1:50 AM

Joel
Hi Matthew – I tried to watch [what you provided] but the website said the password was incorrect. (I copied and pasted what you wrote, then I typed it out – same result. I’ll be leaving in less than two days so I’m trying to watch it before I wind up with the Philippines’s slow internet speed.) [After Matthew provides a fix.] Thanks and advanced Happy New Year! Sorry it took me this long to start watching!

Matthew
No worries. We will be going into 2017 with a distributor so it would be really good to have a review.

Joel
I’m also thinking of catching the better entries at the Christmas film festival so that when I make a declaration about Vampariah, I would have a basis for making the assertion. But if that takes too long, then I’ll just draft the review and turn it in to The FilAm.

Matthew
Thank you so much. I definitely want to go back to the Philippines.

Joel
I’ll be there until late July [2017, for a] half-sabbatical. Let me know if you’ll be in town. Maybe you can interest one of the local festivals in showcasing it? Cinemalaya & the Metro Manila filmfest are the ones where non-mainstream entries have a chance of having some audience patronage. Otherwise you’ll be up against the majors in cahoots with the theater owners, and only a handful have been able to buck that system.

Matthew
Will be really nice to get into those festivals but I don’t have a good in [frown]. I need to find a way get their attention. Having more written about the film would be helpful.

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Joel
Will see what I can do. Plus there’s the stuck-in-the-’60s brand of nationalism, where if you’re not homegrown or home-produced, you get ignored at best or criticized at worst. Better to take careful steps. Mau might also be able to help out. I’ll see what I can do by way of generating some buzz for it.

Matthew
I’ve been told to expect a lot of criticism. I guess the film fights up and [claims] a very interesting spot, being an American movie done by Filipinos who were born and raised here. I appreciate your wisdom on this.

Joel
I’ve seen Fil-Ams go through that predicament before, where they’re never “authentic” enough for either culture. That’s why I found Vampariah’s embrace of the liminal so true & refreshing.

Matthew
Authenticity is definitely an issue related in the film. That’s awesome. [applause]

Joel
It’s raised as an issue in a few other Fil-Am productions, but this is the 1st time where even the stylistic elements demonstrate the struggle. Will show you the draft when I’ve finished it for your comments &/or corrections.

Matthew
Exactly. I definitely feel a strong connection to films like [Rod Pulido’s] Flip Side or [Gene Cajayon’s] The Debut, albeit a very different kind of film.

Sunday, January 1, 2017, 12:55 AM

Joel
Hi Matt (saw this nickname in one website but if it’s wrong pls let me know) – would you mind if I ask some questions about the movie? I’ve looked at the press materials but they weren’t comprehensive (and didn’t have to be). No need for a quick answer, just do it when you have the time. I’m supposed to be in transit myself, from Korea to Pinas, by tomorrow.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017, 12:55 AM & 7:49 AM

Combined Q&A between Joel & Matt:
1 – The 1st supernatural creature was “Kouji” (from the credits at IMDb) – a creature that hops in order to get around. Is this based on a local or regional “lower” myth in the Philippines? It seems similar to some early Euro accounts of undead movements.
Kouji is a hunter. He dies when Bampinay kills him for trying to hunt down Mahal. Mr Fang is a Chinese vampire called a jiangshi – 殭屍. Hack Daddy refers to him as a kyonshi, which is the Japanese pronunciation. The character uses this word because it is easier for him to pronounce. I always found it interesting that 2 creatures I loved to watch movies about in my teen years, aswangs and jiangshis, never faced off in a movie before. Mr. Fang is somewhat-tragic comic relief. He lost everything and is left to wander aimlessly hunting and being hunted. In the end he is sort of released and begins to recapture part of his humanity.

2 – The hunters stick some yellow sheets with what appears to be Oriental (Chinese?) characters on them. Are these Buddhist prayers similar to how East Asian cultures vanquish their supernatural monsters? There’s also what appears to be shadow puppetry that resembles wayang kulit – let me know if I’m wrong, or if this was unintended.
Mahal apparently has some old magic in her. Vampire films often follow European traditions and it seems she knows how to deal with a Chinese vampire like Mr. Fang. (Mr. Fang’s name is a homage to Mr. Vampire films from Hong Kong.) [The use of] wayang kulit was intentional. I had written this lengthy backstory to be sort of like Scrooge’s haunting by the ghosts of [Charles Dickens’s] A Christmas Carol, but the scene required us to take a dramatic yet bold way to tell a long backstory without running up the production budget. I always wanted to incorporate Asian shadow puppetry in the film. Aureen Almario (Bampinay) and players at Bindlestiff Studio often incorporate [ethnic material] into their stage plays. She was instrumental in the construction of the scene.

