Thursday, June 28, 2012


Once the giants walked among us.

They were giants not because of their awesome physical height --- yet even if they may not be taller than most of us or even shorter at times --- they were still giants.

They were giants because they had greatness of mind, heart and soul far much more than the mere mortals. They were far bigger, greater than those who consider themselves most privileged and blessed.  

They were giants because when they undertook action, when they made decisions, when they made changes --- the earth moved. They did not follow fashion --- they created it.  They were not mere trends: they were statements.

And even those who boasted of power and/or wealth --- even those who wielded their names and claimed royalty, they were made to look insignificant beside the giants. 

The charlatans and the arrogant generals were so belittled.  For theirs may be the gold or the sharpness of swords --- but unlike the giants, they were not immortal.

Men of wealth and power also die --- and they are merely remembered for how much they have and not how they affected the lives of men.  

Men who are praised for their riches or physical strength are never remembered for their souls.  That is because they are deemed as mortals.

The mortals may be remembered ... but not for the right reasons. Unlike the giants whose temporary stay on earth was but a passing phase to insure that they shall never be forgotten or less loved by those who deserved or were gifted to know them.


Mario O' Hara slipped quietly, inconspicuously, unceremoniously from this earthy existence without much pomp or circumstance.

Even in death, he did it his way.  For Mario O'Hara was never one to brandish his presence or obliged others to feel that they needed to salute him because of his reputation as an actor ... or as a writer ... more so, as a director.  Mario O'Hara did not have much patience or tolerance for that.

He would rather go about doing what he wanted to do the way he wanted to do it.

He could have had a slice of that large commercial pie in the 70's, 80's or 90's ... like so many directors of film and television. But he did not.  

Until his dying day, Mario O'Hara never compromised what he revered as his art of filmmaking.

This was the Mario O'Hara who was a fixture at the world of Rajah Sulaiman Theater and PETA --- where other giants like Lino Brocka and Orlando Nadres helped plant the seeds of a true Philippine theater.

This was the Mario O' Hara who appeared as the loving and alienated town leper who took care of another social outcast in the person of Koala --- the village idiot portrayed by the legend called Lolita Rodriguez in Brocka's seminal film, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang.

This was the Mario O'Hara who appeared as the driver/lover of Eddie Garcia in Tubog Sa Ginto --- as well as the temptation of (again) Lolita Rodriguez in the "Bukas, Madilim, Bukas" episode of Brocka's Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa.

This was also the Mario O'Hara who was a co-writer for the screenplay of a movie entitled Insiang that further opened the doors for Lino Brocka and other Filipino filmmakers to be noticed and recognized in European film festivals like the one annually held at Cannes.

And, of course, how can anyone intelligently talk about this history of Philippine cinema without mentioning works like Condemned, Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, Bulaklak ng City Jail, Bakit Bughaw ang Langit? or even Fatima Buen and Ang Babae Sa Breakwater and Bubungang Lata?

Despite all his achievements that could pack two complete lifetimes, Mario O'Hara remained as one of the most underrated and unappreciated filmmakers in the country. 

He did not enjoy the celebratory stature of other directors who possessed lesser talent but more publicity.

He was often bypassed and forgotten especially by a generation of film goers who were breastfed with infantile romantic comedies and conditioned to believe that this genre is all that Philippine cinema can ever become.

That was because Mario O'Hara never succumbed to commercialism despite all invitations and temptations.  He only chose to do what he believed in doing ... and not for the sake of his bank account.

He was an artist without announcing to the world that he was one. As an actor, writer or director, he proved his worth by work and not by press release. He never equated being a celebrity as a pre-requisite for being good at what he wanted to excel.  If he was underrated, that was because he chose to work quietly and with utmost dedication.

For Direk Mario, his works should speak for themselves.

For who else but someone like him can turn a trend founded on gore and sensationalism called massacre movies into a worthwhile cinematic experience through his work in Fatima Buen. Anyone who can legitimize and turn over-the-top dramatized tabloid violence into a work noteworthy must be an alchemist.

For who else could transform a tired and beaten genre like a telenovela into a stunning vehicle for Nora Aunor in Sa Ngalan ng Ina.

Direk Mario O' Hara was a giant.  And he once walked among us.


The giants have all gone.

Like the immortals who have left to return to a place more deserving of their greatness, the giants have left a legacy to serve as both inspirations and challenges.

They are inspirations for they give proof that, yes, such works can be done --- and should be done --- for they shall, like all works of immortals, remain timeless.

And they shall always provide challenges --- for who, among the ranks of men, can come up to the standards that they have left, the ideals that they have imparted ... and the lives they led as examples of art in themselves.

Once there were giants ... and now they have all gone.


It was a privilege --- no, a gift from the heavens --- that I had the chance to work with the giants.

I was a young writer then --- given the opportunity to write screenplays for the giants ... and to be on their sets to see them work ... or to know them personally when we became colleagues.

They were giants because the coming of a new generation of filmmakers was reason for them to celebrate.  They never felt threatened, they never felt intimidated because the passage of time meant nothing for them.  They knew, at a certain point in their lives, that they can never and will never forgotten.

The only thing left to prove was to do something more ...and to impart their knowledge, establish a legacy for the generations yet to come.

They fought for principles, they made films with statements.  

Even when they ventured into works deemed as downright commercial, they elevated a ho-hum genre into greater heights and unbelievable standards.  

How did they do this?  Because they had their own minds.  Because studio heads respected them.

Because they were artists and not mere employees of producers.

Lino Brocka was an unassuming man, fueled by the fire of his political and social convictions.  He made films with a purpose and was always accessible to young filmmakers who wanted to embrace a life dedicated to seeking and defining truth through their works.

Ishmael Bernal was extraordinary. His was a swiftness of wit, a sharpness of laughter that was intelligent while never condescending.  He was the social critic, the commentator of manners ... while at the same time the nurturer, the teacher to all who took time to ask him questions and respected his authority.

( One thing I can never forget about Brocka and Bernal: when I started out directing, Lino and Ishma would go out of their way to call me or even send me pager messages via my EasyCall to tell me that they watched my movie and that they loved it.

They were so generous, so giving. And for an upstart filmmaker, to receive such messages or hear such words from the masters is enough for you to weep with joy because of the sheer power of affirmation.

