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Millennial Traversals Period Enders

By Joel David

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

LOCAL CINEMA 1980

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

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

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

Meanwhile, the trend for big-budget productions could extend well into the next year, when the
first Manila International Film Festival will have been held. Bancom, for example. has Celso Ad.
Castillos Uhaw na Dagat ready for release, while MVP Productions is considering a big-time
project with Brocka. Other newer production outfits are expected to follow suit, some with big-
budget projects as their initial releases. Such optimism is apparently centers on the certainty of
the international filmfest, which has marketing as its avowed primary purpose. The fact that the
date for the first festival was postponed to a year later lends credence to its organizers
commercial intentions.
New (& Not-So-New) Blood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LOCAL CINEMA 1986

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is the independent formats, however, which have enjoyed competition-caliber


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

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

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

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LOCAL CINEMA MID-1987

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

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

The brighter side, of course, is that print and broadcast media have only been too
accommodating to Filipino artists, who used to congregate around film. Nevertheless the
inadequacies of journalism and television for artistic expression must be a painful thing to take,
especially to those accustomed to the technically highly developed and multi-levelled properties
of cinema. The Cultural Center of the Philippines has been holding occasional revivals and
recently mounted a short film festival all of which amounts to a dim reflection, at best, of the
full-power capacity of the late ECP. Tax rebates as incentives for quality, financial subsidies for
worthy short-film and full-length proposals, archival services for film research and preservation,
even a correctly oriented international film festival all these do have a place in a national film
community which has already proved itself capable of producing works that hold their own with
the best from the rest of the world.
And if maybe the present administration opines that the film community has been spoiled rotten
with such favors, then the least it could do is play fair in granting freedom of expression to
individuals regardless of medium. Understandably, any veteran of the oppositionist struggle
against Marcos would be more sympathetic with the printed page, which almost singlehandedly
propagandized for democracy when it was most dangerous to do so; even television made a
dramatic turnabout at a crucial moment. Film may have been the least cooperative in this regard,
but the political needs were primarily informational to begin with, and the medium was too
closely guarded besides.

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

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

Balweg (Butch Perez, dir.): a revisionist approach to the depiction of peasant war, with an
expertly controlled attitude toward the handling of onscreen action.
Hubad na Pangarap (Abbo Q. de la Cruz, dir.): film noir outside traditional urban settings,
complemented with creative presentation of erotic scenes.
KidHuwag Kang Susuko! (Peque Gallaga and Lorenzo Reyes, dirs.): martial-arts material
made more sensible through dramatic arguments.
Once Upon a Time (Gallaga and Reyes, dirs.): fantasy done the way it should be with care,
humor, and a contemporaneity that doesnt intrude too brazenly with the preoccupation with the
usual universal scope and issues.
Tagos ng Dugo (Maryo J. de los Reyes, dir.): kinkiness rounded out with psychological
backgrounding and propelled forward with a sense of conviction and sympathy for the plight of
the subject.
Operation: Get Victor Corpus, the Rebel Soldier (Pablo Santiago, dir.): epic sensibility
enlarging a humane treatment of a political tale.

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

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


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LOCAL CINEMA 1987

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

[2] I had been nostalgic for the then-recently shuttered Experimental Cinema of the Philippines.
As of late, however, unacknowledged ECP-inspired innovations such as subsidies for
scriptwriting winners, provision of censorship-exempt venues, and full support for non-celluloid
formats in government and academe have proliferated and may have been fully responsible for
reviving the local industry.
[First published February 3, 1988, as Quo Vadis? in National Midweek]

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LOCAL CINEMA 1988

Administrative drumbeaters couldnt wait for 1988 to end before offering to the public a nosegay
of rosy predictions for the forthcoming year. With an overshoot of original estimates of overall
economic performance, they had reason to be confident: producers and practitioners could boast
that, if trends continue, Philippine movies could only get better in 1989. But in both cases, half
the responsibility depends upon the reaction of both moviegoers and non-moviegoers, a.k.a. the
public at large. Usually regarded as a passive factor, the public could only resort to electoral and
peso votes to indicate its judgment on issues and performances. Once in a rare while it could take
to the streets in numbers enough to effect substantial changes, but as a matter of course, the
general rule holds: those in positions of power and influence, whether government or cinema
bigwigs, always possess the advantage of fostering their will before the rest could take action.

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

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

Thered be at least two other film titles and a number of film-related products that deserve more
than just the usual acknowledgment of jobs well done. Maryo J. de los Reyess Kapag Napagod
ang Puso provides a welcome refresher on the virtues of raw approaches to film acting, while
Pablo Santiagos Agila ng Maynila makes a strong case for non-dramatic mythopoeic
moralization. The other significant pro-morality (the conventional, non-aesthetic sense)
audiovisual production of 1988 was, strictly speaking, neither film nor feature nor Filipino.
Robert Markowitzs A Dangerous Life, a six-hour Australia television docudrama, will very
likely tend to lose much of its initial impact, what with a flimsy fictional love triangle serving to
support the real-life saga of people power. Nevertheless it still deserves to be appended to any
year-end, and probably even decade-end, list, if only to act as a standard by which subsequent
productions, which we should all pray to be film and feature and Filipino, can be measured.
A final look-back on the year that was wont be complete without any mention of film-derived
works in print. Magic realism was the in thing, and after the English-language sector came up
with two novels Ninotchka Roscas State of War and Alfred A. Yusons Great Philippine
Jungle Energy Caf who should come along but Ricardo Lee, with his best work of fiction
ever, Kabilang sa mga Nawawala (included in his anthology Si Tatang at mga Himala ng
Ating Panahon). The industry should take pride in the fact that Yuson and Lee take time to write
screenplays.

