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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

their consciousness.

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

Philippine Films

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?

and ?Nida and Nestor? romantic pairings of the 50s were the forerunners

of a new kind of revolution ? the ?teen love team? revolution. ?Nora Aunor

and Vilma Santos, along with Tirso Cruz III and Eddie Mortiz as their respective

screen sweethearts, were callow performers during the heyday of fan movies.

Young audiences made up of vociferous partisans for ?Guy and Pip? or ?Vi

and Bot? were in search of role models who could take the place of elders

the youth revolt had taught them to distrust?

Another kind of youth revolt came

in the form of the child star. Roberta (1951) of Sampaguita Pictures was

the phenomenal example of the drawing power of movies featuring [these]

child stars. In the 60s this seemed to imply rejection of ?adult

corruption? as exposed by childhood innocence.

The film genres of the time were

direct reflections of the ?disaffection with the status quo? at the time.

Action movies with Pinoy cowboys and secret agents as the movers

of the plots depicted a ?society ravaged by criminality and corruption?

. Movies being make-believe worlds at times connect that make-believe with

the social realities. These movies suggest a search for heroes capable

of delivering us from hated bureaucrats, warlords and villains of our society.

The action films of the 1960s brought into the industry ? a new savage

rhythm that made earlier action films seem polite and stage managed.?

The pacing of the new action films were fast as the narrative had been

pared down to the very minimum of dialogues. And in keeping up with the

Hollywood tradition, the action sequences were even more realistic.

Another film genre that is perhaps

also a embodiment of the revolt of the time is the bomba genre. Probably

the most notorious of all, this genre appeared at the close of the decade.

Interestingly, it came at a time when social movement became acknowledged

beyond the walls of campuses and of Manila.

In rallies, demonstrations and other

forms of mass action, the national democratic movement presented its analysis

of the problems of Philippine society and posited that only a social

revolution could bring genuine change. The bomba film was a direct

challenge to the conventions and the norms of conduct of status quo, a

rejection of authority of institutions in regulating the ?life urge? seen

as natural and its free expression ?honest? and ?therapeutic?

Looking beyond the obvious reasons

as to the emergence of the bomba film, both as being an exploitative product

of a profit-driven industry and as being a ?stimulant?, it can be analyzed

as actually being a ?subversive genre?, playing up to the establishment

while rebelling and undermining support for the institutions.

Even in the period of decline, genius

has a way of showing itself. Several Philippine films that stood out in

this particular era were Gerardo de Leon?s Noli Me Tangere (Touch me Not,

1961) and El Filibusterismo (Subversion, 1962). Two other films by Gerardo

de Leon made during this period is worth mentioning ? Huwag mo Akong Limutin

(Never Forget Me , 1960) and Kadenang Putik (Chain of Mud, 1960), both

tales of marital infidelity but told with insight and cinematic import.

C. Films during Martial Law

In the 60s, the youth clamored for

change in the status quo. Being in power, Ferdinand Marcos answered

the youth by placing the nation under martial rule.

In 1972, he sought to contain growing

unrest which the youth revolt of the 1960s fueled. Claiming that all he

wanted was to ?save the Republic?, Marcos retooled the liberal-democratic

political system into an authoritarian government which concentrated power

in a dictators hand. To win the population over, mass media was enlisted

in the service of the New Society. Film was a key component of a

society wracked with contradictions within the ruling class and between

the sociopolitical elite and the masses.

In terms of comparisons, the Old

Society (or the years before Martial Law) became the leading symbol for

all things bad and repugnant. The New Society was supposed to represent

everything good ? a new sense of discipline, uprightness and love of country

Accordingly, the ideology of the New Society was incorporated into local


?Marcos and his technocrats sought

to regulate filmmaking. The first step was to control the content of movies

by insisting on some form of censorship. One of the first rules promulgated

by the Board of Censors for Motion Pictures (BCMP) stipulated submission

of a finished script prior to the start of filming. When the annual film

festival was revived, the censors blatantly insisted that the ?ideology?

of the New Society be incorporated into the content of the entries.

