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Arts Culture Cine Sandaan: 10 Iconic Films That Shaped Philippine Cinema

Cine Sandaan: 10 Iconic Films That Shaped Philippine Cinema

Cine Sandaan: 10 Iconic Films That Shaped Philippine Cinema
By Franz Sorilla IV
By Franz Sorilla IV
October 09, 2019
The country's film industry celebrated its 100th anniversary with much fervour as well as gratitude to the filmmakers and artists whose insurmountable contribution led the Philippine Cinema to greater heights. We list down each decade's most iconic film, its technical achievements, and how each encapsulated the social and political climate of its respective eras

1919-1929 | “Dalagang Bukid”

Atang Dela Rama and Marceliano Ilagan | Image: Courtesy of IMDB
Atang Dela Rama and Marceliano Ilagan | Image: Courtesy of IMDB

The film medium came to Philippine shores as early as the late 19th Century prior to the revolution years, and was called "cinematografo". Later during the American period, Filipinos started to find newsreels and silent films as a new platform of regular entertainment as the said medium slowly gained popularity. But it was only in 1917 when a Filipino built a motion picture company and released in 1919 what would be considered as the first Filipino-produced and written film.

Dalagang Bukid (Farm Girl), is a silent film directed and produced by José Nepomuceno, the Father of Philippine Cinema. It was based on a zarzuela written by Hermogenes Ilagan, about a young flower vendor named Angelita forced by her parents to marry a wealthy old man, Don Silvestre, despite her love for Cipriano, a law student. The film was officially released on September 12, 1919 with English, Spanish, and Tagalog subtitles.

We may or may not associate the perennial fondness of the Filipino masses to romantic-comedy films with this film, but what Dalagang Bukid achieved besides being the first full-length Filipino film was the paradigm shift it created. From moro-moros, zarzuelas and bodabil, a new mode of entertainment was born. Unfortunately, none of Nepomuceno's early works survived the war period as the materials used at the time were very fragile.

See also: QCinema 2019 Will Screen Cannes and Berlin Awarded Films This October

1929-1939 | “Punyal na Guinto”

Another classic masterpiece from Nepomuceno was Punyal na Guinto (Golden Dagger), which is considered as the first "talkie" in the country. It premiered on March 9, 1933 at the Lyric Theatre. However, Nepomuceno was midway to finishing the film when American duo Harris and Tait offered their machines to add sound into the film. This made the character of the Golden Dagger to speak (in Tagalog) halfway through the film. 

At the time, Tagalog was not yet the lingua franca across the country, as it is only widely used in Metro Manila. And so the question of what dialect should be used when the film premieres in other regions was raised. Nevertheless, Nepomuceno sticked to the original material (the novel by Antonio Sempio) of which the film was based and thus used Tagalog.

Eventually, Filipino "talkies" flourished in the country as well as in the international stage. Eduardo de Castro's Zamboanga in 1937 was the first to be released in North America. Originally in Tausug and Tagalog language, the film was eventually re-filmed in English and also introduced the technology of subtitling when it was screened in non-English-speaking countries.

1939-1949 | “Orasang Ginto”

The primitive technology of hand colouring was first practiced in local Filipino films with Ibong Adarna of LVN Pictures in 1941. But it was in their movie Batalyon XIII (1949) where LVN Pictures introduced colour processing using Ansco film. 

The films in the 1940s were marked either as propaganda of the Japanese regime or independent commercial films, focusing mainly on war and heroism. Eventually post-war films carried this, highlighting raw emotions and patriotism. The first post-war Filipino movie was directed by Manuel Conde (National Artist for Film) and was based on the story by Doña Aurora Quezon. It retells the Filipino tragedies and miseries during and after the war. It was shown on March 4 to 13, 1946 at Zest Theatre and starred Mila Del Sol, Elvira Reyes, and Rodrigo Danao. Similarly, post-war films portrayed the horrors of war but in an attempt to uplift the spirits of the people by highlighting heroism.

Other notable films during the decade:

  • Long America (1946)
  • Walang Kamatayan (1946)
  • Tatlong Maria (1944)
  • Dawn of Freedom (1944)

See also: Tatler Review: Quezon's Game (2019)

1949-1959 | “Prinsipe Amante”

In 1951, the first Filipino-produced full-colour film was Prinsipe Amante, directed by National Artist for Theatre and Film Lamberto V. Avellana. This marked also the prevalent adaptation of Filipino comics into films, which implied more outlandish costumes and set designs. With such high artistic values, the '50s was dubbed as the First Golden Age of Philippine Cinema, where epic films like Conde's Genghis Khan (1950) competed at the Venice International Film Festival. 

