Saturday 27 October 2012

History through Film

Lino Brocka's Ora Pro Nobis
The month of September marks two events that our generation remembers well - the 9/11 tragedy, and the declaration of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos.  On these dates, there were widespread media focus to ensure that the ideals, the heroes, significances and consequences are not forgotten by this and future generations.  

Artists derive inspiration from their world - their reality.  In turn, they become a voice, in advocating and recording snippets of history.  Film is one such medium that has been widely utilized both for its value for entertainment and propaganda.  Here, we recall some of the landmark works in Philippine cinema, significant for their artistic and historical merits.

The first movie made by a Filipino is Jose Nepomuceno’s Dalagang Bukid in 1919, based on  the highly acclaimed musical/zarzuela of the same title by Hermogenes Ilagan and Leon Ignacio and starring Atang de la Rama.  During the war, more films of sociopolitical and historical nature abound, some even garnering awards and making the circuit of international film festivals.  Examples of these are: Lamberto Avellana’s Anak Dalita (Child of Sorrow, 1956), which focused on the stark tragedy of post-World War II survival set in Intramuros; and Gerardo de Leon’s Ifugao (1954).  Other notable films of this time too are: Guerilyera (1946), starring Carmen Rosales and Cesar Baltazar, a film about the guerilla movement during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines; Death March (1946), a portrayal of the Bataan Death March, directed by Lamberto Avellana and starred Leopoldo Salcedo, Norma Blancaflor.

Chito Rono's Dekada '70
With the resurgence of film companies like Sampaguita Pictures, LVN and Premiere Productions, came a new beginning for an era of love themes, musicals and romance.  But there were also more films that extolled the virtues of heroism, patriotism, struggle and sacrifice as a consequence of Philippine political events and issues like colonization, martial law, power abuse, etc.  Some films brought issues to the social consciousness, issues that were difficult to face and accept.  Some of these are: 
Marilou Diaz-Abaya's Jose Rizal
Mike de Leon's Sister Stella L
  • Gerardo de Leon’s film adaptations of Jose Rizal’s novels Noli Me Tangere (1961) and El Filibusterismo (1962).
  • Eddie Romero’s Manila, Open City (1968), set during the Japanese occupation, depicts the fate of a Filipino who, after collaborating with the Japanese, switches allegiance to the Americans.
  • Eddie Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon (1976), follows the struggle of a country from the Philippine revolution to the Phil-American war, through the eyes of a country boy portrayed by Christopher de Leon, in parallel to his search for his own identity.
  • Eddie Romero’s Aguila (1979), an epic movie chronicling the highlights of Philippine history from the 1896 revolution to militant student activities in the ‘70s.  It starred Fernando Poe Jr. and Christopher de Leon.
  • Celso Ad. Castillo’s Ang Alamat ni Julian Makabayan (1979), starring Christopher de Leon focuses on agrarian unrest and feudal oppression.
  • Mike de Leon’s Sister Stella L (1984), starring Vilma Santos, is the director’s response to the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, through the story of a nun who gets involved in labour strikes and confronted with issues of labor, politics and religion.  It also raised an argument about the separation of church and state in the country.
  • Lino Brocka’s Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim (1985), a film that focuses on inherent corruption in government, pre-martial law era.  It caused a furor when it was smuggled for showing at the Cannes Film Festival, consequently banned in the Philippines and caused Lino Brocka’s arrest.  It had Phillip Salvador and Gina Alajar as actors.
  • Lino Brocka’s Orapronobis (1989) depicts the human rights abuses during the ‘80s, starring Phillip Salvador and Dina Bonnevie.  It was highly controversial and was banned for a time by then President Corazon Aquino.
  • Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Jose Rizal (1998), a biographical film on national hero Jose Rizal starring Cesar Montano.  The film was screened in several prestigious international film festivals and is credited with re-introducing the hero to a new generation.
  • Chito Roño’s Dekada ’70 (2002), starring Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon, centres around a family affected by the political turmoil that set the declaration of martial law.   It is based on a novel with the same title by Lualhati Bautista.
  • Raya Martin’s Independencia (2009) set in the early 20th century, it comments on how the Philippines evolved as a colony of the US, instead of being an independent country.  It features actors Tetchie Agbayani, Sid Lucero, and Alessandra de Rossi.
Raya Martin's Independencia
These are just a few examples of a long list of films.  They may have entertained and diverted us, brought us to a time different from our own reality, confronted us with philosophies and challenged our own thinking and have preserved snippets of our heritage and immortalized the stories for next generations.  It is my personal hope that you have viewed some of these films or will encourage you to watch these films and research further in our history.