Such was the greatness of their hearts that could only be matched by the magnitude of their minds.)

When I started writing scripts for television some time in the early 1980s, my very first director for a show called Alindog in BBC Channel 2 was Mario O' Hara.

My executive producer was the late Gus Cabrera --- and he brought us together after some time when Direk Mario asked to meet with me.  He was amused by this young college professor who just came back from the States and was writing at a breakneck pace.  

He was most supportive as he gave me more pointers about the medium of television and how to maximize the dramatic structure considering the limitations of the medium.

I find myself echoing his words said to me thirty years ago each time I face my Writing for TV classes. The lessons Direk Mario taught me are invaluable for his was a far greater understanding of television and film ... than most of the practicing directors today.  He was not merely a man of technical expertise: his mind and heart were hinged on media.

Eventually we worked together on a single film.  This was a Nora Aunor starrer entitled Condemned.

When he asked me what kind of story I wanted to write, I told him I wanted to do a dark tale about a flower vendor who sold her blooms at the Remedios Circle where most of us spent of weekend nights at the time.  Direk Mario loved it ... and turned the story into a dark tale.  

I am still honored to include Condemned in my filmography for this shall also remain as one of Mario O' Hara's best works.  And I was a part of it.

Now I am so saddened that Mario has left.

The generation of directors who taught us to turn filmmaking into statements of character and conviction have left.  Even as a younger generation of independent filmmakers are rising to become such mavericks, the importance of the thread of tradition must never be neglected.

Even if there are so many directors now devoid of identities and have become manufacturers rather than creators, the memory of the Brockas, Bernals and Mario O'Haras should and must remind us that we have a heritage to treasure ... and responsibilities to live by.

It is not a matter of making a name as a filmmaker.  The better question is: who are you? What do you stand for?

These were the giants who used to walk among us ... and are now gone.

Mario O' Hara has gone back to the land of true greatness.

Friday, June 22, 2012


22 June 2012

I do not know any other way to say it. So I decided to write you a letter.

But this is a message that I want others to know ... this is something I feel that I must share.  

It is not enough that I am overwhelmed by this feeling now ... I realize that this must carry some importance.  It is something that others might come to realize as well in the private intricacy of their own lives.

You see it is not easy to find time to thank a teacher.  But there is always one ... or two ... who changed the course of the journey that would become our lives.

You are told that life is one big adventure... that the years are the classrooms and that each and every person who walks through the "revolving doors" of our hearts plays an important part into shaping who we are and what we can become.  After accumulating enough years of human existence, you come to accept that without bursting into Eureka moments.  You learn that there are no accidents.

Everything and every one is there for a reason.  Each day has a lesson to teach us. Trivial. Monumental. Epic. Disposable.

God --- the Universe --- Fate --- whatever, whoever --- sends people along your pathway to teach you something.  No, the choice is still yours to accept the lesson and to learn. But it is the people --- certain people who open your eyes to things, ideas, places and maybe other people that you would not have otherwise seen because you were not given the option to look this way.

That is why I am writing you this letter.  

Because you changed my life.  Because you taught me to love myself. Because you showed me that the only way for me to discover who I am ... is by believing that I can be somebody and not merely some body.  

Because, in your own unique manner, the best lessons you taught me were not in the classroom --- but out here in the real world --- where you get graded by your goodness and not merely your performance.

More so, because you convinced me that life is one big performance. And you are only as good as you are happy with what you are doing.

I was young when I met you --- and, as attested by all those who were young with me at the time --- you were different.

As a teacher you were different because you were younger than most of the high school faculty members who walked down the corridors, holding their lesson plans and their chalk boxes while donning an air of authority.  In a school of hormone-crazed long-haired thirteen to sixteen year olds, you need to have that air of authority --- especially when the setting was the late '60's and early '70's.  

We were all so preoccupied in trying to act like grown-ups in order to justify all our juvenile fantasies and escapades.  You were there to watch over us --- and make us sure that we still behaved within the limitations of the student handbook. 

Whereas other teachers screamed at our impertinence, you laughed. Whereas other teachers lost their cool and told us to behave this way and not that ... you simply told us to be accountable for what we did ... whether the outcome should be rewards or consequences.

You were the youngest faculty member in the entire high school, that's why.  

But that was not why you were special. 

When we were of that age ... we were looking for people to emulate, to idolize.  It was not enough that you stood in front of the classroom and gave lectures ... and we were diligent to take down notes following the Palmer Method of handwriting we were trained to do since we were in Grade School.  It was not enough that you gave assignments that we worked on and you corrected.  Or that you made lessons interesting enough for us to absorb not because we needed passing grades or that English is a required subject.  

You taught me how to love what I was learning.

You introduced me to the world of theater.  

And you were one of the teachers in my formative years to tell me that I should keep on writing. You convinced me that I had to write because not only was I blessed with the ability to do so ... but because I had something to say.  You told me I should not only write stories --- that I should write plays.

Together with another teacher --- your sparring partner in the English Faculty Room --- you became more than just the adviser of the school paper or the dramatics guild. The two of you became friends to many of us.  We felt so privileged to see you as people and not merely as authority figures who we should call Sir or M'am.

No one in our high school batch could ever forget you and Angie Magbanua.

The biggest reward in knowing you was to discover what it takes to be a good teacher.

No, it is not through intimidation.

No, it cannot be done through the flaunting of knowledge.  

Kids do not care what you know ... or how much is in your brains.  What matters most is that you want them to learn ... what is important is that you care for them.

You cannot be a teacher if you are unable to be their friend.

You cannot impart knowledge ... if you do not want to know them. Or try to get into their minds so that you would understand the way they functioned, the way they would think.

In our later years, I used to kid you and said you always stuck it out to being so completely child-friendly.

That is why when it was my turn to stand in front a throng of eager students, looking at me and waiting to hear what I had to say --- I started to speak not only through my mind but with my heart.  You cannot fool young people despite the fact that they gather around you thirsting for information, hungry for insight. You cannot deceive them with fancy words, outrageous theories or drama just for the sake of effect.

Kids know when you are feeding them bullshit.

Before they can be interested in what you have to say, they have to be interested in you ... and you have to be interested in them.

