Wednesday, February 18, 2009


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By Marra PL. Lanot

Note: First published in CELEBRITY MAGAZINE dated April 15, 1980; included in Ms. Marra PL. Lanot's book, 'DREAM SKETCHES" (Anvil Publishing 1991) and "THE TROUBLE WITH NICK & OTHER PROFILES" (University of the Philippines Press, 1999)

(Thanks to Ms. Marra PL. Lanot for giving her permission (thru Ka Pete Lacaba) to use her article in this blog.)

ONCE UPON A TIME, a small-time boy from San Jose, Nueva Ecija came to Manila for a college education. Rustic life had been relatively tranquil and ideal for daydreaming, and the transition from the pure breeze of the ricefields to the polluted air of noisy boulevards jarred his senses.

In the late ‘50s, the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman smelled of grass, chirped with crickets, and hissed with snakes. The intellectual atmosphere spared no space for parking lots and new York fashion. The in thing was to be an Upsilonian, to understand James Joyce, and to know some Shakespearean lines by heart.

The boy from San Jose made friends. He switche from English to Speech and Drama. He joined the UP Dramatic Guild, working with Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero and Behn Cervantes. To become an actor must have been his secret ambition in life. He gave memorized cues con todo action. But he was laughed at when he would say “bathing shute” (for bathing suit) and “sweeter” (for sweater). The painful attempt to change from hick to hip even made him work as disc jockey. He wanted so much to belong, until he decided that the “wurs-wurs spokening-England” schoolmates were not his type, that their values were not his. The outsider looking in rebelled, dropped out even before activists of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s made dropping out a fad.

He flew to Hawaii for a little soul-searching. He still didn’t know what to make out of his life. Back in the Philippines, he co-founded the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) with Cecille Guidote, Behn Cervantes, Joonee Gamboa, and Adul de Leon. He worked and studied as an actor, director, scriptwriter, and art director or supervisor of production design. Outside PETA, he assisted a movie director in a Filipino-American venture, and wrote scripts and directed for television. In 1970, he directed his first movie, Wanted: Perfect Mother, which had a mawkish plot but memorable performances by its stars, from then unknown Snooky to Boots Anson-Roa.

The name Lino Brocka – for he was the boy from San Jose – thenceforth spelled quality and box-office returns. Few people knew that the ex-provinciano was a successful failure who, perhaps fired by an inner desire to have the last laugh, was rising to become one of our best and most controversial contemporary directors. The cutter from UP was to gain more fanfare than colleagues Behn Cervantes and Ishmael Bernal.

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Lino being interviewed by Spanish TV media

When Cecille Guidote left the country in 1972, Lino took over the task of guiding PETA, teaching young hopefuls not merely the techniques of acting but also the idea of theater. Lino believes that theater is for, of, and by the people, that it is a group undertakikng which creates artist-teachers, and that nobody, therefore, is indispensable in PETA. Unlike the movies, says Lino, the stage tests one’s ability to work with a group. And a group composed of highly trained, properly motivated, and well-rounded individuals can produced expected results. Thus, Lino often selects PETA members for his movies, and advises his movie stars to attend PETA workshops.

Lino’s sense of theater has helped him lend fresh directorial touches to Larawan (Nick Joaquin’s Portrait of The Artist As Filipino); Flores Para Los Muertos (Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire); and Mga Ama, Mga Anak (Nick Joaquin’s Fathers And Sons). He can transform movie actors inexperienced in theater into seasoned stage performers, sometimes overnight. Lino himself, formerly snubbed for his mispronunciations, is now very articulate in English and Tagalog. He has, further, realized a dream of becoming a competent actor, delivering every word clearly and with fire in his baritone voice, using body language, as in the long-running Hanggang Dito Na Lamang At Maraming Salamat at Fort Santiago. Lino onstage renders a balanced chiaroscuro of theatricality and realism.