3 – The TV aswang explorer who gets killed – was that meant to be a reference to Steve Irwin? More on references – was Blade an influence? (I’m not against the idea of homage.) Because I’m thinking of calling it by the same genre, punk horror. Also, the main characters are “half-breeds.”
“The Cryptid Hunter” John Bates is based on Josh Gates of the show Destination Truth. I used it as a criticism of expats and “whitesplaining.” You can say we killed it.

4 – The monsters that Michele creates – are they zombies, or zombified vampires?
They are both, but mostly missing disinters who don’t agree with a hidden master plan designed by the faceless male voice that controls Michele. [Incidentally,] Michele Kilman is intended to resemble Michelle Malkin.

Blade, Underworld, Interview with the Vampire, The Lost Boys, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula must have been my biggest influences.[2] Blade and Underworld feature martial arts, a goth-punk driven score, and a vampire protagonist. It seemed like a great template for a more complex story and capable of making a story about identity relatable. Clearly a homage to my favorite vampire films while introducing something entirely different to the American landscape. It wasn’t merely trying to explain it to non-Filipinos and non-Asians.

5 – Bampinay drawing Mahal into realizing and accepting her aswang nature – was that intended to be an allegory about Fil-Ams completing their identity via Philippine culture? (It’s a complex issue because Pinas culture is itself highly syncretized.)
Yes indeed.

6 – Where did you have your film training and/or apprenticeship?
The bulk was in community college at CSM (now defunct) – same class as fellow Pinoy filmmaker HP Mendoza. I also took more technical classes at the City College of San Francisco, San Francisco State University. I worked on other feature films as an assistant, to build chops. [Additional remark: Thank you. This film does need a little decoding as it has to be left open to its creative interpretation.]

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Joel
These are all the questions I have for now. I don’t know if you read Tagalog, but the best recent Philippine novel I’ve come across is Ricky Lee’s Amapola in 65 Chapters (Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata), which is also queer-themed but involves a cross-dressing performer as the manananggal hero. (I once wrote a review of it.) Once more, no need to rush with the answers. Thanks and Happy New Year.

Sunday, January 1, 2017, 7:49 AM

Matthew
I hope this adds clarity. You both have a Happy New Year!

Thursday, January 12, 2017, 9:17 PM

Joel
The draft I prepared [is attached]. I forwarded to [the editor] Cri-en Pastor because she asked for it over a week ago, but I can still make corrections in about a day, before she uploads it. Wasn’t able to use all the info I compiled (plus my usual small notebook of scribbles) but it’s always better to have more knowledge than you need. It will also be helpful in more scholarly writing I might wind up doing later, or if I have advisees interested in this type of cinema. Many thanks for the help – and pls let me know if there are urgent/serious errors that have to be corrected.

Friday, January 13, 2017, 2:17 AM

Matthew
Thank you so much. I really appreciate that you mention that we are using a subversive genre as a vehicle and a means of empowerment. It is the main takeaway from the film. What do you think will be different from the final [version of the review]?

Friday, January 13, 2017, 4:08 AM

Joel
Unless I warn Cri-en of any serious errors and give her a revised draft, she’ll upload what I submitted. I provide myself the luxury of a more-final-than-final version (including updates and corrections) via my blog. So I’ll see what else I can improve after a while, and incorporate it in the blog version.

Mauro
Perhaps, if okay with Matt, you may as well qualify – “Bampinay” was not his first short film; he has been doing short films since FACINE started 23 years ago, most of them of the horror/sci-fi genre, except for one called “HoMe,” a collage of photos, the text referring to cultural identity and Filipino iconography, which I love much. Matt, you may add to this too.

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Matthew
Oh yeah. Thanks Mauro. I been also known for music videos [like Mud’s “Careless”].

Joel
Corrected and forwarded the draft already. Don’t be surprised if the publication changes the title. That’s standard practice in journalism, where editors have to fill up available spaces in their page layout. In my books and in my blog, I usually restore the title I suggested if I find it preferable to what the editor prepared. Cri-en said she’ll get it out “tonight” (tri-state area time).

Wednesday, January 25, 2017, 11:35 AM

Matthew
One other thing that’s been hitting me lately in Hollywood is the whole “whitewashing” issue with [the remake of Mamoru Oshii’s] Ghost in the Shell. I made Vampariah to counter that. I hope this one interview I did in NYC comes out where I opened up a lot about that.

Joel
Is this the Japanese anime? I remember watching that after I learned that it was one of the main inspirations for [the Wachowski sisters’] The Matrix.