As a teacher, you learn from your students as well.

Not only did you push me to write ... or made me believe in the power of my words.  You taught me one of the most important lessons of all: to believe in myself ... and make others believe in me.  

More so, you made me believe in the importance of others.

You gave me my very first professional job as a writer.

I was in college at that time and you asked me to adapt Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band for a dinner theater presentation in Hotel Mirador.  That was how people got to know my name. That was how I got my first job to write for my first television show entitled Sandy's Cousin for BBC Channel 2.

You were my director when we, together with Nanette Inventor, mounted Donya Buding Live! at On Disco ... and that went on forever. You gave birth to popular dinner theater in the country.

We even worked together in the Filipino translations of Mirandolina with Imee Marcos and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Test ( which I entitled Alitaptap sa Gabing Mailap) with Christopher de Leon, Pinky Amador and the late Joy Soler.

You were there right from the start ... and you gave my motors the push to start it running.

And all throughout my career, I knew you were happy for me. No, I was certain you were proud of me inasmuch as I was so yabang to tell the world that you were my teacher.

And now I must say goodbye to you.  

It was only recently that we honored you --- together with Tony Mabesa and Lisa Macuja.  The theater community celebrated your contributions because you were not only the father/lolo/Grand Master of Gantimpala Theater but you became the driving force behind the birth of original Filipino plays that were not merely written by up and coming playwrights but mounted for the country to see.

When I look at the mediocrity of what has become today, I look back at the years when original Filipino plays were thriving, endless being reborn and assuming new forms. Together with PETA, Gantimpala was the driving force to give image and sounds to the words of Tony Perez, Boy Noriega, Rene Villanueva, and so many young writers of the 80s.  

And you never gave up, Sir.  

Despite political maneuvering and all that is ugly in the so-called world of culture in our country, you never gave up.  Down to the end, Sir. Until the very end. 

You went through hell and high water to keep Gantimpala together --- and with your army of tireless theater workers, you were able to keep it alive for almost thirty years after you left the premises of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. That, Sir, is a major feat. That is, Sir, is dedication beyond vocation.

The last time I saw you ... I held back my tears because I have not seen you for years.  I have heard about your physical condition but I never had the opportunity to stand in front of you again. Until that night at the CCP Lobby.  You were suddenly so weak and so old. And we were both so happy to see each other.

I do not know how to describe how I feel right now.

I am sad because you have left us. I am happy because I know you need the rest ... and all the physical setbacks of the recent years have taken a toll on your person.  Eagles are not meant to be imprisoned ... much worse if their bodies become their cages. Eagles, Sir ... as you have always taught us ... are meant for the skies.

And you have flown away because that was what you were meant to do.

No one would keep you in the ground when you have the option to soar. You taught us that too. In high school.

I will miss you, Sir.  As many others, right this very moment, are crying because they will miss you too.

Until your last day, you were teaching us lessons about how to deal with life.  You were showing us --- not merely by lectures --- but through your life --- that it is all about passion. It is all about doing what you have to do because that is why you were sent here in the first place.

Thank you for being a very big part of my life, my teacher.

I love you, Tony Espejo.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


9:08 PM / 20 June 2012

Since this afternoon we have all remained restless.  And sad.  Although we have heard about his physical condition for some time, we are still struck with such loneliness when we hear the updates regarding his health.  

This time it looks bad.  As I write this, everyone is quiet and speculating.  We all love the man.  The nation has always loved this man.  We love him because for decades ... nay, generations ... he never ceased to give us the joys of laughter.

His was a most imperfect life but he never made any claims of sainthood nor did he use himself as an example of perfection.  

He shunned invitations to join politics ... and instead preserved that oh-so-awesome disposition that had remained unchanging through so many years that we have known him.  What was it about him that made him so different --- and so loved?  It certainly was not his reputation as a Lothario.  It was not the sheer power of his comedic talent.  It was his humanity.  It was his humility.

It was because they don't make people like him any more.

There shall never be another Dolphy.  

We are in tears because we do not know a life in this country --- with our obsession for stars and show business --- without that single icon whose very image embodies all of what we know as Philippine comedy.  

If Fernando Poe Jr was Da King ... then Dolphy owned the other half of the kingdom.  If FPJ shared the throne with the equally iconic Joseph Estrada, Dolphy reigned unquestioned and unchallenged as the Emperor of Comedy.  For he, together with only a handful left, represent the entire evolution of popular entertainment in the country as we understand it today.  Dolphy is living history.

For the career of Rodolfo Quizon was not as privileged as the "stars" of today who become overnight sensations because of the availability, accessibility and the power of media.  Dolphy rose from the ranks.  He honed his talents through years of hard work together with some of the legends whose names shall forever remain etched in the annals of entertainment doctrines in our country.

To trace the history of Dolphy's career is to create a map of what was Philippine entertainment through decades of the twentieth and the early twenty-first century.  

From the bit player of stage shows called bodabil where the likes of Mary Walter, Bayani Casimiro, Katy de la Cruz, German Moreno, Pugo, Tugo, Lupito and Patsy --- and, yes, the young Gloria Romero -- found their footing into the world of music, applause and laughter, Dolphy evolved into more than just an icon --- but a personification of the Filipino immortalized by stage, television and films.

Anyone Filipino familiar with local mass media, its images and elements can never talk about television without mentioning the name of John Puruntong.  

For who of that tv generation escaped the years of amusement that Ading Fernando's seminal Filipino family in the persons of John, his wife Marsha (played by the late Nida Blanca) and their children Rolly (performed by his real life son Rolly Quizon)and Shirley ( embodied by a child star named Maricel Soriano at the start of the series).  John En Marsha holds the record of being one of the longest running sitcoms in Philippine television.  The family evolved right front of the eyes of the viewer --- and, to this day, the Filipino Everyman has been and will always be John Puruntong.

For the younger generation, Dolphy is Kevin Cosme of Home Along Da Riles.  A carry-over of the John Puruntong character, Kevin Cosme provided the same image of the Pinoy tatay who dealt with fate with an open heart and who never lost his humanity amid the foibles and complexities offered by life.  