As a film director, Lino Brocka is credited with introducing on celluloid new faces like Christopher de Leon and Bembol Roco, and with developing once unremarkable talents like Hilda Koronel and Phillip Salvador into serious actors. To make the kind of movies he wanted, he joined a group of young businessmen in putting up Cinemanila. This move enabled him to break away from wholesome, commercial family pictures, and concentrate on more relevant films such as Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa; Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang; and Lunes, Martes, Miyerkoles, Huwebes, Biyernes, Sabado, Linggo. The films reflected Lino’s roots – the rural setting, the teenager lured by the promises of the big city.

The dissolution of Cinemanila nudged Lino back to PETA. He has since been involved in television, and is actively shuttling between stage and motion picture.

In spite of Lunes, Martes… and Hayop Sa Hayop, the closest he could get to bold flicks, and by the general standards of the Philippine movie industry, Lino Brocka’s films manage to be consistently artistic and relevant. When he goes bakya, as in Tatay Kong Nanay, it only means that he cannot please his critics’ educated taste buds, and that he must be in financial straits. Inay and Mananayaw cater to the “bakya crowd” but are fast-paced, and abound in warmth, humor, and intelligence – a combination seldom found in the present crop of Filipino movies. At his worst, Lino makes pictures that are dragging and full of moralizing; at his best, he is moving and humane without having to jump into smug sociology.

Lino has been branded un-Filipino in Insiang, anti-woman in Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang, self-indulgent in Tatay Kong Nanay, and defeatist and individualistic in Maynila, Tinimbang, and Jaguar. Lino contends that because a group is composed of individuals, the individual’s awareness must first be raised before a group can act intelligently. The individual initially develops consciousness, then he realizes and asserts his dignity as a human being. Depressing endings, Lino claims, are offset by the protagonist’s realization of his worth as a man. Mob mentality does not imply the masses’ undoing but serves as the foil to an individual’s awakening.

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In Maynila, Tinimbang, and Jaguar, Lino shows a clear grasp of the common man’s world. The world of the rich is definitely not his milieu. Visuals of slums are near-poetic expressions without words.

Lino, who was born April 3, 1939, may not have become the great Filipino actor, but he often finds himself entangled in scene after dramatic scene in real life. He used to be spurned by wealthy relatives. As a boy, his only bliss was haunting moviehouses in the company of his mother.

Behind the cameras, Lino leads in a soft-spoken manner, and keenly observes his actors’ every angle, mannerism, potential. Simultaneously, he fights the censors, the press, the critics, the producers, and the star syndrome, though he himself is trapped by it. He shoots his mouth off and gets away with it. His method of exposing, explaining, or attacking may be either permissible or condemnable, but no amount of blacklisting by the media can completely strike out the colorful name of Lino Brocka.

When Lady Luck knocks on Lino’s door, she seems to bring a cornucopia of charms that she heaps on his lap. And when Mister Misfortune comes in , he comes with a horde of imps. After winning nominations and awards at the Metro Manila Film Festival and from the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) as well as the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, Lino was off to Cannes. Both Lady Luck and Mister Misfortune were trailing at his heels. He had rejected the Manunuri’s Gawad Urian for best director of Jaguar, a move which earned him the ire of gossip columnists. He had also experienced financial hassles just before he left for southern France. “I’m fighting for myself,” declares Lino. “For instance, if I didn’t speak out that night at the Urian, I would not be able to sleep. I will have to live with that for the rest of my life.” (He thinks one or two Manunuri members are a bundle of prejudices).

From May 9 to 23, the Palais opened for the main competition of the 33rd Cannes Film Festival. The international prestige of the filmfest may be measured by the entries, among which were: Hal Ashby’s Being There; Carlos Dagues’s Bye Bye Brazil; Federico Fellini’s La Citta Della Donne; Jean Luc-Godard’s Suave Qui Peut La Vie; Alain Resnais’s Mon Oncle D’Amerique; Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz; and Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha.

Lino, Phillip Salvador, and company crowded in a small, seedy apartment, a 30-minute walk away from the Palais. The group had to stretch its meager budget – which came mainly from loans – to cover expenses for rent, transportation, food, public relations, and photography. They could not afford to dine at places like Mir d’Esson, Le Moulin, Carlton Terrace, and Blue Bar, where big names in showbiz hatch up contracts.