Matthew
The Hollywood remake. I love the anime.

Joel
Me too. Didn’t know Hollywood remade it, but that’s no longer surprising. Sige, I’ll look it up.

Matthew
Basically I spoke of how 2016 was a challenging year for Asian Am actors and a film like Vampariah if pitched to a Hollywood studio would not get made, mostly for its casting.

Notes

[1] Mike de Leon’s Bilanggo sa Dilim, made in 1986, was produced by the Philippine branch of Sony Solid Video and screened at Wave Cinema in Cubao, which was equipped to screen films shot in video. See my review titled “Return to Form” in The National Pastime.

[2] These films were directed by the following: Stephen Norrington (Blade); Len Wiseman (Underworld); Neil Jordan (Interview with the Vampire); Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys) and Francis Ford Coppola (Bram Stoker’s Dracula).

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Tribute to Bangy Dioquino

Manuel “Bangy” Dioquino Jr. was the founding chair of the Philippine Resource Persons Group (now the Association of Filipino Educators in Korea). Comprising Filipino university professors in Korea, the formation of the Phil-RPG was originally suggested by then-Ambassador Luis T. Cruz, with Consul-General Sylvia M. Marasigan as “handler,” as a consultative support body of the Philippine Embassy in Korea. From less than a dozen members, the roster expanded to nearly a hundred, then dwindled after several exchange programs ended; one of its high-profile activities was a weekly column at the Korean newspaper JungAng Daily. As AFEK, the group maintains more independence from embassy requisites and epitomizes Korea’s acknowledgment of the competence and professionalism of Filipino educators. The return of the founding chair to the Philippines (after half a decade at Kyunghee University), to pursue non-teaching options, occasioned a tribute requested by the Phil-RPG officials from me, as the only other founding member then present. The occasion was held at the Catholic University of Daegu on May 2013. On October 2015, at 55 years old, Bangy passed away from a lingering illness. His condition had not yet been detected during the time I prepared and delivered this speech.

Labor Attaché Fely Bay, Phil-RPG Chair Emely Abagat, and Pinoy Colleagues and Students in Korea:

Professor Emely asked me if I could deliver a tribute to our outgoing RPG Chair, Professor Bangy Dioquino. I hesitated for a few minutes – not because I didn’t think Bangy didn’t deserve any accolades – on the contrary, in fact. But the reason I hesitated was because of how closely I identified with the object of our appreciation today. I thought that in his place, I might be able to expect tributes only if I were terminally ill and halfway to oblivion. In fact, these past few years, I had been reflecting on people’s merits and achievements only when I realize that they might not be with us long enough.

Fortunately, this is one exception – meaning, Bangy won’t be with us soon, but only on a limited and literal level. In a larger sense, he’ll be even more with us, taking with him and leaving with us a rich collection of fun yet productive experiences, and bearing, for better or worse, the association with the Resource Persons Group as he embarks on a set of new challenges in our country of origin. You will pardon me if I desist from saying home country, because in a real sense, to me at least, any country I elect to stay in is home, and Korea would be it more than any other for now.

Emely’s reason for requesting me to talk about Bangy is that I’m supposedly the one to have known him longer than others in our group. That may be true in the sense that we were graduated in the same institution during the 1980s, and so we might have shared a lot of the insights and beliefs that constituted what we could term our sentimental education at the national university. More concretely, when I returned from US graduate studies over a decade ago and resumed teaching, my supervisor then, the late Dean Ellen Paglinauan, recognized my potential in curriculum development and requested me to join the university’s curriculum review committee.

I would like to speak a bit about this assignment. The longer I have been exposed to university processes in other countries, the more convinced I am that if we have anything to be proud of in Philippine education, then UP’s curriculum review would be a premier example. The committee comprises heads of units plus a few members elected at large, which was how I initially participated. The committee makes sure that new or revised courses and programs do not overlap with one another, and can be defended against objections by colleagues at every stage – from department to college to committee level, before it is passed on to the entire assembly of professors. I lost a lot of friends because of the fact that I would speak the way I would practice media criticism: with concern for the betterment of the proponents, but with no holds barred about any errors in their presentation.

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In that committee, I noticed one other member who pursued the same goal of speaking frankly in order to perfect, whenever possible, a curricular adjustment: in short, a kindred spirit. Flash-forward to a few years later: when the Philippine embassy in Seoul invited me to the first meeting that would organize the group that later became Phil-RPG, I immediately found the organization’s leader familiar in a way I couldn’t place. It was Bangy who reminded me where we first interacted with each other.