The government tried to control

the film industry while keeping it in ?good humor? ? necessary so that

the government could continue using film as propagandistic vehicles. So

despite the censors, the exploitation of sex and violence onscreen continued

to assert itself. Under martial law, action films depicting shoot outs

and sadistic fistfights ( which were as violent as ever) usually append

to the ending an epilogue claiming that the social realities depicted had

been wiped out with the establishment of the New Society. The notorious

genre of sex or bomba films that appeared in the preceding decade were

now tagged as ?bold? films, simply meaning that a lot more care was given

to the costumes.

Martial Law declared in 1972 clamped

down on bomba films as well as political movies critical of the Marcos

administration. But the audience?s taste for sex and nudity had already

been whetted. Producers cashed in on the new type of bomba, which showed

female stars swimming in their underwear, taking a bath in their camison

(chemise), or being chased and raped in a river, sea, or under a waterfall.

Such movies were called the wet look?

One such movie was the talked-about

Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa (The Most Beautiful Animal on

the Face of the Earth, 1974) starring former Miss Universe Gloria Diaz.

However, the less-than-encouraging

environment of the 70s gave way to ?the ascendancy of young directors who

entered the industry in the late years of the previous decade?? Directors

such as Lino Brocka, best remembered for his Maynila, Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag

(Manila, In the Claws of Neon Lights, 1975), Ishmael Bernal, director of

the Nora Aunor film Himala (Miracle, 1982) and Celso Ad. Castillo, whose

daring works portrayed revolt, labor unionism, social ostracism and class

division, produced works that left no doubt about their talent in weaving

a tale behind the camera.

Another welcomed result that came

from martial rule was the requirement of a script prior to filming. This

was an innovation to a film industry that made a tradition out of improvising

a screenplay. Although compliance with the requirement necessarily meant

curtailment of the right of free expression, the BCMP, in effect caused

the film industry to pay attention to the content of a projected film production

in so far as such is printed in a finished screenplay. In doing so,

talents in literature found their way into filmmaking and continue to do

so now.


II. The 1980s to the present

A. Philippine Films after Marcos

It can be justified that immediately

after Marcos escaped to Hawaii, films portraying the Philippine setting

have had a serious bias against the former dictator. And even while he

was in power, the militancy of filmmakers opposing the Martial Law

government especially after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983,

accounts for the defiant stance of a number of films made in the closing

years of the Marcos rule.

Films such as Lino Brocka?s Bayan

Ko: Kapit sa Patalim (My Country: Gripping the Knife?s Edge, 1985) were

defiant, not in the sense of it being openly stated by in the images of

torture, incarceration, struggle and oppression. Marilou Diaz-Abaya?s Karnal

(1984) depicts this in a different way in the film?s plot wherein patricide

ends a tyrannical father?s domination. Mike de Leon?s Sister Stella L.

(1984), was a typical de Leon treatment of the theme of oppression and


In 1977, an unknown Filipino filmmaker

going by the name of Kidlat Tahimik made a film called Mababangong Bangungot

(Perfumed Nightmare). The film won the International Critic?s Prize in

the Berlin Film Festival that same year. Kidlat Tahimik?s rise to

fame defined the distance between mainstream cinema and what is now known

as independent cinema. Beginning with Tahimik, independent cinema and films

became an accomplished part of Philippine film.

Out of short film festivals sponsored

by the University of the Philippines Film Center and by the Experimental

Cinema of the Philippines, young filmmakers have joined Kidlat Tahimik

in the production of movies that, by their refusal to kowtow to the traditions

and conventions of mainstream filmmaking, signify faith in works that try

to probe deeper into the human being and into society. Nick Deocampo?s

Oliver (1983) and Raymond Red?s Ang Magpakailanman (The Eternal, 1983)

have received attention in festivals abroad.

