Considering Philippine cinema’s fascination with the Philippine Revolution in the last few years, we suggest five other periods that deserve the cinematic treatment
If there’s one period of Philippine history I wish we could stop making movies about, it would be the Philippine Revolution.
True enough, considering the near-twenty years of films that feature Rizal in some form, the films on Aguinaldo and Bonifacio, the universal acclaim surrounding Heneral Luna, and Jerrold Tarog’s plans to make Goryo and a third film on Manuel L. Quezon, it seems unlikely that the well will ever run dry. Which is fine. The Revolution is endlessly rich with stories that could strike the imagination as cinematic, and there are many personages, many sides of the immensely complex struggle for national independence that have yet to grace the silver screen. And I do feel that it would be exciting for these stories to be re-told through the camera, provided that the right filmmakers envision them.
But on the other hand, it also feels like, as far as mainstream cinema will go, this is the only era that ever gets any focus (which isn’t completely true either, but it does get a lot of focus). Here are our pitches for specific points in Philippine history that we think would do well as movies:
The most dangerous café in Martial Law Manila
We featured this story in our Art Issue earlier this year, about the Midnight in Paris-esque café that banded together practically all the free-spirited titans of Philippine arts and letters. It’s an opportunity that would allow any filmmaker to cram their shots with cameos. HR Ocampo was there. Ninotchka Rosca was there too. Ishmael Bernal lived down the street. Los Indios Bravos also gained a reputation as one of the most dangerous cafés in the time of Martial Law, as the establishment was eventually shut down by Marcos cronies and its mainstays were taken to Camp Crame. The central character of this drama would obviously be café ringleader Betsy Romualdez, who also built a reputation as an intellectual activist despite her family ties to Imelda Marcos. As we witness Romualdez struggle against the fall of the haven she built, we also witness the rise of art against one of the country’s most oppressive eras.
Edith Tiempo’s years as a widow
Edith and Edilberto Tiempo are the central figures of Philippine literature’s perfect love story. Unaffected by the tension and strife that often mar most love affairs between writers, neither of the Tiempos seemed to overshadow the other or seek extramarital affairs. Their reputations as independently effective writers and shared experiences in teaching led them to become the parents of the Silliman National Writers’ Workshop, which continues to give writers today an avenue to develop their craft. This film is probably best envisioned in the fifteen years that Edith lived and continued to teach after Edilberto’s passing in 1996. Edith contemplates her shared legacy with her husband, using lines of their best-known works to trigger flashbacks of their history. Most likely to tug at our heartstrings would be Edith Tiempo’s “Bonsai.”
Going to class with the Eraserheads
There’s an interesting way to read the text message that signaled Ely Buendia’s departure from the Eraserheads: “it’s graduation time.” Rather than to do a straightforward retelling of the history of the band, we would like to propose a reimagining of that same history. A film about the Eraserheads ought to take place entirely in the setting of their alma mater, jumping from subplot to subplot in a short span of time, in the tradition of great coming-of-age films like Dazed and Confused. The Eraserheads link all these stories together, which feature some characters trying to get hold of the band’s latest secret album (of which very few copies were actually produced), some characters trying to match the skill of the campus’s biggest band but resigning themselves to the fact that they are witnessing the birth of great music, and so on and so on… a film about the Eraserheads will focus less on the band’s story and more on what the music managed to do to people. It’s a film about how the Eraserheads connected with the atmosphere of their era and shaped it.
America is in the Heart
The semi-autobiographical novel by Carlos Bulosan is one of the key works on the Philippine-American experience, and its relevance holds especially today in the age of the OFW and the many stories of abuse and hardship they have often brought or sent back home. The novel contrasts Bulosan’s early life in pastoral Philippines with his adult life in stark, violent 1930’s America, where he fights for the rights of his countrymen by starting a labor union. His experiences fail to shake his love for America, as Bulosan realizes that America remains something to be fulfilled by all who come to it.
This one’s a cheat because the first Filipinos whose privilege enabled them to finish their education in Spain eventually become deeply tied to the Revolution (Antonio Luna being one of them), but it’s worth considering this film as a prelude to Rizal and the rest of the Revolution. Imagine a film that borrows the anachronistic dialogues of Tarog’s Heneral Luna to show an ilustrado class whose vulgarity and playfulness are familiar. We are introduced to a cast of characters whose proper names should be well-known to us, but their portrayal seems fresh, as if not lifted from a textbook. And then, when one of their own begins fostering ideas that ultimately result in his martyrdom, the ilustrados find themselves compelled to think about what all their privilege is for.