Lino had to cook for his foreign guests, mostly international critics. Even if back home he often eats out because he can’t cook and hates doing the dishes, the need to establish contacts with the media forced him to throw a party in his Cannes apartment. In preparing one dish, he recounts, he poured in too much salt; he had to rinse the meat in water and fry it anew. When the foreigners started to taste the dish, voila! they asked for the secret of the deliciously exotic cooking.

Jaguar, the official Philippine entry, scripted by Ricardo Lee and Jose F. Lacaba, was the only entry with no ads, no posters, no gimmicry. Amy Austria, this year’s Urian awardee for Best Supporting Actress in Jaguar, planed in unannounced only the day before the showing of Lino’s film. A Philippine government official assigned to meet her at the airport reportedly couldn’t spot Amy because she didn’t look like a star.

That night of nights, when Jaguar was screened, Lino and company seemed at the end of their tether with nervousness and excitement. What if the critics fell asleep and snored off Jaguar, or booed and walked out, as they do in certain showings? The Filipinos present for the gala night at 7:30 p.m., May 13, to view the 10th movie of the festival (there were two movies a day) included expatriate artist David Cortez Medalla, businessman Jaime Zobel and family, Ernesto Escaler, some Bancom representatives, Lino’s group of seven or eight, and a total stranger, a Filipina married to a Frenchman, who came all the way from Rome to watch a Lino Brocka.

So as not to skew reports, here’s Lino speaking:

“The night before, hindi na kami nakatulog. Natulog kami, alas singko na. There was just a lull. Parang me namatayan. Everybody was trying to keep each other’s spirits up, you know. Ang sabi ko, think of the worst that could happen.

“Tapos, naku, p……..! Slowly, the people started coming in. Pagtingin ko nang ganoon, punung-puno ang ibaba. Pagkatapos, puno na rin ‘yong itaas na ‘yan. Naku! Nagsimula na, nag-open nap o ang p……. pelikula. Naku, di naka-ganyan kami. Tingin ako nang tingin sa itaas. Walang umaalis. Diyos ko, there were two I saw, nasa itaas na ganyan, bumababa. Pero dalawa lang. Tapos, sa ibaba, tingin ako nang tingin. Wala, tahimik. It was so quiet.

“Pagdating doon sa parting bakbakan na, me patayan na, takbo na si Philip, you could hear people talking na. Tapos, the scene between Anita Linda and Philip, people were asking, who’s that? Kasi it was in French pa. Since it was a French film festival, absolutely no English subtitles. Now, if you want to have English subtitles, you may – kunyari, me press preview in one small theater room.

“Pagdating na doon sa parting sa movie scene, ‘yong si Cloyd, oh, God! They were laughing like mad! They could see that it was a spoof. And then, pagdating doon sa parting “Good or bad publicity, it’s publicity anyway,” oh, they laughed!

“Pagkatapos, there was deathly silence when it came to the point wherein hinabol si Philip (Lino at this point recounts the audience’s reaction faster and faster so that you, with bated breath, could almost relive the event), nag-sona na, pumanhik na doon sa kuwan, nag-sona na, nilalagnat ako. Hindi ba, kung minsan, you’re so flustered, parang bingi ka, parang namumula ka talaga, nanginginig kang ganoon? All I could hear was, I could swear I heard Pierre (Rissient, the French critic who helped promote Insiang and Jaguar abroad) say, ‘Stand up, stand up!’ Suddenly the lights were all on us, and I stood up. Pagtayo kong ganoon, at nag-ilaw ‘yong buong theater and all that, and you could hear the clapping and all that, you could hear people cheer! ‘Yong French PRO naming, ‘Look down, look down!’ We looked down, ganoon, and the people in the orchestra were going (demonstrates clapping).

