Tag Archives: Manila by Night

List of Illustrational Problematics for Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic

Illustrational Problematics is a self-descriptive category spun off from the list of textual problematics. I designated it to explain issues with visual content. These affect pages 45-46, 50, 82, and 127. For discussions of textual problematics, click here. To return to the corrigenda page, click here. The problematics are listed according to the order they appear in the book; for a topical list of issues linked to the discussions:

Bernal, Elena (Ishmael’s mother)
Bongbong at Kris (1987), play by Boy Noriega
Estregan, George, pic of Eric (1969)
Iginuhit ng Tadhana (1965), “Bongbong” Marcos in
Manila Film Center’s Malakas at Maganda mural
11011Si Malakas, si Maganda, at si Mahinhin (1980)
Paloma, Pepsi rape case
When It Is a Gray November in Your Soul Coffee Shop

Page 38, Figure 4:

Several elements in this pair of pictures are capable of generating discussions in themselves, but would detract significantly from the concerns of the book text. To bring up a novel example: one figure is common to both – Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., only son of the Marcos couple and latter-day frustrated vice presidential aspirant. This detail would alter most people’s impression that the first presidential offspring to perform in movies was Corazon Aquino’s daughter Kris. During the euphoric period that followed the 1986 “people-power” revolt that deposed the Marcoses and installed Cory Aquino, playwright Bienvenido M. Noriega Jr. (formerly with Imee Marcos’s Experimental Cinema of the Philippines) wrote a popular stage comedy premised on the speculation of a Romeo & Juliet romance titled Bongbong at Kris (1987).

Back to top

Pages 45-46, Figure 7:

I would have preferred to use the evocative pic below (click to enlarge), scratches and spots and all, in place of the solo portrait of Elena Bernal. Unfortunately its source, the phenomenal Pro Bernal Anti Bio volume (Manila: ABS-CBN Publishing, 2017) – drafted as an autobiography of Ishmael Bernal, passed on to his confidant Jorge Arago, and completed by Angela Stuart-Santiago in honor of her late friends – came out about the same time as Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic. It would also have corrected the commonly misspelled and uncompleted name of the café run by Bernal, with “When It Is a Gray November in Your Soul Coffee Shop” rather than “When It’s a Grey November in Your Soul.”

Back to top

Page 50, Figure 9:

The pic in question came from a framed entry in Cinema Paraiso (Film Paradise), an exhibit of Filipino movie memorabilia with film screenings and lectures, held February to April 2003 at the National Commission for Culture and Arts gallery in Intramuros, Manila. According to historian and archivist Teddy Co, one of the organizers, “It’s actually from my collection of bomba magazines, ca. 1969-70. I cannot find the issue anymore so I cannot name the magazine and what month it was in. The other exhibit curators were Josephine Atienza and Cesar Hernando…. The pic was in a section called A History of Kissing in Filipino Movies, starting from the first smooch between Dimples Cooper and Luis Tuazon to a digitally rendered kiss from Lastikman (dir. Tony Y. Reyes, 2003)” (Facebook Messenger exchange, June 5, 2020). The explanation may be too long for a caption and should probably be written as a footnote.

Back to top

Page 82, Figure 15:

I could have replaced either one of two exterior shots of the Manila Film Center with the mural in the lobby, painted by Victor Cabisada Jr. and Peter Alcántara, then-impossible to access after a fire damaged the building. In September 2020, an art historian, John Paul “Lakan” Olivares, posted the pic below (click to enlarge), apparently taken when the object was still new, on his blog Lakbay ng Lakan, and granted me permission to use the illustration. It depicts the native myth of the first cis couple, Malakas (strong) and Maganda (beautiful), the latter resembling Imelda Marcos; both were supposedly locked together in a node of bamboo, pecked open by a curious bird. Although many other Malakas at Maganda murals with the same intent of identifying the Marcoses as first Filipinos can still be found in various government buildings, the Manila Film Center version was arguably the best rendered of the lot.


11011Incidental observation, which I admit being unprepared to fully comment on: the couple were notoriously sensitive to criticism about themselves, but the biggest queer-themed hit up to that point, Danny L. Zialcita’s Si Malakas, si Maganda, at si Mahinhin [The Strong, the Pretty, and the Timid] (Trigon Cinema Arts, 1980), came out around this time. The surest speculation I can make is that the movie was released just as the controversy over Manila by Night was making headlines all over the world. Imelda was certainly not going to risk her culture-czarina status over what appeared to be a potboiler that would never attract the same amount of attention as the production she deemed was a smear on her dream of setting up what she termed the City of Man.

Back to top

Page 127, Figure 26:

Re the caption: upon the prompting of director-writer and actor Bibeth Orteza, a close associate of the accused comedians (one of whom had died), I reread available material on the controversy and was surprised to find that the case for reasonable doubt was strong. Pepsi Paloma advanced her accusation of rape in the media on the basis of a photograph where she was apparently being kissed against her will. The photographer, an actress who was also a ward of talent manager Rey de la Cruz, has since refused to speak on the matter, as do the surviving accused. The rape story attracted renewed attention from an extended article that was subsequently withdrawn by the Philippine newspaper that published it, after the current Philippine Senate President, who was part of the comedy team but not present during the incident, successfully contested the timeline of events claimed in the article.

11011I had to conclude that the rape accusation may have been one of the publicity gimmicks de la Cruz (whom I’d interviewed more than once) was known for. The softdrink beauties and the comedy trio used to have their own regular projects with Regal Films (also Manila by Night’s production outfit), but when the production company severed its ties with de la Cruz and his talents as a result of the controversy, this indicated to me that the accused had enough of a strong case to demand that Regal either take their side or risk a lawsuit. The circumstances behind the incident, where the alleged rapists invited the actresses to visit a room in a five-star hotel, had no indication of coercion or the use of an incapacitating agent; each side claimed that the other was enthusiastic about extending invitations to visit the room. The last few weeks before Paloma announced she was dropping her case, only de la Cruz continued to denounce the comedians. The Senate President, unfortunately, is a right-wing pro-Church bigot with the expected sexist and homophobic trains of thought; the condition gives rise to less-informed liberals readily believing that he shares the same type of malevolence with his associates – which, according to people within showbiz circles, is far from true.

Back to top

Á!


