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History Of Philippine Cinema Essay, Research Paper
The youngest of the Philippine arts,
film has evolved to become the most popular of all the art forms. Introduced
only in 1897, films have ranged from silent movies to talkies; black and
white to color. Outpacing its predecessors by gaining public acceptance,
from one end of the country to the other, its viewers come from all walks
of life. Nationwide, there are more than 1000 movie theaters. Early in
the 1980s, it was estimated in Metro Manila alone, there were around 2.5
million moviegoers. As an art form, it reflects the culture and the
beliefs of the people it caters to and most times, is the one who shapes
Philippine film as discussed in this
paper includes films made by Filipino people exhibited in this country
and possibly in other countries from the 1930s to the 1990s. The films
may be silent pictures or talkies, black and white or color. They also
include films such as documentaries, animation, experimental or alternative
films and other types of films.
This paper has three purposes or
objectives. It intends, first of all, to provide a comprehensible background
of the art of film in the Philippines. It provides insights on how the
Philippine film has influenced Philippine culture and vice-versa. This
is done by documenting the important events and important films in the
area of film for the past ninety years. Second, it intends to explain the
different trends and styles common in the Philippine film. And finally,
it concludes with an analysis on how two important events in history, namely
World War II and Martial Law altered the course of contemporary Philippine
However, this paper is limited to
films only from the particular time period of the 1930s to the 1990s. It
fails to give a picture of how films were like ever since it started in
1897. This paper is also severely limited due to the unavailability and
the lack of materials that discuss thoroughly the history of Philippine
film. Film materials for those made during the pre-WWII years are simply
non-existent. Data for this paper was gathered from the essays and reviews
written by the artists and the critics themselves. It goes without saying
that the resources were tested to the limits.
I. The 1930s to 1940s
A. Early Philippine Films
Filipinos started making movies
in 1919. However, it would be important to know that the film industry
in the Philippines began through the initiative of foreign entrepreneurs.
Two Swiss entrepreneurs introduced film shows in Manila as early as 1897,
regaling audiences with documentary films lips showing recent events and
natural calamities in Europe. Not only that but the arrival of the
silent films, along with American colonialism, in 1903 created a movie
market. But these film clips were still novelties. They failed
to hold the audiences? attention because of their novelty and the fact
that they were about foreigners. When two American entrepreneurs made a
film in 1912 about Jose Rizal?s execution, the sensation they made it clear
that the Filipino?s need for material close to their hearts. This heralded
the making of the first Filipino film.
The credit of being the first Filipino
to make a film goes to Jose Nepumuceno, whom historians dub as the ?Father
of Philippine Movies?. Nepumuceno?s first film was based on a highly-acclaimed
musical play of that day, Dalagang Bukid (Country Maiden) by Hemogenes
Ilagan and Leon Ignacio.
In those early years of filmmaking,
enormous capital was needed to keep up with the Hollywood industry. Despite
its weak points, Hollywood provided the Philippine film industry with examples
that the early filmmakers followed. It is not surprising that many of those
same genres set so many years ago still appear in contemporary Philippine
films. But it was difficult to match Hollywood style in those days with
the meager capital set aside for the developing film industry. Ironically,
the same people who helped the film industry develop as a form of expression
were the same ones who suppressed this expression.
Early film producers included
?wealthy Spaniards?, American businessmen and Filipino landlords and politicians.
It is not surprising that?pre-war Philippine movies?were inhibited from
expressing their views that might question the establishment and were encouraged
instead to portray the love and reconciliation between members of different
Starting with Dalagang Bukid, early
films dug into traditional theater forms for character types , twists and
turns in the plot, familiar themes and conventions in acting. This set
the trend of Philippine films based entirely on immensely popular
dramas or sarswelas . Besides providing ready materials, this device of
using theater pieces ensured an already existing market. From the komedya
of the sarswela, the typical Filipino aksyon movie was to develop. The
line dividing the good and the bad in the komedya was religion with the
Christians being the good and the Moors representing the bad. In present
movies, the line that divides the two is now law or class division. The
sinakulo or the passion play was the root of the conventional Filipino
melodrama. The Virgin Mary became the ?all-suffering, all-forgiving Filipino
Mother? and Jesus was the ?savior of societies under threat and the redeemer
of all those who have gone wrong?. Another source of movie themes was Philippine
literature. Francisco Baltazar and Jose Rizal, through the classics for
which they were famous, have given the industry situations and character
types that continue to this day to give meat to films both great and mediocre.
Finally, by the 1930s, a few film
artists and producers dared to stray from the guidelines and commented
on sociopolitical issues, using contemporary or historical matter. Director,
actor, writer and producer Julian Manansala?s film Patria Amore (Beloved
Country) was almost suppressed because of its anti-Spanish sentiments.
This earned him the honor of being dubbed the ?Father of the Nationalistic
Its own share of movie audience and
acclaim for local movie stars were signs that the movie industry from 1919
to the 1930s had succeeded. Despite the competition coming from Hollywood,
the film industry thrived and flourished. When the 1930s came to a close,
it was clear that moviegoing had established itself in the Filipino.
B. Wartime Films and the Effect on
The Japanese Occupation introduced
a new player to the film industry ? the Japanese; and a new role for film
? propaganda :
?The Pacific War brought havoc to
the industry in 1941. The Japanese invasion put a halt to film activity
when the invaders commandeered precious film equipment for their own propaganda
needs. The Japanese brought their own films to show to Filipino audiences.?