See also: Manuel Conde's Genghis Khan restored for the 56th Venice Biennale 2015

At the time, four big production studios ruled the industry: LVN Pictures, Sampaguita Pictures, Premiere Productions, and Lebran International. About 300 films per year were made during this period, helmed by the era's greatest filmmakers namely Avellana, Conde, Gerardo de Leon (National Artist for Cinema), Eddie Romero (National Artist for Cinema and Broadcast Arts), and Cirio Santiago, to name a few.

With the movie industry at its peak, so was the popularity of the film stars. The concepts of "matinee idol", "leading lady", and "love team" were then romanticised at this decade and shaped as to how we know it today. Household names like Rogelio de la Rosa, Nestor de Villa, Nida Blanca, Dolphy, Eddie Garcia, Lolita Rodriguez, Gloria Romero, Paraluman, Pugo, Dely Atayatayan, Chiquito, Rosa del Rosario, Rosa Rosal, and Anita Linda, to name a few, rose to fame at this time.

Manila Times gave birth to the Maria Clara Awards in 1950, where film publicists and writers vote for the exemplary achievements of Filipino motion pictures in a year. This gave way to the establishment of the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences in 1953, which is more popularly known as FAMAS.

Other notable films during the decade:

  • 48 Oras (1950)
  • Sisa (1951)
  • Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo (1952)
  • Sanda Wong (1955)
  • Biyaya ng Lupa (1959)

1959-1972 | “Uhaw”

Infidelity, domestic affairs, and other similar themes that put contemporary life under the lens were prevalent at the onset of the '60s. But due to unfortunate circumstances, major studios closed as they faced labour issues and some got burned down. Moreover, there was rampant commercialism that led big franchise films like James Bond to dominate the local theatres.

This paved way to the so-called "bomba" (erotic) films produced by independent film houses. The first of such was "Uhaw" (Thirst) that premiered in 1970. Although it was a blockbuster hit of the time, it suffered from poor production quality, including scrreenwriting and technical aspects.

The '60s and early '70s also saw the emergence of musicals and films focusing on the youth subculture. Teen love team-ups were born at this period spearheaded by Nora Aunor and Tirso Cruz III as well as Vilma Santos and Edgar Mortiz.

Meanwhile, action movies featuring gangsters, secret agents, and strong male lead characters that epitomised the "siga" (Robin Hood-like, macho) character gained popularity at this period. Here, the messenger boy and stuntman-turned-actor and director in the '50s Fernando Poe Jr (National Artist for Cinema) rose to stardom as he started receiving acting awards for Mga Alabok ng Lupa (1967), Asedillo (1971), and more.

Other notable films during the decade:

  • Huwag Mo Akong Limutin (1960)
  • Kadenang Putik (1960)
  • The Moises Padilla Story (1961)
  • Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo (Gerardo De Leon, 1961 and 1962)
  • Lilet (1971)

Genre Breakers: "Pagdating Sa Dulo" and "Wanted: Perfect Mother"

"Wanted: Perfect Mother" (1970)
"Wanted: Perfect Mother" (1970)
"Pagdating Sa Dulo" (1971)
"Pagdating Sa Dulo" (1971)

The pivotal turn of Philippine Cinema happened when Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal courageously broke the norm and introduced artistic films that are wholesome and would appeal to the masses. Opposite Uhaw was Brocka's directorial debut, Wanted: Perfect Mother (1970), that portrayed romance and family issues versus the films that showed lust and illicit affairs. Bernal's directorial debut Pagdating Sa Dulo (1971) was a satire on bomba films and tackled about the vicious play of power in the show business industry. With their historic first steps on Philippine Cinema, Bernal and Brocka geared the industry to its Second Golden Age.

1972-1979 | “Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag”

Image: Courtesy of IMDB
Image: Courtesy of IMDB

When the Philippines was placed under Martial Law in 1972, films were used as propaganda vehicles and Ferdinand Marcos created the Board of Censors for Motion Pictures. Through this scheme, the ideology of "Bagong Lipunan"—a new sense of discipline, uprightness, and love of country—was incorporated in all mass media.

