In the chapter on tearjerkers, we cited a favorite ploy of the critics of Filipino movies who maintain that there are only two kinds of local photoplays, both of which make the audience cry -- one kind because it is so sad, and the other, because it is bad.
The drumbeaters of the native film industry, on the other hand, would like the movie-going public to believe that local photoplays are the best in Asia, and that they can compare favorably with European and American films.
The true picture of the local cinema probably lies in between the two extreme viewpoints: there are bad Filipino movies as there are lousy Hollywood and European pictures and there are good ones.
Film critic T.D. Agcaoili, now a member of the Board of Censors for Motion Pictures, observes: "Despite the evidence of progress in the choice of story material, there are still debilitating influences on Filipino movies such as those exerted by writers of true-confession vernacular novels and comic books.
"One of the greatest setbacks in the development of Filipino film art", Agcaoili continues, "lies in the limitation of good imported films from Japan, Korea, India, Hongkong, Italy and France. We only see Hollywood films. It was only recently that we have been exposed to good European films."
The dominance of American or Hollywood films in the entertainment fare of Filipinos in the last 60 years has resulted in a false concept of the ideal way of life: a concept that is utterly false, for the way of life that Hollywood generally depicts in its films is not typical of American life. It is an escapist world, a carnival, a mardi gras of beautiful women, beautiful homes and beautiful life -- a life untouched by tragedy, or if ever, is, at the final fadeout, saved by miracles of coincidence and convenience.
Hollywood films have greatly influenced the views and attitudes of our moviemakers.
"American movies have made our producers dishonest", says critic Agcaoili. "They are unaware of, or unconcerned with Filipino life, with the world they live in. As a result, the basic element in art, even in film art, that of being indigenous or heterogenic, is lacking."
Agcaoili, of course, is not indulging in idle prattle.
Many of today's local movies are rehashes or outright copies of Hollywood horror movies, Westerns and the kung fu photoplays which seem to be the rage all over the world today.
Espiridion Laxa, former president of the Philippine Motion Pictures Producers Association, on the other hand, bewails the prejudice of the intellectual segment against Filipino films.
"Since its birth six decades ago", Laxa declared, "the local movie industry has continuously suffered from the vestiges of colonial mentality sadly ingrained in some Filipinos who are avidly prejudiced against things made in the Philippines. It is no solace for us movie producers to know that many local industries, also suffer from a similar public prejudice against anything made here, but the film industry is the hardest hit by such prejudice.
This prejudice against local films, Laxa continued, is anchored on two allegations, namely: that the local films are of poor quality, and that they are mere or virtual imitations of foreign pictures.
But there are all sorts of critics, Laxa maintained, and they can be divided into the seeing and non-seeing critics. "The seeing critics" are those who see out pictures mainly for the purpose of finding faults therein. After viewing a movie, these critics issue a sweeping judgment against the movie, and to further stress their point, they would compare the quality of a local pictures filmed in 45 days at a cost of P150,000 with that of a foreign photoplay filmed in one year or more costing millions of dollars."
Such critics, Laxa maintained, are not only without a sense of proportion but are lacking mental honesty because the refuse to appreciate the ingenuity of Filipino moviemakers who sometimes produce low-cost pictures surpassing the quality as well as the box-office appeal of some high-cost foreign films.
"The non-seeing critics," Laxa went on, "are those who pillory the local films on the basis of what they hear from others or on the strength of their experience with movies of pre-war days."
Laxa's dander is up when he hears critics say that local Western and James Bond-type pictures are imitations of foreign films because, according to such critics, there are neither cowboys nor James Bondish agents in the Philippines.
"This is the height of absurdity," Laxa stressed. "There are already Filipino cowboys now tending cattle ranches in many parts of the Philippines and we have intrepid sleuths in our NBI, CIS and Metrocom agents."
Laxa cites the cowhands at the Canlubang farms, mounted on imported horses and, before martial law, carrying their guns Texas style.
But even granting for the sake of argument that some local pictures look like imitations of foreign films, Laxa said, local pictures should not be summarily dismissed for two reasons: firstly, we do not criticize the Hollywood producers for imitating the James Bond series, which are British productions, and secondly, there is no denying the fact that critics in this country 'are all praises for Shakespearean and Broadway plays staged in the Philippines, plays which are un-Filipino in flavor and concept.' It is ironic that those who accuse the local movie producers as imitators are great imitators themselves because they speak, dress up and behave like Americans."
But granting Laxa's argument, there is something valid in the plaint against local movies that one can hardly distinguish between comedies from tragedies. This is so the (supposed tragedies) films are so heavily freighted down with heartbreak stuff that they become comic. The comedians, on the other hand, become tragedians because of the prevailing belief on the part of our filmmakers that while the moviegoers love to laugh, they also go the cinema house to have a good cry. Most of Dolphy's films are guilty of this ambiguity of characterization.
But there is a silver lining in the dark clouds formed by lousy Philippine movies.
Of late, there have been attempts by some moviemakers to produce pictures that may be the start of a new cultural consciousness. TINIMBANG KA NGUNI'T KULANG, a superlative photoplay written and directed by Lino Brocka, one of the finest megmen in the country today, is one such attempt.