Filmmakers like Tahimik, Deocampo

and Red are examples of what we call ?alternative filmmakers?. Alternative

or independent filmmakers are products of film schools where students are

exposed to art films without ?the compromises of commercial filmmaking?.

B. Contemporary Philippine Film

Despite our completion of 100 years

of cinema in the Philippines, the same problems plague us now just as it

had when film was still a relatively new art form. The phrase ?poorly made?

is fitting to describe the quality of films being churned out by the film

industry year by year. There have been few exceptions to the rule.

Presently, films are primarily made

for profit, lacking any qualities to redeem itself. Studies show that Hollywood

films, with its high technology and subject matter, are being preferred

over local films. It is no wonder ? for films now are ?too profit-oriented?[with]

corrupting morals and?dubious values?sticking with formulaic films?

Genres that have been present for

the past few decades are being recycled over and over again with the same

stories. The teen love teams of the fan movie are still present with incarnations

of love teams of yesteryears. Now instead of ?Guy and Pip? are ?Judy and

Wowie?. The bomba film is still present, now having grown more pornographic

and taboo. The film Tatlo (1998) comes to mind with its subject matter

of threesomes. In Filipino slapstick or komedya, Dolphy has been replaced

by younger stars.

But even if the films of today have

not been quite up to par, ?Filipino movies?wields an influence over the

national imagination far more intense that all the others combined.?

C. Conclusion

The early years of Philippine film,

starting from the 1930s, were a time of discovering film as it was at that

time still a new art form. Stories for films came from the theater and

popular literature being, as they were, ?safe?, with the filmmaker being

assured of its appeal. Nationalistic films were also in vogue despite early

restrictions on films being too subversive.

The 1940s and the war brought to

Philippine film the consciousness of reality which was not present in the

preceding films. Filmmakers dared to venture into the genre of the war

movie. This was also a ready market especially after the war.

The 1950s were the Golden Years,

a time when films matured and became more ?artistic?. The studio system,

though producing film after film and venturing into every known genre,

made the film industry into a monopoly that prevented the development of

independent cinema.

The 1960s, though a time of positive

changes, brought about an artistic decline in films. The notorious genre

of bomba was introduced and from that day forward has been present in the

Philippine film scene ever since.

The 1970s and 1980s were turbulent

years, bringing positive and negative changes. From the decline in the

60s, films in this period now dealt with more serious topics following

the chaos of the Marcos regime. Also, action and sex films developed further

introducing more explicit pictures. These years also brought the arrival

of alternative cinema in the Philippines.

Presently, in the 1990s, we are

seemingly engaged in a vicious cycle ? of genres, plots, characterization

and cinematic styles. We are unconsciously, or rather consciously, imitating,

copying from the much more popular American films. And when we are not

copying, we are reverting back to the same old styles. From the massacre

movies of late, the teen-oriented romantic-comedies and the anatomy-baring

sex flicks which are currently so popular, it seems Philippine cinema is

on a down spiral. Still, some films been successes and not only financially.

Diaz-Abaya?s Rizal (1998), as an example, was a success both commercially

and critically. Hopefully, Philippine cinema in the new millenium would

produce films as good and better than the ones before it.

As a conclusion, here is what Patronilo

BN. Daroy had to say about the Philippine film industry:

Philippine cinema, in short, appears

to have reached full circle: it is at the stage of refining and formulating

its own conventions and, in the process, getting in close contact with

the ferment in the other arts and at the same time, the serious critical

attention and concern of people with a broader interest in culture. This

is inevitable; as an art form the cinema in the Philippines can no longer

remain isolated from the main current of sensibilities and ideas that shape

other artistic forms, such as literature, painting, the theater, etc. Neither

can it fly from the actuality of social life which, after all, is the source

of all artistic expression. I foresee, therefore, a hand towards more serious

cinema; the muckrakers will continue, but they will be exposed for what

they are and will no longer be definitive of the quality of Filipino films.


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