One thing notable about Dolphy's seminal portrayals and characters: they are funny in a Chaplin-esque way: it is the vulnerability of the portrayal that makes him lovable. He is never harsh, he is never impolite --- and he does not resort of vulgarity to win his laughs. He is a gentleman as much as he is a comedian.  He dignified the power to generate laughter ... never resorting to the lowest techniques and strategies just to elicit a chuckle.

Unlike comedy as it is understood today (founded more on profanity, insulting and macabre forms of aggression), Dolphy was the master of timing, wit and even underacting.  Whereas others resort to in-your-face slapstick even to the point of vulgarity or brutality just for laughs, Dolphy was the original Mister Suave who earned his laughs by being real and human and never insulting the dignity of his co-actors just to pander to an audience.

It is this humanity that has made his other most memorable characters go far beyond the superficiality of slapstick.

Remember Facifica Falayfay or Fefita Fofonggay? Whereas there are still those who feel that the actor made a mockery of the flamboyant gay image, a closer look would reveal that never did he assume a condescending nor an insulting attitude toward the characters he played.  On the contrary,  despite the fact that he was going for the laughs, Dolphy showed affection and love for the characters because he made them human and not mere shrill caricatures as others of less talent and nobility of intention would tend to do.  He never made his gay characters abrasive --- loud perhaps and excessive --- but never consciously malicious nor indecent.

That is what made them funny ... yet endearing.

And in that movie where Dolphy worked with another legend of Philippine cinema Lino Brocka, in a film entitled Ang Tatay Kong Nanay with then child superstar Nino Muhlach, the master comedian proved that behind the perfection in comedic timing lived an actor whose sensibilities and sensitivities could easily elicit tears from the audience as well.

For more than anything else, Dolphy was an artist.  

During his Buhay Artista days in the old ABS-CBN, Dolphy displayed his smooth moves on the dance floor as well as his perfect chemistry with then sidekick Panchito Alba.  To this day, we of that generation recall all those somewhat tired but still funny weekly routines when Dolphy and Panchito translated English songs into Pilipino.  The humor was actually a one-note number but still we succumbed to fits of hysterical laughter as the duo massacred their musical translations.

But perhaps for the people in the industry, Dolphy means so much more than the other half of the symbol of the business: the mask that flaunted laughter, he who is the quiet and gentle clown.

Dolphy is loved by his colleagues because of legendary generosity --- but more so, his endearing ability to listen to others.  Despite his stature, Dolphy never lost his sense of reality --- and humility.  He would always be the first to give a helping hand even before anybody asked for it.  He would lavish people with what was within his reach ... inasmuch as he would make sure that he took care of everything and everyone around him.  That was his sense of high.  That was what kept his humanity.

Whereas nowadays we are surrounded by instant celebrities who think they are stars and behave as if the entire universe revolved around them, a man of such magnitude and stature like our Mang Dolphy remained the same simple, feet-on-the-ground gentleman with a soft voice and immaculately garbed.  Unlike today when "stars" enter a room with their intimidating entourage as if demanding everyone within peripheral view to turn around and look while declaring, "Look, you mortals ... I am here!", Dolphy would slip in quietly, take his seat and make himself as inconspicuous as possible --- as if he of the stuff that make legends is wary that he would disturb the peace.

I never had a chance to work with Dolphy as a director --- but what I hold dearest was the opportunity to work for him as a writer.

And considering all the volumes of work I have written for television and screen, that single television script I created for a made-for-tv movie starring the King of Comedy should prove to be one of the closest to my heart.

Entitled "Love, Daddy", it was directed by Peque Gallaga.

Aside from Dolphy, this obscure piece of work also featured the late Charito Solis and his son Eric Quizon as well as Dawn Zulueta.

When I was approached to write for this project, I immediately thought of a story I was yearning to see onscreen and I knew Mang Pidol would be the perfect actor to portray the role.  It was about my father's year right after his retirement: even before Jack Nicholson did About Schmidt, I wrote a teleplay about the pain, agony and frustrations of a freshly retired man who has worked all his life and is now compelled to stay home and feel absolutely useless.

I guess the story was just too close to my real life because when my parents --- as well as my other relatives --- saw the telecast, the reactions were varied.  Some of my cousins were on the floor laughing as Dolphy faithfully captured the pagkabugnutin of my father as he found himself at home doing nothing except nitpicking on all the details of running a household and looking over my Mommy's shoulders while she underwent her own therapy to cope with my Dad's omnipresence: making endless kalderos of mango jam.  

My mother was not too happy because she said I did not characterize her correctly (and I still laugh each time I remember how my mother berated me for making her look somewhat like a contravida -- and worse, when she went completely ballistic and said, "Hindi ko iniwan ang tatay mo, ano? Bakit mo pinalabas na hiniwalayan ko ang Daddy mo?!") 

But it was my Dad who was the best sport. That is why to this day I miss him.

Amid all the flurry of reactions, my Dad said: "How much more honor can I get? Somebody portrayed me ... and it was no less than Dolphy."

I never had the chance to tell Mang Dolphy the happiness he gave my father for unwittingly portraying his role.

But now that I think of it, I feel bad ... I feel sad when I hear all the news about Mang Dolphy's state of health. I guess the affinity is there.

Like so many of us in the entertainment business, we are so afraid --- so terrified --- to be left behind by a man who we all consider as our father.

I have said it once and I will say it again: Rodolfo Quizon may not have been given the honor of being a National Artist (for some reason or another to which I will refuse to even think about or discuss because the deed has been done) --- but to a number of us, nay, a great number of us not only in show business --- Dolphy is more than a National Artist appointed by a committee and anointed by a Palace.

The man who made us laugh is a national treasure. And no simple decision of men or laws can make some as priceless.

We love you, Mang Dolphy. We cannot imagine Philippine entertainment without you.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


OK. It's not exactly a great film in the sense that it shall be included in the annals of cinema classic.

But it was fun.  That is as important as being great.  The fact that I was stomping my feet, doubling up with laughter and (most especially) singing along meant that I had a damn good time.  Well, isn't that why I stepped out of the sanctuary of my abode and traveled to a movie house? 

If I wanted to exercise emotional masochism, I could have just turned on my television set and caught a telenovela. The self-flagellation may not come from the convolution of plot and the endless sufferings of protagonists but simply because of an unforgivably illogical, trite and wasted script being shoved down my throat --- or the very simple case of exceptionally bad acting deified as classic soap performances.

