I’ve had my share of Filipino movies; I was quite a fan in my early teens. This despite free access to practically all English movies in the family-owned theater, Cine Ideal, and in all those owned by the friendly business rivals, the Rufinos— Avenue, State and Ever. I made time for Filipino movies.
Back in the ’50s we never lacked for competent actors, directors and screenwriters. The most notable movie companies were Sampaguita Pictures, LVN and Premier Productions—all Filipino-owned. I specify that because at some point Chinese producers seemed to have taken over, and somehow began giving their own slants to our movie traditions.
In any case, in their time, the Filipino producers gave us memorable movies and quality stars. Technically we may have lagged behind Hollywood, but the tested formula of rich, handsome man of sterling character falling in love with poor, beautiful and chaste barrio lass worked its addicting charm on Filipino audiences. We seemed to like shortcuts even then. To get to happiness street, a girl simply married a rich boy, thus saving her whole clan from poverty—as well as the entire barrio! That was, of course, before the alien knight on a horse came riding in.
As pure entertainment, nothing could beat the Nida Blanca-Nestor de Villa tandem. They were my favorite love-and-dance team, long before Bollywood musicals became a craze. They were hardly professional dancers, but on screen they were our own lovable Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Nestor was a good dancer, but, unlike socialite actor Pancho Magalona, he couldn’t sing. Neither was a match to Fred’s dancing, but at par with him in acting, with debonair Pancho having a slight edge. But then Nestor was so much handsomer, and that made up for everything else. Nida was hardly the helpless barrio lass; she was terrific in both comedy and drama, a real joy to watch.
She outlasted Nestor and teamed up with Dolphy as John and Marsha in a popular TV sitcom that went on and on. This impoverished couple endeared themselves to Filipinos of all classes and helped rich and poor laugh at themselves without compromising their self-respect and human dignity.
Dolphy partnered with Panchito was more hilarious, I think, than by himself. Together they were endlessly funny, without being crude or vulgar. Dolphy was something else. A natural like Nida (but, in life, definitely singular for being too much man for one woman), he could also dance like nobody’s business.
How I miss them all!
My interest in local movies began to wane as it suffered both technically and substantially. Whenever there was talk about something being particularly good, I still made sure to watch, and my interest somewhat revived, although selectively, when Lino Brocka came along. He forced us to see reality beyond our comfort zone. He had just begun and all too soon was gone.
Lately there’s been a healthy interest in making movies about our heroes and our history. Unlike commissioned biographies, which could twist and alter facts to minimize failings while enlarging virtues, the latest movies seem to me presented more objectively. The efforts of patriotic movie makers and activist theater groups should be encouraged by the public and financed by philanthropy.
I saw “Heneral Luna.” It was, for whatever flaws still it may have had, was a bold and decisive version of his time in our history. Veteran stage actor John Arcilla had a fairly credible lead performance. There were scenes that came across as frozen tableaus or life-sized diorama, but such impact was made on the audience that an appetite for more of the same seems to have increased.
The movie “Goyo,” starring good-looking Paulo Avelino, came next. I had seen him earlier as the brash young man Javier in “Ang Larawan.” I thought it uncanny but he really looked like Gregorio del Pilar. The movie opens with a scene where the general, looking ridiculously young for his boots, is posing for a photograph for posterity. He has just been promoted, not because he is the most experienced—he is 24—but only because he and his clan are loyal to Aquinaldo, something painfully familiar.
Goyo is adjusting his poses on instructions of the photographer, to capture the right light on his handsome face and physique. And, somehow, for the rest of the movie, that’s what it felt like—Avelino wearing a costume, posing.
But much to the movie’s credit is its historical honesty, in showing how truly pathetic and fractured our revolutionaries were. If I didn’t feel any love of country in them at all, it might have been precisely the intent of the producers. What motivated people even then was their loyalty to different factions, or personalities for purely personal reasons. Some things never change.
Given the head start we already had in the early ’50s, in not only movies but also education and just about everything else, what could have possibly gone wrong? It could be many things—overpopulation, deterioration of public education, corruption in government and the poverty resulting in all this and, most importantly, the lack of conscientious and selfless leaders one would hope to come from the privileged classes.
For the longest time, we have been caught in a culture that prohibits speaking ill of the dead yet allows criminals and betrayers to revise history for their own personal or dynastic agendas.
At least, “Heneral Luna” and “Goyo” break through those self-serving barriers.