I have been watching movies since I was a boy in that small town where I grew up. I saw my first silent cowboy film starring Tom Mix in the early 1930s, in the rice bodega that was also the town cinema. The town's five-piece band provided the musical score. In fight scenes, the band would strike up a jaunty tune and in love scenes, a smaltzy piece.
The first Filipino picture I saw was "Bituing Marikit," starring Elsa Oria. When I moved to Manila in 1938, I saw more American films than Filipino. The major movie theatres in Manila -- the Avenue, State, and the Ideal on Rizal Avenue, and the Lyric and Capitol on the Escolta -- showed only American pictures; Grand and Dalisay on Rizal Avenue and Life on Quezon Boulevard showed only Filipino films. Rogelio dela Rosa, Carmen Rosales, Arsenia Francisco, and Corazon Noble were the stars.
During the war, there being no films to show, these first-class theaters staged Filipino drama, with the movie stars playing the lead roles. The plays in Tagalog were adapted from the popular western classics. Then Liberation, and Tagalog movies were revived, and a new generation of actors and actresses surfaced and new directors as well, Bert Avellana, Gerry de Leon, and Eddie Romero, were followed by Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, but none approximated the brilliance of Chaplin, Kurosawa, or Rossellini.
A new breed of actresses, too. Vilma Santos, Hilda Coronel, Nora Aunor. I think that Nora Aunor is our greatest movie actress ever. No actress in all these years acted roles with such candor and fealty to the character portrayed. And as she ages, her worth increases. She does not need that National Artist Award that was denied her by ignoramus authorities.
IN THE 1950s, the movie personalities, Rosa Rosal and Eddie Romero, and the writers D. Paulo Dizon, Vic Generoso, Fred Munoz, Fred Bunao, J.C. Tuvera, and myself formed FAMAS, similar to the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts, to select the year's best Filipino movies. I remember those many nights that we spent at Premiere studios in Caloocan, at Sampaguita in Quezon City reviewing all those films and evaluating them.
I don’t know what has happened to FAMAS; I hear that it is still around but is now overshadowed by more active organizations. Their credibility is validated by their choices of the best.
I cite this background to assure my readers of my bonafides as a critic of Filipino films. And here is my judgment -- our movies are developing yet are still inferior to what is being produced in Korea, or in Japan. It is not the technology that is wanting, or the lack of skilled workers. In almost all instances, our motion pictures are dreadful because their scripts are.
From the very start, many foreign movies have used the best literary material produced in those countries. Not in the Philippines.
Compare our movies with those Korean global attractions. Their scripts are written by the best Korean writers steeped in both Asian and Western literary traditions. There was a time when Hollywood also got the services of the best American writers like William Faulkner and Scott Fitzgerald.
I saw Gerry de Leon’s film, “Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo,” in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur. The ravishing beauty, Anita Linda, played the female lead. Gerry worked without a script. But he was meticulous and each scene was fully rehearsed and discussed before it was shot.
KOREA'S TELENOVELAS have gained an international audience because they are well made and they also project much information about Korea itself since many of the stories are based on Korean history. On a recent visit to South Korea, I was taken to a site where one of Korea's novels was made into a film. The Koreans are also sticklers for authenticity.
I can't recall how many films I have walked out of.
The films of Fernando Poe, Jr. for instance, were for ten-year-olds and below. Almost always, they are so unreal and I have to suspend belief to see them.
I WALKED OUT of Abaya's Rizal -- it was well crafted, realistic, but oh-so-boring for a Filipino who already knows the Rizal story by heart. Perhaps it was meant for a foreign audience.
I once talked with Dolphy, whose films were slapstick comedies. He was a Charlie Chaplin fan and I told him I would help him with the script if he did something like Charlie Chaplin's "Limelight," which was both funny and moving. He said he had tried making that kind of film but he lost money on it. If it is mush that the public wants, give it to them.
The films of Kidlat Tahimik are crude and so was Manuel Conde's Genghis Khan. We have gone quite a long way from these primitive efforts particularly with the developments in photographic technology. Producing films now is not as expensive as it used to be. Today we have a slew of independent movie makers whose problem basically is national and global distribution. This will be surmounted by demand, when our moviemakers start producing world-class movies.
The best Filipino moviemakers now are Mike de Leon and Brillante Mendoza. De Leon is a slow worker. His last film, "Citizen Jack" is superb, but it could have had more impact had it not been overloaded with extraneous themes. Mendoza is a fast worker and of his dozen films, half are truly excellent. But like de Leon, he has yet to produce a truly great movie. This will be done for sure, within the next few years. We also now have producers like Wilson Tieng who are willing to invest in quality. But always, they should concentrate on scripts that truly fulfill the requirements of an excellent narrative.
Meanwhile, I would like to see a movie scripted by that genius Rody Vera and directed by that equally gifted Chris Millado.
First published in The Philippine Star, March 2, 2019 https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2019/03/02/1897888/our-pitiful-movies