List of Textual Problematics for Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic

Textual Problematics is the term I use to refer to issues that occasionally are unresolved, or that otherwise would be too cumbersome to attend to within the physical and/or editorial limits of the publication. Most of these issues already inhered in the material during the process of its creation, although in one instance, the problem arose some time after publication. They range from the aforementioned complication in attribution, to a queer controversy involving a different film, to the usual quirks in historical interpretation. These affect pages 53-59, 56, 61, 64, 88, 111, 128, and 148-49. For discussions of illustrational problematics, click here. To return to the corrigenda page, click here. The problematics are listed according to the order they appear in the book; for a topical list of issues linked to the discussions:

Censorship politics during the Marcos presidency
Bernal, Ishmael
11011Cooperation with the Metro Manila Commission
11011Traumatized in his first film project
Manila by Night (1980)
11011As a comedy film
11011Production design problem
Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975), missing sequences of
11011Internal censorial troubles
11011Influence of Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Pito ang Asawa Ko (1974), influence of François Truffaut on
Smorgasbord movies
11011Iginuhit ng Tadhana (1965), elements in
11011Partial list of prototypes

Pages 36-38:

In a manner of speaking, the first Ferdinand Marcos biopic that Sampaguita produced had the trappings of a smorgasbord production (see page 88) – multi-episodic and multi-directed – except where it mattered: it featured a singular (pseudo-)heroic character. I am only certain of the availability of the first mentioned film in this entry, Mga Ligaw na Bulaklak, as well as the final referenced one, Iginuhit ng Tadhana: The Ferdinand E. Marcos Story. Will update if any of the others surfaces.

Back to top

Pages 53-59:

I ought to express with utmost care the dynamics behind censorship as a political process during the Marcos martial-law era. When the Philippines began to acquire a higher global profile and a then-upstart studio, Regal Films, made its bid for overseas presence via Manila by Night, only someone with the right combination of motives and connections could step up and make sure that the powers-that-be develop an animosity toward the film. Why against Ishmael Bernal but not against the Cannes Film Festival celebrants, Lino Brocka and Mike de Leon? The person in question, Marichu Vera-Perez Maceda, may have been connected as much with Brocka, or at least with the Philippine Educational Theater Association, as with the Marcoses. Brocka and de Leon have worked for Maceda’s outfit, but Bernal had a celebrated falling-out over the film project he completed with the studio run by her father. This means that reports of her behavior in mediating between the conflicting sides in the censorship controversy must be subjected to intensive critical scrutiny.

11011I had the opportunity to observe, as an insider in the Marcos film agency, how Maceda opted for the program that directly handled the disbursement of funds to favored film projects. When a project she produced potentially conflicted with the output of Marilou Diaz-Abaya, an associate of Bernal, I heard her make an excessively dramatic claim to mediating between the creative team and the forces of censorship. Bernal carefully demonstrated deference for someone who was after all part of the inner circle of the First Lady, but condemned her in the strongest terms after she left, for once more finding ways to advance her political and financial standing at the expense of some of the most outstanding films of the time. The Philippine critical community continues to hold Maceda in high esteem, mainly because of her association with a noteworthy period in film history; for this reason the many significant accomplishments of her family’s studio (active during and beyond the First Golden Age) will have to be qualified with the underhanded intrigues she fomented during a period when opposing figures of power carried inordinate political, professional, and personal risks.

Back to top

Page 56, second (parenthesized) sentence:

Bernal’s familiarity with official government communication policy derived from his working relation with another functionary, similar in terms of access to power as the two-faced censoring agent in the preceding entry, but benevolent for a change. Marita Manuel, whose tracks since the end of the Marcos dispensation have become scarce, ran Metro Manila Commission, one of many agencies that accommodated people with radical backgrounds who needed to be “rehabilitated” after a spell in political detention. By this means Marcos was able to harness talent that would have otherwise remained dormant or that would have returned to underground activities. In 1980, apparently as a means of mollifying the government, she initiated a “documentary” project titled Manila, with Bernal directing and several of the Manila by Night talents appearing. Rediscovered in 2018, the 45-minute curiosity was more of a travelogue that purported to attract foreign viewers to tour the city. See Edwin P. Sallan, “Ishmael Bernal’s ‘Lost’ Manila Docu Evokes Nostalgia,” Daily Tribune (July 8, 2018).

Back to top

Page 61, end of first paragraph:

The out-of-court settlement between the author of the novel Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag and the production team of the film adaptation Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag may have involved a demand from the novelist to delete the improvised gay-hustler sequences. The current existing product, including the Blu-ray versions released by the British Film Institute and the Criterion Collection, contains the section from Julio Madiaga (Rafael Roco Jr.) wandering the Metropolitan Theater’s adjacent Mehan Garden, where he is befriended by Bobby (Jojo Abella), through Julio’s first night at Bobby’s apartment where he witnesses Bobby accommodating a client, to his initial attempt at gay-for-pay sex in the brothel where Bobby works.

11011We may be allowed to speculate here (based on scriptwriter Clodualdo del Mundo Jr.’s account) that Edgardo Reyes, the novelist, demanded that the entire rentboy detour be excised, while Lino Brocka held fast on retaining its opening section. The fact that a literary figure insisted on anti-queer censorship while a filmmaker immersed his material in homophobic imaging – both artists left-identified and left-supported – may be reflective of a period when perversion was regarded as immoral rather than potentially transgressive. Hence unlike Manila by Night, Maynila’s censorial difficulties were internal, waged by one progressive side against another, one outraged by the attempt “to sissify a manly novel about an ever-masculine city” (actual words used in an article written by a defender of the novelist’s claims) and the other insistent on presenting the underworld of gay-for-pay male hustling in the worst possible light.

Back to top

Page 64, second paragraph, third sentence continuing to next page:

The Ideal Theater sequence recalls a similar episode in John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969), where Joe Buck (Jon Voight), broke and homeless after being fleeced by “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), agrees to be fellated by a student (Bob Balaban) in a movie theater. Afterward the latter reveals he has no money, angering Joe but ending with him letting the kid go. Midnight Cowboy turns out to have a broader connection with Maynila, in the sense that, symptomatic of their era, their moralism and homophobia were in effect rewarded by top industry prizes in their respective countries.

Back to top

Page 88, Figure 18:

The “first” smorgasbord title is nominal; Sampaguita Pictures had been known for multi-performer presentations as early as the late 1950s, with Tony Cayado’s Mga Ligaw na Bulaklak [Wildflowers] (1957). A sampling of titles up to and including the year of Maraming Kulay ang Pag-ibig [Love Has Many Colors] (1966), featuring large casts in “epic” narratives: Ding M. de Jesus’s Ginang Hukom [Madame Judge] (1960); Octavio Silos’s Mga Kwela sa Eskwela [The Cool Kids of School] (1963); Tony Santos’s Pinakamalaking Takas (ng 7 Atsay) [Biggest Escape (of 7 Helpers)] (1963); Mar S. Torres’s Bathing Beauties and Mga Bata ng Lagim [Kids of Horror] (1964); Tony Cayado’s Mga Batang Iskwater [Slum Kids] and Pitong Desperada [Seven Women Bandits] (1964); Octavio Silos’s Mga Batang Bakasyonista [Vacationing Kids], Mga Batang Milyonaryo [Millionaire Kids], and Mga Batang Artista [Showbiz Kids] (1964); Conrado Conde’s Apat na Kagandahan [Four Daughters] (1965); Octavio Silos’s Mga Batang Turista [Tourist Kids] (1965); Jose de Villa’s Paano Kita Lilimutin [How Will I Forget You] (1966); and Luciano B. Carlos’s Jamboree ’66 (1966).