If I wanted mental masturbation, I could have also stayed home and read Marcel Proust ... or even tried to break down the dependent and independent clauses in Virginia Woolf's novels.  

But I wanted a good time so I watched Rock of Ages and a good time I had for my two hundred pesos.

And at the end of the screening, as I tried to figure out the significance of that experience, I came to the following conclusions:

(1) Nothing can bring back the sense of fun of the music of the 70's and 80's.

There is indeed something distinct, unique and very affecting about the music of the decades when I spent most of my weekend nights clubbing. I guess that is why I have such a particular affection for those songs.  Music is the purest of the arts, so it is said. The way songs trigger memories --- tangible and sentient memories --- is unbelievable.

Play me Dennis Lambert's Of All the Things and I can see, feel, taste and smell those days in college, giving me goosebumps and leaving me teary-eyed at the sheer memories of emotions invested, lost and never to be regained.

So hearing songs from the 80s in a jukebox musical also elicits a certain join that goes beyond watching the movie.  

I am not an Abba fan but when Meryl Streep started singing the first lines of Winner Takes It All, there was this straight-cut jab right on my solar plexus.  I had the same moments watching Rock of Ages even if I was not particularly enamored by the leading lady (who reminded me of a promo girl in The Price is Right --- original edition) or the leading man (who really looks like one of the animated characters in the Facebook application of The Hunger Games).

Popular music captures the moment of its conception, publication and distribution.

That is re-listening to songs of the 80s brings back that whole Zeitgeist.  And, oh, the whole scenario takes place in the year 1987 ... which reminds me that ...

(2) The look of the 1980's was not exactly the most glorious period of the history of fashion.

The setting of Rock of Ages was a year after the world famous People Power in the Daang Matuwid Republic.

That was the age of Kirei, padded shoulders, tsunami hairstyles, Penthouse Live!, the most glorious moments of Original Pilipino Music  --- when, in one swoop you can rattle off names like Joey Albert, Ric Segreto, Jam Morales, Pat Castillo, Dulce, the Apo Hiking Society, Rey Valera, Sharon Cuneta, Martin Nievera, Pops Fernandez, Gary Valenciano, Kuh Ledesma ... and the list goes (as the song goes) on and on and on.

That was also the age of Rene Requiestas and Pido Dida. And if only for that, I rest my case.

1987 was the year that Kristine Bernadette Cojuangco Aquino started to make her presence felt.  Yes, Ms. Aquino has been around for ... oh, my God, twenty-five years! She has been inside your television set and on the big screen ... for a quarter of the century!  And that says more than your traditional share of a mouthful about what we have become.

A look back at the 80's is more than just those awful padded shoulders on women's clothes ... or how the male of the species actually believed that sporting mullets looked good on them (think of the original Billy Ray Cyrus singing Achy Breaky Heart or the way Ricky Martin and Robbie Rosa actually primped themselves up when they were still part of the Menudo ... and you sill completely understand where I am coming from). It was all about the sense and sensibility of the time ... which still had innocence and now has become absolutely laughable.

(3) What made ROCK OF AGES really fun was that it lent itself to the screen inasmuch as the came from the stage.

I have yet to see the local production of the musical --- but then very few stage materials --- even of this genre --- truly translate well onscreen.  

For instance, even if this is considered a musical of a minor key (I mean, this is not exactly a Sondheim or even a Webber-Rice piece de resistance, right?), bringing the sense of fun of Rock of Ages onstage to the big screen requires more than just lavish and elaborate production numbers.

There are purists who think that jukebox musicals are just hodge-podge quilt works of popular songs threaded together to fill in a plot.  For instance, using the music of Abba to create Mama Mia creates a built-in audience ... which more conservative music enthusiasts feel is a short-cut to generate a following.  But then again, this is the same approach given to the music of the Beatles in Across the Universe (and will be rendered in Chris Martinez' Doo Bee Doo Bee Doo using the music of the Apo).  

Yet there is a world of difference for something created for the stage and brought to the screen --- rather than something deliberately concocted for the movies.  Sweeney Todd was quite a feat to turn into a movie --- considering the bleakness of its subject and the kind of musicality it required from its performers.  Johnny Depp singing Pretty Women is a far greater stretch than Tom Cruise trying to do a Steven Tyler or an Axl Rose, right?

But that's the whole fun of it.  Rock of Ages was never meant to be taken seriously. It was all fun and camp ...and everyone in the cast was having his and her moment of simply rocking it ... without taking into consideration their stature, their image and whatever it is that tends to hold back big name stars from doing what they can still be doing.  

This leads me to ...

(4) There is a difference between actors and celebrities.  Actors transform, evolve and challenge themselves to become something or somebody they have yet to be ... Celebrities are there for the press releases, the pictorials, the red carpet and the interviews.  They are not ... uh, to use that much maligned and abused term ... artists.

Seeing Catherine Zeta-Jones do what she did in Rock of Ages did not come as a surprise.  After all, this is the same lady who carried off an Oscar for her role in another and more demanding cinema musical entitled Chicago. But to see her do Michael Jackson choreography --- duping the dance steps of the video Bad with a bunch of perfect coiffured uptight chastity-belt clad Christian ladies condemning rock --- was hilarious.  And refreshing.

Who would have thought that Alec Baldwin would don a ratty looking wig to portray a closeted gay owner of Bourbon Room and do a showstopping duet with Russell Brand singing I Can't Fight This Feeling?  At the risk of creating a spoiler, the moment was one of the movies worth-it moments.

And then there is Tom Cruise.

He, who gained his first public attention as the rebel cadet in Taps and eventually earned his place above the title of movies after dancing in his briefs in Risky Business, has gone far a long way.

The first time he tried defying his iconic figure was in P.T. Anderson's Magnolia where he agreed --- note this down carefully --- to be part of an ensemble piece where he portrayed the role of a completely unsympathetic screwed-up macho dick personified. When he portrayed a role in Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder, Cruise was completely swallowed by his prosthetic make-up and body ... but he was so impressive because he was having so much fun.

Perhaps more than having fun, Tom Cruise was stretching his limits.