We had more opportunities to interact obviously, because of our several commonalities: we were in Korea, we were in the same organization, we were in the same Seoul-and-suburbs chapter, we hung out in Diliman when we were in Metro Manila. He had family relations who were involved in film production and would have been colleagues of mine if I had remained at the University of the Philippines. That plus the fact that his mother was a piano professor and performer made him more conversant with classical and media arts issues than I was with his field. Professor Joy Siapno, another former RPG member continuing to make waves in politics, anthropology, and classical music, was a distant relation of his. I just had to conclude that they had those genes that allow for dexterity in left and right sides of the brain, while I had to content myself with whatever side it is that confines me to my area: the wacky side?

Just observing how Bangy can pull together various contacts, and exchange plans and ideas with them, while all I could do was burrow deeper into the images and manuscripts I was supposed to be analyzing, helped me to understand my own limitations. I’ll be able to spill out words useful or otherwise, but that requires the world to stand still in order in order for them to have any kind of observable effect. People like Bangy, on the other hand, will not accept the impossibility of change and will recognize that society is the key to making that happen. Where I would jot down a complaint or an observation, he will reach out to everyone – the embassy, the Honorable Jasmine Lee, Edward and Cookie Reed, the editors of Korea Times and JoongAng Daily, Senator Edgardo Angara, various university and government and private-sector officials in Korea and the Philippines – all in order to move things forward.

So in a sense it was inevitable that he would be carried along by some of the waves that he had generated. One of the great historical currents of our time and place – that of overseas employment – carried him here. And while I drop anchor and hope I get moored to this one place, another historical current, which I hope finally builds up into the tsunami of national development, will be taking him back to the Philippines.

Ka Bangy, you know that if I could freeze this last half-decade and relish the cycle of semestral hassles and holiday tranquility, with conspiratorial sessions where we could figure out how to improve relations between our countries, and maybe plan what we can do once we achieve Korean reunification … then I would coast satisfyingly toward retirement or death, whichever comes first. But you’ve decided once more to heed the call of our times, and my conscience won’t allow me to say you ought to stay put here. You’ll be taking some of the laughter and the anger and the dark neurotic secrets I’ve shared, and I hope that would be enough. We’ll be gazing from this distance at the struggles and the triumphs that you’ll be accumulating and we wish you the best on your forthcoming journey. Thank you for everything.

Á!

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Pop Culture and Halalan 2016

When it comes to popular culture trends, the Philippines appears to be mimicking its former colonizer, the US, in some ways, and leading it in other ways, usually by resisting or overturning the trends the latter sets. The recently concluded presidential election provides fertile ground to study these older possibilities as well as a number of newer ones. As most observers would have known by now, Rodrigo Duterte won the race by replicating Barack Obama’s folk appeal on social media, but also unnervingly appropriated Donald Trump’s exploitation of rage and discontent among the citizenry. Those old enough to remember could point to Ferdinand Marcos’s wily use of audiovisual media (with his wife Imelda as main accessory), reminiscent of John F. Kennedy’s feat in projecting a televised image of charm and intelligence. Marcos went further in taking the extra step of commissioning an increasingly fraudulent series of film hagiographies (the last one, Jerr Hopper’s Maharlika, was never released during his regime because it featured Dovie Beams, the mistress whose affair with Marcos ended in lurid scandal).

The connection between pop culture and electoral politics is more than incidental. For the past two years, Philippine cultural workers and commentators had been resorting to social media outlets in order to register their frustration with the negligence that President Benigno Simeon “PNoy” Aquino III had been devoting to their areas of concern. In a way PNoy was merely taking after his mother’s supercilious dismissal of culture (“not a priority” of her government, according to her spokesperson) – but without the crisis situation that had made Cory Aquino’s attitude more understandable, if not justifiable.

The turning point that consolidated netizens’ malcontent with Aquino’s high-handedness toward people’s preferences occurred in 2014, in his indefensible rejection of the cultural sector’s unanimous nomination of Nora Aunor as National Artist, with his representative advancing embarrassingly petulant reasons for his decision. In a matter of days, various “Nora Aunor for National Artist” group pages proliferated on Facebook – and a number of independent institutions, some of them government agencies, defiantly presented Aunor with life-achievement awards.

The subsequent “viral” pop-culture events, both of them in 2015, were not as overtly critical of the Aquino administration as the National Artist brouhaha, but they did indicate an increasing preference for intensive and enlightening exchanges, alongside the usual expressions of class hysteria and religious dogma. The noontime television phenomenon known as AlDub, a possibly inimitable postmodern improvisation of the budding romance between the fictional dubsmashing Girl Friday of Lola Inodora (a cross-dressed male actor) named Yaya Dub and real-life heartthrob Alden Richards, yielded its own unique coinage, kalyenovela, and demonstrated for observers the importance of timing and the provision of entertainment, as well as the unpredictability of the public’s behavior.