11011Closer to the multiply directed example of Maraming Kulay ang Pag-ibig would be Sweet Valentines, directed by Tony Cayado, Conrado Conde, Rosa Mia, Octavio Silos, Carlos Vander Tolosa, Jose de Villa, and Romy Villaflor (1963); and Umibig Ay Di Biro [Love Is No Joke], directed by Emmanuel H. Borlaza, Luciano Carlos, Conrado Conde, Rosa Mia, Octavio Silos, Carlos Vander Tolosa, and Romy Villaflor (1964). All were produced by Sampaguita Pictures and/or its subsidiary, VP Pictures; in the instance of Pinakamalaking Takas, Sampaguita linked up with a rival studio’s subsidiary, Dalisay Pictures. Pitong Desperada was by Ambassador Productions, but its talents and stars were all also identified with Sampaguita.

Back to top

Page 111, first paragraph:

Around the time I was drafting the book, Manila by Night production designer Peque Gallaga reminisced, on his own and on others’ Facebook posts, regarding his participation in the project. He expressed extreme frustration with the cinematographer’s failure to use the proper filters for the breakwater sequence. Ishmael Bernal also mentioned this as one of the scenes he wanted to trim for the print expected to be finalized for the film’s Berlinale participation – which Moritz de Hadeln overruled (see page 55).

11011Gallaga’s recollection of his problem went as follows: “I talked to Sergio Lobo who was the cameraman. I said, ‘For their LSD sequence what I want to do is to get those little cups for the candles and float them by fitting them in small Styropors. But is it possible if you can put Vaseline around your lens so that it will just be out-of-focus lights and it’s only the faces of Cherie [Gil] and William [Martinez] that are going to be seen, so that all of a sudden these lights come on?’ He said ‘Yeah just paint the Styropor orange so that the lights would still be warm.’ So we bought about 200 [candles on Styropor] and on two [small outrigger boats], we lit each and every one of them and swept them with bamboo so that as the scene goes on these things start floating in. When we saw the rushes, I said, ‘Bernie, that’s shit! He didn’t defocus it in any way!’ All of a sudden they were surrounded by stupid candles and Styropors. ‘It’s ridiculous. This is really bad. We have to reshoot it!’ He said ‘No, just remember this scene will keep you humble the rest of your life’” (“Brocka-Bernal Interviews, 2018-2019,” for the exhibit Brocka, Bernal, and the City, January 24 to April 29, 2019, at the De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde’s School of Design and Arts, excerpted from “Peque on Bernie: Full Interview,” posted on YouTube by Benilde Campus Art).

11011A further insight that necessarily entails provisional and speculative conclusions was provided by one of Bernal’s colleagues, who must remain anonymous for now: Bernal was bullied by the cinematographer on the set of his first film assignment, Ah, Ewan! Basta sa Maynila Pa Rin Ako! (I am indebted to the innovative and dedicated archivist Jojo Devera for this exclusive bit of information.) Apparently angered and/or traumatized enough to refuse directorial credit (too late for the celluloid print, but observed in all the film’s print announcements), Bernal’s maltreatment may account for his hesitation in trying out other directors of photography until years later, when younger filmmakers could assure him of the reliability of their own cinematographers. Once more, homophobia (on the part of the house staff of Virgo Productions) may have factored in their engagement with the then-newbie. (See footnote 15 on page 99.)

Back to top

Page 128, second sentence of second paragraph:

Not a correction, more of a reminder for myself. I heard of Huwag Tularan: Pito ang Asawa Ko years before I saw it, which meant I’d seen most of François Truffaut’s films by then. I vaguely remembered a connection between a Truffaut film and this specific Bernal title, so I concluded that it must have been L’Homme qui aimait les femmes, since their main characters resembled each other. (Pito ang Asawa Ko is privileged by the same queer twist that appeared in a near-contemporaneous Truffaut film, La nuit américaine, and I insist on following the popular practice of dropping Huwag Tularan since it was imposed by the censors and was not present in initial publicity announcements.) In writing the Queer Film Classic text I checked the usual sources, and was surprised at how my memory had tricked me: The Man Who Loved Women (as it was known in English) came out three years after Pito ang Asawa Ko.

Back to top

Pages 148-49, paragraph in common:

I ought to have proposed considering Ishmael Bernal as a comic filmmaker, with Manila by Night as black comedy – similar to the way that a review of Robert Altman’s Nashville was anthologized in The National Society of Film Critics on Movie Comedy (ed. Stuart Byron, New York: Grossman, 1977). The perspective would have been unthinkable for people who approach the text with advanced knowledge of its censorship troubles. The notion of laughter as subversive force, however, would have considerably explained why its persecution by the Marcos administration exceeded that of the other city movie, Lino Brocka’s Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag. This would also have enabled me to raise issues of masquerade and irony more logically.

Back to top

Á!


Pelikula Review of Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic

The following is a translation of Chuckberry J. Pascual’s “Mahalaga ang Marami: Rebyu ng Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic ni Joel David [The Masses Matter: A Review of Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic by Joel David],” published in Pelikula [Film]: A Journal of Philippine Cinema 5 (2020), pp. 76-77. The excerpted pages may be found on this link, while the complete issue may be found on the journal website.

Joel David’s Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic (2017) may be read in many ways, because like the multiple-character film it champions, the book also offers a myriad of narratives and discourses.

11011Here’s an example: film is history. David links the film narrative with the story of the nation, which may be read as a continuation of the assertion of film attendance as our national pastime. And why not? In the first chapter, David mapped how the histories of film as well as of the Philippines share the same umbilical cord. And its Janus-like opposite, rarely mentioned because of how painful it is to articulate and accept: the colonial nature of the country (also reflected in how Bernal’s work builds on the innovation of Robert Altman’s Nashville). David provides more of such explications and recollections in the book, as in his take on the common view of the years between the two Golden Ages of Philippine Cinema. In contrast with Lumbera’s pronouncement that this was a period of “rampant commercialism and artistic decline,” David counters that “In fact, the 1960s was marked by a pioneering, taboo-breaking, politically charged vulgarity never seen before or since in the country, which is essential to explaining why the Second Golden Age (1975-86) held far more promise and managed to meet more expectations than the first.” This revelation is significant because it deals with the same period where Manila by Night is set, particularly its narrative emphasis on genders and sexualities of individuals considered outsiders, eccentric, if not riffraff.

