Tuesday, November 18, 2014


History of Cinema in the PHILIPPINES

Historical overview

Philippines was ceded by Spain to the US in 1898 following the Spanish-American War. They attained independence in 1946 after Japanese occupation in World War II. The 21-year rule of Ferdinand MARCOS ended in 1986, when a widespread popular rebellion forced him into exile. In 1992, the US closed its last military bases on the islands. The Philippines has had two electoral presidential transitions since the removal of MARCOS. In January 2001, the Supreme Court declared Joseph ESTRADA unable to rule in view of mass resignations from his government and administered the oath of office to Vice President Gloria MACAPAGAL-ARROYO as his constitutional successor. The government continues to struggle with Muslim insurgencies in the south. 

History of cinema from 1896-2000

Filipinos started making movies in 1919. However, the film industry in the Philippines was initiated by foreign entrepreneurs. Two Swiss businessmen introduced film shows in Manila as early as 1897, regalling audiences with documentary film clips showing recent events and natural calamities in Europe. At this time, the Philippines was waging a revolutionary war against the colonial rule of Spain. In 1912, two more foreign businessmen, this time Americans, created a sensation in Manila when they put on film the story of Jose P. Rizal's execution. Here was material close to Filipinos, the subject matter guaranteeing ticket sales.

Jose Nepomuceno was the first Filipino to make movies. He was a photographer who sold his profitable photo studio to change trades and started making films. Historians of the Filipino film industry consider him to be "The Father of Philippine Movies." Nepomuceno's first film in 1919 was based on a highly acclaimed musical play of the day, Dalagang Bukid (Country Maiden) by Hermogenes Hagan and Leon Ignacio. During screenings of the movie, the singer-actress Atang de la Rama stood behind the screen to sing the theme song "Nabasag ang Banga" (The Clay Pot Broke) accompanied by violinist, a trumpet player, and a pianist.

Local filmmakers used the Hollywood style movies to produce their own movies. The small budgets and outdated equipment soon led to Hollywood dominated screenings in the theaters. There was one advantage that Filipino movies enjoyed over foreign movies--their narratives and themes stemmed from local stories. For instance, Vicente Salumbides, a contemporary of Nepomuceno's who had spent several years working in Hollywood, portrayed young upperclass Filipinos rebelling against the tyranny of their conservative parents in "Miracles of Love" (1925). With the start of the sound and voice era, the majority of the vast Filipino population could be reached, overcoming the need to understand English or be literate.

During the thirties, the most noteworthy films use historical themes like "Patria Amore" (1929) by Julian Manansala. The film became almost banned due to its aggressive anti- Spanish nature. He used history for appealing narratives for such works as "Dimasalang" (1930), "Mutya ng Katipunan" (1939) and "Tawag ng Bayan" (1940). He was often dubbed as the "Father of the Nationalistic Film". Another commonly used plot were the dance and song films derived from local theater-stage stories. Films like "Dalagang Bukid", "Pakiusap" (1940), are derived from the so-called Sarswela (song and dance theatre). From the Sinakulo or passion play, many film melodramas were based on the characters of Virgin Mary (the all-suffering, all-forgiving Filipino Mother), Mary Magdalene (the "prostitute with the golden heart"), Judas (the original, unmitigated villain) and of course, Jesus (the savior of societies under threat; redeemer of all those who have gone wrong).

From the comedy (komedya), the typically Filipino action movie was to develop. The dividing line in the comedy between the good men and the bad men was religion, with the Christians presented as the forces of good and the Moros as the forces of evil in line with the propaganda of medieval missionaries. In present day action movies, that dividing line has become the law versus the criminal. Specially during the early years of the film industry, Philippine literature was a rich source of subject matter movie themes, most noteworthy was made by the classical writers Francisco Baltazar and Jose Rizal. The work of the latter was filmed in "Noli Me Tangere", (1961) and "El Filibusterismo" (1962) by Gerardo de Leon gaining him international acclaim. Also the poet Balagatas provided themes for many movies based upon his famous poem, Florante at Laura (Florante and Laura). A pre-war version (1939) and a post-war version (1950) of Balagtas' masterwork attested to the poet's contribution to the literary tradition that informs the Filipino film industry.