The most recent major pop-culture sample in social media was the slow but relentless buildup toward blockbuster status of Jerrold Tarog’s historical epic, Heneral Luna. The exhortations among netizens to take the risk of watching a period film about a barely remembered hotheaded figure from the eve of the revolution against Spain seemed at first like a localized version of the call for help for the disaster victims of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Again, the pop-culture component provided unexpected appeal, since the movie yielded not just urgent political insights but also galloping (if generic) entertainment.

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Hence the onset of the Philippine presidential campaign felt like all these events rolled into one, with elements of plot twists, outsize characters, fan-like devotion, and unpredictable-though-expected resolution suffusing the proceedings. The major takeaway was the contentious morality question of which candidate was the actual heroic figure (thereby rendering all the others villainous). When the dust had settled, for the presidential contest at least, the first point that everyone could agree on was remarkable: the candidate who had most successfully utilized social media won.

More intensive studies of the electoral exercise will have to be conducted, although at the moment, one can make certain provisional conclusions. The Duterte campaign team prepared a few years in advance on precisely the premise that social media would be crucial, probably taking a page or two from the Obama campaign (personal disclosure: I voted for neither Duterte nor the LP candidate, Mar Roxas). The timing they displayed was impeccable, with Duterte the last to emerge as candidate, thus tipping the hand of the ruling Liberal Party in implementing its series of demolition jobs against the other candidates. When Duterte’s turn came, the candidate counter-intuitively led the charge against himself, admitting extrajudicial killings, dressing nonchalantly and cursing casually, supporting the Marcoses, disrespecting the Pope, Western ambassadors, and rape victims; the image generally contradicted his public-service record as humble and devoted mayor of the most successfully managed city in the country, and made the LP’s efforts against him seem like the hypocritical posturing of the privileged class – precisely the effect that the campaign team must have intended.

The deplorable result of the exchanges between Duterte followers and (primarily) LP supporters is that most netizens were drawn into taking positions for one or the other side and suffered the trauma of hate-based fundamentalist rhetoric; Facebook members announced May 10, the day after elections, as “friendship day,” although certain rifts would likely take longer than a day to heal. To provide a contrast, the vice-presidential race, which was even more of a nail-biter in its head-to-head match between the LP candidate and Marcos’s son, was conducted with exemplary exchanges, even humor. When Marcos supporters claimed that the results demonstrated the occurrence of cheating, several genuine statisticians came forward and ran extensive tests with careful methodological explications from more complete datasets to prove that the allegations were unlikely to be true. As an amusing sidelight, other netizens engaged in a Twitter-generated slash fiction imagining queer encounters between the President-elect’s hunky surfer son, Baste, and Marcos’s slow-witted scion, Sandro, with the other candidates’ sons in supporting roles; by creatively deploying cues that designated who between the two was the actual object of desire, the authors subtly indicated their preference for Duterte and their (occasional) contempt for Marcos.

The primary issue in the next round of election campaigns would not be whether any candidate can ignore the function and importance of social media, but whether the hurtful, bruising level of personal attacks can be minimized, if not avoided. Perhaps the winning candidate might be the one who resists these unproductive tendencies? Again, close observation of future pop-culture phenomena might prove instructive.
[First published May 15, 2016, as “How Pop Culture, Social Media Played a Role in Halalan 2016” in The FilAm]

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The Original Post of the National University’s Roundtable on Film Criticism

The vol. 13, no. 1 (2016) issue of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication’s journal, Plaridel: A Philippine Journal of Communication, Media, and Society, initially uploaded a file for “A Round Table [sic] Discussion on Poetics and Practice of Film Criticism,” which met with some derision among netizens for its errors in transcription. As a consequence, the editorial staff withdrew and revised the file in question. Unfortunately, the current version dispensed with the original’s open-forum section. Inasmuch as the timing of the roundtable was arguably in response to my article “A Lover’s Polemic,” I have claimed the prerogative to upload a PDF copy of the original file on Ámauteurish! – with an appeal to readers to refrain from remarking on the quality of the transcription. The file appears here primarily for the roundtable participants’ responses during the open forum.