This is the actor who has literally banked on his franchise as an action star in Mission Impossible or has held onto his leading man status in movies like Rain Man and Jerry Maguire.  But more than anything else ... and just like Zeta-Jones, Baldwin or Paul Giamatti ... they are telling the audience out there that they are actors.  

And actors have fun.

Which leads me to my most important learning experience watching this movie ...

(5) In the local industry that has made a standard of more of the same-old-same-old, the lack of excitement in watching Filipino movies nowadays comes from the fact that the big time players do not want to take risks.  They find their comfort zones ... and vegetate in their niches because that is all that producers want them to do ... and that is all they really want to become.

As I said, Rock of Ages is not a great earthshaking movie but it made me realize something that I think I knew all along.

Of late, Filipino commercial movies are yielding lackluster results.  Even movies estimated to make a killing at the box office either end up with lukewarm results ...or fall flat on their faces.  

We need not go into lengthy discussions to explain what is happening because we all know why audiences have shied away from local movies.  Considering how expensive a movie ticket costs, the market of the Pinoy moviegoer has been limited to the middle class who would still prefer to watch The Avengers or Madagascar 3.

Moreover, there is simply nothing exciting happening in Philippine television and movies --- except for some independent films that are causing quite a stir abroad or in their niche markets.

(A sidebar:  In the forthcoming MetroManila Film Festival this December, people are stunned why Brilliante Mendoza's Thy Womb starring Nora Aunor and Lovi Poe was not included in the roster. It was previously announced that this piece will be fielded as a possible entry. Whether reasons are technical ... or if Mendoza pulled out his movie from local exhibition at the most lucrative time for local film showings still require clarification.

Otherwise, the cinema-loving community who have the highest regard of Brilliante Mendoza's works are --- to say the least --- aghast at the possibilities as to why he was not in the list of official entries.)

Admittedly, despite the success of younger, bolder and definitely more idealistic (rather than merely pragmatic) filmmakers, the independent market is limited.  Very, very limited.  There is yet to be an attempt to bring the richness of the material of the indie films to the mass-based audience who still think that shrieking, convulsing and epileptic fans stepping out a moviehouse after a screening to endorse the latest commercial movie is the gauge for quality entertainment.

Commercial producers will always remain businessmen. Otherwise, if they become something else ... then they have become philanthropists (now how many of those do we really have, huh?) ... or worse, mutants. 

Commercial producers are there for the profit ... because that is what they are meant to do. There is nothing wrong with that. You see, if they are part of a much larger multi-media corporation, chances are they have quotas to fulfill.

Artists, on the other hand, create. Businessmen count profit. That is the way of the world.  A creative businessman measures his fulfillment by profit as well. 

You do not and can never find artists as businessmen or studio executives. Let me repeat that: Never! Otherwise, there has been an unspoken miracle more stunning than that of Garabandal.

Since the biggest come-on for audiences is still the set of names on the billboard, the kind of career investment actors put up should also determine how far their lifespan should go.  And let's face it: we have reached the saturation point that local actors have become generally boring.  Let me repeat that again: BOOOOORING!

Why? Because it's the same-old-same-old all over again.  

What you see them do on tv ... is what you see them do onscreen.

Now, honestly speaking, will you pull out two hundred pesos from your wallet to see an actor do exactly the same thing he does on the small box? Why waste your money on something you can see for free with an electric fan directed right at your crotch while you watch your tv show na nakabukaka at pumapangat ng isang sakong Lapid's sitsaron?

It is either that or you have a feeling that the actors you see on tv are undergoing on-the-job training. Licensed by eternal cuteness and just the right genes maturing post-puberty, they have become stars in their own right--- and maybe in the minds of some powerful people. But as you observe their performances in a variety of shows --- you realize that what they do on a Sunday afternoon musical extravaganza is exactly the same thing they do on a drama series. They rely on eternal cuteness.

And that, sad to say, after ten minutes is BORING.

Even as we have reached 2012, media companies still believe in essence and branding provided by their oh-so-brilliant and mathematically-constipated statisticians and surveys.  

Read my lips: the focus group is a god.  

What the surveys say is how the company will design policies ... as well as determine the direction of what used to be creative.  The only thing spontaneous about media direction nowadays is the fart in the conference room. Everything is determined by measured taste, probabilities and limited possibilities.

So you have the same-old-same-old as a standard. And people are bored.  Not only the same-old-same-old schlock but also the actors who ... bordering the eve of middle age ... still want to be matinee idols. Or tweens who bat their eyelashes and impersonate hormones going berserk as romance.  Or are doing the same-old-same-old over and over again.

Rock of Ages offered the surprises because it is not only gutsy to see Tom Cruise do a role like Stacee Jaxx.  Why? Because it is not merely an act of courage. It is a creative career move. It is a statement saying: I have been around for so long and I can do this ... and I am going stay much longer than you think.

And he will. With Katy and Suri in tow.  

It is funny but the basic lesson in an industry like entertainment does not begin and end with box office or ratings results. It has everything to do with starting a trend ... or reinventing ... or repackaging ... or surprising the audience with what else is there to offer when they think they have already seen everything. 

The moment you become predictable, you do not only lose your audience. You cease from being a performer. You become a spectator like all the rest.

And that is called career death. 


It's all because we were discussing the results of a recent awards night that I found myself thinking.  My friend and I were combing through the winners and we were led into a rather amusing discussion about what is considered good acting in this country.

Of course, in this nation where there are more artistas than any other existing profession ... and where pag-iinarte is often mistaken as ang galing umarte, we cannot help but feel amused.

Since every award-giving body in this Daang Matuwid Republic has its own standard for excellence, it is really hard to find that least common denominator that seems to bind together the wide variety of choices of annual acting trophy winners.  For indeed, as there as many awards for Best Performances that there are a greater number of schools and traditions of Pinoy acting in films and television.

So let us try to cover as much ground as possible.  

At this point, let me give a spoiler: we are not showing examples.  That is, we will merely describe but not illustrate by naming names of actors and actresses who you, the reader, might feel best suits the qualifications given.  So fill in the blanks as you wish.

Let us begin with:

(1) "The Buwis-Buhay School of Acting" : The title of this category explains everything.  