* This was written for and published in the Pinoy Living October 2012 issue.

Famous Lines from Filipino Movies

If you are a movie fan, it would be easy to identify the origins of these phrases:  Go ahead, make my day [Clint Eastwood, Sudden Impact]; I’m also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her [Julia Roberts, Notting Hill]; Houston, we have a problem [Tom Hanks, Apollo 13]; I’ll be back [Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Terminator]; I see dead people [Sixth Sense]; and the list goes on and on.  But what about lines from the Filipino movies?  Here are some of the most popular ones (note: apologies for not having an English translation.  The emotions and wittiness are sometimes lost in the translation):

Walang himala!  Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao!  Nasa puso nating lahat!   [Nora Aunor, Himala].  The film centers around a young visionary who has caused a stir in an isolated village, challenging people’s attitude towards their religious faith.  Directed by Ishmael Bernal with story by Ricardo Lee based on a true story, Himala is considered as one of the best acting feats of Nora Aunor.   Premiered in 1982, it went on to win numerous film awards, i.e. CNN Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Bronze Hugo prize at the 1983 Chicago International Film Festival. It was  also exhibited in international film festivals, i.e. Berlin International Film Festival (the first Filipino film to be included in the Competition Section)

You’re nothing but a second-rate, trying hard copycat. [Cherie Gil, Bituing Walang Ningning].  This is the story of a die hard fan rising to fame and becoming the most formidable rival of the star singer.  Released in 1985 and directed by Emmanuel H. Borlaza, it starred Sharon Cuneta, Christopher de Leon, Jay Ilagan, Cherie Gil, Tommy Abuel, Chanda Robero and Joel Torre.  It was a blockbuster hit and this quoted line uttered by Cherie Gil as the star Lavinia Arguelles, to Sharon Cuneta as the fan Dorina Pineda, was the ultimate catfight scene, splattered wine and all.

Ding... ang bato!  [Darna].  Who doesn’t know about the Filipino comics superheroine by writer Mars Ravelo and artist Nestor Redondo?  Created in 1947, Narda, a young girl transforms into Darna, and vice versa by shouting out their respective names,  and by swallowing a white stone, from the planet Marte. This superheroine has been portrayed in both tv and the movies since 1951 with the following actresses and even actors: Rosa del Rosario (1951-52), Liza Moreno (1963), Eva Montes (1965), Gina Pareno (1969), Vilma Santos (1973), Chiquito (1974), Lorna Tolentino (1977), Dolphy (1979), Rio Locsin (1979), Nanette Medved (1991), Anjanette Abayari (1994), Angel Locsin (2005), Marian Rivera (2009).

Trabaho lang ito, walang personalan.  [Rudy Fernandez, Markang Bungo].  This 1991 movie was based on the life story of Baguio City police officer Bobby Ortega.  This line is still widely used - from Manny Pacquiao, to the current President of the Philippines.

Kakabakaba Ka Ba?  This movie with the same title was a 1980 movie by Mike de Leon.  A comedy of misadventures, and of gangsters smuggling an audiocassette tape of opium in the Philippines, it starred Christopher de Leon, Charo Santos, Sandy Andolong and Jay Ilagan.  It was significant in the sense that it managed to be a political satire, escaping censorship during a Martial Law regime.

Isang bala ka lang.  [Fernando Poe Jr., Isang Bala Ka Lang].  A classic action movie starred in and directed by Fernando Poe Jr., the story is of a good cop, convicted and jailed for avenging his wife’s death, turns vigilante in the light of injustices to innocent victims.  Released in 1983, it also stars Maggie dela Riva, Marianne de la Riva, Julie Vega, and Paquito Diaz.