Fallout over “A Lover’s Polemic”

After “A Lover’s Polemic” came out in The Manila Review (August 2013, pp. 6-8), the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication invited me to participate in a rather awkwardly titled “A Round Table [sic] Discussion on Poetics and Practice of Film Criticism.” Without anyone informing me outright, I knew that the event was motivated by the impulse of the members of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Filipino Film Critics Circle) to engage me in public, possibly to defend its practice. In the article I wrote, I acknowledged some positive contributions of the MPP, but I also maintained that several current problems in local film criticism could be traced to its shortcomings. The college dean at the time, Rolando B. Tolentino, also happened to be the MPP chair, and of the final list of participants, three out of seven (including Tolentino) were members of the circle. All the participants except one were faculty at the CMC, and three of them were members of the Young Critics Circle. Inasmuch as I was a former member and corporate secretary of the MPP, a founding member of YCC, and founding Director of the CMC’s Film Institute, it made sense for me to participate in the roundtable even if I knew, from past experience, that the MPP could recognize its weaknesses and resolve to confront them – but would continue anyway with its more lucrative counter-critical practice of award-giving. Unfortunately the roundtable was scheduled on March 19, 2014, when I had to be back at work in Korea.

The contributions were published in the vol. 13, no. 1 (2016) issue of Plaridel: A Philippine Journal of Communication, Media, and Society, where I happen to be a member of the International Advisory Board, and where Tolentino is Editor-in-Chief. As expected, the pieces written by MPP members displayed varying degrees of pique, starting with none: my former adviser and criticism mentor Bienvenido Lumbera provided a short and charming autobiographical account (“Kung Paano Ako Nakapasok sa Film Criticism” [How I Started in Film Criticism] 162-63) of how his interest in literature eventually extended to film. Former CMC dean Nicanor G. Tiongson (in “Critiquing the Filipino Film Today: Notes for the Round-Table Discussion on Film Criticism” 171-78) made attempts at reviewing a number of recent releases using the MPP’s antiquated criteria and then, apropos of nothing, claimed that one of the “qualifications that are necessary to be able to analyze and evaluate films well” included “a healthy respect for other critics in order to encourage dialogue; and above all, an attitude of balance and fairness, which is free of all personal agenda and self-promotion” (177-78) – strange words, considering their source.

The meanest attacks were rendered, surprisingly enough, by Tolentino, who had requested letters of support from me for his deanship candidacy. Titled “Hinahanap, Kaya Nawawala” [Searched For, Therefore Missing] (178-84), the rambling presentation revisited the quarrels Tolentino had with what he called “film bloggers (a.k.a. critics)” over Marie Jamora’s Ang Nawawala [What Isn’t There] (2012). Tolentino’s text is in Filipino, so I have provided excerpts below of relevant passages, with italicized translations in English. (Many thanks to Jek Josue David for correcting the translations.)

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…nanghihimok na ang dalubhasa na lamang ng disiplina ang may natatanging papel, katungkulan, at kaalaman para sa pagpapaunlad ng disiplinang araling pelikula (178).

[Like any other area, that of film studies] ensures that only experts in the field would have the right, duty, and knowledge in developing the discipline….

Pero hindi nangyari ito, o hindi pa nangyayari ito. Sumpa ng midya ng pelikula na ang lahat ng nakapanood ay may awtoridad na makapagbigay ng kaniyang kuro-kuro sa pinanood na palabas, na ang publiko ay awtoridad – bilang konsumeristang nagbabayad – sa kaniyang karanasan bilang manonood. At walang ipinagkaiba ito sa teritoryalisasyon ng mga kritiko sa iba’t ibang disiplina sa humanidades at agham panlipunan na tumahak din ng landas tungo sa pagpapalawig ng pelikula hindi sa isang disiplinang pampelikula na panuntunan kundi sa kanilang disiplina’t espesyalisasyon (178-79).

But it didn’t happen, or hasn’t happened yet. The curse of the film medium is that every viewer has the authority to convey her opinion on what she has seen, that the public has expertise – as paying consumers – in their experiences as viewers. This is no different from the territorialization of critics in various disciplines of humanities and social sciences in expanding film’s potential not within its own discipline but rather in their own fields of discipline and specialization.

Tila isinasaad, dahil popular ang midya ng pelikula, kailangan ay popular din ang paraan ng paglalahad ng teksto at konteksto nito: diyaryo, magazin, libro, at ang kasalukuyang pamamayagpag ng diskurso ng pelikula sa internet (179).

What’s asserted [is that], because the medium of film is popular, then the means of explicating its texts and contexts should also be popular: newspapers, magazines, books, and the current supremacy of film discourse on the internet.