“Ay naku! Talaga, hindi ka maniniwala talaga. Tatayo ang balahibo mo nang marinig mo ang ‘Bravo, Jaguar! Bravo Philippines! Bravo, Philippines! And they were clapping. Pag-turn naming sa loge, they were clapping talaga! And then, pag-turn ko, ‘yong French PRO naming and the women were there, they were crying because of the movie. Pagkatapos, di nakatayo kaming ganoon, pag-turn ko nang ganoon, si Philip, nangingilid and luha, p….. . Pagtingin kong ganoon, at iiyak! Sabi ko, ‘Don’t cry, Lolita Rodriguez’. Nasa gitna naming si Amy. David Medalla goes (squeezes an arm emotionally).

“But the most exciting thing was that when we got out into the lobby, pagbaba namin doon sa staircase, ‘yong mga tao sa orchestra, bumababa ngayon, pinaligiran kami! Then they told us, ‘Stand in the middle of the staircase!’ We stood in the middle of the staircase. Standing ovation was there for five minutes. They were going like that (clapping), and we didn’t know where to look. We just kept on bowing and bowing and bowing!”

Abroad, Lino felt the anxiety and pride not only of a director but of a Filipino representing his country. The feeling may be illustrated by Filipinos in alien lands, who suddenly realize that home is far away and achingly long for Filipino food, Filipino music, and Filipino friends speaking the same dialect.

After that big night, Lino, Philip, and Amy landed in the major European newspapers such as Spettacoli, L’Aurore, Le Monde, and L’express. Amy Austria’s pictures were splashed on the front and back pages of France-soir. Europeans were obviously smitten by her Oriental beauty and talent. Unfortunately, she left for the Philippines the day after the showing of Jaguar. Lino and Philip, however, accepted interviews left and right. Hong Kong’s TV Times and South China, as well as the U.S. Filipino Reporter and New York’s Village Voice, picked up the hossanahs to Filipinos in Cannes.

Jaguar was praised for various reasons: for the “stirringly dignified performance of Phillip Salvador” (Andrew Sarris, Village Voice); for the “intense and searing performances of Phillip Salvador and Amy Austria” (David Overby, International Herald Tribune); for the directorial interpretation of “an exceptionally gifted cinematic artist, with freshness and originality in all he does” (Thomas Quinn Curtiss, International Herald Tribune); and for being “a socially conscious film noir” (Andrew Sarris, Village Voice).

Lino signed a one-year contract in Los Angeles with Paul-Kohner-Michael Levy Talent Agency. He will direct Don’t Cry It’s Thunder, a low-budget film about children refugees in Vietnam with an international cast. Phillip, on the other hand, accepted in Paris the lead role in Tatooed Man for the same independent producer, to be released worldwide. The Kohner-Levy agency has handled directors like Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni, John Huston, and Billy Wilder; and actors such as Peter O’Toole, Charles Bronson, Yul Brynner, Henry Fonda, Max Von Sydow, and Liv Ullman, Ava Gardner, Jill Ireland, and Olivia Hussey.

Movies in the west are made on agent basis or by contract. This setup automatically makes Lino a member of the Directors Guild of America, Inc., and Phillip a member of the Screen Actors Guild of America, Inc.

While in Europe, Lino was also requested to speak at the University of Paris, but he turned down the invitation due to commitments back home. He has yet to finish Angela Markado (starring Hilda Koronel) for Four Seasons and Bona (starring Nora Aunor) for NV Productions, which is next year’s Philippine entry to Cannes.

But is the Cannes Film Festival worth crossing the Atlantic for? An article in the Box Office states: ‘The Cannes Film Festival has been called everything from a zoo to a circus to a bazaar where everything from film to flesh is for sale by the centimeter.” The international press, however, may favorably affect the careers of many good directors. Also, “The festival is useful in other ways to directors from nations that are not known for being liberal.”

As David Overby aptly puts it in Pic Biz: “Obviously we don’t come to the Festival for prizes… one can fairly easily get an idea of what is happening of importance in the obvious places as well as in the Third World – from Mali and the Philippines, to North Africa and Quebec… There are lots of other festivals of course (perhaps even too many, but with one or two exceptions, they all use the Cannes Festival as a major source for their programmes … Of course one comes to Cannes not just for the already established ‘big names,’ but for the pleasure of the ‘discoveries’ (such as) Lino Brocka (and) his own discoveries: Phillip Salvador and Amy Austria.”