This led to the emergence of avant-garde filmmakers that laid the foundation of the Second Golden Age of Philippine Cinema. Lino Brocka (National Artist for Cinema), Ishmael Bernal (National Artist for Cinema), Celso Ad Castillo, Mike De Leon, and Mario O'Hara were the fearless filmmakers that shed light to the realities of the atrocities during the period as well as the social issues prevalent among the generation deceptively covered through metaphors and symbolisms. Brocka's films like Insiang (1976), and Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag (1975), were social and moral commentaries of the period that gained recognition even among international critics. Its realist portrayal of proletarian metropolis, through sensual cinematography and fully-realised characters, has breathed into the silver screen the lives of many naive provincianos that were seduced by the "big city" like moths into a flame.

Moreover, filmmakers of the period introduced new techniques and styles in filmmaking. French cinema influences were apparent on the films of this period, with more mobile and agile camerawork.

Other notable films during the decade:

  • Nunal sa Tubig (1975)
  • Minsa'y Isang Gamu-gamo (1976)
  • Jaguar (1979)
  • Itim (1976)
  • Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (1976)
  • Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (1974)
  • Banaue: Stairway to the Sky (1975)

1979-1989 | “Himala”

Image: Courtesy of IMDB
Image: Courtesy of IMDB

The Second Golden Age continued through the '80s, featuring the plight of migrant workers, the proletariat, as well as the affluent kolehiyalas (college girls). Notable filmmakers of the previous decade, together with Peque Gallaga, Kidlat Tahimik (the Father of Independent Philippine Cinema), Nick Deocampo, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, and Raymond Red contributed in this period. 

But the second half of 1980s witnessed the gradual decrease of artistically expressive films and the rise of commercial films with genres ranging from slapstick comedy, melodrama, and fantasy that somehow aimed at alleviating the masses from the financial and political crisis that followed after the Marcos dictatorship. However, a lot of cult classics arose in this period that continue to appeal to today's generation like Bagets (1984), Shake, Rattle, & Roll (1984), and Bituing Walang Ningning (1985).

Amid the dichotomy, Ishmael Bernal's Himala (1982) starring the "Superstar" Nora Aunor, gained local and international acclaim (even up to this day) as a script and technical achievement and also as a masterful exhibition of impressive ensemble acting.

Other notable films during the decade:

  • Oro Plata Mata (1982)
  • Manila By Night / City After Dark (1980)
  • Karnal (1983)
  • Sister Stella L. (1984)
  • Orapronobis (1989)
  • Bulaklak sa City Jail (1984)

1989-1999 | “The Flor Contemplacion Story”

Image: Courtesy of IMDB
Image: Courtesy of IMDB

Star Cinema, GMA Films, VIVA Films, and Regal Entertainment dominated the big screens in the '90s, producing back-to-back blockbuster hits that appeal to the general masses. These films vary in genres but mostly based on police news and telenovelas that have made the people hooked on their televisions and radios at home. Perhaps the perfect example of this was Joel Lamangan's The Flor Contemplacion Story (1995), which depicted the Filipina domestic helper of the same name who was hanged in Singapore for allegedly killing her fellow OFW. Its dramatisation of real events, infusion of television news clippings, and fictional or metaphorical depiction of the characters' emotions are examples of directorial techniques widely used in other popular films at the time.

Sensationalism, exaggeration of emotions and plot twists, as well as stylised showcasing of the poverty-stricken Manila seemed to be an effective formula during the period. Sex and violence ruled the theatres with action films and a resurgence of "bomba" films.

Other notable films during the decade:

  • Bata, Bata... Paano Ka Ginawa? (1998)
  • Jose Rizal (1998)
  • Muro-Ami (1999)
  • Gumapang Ka Sa Lusak (1990)
  • Bayaning 3rd World (1999)
  • Milagros (1997)

1999-2009 | “Magnifico”

Image: Courtesy of IMDB
Image: Courtesy of IMDB

The reign of independent cinema in the 2000s can be credited to the success of Maryo J. De los Reyes' dramatic independent film Magnifico (2003), which received local and international acclaim most especially in the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival where it won the Crystal Bear. Prior to this, Raymond Red's Anino (2000) won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival 2000. With this, the decade saw the proliferation of digital films by independent filmmakers that were submitted to compete in international film festivals.

Some low-budgeted films with exceptional screenplays were also successful in the local theatres like Gil Portes' Mga Munting Tinig (2002) and Mark Meily's Crying Ladies (2003). These films, as well as Magnifico, were praised for their heart-wrenching storylines that seemed to flourish during the decade.