11011In historicizing Manila by Night, David gives weight to Bernal’s biographical background. (It may be tempting to use the word “development,” but like his film, Bernal did not evolve in linear fashion. As David put it, Manila by Night was a “mid-career work” even if it did not mark the start or the end of Bernal’s tinkering with multiple-character format films.) And Bernal and his film will never be fully comprehended unless we consider his contemporary, Lino Brocka. David correlates Manila by Night with Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag [Manila: In the Claws of Neon], and it turns out that the latter was also criticized for its stance on the issue of gender and sexuality (although eventually the controversy could be problematized: David unveils the “homoerotic” aspect of Ave Perez Jacob’s essay and itemizes the reasons for considering the anti-queerness of Maynila), though the film was nevertheless successful in obtaining the appreciation of the public and various institutions and garnered several distinctions. Whereas Bernal’s film negotiated a trickier passage: the censors mangled several scenes, while the critics upheld it for its political content and undervalued its offbeat aesthetics. David also brings up a comparison of the personas of the two filmmakers: Bernal was effeminate and loquacious, Brocka was stern and largely avoided local interviews.

Back to top

11011This then is an additional discourse that the book proffers: that film is an art. Integral to understanding this principle is the discussion of form, of craft. Per David, the representation of characters and their queer narratives are not the only means by which Manila by Night derives its impact, inasmuch as these are grounded in the film’s narrative structure and formal elements. In recognizing the political potential inherent in Bernal’s film style – which was initially regarded by critics as a directorial weakness, especially when set against Brocka and their other contemporary Mike de Leon – and once again, David clarifies – reminds us – that substance and form are not discrete properties, and in fact both are essentially inextricably linked. In his words, “Bernal determined that documentary aesthetics would provide the most apposite (or the least objectionable) way of matching what was, after all, Western-sourced technology with Third World realities.” This actualizes a recuperation from Manila by Night’s critical setback in being regarded as a political tract, and demonstrates as well the power of appropriation: the same style that aimed to capture “actualities” – inclusive of the output of the likes of Dean C. Worcester and Thomas Alva Edison – via a technology that was once deployed [by Americans] to occupy and subjugate, was exploited in turn by Bernal, a representative of the once-colonized population, for liberative purposes. The said appropriation though was not straitlaced – it was noisome and occasionally flirtatious, and was thereby misrecognized as “slapdash” and “flawed.” (How many folks would be able to perceive the reflexive sequence that David points out as more than a series of in-jokes at first glance?) But when beheld at length, one can finally realize how much more sophisticated this style is than the ones utilized by movies that are considered polished and perfected.

11011This leads us to the third discourse we can derive from the book: a film is its characters. Most of the industry’s output prior to the Second Golden Age featured singular heroes, but eventually, the viewing public also accepted the presence of several other characters. One reason David indicates is the resemblance of theaters to the churches set up during the Spanish colonial era. This is an interesting and enlightening proposition, more so because of its several implications – that audiences remain obedient, observant yet defiant in the same instance (only one God yet several saints, only one altar yet several objects of worship) – juxtaposed against his reading of Manila by Night’s productive deconstruction of our traditional notions regarding character, his provocative assertion of the film’s lesbianic orientation. As he writes, “the constant shifting of identification from one subject to another without any singular subject predominating enables the envisioning of a social formation – an abstract super-character that is literally socially constructed.” From this point, David proposes the radical potential of this super-character, whose queer manifestation is distinctly lesbian, and how this might depose, if not continually haunt and confound, the dominant order.

11011The book Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic opens and ends on a personal discourse. In the beginning, David narrates how his life indubitably intertwined with Bernal’s film (and we may speculate, with Bernal’s life as well). It closes with an interview with the late Bernardo Bernardo, the actor who portrayed Manay Sharon, who’s commonly regarded as the “protagonist” of the movie. Bernardo would bring up once more the speculation that Manay Sharon “embodies” Bernal in the movie. David follows through several discourses in order to revert to this reading. From my own perspective, this return to an originary point is most apposite at the end, even if it threatens to upend all the foregoing arguments. Because the Manila by Night of Bernal and the Manila by Night of David are the same and different, even if both sprung from Bernal and David. And in the final reckoning, the Manila by Night of Bernal and David also surpasses what both of them have been.

[Author bio: Chuckberry J. Pascual is a Filipino writer and author of Pagpasok sa Eksena: Ang Sinehan sa Panitikan at Pag-aaral ng Piling Sinehan sa Recto [Scene Entrance: The Movie House in Literature and the Study of Selected Theaters along Recto (Avenue)] (University of the Philippines Press, 2016), among others. He was graduated at UP Diliman, teaches at the University of Santo Tomas, and is a resident fellow of the UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies and a research fellow of the UST Research Center for Culture, Arts, and Humanities.]

Back to top


Corrigenda & Problematics for Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic

The editing process for Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2017) was the most difficult and complicated I ever experienced – and these included the peer reviews I had to solicit and help finalize for the special journal issues that I edited. The text underwent one extensive revision whose directions I had not anticipated, plus at least one minor overhaul for style and tone. The final editing stage was also difficult in itself: it involved reading through the manuscript with all the changes tracked in Microsoft Word.

I still print out my drafts and edit the hard copy at every opportunity, so I thought this would be the digital equivalent of that practice, but gurl was I wrong. This accounts for a few oversights in the final version, while one major wrinkle involved the clarification of a picture source. Where the corrections involved the addition of words or punctuation marks, they’re indicated here by highlighted entries.(Since all my other sole-authored books were either out of print or generated from this blog, they benefited from my typically obsessive correcting and updating processes.) The groups of corrections are as follows:

Corrigenda, strictly speaking, refer to errors of the author while errata would be errors that arose during the process of production. In either instance, I prefer the former term for its etymological association with “correction” – i.e., during an earlier analogue period, readers would correct their texts by referring to such a list as this. These affect pages 23, 38, 39, 40 (fn), 42, 46, 72, 82, 104, 114, 122 (with a more focused rereading of Nashville), 140, 142, 143, 144, 151, and 184 (fn), and 193.

Textual Problematics is the term I use to refer to issues that occasionally are unresolved, or that otherwise would be too cumbersome to attend to within the physical and/or editorial limits of the publication; the list was becoming too extensive and has been spun off into its own page.