Ang isang sumunod na sumpa sa kritisismong pelikula ay ang Internet, at ang pagsulpot ng pigura ng film blogger…. Mas mabilis silang magsulat, at may kalakaran sila ng pagsulat na may apela sa mga 35 porsiyento ng mamamayang may akses sa internet – kalakhan, kabataan, at gitnang uri. At kung nagsusulat sila sa Ingles, nababasa sila ng mundo ng mga art film festival, at naiimbitahan sa press junket at film junket, kundi man, maging jury pa sa mga ito. Ang kalakaran ng pagsulat ay may gaan at maraming patutsada na wala naman sa mismong pelikula pero nasa konteksto ng gitnang uri’t virtual public na intelektuwal na nagsusulat, at ng karanasan nito ng panonood at pagsusulat, kundi man ng kaniyang gitnang uring buhay (179).

A later curse on film criticism is the Internet, and the emergence of the figure [sic] of film bloggers…. They write faster, and their writings appeal to the 35 percent of the population who have access to the internet – majority [or mainstream, since “kalakhan” means greater majority], youth, and middle class. When written in English, they are read by the art-film festival communities and get invitations to press and film junkets, and even get appointed as jury members in these events. Their writing is airy and has several innuendos not present in the film itself but in relation to how they see and write about the film as middle-class, virtual public intellectuals, if not in the context of their middle-class life experiences.

At ito namang peg ng mga film blogger (a.k.a. critics) ang siya ring pumapaimbalot sa isa pang quasi-, kundi man, pseudo-intelektuwal na publikasyon sa internet, The Manila Review, na ang apuhap din – batay sa “wafazan” ng mga interesadong indibidwal sa Facebook – ay tungo sa kontrobersiya’t espektakulo ng mga “intelektuwal” na lumelevel sa putikan at burak kapag umeestima ng puna at kritisismo (180).

And the standard of these film bloggers (a.k.a. critics) is also what suffuses another quasi-, if not, pseudo-intellectual publication on the internet, The Manila Review, that attempts to aspire – based on the “wafazan” of interested individuals on Facebook – toward controversy and the spectacle of “intellectuals” who thrive on mud and filth when evaluating attack and criticism.

In the interest of following through on Tolentino’s attacks on Ang Nawawala and “film bloggers,” I viewed Jamora’s film and made an exception to Ámauteurish!’s policy of functioning strictly as an archival website, by blogging my own review of the film. It may also be worth noting that Tolentino’s negative review of the film was posted on his own blog.

Á!

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An Intro to “A Brief on Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag

This is to introduce the essay discussed in my article “Thinking Straight: Queer Imaging in Lino Brocka’s Maynila (1975),” which came out in the August 2012 issue (volume 9, number 2) of Plaridel: A Philippine Journal of Communication, Media, and Society. Written by the late Ave Perez Jacob, the essay, titled “A Brief on Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag,” was published in the December 1975 issue (volume 48, number 1) of The Literary Apprentice, the official publication of the University of the Philippines Writers Club. It appears with the permission of the issue’s editorial board, comprising Professor Delfin L. Tolentino, Jr. and Messrs. Herminio S. Beltran, Jr. and P.T. Martin. Many thanks to Theo Pie for sourcing the essay, and to Vince Cuizon for photographing the pages.


Doy del Mundo on a Controversy over Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag

This is the source interview for an article I wrote, titled “Thinking Straight: Queer Imaging in Lino Brocka’s Maynila (1975),” published in the August 2012 issue (volume 9, issue 2) of Plaridel: A Philippine Journal of Communication, Media, and Society. The respondent, Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr., was a founding member of the Filipino film critics circle and a retired professor of communication at De La Salle University. He is known as the scriptwriter for the majority of Mike de Leon films, but he first made his mark with the screenplay of Lino Brocka’s Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag [Manila: In the Claws of Darkness]. The interview was conducted via email in mid-2012, as a way of seeking out supplementary information for the article.

I drafted a paper for a special issue on queer media. I mentioned special early cases of controversies on queer politics in Philippine cinema. In looking at the case of Maynila, I remembered an article that came out in The Literary Apprentice, the journal of the University of the Philippines Writers Club. I re-read it once more and I was surprised at how offensive it sounded this time, in spite of its best intentions. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions regarding the film adaptation of [Edgardo Reyes’s novel] Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1967)? I hope you could provide some insights and/or correct any misimpressions I might have.

I saw the original run of Maynila (in July 1975), but ever since then, from its reissue after sweeping the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences awards to all subsequent rescreenings and video transfers, it’s been missing several sequences. That’s why when the article mentioned that 1/4 of the movie consisted of the gay-hustler underworld, it becomes accurate only when the point of reference is the original cut. Does this first version still exist anywhere or was there a conscious and/or official decision to trim the film? If it’s the second case, then would you know if the missing footage is lost for good?