Punyal na Ginto (Golden Dagger) by Antonio G. Sempio was made into the first talking Tagalog movie in 1933. Serialized novels proved to be very profitable materials for movies, so that it was not unusual for a film to be built up in advertisements as a movie version of a well-known novel. Many times, the name of the novelist was featured more prominently than the names of the lead stars or of the director. The names of Lazaro Francisco with Ama, 1936; Sa Paanan ng Krus, 1936; Bago Lumubog ang Araw, 1938; Teodoro Virrey with Lihim ni Bathala, 1931; Gamugamong Naging Lawin, 1937; Fausto Galauran with Lagablab ng Kabataan, 1936; Birheng Walang Dambana, 1936; Hatol ng Mataas na Langit, 1938) and Inigo Ed. Regalado with Sampaguitang Walang Bango, 1937 become familiar among moviegoers during the pre-war years.

The Japanese Occupation introduced a new player to the film industry; the Japanese, bringing a new theme to the movie screens--propaganda. These films, however, failed to appeal to audiences the same way the Hollywood and locally produced films did. The Japanese began to hire local filmmakers to counteract the dimishing numbers of moviegoers. One of the filmmakers that was recruited to make propaganda movies was Gerardo de Leon. He was a co-producer for "The Dawn of Freedom" by Abe Yutaka and directed Tatlong Maria in 1944. Thee years were quite beneficial to the theater industry. Live theater began to flourish again as movie stars, directors, and technicians returned to the stage.

In 1945, the film industry was already staggering to its feet. A Philippine version of the war movie emerged as a genre in which narratives of horror and heroism, most of these movies attracted major crowds. Movies such as Garrison 13 (1946), Dugo ng Bayan (The Country's Blood, 1946), Walang Kamatayan (Deathless, 1946), and Guerilyera (1946) all were war theme movies.

During the fifties, the Philippine film industry returned to its full potential. The war theme movies only slowly faded: Lamberto Avellana's Anak Dalita (The Ruins, 1956) still recalls the loss and tragedy of the Japanese occupation. 

Two major studios before the war--Sampaguita Pictures and LVN--started production soon after the war ended. Their productions filled the cinematic gap caused by the war. Together with two other studios (Premiere Productions and Lebran), Sampaguita Pictures and LVN were referred to as the "Big Four" of the Philippine studio system. Each of the four studios had its own set of stars, technicians and directors, maintaining a monopoly on local film production. The industry had stabilized and the steady flow of cinematic output to the screens ensured a rich box office.

The fifties are generally referred to as the Golden Age of Philippine Cinema. Technical advancement kept pace with artistic needs, leading to several international awards. local awards were first instituted by the Manila Times Publishing Company, setting up the Maria Clara Awards. In 1952, the FAMAS (Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences) Awards (counterpart of Oscars in Hollywood), were handed out. More so, Philippine 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 awards included Gerardo de Leon's "Ifugao" (1954) and Lamberto Avellana's "Anak Dalita". By the end of the decade, Philippine cinema had developed into a major force in the Asian region.

The sixties marked a major turning point in the Philippine cinema. The steady flow of local movies was slowly undermined by foreign productions. The audience turned to the sensation packed Hollywood productions and soft core from mostly Thailand. To counteract this development, the Big Four studios invented the Philippine Samurai, the Philippine James Bond etc. But like in the early years, the struggle was lost, cheap entertainment prevailed, all studios had to close during this decade.

The new decade brought several forgotten and new genres to the screen. Most typical for the Philippine industry is the bomba genre. The 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 authority of institutions in regulating personal norms and values; bomba was the first true cult genre in the Philippines.. Some films from this declining period are considered gems in the cinematic landscape. 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 are worth mentioning - Huwag mo Akong Limutin (Never Forget Me , 1960) and Kadenang Putik (Chain of Mud, 1960).