Ginto na ang nasa harap mo, basura pa ang pinili mo.  [Vilma Santos, Sinasamba Kita].  Directed by Eddie Garcia in 1982 with actors Vilma Santos, Christopher de Leon, Phillip Salvador and Lorna Tolentino, the movie is about half sisters, with the younger one as the father’s illegitimate daughter.  Maltreated and oppressed, the younger sibling leaves but fate brings them together for a final reckoning.  The theme song of this movie, with the same title and composed by George Canseco, was a popular hit too.  It won film awards for Best Director, Best Original Song and became a tv movie in 2007 with Joel Lamangan as director, starring Sheryl Cruz and Valerie Concepcion.

Mahal mo ba ako, dahil kailangan mo ako o kailangan mo ako kaya mahal mo ako?  [Claudine Barretto, Milan].   A 2004 romance film starring Claudine Barretto and Piolo Pascual, it is a story of two people who are strangely banded together by their own personal quests, fall deeply in love and later called on to make personal sacrifices.  Aside from the beautiful locations in Italy, it garnered acting awards and nominations for the 2 lead actors.  It also featured the singing voice of Piolo Pascual for its theme song, The Gift.

These are just a few of the many highly dramatic, comedic and memorable dialogues in Philippine cinema.  What are your favorites?

* This article was written for and published in the Pinoy Times September 2012 issue.

Aegis: the Edmonton Concert

The Aegis Concert for Edmonton was held last July 29 at the River Cree Resort & Casino, as part of their 2012 US and Canada tour.  This was the band’s 3rd visit/performance in Edmonton.

Aegis was originally formed as AG’s Sound Trippers, with the AG standing for their managers’ last names, Abenoja and Galindo.  They chose the term “aegis” which means “shield” or “protection” - as a metaphor for their kind of music, that of a balm from heartbreak and desolation.  A 6-member band, it is comprised of sisters Juliet, Mercy and Ken Sunot as Vocalists; Stella Pabico in the keyboard; Vilma Goloviogo in drums; Weng Adriano for bass guitar; and the lone male member, Rey Abenoja for lead guitar.

The show opened with two front acts: Vanessa Oller singing “God is Speaking”; and duo Virgie and Delia, who are regular performers at the Edmonton International Airport.  There was also a presentation of a plaque by Hon. Consul Esmeralda Agbulos for producer Dr. Nimrod Montano, for his community service to Filipinos both locally and in the Philippines.  Incidentally, the concert and raffle proceeds served as a fundraiser for a dental mission to the Philippines in 2013.

After about an hour from start time, the main attraction was introduced.  Hyped as a concert to “rock & roll” the city, the opening number was a little bit sedate, for our expectations.  It didn’t take long though for them to impress the audience with their powerful vocals.  This is a concert that definitely does not rely on fancy wardrobe, intricate choreography, and special effects - but simply on the music.  Aside from their hit songs Luha, Halik, Basang Basa sa Ulan, May Bukas Pa, they also did covers of Adele, Journey, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez and requested songs by the audience - covering a vast repertoire of ballads, dance music and rap.  These were eagerly lapped up by the audience who sang, applauded and shrieked on cue.  The vocalists are power belters, hitting notes that get higher and higher, notes that you think can’t be reached but are actually hit.  Juliet Sunot definitely has the strongest lung power among the sisters.  She delivers her songs effortlessly, while hamming it up with the audience and the cameras, and delivering comedic lines as well.  It would be ideal though, in the whole mix of the songs, to have some that will show restraint in vocal delivery, for a greater appreciation of the powerhouse sections.
Talent comes in different packages.  If you do not know the Aegis band members and you see them for the first time offstage, you will not think that they are such musical dynamos.  They are unassuming, grounded and deferential.  And these qualities are probably a major factor in their audience appeal, making them relatable to a lot of people.  At the end of the night, you appreciate these visits by Filipino artists who embody talent and good values and reinforce your notion that there definitely is no dearth of Filipino singers!

* This article was written for and published in the Pinoy Times August 2012 issue.