Other notable films during the decade:

  • Batang West Side (2001)
  • Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (2005)
  • Serbis (2008)
  • Kubrador (2006)
  • Babae sa Breakwater (2003)
  • Abakada... Ina (2001)
  • Anak (2000)

Honourable Mention: “Kinatay” (2009), “Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan” (2013), and “On The Job” (2013)

Sid Lucero as Fabian in “Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan” (Lav Diaz, 2013)
Sid Lucero as Fabian in “Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan” (Lav Diaz, 2013)

Before we proceed to the succeeding decade, credit should be given first to these three films that gave independent and mainstream cinemas 180-degree turn. As the previous decade witnessed the international success of indie films, the craft was mastered by late 2000s.

Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay (2009) premiered at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival and gave Mendoza his Best Director Award. It was the first Filipino film in the said prestigious festival that received such honour. The raw, edgy, and intense depiction of Philippine underworld in Kinatay through a spectator’s lens, which initiate strong responses among audiences brought forth films in the succeeding years who also tried to break formulas.

Similarly, Lav Diaz who is already known for his long film narratives (eight to twelve-hour long films) started being appreciated by the general Filipino audience. His Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (2013) explores themes of crime, class, and family, and has received wide acclaim for its riveting storytelling and unique cinematography.

See also: Lav Diaz’s talks about his creative process on making films

With Diaz and Mendoza’s works starting to appeal among young Filipino cinephiles who crave for high-level of artistry, Erik Matti’s On The Job (2013) became a blockbuster hit that made critics and netizens talking. Its relevance to the current events, stellar cast ensemble composed mainly of big mainstream names like Piolo Pascual and Gerald Anderson, and its sleek action sequences that have long been forgotten by Philippine cinema make it somehow responsible for film productions’ initiative to step up their game. This launched another form of independent cinema, which are low-budgeted films that are highly aesthetic and feature household names in the show business.

See also: Tatler Guide to Acclaimed Filipino Films (as of 2015)

2009-2019 | “BuyBust”

Image: Courtesy of IMDB
Image: Courtesy of IMDB

Box-office films became the trend in the local cinema since 2009's You Changed My Life, which starred Sarah Geronimo and John Lloyd Cruz. However, the success of commercial films from major film productions was not a hindrance for the independent films to flourish. On the contrary, many mainstream actors and directors continuously crossover to independent cinema, and vice versa. The works of Lav Diaz, Brillante Mendoza, and Kidlat Tahimik gained recognition and success among local and international audiences. Meanwhile, a new breed of filmmakers like Antoinette Jadaone, Jason Paul Laxamana, Dan Villegas, Cathy Garcia-Molina, Jerrold Tarog, Mikhail Red, Pepe Diokno, and Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, to name a few also caught the industry's attention.

The 2018 action thriller BuyBust, directed by Erik Matti and top-billed by Anne Curtis, premiered at the New York Asian Film Festival opened the 14th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. It has attained praise for its exhilarating action sequences, noir cinematography, musical scoring, and Anne Curtis' relentless portrayal, making it the 2019 Gawad Urian Awards winner for Best Film. With Jaclyn Jose’s recent winning as Best Actress for Mendoza’s Ma’ Rosa (2016) in the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and now with Curtis, the decade saw not only the resurgence of strong female lead characters in films but also the reimagining of its archetype. 

Buybust, as well as other notable films of the decade provide perspectives on relevant issues and current events like the ravages of Typhoon Yolanda, gender inequality, war on drugs, the continuous series of rido (clan wars) in Mindanao, fund scam on religious sects, and many more.

With this, it is with high hopes that the next decade will produce similar highly aesthetic films with Hollywood-esque visual effects and action sequences, highlighting still Filipino consciousness, virtues, and culture.

See also: Anne Curtis Talks Career Highlights and New Ventures

Other notable films during the decade:

  • Women of the Weeping River (2016)
  • Balangiga: Howling Wilderness (2018)
  • Taklub (2015)
  • Honor Thy Father (2015)
  • Thy Womb (2012)
  • Heneral Luna (2015) and Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral (2018)

 

*UPDATED

References:

1. Deocampo, N. (2017) Film: American Influences on Philippine Cinema. Mandaluyong: Anvil Publishing

2. Dorsch, J. The History of Philippine Cinema (December 25, 2018) [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://reelrundown.com/film-industry/filipino-movies

3. Del Mundo, C. Jnr. (1970, November 10). 'Uhaw': The Original Bomba. The Pilipino Reporter. Retrieved from http://video48.blogspot.com/2016/02/the-seventies-100-tito-galla-lito.html

4. Vera, N. (2017, May 5). 100 Best Filipino Films of All Time. Cinetropa Movie Reviews. Retrieved from https://medium.com/cinetropa/100-best-filipino-films-of-all-time-8b7cfa275ead

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