The Buwis-Buhay School of Acting is when an actor does not merely capture the essence of the character: he or she outlives it. Speaking of living the life of the character --- or imbibing the qualities necessary to give form and substance to a role, the actor who decides to employ the Buwis-Buhay method pushes this to the limit. He or she is acting as if it were the last day of his or her life.

In other words, there is no such thing as subtlety. There is no such thing as shading.  There is no such instrument as gradation.

To use the vernacular, "Putsa, magkamatayan na kung magkamatayan. Emote kung emote. Basta ibibigay ko ang lahat sa ikagaganda ng eksena ... at manigas kayong lahat, mga ulol!"

That means every line of the dialogue is so heavily enunciated, every feeling so well-marked that the entire body of the actor becomes an exposed nerve, a live wire --- an electrical conductor.  

No, this is not over-acting. It is going beyond over-acting because the actor looks like he or she is having a nervous breakdown even during the happy moments of the script. He does not give a monkey's s--t about his co-actors because this is about his moment and not theirs.

The biggest tragedy is when two actors belonging to the Buwis-Buhay school end up in the same scene and try to outdo each other.  You can find this regularly in emotion-wringing, mind-boggling, logic-defying telenovelas aired in the afternoons or during prime time where tears and nasal mucus fall to signal a commercial gap.

This school of acting is also the cousin of ...

(2) "The KSP (Kulang sa Pansin) School of Performance": This style of acting is often mistaken for the Buwis-Buhay School but certain points need to be clarified.

Note that the Buwis-Buhay performer actually believes he is doing good and that what he is doing is mastering a technique of the craft.  In other words, give the Buwis-Buhay performer plus points because, at least, he is sincere. He may not be talented or very smart ... pero at least naman he is sincere.

But the KSP actor is there not to act but to be seen. Sometimes, acting to this person is as alien as skydiving, pole-dancing or even speaking in French. Thanks to luck (or, in the long run, a joke of fate) and perhaps the coincidence of such good genes, the KSP actor thinks that his career can be encapsulated by:

(2.1.) Striking very disturbing cliched poses that have been done  since movies were still black-and-white. Those were the years when men still wore glossy and sticky pomade on their pompadours and women sported eyeliners as thick as their lipsticks.  KSP actors actually believe they have signature looks and end up resembling creatures who are caught in a split second of a very bad pictorial rather than part of a living and breathing scenario. Aside from the knitting brows and pursing lips, KSP actors never  want to look bad onscreen.  Ask any production person and the anecdotes will fly out of the window as to the level of vanity of such non-performers in making sure they look good rather than act well.

(2.2) Impersonating their idols who they want to succeed or are yearning to emulate to the level of dementia.  That is not difficult to spot for just go through the roster of young performers who think they are the doppelgangers of Robin Padilla ...or Robert DeNiro ... or Vice Ganda.  These are the performers who are legends in their own minds, perhaps pampered by their publicists or managers and would bark off their sponsors (who generously provide ex-deals for everything from their clothes to their underwear inclusive of the Milagrosa rice they serve on their dinner tables as well as the hospitalization of their grandmothers in some far-flung barrio in the Visayas).  These are the actors who are acting for the sake of packaging even if there is really absolute nothing inside the box.

(3) The Workshop School of Acting:  Fresh from the latest escapade into the world of acting workshops, this kind of actor wants to show to the world what he has learned and... my God ... the miraculous degree of improvement he has acquired from virtually shaking hands with Konstantin Stanislavski or Eric Morris.  

Sometime in the history of Philippine media, somebody fed the madlang people with the biggest swindle e-verrrr.  That is, a three day workshop can actually give a corpse in rigor mortis the ability to really act and perhaps even win the Urian. That is why the key to every neophyte who wants to break into the industry is the classic line, "Magworkshop ka muna ...."  

There seems to be this unfounded that promise that the moment you take an acting workshop, you will --- like Lazarus --- rise from the dead and start rendering scenes like you can go one-on-one with Christopher de Leon or Janice de Belen. Uhm, NOT!!!!

How may young people (or their corresponding equally-if-not-more-enthusiastic parents) push their kids into all kinds of workshops hoping that such a participation can yield the next Piolo Pascual or Judy Ann Santos of the post-digital generation?  How many of the wannabes out there really (and sincerely and utterly) believe that workshops are like rays of light that come straight from heaven to bless the eager, willing and dedicated with just the right talent to impress studio heads, directors and talent managers?


But what is far worse is when an actor, fed with new knowledge about the equipment of acting, bring this to the set rather than imbibe the tenets in his system.  Suddenly armed with terms like internalization  or abandonment  or being, the actor feels utterly superior, like a Born-Again Christian who has been given an exclusive front row to the first trip to heaven through the Rapture.

And when this over-enthusiastic creature goes to the set and expects everybody to level up with the mumbo-jumbo he just learned from the Planet Thespis, what follows is a predicament that is exasperating if not downright debilitation.

Let me illustrate:

   DIREK:  (Peeved)  Saan na si _____? Kanina pa naghihintay
                ang lahat sa set!

   ASSISTANT DIREK:  Direk ... nag-iinternalize pa raw po.

   DIREK:            ANO?!!!

   ASSISTANT DIREK:  Hindi raw po niya matempla yung level ng
                kanyang characterization sa eksena kaya medyo

   DIREK:  (Now mad) Saan na ba ang lecheng yan, ha?

   ASSISTANT DIREK:  Nagkulong po sa banyo at pinagsususuntok
               yung toilet bowl.

   DIREK:            Ano naman ang atraso ng toilet bowl sa kanya
               at inupakan niya?

   ASSISTANT DIREK:  Abandonment raw po yon, Direk.  

   DIREK:            Anak ng p---! You tell him to go to the 
               set now. Ano ba ang iniinternalize niya, eh,
               wala naman siyang dialogue sa eksena. Sabihin
               mo hihiga siya sa kabaong dahil tigok na siya 
               sa eksenang ito, ano?

   ASSISTANT DIREK:  Yon nga daw po ang mahirap, Direk. Wala
               raw po sa realm ng kanyang experience ang 
               mamatay. Hindi raw niya alam kung papaano 
               bibigyan ng being ang patay dahil di pa raw
               siya namamatay.