And what, in the forthcoming year, have we to look forward to? The return of our major
directors, is what. Already in the can are works by the likes of Lino Brocka (Macho Dancer),
Celso Ad. Castillo (Pikoy Goes to Malaysia), Gil Portes (Birds of Prey), and Chito Roo (Si
Baleleng at ang Gintong Sirena). Laurice Guillens year-end hit Magkano ang Iyong Dangal?
may lead to another assignment soon. Ishmael Bernal, Mel Chionglo, and the Gallaga-Reyes
tandem are at work on promising projects. Nora Aunors preparing for her directorial debut, with
other once-or-future performers like Tata Esteban, Eddie Garcia, and Eddie Rodriguez ready to
give the cue. Knowing that there wont be any lack for dark horses, all that remains is for the
other inactive pros, notably Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Mike de Leon, and Eddie Romero, to rejoin the
(rat?) race.

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

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

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LOCAL CINEMA 1980-89

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note

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

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

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FOREIGN CINEMA 1980-89

Viewing an entire periods output would be a next-to-impossible task, even when delimited to
the year-long efforts of a specific country. But since Ive been venturing into year-enders (as
well as my first decade-ender) for Philippine cinema, I guess I could tread carefully on foreign
areas, with a maximum of qualifiers up front. Aside from the difficulty of setting aside the rest of
a short life to watch every film that comes along, one couldnt sometimes expect every film to
come along in the first place, when even Filipino movies cant make it to local screens in good
time. The advent of video has somewhat tempered this argument, but only to the extent of
making possible the promise of coming up with a decade-end evaluation after a reasonable
period say, a year or two; by which time the decade may seem too far off in the past already.

On the other hand, I watch when I can, and sometimes even when I cant. When video
technology was still unaffordable Id attend the embassy cultural-service screenings and thus
managed to get by with one free movie every day of the week; then I worked for the Manila
International Film Festival and with the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, through which
I saw a whole lot more foreign films, some of them eye-popping in certain unspeakable ways;
finally I caught up (or is it the other way around?) with the video revolution in my access, as film
teacher, to equipment and sources and grants.

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

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

Commercial (read: kiddies-mostly) efforts fared less fairly. Steven Spielbergs E.T.: The Extra-
Terrestrial (1982) requires increasingly long stretches of time in order to recapture its original
heartwarming function, while the Star Wars series (Irvin Kershners The Empire Strikes Back
[1980] and Richard Marquands Return of the Jedi [1983]), of which the middle trilogy God
forbid any further inspiration! ended during the 80s, turned out about and appropriately as
nourishing as popcorn; Spielbergs Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) had a more manic sequel
(Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom [1984]) and a somewhat affecting third installment
(Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]), which makes the series slightly more tolerable in
the long run. After counting out such dubiously motivated efforts, including the ones initiated by
Sylvester Stallone and slasher-film specialists, a curious case would be Robert Zemeckiss Back
to the Future (1985), which seems to be the best of the commercial pack so far, and has recently
had a wildly inventive sequel (Back to the Future Part II [1989]), despite a superabundance of
loopholes; the third part might yet be one of the 90s events worth the attention.

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

The best 70s film, Robert Altmans Nashville (1975), saw a reprise in two smaller-scaled (and
situationally related) projects, John Sayless Return of the Secaucus Seven (1980) and Lawrence
Kasdans The Big Chill (1983). The milieu-realist format was better off exported to other
countries, with two Italian samples, Liliana Cavanis The Skin (1981) and Paolo and Vittorio
Tavianis The Night of the Shooting Stars (1982), and Germanys Wings of Desire (1987, dir.
Wim Wenders) representing some of the better First-World attempts, alongside a number of
Third-World efforts: Turkeys Yol (1982, dir. Yilmaz Gney) for one, plus yes!, a number of
Filipino productions. What have we to look forward to from hereon? More ambitious Hollywood
series, possibly; conscienticizing products (reminiscent of the 80s Latin American movies)
from the new democracies in Eastern Europe; more technically assured and artistically
innovative (if were lucky with our government, that is we could be it) Third-World titles;
and the future resulting from rivalries between Americans and the Japanese in updating,
exploring, and standardizing converged media and formats. The countdown, in case we havent
noticed, has already begun.

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

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LOCAL CINEMA 1990

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

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

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

As if this distinction werent enough, the film also contains what is far and away the best
performance of the last, say, decade, exceeded only by the output of the same performer, Nora
Aunor, in a more major work, Ishmael Bernals 1982 Himala (both histrionic and filmic
accomplishments were formally recognized, so far at least, only by the Metro Manila Film
Festival). Andrea aside, 1990 would still have been a viewer-friendly year, what with a number
of products whose entertainment value, if nothing else, could score perfect points on anyones
list:

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

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

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

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