Although Kagemusha and All That Jazz shared the Golden Palm Award for Best Picture, and the best acting awards went to French stars, the acceptance of Jaguar by the Cannes audience augurs well for Philippine cinema’s international fame. “Ang status symbol ngayon,” gushes Lino, “is you have to have at least one Thirld World movie in the worldfest.” This is mainly because of the positive response to Insiang and Jaguar at Cannes. Waiting for an invitation to participate in Cannes on the part of the Third World nations is now not enough. Promoters of the Cannes festival must henceforth see to it that at least one film from Asia, Africa, or Latin America is an official entry.

Cannes, incidentally, provides not only a throwaway culture for business to flourish but also ateliers for movie people to grow.

During the filmfest, a large Philippine delegation went to Cannes to study the possibility of holding a similar event in Manila on the last week of January 1981. The delegation included the ministers of Public Information and Tourism, the governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines, the chairman of the Philippine Air Lines, the vice president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and the executive director of the Philippine Convention Bureau.

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The World Film Festival Foundation, inc., a 100 percent Filipino group, chaired by the First Lady and Metro Manila Governor Imelda R. Marcos, was very soon established. The Manila worldfest, to be sponsored by the foundation, aims to “give recognition to participants for outstanding films, artists, and the like; make international producers look at the Philippines as a potential film market; (generate) more livelihood for the people; (receive) substantial dollar earnings from foreign investments; improve Filipino films to meet international standards without losing their identity.”

The Times Journal further reported that “About 300 film festivals are held annually throughout the world. Of this number, only about 30 are endorsed by the Federation of Film Producers Association. FFPA endorsement spells the difference between success and failure as FFPA participation facilitates the involvement of film producers of member-countries. It counts as members producers associations of America, Japan and Italy, which overall represent 90 per cent of the film producers of the world.”

The Times Journal goes on: “The FFPA has encouraged Asian film festivals in Tehran, India, Tokyo, and Singapore. But they all failed, for different reasons.” Mrs. Marcos has ordered the beautification of the beach near CCP, which might be the local counterpart of Criosette, where starlets streak. Princess Ira von Furstenberg, who is highly influential in the European newspaper row, was “named vice president for international publicity.”

Johnny Litton, distributor of Mever films, “said that last May the Filipinos made a big hit during the Philippine night. The Philippines presented a two-hour cultural show. Pitoy Moreno’s models dazzled the photographers.”

(Lino at that time was in Rome. Was he unwinding after all the cooking and sleepless nights in his seedy apartment? Was he nursing a wound because, though Jaguar was well-attended, the number of Filipinos at the gala night at the Palais was dwarfed by the Philippine delegation that arrived two or three days later?)

At any rate, Lino Brocka films are now awaited abroad. The reception of his films in Cannes has partly paved the way for more active Philippine participation in future viewings by world cineastes.

Lino the movie fan gets thrilled meeting celebrities “not only because they’re celebrities but also because I discover they’re human beings just like you and me. For example, I see Liv Ullmann, and she’s a very good actress, and I find out in person she’s only a plain housewife. I’m not downgrading them, I’m more amazed. The aura that surrounds them overwhelms me. Others meet me and say, ganyan lang pala si Lino. Why should I be different?

In spite of all the intrigues and disillusions in showbiz, the movies give Lino a kick out of knowing another person, working with other people, discovering that others, known or unknown, are human beings, too. Why should he be different indeed? The provinciano, the cutter, the boy who wanted to belong is not just a celebrity. Lino Brocka has become an institution.

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Ka Pete said...

The author of this piece, Marra PL. Lanot, tells me you didn't ask for her permission before posting her article on your blog. She basically has no objection to your posting, but please write her a formal letter c/o petelacaba (at) gmail (dot) com. And please revise your blog to indicate that the article is included in her book DREAM SKETCHES (Anvil Publishing, 1991). The book is out of print, but Anvil has plans of reissuing it.

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