Illustrational Problematics is a self-descriptive category spun off from the previous list, which also needed to be separated as its own page.

Page 23, second paragraph:

“I was working at the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines…”.

Page 38, Figure 4 caption:

“… (bottom, Sampaguita Pictures’ still of Iginuhit ng Tadhana: The Ferdinand E. Marcos Story [Conrado Conde, Jose de Villa, and Mar S. Torres, 1965]).”

Page 39, second paragraph:

Replace “policies” in “… involved the selective withdrawal of censorship prerogatives…”.

Page 40, footnote 7, third sentence:

Insert space after comma in “… agreeing to a snap presidential election, as proof…”.

Page 42, last paragraph, second sentence:

Replace “were” in “After Bernal died in 1996, the bulk of the material he had compiled … was lost in a fire….”

Page 46, fourth sentence:

Replace “It’s” and “Grey” and add to the name in “When It Is a Gray November in Your Soul Coffee Shop”; see pages 45-46 in Illustrational Problematics below.

Page 72, end of first paragraph:

This sentence must be added: “Meanwhile, out filmmaker Jun Lana has been steadily accumulating a growing record number of Filipino queer projects, performing for the mainstream what Crisaldo Pablo used to do for independent production.

Page 82, Figure 15, last sentence:

Replace “Lee Kumchong” in “Photos: Kumchong Lee (top)…”.

Page 104, second paragraph, second sentence:

“…, in which her character was named Manay Sharon. (Duplex is considered significant among queer scholars of Philippine TV for featuring the first out gay character, performed by the late theater and film director Soxie Topacio.)

Page 114, first paragraph:

“… (… played on park speakers), provides ironic contrast…”.

Page 122, second paragraph, second sentence:

“… builds up to the final outdoor concert where everyone (save for one character who announced his departure from the city the night before) shows up.”

11011In re Nashville (1975), after Sueleen Gay (Gwen Welles) admits to Wade (Robert DoQui) that she consented to perform a striptease for the stag audience at the smoker for Hal Philip Walker, he tells her he plans to leave the next day and asks her to come along but she refuses – not her first refusal of the night, after she brushed off the drunken advances of Delbert Reese (Ned Beatty) prior to Wade’s intervention. For some reason this had the effect on my mind of erasing Wade during the next day’s concert, until I recently rewatched the film with the added intent of scanning for his presence. There he was, onstage, presumably to continue looking after Sueleen’s welfare, a singular display of devotion from the narrative’s quintessential troublemaker.

Page 140, first paragraph, first sentence:

“… a comparison with the genuinely subversive exposés of Manila by Night, with the more recent project paling in comparison.”

Page 142, first paragraph, last sentence:

“… planned sequels to Macho Dancer (1988), titled Midnight Dancers (1994, a multicharacter narrative), Burlesk King (1999), and Twilight Dancers (2006).”

Page 143, first paragraph, last sentence:

Because the movie had already been mentioned: “…whose director, Lawrence Fajardo, has specialized in the milieu format with Amok (2011) and Posas (Shackled, 2012), and the aforementioned Imbisibol.”

Page 144, first paragraph, third sentence:

The comma after the film title Caught in the Act has to be deleted.

Page 151, second paragraph, third sentence:

“… soft and hard-core gay movies were produced…”.

Page 184, footnote 23:

Replace “127” in “See Figure 25, p. 125.”

Page 193 (references), Pinoy Kollektor entry:

Italics needed: “48. Dawn of Freedom — Philippine World War II Japanese Propaganda Movie.”

Back to top

Á!


Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic

Click on image to enlarge cover pic.
To order from the publisher, please click here.
To access the corrigenda & problematics, please click here.

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.

11011By 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.

11011Which 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.”

11011After 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.

Back to top

11011The 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.

11011Meanwhile, 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.

11011A 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.

11011During 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.

Back to top

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.

11011I’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.)

Library and Archives Canada CIP

David, Joel, author
11011Manila by Night : a queer film classic / Joel David.

(Queer film classics)
Issued in print and electronic formats.
ISBN 978-1-55152-707-9 (softcover). – ISBN 978-1-55152-708-6 (HTML)

110111. Manila by Night (Motion picture). 2. Bernal, Ishmael – Criticism and interpretation. I. Title. II. Series: Queer film classics

PN 1997.M363D38 20171101791.43’721011C2017-906836-9
PN 1997.M363D38 20171101791.43’721011C2017-906837-7

Back to top

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)

RELATED LINKS

  • A special folio on the film now opens this blog’s Extras section.
  • 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.

REVIEWS IN JOURNALS
(in chronological order)

Josen Masangkay Diaz, “Third Cinema, Queer Technique, and Manila’s Multiple Characters,” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 59 (Fall 2019).

Ronald Baytan, “On Bernal’s Homage to Manila: A Review of Joel David’s Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic,” Plaridel: A Philippine Journal of Communication, Media, and Society 16.2 (December 2019).

Chuckberry J. Pascual, “Mahalaga ang Marami: Rebyu ng Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic ni Joel David,” Pelikula: A Journal of Philippine Cinema 5 (2020); click here for the English translation.

Back to top


Book Launch Lecture: Manila by Night

The summer of 2018 marked my first visit home after three of my four book volumes (actually two of my three books) had come out. I was invited to speak at the book launch of Pro Bernal, Anti Bio, Angela Stuart Santiago’s completion of Jorge Arago’s interrupted biography of Ishmael Bernal; the occasion was titled Queer & Defiant: Ishmael Bernal, Bernardo Bernardo, & Manila by Night. I took the occasion to talk about Manila by Night, the movie as well as the monograph I contributed to Arsenal Pulp Press’s Queer Film Classics series. About a week later I was guest speaker once more, this time at the website launch of the University of Santo Tomas’s UNITAS journal, where I was requested to speak about the two volumes of Millennial Traversals. The Manila by Night lecture below was followed by a percipient set of questions by my colleague, Patrick D. Flores, but unfortunately I was unable to take time to recall them after the event. (To enlarge the pics, please click on them. To go to the Manila by Night book feature on this blog, please click here.)

QUEERNESS AS DEFIANCE IN MANILA BY NIGHT

Facebook announcements. (Courtesy of Katrina Stuart-Santiago)

Many thanks for making the effort to trek all the way to what was once known as the centerpiece of the City of Man, the [Cultural Center of the Philippines] Complex. I used to work at one of the edifices here, the now-condemned Manila Film Center, and even though public transportation then was far more efficient and inexpensive, coming all the way here is not something I can be easily persuaded to do, now that I can find all the excuses I want.