At the end of the sixties era, the Marcos era had begun. Being in power, Ferdinand Marcos placed the nation under martial rule. In 1972 and onwards, he posed his New Society--a political system--giving him absolute power. The ideology of the New Society was incorporated into local films. The government started regulating filmmaking. He passed legislation making it possible to censor all films if so wished. The Board of Censors for Motion Pictures (BCMP) was established in the early seventies, meaning all scripts had to be submissed and approved. All entries to film festivals were obligated to incorprate the ideology of the New Society. The censorship in the seventies did not include moral values, sex and violence which were the main themes in features shown to an obsessed audience. Most sensation mass films were tagged during the epilogue that in the movie, the New Society had prevailed by the hands of the heroes.

Martial Law declared in 1972 dimished the production 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, young directors entered the industry in the late years of the seventies. Lino Brocka, best remembered for his "Maynila, Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag" (Manila, In the Claws of Neon Lights, 1975), Ishmael Bernal, directed "Himala" (Miracle, 1982) starring Nora Aunor. These daring works portrayed social issues like unemployment and poverty. A remarkable side effect of the need to offer a script to the censor before production was the inherent emphasis on the screenplay. In a sense, censorship made the return of literature in to film-making possible, much like the use of classics in the early years.

In 1977, Kidlat Tahimik directed "Mababangong Bangungot" (Perfumed Nightmare). The film won the International Critic's Prize in the Berlin Film Festival that same year. Kidlat Tahimik's landmark film laid the groundworks for what is now known as independent cinema. Nick Deocampo's "Oliver" (1983) and Raymond Red's "Ang Magpakailanman" (The Eternal, 1983) received international attention in festivals abroad. Filmmakers like Tahimik, Deocampo and Red are examples of producing art films without "the compromises of commercial filmmaking". In the early eighties, the Marcos regime came to an end; the dictator fled the country. This major social and political change was reflected almost immediately on the silver screens. Films such as Lino Brocka's "Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim" (My Country: Gripping the Knife's Edge, 1985) were defiant, Marilou Diaz-Abaya's Karnal (1984), Mike de Leon's Sister Stella L. (1984), all subjected to tyranny and oppression.

In the 1990s, cinema was engaged in a vicious cycle - of genres, plots, characterization and cinematic styles. Copying from the much more popular American films, Philippine cinema is loosing its own unique identity. Still, some films had been successes but not only financially. Diaz-Abaya's "Rizal" (1998) was a success both commercially and critically. Presently, films are primarily made for profit, Hollywood films are being preferred over local films.

Hopefully, Philippine cinema in the new millenium will keep producing films defining its delicate literature and depicting the great historical struggles it has suffered. Probably the new digital media will provide local filmmakers with the means to set new landmarks in the rich cinematic landscape of the Philippines.


My Take: 

The new millenium gave way for a new beginning, and fresh concepts and ideas have re-created better productions and stories for the Philippine TV and movie industry.


Most of the Filipino Actors and Actresses eversince Philippine Cinema started (Pre-War and Post-War) were of Foreign Descent or one of the parents were of pure foreign blood while the other is pure Filipino.  They were born, raised, and they studied in the Philippines.


The Vera Perez Family (owners and founders of Sampaguita Pictures)


The first sitcom in Philippine television
'Pancho loves Tita'


Alicia Vergel and Cesar Ramirez (Former Real and Real Life Couple)

Alicia Vergel 

Rogelio Dela Rosa and Carmen Rosales

Screen actors Gloria Romero and Luis Gonzales

GLORIA ROMERO - Still acts as of this generation

Rodolfo Quizon or Dolphy - Comedy King

Nida Blanca

 Nestor De Villa (Soriano)


(Left) Amalia Fuentes and (Right) Susan Roces

Josephine Estrada - Former Ms. Philippines 1962 / Actress

BELLA FLORES - Famous Villain Actress until 2013

 Zeny Zabala - Former Villain Actress 

Tita Munoz


Cecilia Lopez Mary Helen Wessner

 Barbara Perez

Barbara Perez and Robert Arevalo

Liberty Ilagan and Jose Mari Gonzales

Jose Mari Gonzales

Pancho Magalona

Luis Gonzales

Tony Marzan

 Ramil Rodriguez

Ricky Belmonte (Cruz) and Rosemarie Sonora 
(Former Reel and Real Life Couple)


Come back again.  I will post more pics!