The films the Japanese brought failed to appeal to audiences the same way
the Hollywood-made movies or the locally-made films did. Later on, Japanese
propaganda offices hired several local filmmakers to make propaganda pictures
for them. One of these filmmakers was Gerardo de Leon.
The war years during the first half
of the Forties virtually halted filmmaking activities save for propaganda
work that extolled Filipino-Japanese friendship, such as The Dawn of Freedom
made by director Abe Yutaka and associate director Gerardo de Leon?Less
propagandistic was Tatlong Maria (Three Marias), directed in 1944, by Gerardo
de Leon and written for the screen by Tsutomu Sawamura from Jose Esperanza
Cruz?s novel?Despite the destruction and hardships of the war, the people?found
time for entertainment; and when movies were not being made or imported?they
turned to live theater?which provided alternative jobs for displaced movie
folk. The war years may have been the darkest in film history??
This period turned out to be quite
beneficial to the theater industry. Live theater began to flourish again
as movie stars, directors and technicians returned to the stage. Many found
it as a way to keep them from being forgotten and at the same time a way
to earn a living.
In 1945?the film industry was already
staggering to its feet. The entire nation had gone through hell and there
were many stories to tell about heroic deeds and dastardly crimes during
the 3 years of Japanese occupation. A Philippine version of the war movie
had emerged as a genre in which were recreated narratives of horror and
heroism with soldiers and guerillas as protagonists?audiences still hungry
for new movies and still fired up by the patriotism and hatred for foreign
enemies did not seem to tire of recalling their experiences of war.
Movies such as Garrison 13 (1946),
Dugo ng Bayan (The Country?s Blood, 1946), Walang Kamatayan (Deathless,
1946), and Guerilyera (1946) , told the people the stories they wanted
to hear: the heroes and the villains of the war. The war, however, had
left other traces that were less obvious than war movies that were distinctly
Filipino. As Patronilo BN. Daroy said in his essay Main Currents in Filipino
Cinema: ?World War II left its scars on the Filipino?s imagination and
heightened his sense of reality??
II. The 1950s to 1970s
A. The Golden Age of Philippine
The 1950s were considered a time
of ?rebuilding and growth?. But remnants from the preceding decade
of the 40s remained in the form of war-induced reality. This is seen is
Lamberto Avellana?s Anak Dalita (The Ruins, 1956), the stark tragedy of
post-WWII survival set in Intramuros. The decade saw frenetic activity
in the film industry which yielded what might be regarded as the first
harvest of distinguished films by Filipinos. Two studios before the
war, namely Sampaguita Pictures and LVN, reestablished themselves. Bouncing
back quickly, they churned out movie after movie to make up for the drought
of films caused by the war. Another studio, Premiere Productions, was earning
a reputation for ?the vigor and the freshness? of some of its films. This
was the period of the ?Big Four? when the industry operated under the studio
system. Each studio (Sampaguita, LVN, Premiere and Lebran) had its
own set of stars, technicians and directors, all lined up for a sequence
of movie after movie every year therefore maintaining a monopoly of the
industry. The system assured moviegoers a variety of fare for a whole year
and allowed stars and directors to improve their skills.
Critics now clarify that the 50s
may be considered one ?Golden Age? for the Filipino film not because film
content had improved but because cinematic techniques achieved an artistic
breakthrough in that decade. This new consciousness was further developed
by local and international awards that were established in that decade.
Awards were first instituted that
decade. First, the Manila Times Publishing Co. set up the Maria Clara Awards.
In 1952, the FAMAS (Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences) Awards
were handed out. More so, Filipino films started garnering awards in international
film festivals. One such honor was bestowed on Manuel Conde?s immortal
movie Genghis Khan (1952) when it was accepted for screening at the Venice
Film Festival. Other honors include awards for movies like Gerardo de Leon?s
Ifugao (1954) and Lamberto Avellana?s Anak Dalita. This established the
Philippines as a major filmmaking center in Asia. These awards also had
the effect of finally garnering for Filipino films their share of attention
from fellow Filipinos.
B. The Decline of Philippine Film
If the 1950s were an ubiquitous
period for film, the decade that followed was a time of decline. There
was ?rampant commercialism and artistic decline? as portrayed on the following:
In the 1960s, the foreign films
that were raking in a lot of income were action pictures sensationalizing
violence and soft core sex films hitherto banned from Philippine theater
screens, Italian ?spaghetti? Westerns, American James Bond-type thrillers,
Chinese/Japanese martial arts films and European sex melodramas. To?get
an audience to watch their films, (the independent) producers had to take
their cue from these imports. The result is a plethora of films?giving
rise to such curiosities as Filipino samurai and kung fu masters, Filipino
James Bonds and?the bomba queen.
The studio systems came under siege
from the growing labor movement which resulted in labor-management conflicts.
The first studio to close was Lebran followed by Premiere Productions.
Next came Sampaguita and LVN. The ?Big Four? studios were replaced by new
and independent producers who soon made up the rest of the film industry.
The decade also saw the emergence
of the youth revolt best represented by the Beatles and the rock and roll
revolution. They embodied the wanting to rebel against adult institutions
and establishments. Certain new film genres were conceived just to cater
to this ?revolt?. Fan movies such as those of the ?Tita and Pancho?
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