11011Katrina Stuart-Santiago was extremely patient and encouraging in making all the necessary arrangements, but my interaction with her goes all the way back, in discussing the botched National Artist Awards procedure during the second Aquino regime, and later in going over some points of the book that she worked on with her mother, Angela. My association with Patrick Flores goes even further back, nearly three decades if I’m not mistaken. We were contributors to the review section of National Midweek, and when his review of Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit came out, friends asked me if I resorted to using a pen name again. I told them no – I wasn’t ready to write anything as accomplished as he did on the subject of local melodrama.

11011We had a conflicted and sometimes contentious relationship, but I bring out this history here so that I might be able to demonstrate to you that the lessons I learned, some of them painful, helped me evolve further as a film commenter and scholar. Some of these lessons still have to be played out more fully – and again, this is not in the spirit of TMI (or too much information) but rather in pointing out that the movie that will be screened after this talk, also suffered and continues to suffer from several hard-to-resolve problems.

11011As everyone here who lived through the middle period of Marcos martial law would remember, Manila by Night was subjected to the worst censorship case ever visited on a Philippine movie. It was banned for nearly a year, disallowed from participating as a competition entry in the Berlin International Film Festival, and released with the longest listing ever of visual cuts and aural deletions. Since all reference to Manila was prohibited, the title itself was changed, to City After Dark. Unknown to the public, the director had intended to prepare a definitive cut for the thwarted Berlin screening. He was discouraged from doing so by the festival director of the Berlinale – although after Imelda Marcos decided that the movie could not be permitted to represent the country on foreign screens, that issue was no longer even relevant from that point onward.

11011I provide a more extensive explanation of how Ishmael Bernal arrived at the particular stylistic decisions he used during the period when he made Manila by Night, roughly from 1979 to 1981. What matters in our looking back on this same period is how his approach was misconstrued as a lack, an inability to measure up to the level of competence exhibited by his contemporaries, including his friendly rival, Lino Brocka. His stylistic choices, which were drawn from Third-World cinema samples as well as his documentary training and internship, resulted in his being penalized by reviewers as well as the award-giving critics. You have the jaw-dropping anomaly of the group acknowledging Manila by Night as the best film they were privileged to recognize, but Bernal losing the prize for direction. After Brocka made a splash at the Cannes Film Festival, the next Filipino lined up for that supposedly most prestigious of all film venues was a much younger aspirant, rather than the filmmaker who was definitely Brocka’s equal, and in all possibility his superior.

Back to top

11011There is one more historical detail that recently re-emerged, as proof of the queerness of Manila by Night’s existence: Bernal made what we might call Manila by Day – a documentary, rather than a feature film, that upheld rather than critiqued the city, commissioned by Madame Iron Butterfly Imelda Marcos, rather than Mother China, Lily Monteverde. A few netizens expressed disappointment with what Bernal did, since it contrasted with the decision by Lino Brocka and Mike de Leon to boycott anything associated with the Marcos martial-law regime. But this overlooks several matters, from Bernal’s sense of duty in securing the good standing of his producers, to the later news of his active participation in the left underground during and after the people-power uprising of 1986.

11011So the generally positive development of intensive film study and training in the Philippines, an option unavailable during Bernal’s time, also holds a disadvantage for older critics and historians of film. What we have among us is a generation of film participants and observers not only schooled in film, but also adhering to film-school values without the need to start from a wider historical, cultural, and philosophical analysis of their place in the world – a set of values that an earlier generation like Bernal’s and Bernardo Bernardo’s had no choice except to pursue. Instead of measuring friends by their choices of favorite films or music or books as social-network folks do today, they would start by articulating their social or political positions vis-à-vis urgent local or global issues, and proceed to infer which contemporary or classical philosophers, if any, informed their new acquaintances’ opinions.

11011Bernal and Bernardo – but if you’ll permit me I’d prefer to call them Ishma and BB respectively, to distinguish between them more easily – were exponents of a queer sensibility way before the word “queer” was recuperated in lesbian and gay activism via the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power’s even more radical breakaway group, Queer Nation. Formed in 1990, the group was credited with reversing the derogatory connotation of the word in mainstream media. The term “queer” is intended for oppositional activism, wherein a practitioner can be anyone who or anything that challenges whatever happens to be the acceptable or decent set of values of the moment. As an example, when I mentioned to BB the word and how it was defined in gender politics, in the context of his self-identification as a gay man who had a few celebrated heterosexual romances, he said, “Then I’m definitely not bisexual, but I’m also more queer than gay.”

11011We would therefore be correct in describing Manila by Night as a queer text even before New Queer Cinema first emerged in the 1990s. (I would even argue that many of the so-called queer cinema films are really nothing more than rom-coms with same-sex pairings, but that would open up a can of worms that we in this kind of event would not be able to wriggle out of.) Crucial to this description would be the kind of bohemian lifestyle that people like Ishma and BB designed for themselves, and that would be evident in their artistic output. They readily crossed boundaries of class – and gender, in BB’s case – and were consequently fluent in a wide variety of lingos, costumes, mentalities, and professions. To paraphrase Terence, nothing Filipino was alien to them.

11011Yet Manila by Night possesses a distinction shared in fainter degrees by any number of exceptional Filipino movies, including Bernal’s own follow-up projects. Even by global-cinema standards, one would be hard-put to put together a canon of films with multiple-lead characters whose achievement equals or exceeds Manila by Night’s. Robert Altman’s Nashville, Bernal’s direct inspiration, would be part of that list, as would Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game, Mizoguchi Kenji’s last film Street of Shame, and an obscure Italian title, Liliana Cavani’s La Pelle. These are all multicharacter movies, but they move beyond the depiction of a small group or community that has become one of the standard formats of independent cinema. They make use of types rather than characters, since the number of protagonists is so large that it would be impossible to develop any one of them unless the filmmaker abandons everyone else to focus on a few, sometimes on only one, the singular hero.

Back to top

11011And yet, rather than failing from this inability to provide a classically well-rounded character, these films give us a weird, or shall we say queer, impression that a characterization has been achieved. A characterization that does not reside in any of the characters, but rather in the social impression they create, via their couplings and conflicts, their onscreen interactions and offscreen further developments. The impression we get is that of an abstract super-character, one that we may define according to geography – the city of Nashville in Nashville, Manila in Manila by Night, Tokyo’s Yoshiwara district in Street of Shame, Naples in La Pelle. And because no single character is privileged, it becomes possible to define and redefine society according to the perspective of any character we choose to identify with.