   DIREK:            Ano ang gusto niya? Patayin ko siya
               para magkaroon siya ng being?

   ASSISTANT DIREK:  Mag-iinternalize na lang muna raw siya.

Ok, so you get the picture when the Workshop Actor suddenly takes his profession all too seriously that he looks for a motivation each time he coughs ... or when he answers "hello" to a phone call included in the script("Direk, how shall I say the hello? May pain ba?").

You somehow wish that after all this act of self-flagellation that there is some reward obtained but chances are ... oh, well.

Let me just put it bluntly: No amount of workshops in the world can turn a slab of meat into a functioning, breathing and credible actor.

(4) The Autopilot School of Acting: Otherwise, it is known as the De-Pindot School of Acting.   This is the usual consequence of actors appearing in telenovelas the involve eighteen to thirty-six hour tapings where they are treated like braying cattle and made to cry at 4 in the morning even if their tear ducts have already been abused since 8 am of the previous morning.

Eh, kasi naman.  If you have to finish fifty-two sequences and have to change locations six times within a single 24-hour period, no amount of Cobra, Lepovitan or Gatorade can possibly energize any naturally born homo sapien ... not unless, of course, one is actually a cyborg especially designed by the technology of television to perform in marathon soap operas.

So one cannot really blame actors if, after a while, they employ the Autopilot School of Acting that is nothing more than the iyak-tawa dichotomy of performance?  Blame it on human fallibility --- or fatigue, but the let us also face it: telenovela scripts are not exactly true exercises of acting nuances since everybody is expected to bawl their eyes out until blood and not tears start falling ... or scream until their vocal chords snap to suggest effective emotion.  Intelligence and logic are not necessarily the backbones of what are deemed as effective in soap opera scripts --- so actors just literally go through the motions --- and take home the money.

There is yet an actor out there who will say that the training in telenovelas is to hone and fine-tune the acting craft.  If anyone makes such a claim, then he or she is either mentally-challenged or mouthing the lines fed to him or her by the publicity and promotions department of the network.  Autopilot Acting best captures the age-old reason for the name of human existence: This is just work ... and it's not going to exactly kill me.

It is therefore not surprising but merely a survival technique that the push-button school of acting has come a standard practice. I mean, who really wants to still approximate the genius of Meryl Streep if you have been on your feet for twenty-four hours and your executive producer is still demanding sixteen more sequences before taking your lunch break ... on your second straight day of work?  Magpakatotoo na lang tayo.

But the really sad part about this is that many a great young actor or actress have been ... uh, ruined by telenovela acting.  After a while, the freshness is gone ... the predictability settles in. All the posing and posturing.  All the squeeze-it-dry sort of emoting for the close-ups required by management.


There comes that point in an actor's career when he becomes such an automatic emotion machine that he ceases to resemble a human being --- but turns into a caricature of himself.

(Yes, at this point, you are entitled to name names.)

(5) The Bells Palsy Acting Method: Excuse me, this requires utmost sophistication and kill, ha?

The Bells Palsy Acting Method is when you can go through fifteen different emotions and seventy-six sequences of a single film or tv episode without changing your facial expression.

Imagine the kind of skill and challenge required for any single actor to go through an entire gamut of emotions, thrown right into the pit of conflicts and situations --- and the face does not change at all.

Some call this as the height of subtle acting --- the perfect contra-punto to the KSP or Workshop Schools of Performance. Here, what matters the most is the total ability to control facial muscles as if they have been molded out of wax or anything approximating such pliability.  This is the sort of acting that wins awards ... because there is no hysteria and everything is internalized ... or imagined.

Many attribute the delicacy of the Bells Palsy Acting Method as a result of deep intelligence or premature stages of comatose.  

Others also point to the external intervention of certain age-defying drugs based on the venom of reptiles that paralyze muscles --- including those on the face.  That is why the much celebrated subtlety of performance is actually the side-effect of science as a beauty preservative, resulting to the face as physical handicap.

And finally ...there is the oh-so-popular-because-it-is-all-too-mabenta ...

(6) The Pamatay-Pagpapakyut Method of Pangkilig Acting: This method does not require any workshop whatsoever becomes it comes all too naturally to young actors.  All that is required is a toothy smile, a relatively cute face and the star behavior that has been a tradition since the heyday of The Menudo.

Pagpapakyut almost comes naturally with anything young --- which also includes puppies, kittens and baby alligators.  There is something so particularly endearing about kids barely out of puberty and discovering the joys of the birds, the bees and YouTube.  That is why everyone, regardless of age, seems to be swept away by the sight of young people ---very young people, that is --- who are in love. Of course, this works best when the said minors are not your children.

In a Perfect World where everybody looks like a students garbed in blazers and tartan pleated skirts from a Korean soap opera, kids are all freshly scrubbed, oozing with sweetness and innocence and discovering the joys of being horny.  That is why the awkwardness strikes a familiar chord --- and, well, our tween performers need not act. They are actually living their roles --- including all the confusion of discovering their sexuality while having to perform for the public that they are in love with their ka-love team.

But then, when one looks at the way all these kids behave ... channeling all the tried and tested ways of generating kilig to incite the fanatic screaming of their fans, one realizes that there is really nothing new with all this.

The style of acting of kids today (complete with their Smartphones, Ipads, Ipods and digitized hormones) is no different from that of Perla Adea and Romy Mallari or even Rosemarie Sonora and Ricky Belmonte ... or even so much earlier with Nida Blanca and Nestor de Villa.  

In other words, the kilig school has been around even at the time of Mary Walter --- and the acting style has always been the same: diabetically sweet, naughty enough but definitely still nice to be professionally innocent --- and credibly virginal in character. 

Well, as I said --- this is all make-believe. But all you have to do is watch a single episode of PBB Teens to realize that indeed --- innocence in kids can now only exist in fiction or how we imagine a perfect world.

There will be another round of acting awards next year.  Most likely, the winners will come from the independent cinema scene ... and even more likely, the ones you least expect will go home with the trophies because we all have varied standards as to what makes good acting. But in the meantime, on with the show ... and all the imaginable style of performance your numbed mind can possibly conceive.

That, I believe, is the ultimate trip. And sometimes, even a laugh trip at that.