The first version was re-edited by [Maynila’s producer and cinematographer] Mike de Leon for foreign exhibition (e.g. film festivals). I don’t think Lino was consulted about it. I did support Mike in doing the re-editing. Basically, the gay segment was shortened – it was unnecessarily long. I doubt if the first version exists anymore.

One recent academic paper claimed that Edgardo Reyes sued Lino for changes done to the narrative (presumably including the detour of Julio Madiaga into Bobby’s profession). It seemed, even from the still-existing scenes, that the dialogue-writing differed from the rest of the film. How improvisatory were these scenes – i.e., were you required/requested to provide scenes or lines or an entire narrative arc?

When Lino made the suggestion to add the excursion into the gay underworld, I asked him and Mike to clear it with Edgardo Reyes. I doubt if they did. Anyway, Lino and I talked about his ideas. Finally, I scripted it myself. The dialogue would naturally differ from the rest of the film. The character of Bobby belongs to a different group. The dialogue separates him from the world of the construction workers.

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The article I mentioned proceeded from a homophobic framework – that the novel, like its protagonist, was masculine, and the film adaptation “emasculated” it. (Strangely, the way the author expressed it sounded extremely homoerotic – a deep affection for Julio, representing Tondo, representing Manila, representing the country, in unconscious synecdochical distensions.) He identified Lino and you as responsible for the changes he regarded as unworthy of the source material. Yet the depiction of the gay underworld was similarly and ironically homophobic. I don’t remember this kind of discussion being conducted in mainstream media, but were these issues being raised in venues outside of a university journal? For example, in tabloids or in seminars? Or was this the only instance where the gender “shortcomings” of the movie were brought up?

I think the “homophobic” readings did not happen at the time. I could be wrong, though. The main concern, then, was how faithful was the film to the original source.

Lino’s interview with Hammy Sotto (published in the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ commemorative volume) seemed to assume that the original, extended version (ending with a beach scene where Bobby attempts to seduce Julio and the latter walks out on him in disgust) was still in existence. Interestingly, Lino explains that the purpose of providing the Julio-as-hustler scenes was to make the character as “fallen” (my interpretation) as Ligaya. The author of the article found this offensive, saying in effect that it’s unfair to “reward” Julio with a quickie in a cheap hotel room, a scene which he described as hackneyed, preceded as it was by a viewing of a Holy Week Christ’s-passion movie. Was this departure from the novel in the original draft of the script? How involved was Lino in revising the material?

The Julio-Ligaya sequence is in the original screenplay. Lino changed the location, though. In the screenplay, after the chance meeting in Santa Cruz Church, Julio and Ligaya move to a moviehouse (the movie was the production designer’s touch – based on what was available at the time). Then, they move to a restaurant. Lino changed the location to a motel room. It’s a credible change and it adds a dimension to the characters of Julio and Ligaya. My reading was more romantic – Ligaya’s storytelling was more subdued, controlled, perhaps more subtle. Lino had a different idea. Ligaya’s unfolding was more emotional, more direct (forget subtlety at this point of the film). I respect Lino’s change of location and consequent interpretation.

Lino wanted to create a metaphor for a different level of exploitation. Julio is exploited not only economically, he is exploited physically and spiritually. Your “fallen” interpretation is an interesting one. I agreed with Lino – he was the more experienced among us and had a better understanding of his audience. The film would have not been done if Lino did not have his way. My best alternative was to be involved in writing the script.

Portions of the article ridicule you for not being prepared (in the sense that you weren’t a Tondo native, among other things). I wanted to formulate questions around these but I found these assumptions too objectionable to even dignify. I had a few occasions interacting with a certain group of writers to which the author might have belonged – they generally taught university courses, wrote criticism and fiction (including poetry), and were insufferably masculinist and unapologetically homophobic as a consequence. I just concluded that their indulgence in the less-“masculine” professions of teaching and writing induced this kind of neurosis – essentially confirming the typical psychoanalytic finding that phobes are projecting on others certain qualities that they fear in themselves. No questions coming up about this, I’m just sharing my own annoyance with that type of mentality, thankfully no longer in mainstream vogue from what can be observed in the younger generations.

Yeah, I remember the author’s critique that I was not familiar with the setting of the novel so much so that I had to “visit” the places like a tourist. I visited the places to help me visualize the scenes. The novel appealed to me for its cinematic qualities and significance. I regretted (then) that the author and company did not appreciate a middle-class screenwriter tackling a proletarian novel.

In one school tour that we did during the showing of Maynila, I remember the same critique being asked. I just said that I was glad that I did not have to collaborate with the reigning administration in doing my work (the author of the article was working in a Marcos agency at the time).

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