11011Most people would get the impression that queerness in Manila by Night resides in BB’s character, Manay. BB himself affirmed that Manay was meant to function as the movie’s conscience – an unusual one, considering that this moral center indulged in promiscuity without batting the proverbial eyelash. Yet when we pick out Manay as our reference point, we find that the men he sleeps with are straight-identified, and that the women he tries to help occasionally turn out to be undeserving of his kindness. From Manay and through one of his charity cases, we arrive at the figure of Kano, the lesbian drug pusher, the only character in Manila by Night who (as described by my colleague Libay Linsangan Cantor) is never seen during daytime, much less in a home of her own, so totally liminal that all we can do is guess, from her name and origin in the US naval base, about her parentage and childhood. And as if this experience of trauma weren’t enough, several more come up, one worse than the other.

11011Ishma took pains to explain that all the unusual events in the film were drawn from his or his friends’ experiences. (I won’t go into too much detail so as to avoid ruining your experience of the revelations in the film.) With Kano, he had no definite real-life model, at least from what I remember. Yet it is Kano who resonates with the burning issue of our time – worsening poverty, homelessness, the drug war and its concomitant extrajudicial executions. In the monograph I wrote for the Queer Films Series of Arsenal Pulp Press, I claimed that Kano, by herself and as a focalizer who allows us to reconfigure the other characters, displays the radical potential described by such lesbian theorists like Judith Butler, Teresa de Lauretis, and Peggy Phelan, who argue in favor of invisibility, constant reinvention, and dangerous sexualization.

11011All that I would like to point out, by way of ending this elaborate argument, is that these qualities, in a Third-World context, raise the specter of guerrilla resistance. For me, this poses a challenge to scholarly colleagues who assert that nothing of political import arises from Manila by Night. It may be not completed according to the preference of its director, it may suffer from the technical weaknesses inherent in its deployment of unpolished surfaces and improvised performances, it may partake of a nihilistic vision packaged with a comically incongruous happy ending. Like some of the most gifted people we’ve known, Ishma and BB included, it is a difficult movie to love, yet it makes itself impossible to dismiss. Thank you everyone for listening.

Above: The author and Patrick D. Flores await their turn during the program. Below: The author, Angela Stuart-Santiago, and Rodolfo Vera (who performed a reading with Noel Añonuevo) pose before a picture of Ishmael Bernal. (Photos courtesy of Dempster P. Samarista)

(Delivered August 7, 2018, at the Silangan Hall, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Roxas Blvd, Pasay City)

Back to top


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

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

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

11011Meanwhile at a Chinese restaurant, Febrero, a taxi driver, picks up Baby, his waitress girlfriend whom he keeps promising to marry. After Febrero drops off Baby and gets home, his wife Adelina arrives, takes off her nurse uniform, and starts having sex with him; one of their children wakes up and, their moment interrupted, they have to prepare baby formula. The next morning, Virgie prepares her children for school, scolding Alex for failing to budget his allowance and warding off her policeman-husband’s amorous advances. Her maid announces an unexpected visitor: Miriam, Virgie’s former co-worker in the sex trade, who requests that Virgie ask her husband to provide police protection for her circle of sex workers; Virgie scolds Miriam for being unable to improve her lot in life.

11011An assistant awakens Manay, the gay couturier, since some guests had already arrived at his atelier; among them is Evita, a name-dropping socialite who regales the other guests with her account of kinky sex the night before. Manay hides the man he brought home for the night and welcomes his lover Febrero, the taxi driver. Febrero asks Manay for money for his sick child and, as Manay hands over some cash, tells him he heard about Febrero’s new girlfriend, a bumpkin waitress. Alex, Virgie’s son, waits for his girlfriend Vanessa’s dismissal from her Catholic-school classes. They go to a motel for sex and drugs and Alex presents her with a necklace, from the money he bought using the additional allowance he wangled from Virgie.

11011Bea, Kano’s girlfriend, bids farewell to her live-in boyfriend Greg Williams, who’s going to Saudi Arabia as an overseas worker, Greg promising to send for her as soon as he gets a foothold in the Middle East kingdom. Nighttime, Manay has gone to Febrero and Ade’s house, to bring them some groceries. He discreetly asks Febrero for a date, helps Ade with her nurse uniform, and offers to take her to the public hospital where she works. In Manay’s car, Ade tells Manay how she loves Febrero for his willingness to take care of her and her children by other men. At the restaurant, Baby is accosted by Sonny, a customer who says she can make more money if she agrees to take on Japanese customers. Offended, Baby breaks away and tells Febrero what the man said; Febrero challenges the pimp to a fistfight but the stranger overpowers him.

11011Alex and his friends try to score some pot from Kano, who tells them to wait for her; the guys go to an outdoor disco where they watch working-class transvestites having a good time. After they complete the transaction with Kano, she recommends that they try out Bea for sex service. At Alex’s home, Virgie massages her husband, but because of her anxiety over Alex’s whereabouts, she pauses to take a tranquilizer. At the massage parlor, Alex, while enjoying a scrub-down and erotic massage from Bea, asks her about her blind condition; Bea replies that she has no regrets about her profession, and that she’s looking forward to working abroad when her boyfriend sends for her. In a slum district, Kano negotiates with some potential clients, then tells them to beat it when she notices plainclothes police trailing her; she evades them by disappearing up a narrow alleyway.

Back to top

11011At a crowded disco, Alex dances with Vanessa but acknowledges Manay’s signals to him. He excuses himself to go to the restroom, followed by Manay, the two of them agreeing to meet up after he brings Vanessa home. In a parking lot, Febrero and Baby are engaged in heavy petting in his taxicab, with Febrero convincing Baby to put out by claiming to love her and promising marriage as usual; their session (and those of other necking couples) is interrupted by a security guard who uses a megaphone to tell everyone to get off “private property.”

11011Meanwhile, after having had sex, Manay makes Alex promise to have no other gay lover; Alex agrees, but asks Manay to get help for Bea’s blindness. Manay goes to the massage parlor as a heart-attack victim is being carried out and bumps into Kano. The two of them have a discussion about true love, with Kano confessing that Bea’s her true love although she couldn’t extract the same level of commitment from her, and Manay stating that he doesn’t believe that love is more than just an illusion. While taking Bea to her home in Chinatown, Manay admits to being cynical about people’s claims while Bea tells him she just ignores anything that’s irrelevant to her; they agree to go later to Ade’s hospital to look for an eye specialist.

11011At the driveway of the hospital where Ade works, Manay, Bea, and Gaying are accosted by a mystic, who tells Bea that she (in an earlier existence) was an infamous 18th-century coquette who broke men’s hearts – hence blindness as her punishment. The three ogle a movie shoot being set up but are shooed away by a policeman. At the hospital reception desk, Manay approaches the head nurse to call for Ade, but the head nurse as well as the other nurses couldn’t find Ade’s name in the employees’ logbook, prompting an exchange of words between them and Manay. Ade is in fact at an abusive rich man’s home, quarreling with the guy because of his jealousy over her promiscuity.

11011At the Luneta, the people’s park, Manay tells Febrero that Ade has been deceiving all of them, while his friends discuss how in love he is with the taxi driver, and as some cultists pray to the spirit of light and a poet extols the city to street urchins. When Febrero gets home he waits for Ade but responds coldly to her advances, causing her to confess how truly she loves him. At Alex’s home, Virgie takes another tranquilizer and goes outdoors; her husband steps out to comfort her, and she tells him how she misses their son’s youthful innocence.

11011Late at night near a desolate slum canal, Kano encounters her girlfriend Bea, but the latter pushes her away. Gaying (Bea’s assistant) explains that Bea’s depressed because Ade turned out to be a fake nurse. Kano comforts Bea by giving her some cough syrup. They step into a pushcart and make love while Gaying steals some underwear from a neighbor’s clothesline. At the red-light district, Febrero and Baby are stranded in a traffic jam caused by a car collision; Baby tells Febrero that she’s pregnant but he erupts in anger, scolding her for failing to take precaution. While cleaning house, Virgie discovers a stick of pot and the stash it came from in Alex’s cabinet drawer, and she and her husband take turns beating him up; all bruised and bloodied, he runs away from home.

11011In the restaurant, Sonny, the same pimp who beat up Febrero, tells Baby that her lover won’t be returning now that she’s pregnant; he points out how the Chinese restaurant owner has thrown out his waitress-girlfriend in the rain, and tells Baby that she should play smart if she wishes to survive. In a residential slum district, as Bea quarrels with a neighbor, her supposedly foreign-based boyfriend Greg Williams suddenly shows up. She follows him indoors and he explains how his labor recruiter abandoned him and his fellow workers in Bangkok, en route to Saudi Arabia, and how he had to work as a waiter while borrowing money so he could come home. Bea snaps at Gaying for having been gone too long, then starts to blame Greg for his failure.

11011Religious devotees bring an icon of Our Lady of Fatima to Vanessa’s family. Virgie asks Vanessa where she could find Alex and Vanessa tells her that he’s staying with a gay couturier. Virgie goes to Manay’s atelier to fetch Alex; while waiting, she listens to Manay’s friend, Evita, narrate how she came down with vaginal herpes and had to fend off a horny doctor who wanted to take advantage of her in the hospital. Manay wakes up Alex and brings him to his mother, but Alex runs out and Virgie goes after him. Manay tells Evita and his gay chums how Alex’s mom used to be a former prostitute who became first the mistress then the wife of a powerful police officer. Outdoors, Virgie pleads with Alex not to run away again.

Back to top

11011At a side street, Baby sees Ade walking by and asks her to get Febrero to help her, saying that Febrero promised to marry her. Ade says Febrero’s married, but not to either of them, and that he also has a gay lover, so she (Baby) would be better off terminating her pregnancy. After unsuccessfully searching for drugs in his room, Alex joins his gang at the breakwater of Manila Bay. They discuss with Kano how exciting they find life in Manila. A troupe of costumed revelers arrives and the druggies decide to join in by undressing and jumping into the water, where they hallucinate about fireworks and being surrounded by floating candles.

11011Unable to share in the spirit of revelry, Baby stays home and, upon being advised by her mother to seek an abortion, confesses that Febrero (who should shoulder the expense) had stopped contacting her. Febrero in turn tails Ade to the inexpensive hotel she enters in her nurse’s uniform, and waits until she emerges, all dolled up for escort work; he continues to follow her to the whorehouse where she finds her clients. Greg takes Bea on a date to a working-class fairground and tells her how he found a job in the city, one which will enable them to work together.

11011At the restaurant, Sonny tells Baby to come with him to look for Japanese customers. He brings her to the same place where Ade works and fetches a Japanese john; when Ade arrives later and recognizes Baby, Ade drags her out to the garden and threatens to kill her if she tells Febrero about her illicit profession. Having selected Baby, the Japanese brings her to a hotel room, but while undressing her she gets nauseated, throws up all over him, and finally faints from the prospect of sex work.

11011In search of drug money, Alex visits Vanessa at her home and asks for the necklace he gave her so he could pawn it; when she refuses he attempts to pull it off her, they tussle, and Vanessa’s mother orders Alex to leave. Alex next goes to Sumpak, a gay bar where Manay and his friends watch go-go boys; after attempting to mooch some cash, Alex is taken by Manay outdoors where the latter berates him for his addiction. At Alex’s home, his family is having Christmas Eve dinner without him. Virgie’s husband tries to cheer everyone up by telling stories about a gay client in the courtroom, but Virgie erupts in anger at her youngest daughter for failing to use her utensils properly.

11011Meanwhile at the tourist belt, Greg is leading Bea to their new workplace, but she hears a hawker announcing a live-sex performance; realizing that she and Greg will be the performers, she kicks and screams but cannot escape from him because of her blindness. Outside the tourist belt cathedral, Baby spots Febrero and runs to him, asking him to help her with her pregnancy; Febrero runs away, and Baby curses him and screams about Ade being a call girl who services Japanese clients. Going home in her nurse’s uniform, Ade walks down an abandoned alley, gets dragged by an unknown assailant and strangled to death, with the New Year’s Eve fireworks drowning out her cries.

11011At the morgue, Manay with his gay friends, along with a grieving Febrero and a drugged-out Alex, asks the mortician to present Ade’s body so they could pay their respects; the mortician shows a corpse of an old woman wearing a nurse’s uniform, causing Manay to argue with him. After checking his records, the mortician apologizes to them and says it’s someone with a similar-sounding name, and that Ade’s body was flown to another island but the funeral parlor will arrange to return it immediately. Febrero faints when he hears the news and Manay runs out and has a nervous breakdown.

11011At the massage parlor, Alex is harassing Bea by borrowing money from her. Kano, being chased by plainclothesmen, runs inside to ask Bea to hide her but the latter refuses. When Kano, followed by Alex, escapes through the rooftop exit, Bea tells the plainclothesmen how to find them. Kano and Alex run through the streets chased by three cops. Alex eludes them by hiding in a dark corner but Kano (who’s their actual target) gets cornered and caught, struggling against her captors. Alex walks toward the people’s park, washing his face along the way in a pail of dirty water. We see glimpses of Baby, heavy with child, returning home from the restaurant, Virgie addicted to tranquilizers, and Manay turning desperately to religious worship. Amid the sunrise, with the city waking up and some people heading for work as others perform Oriental martial exercises, Alex lays down on a bed of flowers and falls asleep.

Á!

Back to top